Image source: Flickr/Bernat Casero
It’s inevitable. When meeting someone new or catching up with someone old, sooner or later comes the question, “So what do you do?”
Now I can answer with confidence that I’m a writer. Now I have screenwriting credits in film and television, and people pay me to tell stories. Now, people perk up when I answer.
But not so long ago I dreaded that question, because the answer had to be “I pack cups in a warehouse.”
And then I’d get that that look. That look that says “Where did you go wrong in life?”
I’d try to explain. I’d stress that I was really a writer and I’d list all the ways in which a warehouse is really a haven for creativity. I’d say that Einstein made many of his greatest discoveries while working at a patent office, because it freed his mind to think. His ‘cobbler’s trade’, he called it, but at the same time, ‘a worldly cloister’ where he hatched his ‘most beautiful ideas’. I’d say I kept a notepad under my table, and pretend that my days were productive.
This was the spiel I gave Oliver Mol.
Oliver is a writer, too – you may have heard of him. I knew him from university. This was before he got signed by Scribe. But even then, Oliver was a writer. At school, my friends and I would talk about which of our classmates were going to make it, and everyone knew that Oliver was on that list.
“Oliver will get there”, we’d say, and then we’d all smile at each other, like, ‘yeah, Oliver will make it.’
And then one day he was in the street when I finished work.
I was dressed for the warehouse, my hair pulled back and dirt under my nails. I had to explain. I told him about Einstein, and how the warehouse freed my mind. Then he asked for a job.
And I panicked.
I tried backtracking, and said it was a shit job really, but Oliver just smiled, like ‘yeah, this’ll be fun’, and I went home thinking about how he’d know I wasn’t a real writer.
I told myself again that the warehouse was a haven for creativity, and that Einstein made some of his greatest discoveries while working at the patent office. I half convinced myself that it was true.
But then, the patent office job was interesting, while I packed cups into boxes.
And I’m no Einstein.
I couldn’t help but wonder, “Have I gone wrong somewhere in life?”
So Oliver came to work at the warehouse, but I don’t know if he kept a notepad under his table. Instead he'd tell jokes about when we’d both make it, and how we’d tell stories about those days back in the warehouse with that other now-famous writer. I secretly thought it would just be me bragging to my friends about how I once worked in a warehouse with Oliver Mol.
And about how he got bored.
“Hey Jaine!” he’d yell, his voice ringing down the aisles of stacked boxes.
“Hey Jaine! If you could be any animal, what would it be?!”
And I’d smile, but in my head I’d be thinking about those well-dressed people in the office next door. I’d be thinking about how well-dressed they were and how there wasn’t even a full wall between us, because it didn’t reach the ceiling. And I’d be thinking about how if I could hear Oliver yelling from down in my cardboard labyrinth, then the well-dressed office people could hear him too, and how they wouldn’t care what animal I wanted to be. I’d be thinking that I wanted to tell them ‘It’s ok, we’re writers, and writers work in warehouses so they can free their minds’.
And then I’d try really hard to think of some clever animal-metaphor for my life, but I couldn’t. And Oliver would smile, like, ‘yeah, this is fun’.
The well-dressed people from the office all liked Oliver.
Oliver was a writer in a warehouse. I was a just a warehouser who wrote.
I stopped working at the warehouse when I went back to school, and Oliver stopped working there not long after. Later that year I saw my work on the big screen for the first time – when the lights came up there were tears in my eyes. Tears of pride.
Then it was 2013, and I had a series on television. In December Oliver won the Scribe Nonfiction Prize, and the next year they signed him.
Now I sit at my computer with my head full of stories and a notepad under my table. Now I think about the warehouse, and Oliver, and what animal I’d be, and I realise: I didn’t go wrong anywhere in life.
Jaine N Eira is a screenwriter and a writer of fiction and nonfiction prose. Her preferred genre is drama, and her narratives tend to explore the darker side of the human experience. Jaine has interests in narrative music videos, reimagined fairy tales, and gritty drama. A graduate of the screenwriting stream of RMIT University's BA in Creative Writing, Jaine is currently undertaking her Honours year in Media and Communication.
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.