At this point in my bloggy relationship I should probably mention that I work as a nurse. It turns out an aspiring writer needs money for annoying necessities such as food, accommodation and hot running water. And toothpaste.
I originally started my tertiary education with a writing course, during which I vividly remember a visiting lecturer who told us the secret to great writing. Not good writing, but great. He quickly dismissed punctuation, form, plot, characterisation and dialogue. These he said come with practice, and anyone can practice. His secret to great writing was experience.
He outlined the multitude of various jobs he had worked, the things he had done, and the situations he had found himself in. One of which was finding himself diving off a transport ship into freezing waters in the middle of the night to catch a fish. Did I mention he was drunk? That’s probably relevant.
He assured us alcohol was not a necessary ingredient to great writing.
He did all this without ever picking up a pen. But, when at the age of forty-two, he did turn to writing, man, did he have something to write about. I remember sitting in the lecture hall listening to his growing list of experiences and reflecting that I had done nothing. The tale of an white-boy who completed year twelve and enrolled in a writing course is an isolated one. I had no insight into the greater world and therefore couldn’t accurately create it in my writing.
So when I decided I wanted a “real” job, I thought through the professions that expose you. Work that leave you open to experiences, people, good things, and horrible things. A job that gave you stories. Nursing seemed to be an avenue to people of various social status, a job that let you peek behind the curtain into the extremes of people’s’ lives. It was also a job I could be proud of. I applied, was accepted, and approached it feeling I would soon have my own bag of experiences.
I had no idea what I was entering.
Nursing ticked every imaginary box I had in my head, but I was unprepared for the tidal wave of reality, of nerve-scratching, gut-turning reality. Through nursing I have seen bodies in beds, frail stick-like limbs pocked with bedsores. I have seen husbands sit silently, looking empty without their wife by their side. I have seen people approach pain, exposure, and dependency with dignity and good humour. I’ve seen a man with blood leaking from his body, gritting his teeth in pain, attempt to comfort his family around him. I’ve had people swear at me, bite me, cry on me, and thank me. In short, I got experience.
When I think of the naivety in my approach to nursing I feel like laughing, slapping my hand on past-me’s shoulder, and saying, “You don’t know what you’re doing!” And I didn’t. But what I got was bigger than anything I expected. It was real. It was life.
So whilst the journey to gather my experiences was a rough one, I am thankful every day to that lecturer and his advice. I have met people who have amazed me, shocked me, and burnt me out.
I have been terrified but appeared confident because that’s what my patients needed.
I have seen the beautiful and the grotesque.
I have things to write about.