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BE ME

True in most parts, slightly embellished in other parts, a complete lie where possible; this is where you get to know me (for those of you who didn't already know me).

If this Site is the book that never got written, then this page is the CV that never got sent (the Wikipedia page that never got created).

About Writing (Part III)

About Writing (Part II)

About Writing (Part I)

Be me - molesting alligators...

About Writing (Part III)

Years and years later.  Years after I’d struggled through university.  Years after I’d struggled through a handful of awkward jobs in some very awkward countries.  Years after I’d squatted in a bunch of fairly horrible holes in horrible buildings and years after I’d dated what might be the worst mistake in romantic history.  Years after all of this, I sat in a parent-and-teacher meeting opposite a family, both the parents and the son, where it suddenly dawned on that I was the teacher.

 

Did you see that one coming?  I hadn’t either but that’s not the point.

Parent-and-Teacher Meeting

Mum and dad were laying into the son because of a bunch of reasons, some of which I had no knowledge of, some of which I was being made aware of right now.  Boy, were they laying into him as well, though it was a strange place to do it.  A strange time to do it.  Should you wait until you’re inside a school building, a teacher and parent meeting, to inform your son that you regret ever having him?  That you should never have had a second?  That you should have followed your instincts and gone for the dog instead?  Still, this was the time and the place they’d chosen and a part of me could understand their decision.  I mean, we’ve seen it before.

 

I’d seen it before.  Parents who were fully aware of their child being a bit of a screw-up but always that hope of something better.  Maybe some time in the future, maybe some place else.  Maybe, if against all the odds, the kid was at least doing alright in school.  That would be something.  Or not alright but okay enough.  Average.  Not a complete screw-up, like they was at home and like he was everywhere else.  Maybe then all wouldn’t be completely lost.  Always that glimmer of hope but then they walked into my meeting and realised that all of that had been in vain.  The kid had been lost here just as much as he’d been lost everywhere.  He’d been lazy here, unreasonable, defensive, a waste of oxygen; just as much as he had been everywhere else.  There was no hope.

 

That’s when frustration took over.  They didn’t choose the time and the place.  The time and place chose them and so they both laid into him right here, right now.  This was it.  This was the time and this was the place.  This was the last straw that broke the camel’s back and weeks, months, perhaps even years of pent-up anger was coming out.

 

‘When will you learn,’ one of them said.  ‘When are you going to learn?  When is this, this, this nightmare.  When will it end?’

 

The other one - I don’t know which one - said something like not knowing what to do with him anymore.  Something about being at a loss and how they’re tried stuff.  No, wait, they’d tried everything.  After that brief moment and admissions of helplessness, he or she returned to parental mode, asking him when he’d start acting his own age.  I thought that was full parent mode because there’s something confusing about that, isn’t there?  Wasn’t he doing just that?  Acting his age?  Sure, I know there are also fourteen-year-olds that lead a slightly different lifestyle.  A lifestyle that’s perhaps healthier, more altruistic, more active, more academic and more awash with ideals and dreams.  Were they acting their age though?

 

Was I going to tell them?  As much as I wanted to stick up for the kid and point out that he might be acting his age, there were no redeeming qualities there.  He was still acting like a spoilt, entitled, lazy and useless entity; even if he was acting his age.  Someone who, if he decided not to walk into my classroom one morning, I might forget to tick on the register as absent.  Not on purpose, just because.  There was nothing there to stick up for and besides, part of me was kind of enjoying the little scene here.  There’s something quite enjoyable about watching parents lose their shit with their children.  It’s the unbridled anger mixed with utter disappointment that makes it a bit more theatrical and emotional than it would otherwise be, you know, when just two people take chunks out of each other.  It’s difficult not to love your children, which is the problem, and only people you love can wind you up to that degree.  Random people having an argument won’t let it get that bitter.  They either walk away or do something extremely violent.  You can’t easily walk away from the people you love and even though some people in relationships do resort to violence, I am naive enough to think the norm was right in front of me.  Two parents who couldn’t help but love the kid but who could equally not help being livid beyond even their imagination and understanding.

 

‘This is just so embarrassing,’ one of them continued.  ‘You think Mr Weeda doesn’t have better things to do with his time?’

 

He doesn’t actually, I thought.

 

‘And to make us come out here and be confronted with this.  This!  All of it.  Not just English but Maths, Physics and Geography.  Geography for Christ’s sake.  When all you have to do is just turn up.  You have to just go to school.’

 

That’s right, you tell him, I thought.

 

‘You don’t have to be smart, you don’t have to learn, you probably don’t even have to do much homework.  You just have to sit on a chair and pay attention.  And you can’t even do that.’

 

Exactly!  He can’t.

 

‘I am so, so, so disappointed.  How do you expect to get anywhere in life?  What do you want to do?  Live in our house all your life? Do nothing?  Play video games?’

 

He probably does, the cheeky bastard!

 

‘You think that’s how Mr Weeda got here?’

 

Well…

 

I mean, we don’t have to go there, do we?

 

‘You think that’s how Mr Weeda got to sit in that chair?  How he got his job?’

 

Okay, tangent happening.  Now I don’t mind but let’s see if we can get back on track again.  You were sorting out the kid, remember?  Focus.

 

‘You think he just coasted through life like that?  Never did any homework, never went to class?  And just ended up here?  Miraculously like that?’

 

 

‘Well?!’

 

My mouth went to make a sound.  Did my mouth realise it was part of the teacher’s body, not the kid’s body?  It didn’t feel that way.  I looked at the kid.  Yup, he was still there.  He was still sat there, being him.  I was still sat here, being me.  What were his parents looking at though?  Were both parents now looking at me?  What happened to their enjoyable rage monologue?  Why were they looking at me?  Why were they using me in this scenario?  What did they want from me?

 

I didn’t know how I got here.  I didn’t know how I got to sit in that chair and not be the one to get chastised.  The truth is that it is more likely to have been a miracle than through hard work because the truth is that I once, too, sat in that chair.  I did once coast through life.  I did once never do homework - no, wait, I never ever did any homework.  I didn’t show up at school most of the time.  That’s not how I got here, obviously,  but I don’t know how I did.  I mean, I don’t know - I didn’t know - how else I got here.  Could it have been a miracle?  Divine intervention.

 

Okay, they were looking at me.

 

My mouth, ever helpful, told them what it was thinking.  It said, ‘I don’t know.’

 

Luckily, I made it stop.  That’s maturity for you.  If I had still been fourteen years old, my mouth would have continued.  It would said something like, ‘You’ll be alright.  Look at me.  I have absolutely no idea how I got here and look at me now.   Sitting here.’  It would have said that I was the exception to the rule.  ‘You can be the exception to the rule too buddy.’  The rule is to work hard, go to school, pay attention.  ‘You and I are exceptions.’

 

‘What Mr Weeda is saying,’ one of the parents said.  ‘Is that he was once probably a lot like you.’

 

There was an encouraging, friendly nod in my direction from parent number two.  Encouraging and friendly but threatening at the same time.  It asked me to play along.  We’ve got your number  but just play along.  But if you don’t, we will come into your bedroom at night and murder you in your sleep.

 

‘At some point, and I think that moment is right now, Mr Weeda also realised his behaviour wasn’t getting him anywhere.’

 

The Aha-Moment

I nodded along but wondered about that moment and whether it had ever taken place.  If it had, would I be able to remember it?  Would I be able to search my brain and my brain would pinpoint it.  Perhaps not with an exact time and date but as a specific moment.  You know, the moment Lady Di was killed in Paris or the moment that tsunami hit Southeast Asia.  That where-were-you-moment.  It has to have to been there, right?  You can’t go from a sulky, lazy, useless teenager with no future to a 24-year-old teacher who is respected and mature and looked at for promotion.

This boy’s parents were hoping again.  The moment that it all changed.  The epiphany.  Of if not one big epiphany, then a series of minor ones.  A bunch of smaller aha-I-see moments.  The right person to walk up to you at graduation, a book you read that spoke to you, a friend who was led astray to his grave detriment, a sketchy bar job, a book you started writing that no one read, the university entrance exam that - against every single odd- you managed to pass.  

 

I just couldn’t remember the moment.  My brain wasn’t cooperating.  Why wasn’t it?  Why did it feel as if I’d gone from not taking my studies seriously - ever - to living in someone else’s houses - on several occasions - to a sketchy bar job and a whole host of other sketchy jobs after? Why did it feel as if suddenly I’d ended up here?  In this chair, facing this family, looking to me for some sort of sane and sage advice about what to do with their fuck-up son.  Their screw-up son who was going to be screwing up for the foreseeable and end up, what?  Squatting, selling his body to white men in bathroom stalls, shooting up under a bridge somewhere and basically ruining his life if he continued like this?  It’s difficult to put into words how I got from that place, and especially that deplorable future, to this place.  And that’s why it is all for the best that I never became a writer.

 

We Are All The Same

I think It is probably not that difficult to put it into words.  It’s just difficult for me.  There are a number of things you realise when you start university, which is what happened to me after my drawing and poetry phase at secondary school.  After my attempts at creating short stories and after striking out with every single girl at secondary school.  At university, you realise that safety nets will eventually disappear.  You can mess about like you did at secondary school but here you’ll just get asked to leave.  You realise the world is bigger than you thought it was.  You realise that what you thought were the cleverest people in the world were probably only marginally intelligent.  The clever kids in your school, in your school - you realise that contrary to what you thought then, intelligence is definitely not finite.  There are smarter people and they will meet smarter people who will encounter even smarter people than them and so on.  You realise that in that sequence of intelligent people, your spot is fixed somewhere.  You realise that it’s the same for talent.  You realise you will meet your match in everything eventually.  They might walk past you as you’re reading this.  At university, the understanding will take shape in your head that you are not the exception to the rule.  You are the rule and the exceptions are somewhere else.  They are someone else.  

 

And maybe it’s not university.  Maybe it’s just part of becoming an adult.  About half a year before I went to uni, I had my medical check-up for the Dutch military draft.  They don’t do them anymore because the Netherlands have stopped military conscription but back in the day they got all the new 18-year-olds in one massive building for one day.  They checked the boys’ hearing, their sight, their general intelligence and for reasons unknown even to this day, where they had a foreskin or not.  Afterwards, they sent all the boys home and a letter would eventually arrive telling them their station.  The eerie thing about that day, and that which stood out for me the most, is that everyone went for his check-up a day after their 18th birthday.  This meant that everyone in the room was born on exactly the same day as me.  All of us.  A room full of boys. December 22nd, 1974.  Maybe it’s growing up that makes you understand you’re not an exception.

 

For me it was university though.  50,000 reasonably intelligent young adults in one small-ish space.  What I wasn’t good at I was bad at.  What I thought I was good at, I could point at at least one hundred people near me who were better at it than I was.  Writing was, like me, no exception.

 

It’s not like I ever thought I was much of a good writer anyway.  Not when I was a child and not after I’d turned that corner into adulthood.  It’s just that when I was a child, people would kindly and patiently indulge me.  Tell me I was good.  I mean, we do that with our children, don’t we?  I remember going to my daughter’s first choir performance.  She was four or five years old and we were either proud or filled with trepidation.  Probably a little bit of both.  I really can’t remember which.  Though whichever one it was, that performance was so earth-shatteringly shit that it made the animals in the forest commit suicide.  And the forest was 30 miles away.  Still, there we all were, all of us parents of some kind of kid on that stage.  We were all smiling from ear to ear even though only five of the assembled children were actually singing.  Even though one was picking his nose and another one was trying desperately not to wee herself.  The point I am trying to make is that when we were children, and we were trying things out, we were encouraged to try them out.  We made jewellery that was ugly and could not be worn, we played the french horn that sent the dog back into therapy, we played tennis that cost our parents a racquet and a fortune in lessons and we baked bread that even someone coming out of a hunger strike would turn their nose up to.  We were decidedly awful at everything unless, and until, we were not decidedly awful.  However, until that moment, you’d never have known we were awful at things.  Adulthood changes that.  Uni changes that.

 

Averegeness Confirmed

The first time, and subsequently the last time, I handed in some of my poetry to an English professor, I instantly wished I hadn’t.  At first, I first got that disdainful look that the highly esteemed, learned and researched reserve for undergraduates.  Undergraduates, people at the check-out, waiters and waitresses and their loved ones each time their loved ones say something that’s not articulate or intellectual.  It’s that look of disgust where they reflect on their own two decades of intensive study, research, teaching and publishing.  The look of disgust when they’re arrested by that sudden pang of underachievement.  In spite of these two decades dedicated to the noble art of higher education, they’re still having to listen and pander to undergraduates.  They still have to buy their own groceries, order their own green teas and almond milk lattes and listen to the persons they once used to love talk absolute rubbish again.  I almost forgave him the look as well. Six months ago, I’d just as much asked a friend or my nan.  It was like asking Einstein to have a look at this new prototype ring hole punch I was creating.  You know, after I’d asked the guy helpful bloke at Staples and my nan.

 

Did I know I’d made a mistake?  Not to the full extent of my mistake.  Not until I received it back a few weeks later.  Not until I’d seen the comments.  I would have gone back to secondary school, would have taken every rejection, drawn a million pictures for a million more rejections and I would have accepted a rejection on national television.  This is the boy who writes poetry hoping that girls will go out with him.  Take a good look at him!  Do not accept any poetry.  He draws pictures of dodgy saxophone players too.  If you’ve seen this boy… Do not approach this boy…

 

I should have known as well.  I should have known that no good would come of this.  The British are easily offended.  You can’t teach them about music, you can’t make fun of their Royal family, you can’t tell them football isn’t coming home, you can’t abuse their pets and you can’t criticise their literature.  They take these things seriously, so what was I expecting?  A printed banner behind an aeroplane stating how amazing I was?  A special broadcast on university radio announcing a new talent had emerged?  From the Netherlands?  Or was I perhaps expecting a short note dripping in repulsed sarcasm? Should I just have expected that?

 

The notes needn’t have been dipped and soaked in sarcasm though.  His contempt was palpable as he handed me back my work, almost in as pristine a condition as he had been when I had given it to him.  There, in the top right corner, were the succinctly and carefully worded notes that looked as if they had looked more in place with a letter F next to them. 

 

‘There are merely some of my wishes for a better world,’ he said about his comments in the margin, and as he made to leave.  ‘A more just society, a wish for those who are not at peace to find peace and for a world to keep innovating.  To strive for progress.

 

Then he turned back again and, for probably the first time ever, looked me straight in the face.

 

‘And for the untalented and incapable to generally leave me alone and not bother me.  I have read your work.  I have made an attempt.  There is nothing there.  There is no emotion, no content.  It’s a minor collection of words.’

 

I don’t know my facial expression at this point.  I don’t know if I was crestfallen or cross, defeated or disappointed, but for some reason or another, he must have felt the need to continue.  After that hammer blow, he had to strike another one.

 

‘I don’t know if it’s your level of English,’ he said.  ‘Possibly, it could be.  I don’t know if it.  Other non-English speakers have gone before you and they have delivered work that, one might argue, was not to the standard one might have wanted.  But they had meaning.  They had purpose somehow and what they wrote moved others.  It spoke to people in spite of its obvious limitations.’

 

Then he looked at my feet.  You grow up old enough and you’ll understand this is your cue to start using them.  When you’re young, like I was, you think there’s something on your shoe that someone has just noticed.

 

Thing is, whether he was right or wrong and whether he was being rude about it or helpful, within the context of where I found myself, it made sense.  I was surrounded by better writers.  I was surrounded by people who not only wrote better than I did, it was quite possible they were also developing these skills faster than I was.  Now I was told they probably wrote with more purpose, more authority and more emotion than I did.  No one questioned their reasons to write.  They were moved to it.  They were compelled to write.  There were forces at work that made them pick up a pen, a notepad, a laptop.  Forces they could not explain.

 

About My Writing

In the early days, I could now see that my writing was compelling.  Some might argue it was haunting - too haunting perhaps, led me to counselling sessions even.  As a very young writer, I had found inspiration in the formidable, gruelling, traumatic and confusing tasks set by merely growing up.  My struggles and early childhood demons had moved me and what I wrote had moved others, though the direction in which we had all moved had perhaps been slightly different.  People had taken inspiration from what I wrote but over time I’d started writing for something other than the simple passion of picking up a pen and putting down to paper what transpired in my head.  I don’t know what it was but eventually, the same mundane nothingness, the same arbitrary misinterpretation of what I thought was inspiration had led me here.

 

From that place, in the short space of a few years, I had moved to this place.  Writing for the sake of writing.  Seeking approval from a professor of English I did not know, who did not know me.  For what?  Because he’d understand what scores of teenage girls hadn’t understood?  That I was talented?  I had written for affirmation.

 

I met my limitations right here, as perhaps I should have.  I’d walked into the brick wall that is young adulthood without a safety net.  I realised that when compared to the rest of the world, it is difficult to be the exception to the rule.  In the course of time, I would learn that when compared to the rest of the world, we’re all average.  The only ones who are not average are the ones who have stopped comparing and instead became the difference they wanted to be.  That plain and that simple.

 

Still, that’s a lot of hours of soul-searching that had to take place right there.  I wouldn’t have been able to write that back in the day because back in the day, I would have been busy writing trying to impress you, some professor, some girl, some girls.  Trying to be better.  I wouldn’t have known any of the above.  I would not have been able to think the thoughts and  I wouldn’t have been able to put the thoughts into words.

 

How I got from squatting to teaching, I can put that into words now.

About Writing (Part II)

Counselling was sound. I don't know, perhaps counselling is sound when I'd always thought it was weird and you had to be weird to receive any of it. Whichever it was, my guy was sound. A diabetic, yes, given the amount of gummi bears he consumed. I brought them in for myself, had to pay for them myself, but none of that had stopped him the first time. And after that, he never seemed to look back. So I suppose that he was one of those. You take some sweets for yourself, he helps himself to one - asks politely, sure, but helps himself nonetheless. Then he takes another one, and another one. Before you know it, the bag is on his side and he's helped himself to the whole lot. I went off the gummis for a while. Brought in a few other types of sweets, just to see which ones he'd leave alone. Turns out, there weren't many of those. Preferred Smarties to M&Ms though, judging by hand-in-bag ratio.

 

Adults Just Do Not Understand

Still, he was a good guy, in an all-round sense. He listened and he didn’t judge.  I am not sure if he shared all of my opinions but I suppose that's the point I am trying to make. Did he share my opinion on adults? My black-and-white assessment of people who just didn’t understand things (i.e. adults)? You know, the people who didn't understand me, life, love, etc.? Did he agree with my opinion that my mum and dad belonged on that list? Did he think it was as obvious as I did? Did he agree with me that they'd probably never been young themselves? That, like many adults, they were always negative, always judging, never happy, always cynical? Did he also think they were generally a nightmare to be around as a young person? Did he think that teachers should also be on that list? While formally trained to understand young people, they probably understood them even less. To be honest, the first time I spotted a teacher in the wild (in the supermarket), I thought I was seeing a mirage. Really? They came out of school? They had lives? Did he agree with me that adults who weren't teachers or parents were likely to appear on the list?

 

Perhaps that's what he didn't fully agree with; the fact that basically no adult understood.

 

'No matter how hard they try,' he once asked.

 

Isn't that just it though, I thought? The fact that they don't try.

 

Of course we weren't mates. For starters, mates don't steal your sweets. Alternatively, mates don't feed other mates sweets only to see how many their fat arse will eat. But I enjoyed our talks and if nothing else, I got to talk to him about art and writing and girlfriends.

 

And girlfriends and writing.

 

And then just girlfriends. Because in the end, only girlfriends remained. Well, girls did.

 

Girls

Yeah, yeah, it happens to us writers too. You know it happens to football players and it happens to pianists and it happens to everyone who's aiming for a career that has absolutely nothing to do with girlfriends (or boyfriends). But love happens - and unrequired love happens even more - and it happens to authors too. It happened to me. Mainly the unrequited kind but let's not dwell on that.

 

Or let's. It's all I've got.

 

I continued writing but then I made a pretty fatal error in judgement. I started using my writing as a means to impress girls. A fatal error in judgement, as I will illustrate shortly, which I carried from the latter stages of secondary all the way into university. I tried to woo girls by writing and let me tell something that may not at all surprise you, but which surprised me. This. Does. Not. Work.

 

At all.

 

In my opinion.

 

This is an opinion that is solely based on a good six years of hapless, hopeless and useless research. Girls do not give a shit about writing. Not a single one.

 

But Girls Don't Care About Writing

Let me explain this a little better. They enjoy books. They enjoy writing. They care about guys being literate, which is to say that they cared quite a lot if a guy was illiterate, if that makes sense. Romantic writing is acceptable so long as it's limited to a few cards a year and provided, ideally, that it's attached to some sort of present. The overkill of romantic writing, which could also be misconstrued as literary stalking, is something they do not care for. Unfortunately for me, this is exactly the kind of behaviour I got myself engaged in. Love letters, romantic poetry, cards (without presents) and whatever else I could write on.

 

Now here are two problems with that approach.

 

One is that this does not work. I don't have to explain this. I shouldn't have to explain this but there are people, like my younger self, who do not know this. So if you're reading this and you think that this does work, believe me when I say it doesn't. Don't ask me to explain, just trust me when I say this.

 

Problem two is that if you happen to fancy yourself a bit of a Shakespeare, as I clearly did, every child in the school immediately becomes your worst enemy. The irony is this: to become a writer, you need to get published; to ensure you do not get bullied and socially assasinated at school, you need to not get published.

 

I had my fair share of romantic intellectual property change hands in the school playground. Mostly to the tune of a lot of, 'Dude', 'What the actual fuck', stares and disbelief.

 

So trust me on this one too, there is absolutely no need whatsoever to give bullies any more ammo than they already have. They do not need any more incentive and they do not need any more ammunition. But there I was, writing lyrical poetry to impress a girl as if we were both lounging in some kind of 18th century landscape painting. That was a) not successful and b) passed around the classroom faster than the speed of light. In my dreamlike state, I imagined girls falling over each other to get to me. In reality, they were falling over one another to get away from me.

 

Misguidance

I mean, I was both passionately and properly misguided. I should have stuck to the black-and-white charcoal mass murderer stuff of my early secondary school days. I might have been a social outcast then too but at least I would have been a cool, dark, enigmatic, listening-to-The-Cure kind of outcast. Instead I was the slighly nuts, slightly quiet, very introvert, no-friends, listening-to-Engelbert-Humperdinck kind of outcast. I mean, I even started drawing pictures that went along with the poems I wrote. That's not just providing the hangman with the rope, that's also checking the structure for dry rot and making sure the livestream is working.

 

Allow me to illustrate how I hung myself socially.

 

I am fifteen at this point. That's the age - you may recognise - that stuff tends to go wrong in most areas, not just romantically. Until fifteen things had gone relatively well. First kiss happened to me at eleven. I do mean 'happened to me'. I got out of the swimming pool thinking that's all we'd be doing. Then she kissed me. Inserted her tongue into my mouth a little bit like a flexible key making its way into a unwitting lock - and about as much romance - but it was magical. First proper girlfriend at twelve or thirteen. That was pretty good too. We both fell in love, then we made it to second base - that wasn't just cool. That was like Professor Brian Cox making the Theory of Relativity and time travelling something you can actively understand (but with an erection). We went to the cinema. Upon coming out of the cinema after seeing Kevin Costner not even attempting to sound English and pretend he was Robin Hood, she thought she saw Joey from New Kids on the Block. So did 10,000 other girls and I lost her. I was fifteen.

 

Anyway, things started going pear-shaped, or shit-shaped, when you're fifteen.

A Love Supreme

As it happens, fifteen years old, I am listening to A Love Supreme. I want to say I am listening to one of the best jazz albums that has ever been made but no, this A Love Supreme is none other than Will Downing's one-day-fly that topped the charts in absolutely no country where they understand music. Will, if you're reading this, I am sorry. You should have known that was shit and I think you made quite a bit of money on clueless teenagers like myself who thought this would be good background music for when they finally managed to get a girl in their bedroom. I mean, I got your record. I just never got the girl in the bedroom.

 

Anyway, enough of the musical criticism except to say that Downing's version has quite a lot of saxophone. Remember this because it's essential to the story. Right now, here I am casually penning down a poem, or some lines that rhyme at least, for a girl that smiled at me. That is, I think she smiled at me. She may have just looked at me and I may have imagined the smile. She may also have looked at me and I wanted to imagine a smile. She may also have looked at something behind me. She may have just turned her head in my direction for a split second. But what I know, at this point, is that she smiled at me. What I do not know, or realise, is that she so far out of my league, she may actually be from an intergalactic league made up of girls out of my league. A big league. Even if I was the Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, Patti Smith of romantic poetry; I should not be writing this girl a poem. But this is how misguided I am. I actually think it's working. I actually think I am winning.

 

In fact, I am so convinced of this fact that after my poem, I start doodling an image that came into my head as I was listening to Will What-The-Fuck-Have-You-Done Downing song. I mean, the poem is going so well, shaping up so nicely, I should definitely consider a drawing. What says I should be the one more than a shitty poem and an even shittier drawing? Remember the sax? This is where he comes back. My picturing is that of a saxophonist who is arising out of some sort of dark dust cloud or some sort of black mass.

 

I am still at a loss to explain it and I don't think a creative writing course could save me. It's tripe. It's horrible. It's the kind of stuff you can't unsee. It's awkward. David Brent dancing awkward but you can't look away either. The man has no legs and his saxophone is four times the size of his body. The poem is a trainwreck. It rhymes, has as much meaning as a Ctrl-Alt-Del wand (yes, my friends, yes - check it out) and comes attached to a note that says, 'Do you want to go out with me'.

 

Spoiler alert one: No, she didn't.

 

Spoiler alert two: Yes, I got absolutely massacred at school.

 

Spoiler alert three: ...

About Writing (Part I)

Variations to this theory exist but I firmly believe that I taught myself how to read and write. My mum and dad think otherwise although it’s safe to assume that my dad holds no actual opinion about this (later, much later, we can go into that in more details). For now, that’s a nice way of saying he was never that interested. When you think about it, his lack of interest actually supports my side of the argument. I taught myself how to read and write.

 

The reason I taught myself how to read and write was because I always wanted to become a writer. I loved writing. I enjoyed writing. I was always making up stories. Apparently, my grandad was a great storyteller (too) and there are some suggestions that he was the one who got me into the story-telling business. The two of us would go for walks and he’d make up some story about something that was going on right at that moment. We would visualise this right in front of us and whatever granddad started, I carried on. That sounds like my he was senile and I was just letting him be senile but I remember it as being quite fun and entertaining (as opposed to early signs of dementia). Right now, looking, back, it's probably a little bit weird thinking about the two of us seeing gnomes and fairies in grandad's garden. All the more so because mum, who'd sit there right next to us, was often left feeling going slighty mad because she didn't see any of this. The other thing I can remember from visiting my grandparents on weekends is my mum searching the bushes in a state that somewhat approached paranoia.

 

The End of the Gnomes

Eventually, my stories and grandad's stories stopped aligning. I don't know exactly when it happened but for some reason, I stopped making up and writing stories about mythical garden entities. I stopped creating the friendly and colourful stories that we used to co-create on our Sunday walks. I personally blame adolesence. I know, I know, adults blame everything they can't control about raising children on adolescence and I know, I know, I am an adult now. Still, I think there's a good case for it. Adolescence changed my writing from happy-go-lucky to dark, sinister, disturbing and - at times - morally wrong.

 

The gnomes gradually got replaced by monsters, the fairies that flitted about became angsty teenage drug dealers and Mr Mole started venturing into abandoned houses to conduct rituals. What got me into trouble was, what I thought, a relatively innocuous story about a man who breaks into a home to frighten children. I say relatively innocuous because a) I didn't think much of it and b) I kind of left the story there. Up until I'd written half of that story, no one had really paid any attention to what I was writing. Grandad was only unconsciously around and, as I will point out a little later, writing isn't necessarily regarded as supercool. This meant I was generally ignored or, as I would have put it, left alone by design. Back to the story, this one got attention because it came to more of a visual fruition in art class.

 

Charcoal Torture

The teacher had introduced us to charcoal and the brief was to work shadows into our art and play with sources of light to create these shadows. I went to work, drawing a figure of a man with a light source coming in behind him. I wanted to create an impressive shadowy figure so the light came from behind his shoulders and head and the angle was very imposing. The man had no face, got adorned with a heavy rope around his shoulder and a crowbar in his left hand. I drew a doorframe with black walls on either side and then thought of a story that would fit in this story, written on the walls. In blood (but in black and white). Initially, I thought 'help' and such things would be quite neat but then I realised the man's victims wouldn't have had time for that. So instead, I wrote concepts of what he was thinking. One of these thoughts was torture.

 

That, as you might be able to imagine, is what gets you into trouble in Year 9.

 

Interestingly, it's also what gets you heard.

 

So that's the other lesson here. I'd been writing for just over a decade. Most people had said something like, 'Oh nice.' Not to me, of course, not in the beginning, but to my parents. Something along the lines of, 'It is so nice to see someone being creative.' Then, asked if they wanted to see or read any of it, they were all really busy doing something else. The fairies and gnomes didn't really help either. No one wants to read about that. If you want to get read, listened to or heard, you shock. In all of this, that's the message I was beginning to understand.

 

'I can't see how this came from a fourteen-year-old,' is what the Headmaster said. 'I am deeply concerned.'

 

This - lesson three - is how headmasters speak. Heads are usually concerned. Concerned or deeply concerned. Parents are disappointed or very disappointed and heads are concerned or deeply concerned.

 

Then they ask you to repeat your name because they clearly have no idea who you are. So they're concerned but probably not that concerned.

 

Concerned v Disappointed

The picture was there, on the Headmaster's coffee table. I actually thought it looked pretty good in his office. Did he do commissions - the image of a man daydreaming about torture wouldn't look out of place in a headmaster's office. But I had to focus. This was potentially a serious scene. My irate mother, dragged out of whatever meeting or job like from a bad 80s film; my arts teacher, the Headmaster and some extra. Why the extra? I thought the same thing but having worked in education for a while now, I've come to understand this. You need the extra. Dragged in for extra effect. I had to focus but in all seriousness, I wasn't aware of having all that much wrong at this point. I'd drawn a picture. I was ready to talk about what I'd tried to achieve. How the story had developed in my head as I'd been drawing. The way fear manifests itself, how denial clings to people, how hope dies last. The dying of the light as the shape of the man got nearer and nearer. The abandonment of all hope.

 

So, I am not saying they're happy thoughts but they're interesting.

 

It's a good story. Problem was, they let me tell it. Now let me tell you about a storyteller's curse in order to explain why that's a bad thing.

 

We storytellers. We like to tell stories. The fun thing is that they just appear into our heads. Don't ask me how. Apparently, really clever mathematicians just get answers to appear in their heads (yes, I saw Good Will Hunting too). Designers have designs pop up in their heads and so on. I get stories. They don't present themselves as complete stories right then and there. To tell you the truth, the way they appear is quite random, abrupt and broken; I won't bore you with the details. They don't appear in my head with a beginning, an ending and a bit in the middle. Shapes appear, emotions appear, people appear - people that are familiar dropped into circumstances that are unfamiliar and vice versa. In other words, it's a bit of a madhouse in my head. When I start writing them down, these apparitions, they start to develop. This is the storyteller's curse, especially when the tangent we disappear on is slightly mad. As I set off on my here's-the-dark-figure-of-a-man-going-into-a-house-having-seriously-disturbing-thoughts story, there was only one way I was going to go.

 

That's right, deeper and deeper down that rabbit hole. The storyteller's curse: we can't stop.

 

Mum started crying quietly before I even realised. Not bawling, mind, just that silent helpless cry. My son is a fourteen-year-old monster harbouring thoughts of torture. What do I do? Where did I go wrong? I wanted to say it was just a story. It wasn't real life. I obviously didn't break into people's houses? And, I mean, look at the man. He was seven foot tall! It wasn't even me.

 

It's just that the story wasn't finished.

 

The Road to Counselling

But why was I getting in the neck? So I wrote a couple of phrases on the walls of a charcoal painting. In actual fact, I was proud. Does anyone know how difficult it is to outline white letters on a black background and keep them legible? Exactly. I'd created art. Not only that, I'd created art that people wanted to talk about, hence our sitting here. As far as outrageous art was concerned, I wasn't even skimming the surface, was I? How about the woman who ingested different colours of milk that she vomitted back out on a canvas in front of a live audience while they listened to two musicians providing some type of soundtrack? That happened. Or the bloke who did penis performance art? Also in front of a live audience. What about the bloke who crucified himself to a Volkswagen? I was a Year 9 who had drawn a man on a piece of paper using charcoal.

 

Dad said it was only a matter of time but his appreciation of art was limited to Knight Rider and a couple of Beatles albums. I am not saying he had bad taste in music but to suggest he understood budding artists like myself was probably a stretch. Or just blatantly stupid.

 

The irony is that after coming home, I started working on a story of a serial killer who'd found his origins or his raison d'etre in the fact that the everyone around him continued to misunderstand. Mum read that too and I spent the next year or so telling my stories to an actual professional.

 

Not a professional artist, mind, but a professional nonetheless. We ate gummibears together and overall, he did a fairly shit job preparing me for life as a young adult author but the embarrasments of my young adult life will be discussed in Part II. I promise.

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