Reading the signs

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I’ve been trying to write something about fairytales, the primeval forest in Europe – ancient and untouched. A wild place that still lives in the old stories: Hansel and Gretel, Snow White.

I quit my job as managing editor of an architecture magazine to focus on writing. To get by I’ve been working part time in a call centre, it’s an OK job, but I get sick of repeating the same lines a hundred times a day. On Wednesday a man told me he had no idea why they bothered hiring me, they should have just got a robot. I’ve been told I have no fucking feelings, that I should be ashamed of myself, that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Not my fault I have to stick to company policy.

What I’ve written so far is big and sprawling, too many points of view, a strange shift from first person to third, way too many adjectives. It’s humid today, too hot. The outside walls of our apartment block are being done up and the workmen are yelling and crashing metal around. I can’t concentrate, and I don’t know what to do next. There’s so much research to do, so much I don’t know.

I walk into the city to go Christmas shopping. Retail therapy, it’s a thing. There’s a shop up the road from us that’s half florist half Aladdin’s cave. Shelves of vintage crockery and test tubes, a moose head, buckets of flowers, an ancient French military uniform, top hats. A basket of little glass vessels, each holding a slither of script. I’m on the lookout for signs today and “off he walked into the forest” seems significant. So does the statement “brilliant author!” with “but –––)” on the back. But –––) what?  But the doubt, but the shame.


Brene Brown is my hero, in her TED talk about shame  she says:

“There’s a great quote that saved me this past year by Theodore Roosevelt. A lot of people refer to it as the “Man in the Arena” quote. And it goes like this:

“It is not the critic who counts. It is not the man who sits and points out how the doer of deeds could have done things better and how he falls and stumbles. The credit goes to the man in the arena whose face is marred with dust and blood and sweat. But when he’s in the arena, at best he wins, and at worst he loses, but when he fails, when he loses, he does so daring greatly” 

… That’s what life is about, about daring greatly, about being in the arena. When you walk up to that arena and you put your hand on the door, and you think, “I’m going in and I’m going to try this,” shame is the gremlin who says, “Uh, uh. You’re not good enough. You never finished that MBA. Your wife left you. I know your dad really wasn’t in Luxembourg, he was in Sing Sing. I know those things that happened to you growing up. I know you don’t think that you’re pretty enough or smart enough or talented enough or powerful enough. I know your dad never paid attention, even when you made CFO.” Shame is that thing.” 


It’s the but –––) that holds you back, the “but I’m not good enough, but I can’t do it, but I’m not talented or pretty and besides I have nothing to say.” You get stuck on the but –––) side of the paper. And on the other side there’s the self actualised statement, the living, the doing the brilliant author! in the arena, the one writing, maybe failing, but covered in dust and sweat and blood.

Image: Lettering by the wildly talented Carla Hackett.

So I continued on into the city. In the park a man sitting on a bench told me I looked gorgeous. He had a box of little rolled up papers he was giving away for coins. I wasn’t in the mood for being chatted up, but I was on a mission for signs, so I gave him a dollar and chose one.


It seems like good advise.

Then I bought my sister’s  present (Eeep! Yay!)  and came home, made a strong pot of tea, opened my draft and started cutting out adjectives.


10 thoughts on “Reading the signs

  1. Pingback: Animation, Animals and Art | All Sorts of Lovely

  2. I love signs. Speaking of Brene, check out her ecourse – I’m doing it now & the “I’m not good enough” stuff is something I’m hoping to ditch. You are good enough. And bless that man on the park bench!

  3. What a freaking beautiful post.
    Today I was listening to Clarissa Pinkola Estes and she said something along the lines of, “Your work does not make you an artist. What makes you an artist is your soul.” That seemed very true to me. I’ve spent my whole life writing, and I’ve never had a novel published. But I’m finally claiming the names of artist and writer, because they are things that nourish me, agitate me, are always with me. That seems good enough.

    • Thanks Romy. People have recommended Clarissa Pinkola Estes but I’ve never really had a look before. I’ve just been googling and I came across this quote, which I like a lot: “If you have never been called a defiant, incorrigible, impossible woman… have faith… there is yet time.”
      I definitely agree that you’re a writer because you write, even if you’re not making money from it Being an artist can nourish you in other ways as well xxx

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