The art of self-flagellation

Capturing the stories of my small-town and writing for the local newspaper was my first job out of High School. Everyday (pending assignments) I hopped on my push bike (because I didn’t own a car nor did I contemplate such a purchase) and pedalled to events, talks and basically anything else that would be “newsworthy”.

The pay was lousy. The stories were, well, smalltownish. Good assignments always went to more experienced reporters, who sadly still earned a pitiful wage. The only way to make a bit of money was by writing many words about basically nothing.

I had no interest in stretching material out of thin air only to find they had been cut to fit by my editor. Photographs we took at events paid better than any reasonable number of words. Bonus if you got lots of words AND lot’s of pictures printed in one go.

Back then it wasn’t about the money. Fresh out of school this was my first taste of what life is like after the rigid routine of classrooms and exams. My days weren’t terrifyingly busy. I could accept work or knock it back if I didn’t feel like it.

Feedback was instant. If my editor didn’t like what I had produced I’d get a verbal dressing down: The story about the bowling club’s annual general meeting was flat (because it was a batshit boring gathering of half-sober retirees), smack! Too many typos in a fifteen line story, smack! The harsh critique of a local musician’s concert (that I had left half way through due to important catching-up with my boyfriend) was uncalled for, smack!

I copped it. I probably deserved it. I sulked for a day or so. I moved on.

There was neither the time nor the place to be overly protective of my writing. It was a job. Sometimes what I wrote hit the mark. I remember sitting next to a lady listening to a pan flute concert at church. She whispered how much she loved reading my stories when she saw I was working for the paper. “My stories” she had said. To this day I don’t know whether she knew me or was referring to me in a more universal sense meaning “all of the people who write for this particular news paper”. It was still nice of her.

My stories had the longevity of fly’s fart. They vanished from people’s memory – even my own – and only continue on as roughly chopped, ink stained snippets of other people’s lives in my filing system. Where they still are.

Sometime – I’m uncertain when exactly – I perfected the art of self-flagellation. Usually I call it “perfectionism”, but it’s a lie. Aiming for perfection disregards the learning curve of any creative process. When I have a moment of gentle honesty I admit to myself that at its heart lies the fear of creating something that is inadequate.

Oh well.

Fuck it!

I want to go back to being right out of school. Daring and not really caring. Accepting a compliment (whether it’s for me or not). Not dwelling on whether something was good enough. Moving on.

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