We all have one. It takes on different forms, different personas. It varies its costume depending on the weather. This is what happened when I looked mine in the eye.
The Gatekeeper – He wears a smart suit, a stern face and a bowler hat. He can silence crowds with a single glower. When I arrive at the gates of creativity, self-expression, and recognition, he looks me up and down. He sizes up my scuffed shoes and torn jeans and unkempt hair. He scans past my eyes.
‘Not suitable.’ He declares.
I start to fumble through my backpack, looking for a piece of paper, some kind of official document asserting my right to stand on this ground. He raises his eyebrows, shakes his head, and looks past me to the next person in the queue.
I have been judged and found lacking.
The Bored Aesthete/Hard-boiled Editor– She sits at a desk cluttered with papers and manuscripts, cold coffee and pens without caps. There is no space on the desk to work, so she leans back lazily in her chair, manila folder on her lap, my story on top of the folder. I stand in front of her, nervously watching her flip through the pages. She picks up a red pen, circles a paragraph, and writes ‘trite and clichéd’ in the margin. I lean closer and see it is the very heart of my story that has been examined with disdain.
‘So what?’ I protest. ‘Just because my hard-won lessons are as old as the hills doesn’t mean they will fall on deaf ears. ’
‘Mmm…’ She murmurs and nods, not listening, not bothering to meet my gaze. Then peering closely at a sentence, there is a gleam in her eye as she determines the illegality of an errant comma.
‘Comma splice!’ she announces, looking up.
I’ve already left the building.
The Tittering School Girl – She is a bit like Virginia Woolf’s Angel in the House, only more giggly and sillier.
‘Lovely, lovely, lovely’ she sings as she floats through rooms, delightful and accommodating. ‘Your art must be as lovely and ephemeral as cut flowers in a vase.’
‘Use your wit to amuse, to flatter,’ she continues. ‘Never use your intelligence to challenge or threaten. No no¸ you must be as pleasing as afternoon tea, as charming as a manicured garden.’
‘But I want to write stories about…well… about,’ and I whisper dark secrets into her ear.
‘Oh! You couldn’t!’ She cries. ‘I’d be so embarrassed for you if you said that!’ And she looks down demurely, a delicate blush rising in her exquisite cheeks. She is the very picture of femininity.
I would throw inkpots at her, but it would be a shame to muss up her dress.
The Gargoyle – He has fallen from some centuries-old building, abandoning his post as gutter guard or rain spout. He is an unwelcome weight on my notebook. His face is frozen in a grotesque grimace as he jeers at me.
‘You? Who cares about you? Who wants to read your stories?’ He spits his words out like stale raindrops.
I look at him for a long time. He is in my way. He is blocking my path. He must be removed. I sit straighter and start to speak.
‘I do. I want to read them. And if I don’t write them, I can’t read them.’
I stare at him evenly, calmly, waiting for this stone gremlin to blink. And when he does, he disintegrates into a pile of dust and rubble.
I sweep that rubbish into the bin, open my notebook, and pick up my pen.