I promised someone that if she started writing again, I would too. She’s two to three posts ahead of me already, and yet I’ve found it hard to get started, and here’s why.
It’s frightening to put yourself "out there". It’s scary to tell the truth about yourself and your life. Especially for those of us who are so invested in making it seem like we have it all together, we know what we’re doing, we have a plan, darnit. Especially for those of us who are allergic to rejection.
Last night I watched Celebrity Rehab Revisited in which they played a clip of one of said celebrities. She was returning to ballet class after a long time away. The teacher told her that for anyone who is a dancer, it doesn’t matter how long they’ve been away, they can return to the barre at any time and they are home.
This struck me as a beautiful way to talk about the way that we pursue creative things. This struggling addict/porn star/dancer/person, it was too late for her to become a star ballerina (the implants didn’t help either), but the teacher’s words reminded me that people dance for other reasons than to be a star. You dance because you like it. You dance because when you do, you feel at home.
This is what it’s like for people who have been into writing, too… people such as myself. Although I learned a lot about writing by studying it as an academic subject, it also changed writing for me. What used to be a private, primal, personal act that I did for reasons that I didn't fully understand, became twisted up with grade point averages, approval, certificates of merit. It was about people liking you or not, approving or not, and that was maybe not good for me because what I found I loved even more than writing was the approval of others. The writing was the meat and potatoes, the approval and ass-kissing was the blow. It was easy to write because you wanted to be a star.
But I think writing here on a small corner of the internet will be good for me. Since I’ve been gone I decided to go to grad school to become a school counselor. There were many reasons, but one was that I decided to stop fighting myself. For many years I was trying not to be what I already was. So, fine, so I'm sensitive, so I understand people's feelings, so I want to help people. So what? I thought it might be better if I were some other way.
Writing has been the same for me. I’ve been fighting that, too. It might be better not to write, instead to learn how to be a bookkeeper, a naturalist, a puppeteer. It might be better to fight against myself. Oddly enough, it was that scourge, standardized testing, that got me thinking differently about it. I’ve always minimized what people have called my “gifts” -- that whole Marianne Williamson fear of adequacy thing -- but seeing that delicious high verbal score there in black and white, on the GRE report, which is ostensibly an objective measurement, it made me kind of go “Hmmmm”. No seriously, it seemed to say, this girl knows about words. So why fight it? Why knock myself out trying to be above average at numbers when I'm already above average at words? Why force yourself to be a right-y if you’re just naturally a lefty?
I worry that when I write I am too intense, too serious, too sincere, too sentimental. I know the style is to be hip and sarcastic, full of irony and bite, frenetic with cultural references. And yet I also know from all my studies that you can’t write for other people. Other people only confuse things, taking turns telling you either that you are too clever or too dumb to live. They offer you big, snowy-white piles of praise and a razor. They promise you that you’re going to be a big, big star.
You can’t write for them, and you can’t write to prove to yourself how desperately clever you are. Your best audience, your ideal reader, is one of your oldest friends: what writers who write about writing often call “the page.” It is your best, most honest critic, because it never says anything at all. It will silently accept anything you say. It gives you infinite room to keep going. Even if everyone else laughs in your face it’s still there, silent as ever. It doesn’t matter if you’ll never make it to Lincoln Center, because you’ve already made it home.