I write what I don’t know how to say out loud. It’s the perfect job for an insecure socializer who’s always measuring his words to make sure they’re neutral enough not to disturb or offend. In writing I can take some of that off.
While I’ve accepted it’s impossible to get everyone to like you, I still obsess over the fact some people don’t, because those some feel like many, and on bad days, all.
Being an author means jumping in and out of two worlds — one of isolating yourself behind a word document and another of state-to-state travel, conferences, festivals, and meeting crowds of strangers who don’t care who you are— only what you’ve written.
I’ve bled, sweat and cried myself to a point where I can comfortably sneak who I am into a written voice worth listening to. I know what I want to say and how to say it — that’s not why I have trouble with the more public side of the career. I’m worried about myself as a public figure because I don’t know how to stand by what I said after people hear it.
Disagreements happen, and lately social media feels more like a deadly amusement park than a platform for conversation. It’s a haven of hive minds and echo chambers, where challenging a norm or making a mistake is met with collective noise that feels louder than necessary.
If I can’t even make a mistake in front of one person, how will I hold up in front of thousands of followers, and readers, and people who haven’t read my work but know about me somehow, from that person who heard that thing that someone who disagreed with my opinion made up two years ago?
I’m not comfortable with my humanity being dashed on the bricks by someone who’s actually just bored with their sex life, or mad they got the wrong bagel at Dunkin Donuts that morning. Even if every word out of my mouth carries integrity, logic, grace, and earnestness, once those words leave my mouth I lose power over them.
I lose track of my truth the more people have access to it, the more people have a chance to ridicule it. I’m insecure, new to publishing, new to adulting, and new to realizing what I do and how I exist can change someone, and maybe a lot of people. My views are both bold enough to matter and in constant danger of being eaten alive. I haven’t found a way to carry that truth with my own hands into the public sphere, braced to absorb blows and move on.
I still attend conferences as a spectator, watching those who came before me sit on stages and bring their own thoughts and wisdom to the table. I wonder if I could do it — if I could speak without holding back, translate what words I write into what words I speak, and do so confidently. Do I have a net of reason behind my beliefs or are they rooted in how I feel, what I’ve perceived? Am I immature? Am I okay? Am I saying too much? Am I too candid, too sexual, too profane, too much?
In every moment I assert myself as a person on this planet I am simultaneously too much and not enough. Whenever I move people, shape conversation, change minds and behavior, what’s true in my mind becomes filtered through the kaleidoscope of everyone else’s. It becomes a million truths. I am powerful within and disempowered outside.
Maybe that’s why I still act like a child, doe-eyed and clumsy, wearing my anxiety on my sleeve, pretending not to know about things I do know, choosing questions over statements and fragments over sentences. I defer to others and wait to be told what to do, even when I know what’s best. I choose a vacant exterior, even when a million gears are turning in my head, even when I have answers. I want people to give me all that they can, all the wisdom they have to impart, even if it’s bad wisdom. I want to be unknowing, and to shape myself continually as though I’m still growing up, because I am still growing up, and we all are.
Children are the most honest — passionate in what they believe and what they know of themselves but brave enough to ask when they don’t know. They run through automatic grocery store doors with so much assurance and energy that they might accidentally run into you as you walk out, disgruntled about having to change your step to avoid them. They’ve not been beaten up by folks who don’t know who they are, who feel the need to step on others to compensate, who must tell you what to say and think so that their own opinions are validated, who don’t apologize if they run into you.
I want passion in my truth, and boundless curiosity, and a sense of self so strong it can not be intimidated. But I want that through maturity and grace — to keep myself in full view while listening and responding to what others see, because that is important too.
I feel that balance in my hands and constantly slipping out, like I’m picking up sand repeatedly with loose fingers. I don’t know who to listen to and who to deem ridiculous. The only truth I’ve found is in that instability — that maybe.
Maybe this is what it takes to be the person I want to be, both behind a word document and sitting on a panel — a person sure enough to state a thought and flexible enough to consider which reactions to it are warranted. The wisdom to recognize when it’s time to backtrack or trust the person I was when I made the statement in the first place.
The more you know, the more you realize you don’t. The more power you have, the more distance you must take from yourself to watch where you’re going. I don’t know what distance to stand away from myself, and what distance to keep other people away from me.
I care what people think of who I am, and it’s painful to live this way, pulling back from myself, not brushing off criticism and believing other people have more right to my agency than I do.
But some part of me is terrified of losing this quality.
I’d like to find perfect strength in my vulnerability, to feel comfortable all the time, but something tells me straddling a balance here will never be easy. I’ll only get more used to stepping into my truth confidently and questioning that step with equal confidence, so that I can see myself as ever-changing without feeling embarrassed by that.
I know myself only half the time. My conclusions aren’t conclusions, and they won’t be until I’m on my death bed, and have seen a full life. My statements are half-questions, written both because I want to want to speak and listen, and push for a world where others choose the same duality. I don’t know, and I’m afraid of not knowing, but I can’t imagine feeling any other way.