Certification and Crowing by Sandra Horn
Certificates have been on my mind of late – the little bits of paper that put you in various boxes, à la Pete Seeger. Births, marriages, deaths, all define you, or rather, the public perceptions of you, and they are all archived somewhere so they can be scrutinised for ever by whoever. Pete Seeger describes the boxes we are assigned to as ‘made of ticky-tacky’ and ‘all the same’, but they can also be seen as defining our differences, for good or ill.
We collect them as we go along, these little bits of paper – proof of vaccinations, school and university attainments, etc. I am certified to drive a car but not a lorry, bus or minibus. I’m a certified citizen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, with my maroon European Union passport. A short pause here while I weep and curse at its potential loss. It’s good for eight more years, though. Ha!
There’s an obvious difference between some of those bits of paper we have thrust upon us and those we seek to have and must, in some sense, earn – we can’t choose where and to whom to be born and we can’t change it. How odd, then, that so much hate is generated by the things about us that we didn’t /couldn’t choose or change – race, skin colour, etc.
Our widely-shared fascination with family history draws a lot on these bits of paper. It’s possible to find out all sorts of extraordinary things once you start digging. I now know, thanks to finding my full birth certificate, that my own origins are far from what I’ve always thought or been led to believe, which was at first shocking but is now very joyful as it has led to finding new and very delightful family members I’d never known.
Another digger among the bits of paper has uncovered the astounding fact that Bob Marley’s Dad was born in Crowborough, the small quiet Sussex town I grew up in and where several members of my family still live. We have a statue of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who lived there, in the town centre, and now it’s surely time for a new one: Bob Marley’s Dad!!
Some things change in spite of the bits of paper. I was certified to practice as a Clinical/Health Psychologist but gave it up some years ago in order to spend my time writing and making books (Yay!!). Had I wanted to keep the practice certificate, I’d have needed to prove Continuing Professional Development (by producing more bits of paper) and I was much too busy learning how to be a publisher by then. Psychology had given me a wonderful career and opportunities I’d never have imagined, but it was the right time to put it aside and chase a dream – an uncertificated dream! There are no ‘little bits of paper’ to prove we are writers, but rather, whole books stuffed with them. Deeply satisfying.
Now comes the crowing bit: by the time this goes up as my August blog, I’ll have collected two certificates which, although they don’t really prove anything about me as a writer (a judge is someone with one opinion as opposed to another opinion, right?) they do give pleasure – they delight rather than define me. They are for two poems: a ‘highly commended’ and a ‘commended’ in the Yorkmix poetry for children callout. I will have two bits of paper for having a lot of fun doing the thing I like best. Not because bureaucracy needed to record my existence, not for sweating over exams, not for filling in endless forms to prove who I am, just for larking about with words.
By a happy coincidence, I’ve just been reading The Moon and Sixpence and came across this quote:
‘The writer should seek his (sic) reward in the pleasure of his (sic again) work and in release from the burden of his (oh, sic!) thoughts and, indifferent to all else, care nothing for praise or censure, failure or success.’
The last bit is too tall an order and a little bit of praise never does any harm, but I’m all for the pleasure in the work and release from the burden of thoughts, whether it earns certificates or not.