Category Archives: My charming neuroses

What if?

Many years ago, a friend of me called me, quite fittingly, a “what-iffer”. I laughed at the time, but it really is a great description of me. Perhaps it’s a sign of an imagination that is a smidge on the dark side, but I have never had a problem seeing the worst case scenario, however improbable. Sometimes this quality protects me from making foolish choices, and I suppose that’s good, but often, it also keeps me from taking chances. If there’s something I’m supposed to do or want to do, I tend to take this thing and build it up in my head until it’s become an invincible beast I can’t slay. Then, because I feel there’s no way I can overcome the obstacles that are “sure” to come in my way, I put it off. And put it off some more. And some more, for good measure. I put it off until the opportunity has passed, or I’m forced by some external force to tackle it.

When I am forced to deal with things, I usually find that reality is far from as terrifying as it had become in my mind. Even if it is bad, after it’s happened, I will always find a way to be okay with how it turned out. I have to, because the only thing you can change about the past is your perspective of it. The rest is, as we say, history, and therefore not worth agonizing over. And yet, even knowing this, I find it extremely difficult to break the habit of sticking my head in the sand.

In many ways, we take a chance when we start a new project. We’re taking a chance that we actually have something to say that people will find worth listening to. We’re taking a chance that we have sufficient skill to say it in a way that does our message justice. We’re taking a chance on baring the inner workings of our minds to a world that has the potential to be both beautiful and harsh. Once our thoughts exist as words on a page out there, they no longer belong to us alone. Those who read them will do with them as they please. If it pleases them to stomp and spit on them, they can and will, often with ferocious glee. It won’t be any skin off their noses.

My nose, however, might be rubbed raw, and I guess I assume that it will be eventually. The what-iffer in me can’t imagine anything but failure, but of course, my hypothetical failure is like a hundred other things I’ve built up in my head before. It’s not as terrifying as I think it will be; there’s always life after failure, and where there’s life, there’s another chance to slay the beast you thought invincible.

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Taking writing off the shelf

This is the fourth version of this post I’ve written since July last year. Who has ever heard of a blog post that has been nearly a year in the making? Perhaps it is fitting though, since my failure to actually complete the post would indicate that I have not, in fact, been ready to start writing again. Am I ready now? I’m not entirely sure, but I’m more ready than I was last summer. At that point I think my desire to write was much greater than my ability to. For a number of reasons, I simply lacked the necessary mental space to dedicate time to writing on a regular basis.

Despite attempting to at various points in my life, I’ve never before been someone who writes every day. At times, I’ve written frequently, and sometimes even many days in a row for a long stretch, but never every day, period. Ever since my early teens, I’ve been the on-and-off type, simply because short bursts of frantic activity were what worked best for me. I would blatantly disregard the advice to have a set schedule, yes, but after taking a few days or weeks off, I would always come back to it with new energy. Until I didn’t have any energy left over for writing at all.

The dry spell started nearly four years ago, when I hit a rough spot financially. I was about a year into my job as a freelance translator, and still in the process of proving myself as a competent and reliable worker. In addition, I was a student with a more than full course load. Needless to say, the combination of studies, a rapidly increasing work load and the constant worry about money was a rather trying. There was always something I was supposed to be doing. I handed in work assignments, because I had to. I went to lectures, attended seminars, wrote papers, took exams, because I had to. Just these basics were often a struggle, but anything beyond seemed insurmountable.

Others may speak of writing as a necessity, something as essential to them as breathing. At times I’ve felt shamed when others talk like this, despite having a very pragmatic approach to writing in general. I’ve never truly related to what they were saying though. If I stop breathing, I will die. If I stop writing? Life will go on. Sometimes I’ve even thought I might be happier if I decided to give up on writing altogether. But somehow, I always seem to end up with a pen in my hand. So even after four years have passed without me accomplishing much in the way of writing, I’ve always believed that I would some day return to it. It didn’t happen when I thought it would, but over the past six months or so, the desire to write has hit me more often. Acting on the desire is still difficult 99% of the time, but the desire is there. I’ve written more in the past month than I did in the entire year that came before it.

I get discouraged a lot, because I’m having a hard time getting into the groove I used to have before the dry spell, or at least the groove I remember having, regardless of whether that memory is real or not. It also seems as though my inferiority complex has grown while I wasn’t looking. I’m finding it very hard to think about people actually reading my words. Someone will inevitably judge them, misunderstand them and misinterpret them. And sometimes I will most likely say stupid things, which is a dangerous pastime on the Internet. I think I find that particularly hard to accept. All my life, people have labeled me as smart, and I’ve been desperate to not prove them wrong.

But now I often find myself wanting to say more stupid things, as long as I’m actually speaking. I want to be louder! My natural inclination is to listen rather than to speak, to defer to others, let others decide and avoid attention at all costs. My opinion has never seemed to weigh as heavily in my mind as other people’s. Right now, it feels like I’m almost taking up a negative amount of space. I’m thinking about what everyone else wants me to do rather than what I want. And what have I ever gotten out of that? Nothing. Sure, nobody ever looked at me and thought, “there goes brainless”, but if that’s the best epithet I get, I will consider my life well and truly wasted.

My twenties have been a dark decade, and now as I’m about to enter my last year of it, why not try something new? I’m not quite sure what that means yet, exactly, but one thing I’m certain of: I will dedicate myself to the words again and through them show myself that brighter days are possible.

Definition of a writer

I’ve written and rewritten this post many times. Some versions only got a first draft, others went through a second, and some even a third. It seemed to me that the first post I ever made on this blog should be a memorable one, a post that could trick everyone who read it into thinking that I’m clever and eloquent. But no matter how many drafts and versions I went through, nothing seemed like it would be good enough to mark my debut into the world of writers’ blogs. In fact, the more I wrote, the less clever and eloquent I felt. Maybe blogging wasn’t for me after all.

This indecision reminds me a lot about what I go through when I write fiction. I’ve got a lot of ideas. Sometimes new ones come to me daily. Sometimes even more frequently. Sadly, few of them are ever more than a few hastily scribbled words so that they won’t exit my head as quickly as it entered. I’ve written novel length pieces before, but at the beginning of each, I always have so many questions to pull me down. Am I a good enough writer to tell this story? Is this story good enough to be told? What if I inadvertently say something with the story that I don’t want to say? What if people don’t like what I have to say? And at the end, I’m none the wiser about the answers.

In the end, it comes down to one thing: fear. Fear of putting myself out there, fear of being me, fear of being misunderstood, fear of not being liked, but most of all, fear of being defined. I hate the idea of labeling myself and being labeled. I don’t want to be one thing; I want to be everything. I want to elicit laughter and tears, rage and joy. I want to make people stop and think, and I want to make them race breathlessly towards the end. I want from my writing what I want from life: Every shade of every emotion, and insight into every human condition. Most of the time, it seems like too much to ask. But I need to ask anyway.

I can’t be afraid forever. Or maybe I can, but I can’t always let that fear dictate my life. If I want to be a writer, I have to write, regardless of whether the output warps the perfection in my head, and regardless of  the opportunity that it gives the world to define me. If I put words on paper, I may lose my mythical “one day”, but “one day” won’t come at all if I don’t start walking towards it. So here’s my first step.