I am a writer (and yes, it’s a valid life choice).

I am a writer.

It’s taken me the best part of a year, and many practice sessions with a writer friend, to be able to say that without following it up with an embarrassed ‘I-know-it’s-ridiculous’ giggle.

I am a writer.

Early on, this statement was met with one of two responses. Gen Y friends and acquaintances would often loudly exclaim, ‘WOW! That’s so cool!’ I loved their enthusiasm for the pursuit of a passion, no matter the difficulty or the cost. This response was my own: all romantic; no pragmatism.

When I said my well practised line, ‘I’m a writer’ to Gen X and older, I was often met with a furrowed brow. People I hardly knew – friends of friends, co-workers of friends, random people I’d meet at parties – would sidle up to me with a puzzled look on their face, ‘so, Tess, that’s nice, but how are you going to pay the rent?’ It’s true, I had held a very romantic view of what being a writer would be like: drinking endless lattes in funky cafes, me scribbling away on my vintage leather-bound notebook, never struggling for an idea. But I wasn’t stupid, I knew I had to support myself, even if I didn’t know how I would do that. I wanted to reach out and muffle these voices. I wasn’t ready for anyone to question the wisdom of my decision to be a writer. I still wasn’t sure I could do it, and I certainly didn’t want anyone else to raise that question.

But, I am a writer.

I have spent great swathes of this year confused about what it means to be a writer, wondering, often out loud, ‘how am I supposed to do this? How does one be a writer?’ It’s not really a question so much as an expression of my struggle to find my place and work out what my weekly routine looks like (every week is different, in case you were wondering. And yes, it is exhausting). Too often people have felt the need to offer advice about how to be a writer, even though many of them are not writers. I don’t blame them. They love me, and want to help me figure out my life. But still, sometimes – okay, much of the time – I just need to sit with the unknown, feel out the edges of it, and take one step forward.

I have never felt so insecure about my work as I have this year. I feel a constant need to justify my existence to my friends and family, ‘Look! Look! I am a writer. I have jobs that actually pay me to write!’ It’s an unusual choice, to be a writer. A lot of people write, but they’re not writers. As in, they are not trying to make a living out of it. They’re not paying the rent with their writing. And the reason why: if you work in the Arts, it’s really hard to earn enough to support yourself. The average Australian writer earns $11,000/year. That’s not even enough to cover rent in Sydney.

So, most writers have other jobs. Me, I have eight. Journalist, Editor, Researcher, Ghostwriter, Temp, Tutor, Marker, and Freelance Writer. Yeah, it’s crazy. I have had to open new bank accounts, get an ABN, learn how to write an invoice, figure out an hourly rate, get an accountant, and have scary meetings with the accountant (only scary because I don’t understand what they’re talking about). I keep eight calendars on my iCal to track each of my jobs. My brain is full of overlapping and conflicting deadlines for different projects. And don’t get me started about payroll and time sheets and tax. A weekly planner is my friend. The learning curve is big, and relentless.

I am still a writer.

I have survived 10 months of being a freelance writer. Sure, it’s been stressful, and there have been many times when I have flipped out and thought ‘I can’t do this’, but overall, it’s been fun. I can’t imagine doing anything else. I love writing. I love creating beautiful things from words. I love the effect a well-written piece can have on someone.

I am a writer. And I’m getting better at saying it and believing it’s a legitimate career choice.

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Who Am I?*

Who am I? My friends they tell me
I love to create, to sew, to paint,
They say I’m cool and hip and funky,
They ask me for help to decorate.

Who am I? My friends they tell me
I speak with compassion, wisdom and grace,
They say I’m full of insight and thought,
As though I am infused with intellect and peace.

Who am I? They say I bear my
Trials with patience and poise,
They say I smile and do not cry,
As though I had a choice.

Am I really what these people say?
Or am I only what I know myself to be?
Anxious and weary and sad,
Struggling to get through this hour, this day, this week.
Longing for friends with whom to sit and be silent,
Restless for human contact,
Thirsting for someone, anyone, to know me.
Like a wave tossed by the sea,
Full of fear in anticipation of future events,
I am unwillingly submissive to the tumult of emotions within.
Weary of thinking, empty from praying,
Ready to give it all away.

Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Could I be both at once?
How could that be?

Too many questions in my mind,
Mocking me, telling me I am inadequate.
Am I alone in this struggle?
I am not. My God, he knows me.

*inspired by Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ‘Who Am I?

Living Life with the Psalms

When I am sad, the Psalms teach me how to cry out to God. When I am anxious, the Psalms remind me that God will never leave me. When I am afraid, the Psalms teach me that God’s power is stronger than my fear. When the sin in the world gets me down, the Psalms show me that it’s always been this way, and God is still God. When I hate, the Psalms teach me to pray.

When I am confident in my own strength, the Psalms teach me that it is probably misplaced. When I am happy, the Psalms show me how to return thanks to God. When I am content, the Psalms teach me to hope beyond contentment in this life. When I am fixated on this or that thing before me, the Psalms lift my vision to see a bigger picture of God’s glory. When I believe I am deserving, the Psalms teach me that everything I have is a gift from the God who loves me.

I try to read a Psalm every day. I fail. But this is my method: I take the date – 16/7 – and use it to pick a Psalm. Two days ago (14/7) I read Psalm 147. Today was a but trickier. First I read Psalm 67, and then 61 (16 reversed). I’m not great at reading from 1-150 (I stop and then feel like I have to start again, but this method is freeing, and lets me read a variety of Psalms.

Why not give it a go?

The Train Wreck

I’ve lived through a couple of train wrecks. Both to do with my family. Both unexpected – at least from where I was standing at the time. The scars won’t ever fully go away. It’s part of who I am, and in lots of ways I like this person, and I know that God has used such horrible events to grow in me virtues like compassion, empathy, and a spirit willing to listen. These are things I like about myself. Still, the process was pretty unpleasant.

I see another one coming. Thankfully, this time not in my family, but in the family of some people I know. Don’t get me started on how hideous I feel because I am thankful it’s not coming towards my family. Because of a torrent of water already under the bridge, I am powerless to stop it. I cannot say anything. I cannot do anything. I can only watch. I don’t know when it’s going to happen. I don’t know how. I don’t know who else will be affected. I watch, and think back to my own personal train wrecks, hoping beyond hope that my experience will not be replicated in this family.

I sit. I watch. I pray.

Prayer is the only thing I can do for this family. I’m constantly tempted to think that it’s *just* prayer. It’s not. Prayer is pleading with the one person who is able to stop the train wreck. I am tempted to think that prayer is *just* words. It’s not. Prayer is conversation with the God who made the world and sustains it by His word. And His word is powerful. I am tempted to think that action is more powerful than prayer. And let’s be honest: if I look around, that seems true. It’s not. Though the battle sometimes appears lost, though sin seems to win, though train wreck after train wreck hits the people we know, God is still good. And I have to trust that nothing is out of his hands. It’s pretty hard for me to say that – like I said I’ve had a few personal train wrecks, and mostly I cried out to God saying ‘what are you doing? I think you’ve made a mistake here’.

The gift of hindsight is extremely precious. I can see now how God was shaping me into this person I am today. Not fun. Not pleasant. Not easy. At many points, not even good. But the outcome, this is good.

The Information Age

On Saturday it came to the attention of the Australian population that yet another leaky boat had gone into distress about 300km off the coast of Christmas Island. Reports were varied, mostly because the government refused to comment on the boat, its passengers and its circumstances. They also refused to comment on what their response would be. Would they let these people drown? Would they send help? Would they tow the boat back to India? No one knew.

This non-response attracted the ire of citizens and MP’s alike. I suspect that this outrage was caused by both the less-than-glamorous history our country has in treating asylum seekers, added to our insatiable desire to know everything.

The advent of the internet has meant so many wonderful things, and a fair few unpleasant things as well. One of those is that I, and so many others, expect to know every piece of news as it breaks.

I don’t know a world where the news is aired at 7pm and to miss it means waiting 24 hours for the next bulletin. I don’t know a world where I only hear about news on my doorstep. In my world I have access to news from China, Afghanistan, and the EU. I know about the asylum seeker boats, as they arrive. I can watch them slowly sink, the cries of the passengers etching themselves on to my memory. More than this, I feel entitled to such information, because that’s the world we live in. Nothing is off limits, even if maybe it should be.

Perhaps this is part of why Operation Sovereign Borders is so offensive: it restricts information. Under this policy, I don’t get to see the boats arriving. I don’t get to hear a play-by-play of what the Australian Navy is doing to help them. I don’t get to watch the boat being battered by waves and almost sinking. I am forced into a position of trusting the government to do what is right, without the ability to check their behaviour.

I can hear your incredulous cries: ‘trust!? Why should I trust the government? They haven’t exactly instilled in me a great sense of trust’. I hear you. For me, it doesn’t help that my trust in the government is flimsy, at best.

It now appears that the boat has arrived at Christmas Island, all people still on board. Just because the government didn’t issue a statement telling us what they were doing does not mean they were doing nothing. I may disagree with Operation Sovereign Borders at almost every level, but I must refuse to level accusations at Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott when they are simply following the policy they implemented. It wouldn’t be my choice, but that’s very easy for me to say, sitting in my lounge chair, drinking my morning coffee.

An Open Letter to Scott Morrison MP

Dear Minister Morrison,

I am sorry. Sorry for the many times I have spoken ill of you, in public and under my breath. Sorry for thinking you couldn’t really be a Christian and act like this. Sorry for judging you to be a hideous specimen of humanity, and not a creation of the living God, loved by Him. I am sorry that I have not prayed for you more in what I can only imagine is an incredibly difficult job. I am sorry that I have spent more time hating you than loving you. I’m sorry that I have attacked you as I would a straw man.

Please forgive me.

It’s hard for me to know your personal views on this issue, partly because you’re in politics so the policies you are charged with implementing cannot simply be your own views. But more than this, I’m not sure you’re at liberty to state your own views, because you are the Minister for Immigration and that carries with it a whole lot of responsibility that I do not pretend to understand.

I’m not shy about saying that I disagree with the current policies regarding asylum seekers. I believe that as Christians, and as human beings, we are charged with the responsibility to show compassion to all people – this is both an Australian value and a Christian one. Compassion must be the litmus test by which we define the boundaries of possible responses to this issue.

Therefore, my question is this: Can we be more compassionate?

Like so many others, I do not want any more people to drown at sea. Neither do I want people smugglers to continue to profit from trafficking desperate people. Yes, you have stopped the boats, this I cannot argue with. I do not like the way you’ve done it, but you have stopped them. I’d like to know, what now? You have a unique opportunity to forge a new path through this complex and difficult issue. How will you make a mark on the political landscape of not only Australia but the world? Will you take the time to brainstorm ways to deal with the 52 million displaced people in our world?

Please don’t stop here. Please surprise me with a forward thinking, creative response to this issue.

For my part, I will try to turn my frustration into prayer.

Tess

In defence of #LoveMakesAWay

I am a Christian.

I do believe in Jesus Christ. I do believe that approximately 2000 years ago, he lived, died, and rose from the dead. I do believe that he is now in heaven, with God, waiting for the time when he will come back to earth and take those who believe in Him to be with him in heaven. I believe that the only way to get to heaven is by believing and trusting in Jesus Christ. I do not believe that good things we do on earth contribute to whether or not we get to go to heaven.

I do believe that the Bible is the final and sufficient word for all crises of faith and conduct. I do believe that following Jesus is a radical decision. I do believe that I have forgotten just how radical that decision can be.

I do not believe that seeking asylum is a crime. I do not believe that it is right to lock people up indefinitely because they asked for help. I do believe that it is important for a nation to have an immigration system. I do not advocate a total abandonment of policy and an indiscriminate ‘opening of the gates’. I do not believe that the current system is legal or compassionate, despite the pleas of government. I do not believe there is one decision that is going to satisfy everyone.

I do not believe it is right to continue letting people die at sea. I do believe that people-smugglers play on people’s desperation and need to be stripped of their power.

I do not believe that the only available option is locking people up.

I do believe that locking up people who are fleeing everything they’ve ever known, in pursuit of safety, is adding insult to injury. I do believe that imprisonment scars a person, physically, mentally, and emotionally. I do believe that to inflict such a fate on anyone, let alone a child, is cruel and in this case, unnecessary.

I do believe that God had a hand in electing our current government. I do believe that means I need to submit to their authority. I do not believe that means I must get back in my box when my objections to policy are squashed. I do believe that means I must be willing to suffer the consequences of disobedience. I do believe that democracy offers many avenues of objecting to decisions the government makes. I do believe that letter writing, conversations with MP’s, and rallies are all valid ways of expressing dissent. I do believe that in some cases it is right to pursue a more radical course of action. I do not believe that it is ever appropriate to be violent.

I do believe that as a Christian, I am Christ’s representative on earth. I do believe that Jesus Christ managed to walk the fine line between love and justice, because he was perfect. I do believe that I am called to try and walk in the same way.

I do believe that #LoveMakesAWay is trying to walk this line. I do not believe that they have a comprehensive solution to the way Australia is currently treating asylum seekers. I do not believe they need to. I do not believe that a lack of a comprehensive solution diminishes in any way the message they are circulating. I do not believe that this is a media stunt. I do believe they are trying to raise awareness. I do believe they are trying to help ordinary people engage with a complex issue.

I do believe that it is my responsibility to defend those who have no voice. I do believe that the non-violent direct action of #LoveMakesAWay is one way to do this. If I’m wrong, and this is completely out of line with what Jesus has called me to do, even then, I do believe that that will not be beyond God’s forgiveness. I do believe that I’d rather act in the face of a grave injustice that sit silently and debate with other likeminded people the merits or otherwise of non-violent direct action.

May God have mercy.

a prayer for the broken

The sound of my voice rings in my head:
‘Here are the things you could have said’.
Weary but restless my body cries out,
‘Leave me alone, stop persisting in doubt’.
Tonight the voices have won,
I turn on the light so I won’t feel alone.
The sting of tears fills my eyes,
An ever present reminder of the mess in our lives.
I cry out to God:
‘Where are you now?
How can I go on?
I feel so alone’.
I listen, but silence mocks me,
Where is this God of love and peace?
When will He come and make things right?
When will I no longer fear the night?
When will the pain and tears cease?
When will I meet my long-lost niece?
When will death meet it’s final end?
When will the days be fully spent?
When will I have the guts to say
The thoughts that occupy my night and day?
Lord, I don’t want to live this life,
I need your grace to fight the fight,
To stand and walk, step by step,
To pray and trust and take a breath.
I cannot do this on my own,
Lord have mercy, until my time is come.

On Inactivity

I have nothing to do today. Literally nothing. I’ve never been in this position before. Sure, like most people I take holidays and have occasional ‘nothing days’ but mostly, I fill my time with people and writing and exercise and people and shopping and adventures and people and travel and work and people. For as long as I can remember it’s been like that.

I find it a strange kind of thrill to be busy. Well, honestly, it’s probably more like manic. There’s something comforting about not being alone with my thoughts for too long. I think I’m probably a little bit afraid of my own brain. But now, now I’m alone. Alone with my brain. Alone with myself. I read this article the other day on how to help a child be a writer. It was both heartening and distressing. This sentence stuck with me: ‘First of all, let her be bored. Let her have long afternoons with absolutely nothing to do’. Check. I’m extremely bored. I believe the point was to ensure that the child has enough time to let her mind wander and to embrace creativity. The rest of the advice was also quite helpful, but also disappointingly accurate.

Boredom: check.

Loneliness: check.

Secrets kept: check.

Failure and mistakes: check.

Finding my own voice: I’m getting there.

The Challenge.

I graduated from College last week. That is, in one night, I saw the culmination of four years of tears and hard work. To be honest, it was a bit of an anticlimax. I desperately wanted to be there – I even won the argument with my doctor as to whether or not I was allowed to go having come down with the flu the day before. In many ways it didn’t disappoint. The memory of standing on stage with my teammates will not quickly vanish from my mind. Still, as I look back over the years, the few hours we spent dressed up in Harry Potter-esque capes and hoods did not equal the pain and tears of four years. There should have been fireworks, and a marching band, and circus performers, and and and.

So here we are. Graduates. Oh my.

Each of us had to write a sentence describing what we’re doing this year, having been pushed out of College into the big bad world. Here’s mine:

Tess is pursuing a ministry in writing, hoping to use what she has learnt at College to write theologically rich articles showing both how the gospel is good news in every sphere of life, and also how Christianity is both intellectually and emotionally credible, in a world which so often discredits it on both these counts.

It’s true. I want to be a writer. I just love words. I love their power to persuade and heal, to hearten and stretch. I’m not silly though, I realise that I have chosen a career in which the days are either brilliant or rubbish, that the middle ground is famously hard to find. I realise that I cannot make the words come, any more than I can make the rain come, and that I depend heavily on my creativity to make this work. I realise that this is an unusual choice, but still, it is my choice.

This brings us to the challenge I am setting myself. One article, every week for the rest of the year. Hopefully I’ll have time to do more than that, and hopefully there’ll be opportunity to be published in actual real live journals or newspapers or magazines. But this is the minimum. I’m setting myself this goal, at least partly because I have become completely institutionalised and need structure. But also partly because I have become immobilised at the immensity of the task that I have chosen. This is my way in.

I heard Mark Scott, the Managing Director of the ABC, speak the other day. He said that people who have successful careers in their 40s and 50s are the ones who worked really hard in their 20s and 30s. This is exactly what I plan to do.