Several echos reverberate in my mind tonight. They were sparked by some constructive suggestions given to me about my kickstarter – improvements that i made reality as soon as i got back to the house. Knowing that the reaction i am having is totally unfair because the message given to me tonight was to go boldly forward and be brave and try and try again has not stopped my thoughts from circling the drain. The writer in me howls with grief that my message was so deeply flawed. Simultaneously, i am thrilled by the praise i was given and despondent that my personal failings came through so clearly in text and video. Most of all, i am being pestered by memories like wasps that will not stop stinging me, evoked by the conversation despite the lack of justification. The most prominent criticisms that have been repeating in a loop on the screen of my consciousness came from three sources:
At sixteen, in the voice my mother, when she burned all my poems because they were humiliatingly bad.
At seventeen, when my English teacher told me to give up writing because, even though i was relatively skilled at putting sentences together, because “No one will ever be interested in what’s going on in your head.”
Finally, the embarrassment of my then husband, as he earnestly worried about my poetry and novels being associated with him.
My reaction to all three of these judgments, at the time they were uttered, was to deepen my resolve to write. The actual number of lines pouring forth from my pen increased with each incident, albeit with some adaptations. For my mother, i started hiding my poetry better – scribbling it in the margins of pages in the notebooks for my classes. After i left that teacher’s room, i went to study hall and wrote a list of all the writers i adored who poured the contents of their mind onto the printed page. In the case of the man now my ex, i became a different person after we divorced to keep him from suffering from a connection to me.
However, the reason that these comments are revolving around in my awareness tonight like a carousel of misery is because of the shameful timidity that they stoked in my heart. For me, it is one thing to have the endurance and inspiration to write and another thing entirely to hold the words i have strung together out for others to read. Each time i submit, every time i throw my work out into the world, i have this recoil of anxious shyness. It exists with painting and pottery too, but is much more acute with the written word. There has to be a pause, a rest for me to re-fortify, and then i can try again. With something like a blog, or a single poem released as part of a podcast, the delay can be small. Whatever humiliations i face are fleeting. But for big risks, like submitting a novel or this kickstarter, the time i spend retreating can be ridiculously long.
Several times, even successful exposure has left me hobbled for months. The same thing happens with dating – something tragic occurs and then i pull away from people for a long time until i feel strong enough to try again. Or the loneliness becomes unconquerable, so i rejoin the world in desperation. Something wonderful occurs, but doesn’t last, and i’m still pulling away because things could be worse next time.
In both my social life and in my career, these pauses have lasted for years. i am deeply shamed by my cowardice. Perversely, these echoing messages became the proof that my hesitation was justified even though they did not stop me from working. i have always kept writing no matter how badly my confidence eroded. Alas, i kept thinking that book after book, poem after poem, could be nothing more than practice. For over a decade, i used the criticisms of others to say that i was not good enough to even begin to try to seek publication. Truly, it has only been in the past five years that i have made any progress on this point with my writing and all forward movement has been halting.
Even now, when i know that creating is the only thing i’m good for, i still find myself hearing good advice, implementing it even though it is probably too late, and then wanting to hide away in the dark, safe inside my house, hoping no one finds out how terrified i really am.
Indeed, i am scared to press the publish button for this blog. But, i won’t let that stop me. And, since it’s after one in the morning i will be able to seek refuge in bed and call it “going to sleep.”