A week ago yesterday I felt myself on the cusp of exploding; despite regular conversational overuse of hyperbole, this is not a common feeling. Putting myself under pressure is something I’m used to, borne of various complexes. That pressure putting the cracks at the edges firmly in my periphery, however, made me feel unnervingly fresh and deshelled, dishevelled. In the seemingly relentless series of minute panic attacks and absolutist moments, between dusk and dawn, the frustrating ‘What Ifs?’ that frequently flicker in and out of view became seizable. Chief among them asked; ‘What about the other Career path?’.
Five years ago this month, I moved from Wiltshire to Plymouth to study Creative Writing, but I could’ve ended up in Swansea studying Germand & Italian instead, then maybe even beyond that studying MA Translation. That was Version II of my future, which has instead, via the BA Creative Writing and hours and hours of voluntary work (over three hundred by now), sent me on the path of Special Educational Needs and Autism study way the other end of the country, in Birmingham. Many of the experiences I’ve had are likely to be local phenomena, some probably inevitable, others still freak circumstance. To consider an alternative path of life almost seems to be an exercise of theoretical calculation rather than a creative one, in which I would need to deduce which of my experiences would in fact carry over to a life at Swansea, and which ones would change from being in a different place with different people.
From a personal and imaginative point of view, the complication comes in the question of the headline: can a sense of competition be avoided between myself here and my parallel self in Swansea, in trying to avoid any narcisissm in the writing on an ‘other’ self? Most importantly, could writing about a different self fulfil the purpose of depositing and releasing those ‘What-If’ thoughts in a way that could be picked up by others, and therefore not feel fully attached to the self (aka, it’s good enough to read that it’s not purely for my sake)?
To cut a long story short, this November, for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) two months of my life will be imagined each night for a month, a month roughly taking up 1,333 words each, to see how the other half might’ve lived. As my first NaNoWriMo in about three years, I’m excited and nervous. As one parallel world out of many, it will hopefully be a weight off my mind, as well as a writing test for true objectivity: I’m not allowed to set my other self up to succeed or fail, simply to set him running to the events that may’ve appeared along the way. It’s also something of an excuse to win writing back as a hobby, which has suffered from my recent mass workload.
In the spirit therefore of not disregarding any writing, there’s a massive preamble below, which is probably not necessary to read from being essentially musing and asking lots of questions, but might be worth considering in the context of creative process anyway.
I’ll aim to paste small extracts here during November as a taster before the whole thing goes live in December. I promise it’ll be shorter and more composed than this!
Frequently I wonder if people I’ve met would appear as parallel equivalents in a parallel reality, to suggest that I was inevitably destined to meet someone of that calibre. Now that I’m older, and I’ve noticed patterns in the kind of people I gravitate too, this seems an increasingly logical way to perceive the kind of people the Swansea-residing Mr. Whitfield might’ve met. But the events arising out of them, where they would’ve happened, and which parts of my personality they would ‘activate’ (as I believe parts of me have remained dormant under the surface) as a consequence continue to belong to the realm of the questionable. These ‘What-Ifs’, which could arguably shape me into an entirely different human five years down the line, are the ones that kept me awake that night a week ago.
The compulsion to write about it, arguably, comes from trying to prove a point to myself and my erratic self-esteem – that the same balance of mistakes and victories would most likely occur regardless of which subject I would study and where, because they’re a product of the self, not necessarily of the self’s choices. The fear of writing about it, therefore, comes out of this otherworld having such an expanse of options that there may be plenty of scope to be proved wrong. Maybe ‘the’ eureka moment lay in one of my Welsh timelines and not my Southern ones? What even is ‘the’ eureka moment anyway, and can it honestly compare to the eureka moments I think I’ve already had (I say ‘think’ because surely you only know the breakthrough moment when you’ve reached the end product anyway)?
From a very simplistic point of view, in those sleepless nights I think of Plymouth introducing me to a host of holistic breakthroughs, based on the experiences I’ve made of knowing other people rather than myself. A career out of Creative Writing hasn’t arrived at the end of all the study, not that I was placing all my eggs in that basket – I knew the risks in taking that choice from the start. Studying Creative Writing was for the development of self, whereas German and Italian would be for a secure career and a different broadening of mind. To put it bluntly, I probably think about that path a lot because I’d be far less likely to be in debt (monitarily) now if I’d taken that path.
I also wonder, though, about the travelling part. Would the nature of my Autism been radicalised by my study taking me to places like Berlin and the Schwarzenwald, to Sicily, conversing with locals plucking Olives? Would that circumnavigating self be any more or less of a master of his turf (as, being essentially UK-locked, I’ve grown to know my home country a lot better than I first expected)? Most interestingly recently, how deeply would my path have been involved with the mass migration of refugees to the European mainland?
One last question at the forefront of my mind: could this simply be permission to consider that I am allowed to have been someone else. Fate being a challenging concept, sometimes it feels like you have to face everything that hits you like it was expected, or preplanned. Your path appears to accommodate chaos as part of its order. Crises build character, therefore your character has no choice over said crises. These pokes and jabs are the catalyst for my self-esteem dropping when I feel I should’ve coped better, or made better decisions, or thought more thoroughly about something before walking forward. But considering a gallery of different crises I might’ve faced, whose to know whether a differently formed me would’ve endured them for better or worse until they are written?