I don’t know many writers. In the town where I was born no-one ever admitted they were a writer. Contemplation was an illness, and its practitioners were people to be avoided. Perhaps nobody wrote. Or perhaps the irrigation plains of northern Victoria were so plain that people thought they couldn’t write about them. I decided that real writers wrote about other places, and other people. Melbourne beckoned.
In 1972, enough people decided that only a god could fix this country. Whitlam and his government abolished university fees. Tertiary education was available to everyone, even someone who had lived most of his life in a housing commission street. University suited me. I wasn’t being told. I could learn in my own way, and I learnt something that wasn’t in the textbooks or the notes I took in lectures.
I learnt that there are many ways of seeing this world.
I got a job and worked and socialised with urban middle-class professionals. I thought I was in a more open place than that tired town on the flatlands. I thought the people I worked with would be more open to the idea of a contemplated life. But when I explained to them that I knew I’d write stories one day, they’d cough up their coffee. Because you couldn’t be an accountant and a writer. Everybody knew that. Even the writers. Because writers were dreamers.
After I completed my Bachelor of Business, I enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts with majors in writing and literature. My studies confirmed what I already knew. There are so many ways of seeing. For some people in my writing classes, writing was more than seeing. It was a way of being. They pursued writing, but I’d had my taste of poverty. I pursued accounting. By then, Whitlam and the dream were gone.
I fell into the spider’s web. I couldn’t escape. After I’d practiced accounting for long enough, I achieved the designation Certified Practising Accountant. That’s the thing about being captured by your work. The more you practice, the better you get. Years later, when someone shows you the book about the ten-thousand-hour rule you say, Yeah. That’s right. That’s me.
Fellow of CPA is a logical step. Then chief finance officer. The more you practice the more you learn. You’re the CFO, the spider in the centre of the web. They come to you with their problems. You patch things over, but you know it’s only gossamer. The threads will flex, there’s a bit of stretch, but never enough. They give you money, recognition, and the gut-aching certainty that whatever goes wrong, you’ll have to fix it.
But there are only so many ways you can repair a break in the mesh. Even when you’ve done twenty thousand hours. Or thirty. One day you don’t need to practice, because now you know. Every pull and bend in the gossamer is a message. They’re coming for you.
You inform the boss, confirm it with an email. You pull yourself out of the mesh, brush off a few sticky strands. It’s easier than you thought. On the way out the door you say to yourself, at least I learnt something. I know why my writing died. I didn’t practice. I forgot that there were so many ways of seeing the world.
These days I live in a town on the fringe of the plains. I live a contemplated life and own up to it. I write my stories. I work on my novel about the northern irrigation plains and the people who live on them. Once a month a few writers in a nearby regional city convene a meeting. Someone leads us through a writing exercise. I attend to my keyboard. I practice.
Kit Scriven has been published in Island and short story anthologies. He won the Olga Master Short Story Award in 2016 and 2017, and the SALA Short Story Prize in 2016. He has been highly commended or shortlisted in several other short story competitions. Kit’s story ‘We’ll stand in that place’ won the 2019 Margaret River short story competition.