At the age of seventeen, I decided I wanted to be a bad ass. I’d grown up in the suburbs, in a decent house, with a loving family, pets, an air hockey game in the basement. My family vacationed in Disneyland, or we camped our way to the Calgary stampede, and one year I even flew to Hawaii to hang out with Mom and Dad over spring break. I took dance lessons, and bowled on a five-pin league, sang show tunes when no one was watching, was on the honour roll at school. My childhood was fun and safe but I had always wanted to be one of the people I read about in books or comics, or watched on TV and movies. Those people did not live in suburbs or, if they did, they were soon abducted by aliens, or woke up with superpowers, or discovered a magic closet.
On my path to bad-assery, I dated a guy who was dark and edgy. He knew martial arts, his family was the definition of dysfunctional (his sister once left a razor blade in his shoe), he smoked pot, he owned a pet rat and a gun.
I quit dance classes, began weight lifting. I started reading comics like Jon Sable Freelance and The Punisher, about edgy, brooding, violent men. I learned to shoot guns. I tried pot. Eventually I joined a hard style form of Karate and silently prayed that I would not get my nose broken. I was on my way.
Then, one day…
My Great Aunt Ness was visiting. She had long been one of my favourite relatives, since she had no kids, a great sense of humour, and the gravelly voice of a life-long smoker. I’d been drawing a picture of myself—my new self—as I imagined I might look on the cover of a comic book. Imagined-me had swagga. She held a big gun, she wore boots, camouflage pants, and a ripped tank top, her hair was spiked (as mine was back then except hers stood in all the right directions), and a cigarette dangled from a sneer that said, “You don’t want to know the pain and angst that haunts me, bub. You don’t want to know.”
Great Aunt Ness took one look at the drawing and said, “That’s not you. You never look mean like that.”
Crushed. Just like imagined-me would have crushed the skull of an attacker beneath her boot heel. I was crushed. No. I could be this person. I could be tough and angsty and edgy and not care about the opinions of seventy-year-old ladies who let me drink tea with them!
I WOULD BE BAD ASS!
I was never bad ass. I never will be. I tried very hard for a number of years. Then I tried to be something else. Then, something else. In fact, most of my life since puberty has been about either trying really hard to fit in with certain people or trying really hard to be “different” from certain people (and, thus, to fit in with a different type of people). I have lived untold permutations of lives that were not mine, always with the hope that by becoming the kind of person I thought was cool I would find peace, acceptance, and love.
Do you know how it feels to believe you are doing everything “right” and you still never seem to fit in? There’s no comfort in your own skin. Everywhere you go, you worry someone will expose you as a fraud. This was me.
Age dulled the drive but not the dissatisfaction. Or the pain.
And then I moved to a tiny island in the South Pacific. Here I did not and could not fit in. There were a handful of papa’a (foreigners) and the rest of the island was filled with Cook Islanders who had no interest in me—bad ass or not. For two years I lived in a place where I had no choice but to be myself, my real self. Though strange at first, I soon discovered that “being” was sooooooo much easier and satisfying that “trying”.
I embraced the real me. She doesn’t wear camouflage pants or carry a big gun and she’s okay with that.
A funny thing happened when I returned home from my time across the equator, I kept “being” and all the peace, acceptance, and love I’d always sought came in tsunami-style. In a Disney film, this would be the moment where I sing about how the strength was in me all along, on the inside…
“On the inside, it was all waiting—”
SCREECH! Skid marks in the fun sand. Sorry.
Happy ending? Weeeeeelllll…
First, you don’t shed years of self-esteem issues overnight. The demons still like to whisper in my ear, though more quietly every year. (Possibly because my hearing is starting to go with age). Second, I’m a writer. Writers observe. A necessary quality when actually, you know, writing, but one that can cripple if you cast your eyes on other writers. And now that I am published and out mingling in the world of other published writers—both indie and traditional—Writer Comparitanitis is a real threat.
Between the lines of every indie publishing article or author interview I read: “You’re doing it wrong. These people have it all figured out. Look at them, they have a ton of sales and they’re getting interviewed and going to conventions and they know everything about the business down to the last miniscule detail. The have contests and PEOPLE ACTUALLY ENTER THEM! What’s wrong with you? Why aren’t you like them?”
And when I head on over to Twitter for fun and some downhome “community sharing” I see the authors I admire not only putting out books so fast you’d think they owned a Play-Dough Book Factory but also being weird, and witty, and attracting fans and followers just by posting photos of their used Kleenex with a witty comment attached.
“You need to be weirder, meaner, funnier, smarter! You need some used Kleenex! You need to be like them!”
Thank you Aitutaki. Thank you for those two years, cut off from civilization, when you forced me to be me and only me. Without you, I’d have no tools to shut out the voices that come with the inevitable Writer Comparitinitis. I can’t stop hearing them, and maybe I never will, but I can ignore them.
Along with my South Pacific magic juju protection, what helps with Writer Comparitinitis is that I know, I KNOW, that I am not alone. I know many, if not most, writers suffer from the disease to some extent. Heck, there could be some writer out there reading my Tweets and thinking “Wow, she’s so together! Look at that photo of her with her Crazy Cat Lady mug! I wish I could be so clever. HEAVY SIGH!”
If you’re that person, no, I am not so together. Relax. (Although that mug is super kick ass and sadly accurate.) Go read what I wrote about my Twitter anxiety and you’ll feel better. *hugs*
It sounds really trite to say “Just be yourself” because sometimes you have to move more than three thousand miles away, to an island that’s only eight miles long, where people sometimes make fun of you in another language, to find out who “yourself” actually is. So, I’m mostly useless here because I have no miracle solution.
Wow, this post could end on a downer.
But wait! There’s more!
Writers, if you’re suffering from Writer Comparitinitis, there is one trick I keep up my sleeve. Step back. Step waaaaaay back. Look not at the big picture but at the GIGANTIC picture. There are a LOT of writers in the world (I know, I’m on Twitter). In that giant mass of writers, there are some that are better at this than you, and some that are worse. In every respect. And with the exception of the very worst and the very best, this gigantic picture is the same for every writer.
If that trick fails then, (beyond large quantities of gin, which always helps me), I recommend you get your ass back into the chair and keep doing the thing that started this whole mess in the first place: write.
Because if you are a writer, all the Writer Comparitinitis in the world can’t stop you from doing that thing that makes you feel like a god.
In the meantime, I’ll be over here being not-bad ass but still bitch slapping my demons and creating all those imaginary characters I will never be. I like to think that would make my late and oh-so-Great Aunt Ness very happy.