Way back somewhere in early twenty-twenty (writing it out like that seems to be kinder than just using the digits) people are still traumatised — I took on a ghost writing assignment from a client. It was for a journal and the client pretty much had free reign to shout out loud what s/he wanted to, within the general confines of climate stuff.
I duly got onto the gig — excited by the ideas s/he had initially proposed to draw links between the economically driven needs of modern society and the irredeemable loss of natural habitat and biodiversity. The nett outcome of which is a poorer, weaker, more tenuous life experience for everyone.
I completed a draft, dropped in the major points the client wanted to highlight, added other dots to the piece and connected them all up rather tidily. I even went as far as ending on a hopeful note citing a broad, gender balanced range of voices and minds that had put forward powerful and potentially exciting ideas for our general human betterment.
The item was due at the end of April (you know which year mos) and it was ready in good time — proofed and with references verified. I was chuffed with myself and looking forward to the client sign-off and the eventual publication — it would mark a turning point for the clients work in the public domain — giving them a broader, newer, current worldview in the company of some of our freshest thinkers and doers.
That the work would add some equally useful cash to my daily living expenses was a tidy bonus and I spent a few anxious days waiting on the sign-off. The days ran into a week and my anxiety increased. By the third week, I got a sense that the piece might not get sign-off or would require a major rewrite. My anxiety peaked and unbidden, I went back to the work and re-read every line — checked every fact and quote. I checked the general reception to the people and ideas quoted and made sure there were no errors in the research to develop the initial concepts and find solutions in the then recently Corona struck world.
Finally in May, the client gives me some feedback — s/he says that the title is too risque for the publication and s/he is worried that people won’t get it. The major theoretical ideas connecting climate destruction to rabid capitalism were unclear and again, s/he doubted that ordinary people would get it. By now I had managed to find out that the publication date the piece was intended for had been moved ahead to a new date (because COVID) and this provided some small measure of relief to me.
Still, I has spent a fair amount of time sitting around during the initial hard lockdown in the holy land questioning my research abilities, my writing skills and even if I was good enough to have this client sending work my way — how could I have written a piece that was so fundamentally off the mark that the client sat on feedback for so long?
I eventually bring my mind under control and let the piece sit on the pile of unfinished business. The client is quiet and other work lands on my table — so I get on with that and developing a writing style for work in my own name. The Ovsiankina effect of this unfinished piece of work nags at me as much as people who’d suggest it’s actually the Zeigarnik effect. Either way, the idea of holding tabs open in my mind for unfinished work does nothing for my personal stress levels but I persevere with letting go of the piece and it’s unfinished, unsigned-off and unpublished state.
I compensate for all this self-doubt and fear of failure by making potato crisps, bread, stacks of brownies and indulging in the Kryptonite that is fizzy, sugary single-use plastic bottled drinks. My body duly expands to take in all this additional self-care. Several weeks later as the hard lockdown ends and we can move around; I literally face the music of this self-comforting ahead of flying to a work meeting but that’s a blog from twenty-twenty (*which no doubt you’ve been way too busy to read).
Months later, when talk has moved along to vaccine equality — I find myself in the quiet Durban dawn tidying up the work cloud drive and lo and behold the client piece from March twenty-twenty is sitting there patiently, in the work in progress folder. I stare at the screen for a while, then right click and prepare to click on move to Trash but the Ovsiankina effect is too strong and I relent. I get up, prepare and put the Bialetti on the stove and go take some pictures of the flowers in the garden at my current abode.
I get back into the kitchen just as the last pops signal the coffee is ready. I get the cup, make sure my flask has cold water and thus suitably loaded with the comforting weaponry for facing tough work challenges; head back to the large dining room table that has become my default office space in the otherwise deserted house. Coffee steaming gently in the cup, I click the offending writing piece open and start to read. It’s a well-researched, balanced and insightful piece on the link between our individual choices and the climate catastrophe. The piece offers insight into ways smart people have proposed to rectify the situation we now face and potentially give us this more fair, more just, more beautiful world we seek. It quotes names and ideas that have yet to reach general acceptance or widespread reference status — yet they are stark, powerful and unafraid.
The coffee in the cup and the chilled water mirror each other as they succumb to the laws of thermodynamics in a rapidly warming Durban morning. When I’m done with the piece, I move it to my personal folder for the twenty-twenty year. I’m not deleting it after all; there’s little wrong with the piece itself or the writing — it was just ahead of where the client was at the time of the commission.
I set aside the now almost cold coffee and almost warm water — stare out at a towering litchi tree that I mulched as a child; the morning is warming up rapidly and soon it will be way too hot to stand barefoot on the stone floors in the courtyard behind the kitchen. And almost on cue, the NinjaZenBearDog appears next to the chair; eyes alive with anticipation for the morning walk, his tail not so much wagging as serving as a wet anchor to keep his body from leaping off the ground. I relent and get the bits together for the walk — all to his increasing excitement, whirling around, the pronking back and forth, murmuring — generally popping and fizzing energy all over the place.
Right, there was a lesson in there for me — the minutiae of which I do not see (to borrow an abbreviation from Twitter) RN. What I’m choosing to take from this experience of finding my work received with a little less than outstanding enthusiasm is that I should probably not let this experience decide what I think of my work.
This self doubt is almost a given in any kind of creative endeavour — even a borderline one like writing (especially for someone else). It’s the learning that I should embrace this feeling as willingly as I do the nice highs that come of great feedback on my work. Self doubt should not be brushed aside — and especially not with the regular-issue Hollywood script dialogue people seem to be trained into.
But RN, all the years of training has the Bear champing at the bit — so I bid the self doubt a ‘see you later’ and extend my eyes heavenwards to give thanks for this unbelievably wild and beautiful journey so far. Thanks to the friendships that share the journey with such care, I’m becoming familiar with seeking equanimity as the default state of being.
And right now, no one’s happier about this development than the Bear.
© Jesh Baker, 2021