Image Source: Doctor Hugo (Anton Giulio & Arturo Bragaglia, “Typist,“ 1911)
I used to have this boyfriend who would taunt me for calling myself a writer.
“How,” he asked, “can you call yourself a writer, when you never write?” He then proceeded to extoll the locutionary virtues of one of his best friends, a shady fellow who also aspired to be a writer and who was, in my humble opinion, not very good.
This guy was, to put it bluntly, a pretty shitty boyfriend.
But his criticism haunted me and actually pushed me down further into the Land of Idleness, because every time I thought of sitting down to write, his words would boom through my brain over a loudspeaker, so that all my formerly motivated little neurons stopped, looked up to the sky in dispair, then crumpled to the ground in rows, rocking back and forth in fetal positions, rendered absolutely useless to me creatively.
That was foolish of me, to let one voice of criticism so dramatically dampen my ferver for my art, for my heart’s one passion. I wish I could say that this was the only time I let someone else’s opinion of what or who I am alter my course, but unfortunately for the majority of my life, up until now, I have allowed other people’s opinions and judgements of me to dictate precisely who I am, regardless of my own burning desires or rational deductions.
What is it, to not care what other people think of you? I will never know what that is like, and I envy all those self-assured individuals who rock out neon printed leggings and who go on solo treks through the mountain ranges of Indonesia and who form their own start-up companies beginning with nothing at all. Who are you people, and how did you get to be so fantastic? More importantly, how can I be so wildly unhinged and confident and alive?
I hail from a very critical and condemning background (how a person with so fragile a sense of self-esteem survived film school is truly an as-yet-unsolved mystery), and I admit I still take a few minutes to cry in my car (and slam my fists into the steering wheel) whenever someone stands in judgement of the woman I am or the work that I put forth (or fail to put forth, as in the case with Mr. Oh-So-Wrong). But I’ve learned something valuable, which I will share with you:
The secret to defying the critics is simple. You just don’t stop.
In my case, that meant that I could not, cannot cease writing… Even if I kept receiving pleasantly-worded rejection letter after rejection letter to all of the blogs I submitted pieces to and the fellowships I applied for and the magazine internships I once dreamed of landing, I won just by continuing to obey the cells in my body that vibrated in anticipation of typing one word after another.
If I were to meet that ex now, I would be able to look him in the eye and say:
I write. I am a writer. I have written, I am writing, I will continue to write. I will bleed words from my veins until I am dry, and they may be disastrous, they may be laughable, they may be offensive - but they are, and they could be no other way, just as I can be no other me than the me I am.