I wanted to be an actress or a forensic scientist. One of those was a secret. I was working at my local IGA, a Ritchies, because that’s where my mother worked and my brother worked and it seemed like a good idea. I grew to hate working there so much I wished my Dad would crash the car on the way there so that I wouldn’t have to work. Once, during a suburb-wide power outage the lights and fridges went down, and we were forced us to close. The only thing stronger than the joy I felt at that moment was the crushing defeat half an hour later, when the power was restored.
At that stage, I wrote mostly in diaries, about how I wished I could have been more like my friends. Not a lot has changed - the jokes about myself that litter a my writing now are basically insecurities dressed up as attempts at humour. I wish I could tell my 15 year old self that in just a few short years you’ll be working at JB Hi Fi, which would have had the same effect as telling my present day self that one day soon I’ll be writing for Parks and Recreation. People will still scream at you over nothing, and you’ll still cry in the bathrooms because it makes you more miserable than you ever thought a part time job could, but at least they’ll be playing Paramore. Also, Paramore will still be around and you’ll still buy their albums.
I was listening to a mix cd a boy had made me, and doing a lot of collage. I’d managed to drop down to one shift a week at the supermarket, a four hour stint that continued to prepare me for the years of painful retail that still lay ahead. A teacher had told me not to bother with my new dream of becoming a journalist, and art soon became my favorite subject. I had no idea what I wanted to do, and most of my writing was done on a MySpace blog, under my URL of ‘mxpx_princess’, proof that what you think you’ll love forever at 16, you will regret almost immediately. All the MySpace writing was about a boy in a band. who broke my heart. His wife and I are now Facebook friends and I hope she never saw my words. Or maybe I hope she did and she saved them to show their children to warn them of the dangers of over-sharing on social media. Besides that, I also made posters of terribly underexposed photos with nonsensical captions taken mostly from Bob Dylan songs (because of course they were, I was 18 and listening to Talking Heads for the first time and wearing op shop clothing because I was a walking parody of all that was happening in 2007), a concept loosely plagiarized from a far more talented girl in my class whose ink painting of Bikini Kill’s ‘Suck My Left One’ was better than anything I produced in the following four years of art school.
I didn’t know what I wanted from art school, or maybe I did but it was still a secret. I worked at Grill’d and fell in love. Not with Grill’d, or anyone at Grill’d, but they’re things that happened at the same time. Both were hard and great and saw me through many milestones, and I said of both experiences, “I wish this had never happened to me”.
I now earn a large chunk of my money writing copy for a shopping centre and working in social media. This seems pretty apt given my previous dalliance with online writing, though there’s significantly less passive aggressive references to heartbreak in writing copy for a watch store than in a html-coded blog, and back then Twitter was just a sparkle in a Myspace bulletin’s eye. I spend a lot of time working from my couch and listening to Taylor Swift in my jeans, and I still cry when I hear Paramore. It’s not what I thought it would be like, working at 25. I thought I would have done it by now. I don’t know what it is, but I think I hoped I would have progressed past writing about myself on the internet, and yet here we are. I think I hoped I wouldn’t be listening to terrible music and would be wearing more skirts and working in my garden, but I’m not.
I wish I could have told myself at 15 that I was killing it, I just didn’t know it, and to keep going. I’ve done some truly wonderful things since then, like working at the Emerging Writers Festival. One thing I learned when I was there, from people far more advanced than myself, was that it’s really hard, writing and being creative, and it doesn’t get much easier. You’ve got to work at it, all the time, and it’s not a perfect trip and it’s sometimes kind of the worst. I remember thinking that the concept of slugging it out forever and never feeling like you’ve fully made it was a total drag. I wanted to lay under the table of my year 12 common room and cry like I did when that boy in that band broke my heart.
But in 10 years time I’ll probably be wishing I could tell 25 year old me that I was killing it, I just didn’t know it, and to keep going.
Rebecca Varcoe is a freelance writer of lots of different things from Melbourne. She was a Creative Producer at this years Emerging Writers' Festival, and is currently writing this in bed while watching Broad City. While she enjoyed working in retail (read: suffered loudly and miserably through every second) she's enjoying writing social media copy for Emporium Melbourne and being Cinema Nova's Social Media and Marketing Coordinator way, way more.
Join us in a fortnight for the next installment of Writers' Other Jobs, where we hear about the impact that carpet cleaning had on the work of Queensland writer Ben Allmore.
Sam van Zweden was Writers Bloc’s Online Editor from 2013 - 2015. A Melbourne-based writer and blogger, her work has appeared in The Big Issue, Voiceworks, Tincture Journal, Page seventeen, and others. She’s passionate about creative nonfiction and cross stitch. She tweets @samvanzweden.