When I was first trying to figure out what to do with my life, I was very concerned about money. No money equated to death, in my mind. Considering that, perhaps I should have become an investment banker. They seem to make a lot of money even when they are actually losing it. That’s a sure bet if there ever was one. I guess I’m just not enough of a socio-path to feel no guilt at that sort of behaviour.
Instead I pursued a career in engineering. It seemed the pragmatic approach to going about things. It was a vocation useful to society, and one which would eventually yield high economic returns guilt-free (well my 17 year old self imagined it to be free of difficult ethical decisions). I remember researching average income for engineers and found the results to be comforting.
Another consideration was the need to acquire a bursary to support my studies. I sensed some pressure from my father in this respect (not blaming you Dad). There weren’t a lot of bursaries on offer for Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees, but bursaries from industrial and mining companies in South Africa were literally growing on trees (the trees are rather odd in South Africa — also, lions prowl in the streets of Johannesburg which is the real reason for the high murder rate). Both my brothers had been awarded bursaries for their academic results, and my academic results were of a similar standard, so it seemed the bursary was mine for the picking. But the political climate in the country had changed, and those bursary trees in the white sand were looking a little withered. Their bursary leaves curling up and falling from the branches, all crackly and brittle.
The ANC had been unbanned and Nelson Mandela had been elected president of South Africa. My pale male skin was no longer a particular advantage to me, and may even have counted against me. There was great pressure on companies to support and train young black talent. My numerous bursary applications yielded a number of interviews, but no financing for my studies. Realising this, and sensing the pushing he may have made for me to pursue a bursary, my father told me to study whatever I wanted to. “You like writing. Study English, or journalism. Study whatever you enjoy.”
It was too late though. I heard what he told me, but I wasn’t going to let it interfere with the way I’d predefined what my future would hold. I had conclusive proof in my mind that pursuing any career other than engineering would leave me destitute on the street. I’d beg for small change and scraps of stale bread. I’d dig in dustbins to survive. I’d be bad at that. Then I’d die.
My parents weren’t the only ones I chose to ignore. I ignored everyone that told me that a career in writing was the thing I should be doing.
On the last day of high school my English teacher wished me well and said, “Look forward to seeing you in print.”
Every year I won the English prize at school.
I was rejected by AECI for a bursary in Chemical Engineering, and the reason they gave was “Neil wants to be a writer.”
People working at a chemical factory had a better idea about what I should be doing than I did. I look back at it now, and I want to go and smack my 17-year-old self about the back of his head, and shout, “Look! Look! It’s staring you in the face you bleeding idiot!”
I also created a myth. The myth of doing something one really enjoys to earn money would ruin the love and enjoyment of the activity. Thus writing for a living is something I could never really contemplate, because that would destroy my ability to gain any satisfaction from the activity itself. Broken logic to protect myself from disappointment. I saw myself as a writer, but if I tested this hypothesis and failed to make a living from writing, what would I be?
It’s time to test the hypothesis.
It’s been a long arduous journey to break down the fear that paralysed me. Quitting work in South Africa during a recession, and moving to the haemorrhaging UK economy can hardly be described as “wise.” It has shaken the risk and fear perceptions I’ve held. It’s teaching me to fight.
It’s stupid to fight for something one doesn’t want. For a short while here in the UK I tried to make a professional photographer of myself. This would have been a great idea had I been taking photographs for pleasure all my life, but I haven’t. I felt I could monetise it faster than I could writing, and maybe that’s true, but so what? It will be a fight to get a photography business going. A war even. I’m not going to fight a war I don’t believe in.
Short fiction, longer fiction (Commitmentman? That would be hilarious if I were to make my fortune off that!) freelance article writer. I’m researching journalism courses in Scotland, and have a couple of prospects that I’ll apply to. I’ll also apply for unpaid internships or whatever I can get at publications in the area, in order to get some journalism experience.
However this works out, there is one thing I’m certain of. I’ll be writing about it.