In 2010 I was a twenty-year-old college student who had just signed her first publishing deal; full of uncontrollable passion, a crippling fear of failure, a dark sense of humour that I kept hidden, and absolutely no idea where I will end up. Twelve years on and I’m still that woman, but in the same breath I’m nothing like her either.
Twelve years of working in publishing and theatre has left me still passionate but settled too; reservedly confident in the work I have done and the work I will do. I still fear failure; in fact, you could argue that the fear of failure is on a bigger scale now, bigger productions, more money, more important people, but I also have the experience and knowledge to know that if you keep pushing forward, things will come together (most of the time anyway). I still have a hidden dark sense of humour; though arguably less hidden and even darker than it was before. But the one thing that is absolutely the same as it was twelve years ago is that I have no idea where I will end up.
When I was younger my interpretation of success was seen in the big moments.
For example, when I read the bestselling novel ‘Good Omens’ written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, I thought this is the moment that the author Neil Gaiman knew he’d made it; the success and awards after that has to prove that, doesn’t it? That there, for a career in the arts, has to be a defining moment where you just know you’ve made it. So, I worked and I waited for my own defining moment; the moment where the clouds of doubt and fear would dissolve away and instead be replaced with a clear, calm confidence. I dreamed of the day that I would go into a new project knowing exactly how I wanted it to be and exactly how it would go. I fantasised about my grown-up self, a mythical creature absent of uncertainty and anxiety.
When would this moment come? I fantasised. Perhaps when I publish my first book? Produce my first play? Get nominated for my first award? Win my first award?
Success, failure and everything in between came and went, and I still didn’t have that moment. If anything, this feeling of uncertainty and anxiety only increased. And while I was creating work that I was proud of, I still had absolutely no idea where I’d end up and what’s worse is people around me actually thought I had an idea of what I was doing.
Sometimes I just wished I could scream ‘I’m lost and have no idea what is going to happen.’ But that would just bring me further away from my moment, wouldn’t it?
Ironically it was Neil Gaiman, the man who I thought had everything figured out, made me realise that this moment would never come because it had never come for him. During a commencement speech in 2012 for the graduates of the University of Art Philadelphia he said ‘I was convinced that there would be a knock on the door, and a man with a clipboard (I don't know why he carried a clipboard, in my head, but he did) would be there, to tell me it was all over, and they had caught up with me, and now I would have to go and get a real job, one that didn't consist of making things up and writing them down, and reading books I wanted to read. And then I would go away quietly and get the kind of job where you don't have to make things up any more.’
I realised then that I was doing the same thing, convincing myself that if I didn’t know where I was going, if I didn’t know how I was going to get there, if I didn’t have my moment, then a man with a clipboard would come and tell me I couldn’t write stories anymore; the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to do.
And while I have had my struggles, frustrations with productions, rejections of funding and publications, no one has ever been able to physically stop me from writing.
I’ve changed a lot in twelve years, not because of one big moment but a million little ones; seeing a stranger pick up my book in a shop, laughing with exhaustion in the depths of rehearsals, crying with frustration as I once again am faced with a problem that I have no answer too, and finally sitting quiet and calm just watching my work.
I hope that I keep changing too; that I evolve, adapt, struggle, fail, recover, and grow. That I do things differently from the way I did them before, not because what I did before was wrong but because I don’t want to limit what I can do.
Looking forward to the next twelve years there is only one thing that I hope never changes; I hope I never know where I end up. Because if I do, then there is an ending. There is an ending to my stories, the one thing I never want to end.
In 2022 I’m a thirty-two-year-old writer and theatre maker who has five hundred and four unanswered emails and a little creepy story in the back of my head that is just itching to get out.
The big moment is never coming and what a relief that is.
Emily Gillmor Murphy is an Irish writer and theatre maker. Her work has been produced and published nationally and internationally with Penguin Random House, Druid, RTE and many more. Her work has been supported by the Arts Council Ireland, BAI, Wicklow Arts Office and Arts and Disability Ireland. Emily uses dark humour and fantasy to create flawed but beautiful characters and stories.