I JUST remembered why it has taken five years to write this book about my year working with the homeless in Melbourne.
I am not an expert about homelessness and the horrible emotions and events people out there are dealing with. Or at least I was made to feel this way and so I knew the best way to write a book was to write what I observed and what I felt in my time in Melbourne.
There’s an inner voice in my head when I consider writing about the Order. It sounds like one of the well meaning Salvation Army officers I worked with. It tells me I’m being self-absorbed writing about myself.
See, there was a game this officer made us play sometimes where we had to avoid using the word “I” in our conversation.
I suppose “the I game” was to remind us not to be selfish while volunteering a year of our life. That we had no right to complain about volunteering six and sometimes seven days a week, or of coming home at midnight or 1am, or having to work even when we had the flu.
I understand the well-meaning attitude. But it was a shitty, manipulative game. We wanted to give voice to the oppressed individual. Our pain too should count for something.
And so when I write about my experiences I imagine less-selfish readers indignant at my use of “I saw” and “I did”. We were encouraged to believe the work we did was for others and not for ourselves. We forgot that we ourselves were troubled and had problems and were as broken as the marginalised we worked for. We weren’t superheroes.
All the volunteers around me were battling some form of identity crisis – otherwise they would not have been drawn to servitude.
We labelled the clients as “they” and we forgot they were “us” and that “I” is a part of us.
A man once told me we should love each other as ourselves. Well, we forced ourselves to love the clients more than ourselves in some bizarre attempt to balance the scales of social fairness.
Anyway, I locked the notepad away. The book was forgotten. I worked on other projects. I completed a degree. I wrote stories about romance, loneliness and killer robots. I became a newspaper journalist. I entered the world of stand-up comedy.
Of course. It was all I-I-I.
The current daily newspaper I work at has a daily circulation between 2000 to 3000. This may not be a lot compared to city newspapers but then again you have to remember this is substantially more than the 10 to 20 people I imagine will ever read this blog post.
I used to feel self-doubt about what I write but not as much anymore. I treat mayors and State ministers and chief-executives as my peers and I have to because the media is the fourth estate and is separate from our authority figures. And when they sense doubt they stomp over me.
My point is that when I started writing this post I began to get the inner-voice snickering again. It is a voice reminding me that for years I have not been a part of the hard work that volunteers and Salvationists are still doing in Melbourne
“Shut the hell up,” were the last things I told this voice.
Doubt just gets in your way.