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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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.

On chasing dreams

Chase your dreams.
Nothing is out of your reach.
The sky’s the limit.

These were the mantras of my childhood. I confess, I like them. The outer curves of my imagination also function as my limits. These ideas are very precious to me.

Oddly though, I have always found that my dreams weren’t that difficult to catch, my reach actually extended farther than I thought, and the sky was surprisingly close. It’s not that things have always come easy – I have certainly had a fair amount of struggles and difficult decisions – but more that once I decided that I wanted to do something, and then I just went and did it.

I started a PhD right out of uni. When I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore, I decided I wanted to do ministry, so I did that. Then I decided I wanted to go to Mexico. So I bought a plane ticket and went. Then I wanted to go to College, and guess what, I went.

I know this makes me sound spoilt, as though I’ve never had any battles. That’s so far from true. The battles I have had just haven’t been of the employment variety. I’m coming to see that such an experience is something of a blessing.

But now. Now I face the awful dilemma of knowing what I want to do, but being unable to grasp it. All of a sudden my dreams feel like pipe dreams, all I feel in my fingers is wind, and the sky is cold and distant.

Where do I source the energy to keep applying for the job I want? How do I not give up hope? How do I not take all the rejections personally?

“It is easy to forget to pause and take stock”

On the 25th of December, I took a minute out of the day to listen to the Queen of England deliver her Annual Christmas Message to the Commonwealth. This one sentence has plastered itself to the walls of my brain:

“We all need to get the balance right between action and reflection. With so many distractions, it is easy to forget to pause and take stock.”

Was she thinking of me when she spoke thus? So often I count action as the more pressing need, with reflection paling into a distant second. Too often I find myself stealing moments of time from one event to reflect on another.

She is the Queen, and I am a loyal subject, so I find myself taking heed of her advice to “pause and take stock”.

Much has happened in the last 12 months. A future leader, Prince George, was born. A new Pope was chosen. The European Union bailed out another country in crisis. Someone bombed the Boston marathon. Morsi was ousted in Egypt. The Syrian civil war raged. The Philippines were devastated by Typhoon Haiyan. An iconic world leader, Nelson Mandela, passed away.

If you close your eyes does it almost feel like nothing’s changed at all? If you close your eyes does it almost feel like you’ve been here before? When I look to 2014, how am I going to be an optimist about the future? Where do we begin to rebuild the world from the broken mess that it has become?

Closer to home there was the debacle of the Australian federal election. The crisis of asylum seekers. The devastating bush fires in and around Sydney. In my own suburb there were prominent strikes at the neighbouring university.

Why does it feel like the new Cabinet in Government is an undoing of 40 years of fighting for equality between women and men? Are we losing the battle against racism and settling for comfort over compassion? Am I courageous enough to speak out against what is not God-honouring? Will I do more than sit on the couch with a glass of wine and whinge about bad government policy?

Even closer to home, I lost January to a virus that saw me confined to the couch while I worked my way through the whole series of Alias. I lost the last week of my academic year to the flu. I finished a degree. I freaked out about the future. I travelled. A lot.

Why is it easy to complain to God when my life doesn’t proceed according to my plan and so hard to return thanks to Him for the moments of pure delight? Why is God thwarting my plan to be a missionary? Why is he closing every door except the one that I’m afraid to walk through? If Christianity is all about trusting God, then why it is so hard?

Why? Why? Why?

I’m afraid to admit that mostly I have only questions. Not many answers here. Will I have a similar reflection at the end of next year? Probably. It almost seems like the world keeps turning and events keep happening as they have since the beginning of the world. Is not every year the same with joys and sadnesses in a constant stream? Now that I take a moment to reflect, I see that my focus has narrowed too much. I see only the trauma and grief, or the joy and happiness. What of the bigger picture? I realise I have become like the scoffers in 2 Peter 3:4,

They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”

It’s easy to think thus. After all, I see what appears to be a world on repeat. It’s not that I deliberately ignored the fact of God’s creative activity, it’s just that I focused on action and forgot reflection. If I had remembered to reflect, perhaps my attention would have been more evenly divided between the crises of the world, and the reality that,

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Pet 3:9).

Perhaps that would have given me a little perspective. Perhaps it would have stopped me falling into disillusionment at major world conflicts. Perhaps it would have tempered the effect that others have on my mood. Perhaps it would have helped me see the bigger picture. What it won’t do is stop me being devastated at civil wars, delighted at beautiful sunsets and new life, and committed to using the voice that God has given me to speak a word of truth and love.

Having regained a little perspective, I once again I make my New Years resolution: looking forward to the return of Jesus, I will, God-willing, work for the good of all people and the glory of God. I pray He will give me an ever more thankful heart, and a spirit ready and willing to trust him.

Thanks be to God for the Queen, and her reminder to “pause and take stock”. God certainly does work in unusual ways sometimes.

Guy + Girl = Friends?

I firmly believe that guys and girls can be friends. I even have an awesome collection of male and female friends that prove it (you know who you are). When I was in my early 20s I didn’t think this statement needed much clarification. My only qualification was that there needed to be a conversation at some point about where the friendship stands. Now I think there might be a few more things to say. Here is my attempt.

Dear [insert name here],*

We are friends. There are so many things I like about being friends with you. I love that you are different to me. I love that you have a different family, different upbringing, different expectations of the world and different hopes and dreams. I love that you think deeply. I love that you know stuff about economics and wildflowers and bridges. I love that you teach me to see the world differently, in richer and brighter colours than I could have seen myself. I love that you make me laugh.

We hang out. We’ve been to the movies, out for drinks, to coffee, to museums, to concerts and for strolls on a warm summer evening. I suspect you like being friends with me too. This pleases me no end.

One time, you told me. Do you remember? It was pretty awkward. We were out, and you told me that you loved being friends with me. You wanted to make sure that I didn’t think that it was anything more than friends. I wasn’t expecting to have this conversation with you, it kind of caught me off guard. To be honest, I had been thinking about it, and wondering why we weren’t more than friends, but after a mini-meltdown in my mind, I was okay. You changed tack and proceeded to tell me about the girl you did like. You asked me what I thought. You asked for my advice. Ever the good friend, I talked you through your feelings, all the while wishing I could vanish into my shoe.

Over the next few months nothing really changed in our friendship. In the beginning I thought this was good, because I didn’t want to lose you as a friend. But over time the intimacy between us grew. I liked you more the more time I spent with you. But you didn’t see this; or if you did, you didn’t do anything about it. You thought that I was so certain of our status as friends that it didn’t matter how you acted. You thought I would one day figure out that you weren’t into me like that. In case you’re wondering, the moment I discovered that ugly truth was the moment I stopped trusting you.

What were you thinking? Perhaps you thought that you’d already told me that we were friends and so you were safe? Perhaps you were enjoying yourself and so pretended like things were fine?

You certainly weren’t thinking about me.

If I liked you a little at the time of that first conversation, I liked you a lot more a few months later. I had heard what you said, but something in me didn’t want to believe it. A little voice inside me (or maybe outside me – girls talk, you know) kept wondering why we spent so much time together if nothing was going on. It was easy to doubt. Something in me persisted in believing that with all the time we spent together you’d see how much you really did like me. Foolish, I know.

What motivated you to have that awkward conversation the first time around? Perhaps you had insightfully thought that I might be considering a possibility between us and wanted to be kind to me and stop those thoughts (this is the most gracious reading I can give, and am fully aware that there are many less gracious possibilities). Maybe next time this happens to you, you might consider taking some practical measures to cut back the friendship. Yes, such measures would have been be tricky and painful and a loss for both of us, but you need to be the strong one. After all, it was you who was certain that this wasn’t going to be anything more than friends.

This is my one thought: I am a girl. I am a real person and have feelings too. I’m not an emotional resource to be mined. If the roles were reversed, how would you like to be treated? My guess is that you’d like to be treated like a friend, and not as a boyfriend. Please do me the same courtesy.

From [insert name here].

helmut newcake

I’m in love. Not with a man oddly named Helmut Newcake, although I could certainly fabricate a story to that effect. Rather, on a friends advice, I went in pursuit of a gluten free patisserie in Paris. And found it. I’m going back. Maybe every day til we leave.

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Food intolerances and travelling don’t go so well together, so when we decided to spend a month in France, I wasn’t expecting to be able to eat much. No bread. No cheese. No garlic. No butter. I distinctly remembering pursuing the idea that I would live on carrots, eggs and rice. I’ve lived on less.

This is why helmut newcake is such a treasured discovery: everything in the store is gluten free. Everything. And I’m not talking a simple flourless chocolate cake. No. There were chocolate eclairs, passion fruit tarts, lemon meringue pies, salted chocolate tarts, pistachio something’s, Madame de Fontenay’s and so much more. Yum yum yum!

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Everything about this cafe oozes cool. It is quaint and homely. Not overly decorated, but simply tasteful. The cabinet of pastry beckons you ‘come, taste and see’. Nothing tastes gluten free, it simply tastes delicious. The tea is served in delightfully small fine china teacups, and the coffee is surprisingly good. Even if you’re not a coeliac or intolerant to gluten, if you’re ever in Paris, this is a brilliant spot for morning or afternoon tea.

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helmut newcake.
La pâtisserie sans gluten.
I’ll be back.

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.

Lost

lost /lɒst/
adjective
1. unable to find one’s way; not knowing one’s whereabouts.

I am not a planner. In fact, I might be the antithesis of a planner. It has been said by certain members of my family that I ‘tend to just fall into things’, and I have often declared that I am on the ‘no plan’ plan. I am not the proud owner of a 5-year plan, have no idea where I’ll be living or working next year. It’ll work itself out. I like the flexibility of having no plan. I like the mystery. I love the surprise. I love the adventure. It’s how I roll.

I concede that it is near impossible to make no plans at all. But I’ll tell you this: the bigger the plan, the greater potential to be disappointed.

I made a plan. It didn’t come through. And now I feel lost. A little like I’m floating in a little wooden boat in the middle of the ocean. Directionless. Confused. Disappointed. Lost. It’s easy to think that I shouldn’t have tried to plan. I don’t know how to do it properly. It’s not the way I’ve lived the last 10 years. Why would I alter the ‘no plan’ plan?

I’m lost. Lost in the sea of my own mind. Lost in a world of possibility. Lost in a world of changing relationships, changing homes, and changing environments. Lost in the land of confusion. I cannot see a way out. I don’t know what to do, where to go, or how to even begin the process of thinking about it.

What happens now? Do I trust God and keep putting one foot in front of the other? Well. I think so. It’s much easier said than done, especially when I have no idea where my feet are taking me. It’s hard because I have no plan, not even an idea that I fully understand. I don’t have a clear picture of the future. But even in this fog, God is still trustworthy. Trusting Him is hard right now. But I think that’s the nature of trust. If it was easy, or there was some kind of guarantee, then it wouldn’t be trust.

Would it?