Okay, so I’m usually the first person to pull out the whole “Everything happens for a reason” thing when a friend is going through a shitty time. I’m the girl who tries to make them feel better by bringing up examples of when I lost my job/ boyfriend/ passport/ way, and cursed the gods for my predicament before realising that what I’d perceived as a ‘loss’ was actually a ‘gain’, of sorts.
I’m the girl who has affirmations written on scraps of paper - stuck above my bed, on my bathroom mirror and on the back of the toilet door – that read: ‘All of life comes to me with ease, joy and grace’ and ‘What else is possible!?’ and ‘What magic and miracle can I be and receive today?!’ (God only knows what Amy from LJ Hooker thinks of me when she does her regular inspections of my rental unit).
But as 2011 draws to a close, I’m contemplating the notion that everything, apparently, happens for a reason and part of me is screaming (on the inside, not on the outside, because I’m not a crazy person, yet) ‘SO WHAT’S THE GOD DAMN REASON?!’
A few months ago I attended the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival. To get accepted, as an independent author, was quite an achievement and involved a fair few emails to the festival director, gently encouraging her to pick up my book and listen to my CD…which she did. Thankfully she liked both and invited me to participate.
During the festival I was like the Energizer Bunny. I didn’t want to miss a single opportunity to network. I took part in discussion panels and workshops. I presented my book at official festival sessions. I put my hand up for media interviews. I gave out bookmarks to promote my memoir and put up posters around the festival site to plug my gigs (with the help of my most lovely lad and his super duper duct tape).
On the final day of the festival I was given the rare opportunity to pitch my book to three of Australia’s top publishers. I had five minutes to convince them of my memoir’s worth. As I stood before the reps from Penguin, Harper Collins and Murdoch Books and launched into my spiel (which I’d spent the weekend rehearsing) I got a huge rush. I knew that I had nailed it.
“I loved your book,” the first publisher said.
“I’d heard about your book even before I came to the festival,” the second one said.
“Not only is this a great read, it has also been published in a very professional manner. Have you thought about a career in publishing?” the third publisher said.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This was my moment. This was when I signed my super-fab book deal. This was why I’d been working so hard. This was the reward for ‘taking a risk’ and self-publishing…for diving in the creative deep end. And then the woman from Murdoch said:
“But I wouldn’t be interested in signing a deal for this book. It’s already ‘out there’. You’ve done an amazing job with your branding and publicity so there’s not much more we could do. We don’t really take on books that have already been released but be sure to touch base when you’ve got an idea for your next book.”
The other two panelists chimed in with similar words but I didn’t really hear them as I was too distracted by the feeling of my heart sinking. I left the festival feeling weary.
A few weeks later I found out about an arts funding program that offered travel grants to writers, enabling them to spend several months overseas – working on their creative pursuits.
‘Screw the Australian publishing industry,’ I thought, ‘I’m gonna get a grant and go overseas! This is what I’ve been waiting for! This is why I didn’t get an Australian book deal. There are bigger and better things waiting for me. I’ll do an overseas tour and an awesome international publishing house will snap me up. It all makes sense now!’
And so I spent the best part of the next month researching and writing my funding application...forgetting all about my Bryon rejection.
I sent the draft to my friends who work in various fields – from university professors, to ex-arts festival directors – and took on their constructive criticism. I re-wrote it and then re-wrote it again until I had myself completely convinced. There was no way I could NOT get this grant. And besides, I am a powerful person. I can MANIFEST success. The funding is MINE. I even popped up a new affirmation on my wall ‘I am grateful for securing arts funding for an overseas creative adventure in 2012’. It was a done deal.
Last week I got the email. I didn’t bother reading past the first line: “It is with regret that we inform you…”
I emailed the funding coordinator to ask if she had some constructive feedback about my application. After all, I’d put a month of my life into the document so I figured, as difficult as the response might be, it was important to learn from the experience.
Her reply came almost instantly: “Unfortunately, we do not have the resources to provide detailed feedback on your application…”
And so I sat staring out the window as the following thoughts ran down my cheeks.
“No. No. No. This is not how it’s meant to play out. This isn’t what happens when I put my heart and soul into something. This is the part where the Universe rewards me. This is the bit where I get to post the blog about how ‘dreams come true when you follow your creative passions’. Frig YOU Universe! You SUCK!”
My friend Natalija says I was obviously too ‘attached’ to the grant and – as all good Buddhists know - attachment causes suffering. My friend Peung sent me a g-chat message that said ‘Khun Ange, life can be suck’. I told my friend Kaz that I felt like a loser, a complete failure. She said she thinks I need to reconsider my definition of ‘failure’. She also recommended I take the rest of the day off and indulge in a few DVDs. My partner Leroy said “I love you. I’m proud of you. Everything is going to be okay” but he actually says that on a regular basis, no matter what issue I throw at him, because I’ve explained to him that he must never try to solve my problems – but instead, offer up three simple phrases of support.
When I told him I didn’t get the arts grant – he fired off all three. In fact, sensing we were dealing with a situation that was bigger than the usual ‘Ange dilemmas’, he repeated each line a few times. He’s a good boy.
* * *
I’ve been thinking about careers in creativity…how artists like myself can get caught up in a pipedream that one day we’ll be ‘discovered’. One day we’ll be offered that big fat record deal or publishing contract, or invited onboard the arts funding gravy train. And when it happens – all those hours of self promotion, self publishing, self motivation, touring, booking gigs, playing gigs – will have been worth it because we’ll have hit the ‘big time’.
It seems that the artistic pipedream is similar to the romantic Hollywood-fueled idea that once you find ‘Mr Right’ then you’ll basically live happily ever after. And all the assholes you dated would have been worth it because – finally – the Universe will have rewarded you with the man of your dreams.
As an artist – the man of my dreams is the ‘big deal’ and this dream is egged-on by stories of ‘some chick’ who posted some clip on youtube and became an overnight success. Or ‘some dude’ who paid some newsagent to put his book in the shop window and got signed by a publisher a few months later and is now, like, Australia’s most successful author.
And those stories lead to a belief that if one works hard enough, and puts enough passion into one’s life’s purpose - that one day it will all pay off. The pain is found in the fact that my concept of the term ‘pay off’ is clearly different to that of the Universe’s.
As an optimist, I have to believe that ‘everything happens for a reason’ but wouldn’t it be nice if the explanation came to us in a little envelope, along with the rejection letter from the arts funding body.
Surely, after we try so hard to achieve something and then have those efforts ignored by the ‘powers that be’, the Universe could, at the very least, post us a note on Twitter – a few words – just 140 characters of encouragement. Something like “The reason you didn’t get X is because there’s an über-special plan B heading your way!
Maybe the reason there’s no Tweet from the Universe is because sometimes there’s just no explanation. Sometimes you can work your butt off and fail and maybe the failure wouldn’t be as painful if people like me didn’t waste endless hours looking for the reason, but rather – just accepted that ‘life can be suck’.