This time last year, I was not happy. It was February, it was cold, wet and rainy, my workload was piling up, exams were looming ever nearer, and suddenly those university offers looked the very definition of conditional. Those that had made me offers at all, in fact.
Those teachers who spent a lot of time in the proximity of our increasingly fragile-minded year group began to come up with a little stock list of phrases and motivations to keep us from hurling ourselves out of the dining room windows. One of the most common, of course, was "it's worth it."
It's worth it. What sort of consolation is that? Promising nebulous futures to someone nearly impaling themselves on the present never crossed me as the strongest of tactics. We don't want promises, we want reassuance. We want things to make sense now, to be okay now.
It doesn't matter what you can promise me about hypothetical joys in an uncertain time to come - it's like confronting me with a plate of jellied eels and telling me that, if I swallow them in exactly the right order and fashion, there just might be a nice tasty pancake for me at the end of it. And when I'm eating that pancake and my soul is filled with fluffy, sugary delight, oh, won't I just feel marvellous? Won't I be so glad I slavered and slurped and spluttered my way through all those vile slimy things for this? Won't I offer just the same advice to the next person to come to the table, already green in the face and wobbling like Bambi on ice in a gale force wind?
No. I won't. Because even if I get to that pancake, and even if it's the best damn pancake I've ever eaten, I'm still going to have half an ocean's worth of ooze in my stomach that'll keep me having nightmares about disused sewage works for weeks.
The pancake will not be an achievement, but a consolation. I will not value the pancake for what it is, but for what it is not. That is, jellied eels. That is, exhaustion and stress and messed up sleeping patterns and a genuine feeling that things just might not be worth it after all.
There is no point in telling me it's worth it if I don't believe that myself.
Life is long, my friends, and sadly there are some plates of jellied eels that must be treated thus, horked down and swallowed as fast as possible that you may, at least, scamper off with a reasonably well-crafted pancake between your teeth at the end of it.
Some things, though, are optional. These things are usually the things that interest us more than the compulsoyr eel plates of school and work and life-as-we-know-it. These are things that inspire us, that grab our attention by the lapels and shake it until its teeth pop out.
These are the biggest, nastiest, slimiest, squidgiest, oh-god-I-think-that-one's-still-moving plates of eels yet.
If you go into one of these endeavours looking for reassurances from others, grasping at dreams of pancakes and depending on the continual huffing and puffing of another person's set of lungs to give you the motivation to so much as raise your fork again, it will not work. You will slink away to a sad and slimy corner and kick yourself for ever believing such a stupid idea could work.
For you, it wasn't worth it. And you should have known that before you sat down in front of that plate.
Sometimes, writing a book can feel a bit like a plate of eels. Maybe the plot's scarpered in the middle, and you're left with a big doughy section of middle that only oozes more pathetically when you try and wrestle it into shape. Maybe you're a good way in, but every backward glance reveals but another gaping plot hole opening under your feet. Or maybe you've dragged yourself through to the end, but the end just refuses to happen. The plot's eloped, the characters are on strike, and you're sitting in a puddle of sludge watching Flotsam and Jetsam get cuddly with your ankles.
When you're sitting in that puddle, do not tell yourself it's worth it. Do not try and cling to certainties you may or may not have. Instead, ask it. Ask yourself, honestly.
Is it worth it?
I do not mean this to be a pessimistic post - quite the opposite. Humans and lemmings are not so very different at heart, except that we happen to be the lucky species gifted with the mental equivalent of brakes. When we career toward an eel-laden cliff, we are able to stop ourselves and, if need be, step away from slimy oblivion.
There is no point in embarking upon something that will not, in the end, be worth it. Time, energy and creative enthusiasm are worth more than the empty whisperings of hypothetical teacher-figures.
Do not turn everything you do into another compulsory plate of eels. Do things you believe in.
If you believe what you're doing will be worth it, it'll take more than a plate of eels to stop you. If you no only believe there will be a pancake, but if you can see that pancake - practically taste it in the air before you - then that question will have answered itself before it's even arrived.
If you believe that, then there's not a thing stopping you.
Anyone fancy a little soy sauce on their eels?
~ Charley R