Here we go again. I stand naked on a stage before you, the spotlight on my awkward thighs and apparently beautiful breasts. This is what it’s like every time I expose the clumsy grammar and musical rhythms of a writing voice developed in a home whose song was a pidgin English born of two generations of Sicilians and Tuscans.
Before June 2011, it was different. Then I could hide behind the mask of ‘writing a novel’ while ferreting away in an asbestos-lined messy back room. What I put down on my last-legs Mac might have been drivel, but it didn’t matter because no one was looking.
Now my writing stands in the light, I wait, with bated breath on every upload. Should I have shown it to someone before going public? Should I have edited it further,or kept it fresh? Did I say too much or not enough? What didn’t I think of? Were still-in-my-washing-machine-head thoughts ironed out well enough for others to see beyond their entanglednesses?
After the euphoria of winning last year’s Meanland Blogging Competition (alongside another three wonderful writers, all of them more accustomed, it seemed, to publicly showing their writing wares than I) I received my first rotten tomato. It was thrown by a literary big shot. He pierced my Achilles heel in my post’s first sentence. How could an essay that had ‘impacted’ as a verb win a literary competition, he asked? I agreed with him wholeheartedly. I had been fighting a hatred of my inability-to-understand-grammatical-nuances-others-grew-up-with-as-standard for years. The thing I had been scared of most – being found out for being more comfortable with Pidgin English than what is grammatically correct – had happened. It’s also what made seeing each of my monthly missives displayed on the front of literary journal websites Meanjin and Overland (and in their, and my own, tweets, retweets and Facebook status updates) so painful.
After that first clip on the grammatical ears, I went careful for a blog or two. Tried to play it safe. What followed was, I found out, even worse than negative comments: silence. Did no one care, after reading, to comment at all? Perhaps I had lost my readers in the second paragraph. With so many syntactically correct, exquisite writers out there, why was I even trying?
Then there were the debates, the first sparked by a post on how I buy books. ’Good grief!’ exclaimed one exasperated reader who much preferred the convenience of online shopping to my lionising of independent bookstores. Another commenter intimated that he should order some chill pills online with his books. I could have kissed him for it. Mel Campbell wrote on the Drum about my guilty shopping experiences at Borders. It was all too much for a softie like me. But then something happened amid the ruckus. Something in me grew. Call it a backbone? I call it extra courage.
Of publishing in the digital space, a writer buddy says: ‘Sometimes, it’s like having your heart cut out and chopped up before your eyes while the world watches.’ Not that print is/was free from danger. I remember an Australian author-teacher of international fame coming to class years ago when I was first learning the craft. So many months of imaginings, soul pourings, research and connective tissue went into one novel only for it to be pooh-poohed by a reviewer in a national newspaper (with a circulation on Saturday of over 700 000). She was reduced to tears. She no longer reads reviews.
Yet, somehow, those of us who want to reach an audience keep standing. If we’re brave enough to listen to fair heckling, we can take what’s valuable and use it as constructive feedback. We learn that awful responses, as well as silence, are part of the gig.
Then there are the wonderfulnesses. The moment when, after a period of silence, your eyes blur over a comment that follows your piece and it’s like someone has dusted you with a shower of sunshine. Not only have your words been comprehensible, but somehow they’ve nestled in beside a stranger, or someone you know, and given them a cuddle. Then the writer sees why she does what she does. For gorgeous dialogue. A connection. That which might have been too intimate to say face-to-face has, at last, been said.
When I began writing, it was as an act of hiding away, in that back room, to unleash thoughts without the obstructing force of other people’s opinions. I didn’t understand then how the game works. That once words are down, there’s the reshape, the careful examination, rework, research, and the struggle to remember what is at the crux of it all. Then comes the throwing of your soul into an illuminated space. That the web is wide-reaching and once a piece is out there, anyone can read it, potentially forever, makes the third act all the more scary.
A ball of nakedness thrown onto a rickety wooden stage: accessible to anyone I stand in the glare. I reveal today’s offering. Will it bring hecklers or rose throwers to the fore? I wait.
Before you start with the comments: both the author and the editor are aware of the fact that the words ‘entanglednesses’ and ‘wonderfulnesses’ may have less than perfect etymological pedigrees. (Meanland ed, John Weldon)