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Written by writer-in-residence, Erin McCullagh. Poster not by Erin McCullagh.

I’ve been considering this post for a long time.

Since the New Year, I’ve been in Japan, a place of many marvels and amazing experiences. I’ve done some cool things, participated in festivals, ate things I don’t know how to describe, met so many new people and done some not so great things as well. But instead of talking about any of that, I decided to devote this post to something else that I decided was important. Maybe I’ll post about Japan later – in fact, you can read about my Japan adventures in my Japan blog, if you like.

And I do apologise in advance, my English language skills have gone downhill because I’m speaking Japanese every day. My brain now operates with two sets of vocabulary, which means that I have random moments of stopping during everyday activities to find a word that my companion will actually understand.

But here’s something I’ve noticed that’s a little more related to everyday life, and which won’t make you want to stop reading this post out of jealousy. I’ve noticed this about myself, and other people have probably noticed it about themselves too. Writers are, at the very core of their existences, the onlookers of society. We are like the audience. We watch things happen. We make things happen, yes, but for the most part, we just watch. When we write, we are used to making things happen and then watching these scenes unfold before our eyes. It’s easy that way. We don’t have to deal with the consequences of what our characters do (except if you’re Salman Rushdie), instead we describe in immense detail what the action is and what the consequences eventually are, basically watching every moment of it. Moreover, we know our characters so well, we watch them every step of the journey they are undertaking, so that if our characters were real people and in the same world as us, we would be considered, without a doubt, their biggest stalkers.

Now I want to tell you a story. It’s a little awkward to tell, but it’s basically how my current boyfriend and I, well, didn’t meet.

Once upon a time, I found a boy that I liked. This sounds cliché, but what can I say. I felt some sort of a connection to him. And I’m not going to say this doesn’t happen regularly, but after a few coincidences, like a boy and I sitting across from one another more than once, or a boy looking like somebody I know, or us having met before as complete strangers somewhere else, I sort of develop a feeling that our relationship was meant to be. Fairytale mode kicks in. I can see the film. I’m writing the script in my head. I can feel the moment the dialogue begins. It has to happen. And this is how I decide that I like a certain boy.

Anyway, so Certain Boy and I happen to sit across from one another in the library more than a few times. He also looks like somebody I knew a while ago. It’s too much for me. This has to be. And I think to myself, it’s time for Stage Two. What exactly is Stage Two? Well, it involves finding out as much information about Certain Boy as possible. First I found out a name from my friend who happens to know everybody. Just a first name. Then I discovered his habits, the places where he usually hangs out. I worked out his timetable, when he ate lunch or dinner. But the whole time, I stood behind the scenes. I made sure to appear at certain times, to be there when he ate a meal, or to sit near him in the library, but never too often. It still had to seem like a chance occurrence. In other words, I did a lot of work, but I didn’t actually do anything.

And that’s my point. My friend kept saying he would introduce me, but I kept declining the offer. It was too weird. I couldn’t do it. I knew that I would freeze up and blush and just be awkward and then I would go back to my room and analyse, analyse, analyse until I’d torn the meeting just passed to shreds, and my confidence along with it. I declined about five offers, I have to say. I really wanted to meet him. I really wanted to actually walk up to him and politely ask his name (although I already knew what it was), or make small talk and discover our common habit of going to the library at a certain time every night and sitting in the same seat. But still, I did nothing.

I call this the ‘Mother’s Basement Problem’. It’s like a sad little late-teenage computer gamer living in his mother’s basement. He has done so much in his life. He has beat the bejesus out of eleven-year-olds at Mathletics. His Pokemon, which are all named after Greek gods, are the most powerful in the universe. He reached over 100 on Flappy Bird. He has achieved many goals, had his own personal successes and failures. Yet in actuality, he has never left the same place and, if his computer was to be taken away, his achievements would simply dissolve away. Like the kid with ‘Mother’s Basement Problem’, writers create whole worlds in their heads and can think up an action plan with incredible speed, however it is the implementation of the action plan that sees them lose confidence.

Needless to say, my stalking did amount to something a little more real in the end. My friend pulled me into a conversation one day and basically pulled all the right strings to get things going. Now we’re happily dating! But for a while there, it was an awkward scenario of just watching, in an incredibly stalker-ish manner, literally unable to move.

It also manifests itself in other things, not just potential-boyfriend-stalking. For example, I love to take photos and videos of the people around me. I have taken no less than 1,306 photos on my trip so far (I got here on January 1) and am in the process of putting them in a video with happy music. I’m the sort of person that doesn’t look forward to events, rather, looks forward to photos of events. And I don’t do the selfie thing, either, at least not as often. Rather, I like to sit in the corner photographing away while other people have the fun. After all, in my view, you can’t take good photos of having fun if you’re one of the participants. I feel like I am being self-sacrificing in being the photographer, catching the strange-looking faces, waiting for the gag-line of the joke before stopping the recording. Someone has to do it. And I’ve taken it upon myself, rather strictly, to record events in the same way that I describe occurrences in the things that I write.

I am going to blame, at least in part, my writerly tendencies. Even when I’m not writing, I’m thinking about my characters, about my plot, about how I can make it work, how I can make it more interesting. I don’t want to think about real life when I can think about fictional life, where I can pull strings to make everything work. And therefore, when it comes to making decisions and taking a real course of action, I step into the background and let others do the work for me. Planning, like plotting a scene in a novel, is what I’m good at.

But now I’m wondering: was this sort of tendency to watch others and not act myself always part of my personality? Was I born with it? Or did it develop once I began writing? Was my tendency towards inaction what made me want to write in the first place? I can see myself, as a young girl, knowing in the back of my mind that I had no idea how to do anything myself, but then discovering the ability to control my own characters through writing, and rejoicing. Hence, now I can’t even take a simple action like introducing myself to a boy I like. Instead, I probably would have sat up in my room, writing a short story in which character-me and character-him get married and have a grand old life.

But, regardless of how I feel, Perfect Boy and I really did meet each other. We really did become friends and we really did start dating. So maybe now I’m learning. I’m getting my confidence back.

So now all I have to do is delete the Tokyo Love Hotel story off my laptop before he finds it…

Erin McCullagh is studying international relations at ANU and will soon begin a degree in languages on top of this, at which point she will resign herself to the truth that she will be at university forever.  She is spending the first seven months of 2014 in a cold and lonely part of Japan, trying to get by as a poor student with limited and (amusingly) incorrect Japanese language skills.  She dreams of one day becoming a famous author, meeting Don DeLillo and having his literary babies.


We’re a little bit misty-eyed to say that this is Erin’s final post for us as Blogger in Residence. Thanks for your words, Erin! All of the gratitude, praise and intercontinental hugs are for her. We wish her all the best for her Japan adventures (her blog again, here) and look forward to her gracing Canberra with her presence again in a few months time. Applause? APPLAUSE. 

Now that Erin’s time as Blog Resident has drawn to a close, we’re pushing and piling all the digital furniture up against the walls as we make blog space for our Papercuts reviewers. As soon as the You Are Here festival begins, the Papercuts reviews will begin pouring on in, from them, to our blog, to your brain. Post-YAH, post-March, the Blog Residency will resume, but until then, get ready for Papercuts!

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