True Things About Me & Writing

“Things you might not know about me as a writer.”  It’s an awkward phrase, and I wrote an odd list after pondering the concept. The original challenge had seven points. I’m not good at following rules. That might be another point.

Point One: I assume my stories interest no one else.

Don’t mistake this for self-hatred, nor bitterness. Bitterness regularly develops on my surface, like a rind on cheese, but it isn’t the hearty, pithy nature of me. It’s a threshold effect of exposing my raw self to the toxic effects of humanity as a whole. Don’t mistake it for a choice. I don’t choose to believe that my imaginary worlds lack appeal, any more than I chose to have brown eyes or short legs. It’s a package deal. I do what I do, and I enjoy it, but the idea of my creations being desirable to anyone else is a fundamentally alien one.

Point Two: I can’t afford to care too much.

Since rejected is my default state of being, it’s my resting mode.  I could consciously work on disbelieving it until the cows come home, but frankly, it’s exhausting. I would rather spend my emotional capital on other things. Things like, oh, playing with my imaginary worlds.  I enjoy the squeezes out of doing that. I cannot make myself care about people caring about me. Self-promotion is difficult for many reasons, but this one is the hardest to explain to extroverted artists who gain energy from interaction.

Point Three: I am not a mind-reader

I will never know you read my stories unless you tell me so–and remind me regularly. I will not ask. If you do tell me,  I will forget. When the default setting is no one cares, the social extension is this:  anyone who says they care is doing it to be polite. I have finite memory storage for polite fictions, and it gets dumped regularly. I won’t remember who’s read what, because I work from the baseline premise that no one looked at anything. This premise is unlikely to change. (See Point 1)

f I happen to know you’ve read a particular piece, I will assume you disliked it unless I’m explicitly and repeatedly informed otherwise. This is a straightforward emotional defense mechanism over which I have about as much control as I do over my breathing reflex. If you strike up a conversation with me to compliment anything I’ve created, you’re creating a huge emotional dissonance. It’s a happy kind of manic-panic, but it’s also overwhelming. I’m likely to babble and squirm in discomfort or even brush off your advances the way a small child will flap their hands at butterflies or flowers or other beautiful things. Please be patient. Or don’t.

Point Four: I hate being told I’m “a good writer.”

I’m not even comfortable with the noun. Few items on the ubiquitous “you know you’re a writer when…” checklists apply to me. Even fewer of the writerly memes speak to my heart. Yes, I have a tidy quarter-million words arranged in sentences and paragraphs and stories, but the culture of writing makes me reluctant to claim the label for myself. On top of that, the qualifier good, when applied to me, saps my spirit. It’s pressure. It’s a state-of-being compliment. It focuses the laser of judgment on the person instead of the action. It means I can’t simply do good things. I have to BE good. No, thank you. Being good is a heavy crown to wear. I’d rather be free to be a  bad writer in the pursuit of better writing.

Point Five: I believe I make good things.

Writers aren’t supposed to admit they think their shit rocks the world. Humility is a cultural expectation, and one that is aggressively promoted. I don’t do good humble. Shy, yes. I’m practiced at shyness, to the point of social avoidance.  Humble, no. (Don’t judge my shyness by the social skills I sometimes choose to employ. I’ve worked with the public for decades. I’ve built up a great tool kit I hate using, and public is easy, compared to personal.) Anyway, I don’t excel at pretending other people’s work is better than mine. I think I’m great, and sometimes I resent the hell out of the world for not recognizing it.

I’m a regular visitor to the Slough of Despond, but self-doubt is not the boat that floats me there. I know my writing doesn’t suck. Even when I say it does, with waving jazz hands and a nice screechy edge of angst in my voice, I know the craftsmanship isn’t half-bad. My worst crap is better than the best a lot of writers will ever produce, and that’s a fact. If I’m griping, I’m working. See this post for details.

Biting the Hand That Feeds

This week’s navel-gazing manifesto. (tl:dr version: I am a weird, bitter person. Run while you can.) 

 Once I’ve reached the point that I admit I am feeling needy, I’m nearly unreachable. Any good thing said to me at that point is only being said because I whined.  It isn’t real. It’s false kindness offered out of courtesy, obligation, pity, annoyance, a desire to shut me up. 

Is that true? Rationally I can say no. Intuitively, I can’t feel otherwise. This is what early emotional damage does. The residual effect doesn’t wear off. It distorts praise the way a carnival mirror warps images.  It turns positives into negatives. It leaves only narrow channels of contact. 

No amount of positive thinking will eradicate those scars (which is one of many reasons I dislike those who insist happy thoughts cure all ills.) The Tower of Pisa will lean. The foundation is askew. IT can be shored up, it can still be beautiful. It will never be straight. 

 All I can do is work around the problem as best I can. I can accept praise, even if I cannot believe it. I will hug it and cherish it, and wish that someday it becomes real like the Velveteen Rabbit. I hoard it up against future need, hoping that maybe I’ll believe it next time. (Not so far, but there’s always tomorrow.) But remember what I said about narrow channels? Not all prise is created equal.

I don’t care to hear that I’m good at anything, including writing. Being good is meaningless to me. It’s praise based on the past. The past is over and done. It’s a compliment, I will say thank you, it’s a nice thing, but its purpose will roll off me like water off a duck’s back. It doesn’t penetrate. It can’t. There’s nowhere for it to go. 

 I rarely fret about “being good at something” anyway.  I am secure in state-of-being sense, in my general abilities. That much, I preserved. My fears will always be specific.  I worry about whether particular things I’ve done are bad or good. I worry about specifics with a deep anxiety involving tears or panic.

When specific fears are met with general encouragement, the reassurance has a paradoxical effect. Vague praise feeds doubt. Thumbs-up and warm fuzzies are proof that the problem is so bad no one dares address it directly. Or, tangentially, that it’s thought a lie, a false flag operation, a cry-wolf.  Positive hand-waving creates a vortex of deeper fears. 

Fear of this response is one reason I fight so hard to not admit I’m consumed by doubt at all, even when I’m being eaten alive by fear. (also known as “being awake” some days.) The cure can be worse than the original injury. I would rather suffer in silence than fight the force of the whirlwind.

The other reason I’m reluctant to speak is that resistance builds up to even the most sincere, specific praise.  That scar is tattooed with the words, “Yeah, yeah, you’ve said that before.” After a few repetitions,  opinions stop mattering.  It’s the inverse of a superpower.  The most interested, enthusiastic fan on the planet would be no match for my ability to think I’m being humored out of pity. I struggle against this, but again, when the foundation is cracked, things leak out. I would beg people to keep trying anyway, but…I can’t be cruel like that. I totally understand and sympathize when people give up on encouraging me. 

So, in conclusion, I am super-duper-overwhelmingly jealous of all the people whose friends offer words and specific encouragements without prompting. Yes, you, friends. All of you.  I love you all.  I am also sick and green and rotten with envy, and i don’t care who knows it. You all have lives, you all have much better things to do than talk to me about things that make me fret. I get that. I do. I don’t care. I want people to talk about me, all the time. 

People are reluctant to get involved with me when I’m needy. I bite the hands that feed. 

The hands that feed are holding inedible things or offering me flax seed when I need raw steak, but that isn’t what matters.  I’m peevish and ungrateful and selfish.

And I write about it because…well. Because I write about everything. 

Succeeding at Failure

I’ve seen the phrase “failed buddhist” tossed around metaphysical writings now and again.  The root idea is that no one can succeed at Buddhism, because to aim at success is to miss the point of being Buddhist.  That concept always resonated with me. The phrase makes a good jumping off point for explaining something that’s been sloshing around in my skull lately.

I am a Failed Lifer, at least when if comes to having ambitions, or even career goals. I am phenomenally good at planning activities like trips or projects. My record speaks to that. I am a first-rate planner, but goals? Pfft. I suck at goals.

My first experience with this deficiency came in first grade. The class was given an exercise in creativity. Crayons were involved. The assignment? “What do you want to be when you grow up? Draw what you will be doing.” Easy-peasy for most of the class. People went to work with their periwinkle blues and their burnt siennas. Astronaut pictures abounded. Firefighters. Teachers. Garbage haulers and construction workers. One lion tamer.

The idea flummoxed me. I didn’t know the word at six, but I knew that dangling sense of bewilderment. I looked into the chasm between my comprehension of the task and my inability to complete it and knew myself defeated.  How should I know what would I be doing as a grownup?  I wasn’t grown-up yet. More importantly, why would I want to know? What if I wanted to change my mind? What if I wanted to do lots of things?

It made absolutely no sense then, and still doesn’t today. I don’t do goals. I don’t ask for things I don’t need to survive. I prefer to let life come to me, or pass me by. If you are now feeling annoyed with me for proclaiming my lazy lack of drive, if you are now feeling that smug superiority of the goal-directed, active and assertive, you may find the exits in front, to the sides, and behind you. Buh-bye.

Some people need to map out their lives. Plenty of people seek external motivation. Some people enjoy it. I respect that. Why can’t the rest of the world respect that it isn’t for everyone? All the inspirational quotations and Rules For A Happy Life guides tell me that I am a failure.

Here’s a sampling of the advice I am incompetent at following:  Don’t wait for life to happen. Get out there and grab life by the horns. Forward momentum. Sharks never sleep. Don’t let grass grow under your feet. Know what you want to do, or you’ll never achieve anything. Go after what you want, or you’ll never get it.

“Be all you can be” is a reasonable directive. All the rest rely on outside measurements of success and external motivators, and those drive me crazy. When I set practical goals and charge into the fray of achievement, asking and grabbing and putting myself out there,  I go from being a balanced, happy, energetic creative human being to a stressed, angry, bitter mess in short order. Competitive as I am, the rat race kills me. Rats bite. Races are exhausting. Give me a good long solitary stroll any day. When I march to the beat of my quieter heart, I am the best person I can become.

I acknowledge that I am not stretching myself to my limits.  I defy the judgmental conclusion that I am wasting myself by so doing, or that turning away from financial gain is inherently inferior. I reject the idea that certain genetic traits and cultural conditions require me to push myself.  Diffidence is not laziness. I work hard. I enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done. I thrive on it, in fact. The point is, that I enjoy that satisfaction regardless of the job being done. Even dull, smelly manual labor? Yes. I don’t take away from it the soaring ecstasy of a creative endeavor, but yes, even scutwork satisfies me.

My inability to master ambition’s active drive has real, concrete consequences. It has limited my job opportunities, my income and my social standing. I accept this. Maybe I would choose differently if I came form a different background. Maybe I would behave differently if I were someone else. How is that relevant? I’m not someone else. (Duh.)  Telling me I don’t appreciate what I have is ludicrous on the face of it and insulting at the root, and yet that is the usual judgment. Newsflash to those disgusted by my lack of drive: my choices are mine. They are valid. I refuse to accept my life as inadequate because it does not match your idea of usefulness. Not even when my inner voice whispers the litany of failure to me, late at night and on sunny afternoons.

Back in first grade, I played with my crayons, drew a horse. I always drew horses. If I wanted to be anything, it was a horse, but I knew that wasn’t a realistic option. When prompted relentlessly by the teacher to declare myself, I drew a stick-figure rider and stated that I wanted to be a circus performer when I grew up. It was bullshit, of course.  I was plagiarizing the lion tamer.

What did I want to be when I grew up? I had no clue. I still don’t know the answer to that question, but I am older and, I hope, wiser. I know that it’s the wrong question for me. I didn’t want to be something when I was a child, and I never will. For me, all I want is to simply be, to experience the now and the here, to learn and to share.

Every day, I am myself. Mission accomplished, I guess.

PS:  I put gargoyles into the label list because a post like this deserves its own rocky guardian, even if I didn’t specifically talk about how much I love carved stone grotesques.