Monday, 23 June 2014

It's so seductive to think you're rubbish

Lel - published poet, and as thus a
thousand kilometres ahead of me
I was in the DVD store the other day talking with my friend Lel.
Lel is a poet, and has had a few poems published.
I have great admiration for her in doing this.
Whenever If I think Trying To Be A Writer is hard, try being a poet.
If you crack odds similar to winning the lottery, and get something published, a book, even a short story, it is an amazing feat of accomplishment.
The corollary to that is, that someone will only publish it, if they think that someone will read it, or more importantly, buy it.
And thus, as I'm sure you can imagine, trying to get someone to buy a poem is many times over more difficult.
Mostly, from what I remember, anyone I knew from my brief forays into the world of culture, mainly in Sydney, and to a small extent in London, anyone who was a poet, ended up giving their poetry away, as gifts mostly.
Thus a birthday would come around and you would provide a nicely framed poem to the recipient, which would go on the wall or the bedroom dresser.
A nice gesture, but as a source of income, a drastic failure.
So for Lel to get a poem published, gains my highest regard for her endeavours.
To compare, Clive James, the Australian writer, most famous for his TV shows, Clive James in London, and Clive James at Home, and also for his books, starting with Unreliable Memoirs, says he is actually a poet, first and foremost.
But have you ever heard of his poems?
Me neither, and I thought I'd read everything of his.
So Lel has done better than Clive in a way.
As we talked, the discussion led to the eternal nightshade for those of us who try anything in the creative field: REJECTION - and its effects on your self-esteem.
Which is what this post is mainly about.
When I write something, an article, a blog post, and there are not a lot of readers, measured by pageviews, it is quite a blow to my self-esteem.
However I have to try to remember that something that doesn't get a lot of pageviews doesn't mean that I am suddenly rubbish as a writer.
Mind you, when talking with my work colleague Scott about this, he pointed out that maybe I am. (Thanks a bunch Scott, you arsehole.)
Yet of course, I think it is the human condition, to not like rejection in any form.

However, you have to go on, you have to keep trying things.
I remember once someone making quite a good point, which was this, "No one quits when things are going well".
Which may seem like the bleeding obvious but it's often the case that it is only when something is laid out so simply that you get the point.
But here is where the title of this post comes in: "It's so seductive to think you're rubbish."
As I've documented here to the point where regular readers are yelling "enough!", I had a horrendous childhood.
My parents spent ten odd years screaming at me that i was worthless, I was no good, I was lazy, I was destroying my parents happiness, I was shiftless, nothing I did was any good.
So obviously by the time I came to a man's estate, I was totally, dead-set certain that they were right.
So I had no, that is NO, self-esteem, not just low self-esteem, but NONE.
With some esteem, you can handle better a rejection, with none, it cuts to the bone.
So that reminded me of this incident.
When I was a young man living in Sydney, earning lots of money in IT, and drinking increasingly heavily, I first began to explore the idea of therapy.
This was hard, as one of the things my parents made clear to me was that there was nothing wrong me, I wasn't allowed to complain, and there was no way I needed to see a shrink.
Not that my parents had any concern for my well-being, it was simply that if I went to therapy, they would be exposed for the appalling parents they were.
Anyway, one mid-morning I left my computer on the 20th floor of a glass tower in North Sydney, and went down to meet Nick for therapy.
It was my first session, and Nick quizzed me about my past, to get a handle on where things were for me.
After a very short period he could see that a big problem for me was low-, or more accurately, no self-esteem.
Nick then asked, "Where does esteem come from?"
Offspring even released an album on the topic.
I stopped and thought about it (for a long time), and couldn't come up with an answer.
I eventually uttered, "Well, when you get some praise from the boss at work, could be one instance...", then ended with a hopeful question mark, "...?"
Nick then gently said, "But wouldn't that indicate that in this instance, your esteem is in fact coming from your boss?"
I nodded my head, that was perfectly logical.
I then commenced a long silent period of contemplation, that came up with zilch.
I truly had no idea where esteem came from.
Nick then explored my comment.
My job at the time was on a computer magazine.
My job was to lay out the stories on a page using a Desktop Publishing package called Quark Xpress.
I had to add a headline, and make the copy fit to the space available.
Quite finicky, but ultimately satisfying.
What Nick pointed out to me was that I never gave myself credit for anything, that I knew was good, I only accepted credit if, in this case, my boss, said I'd done a good layout.
Which brings us through a long thirty paragraphs to the point, such as it is.
If you rely on other people for esteem, you will be, eventually, unsatisfied.
It's bad enough in the workplace, but where it really comes loose, is in your relationship.
Now here I can already see that I am letting the dogs of controversy out.
I would like to say that I am not trying to hand out relationship advice here, but more, as with my parenting comments, pointing out a common pitfall.
One of my favourite writers in David Lodge, and in his book Changing Places, one of the characters asks why another character went into a relationship that was clearly wrong for them.
The character replies, "The same reason anyone goes into a relationship, I guess, I was scared of being lonely." 
Loneliness is a great fear and it often leads us to enter a relationship that we know from the off is wrong.
Often, certainly I did this, we are hoping that the other person in the relationship will make us happy.
However, the problem here is of course that, the other person has their own stuff to deal with, and if they allow themselves to fall into the habit of propping up your self-esteem, then you move immediately into a co-dependent relationship, and the outcome of those is never good.
I saw a lot of this in my travels through rehab and alcohol recovery.
Quite often I would see a relationship in which one person drank too much, and/or took too many, or indeed, any drugs.
Then the other person would continually pick them up, and get them to rehab, and recovery.
Often observers of this would then say, why are they doing this?
They can't be getting much out of this relationship, can they?
Well often, the constant rescuing gives the rescuer a feeling of worth.
But as you can see, this is dysfunction writ large, and it comes to the rescuer in the end to understand that the only way to heal this relationship is to not rescue the other person.
That's hard, but it has to be done if the relationship is to move out of the co-dependant, two-way, shame spiral.
But, and here lies the complex rub, clearly, both people are getting something out of that hopelessly dysfunctional relationship.
Either party ending it, opens up the appallingly terrifying prospect of a) change and b) loneliness.
Worse that that, someone is going to be rejected, and as far as I know, no one on this Earth gets out of bed in the morning and says, "Gee, I hope I get rejected today."
Rejection is hard, and we all (sadly) have to deal with it.
Rejection for me came from relationships, when a girl would say "she had to stay home and wash her hair".
At work, if the boss chewed me out for making a mistake.
But even in ordinary life, if, for instance, the bus driver didn't say 'hello' to me when I bought my ticket, I bizarrely took that as a rejection, and spent the rest of the bus ride wondering why the driver hated me.
And of course, dealt with rejection, both real, and merely perceived, by drinking too heavily, and smoking hectares of pot.
At that time in my life, when drinking and smoking so heavily, it was a dark world, that makes me shiver just to recall.
However there was an upside, which was this.
Going into rehab was, even for me, the hardest thing I ever did.
The upside, much later, was this, for the first time in my life, I gained some self-esteem.
I struggle to utter really of the difficulty of giving up drinking, particularly in our Australian society where alcohol is so prevalent and so admired.
To admit, as an Australian male, that you are an alcoholic, meant for me, admitting that I was weak and less manly than others who could handle the drink.
Being manly was one of the few ways I had erroneously gained self-esteem.
So to openly contradict this, was exceptionally hard.
But eventually I knew that I was affecting my friend's lives badly with my drinking and acting like a total tool.
In the end, a long forty years after I came down the chute into this world, I knew that if I didn't give up the drink I would never be able to look in the mirror again.

Thus the upside was that in the end, I am able to say today that I finally showed some courage, and got off the drink.
I was luckier than I can say with good support from some of the same friend's I'd treated so badly while drunk, and also from my therapist Paula the Wonder Horse.
But I did it, and thus for the first time in my life that I gave myself credit for something.
Ironic really, that I had to nearly die of alcohol poisoning to finally give myself the most miserly amount of credit.

My Most Unmusical "Career"

So moving on, this picture is an odd one, but as ever, there's a minor point.
The other day I was getting changed when this coin fell out of my pocket and jangled onto the floor.
Although I wasn't looking, I could tell it was a two-dollar coin from the sound it made.
This told me that after thirty years I have finally developed a somewhat musical ear.
So lets go back in time to Bathurst in the seventies.
When I was a boy, my mother made me go to guitar lessons.
Not an uncommon story, many of you reading this were forced to take music lessons, and had music destroyed for you as a thing of wonder and joy.
My mother, as ever concerned with her image in the town, wanted her sons to be "accomplished", as the characters in Jane Austen novels were.
Music, painting, dance, all of these things my mother wanted us to be.
So I was sent to have classical guitar lessons with the formidable Mr August.
That was his name, he wasn't the centrefold in Playgirl for the month preceding September. So each Thursday I would attend Mr August's house and be abused by him for a half hour as I got everything wrong.
All he wanted to teach me was to play scales, and where's the fun in that?
It was no coincidence that I remember absolutely nothing from those lessons, except the abuse I copped.
Never was I so happy as when the ten lessons ended, and (I assuming here) Mr August told my mother than dying skunks being dragged under a car made more melodious sounds than I ever would.
At about the same time I took a further blow to my musical prestige, in class, at Bathurst Public School, from the similarly abusive Miss Manning.
I was in fourth class and we were all forced into singing, in some recital or other, like performing seals.
So she got all the class out and made us all sing, and then went around listening and decided who could sing and who couldn't.
Now I saw a chance of escape, so while singing at the "audition", I sang in the deepest possible voice that I could engender.
I had some thoughts of her saying, "what a deep, manly, melodious voice you have got".
But I should have known.
All she said was, "You're a drone. You won't be singing."
I should have been happy, as I thought I was unrequired for the performing seal bit of the exercise, but then I was wrong.
First, some ancient, and internecine linkage gripped in my brain, and I thought to myself in panic, "Shit, now I'm officially not musical, my mother is gonna kill me."
And I was downcast.
Then, to compound my misery, Miss Manning said, "since you can't sing, you can play the triangle for the others to sing."
So me and the other drones, then had to join the performing seal troupe as bit players of percussion instruments.
Since this meant that every afternoon in class leading up to the recital we had to go through an hour of boring rehearsal for something we didn't even want to do, it was another form of torture handed out to those of us who attended primary school in the seventies.
I would like to think that today, the kids would be asked if they would like to perform, rather than ordered to do it.
Anyway, long after this, when I was eighteen or nineteen, I finally made my own, voluntary, forays into the world of music.
Like all young men of that age, I saw myself playing the guitar in a band with many admiring young women looking up at me through desirous eyes.
So yes, like everyone else, I learned the guitar to get sex.
So I bought a guitar from the the local music store, and then got a book, called "How to Play the Guitar", or something like, and went at it.
However, I immediately came up against a major problem, I had no musical ear.
I couldn't tune the guitar.
This was best demonstrated by one afternoon when I was sitting on my bed making another hopeless attempt to tune the thing.
I turned the knobs up and down, and couldn't tell if the string was going more into, or more out of tune.
But thankfully, our neighbour in Prospect Street was Steve McLeod, the best guitarist in Bathurst.
I'm guessing that he had been driven mad by my hopeless attempts at music, and driven beyond the point of distraction by me playing the thing out of tune, and so this afternoon, I was moving onto another string when Steve's voice came through my bedroom window, "Lachy, go back to your B-string."
I looked up startled, and happy for the help, did as he said, I plunked my B-string.
He listened, then said, "it's flat, turn the tuning screw so the string is tighter."
I did so, then plunked again.
He once more listened, then said, "Ok, a little more tighter."
I did so, then plunked again.
"OK", said Steve, "The B-string is in tune, tune the other strings to that."
I did so and more or less then played my guitar for a while, in close to tune as I'd ever been, and certainly that Steve had ever heard.
So for the next period of my life, whenever I wanted to play my guitar, I had to go next door to Steve's house, and get him to tune it.
If I hadn't I think Steve would have ended up coming over and smashing the thing to pieces.
However, this process couldn't go on.
So I read more books on guitar, and finally found out how to develop a musical ear.
What the book said was to get four styrofoam cups, and, put salt, flour, sand and sugar in each separate cup.
Then without looking inside, pick up each, and shake them, when you can tell what's in the cup from the sound it makes, then you have the ability to tell when your musical instrument is in tune.
So I did that.
It was a labourious process, but I persevered.
All those pliant young women waiting to have sex with me were at the end of this learning road.
After some time I could tell the sand from the flour, but then as I worked at it, I began to make the finer gradation of telling sugar from sand, and salt from flour.
And it obviously worked, as evidenced by, thirty years later, being able to tell what coin had fallen to the floor.
I never did join a band in those early days, "thank fuck for that", the pub patrons of Bathurst cried.
But I did become remotely competent at the guitar.
Puff the Magic Dragon - I wrote it
twenty years after Peter, Paul and Mary did.
So much so, that I began to try to write my own songs.
Man, were they bad.
I am more glad than I can say that no recording of them exists.
My song writing efforts were best exemplified by my first performance of one of "my" tunes.
I put four chords together in a remotely mellifluous form, and then said to my father, "do you want to hear this song I wrote?"
He assented with grave misgivings, knowing the appalling sounds that regularly came out of my bedroom while practising, and so I played my four chords, in four-four time (the easiest time signature).
He listened, then said, "It's quite good, but isn't it 'Puff, the Magic Dragon'?"
I played the chords again and realised he was right.
Thus is the curse of songwriters, trying to come up with something new.
No wonder it sounded so good to me.
Anyway, after that I had other things on my mind going off to Sydney Uni in the main, and so gave up my music "career".
But then nearly twenty years later, while living as a freaky hippy on the coast just out of Port Macquarie, I had a something of a musical renaissance.
Some members of the commune I was on wanted to form a band.
Everyone there could play the guitar, it seems to be a qualification for being a hippy.
So with all this instrument competence, there was no need for me to play the guitar, so I auditioned as the singer.
I went to the rehearsal and said, "Look guys, I haven't got the best voice, I'm not always in tune, and I don't really know what 'key' means, let alone being able to sing in one, but, I can remember all the words."
To which the bass player replied, "Well, you're the best we've had so far."
So I joined the band and we began performing, I drank to much to calm my nerves, and I definitely smoked to much pot, but I did get out there and do it.
I learned that songs have to be learned, not just the words, but how to get the notes in order, and to prepare my breathing for different parts of the song.
I learned when to take a breath, and all the rest.
Yet ironically, even after all that, we were still totally rubbish.
Still, thankfully, our regular audience was a stoned as we were, so everyone had a good time.
Hurricane by Bob Dylan, was probably our best received song, all ten minutes of it.
So in the end, I gained some esteem from that too.
I sang in a band in public, and I gave up drinking.
It isn't much for 49 years, but it'll do me.
If any of you have any thoughts on where esteem comes from, feel free to comment.

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