Updated: Sep 30, 2019
Originally posted: JUNE 23, 2016
I wrote this piece for my Advanced Higher portfolio, as a farewell to the SQA and of my school days, which I was more than happy to leave behind. I got a B, so maybe it's not too bad. Happy reading!
Also available on Medium.
I cannot even think of where to start. Hmmm… wait, I think I’ve got something! Okay, here goes:
People say that the human brain is like a complex computer: it can do logic and maths problems, transmit information, have memories that grow, adapt and learn, etc. Although, the pitfall with that analogy is that computers can only follow commands- they don’t have freewill, love, passion and, of course, creativity. The human brain is so much more than just an efficient automaton, it determines what and who we are, how we perceive the world and what we put into it and what’s even better is that, unlike a computer, we are not manufactured to being the same, we grow into unique human beings.
My brain at the moment is like a crashing computer, in the sense that nothing works and I feel like smashing it with something. This is my third attempt. Third time lucky, I hope. I don’t usually have this problem. Usually my brain is bursting with fresh inspiration, so much so I find it hard to keep to Task. Task, that interminable treadmill, what computers work best with. Tasks, like rules are made to be broken. There’s a balance to strike between expressing yourself freely and taking you, my audience or readership into consideration. Whoever you are, I must keep you in mind as you are the one who is reading this. To you, I am probably just another essay in a large pile. Reader, let me do a Charlotte Bronte and acknowledge you. My name is Jen McWhirter, I am seventeen years old. I’m doing my final ever year in school and I would like to tell you how my brain works.
I’ve been writing and coming up with ideas from even before I could hold a pen. However, my earliest writing roots can be traced back to the homework I was set in Primary Four. We were learning how to spell, and we got homework often. There was a “Look, Cover, Write, Check” doctrine applied, which helped us process the spelling of each word, and there was another part, however, that required a degree of creativity. By this time, I had a firm grasp of syntax and could weave out sentences like Rumplestiltskin. I had a golden idea: a series of stories centred around what I called “The Werewolf School”, where the pupils were, of course, werewolves in wolf form full-time. I liked them to be feral. One of their most memorable adventures was when the class sneaked on the school bus and drove off to an indoor waterpark for the night. There were so many characters, it was surprising anyone could keep track of it. The main antagonist was their teacher, Miss Battle-axe. She would have, if she had known about this excursion, stopped them in their tracks. Had I have known the words “wee crabbit sour faced auld cow”, that would have been how I described her. What I hated about her was her devotion to stopping her students from enjoying themselves, and forever sentencing them to hours of hard Facts and textbook work.
Back in reality, I had this wonderful feeling that she would enjoy reading it just as much as I did writing it. I had incorporated the words of the earlier spelling task, too. But she thought it was all just straw. I hadn’t stuck to the Task. Task? I wrote her sentences didn’t I? But I was only to write three, not fifty. What? I couldn’t understand it. I only want to make things a bit more interesting for her.
By the time I was nine, I had created a selection of fantasy settings, my own worlds with their own cultures, and everything. I drew many crude maps of towns and countries where several hundred characters lived happy and relatively uneventful lives- or so it may seem on the surface. It would be another thing to look at these people and figure out their life stories, which I will do some other time. I drew epic scenes like the kind you might see in Renaissance pieces except they were children’s drawings with poor perspective and proportion. I had even made a list of popular book and film titles in one of my settings. Looking upon them now, they look like hieroglyphics. It was like they were written in a language only I could understand, their meanings I have forgotten. One day, I will be able to sit and decipher it all and transfer them all into a few epic fantasy novels.
I’ve got this crazy imagination, with hundreds and millions of embryonic ideas growing there. Unlike that chump computer, where everything is systematic and perfectly laid out, in my brain is chaos. Once these ideas are born, they’re left to fight amongst themselves for my attention. Picture Dragon’s Den, except there’s no business-y type millionaires like Duncan Banatyne, Theo Profiteroles and that grumpy woman but in this case (pardon the pun) it’s just me. Instead of all the little civilised entrepreneurs, begging for scraps like street urchins with flipcharts and model prototypes, one at a time; my savage and colourful ideas stampede, barge, elbow and scream. And there’s maybe thirty of them at once.
They grab me with their fantasy, their diabolically dark twists, their smouldering bodice-ripping romance scenes, their attractive male protagonists and I simply can’t refuse them. And there is me, in a big armchair unable to decide which one to tackle first. I can’t say I’m out, because they’re all my own. It’ll only take my entire life to raise them all, but I’m determined.
The good thing is that, unlike Dragon’s Den, I can take some of these ideas and shape them to make it easier. But only some. The rest refuse- yes, refuse- to be changed. They have strident personalities and are not pinned down without blood being shed. So I let them be. I leave them to simmer in my subconscious for a while before I try again. Can you picture this? Now you can probably imagine why I find things difficult to finish, and I sometimes forget that Task is even there. It’s so loud and Task is not quite loud enough to compete with it. Task needs a megaphone.
Hey I’ve managed to actually type something! I was in pretty full flow, wasn’t I? Nope, it’s gone… loading… My trouble is that this imagination is still going and it’s like I’ve got millions of different programs open. It takes up a lot of memory. Hence why I’ve forgotten a fair bit of my childhood and am virtually dependant on a diary. The files have been lost, and I can’t get them back.
Where was I again? Oh yeah, I remember. Speaking of writer’s block, I had a really horrific bout of writer’s block really recently, like January. My mind was unbearable silence. It was a void. It felt like hundreds of people had died in a huge tsunami but they were all my family. Melodramatic, but accurate to describe how I was feeling. I was breaking down. I had three prelims, an expressive unit for Higher Art to be finished. Higher Art is no cake-walk, despite what you may think, especially when I have two Advanced Highers to be doing as well. They’d told me to design a full house as part of the Art prelim, which I’d never done before as I’d only designed CD covers and hats. I’d only chosen art because I like painting.
One evening, me, Mum, her partner and my brother went bowling and go-karting at The Garage in Kilmarnock. This normally would have been fun but I was miserable that day. All I could do was not cry. I was pretty moody and depressed. I lost at the bowling, and I was livid at myself for being so damn irresponsive. I felt like my limbs had weights on them. Negativity is so heavy. I took out a good deal of that fury at go-karting, which I think I enjoyed despite feeling the lowest I’ve felt for years. I screamed in sheer fury as I whizzed around the racetrack at top speed. But I went home, straight to my room and cried. I had no ideas anymore, my imagination was crushed, I was a failure, I’d never amount to anything- if I am my creativity and my creativity is lost, then what am I?
Eventually, I crawled out of the dark cupboard and sat on my bed. I opened my notebook, and something whispered. One of my novel ideas- Reverie. It was inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, except more surreal, sick and twisted and based off of my own dreams instead of Carroll’s imagination. I added more to my female protagonist and more about the symbolic importance of her two fair-weather friends who lead her astray from the start of the novel. She self-destructs, and after taking drugs she follows her best friend, Locks, into the garden and falls down a wormhole or, more appropriately, rabbit-hole. She is trapped inside her own childhood imaginary world which is being eaten up by pink smoke. This pink smoke is one of many forms of the antagonist, Rasputin, who she must slay in order to rescue her best friend Locks. She meets many quirky characters along the way, including a giant Widow spider who literally devours men and had encouraged her human lady friend, The Bride, to eat her husband on their wedding day.
I’m into writing darker stuff at the moment, and I’m rolling with that tide. I started watching The League of Gentlemen last year and since then, I’ve been relishing dark humour and diabolically evil plot twists. I also had a mild crush on Reece Shearsmith. He even looks good in drag.
As you can tell, I can talk for Scotland, if anyone’s up for listening to me. If anyone can keep up! In reality, I am not great at speaking up for myself, and I also don’t usually sing my own praises. I can type up for myself okay, but in moments of confrontation, I seize up and my mouth freezes shut.
Like when my S4 English teacher showed me up for writing a 4,000 word essay on the Merchant of Venice: I should have shouted back, “I love Shakespeare, take it or leave it”, or “It’s just so inspiring I couldn’t control myself” or, even better, did a Father Jack when he himself was confronted for giving the Bishop Brennan cheek and responded, oh-so-sarcastically: “I’m sooooo, soooo sorry!!”
If only I had that confidence! Or when she made me write a story in a group, with three of the biggest slackers in the whole class: “Please don’t make me work with these idiots!” or “Miss, I’m doing all the hard work, I’m going to have a nervous breakdown if you don’t say something.”
A nervous breakdown, I very nearly had. But I had a dragon of an English teacher and basically everyone in the class hated me for some reason, so I sat back in my seat, bright red and put my head down and worked, as usual. I was put under a lot of stress, then, though I acted rebellious behind her back I was terrified of her. I was terrified of being shouted at by her, and even worse when the entire class were there to witness it. I don’t think she realised, but my whole year basically ostracised me and, no matter what I did or how right my answers were, they smirked and sniggered at me. My English class was one of the worst, and it was actually a fairly traumatising experience. To this day, I hate myself for getting even the smallest of things wrong, and I’m deeply embarrassed if I make a mistake or misread a social cue in front of people. It’s like I can feel their smirking eyes on me, like from before, and they’ll all laugh about me behind my back, like they did before. I look on it now, and I think she was frustrated at me. She couldn’t understand why I was missing deadlines and got annoyed when I couldn’t.
This crazy writer’s brain I’m talking about had caused me a lot of grief over the years: I’ve missed so many deadlines, procrastinated so many times, missed most of my childhood because it was spent in my head, lost a lot of friends because I’d neglected them , and it had really impacted on the relationship I had with my Dad. I was diagnosed with autism when I was two, and rediagnosed as Language and Communications Disorder when I was four. But he seems to have forgotten that. He stopped listening to me 4 years ago and shouted at me instead, and we been estranged from each other for two. My mum was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was about ten or eleven years old, and the medications she had made her brain work far slower than usual. Because of that, she was unable to keep up with what I was saying, about all my ideas. My mind has isolated myself from people.
But hey, I managed to get good grades. I have good friends who know what I’m like and leave me to it. My mum is getting better and has been really well for two or three years now. I’m actually doing Advanced Highers, despite being told on diagnosis I’d never be able to go to a normal school. I just need to be patient with myself. I won’t be able to do things at the same pace as everyone else. Practical things take longer to process in my mind, but that’s okay because I have plenty of creativity and passion to compensate. And I will get there eventually. Here, and now, these are my beginnings in my writing career, and I’ll make plenty of mistakes and there will be plenty of times where I will mishear or even completely misregard Task. For me, it’s about coming to terms with that. Because, you know, despite everything I wouldn’t change my mind for the world.