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Friday, 9 January 2015

The Ultimate Rewrite




Not everyone loves every single aspect of their job, it’s just impossible. I’m sure even Richard Branson wakes up some mornings and thinks, eugghh not another meeting with that guy. Well as a writer I can tell you right now that my most soul destroying task is a rewrite. This usually happens when you’ve missed the mark on an article; it’s the wrong length or some new information surfaces causing you to have to redirect the story. It’s a painful process because all the enthusiasm you had originally summoned up has evaporated into the ether, the material is now boring, the process is tedious and well… it’s just sometimes hard to unstick yourself from a particular line of thought or way of doing things. The mind and body naturally resist challenges, especially the ones you really need to face. How shall I compare thee? It’s like going to home affairs, getting to the front of the queue and realising you’ve filled out the wrong form. It’s like putting a cake mix in the oven only to realise that you’ve forgotten to add eggs. It’s like getting ready to wear that amazing new dress you just bought and then feeling the magnetic security tab rub up against you as you slip it on. Argh!

Ultimately if you want a better result, you just have to take a deep breath and get stuck in. As hard as it is sometimes.

Lately I’ve been thinking about a rewrite of an entirely different nature, but one which irks and pains me in a very similar way. The rewrite of your story, of mine, of our collective tale. The chapters that have made us short tempered or untrusting. The characters who have harmed and tarnished us in some way. The false beliefs we have about ourselves and our lives that perpetuate negativity, insecurity and spite. Yes they have all played a part in building who we are, yes it makes us complex and colourful, no there is no time machine in existence – but what if we could somehow re-code those neurological pathways that feel so permanent and destructive?

I bought a ticket to embark on this philosophical journey when I was talking to someone about the idea that some of us are minimisers while others are maximisers. Minimisers play things down and avoid panic and overreaction while maximisers exacerbate situations and jump to the worst possible outcome as a way of dealing with things. Often you will find the two in a mutual symbiosis – dating, working together or in friendships. Similarly people often fall into two categories when it comes to conflict – some face it and some don’t. I think this comes from the environment you grow up in, the influences you have around you and how your parents dealt with conflict. If they were always screaming and shouting at each other, you might have moulded your personality to avoid conflict at all costs as it drudges up painful and destructive memories for you. If you grew up with a passive aggressive parent, or in a house where conflict emotions were not free to be expressed, you may force yourself into communicating the tough stuff, because you don’t want to suffer silently in your relationships as an adult. In either situation you could also go the entirely opposite way. The point I am trying to make is that in the beginning of our lives we accept things as they are and our behaviour, personality and faults are shaped based on the first few chapters of our story.

This goes for creativity and talents too, as I’m starting to discover. If you think back, can you pin point a moment, comment or conversation that made you feel your idea was stupid? Your talent was a joke? Was there ever a time when you unknowingly formed a truth about yourself in your head, based on feedback from someone else? Let me give you an example. In my Matric year I had the lead role in our school play, which as trivial as it may sound, was a very taxing commitment. We endured long grueling rehearsals, months of frustration and sweat on the stage and heaps of critique. All this among impending exams, the results of which would only determine the rest of my life – or so it felt to me back then. While I was watching a scene on stage my choreographer, who was also one of my teachers, lent over and said: “Carly I just want you to know what a great job you are doing. I can see how hard you are working and I just wanted to say I think you’re very talented. The show is going to be amazing.” I almost burst into tears. It was so good to hear and a well-needed motivation boost. I treasured his words of praise and encouragement. A few days after our conversation I was called in and asked if the same teacher was being inappropriate with me, that it seemed he had overstepped a professional line of some sort. Even though I knew this was a ridiculous accusation, somewhere in my head it formed a belief that when people give you a compliment it’s probably just because they want something from you or they have ulterior motives. Why would they complement me otherwise? I know how crazy that sounds but after giving it a lot of thought I think this is one of a few incidences that caused me not to trust positive feedback, something I’m working hard to rewrite.

Maybe in life this is why we are always drawn to those who handle things differently, who see the world differently and who make us think about ourselves differently. Maybe we are all authors who spend our lives trying to rewrite those first few drafts of ourselves. We need people who rub us up the wrong way, who challenge us to rework things and who plant the idea in our minds that we may not be who we’ve defined ourselves to be. If you think about it, isn’t that what the best relationships do? They help you grow, even if you don’t want to. But I think if we want to to fill the rest of our blank pages with something different or better, it is only ourselves and our willingness to pursue the ultimate rewrite, to make that painstaking drive back to home affairs or the department store and to chuck the cake and start over, that can pen a happy ending.