I’m reading Amanda Palmer’s Art of Asking and it is, naturally, bringing up all sorts of emotions for myself. I’m going through a bit of an emotional purge in my life. I started generating an idea for a really weepy, vulnerable post. I still want to do it. I probably still should, I just want to keep myself in a good, working mood. It’s just reminding me how much I want to be a writer and I want to share my work, and I get in the way of letting that happen to protect myself from the possibility.
Mainly, I want it to be perfect and as a mortal, and someone out of practice with personal essays that aren’t just paintballing against a white wall, it ain’t gonna be.
I also remind myself that I face that reality everyday when I post. When you can’t help secretly hoping that some post will arbitrarily connect and take off and somehow the person I am or that I’m trying to be can get seen, can be chosen and selected and pulled out of obscurity and therefore, loved. Even if you know you didn’t try all that hard, or didn’t edit, or didn’t write anything that means anything other than a factual account of a deeply introverted person’s deeply uneventful life, you kind of hope that might happen.
…okay, so maybe I am going to write this.
Like, I hesitate to tag, because there’s this sense of trumpeting – come in, come visit, aren’t I clever? I put this odd amount of self into it. It’s this weird notion that sure, I can write this, sure, I can post it, but if it’s wrong? What if I screwed something up? What if my opinions aren’t everyone’s opinions? What if people actively DISlike it? (And really, they should, because the imperfection in it is mind-boggling). And if I invited them to look at it, I crowed it was good enough to look at, spend their precious time on… I think that bullshit all the while riding along with this hope of love and delight and flower crowns and victory.
I remember when I was a very little girl and I would get in trouble or would have a crying jag ( as a sensitive sort, this was often. I cried at earnest people in commercials, at a dog’s bark across the street at shifts in light I found beautiful,) I would be sent to my room. Once there, I would tantrum for a bit. Thrust myself around, pluck at my skin, sneer in my little girl mirror, howl and rage. Typically, though, I’d end up on the bed, huddled rather small, willing myself invisible.
If you would just come in, I’d think to myself, if you would just come in and comfort me. If you would just come and hug me. See the hurt I just saw or felt or took on. If you would just some in and soothe me, then I wouldn’t have to take all this on my own. The hurt would be acknowledged and it could leave me.
I could never vocalize this request. Already a whiner, asking for this level of cosseting and attention that no one else seemed to want or need or get, felt very risky. Also, I felt I knew my parents’ reaction after a few feeble attempts of trying to explain the empathetic response I was having. Impatience with that felt like judgement, felt like I wasn’t getting it right, like the narrative was fucked up. All of this is not to say they didn’t care. Didn’t love me 100% with no caveats. I just wanted them to be different than they were and I wanted them to know this without having to say it. On rare occasions, I’d stomp out to the living room. Mostly, I was ignored, or worse asked, “why are you crying again?” This brought out the most powerful wave of anger when I felt as though I was radiating the pain of the universe. It felt like I was being mocked for my empathy. I’ve since been given a name for what I felt. Alain de Botton calls this the “paradox of the sulk.” He writes: ‘If I have to spell this out to you, you’re not someone I want to be understood by.”
I just had this obstinate sense that if someone cared, like in the storybooks I read, they’d show they cared. They’d wordlessly know in the same way I knew. In the same way I’d, even as that young girl, rub my mother’s shoulders or brush her hair when she was sad. So I’d stay in the room, shaking and screaming inside my own head, fire behind my own eyes.
And eventually, I would exhaust my own ability to dwell on whatever petty wrong caused all this and the optimistic and buoyant parts of my creativity would rush in, characters of their own, and they would settle around me and cheer me up. Or at least quell the upset so that I could distract myself with books, or tv, daydreams, food, of course, or from time to time, actual writing of my own which offered me the opportunity to be as selfish as I dared. Where there was endless time to worry over my feelings, endless souls that could be conscripted to the task.
So I figured out, okay, so no one’s coming in. And if you go out, you’ve failed the test. If you explain, you’ve failed it. You’re waiting, Godot-style, for someone who will think you’re worthy of “coming in for.” and will know, behind closed doors, that you’re there. Well, good fucking luck with that one, sweetheart. And I got less bothered and less willing to break down over tiny things and less willing to expect emotional interaction with anyone. Over time, this has played out in its own sharp, sad saga that I have hinted at here, but I’m certain I’ve never addressed head-on. I don’t know if today’s the day for that one, either.
I have grown up (a bit) since then, but making art (writing), seeking an audience for that is like setting up one of these emotional tests. There’s this huge opportunity buried in it, but it’s weighed down by this incredibly unhealthy belief that nobody’s going to be able to overcome. That has nothing to do with wanting and everything to do with not knowing. Because I don’t ask. I don’t invite. I shrug my shoulders and so you never have to fail the test you didn’t know that interacting with me entails. There is no connection or disconnection. There are just ships passing in the night.
When Amanda writes about wanting to be believed, to be real. I’m right there, in that space, in that room, wanting just that. What I needed to know then was how to be vulnerable and ask rather than…well, angry I didn’t get what I wanted. The book has reminded me what it feels like not to ask for that connection, and, the risk you can minimize when you’re not hinged on the result of asking, acknowledging that people are checking in on me and do care, and the glory of taking the offered flower.
I really feel like this year is, in part, about seeing and taking the flower.
on another note (because this is what I started to write before I let myself write the other business.)
…I still really like you. Like a lot. I make it crystal clear to myself that this is a self-indulgent fantasy. So none of the psychic interrogators can rap my knuckles for the things I think about you. But there’s some kernel of hope for myself that is at the center of it. Like you’re the pro forma, the concept art, of someone who could be in my life and make me not linger at doorways anymore. But I’m trying to stop worrying about it and like myself first. Doesn’t seem to be a reason to play at outlandish stratagems when I still harbor such negativity about my body, my mind, my worth as a person, when I still struggle and fret and twist in the wind. That, I imagine, and it’s a good sign that I can go so far as to imagine, is where the bravery needed to send an earnest hello will come from.