Editor Comment: This was written around the start of January 2015
Very recently (last night) I sat down, and began to read A Slip of the Keyboard, a collection of non-fiction by Terry Pratchett. I got as far as the contents page before I had to stop. Here, very clearly, was something real. Access into the (comparatively) unedited brain of someone, anyone, is not something to be taken lightly. And it’s clear from the contents page that that’s what is going to be got.
Around an hour later, I came back and started again. This time I got as far as Neil Gaiman’s foreword. Something that leapt, no, attacked out of the page was the unbelievably human nature of the writing. It was writing stripped of all the normal literary barriers (i.e. fiction) and many of the social barriers too (i.e. keep things nice). Essentially, it felt honest. And in a world such as ours, that is something that I view as profoundly rare. I am aware that my viewpoint on it is probably warped – a key element of my mental health issues at the moment is that I can’t really deal with that kind of eyes-to-the-soul level of connection, at least not for very long. But, if warped it is then I’ll run with it. My viewpoint is that this kind of writing, this kind of connection is one of the core driving forces behind us as a species.
Perhaps the other, most important element of reading Slip of the Keyboard is that it’s an actual, physical demonstration of something that I, much like millions of others I’m sure, wrestle with; it is okay to just write. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be profound. It doesn’t even have to be finished, or read by anyone else, ever. In short, it is okay to write these little half-things and then just leave them.
My way of seeing this is, I suspect, more than a little jilted. To sum up and officialise the riot that has been much of my head for the last…many years; I have severe depression, tied with strong social anxiety and extremely low self esteem. As a complicating factor, it has also been one of my strongest fears for a very long time that I will ever not be able to trust my own brain – that I will be, in any way, insane.
For me, this combination of factors has slowly but surely seen me drive myself into the ground, like a slow motion comedy pratfall. My supremely low self esteem has seen me not-try for nearly half my life. Some of this, I’m sure, was also out of laziness (that ever present demon). But it would be unfair to blame it on that. The brutal truth of much of it is that I never thought I should really try, because really what was the point? Even now, with medical help and knowledge and, not least, an extremely understanding partner, I grapple with this.
Perhaps the most devastating element in all of this has been that very English, very usual response which is to make it be-okay. This overriding impulse led me to stay in university when, from the first two months, I knew I wasn’t enjoying it. It led me to seek out and take aggressive sales jobs when I knew they were cripplingly bad for me. Later, it led me to seek out jobs full stop, when the self-imposed stress of it was making me bedridden for days at a time. It is by definition impossible to try and objectively assess how one is from inside a mind that has a damaged view on things. Much like trying to open a box with a crowbar which is inside the box (thanks Pratchett), it just doesn’t make sense.
As an aside, there is another risk of me writing this so soon after reading Slips, which is that I mimic. Something that everyone does to a certain extent (or at least, most people do), I’m aware that I do this to a significantly higher degree than most. If I watch Eddie Izzard, I’ll walk around for a good few hours talking like him. If I watch or read Shut Up & Sit Down, I’ll start to channel Quinns. And with this mimicry, it’s not a simple impression – it is not me ‘putting on’ a voice for comedy or whatnot, it is something I do unconsciously. The phrasing, the pacing, even the style of speech or writing will just start vomiting out like a bad translator. No one creates in a vacuum – everything that anyone does has been consciously or unconsciously informed and affected by everything that person has ever experienced, so the idea of ‘what is me’ is always a muddy one once you look past the first glance. But it is something I am nevertheless aware of. When I write, am I writing as me, or am I writing as I imagine Pratchett writes as filtered through me. This is metathinking at it’s most unhelpful. But, as a final kick of irony, I also have to be aware that while all of this is happening, it is very much me that is the person (and personality) doing the metathink.
Most of the time this ends up with a forehead against the desk with a fairly loud meta-kerthunk.
The most important element, and one I have to beat myself over the head with time and time again, is that it doesn’t matter how good it is. It doesn’t matter who sees it (or doesn’t). It doesn’t even matter if it makes sense. You just have to try and keep writing.