“Your writing’s really improved,” people say (just one person, actually). “What’s your secret?” Well, like anyone who takes their profession seriously, I have a trainer. MMM used to couch women's rugby in the states, when he wasn’t being a corporate shiny-bum, and thus combines the sports pep talk with shouty greed-inspiring mantras worthy of the Wolf of Wall Street.
Just like athletes, all workers need encouragement, the problem with my job (apart from the lack of performance-enhancing drugs and sponsorship monies) is that it’s basically days spent crouched over like Golem, inserting commas and then taking them back out again a few hours later. Sure, there’s the initial fun bit: eavesdropping on people’s conversations and writing things down on a serviette, or jotting down ideas in the car at the lights – but when the sun comes up it’s just me and a barely legible note-to-self written in Revlon Colorstay.
And there simply aren’t the usual office politics to provide distraction. Nobody’s getting sexually harassed (chance would be a fine thing), no one’s whispering in the kitchenette about Monica’s new boobs (so pointy you could take someone’s eye out). No awkward emails from the finance department questioning purchases made with the company credit card (every office needs a chocolate fountain, in my opinion). Inspiration and energy can flag, and this is when a coach comes in handy, rallying spirits in the locker room.
“We’ve spent ten hours a week together,” he says. “We’re family. Brothers. Brothers. I mean sisters. You’re in a tight huddle, just you and your computer.”
He puts inspirational music on, the Flight of the Valkyries, which can make it hard to concentrate, I keep thinking we’re going to be bombed by Dennis Hopper. Prancing around the room in moccasins, one sock and dude robe Tony Robbins wouldn’t be seen dead in while I slump, hair wild and untamed, groaning, he runs on the spot, shaking his hands out. “You gotta get warm, you gotta get loose. You are made of breath and potential. The universe is already falling for you. You need to be who you are where you are right now.”
“Broke at the kitchen table?”
“How many goddam syllables are there? The bigger the word, the more expensive the magazine (by that reasoning I really must learn some science terminology) Woman’s Idea. Horse and Tractor. You’re going to be in the best waiting rooms. Not just family planning, the dentist. A Ponsonby dentist. If you didn’t want this job, why did you go after it?!” he yells.
“I didn’t go after….”
Sometimes he uses the sandwich technique from management psychology, where you insert an insult between two compliments: “Bob, you have a lovely smile, it’s a shame your data entry is so crap, but we all love the muffins you bring to morning tea.” MMM’s sandwiches can be a little confusing. “You’re dancing through the forest of words, plucking the ripest fruit. You don’t know how to pronounce them or how they’re spelled, but you know what they mean. The spell check is your friend. Don’t let the spell check get you down. The spell check doesn’t judge. Your readers judge.”
He senses when I’m not feeling it. Can turn around a defeated attitude, and me, physically, when I give up and go outside into the garden where he’s cutting the hedge so neatly it looks like a Hitler moustache. “Saturday is game day,” he says, taking me by the shoulders. “People are waiting for the Mix. We’ve trained for this. Show up for yourself. I love you.”
“I might get sued again,” I worry.
“They don’t sue, WE sue. They sue, we all sue. There aren’t enough high court judges in the land for where we’re taking this, baby. Its Suemaggedon.”
Crawling to the finish line (750-800 words linked together in a form that isn’t nonsense) like a legless chicken with a grain-covered keyboard, I push ‘send’ and collapse, exhausted and brainless. MMM leaps up and punches the air like Judd Nelson in the final scene of The Breakfast Club. There’s no result yet. There’s no ‘I’ in team, either. But there is ‘meat’ if you rearrange the letters and someone pays you on the 20th.