This entry is not about circular buns with holes in the middle. Sorry.
I’ve been writing since I don’t know when. Not necessarily in the hope of always getting published, but more so in the hope of developing my imagination. Of getting my ideas down on paper (my creative medium of choice) and, like most of my kind, escaping into another world altogether where you can be smart, beautiful, witty, etc. Often the qualities we find lacking in ourselves, especially in our formative years. It’s escapism. Simple as.
These little short stories, or larger stories that intentionally go nowhere, have acted both as comic alternatives to my own life, but also emotional situations that would only occur in reality if I was stuck in Aleppo right now, or maybe somewhere deep in the DRC. Strangely, they’ve always ensemble pieces. And I’ve taken ideas, traits, or sometimes flat-out copies of the people that I’ve worked, studied and lived with, often weaving them into my own universe as different or similar characters as the original. Not sure if my work colleagues appreciate this flattery, but it’s never gonna get published, and they’re never gonna see it, so what the hell?
Example: I wrote a short piece a few years ago with a working title of ‘Riggers’, where it was the story of a gang of oil workers, stuck on a platform off the coast of the Philippines. Of the five main characters, every one was the spitting image of the group of women I was working with at the time. There was the caring tool-pusher, who was the spitting image of my line manager at the time, mother of two, attentive and proactive with her staff; the derrick operator was the slightly left-field, mechanically minded, engineer of the group; I was the thoughtful, sarcastic cow of the gang (makes sense) and so on. It was comical, and poignant. Operating room nurses are similar to roughnecks and roustabouts; working hard and possessing similar hopes and dreams of work, family and future chances. Only one situation has oil, explosives and variating scenery, in the other you get to see inside people. Such a coin toss when it comes to job satisfaction, then.
Bagels only have an outside, and the Jewish perspective on things is often said to be one constantly on the outside, looking in, so it’s not hard to see the irony of a bread, synonymous with Judaism lacking a fixed center.
One of my favourite personal stories was one I wrote about a group of characters being sprung from various prisons and pens, to be brought together to fly a steampunk steamship. Stupid, eh? Again, most of the characters were based off me and the people I know; I was a navigator, one of my best friends was a helmswoman, a former sky-jockey, freed from a frost hole; one of my BFFs was the pilot. But I put a lot more into the backstory this time. Not so much of “We’re putting the band back together” sensation, instead it was more a case of a series of jailbreaks, and following that, the recovery from the mistreatment. Recovering from malnutrition, seeing the bruises fade, feeling more like a real person, with purpose. I recognise now this was my subconscious working things out. It was around the same time as I was transferring hospitals, so it makes sense now, but it still contains some of my most emotionally touching work. Human fragility is a hard thing to write, without it falling into cliché and melodrama, as well as falling into a narrative dead-end, with no obvious hope of change.
Recently, despite working for my surgical speciality on a permanent basis, I didn’t get the chance to attend a speciality dinner. Despite wanting to go, it was made clear early on that there was only a small number of places, and it would make sense if others in the speciality got the chance instead. There was not much I could do about this. So, like always, I smiled and listened to the stories, looked at the pics on social media and asked questions the following week as to whether everyone enjoyed themselves, and so on.
But it did make me think that I would be happier in that situation if I was working as wait-staff, or potwashing. And that’s not me being down on myself, far from it. I have learnt to accentuate my strengths, and one of those is that I find more comfort in working, so that I can relax and enjoy myself guilt-free. And I can see myself in that wait-staff role, schlepping plates back and forth from the tables, or stuck at the wash-sinks for 3 hours, if it gets me the chance to shoot the shit with the rest of the blackshirts after everyone leaves. Is this stupid?
Another one of my realities, darker and created from long ago was set in a town where my character worked as a table dancer for a strip-club, and then at closing time, had to go and round up the working girls who were controlling certain turfs in the town, where the club held territory. I got to drive the minibus! I grew up watching the UK TV show ‘Band of Gold’, so it explains the prostitution angle, but I can see a recurring theme here…
I.E. Surrogate families. How circumstance forms natural groups of people, tied together by profession or location. It’s not hard to see why ‘OITNB’ is so popular. Not the first woman-in-prison drama, it’s a trope so popular it should have its own parody. Maya Angelou often proclaimed the value in creating a family that was not necessarily based solely on blood relations. You learn different things, new interests, and different ways of life, things you might not have had the chance to learn, if you weren’t exposed to them. This is something I’ve always tried to emulate now in real life, if only because my own family is small.
I grew up watching the X-Men too, the cartoon and comic version, which was more family centric, before the movies came along and ruined everything. It’s this recurring theme that remains, to this day, in my writings, and in my general outlook on my life. My family is tightknit, but my friends are, on some levels, even more so.
From the X-Men, to the Land of Misfit Toys, to the gang in the musical ‘Rent’, it’s not that I’m not included, most of the time, but more the fact that feel like I fit in more with those on the ground, working the jobs, and passing the bottle after work, than anyone sitting high on the hog, accepting awards and being lorded for what great things they’ve done. It’s unlikely to be me, and it’s not something I chase in order to validate my sense of identity either. I’m a bagel, and if my ‘family’ will accept me, foibles and all, it is something I have no problem with divulging to the world, or using it as motivation for the creative parts of my life so far.