Tag Archives: fear

Nightmare

I woke last night at about three thirty a.m. straight out of a terrifying dream. For long minutes afterwards I was convinced that noises I was hearing in my room, and from the road outside, were part of the dream-vision I’d just been wrapped up in, and it took me a long time to separate them out into their constituent parts. My own breathing. The thud of my heartbeat. A single, trilling song from a solitary (and early rising!) bird somewhere outside. A distant motorbike engine.

Not voices screaming for help. Not the boom of an explosion. Not the cracking of bones.

I’d dreamed I was in the middle of a warzone, and I was being followed. There were guns. There were rocket launchers. There were bodies, and downed planes, and a man with a wide-brimmed hat, his face in shadow, who was everywhere. He had a low-pitched voice and a sardonic tone, and he knew I could never outrun him. There were razor-topped fences too tall to climb, dotted with gates too far apart (and which were locked, in any case), which led me, funnelled like an animal to slaughter, down to the killing fields along with hundreds of other people. Our fate was sealed.

Photo Credit: Takeshi Kawai via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Takeshi Kawai via Compfight cc

This dream was too easy to picture. I see images like this every single day. The news headlines, the papers, the internet, even movies; all of them fed into it. I know having a dream about a situation like this pales in comparison with actually living through it, and I’m not trying for a second to suggest they’re the same thing, but I wonder in some ways whether we’re not all under siege, no matter where we live. If we’re not experiencing these terrors first-hand, we’re experiencing them through our media, 24/7, burning out our minds as we attempt to come to terms with what’s happening in other parts of the world, wearing ourselves thin as we realise that there’s nothing we can do. People are dying, every single day, in abject horror, and there’s nothing we can do.

And I wouldn’t want to swap with them. Not for anything. And that makes me feel like the worst sort of human being.

It took me a long time to fall back to sleep. I was afraid of re-entering that same dream; this happens to me, sometimes. I preferred to lie awake, listening to the night, than to slide back into that dark world. As a result, I’m a bit less than my best today, but at least the dreadful terror passed with the rising sun. The world is back to normal, now. I am lucky, and I know it. For many hundreds of thousands of people the nightmare never ends. I wish, with everything I have, that it wasn’t so.

I’m not the kind of person who thinks dreams ‘mean’ something (as in, they’re not prophetic, or in any way significant, of course – they’re just a by-product of the processes of your mind), but I do think they can reveal a lot about how you’re thinking and feeling. In my case, then, I shudder to think what my dream reveals. It’s strange how you can be living your life, feeling reasonably okay (and having had a great weekend, during which your country felt like Carnival, with the beautiful weather to match!), and yet your mind finds a way to tell you that there’s fear, and doubt, and anxiety, deep inside you which needs to be expressed. I feel rather like a fraud these days: I’m not particularly happy with most of what I’m writing, and the bits I am happy with are going so slowly that they’re practically glacial. My other work is better left unmentioned. I’m worrying about my future, again, and where I’m going – not to mention where the world is going.

Perhaps this dream was a useful wake-up call, in more ways than one. It’s not good to keep trundling on regardless; it’s not good to squash away your fears and stresses, expecting them to just go away. I’ve seen before that this doesn’t work, and I have no idea why I keep doing it.

So, here’s what I’ve learned: I don’t have to write at the speed of the wind just because other writers do. I don’t have to compare myself with anyone else. I don’t have to work in a particular way. I don’t owe anyone anything.

Well, that’s not quite right. I owe myself the sanctity of a peaceful mind. I owe the world my best self. I owe my work – all forms of it – my utmost effort. I owe my mind its best chance at uninterrupted sleep. But I don’t have to explain myself or account for my existence, or feel like an unworthy person. I am not being hunted.

And now. I all calmness and control, it’s time to get back to work.

The Toothbrush of Terror

So, yesterday evening at around 4.45 or so, I was brushing my teeth.

Image: scienceblogs.com

Image: scienceblogs.com

Don’t ask why, all right? I have a weird life.

Anyway.

As usually happens when performing this tiny task of personal hygiene, my mind was wandering as I scrubbed. I was thinking, of course, about my latest WiP and where the story was going, and – specifically – about the last scene I’d written. I’m wandering into a new area with this latest work, you see: I’m tiptoeing, somewhat reluctantly, into the realm of scary stuff.

And I don’t really like scary stuff.

WAAAAARGH!! Image: oddities123.com

WAAAAARGH!!
Image: oddities123.com

I’d left my story at an interesting point (I try to do this every day when writing a first draft, so that I start off every morning with a bit of a pep in my step – useful tip, writer fans!) However, this particular interesting point was more interesting than most: it involved a girl, in a room, by herself, in the dark, who doesn’t manage to look closely enough to see something which is lurking in the corner like an oil slick on water… waiting.

I hadn’t actually intended to end up there. This story, so far, has really been surprising me in how it’s coming together and telling itself. Of course I realised, when I started this project, that it’d have to be a little scary, but it’s taking me further into the darkness than I thought it would. In a lot of ways it’s brilliant; in others, it’s giving me brain-melt. One thing it means is that I have to keep turning around in my office chair because the open door to the room I work in is behind me, and I keep convincing myself that there’s someone standing in it… even though there’s nobody else in the house.

Wail... Image: usatoday.com

Wail…
Image: usatoday.com

But anyway. Back to the teeth, and the cleaning thereof.

Toothbrush in hand, I was engrossed in my thoughts. I was thinking about scary things, lurking things, turning around and seeing unexpected things standing in doorways, haunted things and tormented things and things with lots of tendrils.

And then I heard the front door to my house bang closed.

Image: eofdreams.com

Image: eofdreams.com

As you might imagine, I fair near swallowed my toothbrush.

After flailing, foamy-mouthed, for a few seconds, searching the bathroom for a weapon (it’s surprising how little there is in a bathroom, actually, which you can use in an offensive manner in an emergency), I almost wept with relief when my husband yelled up the stairs: ‘Hello?’

He’d come home early from the office in order to work from home. That’s all it was. Not a marauding murderer or a poltergeist or a possessed toilet brush: just my beloved.

But for a minute, it was as if my thoughts had become reality.

If this had happened when I wasn’t lost in thought, thinking about scary things, I’m sure I would’ve reacted entirely differently – like, with smiles and cheers and a mini ticker-tape parade. I don’t generally welcome my husband home every evening with a wide-eyed, white-mouthed shriekfest at the top of the stairs. But, because my mind was completely absorbed in the weird, I found it hard to adjust quickly from one mode of thinking to another. Funnily enough, for a person who doesn’t like scary things, I find it easy to let myself get lost in them – which is probably why I don’t indulge in them too often – and, when I’m caught in a spiral of panic I go straight down the plughole of irrationality.

So. Hopefully, I can channel my deep sensitivity to scary things into what I’m writing without driving myself mad in the process, or letting things veer into farce. It’s good to write about the stuff that affects you emotionally, as a writer, and I think I can bring a lot of depth to the scarier details of the story I’m currently telling.

I’ll just have to remember to take regular ‘checking the house for monsters’ breaks – and, of course, start brushing my teeth first thing in the morning.

Are there any things you don’t like to write about because they impact you too much, on an emotional or mental level? Do you think it’s a good thing to write about the stuff that frightens you? And – most importantly – do you have any effective demon-slaying tips? Do share!

 

A Soul Timid, but not Meek

I am frightened by the Devil,
And I’m drawn to those ones that ain’t afraid…

Image: michaelyung.com

Image: michaelyung.com

Joni Mitchell is a huge hero of mine. I’ve been in love with her music for as long as I’ve had ears (so, quite a long time now), and the lyric above – from ‘A Case of You’, on the majestic album ‘Blue’ – is probably my favourite of her songs. I’m not sure, exactly, why I love this particular set of lines so much; perhaps it’s because it says, to me, that being afraid is perfectly all right – so long as you don’t lose your curiosity, too. It’s natural to be scared of some things, but shutting your mind off from those things forever, without admitting even a thought which relates to them, is bad news.

Maybe.

That’s the thing with song lyrics, I guess. They mean different things to different people.

I’m a fearful type, by nature. Anxious, a worrywart, ‘worst-case-scenario’. If I were a fairytale character, I’d be Chicken Little.

Image: capstoneyoungreaders.com

Image: capstoneyoungreaders.com

I’m afraid of lots of things, some of them rational and some of them (all right, most of them) not. I’m a quietly controlled hypochondriac. I have a lot of sympathy for the guys who stand on street corners wearing ‘The End is Nigh!’ sandwich boards. I’ve often wondered if it comes from my interest in the Middle Ages – those guys lived, teetering, on the edge of instant annihilation for centuries, too. They were convinced, with every passing generation, that this would be the one. This would be the era in which Christ would come again and perform the final Judgement. Millenarianism was de rigueur.

But perhaps that was hope, more than fear. I think there was a bit of both mixed up in there. And maybe that’s a defining characteristic of fear – a tiny, tiny shard of desire mixed into the terror makes it all the more terrifying.

I’m thinking about all this because a close family member is jetting off in a few days to spend several months abroad. While there she plans to gain a qualification in something she hopes will lead to an exciting career, and I’m sure she’ll be successful. As well as that, no doubt she’ll have adventures and experiences which will leave long-lasting memories, and she will do things that I would not do, and things that I could not do, because I would be far too afraid to even try.

But there’s a little spark, deep inside me, which wishes I could just get over myself for long enough to give it a go. A tiny spark, now. Barely there at all, really. But there, all the same.

This woman – the adventurer – has already had a year abroad in which she did death-defying things, with every indication that she was having the time of her life. Fear didn’t seem to come into it, for her. It was all about the exhilaration, the joy, the celebration of what her body was capable of. I have cousins who, when they were children, were like chalk and cheese when it came to facing their fears. One of them would throw herself at any challenge, totally uncaring of how much she could hurt herself if it all went wrong, and another who was stiff and awkward and afraid. The second child would give everything a try, as far as she was able, but would end up causing herself an injury because her fear would get in her way. The first child was lithe and fluid and free – due to her fearlessness, as well as a natural athleticism – and never suffered any physical damage from her exploits.

I think the second child, the fearful one, took after me. Perhaps it’s no surprise that we are both oldest children, and statistically likely to be more cautious and less adventurous than the siblings who come after us.

There are different types of fear, for sure. I have faced plenty of my own personal fears – public speaking, standing up for things I believed in even when I was sure it would spell disaster for me, tackling academic challenges that I felt sure were beyond me – and I came through them all reasonably unscathed. It’s when it comes to physical things, like sport or heights or speed, that my terror overwhelms any desire I might have to take part. Things that would horrify other people are no bother to me, and things that others would do without a second thought are so far beyond my level of ability that I can’t even imagine doing them. I have a friend who lives right by a massive motorway junction just outside Dublin, and she drives around it with carefree abandon – and she always did so, even when she was new to the area. She doesn’t drive dangerously – in fact, she drives far more safely due to the fact that this particular snarled-up collection of high-speed traffic lanes doesn’t make her blood run cold, as it would mine – and she has never come even close to having an accident, thank goodness. If I had to do that drive, I’d cause a multi-car pileup within five seconds, and I know it.

But I’d love to be able to do what she does. I admire her for it. I just know I never will.

Perhaps the world needs all types of fearlessness, both the risk-taking type and the emotional type. I have lived long enough to know who I am, and to be aware that I have limitations, and to give myself a break when it comes to respecting those limitations. I have the desire to be an adventurer, but the flesh is weak.

But I can write about those who are fearless, and use my own tiny sparks of curiosity – my own sense of ‘being drawn to those ones that ain’t afraid’ – to fill in the blanks when it comes to creating characters who aren’t fearful of heights, or the dark, or of throwing off the shackles of the everyday and setting off on an adventure across the world with no real plan of how to get home.

Perhaps my own fearfulness will lead me to create better characters, even. Let’s hope so, at least. It has to be good for something – right?

Image: hybridtechcar.com

Image: hybridtechcar.com

 

Sisyphus – I Feel your Pain, Man

It’s the twelfth of December. Say what?

Image: funnyjunk.com

Image: funnyjunk.com

Santa is, indeed, coming. So is the end of the year, which is a lot less pleasant to think about.

You may remember – mainly because I went on and on and on about it – that I completed NaNoWriMo this year. That means I wrote 50,000 words in less than 30 days. However, I’m beginning to wonder if I dreamed the whole thing, because it’s now been nearly two weeks since NaNoWriMo finished, and since then I’ve written about 9,000 words, tops. I sit down at my computer, and open up my document, and I scroll to the spot where I left off last time.

And I feel like this.

Image: scienceblogs.com

Image: scienceblogs.com

Getting through the work, day by day by day, is akin to strapping on a pair of cement boots and taking a brisk walk up the Matterhorn. It’s just so hard, and I don’t understand why.

Consider these points:

1. I have plenty of story left. I am nowhere near the conclusion of this book, and I know (in a broad sense) what I want to happen. It’s just a matter of getting there.

2. This feeling of mental block only happens when I’m actually at my desk. I was out for a walk yesterday, f’rinstance, and found my head filling up with ideas and enthusiasm and sheer delight at the thought of returning to my story, and so I galloped home. All that enthusiasm took a nosedive out the window as soon as the computer was switched back on, though. Does this make sense?

3. I really want to get this draft finished by the end of the year. I just can’t countenance the idea of bringing it over into 2014. Normally, when I am determined like this, I just knuckle down and get it done. Normally. But something – alors! – is not normal, these days.

It seems as though the story has become turgid, and floppy, and bland. It seems like my words are banal and meaningless and ‘seen it all before.’ Perhaps this is a side-effect of having had such a forced intimacy with the work for the past six weeks or so; maybe I simply need a break from it, and a change of focus.

But, at the same time, I don’t want a break from it. I want to finish it. I want to get through it, because I’m afraid that if I leave it alone too long I won’t ever see it through, and that would be breaking the first rule – the most important rule – of writing, which is: Finish Your Work. You can’t do a second draft of an incomplete first draft, so grinding to a halt now would be, in terms of Emmeline and Thing and their story, a disaster.

I believe there’s potential in this story. I really love the characters, and I like how the plot has, to a large extent, woven itself around them. It has taken a few unexpected turns, and ideas have suggested themselves to me as I wrote, which is an exhilarating feeling. But now I’m coming close to the End – I’m within 10,000 words of the conclusion to this story, by any rational calculation – and Endings have always been hard for me.

I read a book recently (a review will be posted in a couple of weeks’ time) which was a flight of extraordinary fancy. It did a few things which irritated me, namely introducing characters at the last minute who happen to have just the right power to get the protagonist out of a sticky situation, relying a little on coincidence and ‘extraordinary strokes of luck’ (my teeth go on edge when I read a phrase like this), but it did one other thing, which taught me – or perhaps, reminded me of – an important lesson. It demonstrated the power of a free and full imagination. This particular book went places which no other children’s book I’ve ever read has gone, and I found that refreshing and exciting.

It made me wonder why I constantly clamp down on my own imagination, telling myself that a scene in whatever I’m working on couldn’t possibly happen – it’s too far-fetched, and not realistic enough, and nobody would ever believe it.

Image: badideatshirts.com

Image: badideatshirts.com

But isn’t that sort of the point?

I’m not saying that child readers will believe any old rubbish, because – of course – I am passionately aware that isn’t true. But what they need are books which explore the limits of what a writer can imagine. They want to read things they’ve never read before, and they want to be surprised, and they want to be gripped, and they want to care about the characters. They want to be amused, probably more than anything else. They want descriptions which are good enough, and clear enough, that they seem effortlessly done; at the same time, these descriptions cannot be allowed to get in the way of their reading enjoyment, or stop them imagining themselves in the place of the hero. They want a world which is internally logical and consistent, which holds together and doesn’t break any of its own rules – but, after that, if you want to bring in talking elephants or pink trees or whatever it is, and they make sense in the world you’ve written, then there’s no reason why you should hesitate. Yet – when it comes to some of my own more ‘out-there’ ideas, that’s exactly what I’m doing. Why is applying the lessons I’ve learned from years of reading, enjoying and dissecting children’s books such a challenging thing?

Every day I sit down at this book, I spend the first hour or two unpicking most of what I wrote the previous day. Progress is painfully slow. I am getting there – and I hope I’ll make it before my ‘deadline’ hits – but I hope I’ll remember to give myself the space I need to let the story live. I’ll have to remind myself not to be afraid of where the story wants to go, and to give it the freedom to do what it wants to do. I have to trust myself to handle it.

Otherwise, I think the boulder’s going to start rolling back so fast that I won’t be able to stop it, and it’ll crush me to a pulp.

And nobody wants to see that, right?

Looking into the Abyss

As some of you will doubtless be aware, I am a person who is currently working on a novel. I am almost 58,000 words into that novel. Earlier this year, I wrote another novel (it came in at about 62,000 words, fact fans), and late last year, I wrote a third – the behemoth that was the first ‘Tider’ – which weighed in at over 150,000 words. I have written nearly 300 blog posts, many of which come in at around 1,000 words apiece.

That’s a lot of words, for one person, over the course of one calendar year. I’m not saying they’re good words, but still. I wrote them all. That counts for something. Right?

Image: wordmedia.co

Image: wordmedia.co

There are times when I sit and think about my writing, and where I want to go with it. I know I love it, and I don’t want to stop, but one thing that bothers me very badly is: what will I do if I reach a point where I really, truly don’t have anything left to write about?

Everyone knows this quote: ‘And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.’ This piece of wisdom from Friedrich Nietzsche has always interested me. It makes me think about how easy it is to allow yourself to get stuck into a particular way of thinking, and how hard it can be to turn your mind around when it over-focuses on something. Certain thoughts have that ‘abyss’ quality – you create a sort of ‘feedback loop’ inside yourself. You feed the abyss, and it feeds you.

If your abyss holds candyfloss and rivers full of rainbows, perhaps this isn’t such a bad thing. However, if you’re like most people, your abyss will tend to be full of nothing except darkness, and a howling wind will be licking its way around the sharp, pointed rocks that line it all the way down, like teeth around a gullet.

A writer’s greatest fear is lack of inspiration, I think. I tend to get a little worried when I read interviews with other writers where they talk about their ‘boxes’ full of ideas, or I see they’ve written hundreds of books already, or they mention that they have too many ideas to ever make use of during their lifetime. I get ideas, too, but not like that. Mine don’t come to me in a torrent, leaving me grabbing frantically at them in an attempt to salvage as many as possible before they get washed away. It’s more gentle than that – they come, dropping slow, into my brain every once in a while, in a completely unpredictable way. I have a list of ideas saved on my computer, but I don’t have hundreds of them, by any means. I have some, and I hope to have more eventually. I guess I’m not one of these people who is overrun with inspiration, so blessed by the Muses that they can’t get out of bed in the morning because their brain is too full; every time a flicker of an idea suggests itself to me, it’s a cause for celebration. I work hard to keep my eyes and ears peeled for ideas, and I work hard to craft them into sentences and – sometimes – into stories or even novels. It’s not an easy thing.

My abyss laughs up at me, in all its emptiness. It says ‘I have nothing. There’s nothing in here! Go on, have a good look. Shine a light into all my nooks and crannies. You won’t find anything, trust me.’ The abyss I can’t stop myself from looking into is the death of my inspiration. It’s the abyss of fear that, one day, the ideas will stop coming, and that if this does happen, I won’t have any idea what to do next.

Image: onthebridgeway.wordpress.com

Image: onthebridgeway.wordpress.com

I hope to finish my current book in the next couple of weeks. I already have my next project lined up, and when I finish that, I intend to redraft the book I’m currently working on with a view to getting it ready to submit. I have a book doing the rounds at the moment, and who knows but I’ll pick up some agent interest from that. I’m keeping busy, and so far this has stopped the abyss from chewing me up and spitting me out. I’m not sure if I can keep doing this forever, though. Once all my current projects have been completed, I am very afraid that there will be a hole in the road, or a wall of nothingness across my path. I dread the feeling of ‘not knowing’ – not knowing whether any of what I’m doing has a point, or whether any of it is worthwhile, or whether there is a way to bridge the gap.

I have to keep remembering a few truths about life. The first truth is: ideas are everywhere, and the only way to miss them is to stop looking. The second is: nobody really knows what they’re doing. Some people are better at pretending they do than others, but in reality we’re all just doing our best to get along. The third: there is no such thing as an inescapable abyss. The fourth: help is always there when you need it.

The fifth: the world is packed full of wonder.

Happy Friday. Keep your eyes on the road ahead, and don’t let anything knock you off your stride.

Image: pdpics.com

Image: pdpics.com

 

Enjoy the Silence?

It may come as news to most people, but yesterday was ‘Twitter Silence’ day. People were encouraged not to Tweet for a 24-hour period in solidarity with the women who’ve recently been experiencing horrendous abuse at the hands of online bullies, or ‘trolls’, on Twitter and on other forms of social media. Some of this abuse has truly been stomach-turning: women have been threatened with physical and sexual assault; their home addresses and personal information have been published online; at least one woman (an eminent professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge) was told a bomb had been planted outside her house. In response to this treatment, a day of silence was proposed, in order to ‘show what Twitter would be like if trolls over-ran this place [Twitter].’

heyithinkthisway.wordpress.com

heyithinkthisway.wordpress.com

I’m not sure whether the day achieved its desired effect, or whether it will make any difference to the lives of the targeted women – or, indeed, women on social media in general. All I know is, it has certainly generated a lot of news, and a lot of comment, which is probably a good thing. For me, personally, it demonstrated how difficult it is to make a stand on an issue which will suit everyone’s point of view, and which has any hope of gaining a wide base of support. I did send one Tweet yesterday, which I’d sent before I remembered about Twitter Silence; I hadn’t specifically pledged to take part, but I did think it was a good idea. I thought I might take part by default, by just ‘observing’ rather than actually making a conscious decision not to Tweet for a particular reason. During my observation, I was surprised to see how many people felt that the idea of boycotting Twitter for a day, taking part in a ‘silencing’, was the worst possible way to make a stand against abuse and bullying online. ‘Why would we silence ourselves,’ they argued, ‘when what these bullies want to do is silence us?’ As many women as took part in Twitter Silence also took part in ‘No Silence’, whereupon they went about their normal business on Twitter and made no attempt to curb their normal usage of the site.

I can see their point of view, too.

I think there’s a huge difference in ‘being silenced’, and ‘choosing to remain silent,’ though. I thought the idea behind ‘Twitter Silence’ was a good one, a principled and dignified stand against a tide of hatred that shouldn’t even be a part of public discourse in a civilised society. The women taking part weren’t ‘being’ silenced against their will; they were choosing to remove themselves from a forum for discussion where they felt their voices were being crowded out and ignored, and where their contributions were seen as meaningless merely because they are women. So, I had no problem with the idea of Twitter Silence itself – passive and peaceful resistance can often be a very effective way of getting your point across – but I respect the choices made on both sides, either to take part or not take part.

But the question remains: Why does this sort of thing even go on in the first place?

It terrifies me that women in the public eye can expect such vicious threats and disgusting attacks on their personal appearance, their safety and that of their families, simply by existing, and having the temerity to hold and express opinions. It terrifies me, too, that people feel they can treat one another so viciously on the internet, when – perhaps – they wouldn’t be quite so vitriolic if placed in a face-to-face situation. What makes communicating with someone on the web so different from having a telephone conversation, or a discussion in person? Why is it so easy for us to forget that the people with whom we communicate on the internet are people, plain and simple, deserving of respect and consideration? Could it possibly be because (and this is the truly horrifying thing about all this) treating others with respect and consideration is now passé, something which isn’t done any longer in this new world of ours?

I think the bullying mindset – I refuse to use the word ‘troll’, as some online bullies do, almost like it’s a badge of honour or something to be aspired to – has always been there. If a person who is inclined toward hatefulness thinks they can get away with harassment and bullying because they’re doing it anonymously, chances are high that’s exactly what they’ll do. ‘Poison-pen’ letters are nothing new! Sometimes, though, it amazes me how short-sighted people can be, or how completely incapable of seeing another person’s point of view they can be. I, personally, don’t see the point in engaging in behaviour designed to destroy another person, to intimidate or upset them, purely because you don’t agree with what they have to say or you don’t believe they should have a voice because they are female/differently abled/of a certain ethnicity or sexuality/any other completely meaningless distinction. I do see the point in engaging in protests designed to make political points, draw attention to important issues, and effect change, and I believe the internet can be the best tool we have to achieve aims like this, but I just wish it could be done in a spirit of mutual respect.

If we turn the greatest invention of the modern age into a place where all we do is spit hate at one another behind a veil of anonymity, what does that say about us? And how unutterably sad would that be?

Welcome to a new week. Let’s hope it’s the start of a new era, too.

Unworthy

Today’s post is not just an excuse to use an image like this:

They weren't worthy! Neither am I! Image: teamliquid.net

They weren’t worthy! Neither am I!
Image: teamliquid.net

However, while it may not have been the main reason, I have to admit the thought of using this image was part of my decision-making process. I love ‘Wayne’s World’, the ‘We’re Not Worthy!’ sketch has always made me laugh, and – I promise – there’s a connection ‘twixt image and blog post. Today I wanted to write a bit about something which has been weighing on me lately, and it’s connected with a feeling of unworthiness, or a nagging sense of I’m not good enough and I should just give up now before I make an idiot of myself and everyone is probably secretly laughing at me.

It’s an extremely damaging thing, this feeling. Not only for my efforts to create a career, but also for my own mental health. As well as all that, it’s completely ridiculous, but I find it difficult to remember that at times.

Ever since I started to write, and made it public (i.e. by submitting work wherever I could submit it, starting this blog and telling people about what I was up to, and trying not to cringe while I described myself as ‘a writer’), I’ve received nothing but solid support. Everyone – including friends of friends, people who only know me through my parents or my husband or, amazingly, people who don’t know me in real life at all and who I’ve only met through the medium of the internet – has lifted me up on a swell of encouragement and has been delighted to hear about my efforts; several people have even told me how impressed they are by my decision to follow a dream and do my best to live the life I’ve always wanted. Sometimes, I wonder if this is part and parcel of being a writer in Ireland, where I still think creativity is seen as a good and noble thing and not completely off-the-wall – but then, I’ve received support from all over the world, so perhaps that’s beside the point. Whatever the reason, I am grateful beyond measure for every smidgen of encouragement, and I hope this feeling I’m trying to describe, this feeling of ‘unworthiness’, won’t be understood as ungrateful rejection of all the generous and loving support I’ve been lucky enough to receive. That’s not what I mean, at all. These unworthy feelings are something I’m imposing on myself; it’s not out of character for me, but I really wish I could stop doing it.

It all began to manifest like this: on one of the recent occasions where I had something accepted for publication, I remember greeting the news not with unalloyed joy and a sense of accomplishment, but with a tinge of discomfort and upset. I’ve been trying to work out why ever since, and I’ve concluded that it was because despite working hard over the story, I felt wasn’t good enough, and I hadn’t been expecting it to be accepted, and when it was – well. My brain sort of flipped.

I couldn’t bring myself to think that ‘maybe the story was a little bit better than you’d thought it was’ or ‘perhaps you’re being a little hard on yourself’; I started to think damaging and destructive things like ‘they must have been short on entries’ or ‘they needed to fill a space in the publication.’ Now, I’m pretty sure those things aren’t true. I’m pretty sure the publishers had no shortage of stories to choose from. They chose mine, but I couldn’t allow myself to be pleased. I started doing that thing I do – you know the one, where I have a reaction which I know is irrational and silly, but I can’t help myself – and it felt really unpleasant. I felt like I was unworthy of the honour of having my story accepted, like the publishers were doing me a favour instead of saying ‘This story is good enough to form part of our publication’; it made me feel very odd. I didn’t like it. At the same time, I didn’t really know what to do in order to tackle it.

Writing is not an easy thing – I’m not even talking about the act of pulling words out of your brain and slapping them down on a page, though that is difficult too, of course. What I mean is, it’s not an easy thing to spend so much time by yourself, and to have little but your own thoughts for company; even if, like me, you’re a person who enjoys being alone and who thrives in the world of the mind, it can be a challenge. I’m beginning to wonder if too much time spent thinking can lead to the struts which keep your mind steady buckling a little under the strain, which can affect the way you see the world and yourself, and your place in it. It’s hard, too, to pressure yourself just enough to meet all your obligations and deadlines without exerting too much force, and ending up pressuring yourself into oblivion. When you only have yourself to regulate the pressure, it’s clear that sometimes things can go wrong.

So, I’m taking that on board today, and I’m going to think about ways in which I can create a new balance in my life without sacrificing too much of my writing time. I may take a few days’ leave from the blog – a little holiday, perhaps – and I may print out, in big letters, a sign which says the words YOU ARE ENOUGH! and place it over my desk. I am enough – I do enough – I will be enough.

I hope nobody can relate to this post, and that you’re all too clever to allow yourselves to fall into a trap like this one. I hope that your writing lives (and your non-writing lives, come to that!) are flourishing, that you’re taking it easy, and not piling pressure on your own heads. Thank you for all your support – I hope I’ll be able to continue counting on it! – and I hope Tuesday turns out to be a jewel of a day for all of you.

And remember – you are enough!