Please Avert Your Gaze: Fear, Writing, and the Public Sphere

This evening I finished the deep edits for No One Has Such a Dog, and No One Should.  At first, I was quite elated.  Here was something I’d made, something bigger than I’d ever produced before, a single work.  I went over every sentence, read it aloud and corrected awkward wording and errors as my voice stumbled over them, my gaze stuttering across the gaps of dropped or incorrect words.

 

Fear, the Yellow and Puce Frogsloth…

It’s now several hours later, and the fear has oozed in, like a gloppy flood of cold turkey gravy running down my spine.  My stomach is tense, and I am anxiously brooding–something I almost never do.  Fear.  What’s to fear?  You might point out that I write all the time.  All. The. Time.  And I’m never broody or anxious or afraid–or any combination thereof, for that matter.  So, why am I a seething morass of all three tonight?

While I also have my Mary Poppins voice, burbling away somewhere behind my left ear about how I’m just being silly and there’s nothing to be worried over, the yellow and puce frogsloth that is my Fear, sticks out a blotchy tongue at Mary Poppins and burps at her to go fuck off with her common sense sunshine somewhere else.

I’m not afraid of many things, but there are a few.  They run in contradiction to one another, and, in a rational universe, they would cancel one another out entirely.  Right now, the inside of my head is not a rational universe.  It’s a distinctly irrational place.  I know it.  I can see it. All the rational recognition in the world doesn’t make a dent.   I’m writing this out not to elicit pity or even advice, but to force myself to confront it, as opposed to allowing the frogsloth to continue snacking on my sense of self worth.  Because it will, slimy thing that it is, odious creation of my own damaged self image.  Self worth is its favorite food. Where, at the eleventh hour, is all my philosophy, the brave words about risk and integrity? In the digestive tract of the frogsloth, that’s where. It ate all that up like a fat eight-year old eats candy on Halloween.

 

The Undertow and the Rip Tide

I’m afraid that no one will want it, that no one will read this thing that I put so much effort into creating and crafting.  It will sit, in the virtual bookstore, gathering virtual dust.  I sit and look at the collection of essays about dogs, and I think,

They’re so small. Insignificant.  People want fireworks and sex, epics and volcanic eruptions.  They want Self Help or Financial Advice. All I’m giving them is a Sock Thief.

I think this is probably a relatively common thought, in the general sense.  Most writers I’ve met readily admit that they’ve had moments like this.  But I’m also afraid to be seen.  That’s right.  Even while I’m twisting my handkerchief over the possibility that no one but my seven friends will actually buy and read the book, the frogsloth is farting out another miasma of doubt.  A different, noxious cloud of my terror of being inadequate, found wanting, insufficient, imperfect.

 

It’s About the Writing, But It’s Not About the Writing

SO!  There’s the nub, then.  The central core of my whole dilemma–a lack of confidence in myself as a human being.  I war with myself, I rant, I type silly, pointless blogs knowing no one will read them, feeling safe in the anonymity of the personal, unpaid, free wordpress blog.  Yay!  I wrote stuff!  If three people read them, well, that’s alright.  They’re nice sorts who don’t point out my typos or take me to task about my philosophies.  Just seen enough, right?  Just enough so that I don’t feel as if I’m going to forget that I exist, and yet not so much that I actually have to try.

Because failing for lack of effort is so much better than failing at something you put your soul into, right? It turns out, only in the short term.  The let-down hangover lasts a lot longer, though.  And it also feeds the frogsloth.  It gurgles and burps in the dark, precluding an escape into sleep…

You couldn’t even put effort into it.  You must not be cut out for that.  Why not just give up now, while you’re still invisible, before anyone notices you’re alive? Why bother trying at all.  You’ll only fail.  You always do.  Except when you quit, that is. 

Try as I might, I can’t run away from the inside of my own head.  And believe me, I’ve tried.

So, no. Please keep your pity for those in need.  I don’t want that.  I want to corner myself into having a backbone, into sucking it up and honoring my favorite quote by Thucydides,

The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.
Because I want to be the person everyone seems to see, not this quivering, idiotic mess, a knot of contradictory fears and unrealized passions.  Why have I never felt like the girl you see? Why do I always feel like I’m hearing about a stranger when people tell me how they perceive me or recount something I once did/said/interpretively danced? What is the meaning of such a double existence?
No matter what.  I will put my stories out there.  I will.  IMG_0263I’m not going to hedge my bet with nonchalant declarations of how I was never that serious about this whole book thing.  I’m very serious about it.  This whole book thing has been the work of many days and nights.  Because it’s about something I love and because I actually worked on it.  I reread it aloud, reworked and added. I corrected stuff.  I put my heart into it, and even though it feels like I’m offering that heart on a platter to all and sundry by publishing it, I can’t not.  Because I love it, and I believe in the worth of what I wrote about, even if I don’t believe in myself.
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3 thoughts on “Please Avert Your Gaze: Fear, Writing, and the Public Sphere

  1. Like you said, we all experience everything you just said (or maybe just I do). Self doubt can be a nasty little creature and I wish I knew the magic trick to overcome it, but I don’t. If you love it, that’s all that matters 🙂 And while essays about dogs may not be in high demand, someone will want to read it. I was at a book event over the weekend where things of this sort stole the attention from all the romance sexy stuff. There was a book about snakes that everyone flocked too. Best of luck to you!!!

    1. Thank you for your kind words and your support. The Frogsloth is something I’ve been battling for years, and not just in the realm of writing. I’ll push through, because I don’t want to turn back now. These essays should be seen, or at least given the opportunity to be seen. 🙂

  2. When we have admiration of greatness or perfectness, it’s often difficult to to be brave for fear of not measuring up. It’s harder for those of who are not as gifted but still have something to say. Complicating “what ifs” with self doubt leaves one doing something they might not have a passion about then it all becomes “pay copy” as you say and where is the challenge or fulfillment in that? You “are” the person everyone sees and you are correct, there is no turning back so suck it up.

    Tacos and egg rolls Erin. Simple. 🙂

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