I’ve perfected the art of being partially vulnerable. Giving away just enough so that I look vulnerable, but not so much that I actually feel vulnerable.
How delightfully manipulative. Way to be crafty, protection mechanisms.
Life is a process of continually cracking yourself open. When my dad died last year, all the roiling dread and pain distilled down into a nail that tapped into my skull and split my brittle self right down the middle. All my defenses shattered and my insides felt splayed out for the world. And the world stepped up. I never felt so loved as I did in that time when I was wrenched open.
The cracks are indeed what lets the light in. Way to be pertinent, cliche.
Since then, I haven’t been able to rebuild myself into what I was before. I’ve tried patchwork, I’ve tried denial, I’ve tried being mean to myself as a motivational exercise. But the cracks of my father’s death reached into my foundation, weakening it until my carefully stacked ego began to wobble. In its wobbling, my ego finally revealed its scaly underbelly.
My self-esteem is deeply invested in this facade I’ve crafted for myself, the one of an adventurous woman who writes for a living and travels and has complete freedom. I’ve honed it and perfected it and crucially self-identified with it. I’m only now realizing my desperate need to control how the world perceives me – and that I’ve clung to that facade at the expense of the life I actually want to live.
It’s not entirely false. It was true. For awhile. But then it became not so true and I continued to grasp at it. Rather desperately, truth be told. Until I realized that it wasn’t what I actually wanted.
Yes, I do want a lot of freedom. I do want to travel. I do want to write for a living.
But my ego’s attachment to Being That Person was keeping me from actually being that person. Because I was putting so much of my self-worth into being that person that I was boxing myself into a space where I felt deeply uncomfortable. I was trying to do a lot of things that didn’t feel right for me because it felt like I had to. I was focusing more on client work than creation, more on trying to wrench business sense into myself than on nurturing what I feel my real contribution is. The need to bolster the facade kept me from doing what I really want to do.
I want to write books. I want to write screenplays. I want to write blog posts that feel true and urgent and don’t need any purpose beyond that.
But if I want to do it that way, I need to separate my money from my writing – at least for now. I need to go deeply into creation mode so that I can write the book about my experience with my father’s death and the Pixar-esque screenplay that I’ve been seeing behind my eyes for years.
But this is a very specific choice. It means buying the time to write. The price may be working retail again. It may mean learning how to operate one of those truly intimidating silver espresso monsters and appearing at a job at 6 a.m. It may mean letting the credit card debt I don’t want anyone to know I have continue to sit there. It means letting go of this carefully constructed view of myself so that I can grow into the writer I really want to be. The self I really want to be.
The thought of getting a non-writing job always terrified me. I always thought that meant I had failed. And if I failed at writing, I failed at life. No one wants to fail at life.
But the truth is, you can’t fail at life. No matter what choice you make. And I am lucky that I can make this choice. I have no responsibilities to a partner, to a child, to a pet. I don’t even have a flowering hibiscus to resent my decision to live differently so that I can create what I want to create.
I will do anything to buy myself this creative time. I will sweep floors, I will learn how to use a cash register (the last time I worked retail we used the abacus of the credit card reader – contraptions that used carbon paper and thunked back and forth). I will do anything that doesn’t drain me emotionally or creatively and leaves me enough time in the week to write toward serious forward progress.
It means no travel, for now. It means no real healing of my sad finances, for now. Or maybe it doesn’t mean that. I don’t need to make this mean anything but that I’m willing to do whatever it takes to finish two projects that have been my last priority now that I’m realizing they should be my first.
There are so many people who can write novels and work a full time job or who can take on multiple clients and still find the time and energy to do their own projects. I have so much respect for those people. I thought for years that I had to be one of them. But I’m simply not. At least not right now. Accepting this and choosing to live smaller so that I can give my work the room and the support it needs feels right.
Building invisible walls between yourself and the world of other people’s opinions doesn’t protect you. Because what you feel like you’re protecting yourself from doesn’t actually exist. Are any of my friends not going to be my friends if I’m folding sweaters at the Gap or making coffee for internet millionaires born the year I started middle school? Of course not. Is anyone who reads this going to think less of me for making this choice? Doubtful.
All my carefully-constructed plexiglass shields did were barricade me from truly connecting. Because no one else can know me when I don’t truly know myself. Telling you that I am not always who I wanted the world to think I was feels honest. And there is peace to be found in truth.
When you recognize the truth about where you are, people can meet you there. And you can start again.