Draft 2 (and repairing some damage)

That’s damage to myself not to the play.

I sent draft one of a play off to my Producer/Collaborator last night. And as I blogged for Draft 1 it seemed to make sense to do the same for draft 2.

In some ways it’s a very similar feeling. Blind panic and sweating the minute I hit send and 1000 more amendments I want to make but damnit didn’t have time.

All that is normal. What I really want to blog about is that between the first and second draft what I’ve come to realise about my writing process. But more accurately what academia did to that and how I’ve changed through this process.

Before I continue, I’d like to acknowledge that there is good and bad in both academia and the arts. I’ve had my share of Directors making me cry because they just slated my work without constructive thought, or were just plain nasty people. In the same way I’ve known many wonderful supportive academics. This is just one story. But how my academic experience affected me I’ve come to discover has coloured how I work and how I write. And in a way the last few months working in a different kind of collaborative, but critical relationship has really started to heal the scars academia left.

To quote my favourite film (don’t @ me as the kids say)

“Sometimes the bad stuff is easier to believe”

And after believing the bad stuff for too long, slowly in this process I’ve started to learn I’m not as terrible as I think. And even more slowly finding my voice not only in the writing, but in fighting for my writing that I’d lost.

Why did this seem like such a revelation? Because every time I’d pushed back during the PhD, every time there was a moment of ‘this isn’t quite what I asked for’ it turned into a Drama. With a capital drama. More so than anything I’m trying to put on the stage. And then there was also the way supervisors approached the feedback generally. And that’s how I came to the feedback on this play; expecting the worst about my work, and expecting also it to result in tears and the end of something I loved very much. Because that’s what academia had left me with. Destruction of my confidence in my work. And my love of it.

As a result, that week after handing in the first draft was fraught. I think we’d both admit that. But we came out the other side having not fallen out, with a better understanding of how to work together. And with the work improved. And I wondered, why had that been so scary? Why had it been so hard for so long?

I could talk for days on this. Instead inspired by an element of the play I’ve just sent off two letters, one to each side of this story….

Dear Former PhD Supervisors and Examiners (except you two, you know which)

You were supposed to be a mentor, not an enemy. You weren’t supposed to use my words, and yes, my failings as weapons.

When I broke down crying from stress and exhaustion you didn’t support me. You reported me. You said I wasn’t strong enough to take what you threw out and instead of helping me, you tried to get rid of me.

When I confessed the gaps in my knowledge, you didn’t support me to fix them, you looked for those gaps in my work. When you recommended books to read you then accused me of lying about reading them.

I wasn’t lazy, I wasn’t lying about proof reading. I wasn’t submitting you some half-arsed piece of work. I was dyslexic. Which you knew.

You destroyed my faith in the one thing I thought I could do. And in doing that I felt worthless. It wasn’t just that you took my belief in the one thing I thought I had talent for away. It’s that you turned it into a series of insults. And when I asked for help, you turned that into an attack.

You knew how dearly I loved my subject matter. And you repeatedly tore it down. The medium. The content. I make that joke about War Horse frequently. But what you were doing with that was letting me know who was intellectually superior. You knew I loved the PhD plays, and you made it clear they like me weren’t worthy of a PhD. You knew it as well was a matter of personal pride, and accomplishment. As it is for all of us.

You made it personal. You made it about sexuality, about HIV status (a question you should never have asked FYI). But mostly you made it about me. About how I wasn’t worth anything. When in fact you should have been helping me learn the techniques, learn to be an academic.

You made me think every difference of opinion was a battle. And every conflict was the potential end of something. More importantly you made me think every time we disagreed it was because I was too stupid, and not talented enough.

Maybe I was never good enough to be an academic. We can’t all be. But you didn’t have to destroy me to teach me that.

Dear Producer/Collaborator/Friend?

I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I apologise too much. But feeling like I’ve done wrong has become so engrained I’m not sure how else to start a conversation about my work other than ‘I’m sorry for it’. Or a conversation about how I’m not working hard enough, that being ill got in the way. That I’m just too tired from juggling my job and my other projects and trying to have a life. I’m sorry that I’m not working every waking hour on this thing.

Because that’s how I’ve been trained to think. That every step away from perfection is an utter failing. That if I’m not producing the best of the best that’s a failing. If I’m not aware of every other piece of work ever created with a link to mine, every theory related to it and every book written on it, I’m a failing. And thank you for (Slowly) teaching me that isn’t true.

I’m sorry that my mind is chaotic and messy. That I over write (I am truly sorry for the 350 page first draft).

I’m sorry that my dyslexic brain makes it hard to follow.. That I lose entire scenes because I get word-blind. And that I forget things. That I’m not precise in my timelines or my details. I don’t mean to be. It’s just…chaotic and blind in my head sometimes.

I’m sorry that my mind, my mouth and my writing goes 19 to the dozen and you struggle to keep up. Know that I struggle to keep up. Know that it’s messy and chaotic to me and it doesn’t always make a whole lot of sense.

I’m sorry that I struggled to trust you. And in doing that I wasn’t honest. And here’s the honest truth: academia both built up and armour and wore me so thin that my defences are now always up but worn so thin all at once. I told you it was chaotic in my mind.

I know I over think it. And that drives you crazy. Academia is over thinking, and still being told you didn’t think enough. Know that in general actually. After being forced to expose my work to constant criticism, week after week. Often cruel. I had given up by default just to not go through that again.

And I’m thankful I did. And to you.

And thank you for giving me criticism I can understand. That is in plain English. That is logical. That I might not always agree with (I still say the eyeballs scene was great) but that I can appreciate, and that I can see the benefits of. Because I spent four years being told everything I did was awful, and sometimes that’s still all I can hear. And for making me a better writer. By pushing me without breaking me.

And thank you for letting me love it. And for letting me put myself into it.

I was taught by academia that the part of me that loved what I do, and the part of me that allowed emotional attachment in was wrong. I’m a cold hearted bitch at times anyway (with a dark dark sense of humour to match). But I write from the heart, I write from me. I just don’t like anyone to know that. So know that when I let you know which bits do come from me, that’s a trust like nobody else gets.

Thank you for telling me I’m doing something right. Even when you say ‘I don’t say it enough’ know that you’re saying it far more than anyone did then and it means the world.

I’m not promising what I’ve done is brilliant. I’m not promising what I did will be a success. I hope it will be. I plan to do everything I can to make it one. But doing this made all the difference to me.

So I’m sorry for all of that. And this sappy note. But thank you for giving me my voice back.

Published by Emily Garside

Academic, journalist and playwright. My PhD was on theatrical responses to the AIDS epidemic, and I continue to write on Queer theatrical history. Professional nerd of all things theatre.

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