I am writing 100 How-To essays. It is a big project. Here is why I am doing it. This is essay 13 of 100.
Right now, there are some very cool t-shirts / cross-stitchings / tote bags / jokes on television that boil down to: “I am looking around to see how many fucks I have left to give, and it looks like I don’t have any.” You know those shirts/stitchings/bags/jokes? It’s a hot thing to say right now. The kids are all saying it. I should know: I teach high school. I have my finger on the pulse.
Let me say this before we go any further: I give alllllll the fucks. I am full of fuck-giving. I have written several posts about this, and I will likely write several more. The gist of this post will be (as all these posts are): I care too much what people think of me. I should stop doing that. So should you. Now that you’ve got the Clifs Notes, if you want to stop reading, I will understand.
I keep writing them because I need to be constantly re-reminded, and it is possible that so do you. So let me tell you a few things that happened to me today in chronological order:
I biked down to the art center to teach my children’s book illustration class. At the beginning of class, a wonderfully funny and talented student whom I will call Norah announced that she would no longer be working on the excellent dolphin book she had spent the past three weeks on. “I just want that book to be so much more than it is. I can’t make it look the way it looks in my head. I have this new idea.” The new idea was about a manatee.
I looked at her skeptically.
“You’re skeptical,” she said.
“It’s not that I’m skeptical,” I said, voice full of skepticism. “It’s that I think that we all have a big fear of finishing things. We spend some time with something and then we decide that now is not the time for that thing, and we chase down something that, from a distance, seems prettier.”
Norah’s eyes filled up with tears. I immediately regretted saying what I’d said. I pride myself on being the kind of teacher who is always asking, “What do you think? What do you want to do?” This is especially true in art classes for adults, where egos are understandably fragile because when all adults were nine, someone told them that it was possible to be bad at drawing, and every last one of them (self included) subscribed to that cultish lie. “Well, I guess I’ll just stop trying and focus instead on television crime dramas,” we decided.
But I kept on talking, because a lot of times when I dig a hole, I feel like continuing to dig is the best way out.
“It is very scary and normal to be afraid of finishing things. Nothing ever seems quite good enough. The next thing, we are sure, will be better. This thing can wait. And then you never finish anything, and suddenly, finishing becomes this terrifying monster you’ve never confronted. The longer you go without finishing, the harder it becomes to finish.” Like you, reader, I was immediately hyper-aware of how much it sounded like I was talking about orgasms. But one can’t go back with these things.
Another student chimed in: “But how can you possibly think that you are finished with anything, ever?” She asked. “I just want to keep tinkering and tinkering.”
And here I pause, because I have had very successful writer friends who are also tinkerers. They love to work on projects for years on end. Walt Whitman wrote “Leaves of Grass” over and over again for his ENTIRE LIFE. It was never complete. The modern era has declared this quality to be related to “grit.” It is a valued asset to be a perfectionist and to believe that nothing is ever good enough. That is certainly one way to live, and I do love Walt Whitman.
And yet, fuck that.*
“It can help,” I said, “If you release your ownership over a project. Pretend it is not attached to you. Pretend you are its conduit into the World of Being, and that it is going to take whatever shape it is going to take. The mind never translates exactly to the hand the way we envision. This is OK. Sometimes work has a mind of its own.
“And then, release the idea that it isn’t perfect just the way it is. Tell you work you love it, and then go ahead and chase down the next pretty thing. Move on. Oh yeah, and don’t ever, ever read the comments.”
In class, Norah made a very nice spread for her dolphin story, and I felt impressed with her bravery. I was feeling like a pretty good teacher.
Hanging out with a beautiful friend, we admitted to each other insecurities about our bodies. She said, “I am trying to practice radical self-acceptance.” And I AM SO INTO THAT. I am. But the thing about radical self-acceptance is that you still look in the mirror, you still glance at the scale, you still hold your self-judgement, and then your brain tells you TO STOP THINKING ABOUT IT, and you are in a corner where you hate what you’re thinking about, and you still hate your body, even though your "radical self-acceptance” is supposed to mean that you’re not allowed to.
two point five.
Never mind that this was coming from the most objectively beautiful person I’ve ever known. She is a true earth goddess; she looks like illustrations of women that seem impossible. She is perfect in every possible way. Just, perfect through and through. And there is something horrifying about the realization that if the most most unthinkably perfect human on the face of the earth can be insecure, then there really must not be much hope for anyone else.
I got home, plopped down at my computer, and got on the GoodReads page for my coming book.
A friend of mine who also recently published a book told me a few months ago that she felt scared about publishing it. At the time, I was not yet wise enough to be scared. Now, twenty days away from the book’s release, I’m fucking terrified.** Many authors say that a book is like a baby, and I think that’s totally absurd. A baby is something that everyone loves. People soften around babies. No matter what the baby looks like, sounds like, or will someday become, the world is just utterly smitten with the baby.
A book is something that people are excited to dislike. Mostly, this is because people feel that they would be better at writing a book if they were given the chance to do so, and they can’t understand why the author of the book is getting all this fanfare and applause over their stupid pile of pages. I know this because I have hated a lot of books in my life, and I had no trouble doing it. I never thought, “Oh, but the author of this book worked really hard on this; it was the best that she could do and she tried SO HARD.” Books don’t truly seem attached to people. They are there for us to judge. That is their purpose. And because books require so much time and effort to consume (like some blog posts, it seems), people are PARTICULARLY judgmental.
I love the book I wrote. But I know there are problems with it, and I love it for totally personal reasons. I could understand why a smart person would hate the book. And I believe that if the smart person met me, and she knew I wrote this book, she would dislike me on sight. As has been established, I give all kinds of fucks***, and I hate thinking people don’t like me. I spend a lot of time figuring out reasons why people probably don't like me, so I never have trouble understanding the point-of-view, but it comes with a deep sadness.
Anyway, there are some people on GoodReads who didn’t really like my book. And then that brought me to the internet, where I Googled my name and found LOTS of people who didn’t like my writing, and they had valid points. I thought to myself, “Why do I even try? Nothing I do will ever be good enough. It will never live up to what I envision. I don’t do anything but take up space.”
I heated up three flour tortillas in the microwave and then ate them in a stack.
(end of events).
A deeply close friend of mine had a ritual yesterday to shed the parts of herself that were no longer serving her. I wasn’t able to attend the ritual in person, but I think that one of the things she hoped to move into was a person who didn’t need to judge herself or force herself to be different because she thought other people wanted her to be. When she told me she was going through this transition, I wept. First, I feel deep joy for her. This woman (I’m protecting her name because the ritual was private and sacred) is so special and bright and has spent a lot of the time I’ve known her putting others before herself, even when it hurt. I also wept because I was jealous.
I’m pretty attached to the parts of me that tell me I’m screwing up. When I write something, I often think my writing is precious, so when someone posts anonymously on the internet that indeed, my writing is precious, it confirms my deepest fears and suspicions about myself. But at least I was right. I think, “The voice in my head warned me that this was true. That voice was protecting me all along.”
What if I didn’t have this useful voice hurrying to tell me how fat I was or how much my book was going to fail or how soon my lovers were apt to leave me? Then, other people might think those things. And that would (for some reason) BE TERRIBLE. NOTHING COULD BE WORSE than the actualization of people with nothing better to do than making fun of me behind my back.
But would you die? This tiny voice in my head wants to know.
No, tiny voice, I wouldn’t.
Would you morph into a different person all of a sudden?
Would you make less money? Be less able to survive? Have less worth?
I guess not.
And would your life really be worse in any way?
WELL, VOICE, HOW ABOUT THIS? What if there are PEOPLE that HEAR that there are BAD THINGS ABOUT ME, and they BELIEVE those things? Then those people might not want to hang out with me and be my friend!
… And those are the types of people you want to be friends with?
Ok, tiny genius voice. I see what you mean.
I’m not ready to release all the fucks. I want to; I have every intention to; I’m not there yet. This is ok.
But I will do this one small thing: I will stop reading the comments. I'll eschew the reviews. (See what I did there? I RHYMED.)
Now I ask: What small thing can you let go? Because you, my friend, are perfect just as you are. And that is definitely a hill I will die on.
*Fucks given in this sentence: one.
**Another fuck has come forth for the taking.
***Let’s bring our fucks-given tally for this post up to 12.