Last Sunday, I was at the optician getting my very first glasses. It was an especially humbling moment, but not because I read it as a sign of getting older. (I’m sure you weren’t thinking that anyway!)
It was humbling because the store had super bright fluorescent lights and I could see all the flaws in my skin. I looked pink and blotchy and wearing glasses just magnified it! I almost reconsidered my purchase: maybe I won’t need them after all – I didn’t look this unkempt until I put the extra eyes on!
After working from home for 1.5 years, it simply hadn’t occurred to me to focus on my appearance and maybe have a look in the mirror before I left home. You see, after Covid began, I quickly realised no one could see whether I had any make-up on during video calls, and I so stopped making the effort (much like those who liked to go trouserless got away with their little secret!).
If my younger self could have seen me, she would have been shocked! Before kids, I would never have left the house without full make-up. Not unless I was catching the 4:50 AM bus to my airport job, in which case I always got ready on the bus. (Later on, I’ve learned that there are people who don’t like it when strangers do their make-up in public! Lucky for me, that bus was always empty apart from a guy who, I noticed, worked at the hangar and fell asleep as soon as he entered the bus. He didn’t care.)
Honestly, who gets up at 3:30 to do their make-up? That would be a bit unrealistic, I think. I used to get up at 4:05, get dressed and jog to the bus stop all the way downtown. If I missed the bus, I would be very late for work. Usually it worked out quite well: I was there early and had breakfast before work began. I remember I even used to think my eyes looked less puffy when I was slightly tired from having gotten up so early! What a funny idea! So naive!
Fast forward seven years, and here I am, definitely not looking fresh-faced after hundreds of nights of twinsomnia. The pink-faced woman staring at me at the optician looked like someone else. Who had I become?
This week, I was searching for my identity as a writer in a creative writing group I joined. Once there, I realised that my writing is very realistic and simple in style, whereas creative writing requires descriptions of scenes and characters. I usually edit those out to get to the point faster! But guess what? It turns out creative writing doesn’t need to get to the point quickly! Not at all.
Of course I knew this, but I’ve still been approaching creativity the same way I would approach work, where being clear and concise is an art I’ve deliberately honed over the years. Hello, why didn’t I realise this earlier?!
Descriptions are tough to do well. They can easily end up sounding pretentious, cringeworthy, or boring. How do I know which words are not boring, how do I filter back in all the necessary words my instinct tells me to leave out? Adjectives, sounds, colours… when do they sound genuine or fake? Will the reader know sooner than I? And let’s not even get to character building! How much of a backstory is enough, can there be too much? Maybe I won’t ever write a book after all!
Maybe I’m more of a columnist? Can I still learn to write fiction well, I wonder, after all these years just talking about myself on my blog, journaling? Do I have it in me to imagine interesting scenes that didn’t really happen?
Before the writing workshop, I had just spent hours copywriting banner ads with character limits of 15, 70, and 150. It was very hard to turn my brain into a descriptive mode after that.
The other workshoppers advised me to go with scenes that did happen in real life, and to repurpose them. Well, I do that all the time! Just without vivid descriptions of scenery. Would the optician scene at the beginning of this post have been better if I’d described the store’s decoration, the other customers, and the glasses I chose? I listened to some of the others read out their texts, and they were full of detail. They sounded like real stories.
Working against this goal, my internal editor actually likes her editing job and refuses to stop, so I’m not sure.
Maybe I can try to find a writing identity where I can continue to be concise but also learn to write descriptions that aren’t concise. Maybe I can do whatever I want, and someone else can decide if it was done badly or worth a read. There’s joy in the journey, even though sometimes you don’t know the outcome.
And sometimes the identities you thought were long-lost can make a surprise comeback. The airport barista who always made my early morning coffee is now a neighbour and her kid goes to my kids’ daycare. She remembered me too, as well as my order! The airport identity is still somewhere in me.
Psst..! Speaking about writing, may I suggest you have a look at the blog called My Adventure Book, if you haven’t yet. It has consistently beautiful, serene writing and amazing photos to accompany it. Worth following!