Last Friday I went for a job interview. It was for Lecturer in Creative Writing and English Literature at a northern city university, the closest thing we have to a liberal arts college in the UK. It’s a beautiful campus, city centre, opposite an ancient Roman wall (that T and I once walked along in 2008 on a day trip). I was an hour late for the interview after getting stuck in traffic, one part of which was due to an old caravan (the type you’d get at the bottom of a farmer’s field in a low-budget English tragicomic film) tearing in two down the middle, top to bottom, and scattering the owners’ belongings across the A19. And it went okay, it certainly wasn’t a car crash itself, but it comes at a very uncertain time, with lots of people I know in my current home city leaving or possibly leaving (the uncertainty itself is uncertain).
On 14th December 2007, on the train home from the interview at my current workplace, after being offered the job at the interview, I made a list of Pros and Cons to help me make up my mind of whether or not I would take the job. I sat down to do the same last night for this new job (not that I have been offered the role, but best to prepare!), after a weekend of not working but relaxing (Warkworth, beach walks, a bit of booze and chocolate and then dozing in bed with a book all Bank Holiday Monday morning), and couldn’t get my head around it, so made a new image-poem from cut outs from the newsprint magazine on Translation I picked up in the foyer while waiting for the interview to begin. (I’ll post it later once I get it to the scanner; left it at home this morning). The poem itself circles back around these issues of craft, self, personality and construction—what actions do we take that constructs a self, what decisions do we make?—but more than the output, it is the process of crafting, that clears the mind to then be able to move on and progress. Crafting as a spiritual practice, as is this writing, as is running, and as is time spent with friends. A couple of interesting questions from friends over the last few days:
- how would you feel if you were to take this job and then never publish your novels or books creatively? Would you feel embarrassed, a fraud, would you be happy with a career teaching creative writing but never ‘achieving’ ‘success’ as an actual writer?
- what would your gut reaction be if they phoned and said you did / didn’t get the job?
The second one cuts to the nub of the problem, as well as highlighting the weaknesses of the Pros/Cons approach. I don’t have a very clear relationship with gut feeling, with embodied knowledge (who does? Very few people, certainly in this numbing Western culture) and so I can’t answer that question, because the various issues to take into account are counterbalancing of each other. This is the basic crux:
Yes, I know that taking on a new job would, as my friend J put it, involve a lot of libidinous energy into preparing and doing that job well, as I’d want to, and so the actual energy and time for my own writing would diminish, in one way; but, if the work I was doing to pay the bills was far more integrated with my overall goals/aims/vision, call it what you want, for my life and what I want to be doing—that is, if teaching and preparing creative writing would feed my own writing, in a way that preparing and teaching journalism, e.g. editing Final Cut Pro, does not—would that make me happy, would it feed my energy, and so, overall, even in the short term, give me more time and energy to write?
And a corollary question:
Will a job in creative writing help me become a professional writer, rather than a lecturer, more so than my current job?
But below that, is this question:
am I only taking a creative writing role to get recognition for the thing I’ve always wanted (to be a creative writer) without actually doing the hard work of being a creative writer? (Okay, I’ve done some hard work—I’ve finished a final draft of a novel—but I’ve not got it published).
So this question of a move to a new job taps into deeper fears, issues, considerations of self. Who I define myself as, what I identify as, and how hard I’m willing to work to live the life I want. So, here’s the list of pros and cons.
|More integrated work (teaching and preparing stuff useful to my own interests and development)Recognition within creative writingA new start (new opportunities; have not found community or belonging in Newcastle, either work, writing community-based)Less responsibility (grade)City-centre university, nice citySmall department where voice and efforts count
Potential of being left behind in Newcastle as friends move on
8 (but should be less!)
|A lot less money, and I am still in debt and those debts would not go down and the savings would not go upStarting again in a new city, where I barely know anyoneLand-locked city, no sea/beachTeaching prep burden in first 12-24 months will be higher than present role, where prep is donePoor first experience, HR department awfulTaking job for recognition in creative writing before actually professionally novel-published
No gap between PhD and new role; no break to consolidate
And last night I had a very clear revelation in a dream. Around 330am my cat Misha woke me up. I’d fed her too early yesterday afternoon, and so she got hungry. I got up, realised I’d left the heating on too somehow, turned that off, fed her a few biscuits to keep her happy and went back to bed, but all the while remembering and making sense of the dream I’d been having. It had been a flying dream. I was somewhere with my old school friends such as Tom and Peter Lee, and others, Scott too, who was being nice, not a bully (although he never really bullied me) and we were in class getting work back, and Tom scored 94% for his poetry, and I was genuinely happy for him and intrigued, and he’d illustrated this poem about Paris, it was quite postmodern in construction, very advanced, although more a critical poem than a poetic one, if that make sense [ah! now thinking of my own constructed poem] but the illustrations were amazing, and I scored 81%, second highest(!), anyway, there was lots of other stuff going on (as usual! Note bene…) and it turned into a flying dream.
Usually in flying dreams, or the way I have always articulated flying dreams, is that the flying is related to confidence; that is, if I am feeling confident, I can stay up flying. Also, I always fly in a seated position, as if I am driving (so I can see where I am going… planning…). It was clear to me though, in this dream, in that short wakeful period while feeding my cat, that it is not so much that I fly when I am confident, but rather that I am always flying around (e.g. moving around, flying from place to place) searching for confidence (and all those other things I associate with that dream and those guys from school: community, belonging, enjoying my learning). It was very clear to me that this is the pattern, my pattern. That I fly from place to place searching for the things that should be inside of me, such as confidence, and the things that will only come into my life if I am open to them, such as community, and belonging.
It is a bit like the Magician in the Tarot: each of the suits (Swords, Pentacles, Wands, Cups) is illustrated there, and it is only the Magician’s requirement to choose what tools he already has are the most relevant to use in the situation, rather than looking elsewhere for those tools (confidence, illustration, poetry, writing, belonging) to make one happy.
So this is the tricky situation. Is it time for change, or is remaining in the same place the change?
The revelation about flying in dreams was last night so very clear to me, I’m amazed now I never thought of it or recognized that before. Knowing that dreams work in picture puzzles, how strange that I had always previously accepted flying in dreams as simply a mode of being… Well, that’s because it was my mode of being. Flying (away, to, from, but being in motion) was my mode of being. I was always moving around. Cities, flats in cities, countries, relationships, communities. During dull or difficult meetings during my career I would sit there and doodle ‘fly away’ in the margins of my notebooks. Not only flying, but flying in relation to confidence, and always flying in a mode or position where I could see where I was going (planning). Never ‘flying blind’.
And now, living with a mode of being, or modes of being, where the one (flying from/to) is not the dominant one, having been in one job for over five years, for having committed to one major project (the novel) for over six, and another (the PhD) for four years. And living in one place now for over three years. Flying away is not my only possible behaviour. So when it comes to making a decision about what to do next, things are more difficult for me to decide because I don’t have a default position. But also better.
But what now? What help can I glean from now relating it into the questions of the three realism of the self in the 21 Soul programme? Another table… 😉
|Option||Soul Self||Social Self||Ecological Self||Outcome?|
|New CW job||More integrated between soulful creative output and career / paying bills||Recognition in terms of view I have of myself – a good thing?Threat of fraud—have not published books?Would still have debt as burden||Opportunity to introduce elements into teaching; to integrate in new city, new networks; opportunity to focus writing on ecological issues||Positive, except also very hard regarding debt and uprooting and setting new roots|
|J job in current Uni||Dis-integrated, but also autonomous, can get on with writing||Very little recognition (or recognition as I want it)||Opportunity to focus on ecological research||Positive in expending energy on writing rather than up/rooting; a neutral-negative drain in role|
|Work towards being professional writer (p/time academic if need the income)||Integrated Scared||Very hard when no recognition and lack of support (My PhD uni very poor at this)||Will there always be tussle with view of writing as self-indulgent if actually writing about these issues?||Positive and full of fear to be overcome; the best potential outcome for all three selves long-term|
|Work towards academic role in animal studies||Integrated but also torn; creative?||Rejection of some constructed needs, would focus on my ecological self more||Would feed the ecological self more, but at expense of soul self?||Negative if not creative, even though ecological self would be prioritised|
|Work towards role in animal equality charity/investigation||Creative? Using my best ‘self’?||New areas for belonging and community more in line with values||Would feed the ecological self more, but at expense of soul self?||Negative if not creative, even though ecological self would be prioritised|
Even before filling out the table I had a rush (a faint rush) of… clarity? Feeling? It was simply this: write. Whatever it takes, write. Listening to an interview with Michael Frayn on the World Service last night when he said “Like most writers, probably, the ones I know, I knew I wanted to be a writer long before I knew what I wanted to write about” and it was a very confirming sentence for me, a moment of recognition that the urge to communicate and write is a powerful and valid one.
But… and it’s a question I’ve asked myself before. Really? Do I really want to be a writer of novels as my main professional / creative career? While the world is dissolving? Will it change the world? Where is my belief in this?
At the heart of this, I suppose, is not so much that life is full of hard choices about what will allow me to be both fulfilled and to contribute most to the wellbeing of the world, but the fact that I don’t know, am unclear, on the feelings and cognitions with which I must make those decisions. How do I trust myself enough to make the better decision for myself and for the world? Well, I guess I’ll just have to.
And all these tables and lists are part of the rationalisation of feeling, they come from a place where the tools and language are constructed within the social realm. Back to the dream, then, which is (in David Whyte’s lovely poem ‘What To Remember When Waking’) the “the other more secret, moveable and frighteningly honest world” I was doing well enough where I was, but I was not being excellent (81% for the poem). So I set out flying in search of things: confidence, recognition, achievement. Then in a waking moment I was aware I was searching for these things, and that flying (to/from/away) was a mode of being. And I took this knowledge back into the dream with my. Flying (to/from/away) felt good, it felt exciting and safe. But did I find what I was looking for? Only that previously I had believed that I could fly or not depending on my confidence. Now I knew that I was flying and it was not dependent on my confidence any more, but I had been tricking myself into not realising the reasons why I was flying: to seek out things that should be—that I should realise—are inside me.
Maybe I will listen to my dreams, and my friends, and trust that my intuitions and connections are the things I have created to help me make decisions when my gut isn’t talking.
[Update: I didn’t get the job. And feel relieved. But I did, perhaps, get an allotment!]