|Photo Credit: Morguefile|
Today, the only thing I can find to write about is fear. And I don't want to write about fear.
I am sick of fear. I don't want sympathy. Instead, I want to hear the strike of metal against another person's truth so that the room fills up with the hum of Tibetan bowls. Fear, I've found, tends to elicit something else: a desire to comfort, along with its attendant Hallmark cards and pep talks and "you're-too-hard-on-yourself"s. I have a had time with these acts of kindness. They make me feel...exposed.
But fear it is.
I am scared to death, really, to be a real writer. I was once told (and I think I have said this here before) that if you want to look at what you are committed to, look at what you already have. This is true. I have exactly what I can handle. I want to write and, in the solace of my living room, I want to think that what I have written may be meaningful and good. I want to imagine that I could be successful, am about to be successful.
The list of things I do not want to do associated with being a writer is somewhat longer and it involves any kind of public embarrassment and openness to criticism and rejection, any kind of standing in front of people looking prettied-up and confident, any kind of telling people all about what I can do.
Because—at my core of cores—I don't think I can do anything.
This is what this is really about. Perhaps most of you will not know what I mean, because perhaps most of you are not sexual abuse survivors who are recovering from alcoholism and bulimia* and have spent most of your lives out of the work force raising kids. But—maybe, maybe, some of you, despite not being all the same kinds of messed up, will still know what I mean.
I don't think I can do anything. I am surprised I can cut apples. I am thrilled I can sweep floors. When I applied for my job as an instructional assistant at the local schools six years ago, I was terrified. I had run a daycare, twice, taken child development classes, and had been raised by a mother who worked almost all my life in the schools, but I still didn't really think I could do the job. I couldn't make copies, I thought. I didn't know how to use the die cut machine, I thought. I was sure I would not be picked.
After I expressed all this, my husband looked at me like I had spouted several additional heads.
"You're worried that you're not qualified to be an IA?" he asked. I was.
They hired me anyway.
Now, I tutor and I don't think I can do that either. The parents of my students think I can. I act like I can. And I seem to be able to go through the motions of planning and teaching an individualized lesson for each child, and they seem to learn, and everyone seems to be pleased, but I'm still, on some level, utterly sure that I can't really do the work, or that someone else could do it better than I do.
In my solar plexus—I know.
One of the things I wrote about in my book is that I didn't learn to drive until I was 26. I just felt safer letting other people do it. When I finally learned, I took only a month and I had to learn to do it while having full panic attacks. Once I'd been driving several months, the panic attacks went away (except for when I drive in heavy freeway traffic, or in high winds, or late at night, or on the side of very high cliffs).
I think writing, for me, is a bit like that right now. I have my foot on the gas, but I am tapping the brakes constantly and trying to keep from crying as my adrenalin surges, telling me I need to get off the road RIGHT NOW. And I seem to be off in all directions: updating my LinkedIn profile, trying to get freelance work, researching magazines to submit to, getting help to update my blog and create an author page, ordering books on queries and agents. Trying to figure out what I should do with beta readers. I cannot focus. I just get up and do something every day. Take some action. Drive somewhere. Take notes. Tap brakes. Breathe deeply. Start again.
Before—I was just writing. I know how to write. I do not know how to be a writer.
I did learn to drive, and perhaps I will learn to be a professional writer, too. Perhaps something will yield. Perhaps all this garbage in my head about platforms and business plans and writer's groups and publishing will form itself into something actionable.
But for right now, again, fear is my teacher. I have the opportunity not to run but to stay and confront it, to put my feet on the pedals. Or to take a break and ask what I am doing and why I am doing it. Or to ask for help. Most of all—to show up and tell the truth. It's all I have: the Truth. It's why I like writing. It's why I am doing this. It's why I am telling you. Not because it's sad (it's not) or because it's interesting (it isn't really). Because it's true.
Not just for me, but in some way, for someone else.
Life was never the same after I learned to drive. Suddenly, I could go where I wanted to, when I wanted to, drive as fast or as slow as I wanted to go. I could choose the grocery store I shopped at. I could drive my kids out to the beach. I was in control of something that before I was just the recipient of.
I don't feel ready, but I'm ready. I'm ready to drive my career. Where, and how, I do not know.
And it may take months before the panic subsides, during which I will have to take action anyway. That seems to be how it goes. Yes, I've done therapy and yes, I once took anti-depressants for a long time (and I still panicked while driving) and yes, now I meditate virtually every morning. But none of this gets me out of being who I am, which seems to include a certain amount of panic and hysteria to which most people are just not prone.
The other side of this coin is that I kind of like myself: panicky, over-wrought, tense, and complicated. I know that seems impossible, given what I've said, but it isn't. I've spent a year writing my whole life down and I am now intimately acquainted with Me.
I kind of admire her. She has guts.
My youngest son, who has auditory processing disorder, has not yet been able to earn his first belt in Tae Kwon Do. When called to the front to do his forms, he tends to forget them. He tends not to notice he's been called to the front. He tends to be doing the wrong thing. He tries very hard and so he feels bad about all this.
"Listen," I told him one day, "You are working harder than anybody else."
"I am?" he asked me.
"Yes," I said. "Your brain has to work just to hear them calling your name, to hear them call out the count. You have to work harder and it is going to take longer than others to do the same thing because of that. It's not because you're not as good. It's because your job is harder than theirs."
"Oh," he said, relieved. "Ohhhh."
And it's no different with me—with people like me—I suppose. If it takes me fifteen nervous emails to friends and a thousand scatter-shot web searches and thirty mornings of meditation and that many days of feeling like I am crawling out from being crushed under a rock—all to figure out one thing I really need to do next for my writing—then that is what it takes, and it is not because I am not as good. It is because my job is harder than the people who woke up this morning confident in who they are and what they do. It is because I have put in the work of a PhD in order to get an associates**.
I am not less because I struggle. I am more.
So, today, in honor of every woman I know who has stayed up late with flashcards well past when she knew the material for her test, and every teenager who has dressed and primped for a party and then realized at the last minute that she's too ugly to go, and every woman who doesn't even apply for the job because she can't bear to hear the words "You are unqualified." I say:
You did good work today. Carry on, and fight another day. Breathe in, breathe out, foot on pedal, inhale again. Exhale.
* I am grateful to say 20 years of recovery now.
* *This is a metaphor. I don't even have an associate's and I am not dissing anyone who's earned a PhD.