“It’s a truth universally acknowledged…” that to become “completely and perfectly and incandescently happy,” you’ve got to have a little pride and forget a lot of prejudice.
Today, I came home to find a package. An ordinary manilla envelope with ink streaks across its unassuming body. I knew what was inside, and I didn’t want to open it.
Much like how I didn’t want to order it in the first place.
Together we sat in our quiet embattlement.
As you probably know, I recently self-published a poetry book, entitled One Whole World. The idea came about rather unexpectedly, but I felt like I needed to do something. I’ve always been an over-achiever, and I felt that after graduation, I didn’t really have a token of achievement. Growing up, I’d received report cards, awards, recognition, and eventually a degree. I could trace my academic path like a carefully constructed trail of breadcrumbs. After graduation, there’s not so much pomp and circumstance. Sure, I do things. I’m auditioning. I’m working. I’m learning. However, I felt like I didn’t have something tangible. Call it a quarter-life crisis, but for some reason, writing these poems made sense.
I finally felt freed. I felt like I knew my purpose. I had set deadlines and goals. I was writing again. I had ideas that I wanted to express. I felt like I was finding myself, but it was more than that. I was giving myself permission to be who I was all along. I let myself unleash.
However, I’m prejudiced against myself. I second guess and I worry that it’s not good enough. Why should I share my thoughts or ideas with the world? Who would care? Do I really have anything special to share or am I just adding to the noise? I was putting all this time into my poetry project, and I felt like kind of an idiot. I felt like a charlatan. I felt like I wasn’t good enough to really do this.
I started telling people. “I think I’m going to put together a poetry book.”
Then I started asking questions :“Do you have any advice about self-publishing?” or “Do you mind proofreading my work?”
Incredibly, people were excited for me. They were generous and kind. I felt like a little kid sharing her scribbles with this world, and instead of being told the brutal truth that she was proudly displaying a page of wiggly lines, people saw my scribbles as I saw them: beautiful.
They were encouraging. They were impressed. They may have been blowing smoke up my you-know-what, but I appreciate it, nonetheless. It gave me the confidence to continue, and the courage to share it further.
I put my work on Amazon, and I was excited. Then, people started sending me pictures. Their books were on their way. Then a few weeks later, they had the copy in hand. I felt a familiar dread start to gnaw at my stomach. I felt like Dr. Frankenstein. What have I done? Why did I open my mouth? What was I thinking?
People are going to hate it. There’s going to be a mistake or several. People are going to want their money back. I should just give them their money back. Why did I decide to sell these scribbles in a book? I’m a fraud. I’m the one behind the curtain, and I don’t have any more magic up my sleeves.
My anxiety was back.
My self-prejudice was back.
I realized I needed to also get a copy of my book. It’s silly to not have a copy of your own book. I had to know if it had all gone wrong. I begrudgingly ordered my author’s copy, and tried to forget the estimated arrival date. Still more people asked me about my book or told me they had ordered their copy.
I should have felt excited. I just felt guilty.
And back to tonight, I opened the pesky little package, and out I pulled my book, and I started to cry. Not anxious tears or sad tears, but happy tears. I gently fondled the cover, and a great sense of pride fell over me.
I made this. I put time into this. Perhaps, there’s parts that are rudimentary, but there’s a lot of good in it, too. Some may find it flawed, but to me, it’s perfect. I’ve never seen something so beautiful, and I was reminded of the time I was first cast in a play or when I first booked a SAG role. I had worked hard, and something good came from it.
I had so much doubt and anxiety over nothing. Everyone I’ve spoken to has been incredibly kind and encouraging. I’ve been incredible fortunate that I wasn’t met with disparaging remarks. It was my own dumb brain that was causing me the most pain.
“Oh Jane…I’ve been so blind.”
I was the only obstacle in my way. It was my own preconceived notions of what a “writer” is or what makes something “worthy.” We all start somewhere, and we’ve got to start somehow so don’t chastise yourself for trying. Champion your efforts. Take pride in the fact that you’re doing something. You’re putting yourself out there. You did the damn thing.
It’s too easy to berate yourself. It’s harder to be kind to yourself. It’s hard to look at your scribbles and decide that you want to share them with the world, but you didn’t used to have that problem. At one point, as a young adolescent creature, you scribbled with a crayon on some jagged piece of paper, and you marched forth to display your work.
“LOOK WHAT I MADE!” You pronounced, and waiting for people to applaud. It wasn’t a question of if it was good. It probably got lost within a week or two with more papers and colors and scribbles. It didn’t matter. You kept doing it because you were having fun. You loved creating it. It was fun to let your imagination run free across a piece of paper. When did we start judging ourselves for this process of creation?
If you’re nervous about starting a new project or anxious about putting yourself out there, have faith that it will be worth it.
Will some pretentious art critic decide it’s worth a million bucks? Will some publishing company give you a book contract? Will you be invited to be on The Tonight Show? Probably not, but why do we define success with such high stakes? Why it it the pinnacle or the dumps? What happened to the middle ground?
Be proud of what you create, even if it’s not perfect. Even if it doesn’t quite meet your expectations. It’s part of your journey. Journeys are even more important than destinations. Celebrate the small successes, but also be honest with yourself. Don’t force yourself down a path that you’d rather not go down. Go the way that makes you happy. Do the things that can make you feel proud of yourself.
Pride isn’t always a vice, but a very important virtue. It is natural and normal to feel scared about starting out, but let me tell you, you can do it. I believe in you, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. If you stop hiding in yourself, you may find that you have a whole crowd cheering you on.
Don’t be embarrassed. Start to spread your wings. The fall is scary at first, but wait until that wind hits your wings. It’s bliss. It’s so much fun to soar in the direction of your dreams. Forgive your self-prejudice. Keep your chin up — looking toward your future.
Look at you fly. You didn’t think that you could at first, but you did. I’m so proud of you, and I hope you are, too.
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A very special thanks to those who’ve supported me in this endeavor. Your kindness and generosity mean the world to me. I feel very fortunate to have so many wonderful, beautiful people in my life. I hope that you enjoy the book, and I hope that you feel courage to go after what you’re afraid to voice. Thank you so very much for helping me on this journey and nudging me out of my nest. I hope I can return the favor.