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.

Too scared to dream.

Ever had one of those existential moments where you wonder what you’re doing with your life and where you’re going and why and how you got there? Please say it’s not just me.

I write this from an apartment in Bastille, Paris. A strange place for a crisis. I am here on holiday. It’s exceptional. To me it feels like an odd mix of Mexico and America. I recognise stores like Cartier, Tiffany’s and Swatch. But the traffic is manic like in Mexico. The worlds largest roundabout (the Arc de Triomphe) is constantly circled by swathes of cars. There are no lanes. It feels like chaos. It feels like Mexico.

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Aside from all the beautiful things to see, this is the first real time I’ve had in a long time to sit and think. And it’s dangerous. It’s really the first time I’ve let myself totally feel what has happened the last few months. Disappointment. Loss. Unmet hopes. Not one feeling that is pleasant.

I feel lost. More than a little like I’m grasping in the dark. I’m scared about what comes next, mostly because I don’t know what it is. Here I am: a graduate twice over, and unemployed. Eish. I never had a plan, but I’m pretty sure this wasn’t part of it. Everything I thought I would do, I’m not doing. I’m not working in Geography or Urban Planning (my first degree). I didn’t finish my PhD. I studied theology for four years but I’m not being ordained, I’m not going overseas, I’m not working with kids, and I’m not a chaplain.

When I wander through art markets in Montmartre I wonder if I could be a painter who sells her paintings. When I while away time on Etsy I wonder if I could sew vintage decorations and sell them. This is the kind of stuff I wanted to do ten years ago. But I suppressed it because I thought I wanted to be a doctor. And all that other stuff was a bit hippy and weird. Who doesn’t want to fit in and succeed in all the traditional ways when they’re 16? Ten years later and I still want to do those things. Maybe that means something.

Do I have anything to show for the intervening ten years aside from an $85,000 debt to the government? Is all that time wasted? It’s easy to think so. My understanding of the world does not let me think this, even though some days I might like to. Does not God use everything to shape us? To grow us? To teach us of our dependence on Him? I believe so. If I had not started a PhD, I would not have moved to Wollongong, the place I really began to learn that God wants my love every day of the week, not only Sunday. If I had not gone to Mexico, I would have continued to believe that God’s will and mine were the same. I would not have learnt to trust His goodness when I can’t do what I want. If I had not gone to Moore College I would not have been pushed to answer questions like ‘why does God let his people commit suicide?’ There are no easy answers I’m afraid.

What do I have? I have a better knowledge of God and a better knowledge of myself. I’m still scared. So scared. So scared I don’t even like to dream – usually one of my favourite things to do. This pains me more than I care to admit. But I know that He has me. Even if I have no idea what’s coming. He has proven himself faithful, even in the moments when I didn’t think he would. Even in the moments when I wasn’t sure that I would be faithful.

I am afraid. But for this:

The Lord is my refuge and strength,
Therefore I will not be afraid.
Though the mountains give way and fall into the sea,
He will come and rescue me. Ps 46:1-2

Whatever comes.
Bring it.

MONA

I recently visited Tasmania. I had the privilege of spending some good quality time with some dear friends who recently moved there. Plus I got to explore the hidden delights of Battery Point and Salamanca. Last time I was there, MONA had just opened. MONA is the Museum of Old and New Art. It is a privately owned gallery, built deep into the ground, right on the banks of the Derwent River in Hobart. I didn’t get to see it that time, but this trip I had an afternoon free, so jumped on the ferry and had a look around.

It is so swish. From the moment you step off the ferry, climb the 99 (curiously not 100) steps to the front door, and enter the mysterious building, your imagination and senses are engaged. Leaving your coat in the cloakroom, you make your way towards a glass elevator (Willy Wonka anyone?) surrounded by a spiral staircase leading down to multiple levels of galleries beneath your feet just waiting to be explored. Before you descend, a woman in black hands you an iPod. Curious. There’s no artwork names strategically placed on the wall. No guides. No pamphlets. You simply refresh the iPod screen and it tells you what you’re looking at. Clever.

Moving down through the levels, I see a room full of warm light globes. They flash in time with your heartbeat. Over there is a giant trampoline NOT only for looking at, there’s a queue to have a turn. I anxiously enter the affectionately titled ‘death room’. I’m not enjoying this. There’s a room full of individual arm chairs in front of televisions playing foreign news. There’s a pink furry room that looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. There’s the ‘poo room’. Enough said. I stroll past a glass coffin with a life size doll inside. If if was a person, she would be about 8. She looks sad.

I wander into an exhibition that has something to do with enuma elish (the Babylonian creation story). It’s a bit like a maze. When I get to the inner room, I poke my head around the corner and get frightened by the man hanging from the ceiling. No, wait, that’s a mirror.

Everything about this place screams postmodern. There’s a lot in it that is not politically correct, a lot that many people would not consider art. I usually have a pretty open mind about art, usually I’m the one who defends a red square on a white canvas and insists that it can be art. It was different this time. Some of what I saw I’d like to forget. Some was offensive. Some was simply disgusting to me.

So is it art? Even, and maybe even especially, the works that made me gag and walk away?