When my Inbox goes ping and I see it’s another piece for Writers in the Attic, I feel a little thrill. I have to drop what I’m doing and read it straightaway. I can’t resist. Each of the essays I’ve posted has resonated with me in some way and many have had me reaching for the tissue box. People’s stories are all so different but all moving. Not only am I in awe of the quality of the writing, but I’m always left with a sense of admiration at the obstacles people have overcome to get to where they are.
Here’s Denise Mills’ story. I promise you won’t be disappointed:
Denise Mills is the creator of the Letters Anthology, an online space for women’s expression and expansion. You can find the Letters Anthology on Twitter and Facebook.
Writing is a big deal
Writing is a big deal to me. A really big deal. I had a job as an accountant and had been working in public practice for almost 10 years when I reached breaking point. I hated the work. I hated charging every six minutes of my time. I hated the lack of connection. Each day I felt like a robot, churning out yet another set of financial reports, exchanging nine hours a day of unhappiness for financial reward, as well as for the snazzy title.
Each day I felt like a robot … exchanging nine hours a day of unhappiness for financial reward, as well as for the snazzy title.
After coming from a fairly poor family with a mother who slogged her guts out as an underpaid secretary, and a father who stayed at home and drank due to a work accident, I thought my parents set the limits of what I could achieve. Since I was their creation, this made perfect sense to me.
Despite being an A-grade student and coming second in my year, I decided I may as well leave school at Year Ten. I couldn’t see any point continuing; my family was far too poor to afford to send me to university and I had no idea that Government student loans existed. Also, I was pretty sure I wasn’t smart enough for university. Those students were way out of my league, like Stephen Hawking or Einstein.
Since I’d already left home at 16 and was working a part-time job of an evening, I thought ‘Why the heck am I still bothering with school since there is no hope for me?’. I did what any A-grade student with terrible self-esteem would do: I quit school so I could work full time at McDonalds and smoke pot.
I did what any A-grade student with terrible self-esteem would do: I quit school so I could work full time at McDonalds and smoke pot.
When I fell pregnant with my boyfriend, it was not planned and I was not happy. In fact, I was petrified. I had no idea how to be a parent was terrified of disappointing my mother, who was quite religious. I wrote her a letter when I was already four months pregnant and she was surprisingly supportive. I was 18.
My son came into the world and I continued working in food and retail. When my partner left for a ‘break’ when our son was three, I told him not to bother coming back. We were very young when we first got together and our relationship was always on-again-off-again. I wanted my son to have more stability, even if that meant single parenting.
During the time on my own, something shifted. I started remembering who I was. I started remembering that I was capable of more than handing people food and giving them change. I remembered that my life was actually my own.
During the time on my own, something shifted. I started remembering who I was.
I went to TAFE and got a Certificate IV in Financial Services, purely because my aunty could babysit during the hours the classes were running. When I finished, this gave me the confidence to go University, with the encouragement of my TAFE teacher. I enrolled as a mature aged student in my early twenties, did a Bachelor of Business (Accounting/Economics), then a Graduate Diploma, and went out and got a job as an accountant. I hated it from day one.
But no-one said life was meant to be easy. By this time my mother had died of cancer at age 50 and I was estranged from my father since I no longer had any reason to have anything to do with him. Work was all about the Key Performance Indicators, no genuine care for staff or clients. I was always stressed and had less patience for my son than I would like to admit. I also had a regular eye-twitch that bugged the hell out of me.
When I had my own health scare, I was disappointed when the results came back negative. I didn’t want to die but it would have been the pause button I needed for the world to just stop, just stop so I could recalibrate and figure out what the heck was happening. That’s when I knew it was time to change my life. I started thinking of ideas, things I could do instead of accounting, but I always hit a brick wall. I applied for jobs outside the accounting world but never got anywhere—why would they hire me in admin or customer service, when it seemed like such an odd switch?
I didn’t want to die but it would have been the pause button I needed for the world to just stop.
One day I crashed at work—not physically, but spiritually—I couldn’t go on. I said to myself (or maybe I said it out loud?), ‘I release this’. I released my concern that I had no idea what else could possibly do, having worked in the accounting industry for so long. I released my concern about finances. I released the fear of losing my cool job that made people treat me so much better than they did when I’d tell them I was a waitress. I released my belief that I had to control the universe and instead let it help me.
I felt it all leave my body.
Seconds after I uttered those words the phone rang, and I was offered a job three days a week as a TAFE teacher, which paid the same amount as full time accountancy. Now, I won’t lie. This event wasn’t quite as remarkable as it sounds. I was already working at TAFE one evening a week teaching a three-hour business class, so it’s not like I was cold-called randomly out of the phone book. But still, I do think there was an element of magic to it. I think that’s how the universe works.
I discovered my human side again.
I worked as a teacher for a couple of years and while it wasn’t my calling, I discovered my human side again. We had morning tea breaks! I talked freely to the students and to my colleagues without thinking about six-minute time blocks! I was a real, living, breathing human and no longer a robot.
In this new realm of personal freedom, I started writing. Writing was a pastime I enjoyed as a kid: I wrote poetry and short stories just for fun, illustrated them, and stapled my work together to make little books. I imagined myself as different people and even different objects, with my favourite short story being, My Life as a Pencil. (A thrilling read: the pencil ends up in the dump because he’s sharpened down to a tiny stump, but makes friends with a broken ruler and they have one hell of a good time together.)
One thing led to another, and just from doing what I enjoy, an unpaid writing gig on the side led to a paid writing gig. Then, more work came along and now all I do is write. I am a writer and I don’t care if that doesn’t sound as fancy as an accountant and I’m on 30-grand a year less than I was. I am free and I am doing what I truly love doing.
I never imagined I could get paid to do what I love but I guess that’s what happens when you trust the magic. Yes, writing is a big deal.
If you’d like to contribute a personal essay for Writers in the Attic, please contact me here. The topic is fairly broad—anything to do with writing, your writing life or what writing means to you. 600-1000 words is a good length.
I acknowledge the time and effort involved in writing these pieces by sending a small gift as a thank you.
I love reading every essay I receive, so please don’t be frightened to take the plunge!
It’s been a while between newsletters, mainly because all I’ve been doing is editing. Not only has that consumed my time, but it meant I had no news. ‘Another month sitting in front of my computer’ wasn’t very newsworthy, which was a good reason to give the newsletters a miss.
Now I’m nearing the end of this edit I can think about my newsletter again. Please sign up if you haven’t already. Although I don’t have any startling news this month, I’ll try to make it interesting. (I’m making it sound so irresistible, aren’t I?)
I do have a lovely giveaway for subscribers: these gorgeous postcards from ‘The World of Peter Rabbit’. You just have to be on my mailing list to be in the running. The box is wrapped in plastic so I can’t show you the actual cards. You’ll have to rely on the photos from The Literary Gift Company‘s website instead (the two photos on the right). If you’re a book lover, you’ll enjoy the Literary Gift Company’s website. Be warned, it’s a very hard site to leave without buying something …
What an inspirational story! I love that Denise overcame so many obstacles and managed to dodge a career in accounting, with writing being the ultimate and very rewarding outcome. Thanks for sharing your story Denise!
Thank you Marie 🙂 Not that many obstacles, just sounds that way when I clump them all in together! Hehe. Thank you for reading x
Many people wouldn’t have done what you did but would have given up. Pat yourself on the back, Denise. You’ve done good! 🙂
I love your story Denise. What an inspiration you are, to overcome such limitations. And I love the little story you wrote about the pencil when you were a child! I’d love to read some more of your writing. good on you for following your heart.
Yes the pencil story was the coolest! Haha! My blog is at denisemills.net, I forgot to include that. Thank you for your kind words.
A stub of a pencil and a broken ruler, I love it already. Do you still have a copy?
(By the way, I’ve added your website and FB/Twitter.)
Hahah! I wish I did 🙂
What a wonderful read! Thank you for sharing your journey towards writing, Denise. Your words encourage me to keep writing despite many side tracks!
Yes, keep writing Susan! You have a beautiful way with words. And the phrase ‘give up’ doesn’t exist in a writer’s dictionary!
Oh Denise what a time you have had. Your story resonates with me on so many levels. I’m so glad you have found your path xxx
Yeah we get stuck sometimes, don’t we?
Denise’s story resonates with me, too, Rae. It’s impossible to write your own words when you have no/little self-confidence.
Great post Denise and Louise. There’s nothing quite as powerful or inspiring as raw honesty to connect us.
Couldn’t agree more, Robyn. It takes courage to write honestly, though, and I thank Denise wholeheartedly. 🙂
Thank you Robyn, completely agree!
A wonderful post and good on you Denise, for knowing you wanted a better life and a writing life to boot! and for pursing that dream. As for all the challenges life has thrown at you, I’m reminded of the saying—, “Smooth sailing never did a skillful sailor make.” I’d say you’ve become pretty skilful at navigating life. Keep writing! 🙂
So true, Marlish. I love that saying, too. Please write all your proverbs in a book one day—maybe call it, ‘The musings of a tea lady’. 😉
Yes, a great quote! Thank you
I’m utterly convinced that Denise herself is a big deal. What a truly remarkable woman. Thanks for sharing your story, Denise, and for giving her the forum to do so, Louise. XX
Denise is a BIG DEAL. She’s a beautiful writer and person, I agree. Thanks for reading, Maureen. xx
Ahah! Best comment ever! Thank you so much Maureen, made my day.
This is such an inspiring personal essay Denise. I really resonated with some of the things you said about doing what you love and not caring about title, status or income because you are following your passion. Thank you for sharing and thank you Louise for this fabulous segment of Writers in the Attic on your blog.
It takes courage to take that leap and follow your creative dreams, that’s for sure, Aggie. And Denise has that in buckets! Thanks for visiting and reading! xx
Thank you Aggie, so glad it resonated. x
So courageous, inspiring story
Couldn’t agree more, Maureen. x