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Saying No… to Myself: A GenXer with a Dream

motocross jumpAAAAAARRRGH!

I’m so fucking sick of myself I can barely stand it.

Having no other words for this stage of ridiculous angst, I’ll call it a mid-life crisis. It’s more of a mid-career crisis, though, and my whole generation is going through the same thing. In fact, judging by posts on Facebook and other social media sites, this “I don’t know what to be” disease is actually affecting more than just GenX. In my limited view, I see a few reasons for this:

1. The Spector of an Uber Public Life

What is it about this suddenly-public life social media brings that causes us to freeze up, to question and limit ourselves? I’m totally stunted in my tracks for fear of being misconstrued, misinterpreted, misrepresented and therefore mistrusted. I’m personally stunted in my writing life (but since the dawn of the Web, we all writers now). I fear my children will be embarrassed by what I write. I fear my husband will think me wothless or he’ll worry about me (which is worse). I fear the neighbors will be uncomfortable around me if I “bare my soul” in an article or two. I fear the effect my writing may have on future job prospects. I fear I will write myself into a type-casted corner. I fear so much, I write nothing. I can hardly write this blog post. I’m afraid you’ll dismiss me as sour grapes, cynical, whiny or just plain worthless. Why do I fear any of this? Because I do it to you.

2. Compassion Fatigue

People used to read the newspaper to “stay informed.” Now we scroll through FB and Twitter or ESPN and CNN with the same primal drive for current knowledge. When I see a post like this one, I have to push it aside. I make a quick judgment and dismiss. “Oh,” I think, “That person is struggling and shouldn’t really show that to the world.” The judgment doesn’t stick, of course. I can’t keep a running tally of all the “pathetic” crap everyone posts. But the fear I’ll be seen as a needy crybaby keeps me from sharing any of my angst with you. If I can’t share my angst, I end up not sharing anything. Which means I don’t write at all. Staying neutral/silent also keeps me from finding support and comrades-in-arms who may help me overcome all of this self-doubt. It’s like I’m the big tough guy who won’t let himself have a good cry, standing in a room of tough guys who just need someone to shed one tear so they can let it all out.

3. Too Much Experience

 

How did I get so cowardly? I used to brave. Or stupid. Or, maybe being brave is stupid and I’ve jut gotten to a point in my life where risk isn’t worth it. I’ve gone through many a horrifying repercussion for sharing my thoughts in the past and I hate being ostracized. My latchkey-on-steroids abandoned childhood and teenage years left me with an irrational avoidance of feeling alone. Then, I got online in 1988 before I was prepared for the cutthroat culture the Internet was at the time (I know you think it’s bad now. It was way worse then, believe it or not). Social media just brought with it more trolls. They aren’t the trolls of the early ‘net but there are more of them and some of them are real sociopaths. It’s too much to take sometimes. As I get older, I keep having to ask myself, “Is it worth it?” “No” is the answer that keeps coming back.

Staying silent is the better decision. I tell myself the American obsession with achievement and notoriety is a trap. It’s better to live quietly to keep one’s loved ones safe and out of harm’s way. It’s better to never “air dirty laundry” or risk impropriety. Yet I feel false. I am miserable. I write in my journal everyday, but sometimes I suspect its simply an exercise to keep me silent.

4. Benjamins

It’s all about money. Maybe. I think: “I should just stay in consulting and try to make that work or get a job in tech/webdev and forget about writing which is an art and artists are poor and being poor sucks.” I often wonder what I’d feel like if I won the lottery. Or when my parents are gone and my children are grown and I feel free to write about my experiences. But worrying about money is just another shelter, another excuse not to be brave. Or it isn’t. My kids need shoes and food, just like everyone else’s kids. But how many shoes do they need, really? And do we have to eat out so much? I’m at sea. I have no idea how to live in the middle class. I feel like I want for more money now than I ever did when I was growing up with nothing. When you’re poor you have no hope of “having it all.” Stuck here in the middle middle class, I feel like if I just got a regular job in tech like I used to have, the big house with the n-square-foot kitchen and the African Safari for the family is in almost my grasp.

But then I’ll have the prettiest house and the nicest lawn that won’t be enough to cover up my broken dreams.

5. Dreams Suck

I’d say I’m “Internet addicted.” I’m not, really. I’m just white-knuckled terrified of forging ahead as a writer. It’s do or don’t time for me. I’m on the motorbike and I’m at the top of the stunt ramp. I’m just staring over the edge. Please, someone push me.

We all “don’t have time” for dreams. But really, we have time. We’re just not using our time correctly. We’re all going through this mid-career (mid-Web?) crisis because we can’t focus. We’re pulled in different directions. We don’t know where to direct our eyes or our thoughts. Newspapers had distinct sections: e.g., Local, National, International, Op-Ed. When we were done reading, we felt safe in the sufficiency of our knowledge. After that we’d go to work or move on to our leisure activities. Now the information never ends, and I never get to my work or my leisure activities.

I can say I don’t have time because keeping up with the world takes up my time. I can also say the kids’ schedules and my side paying work (when I get it) take up all my time.  Giving out free advice to every schmo that wants me to “meet for coffee” takes up my time. Volunteering in my community, writing a hyperlocal blog, being there for friends in need, interrupting my writing to go pick up my kid from school because she doesn’t want to walk in the rain, organizing the house. Yet my dream of being a writer nags at me. I just can’t seem to take the jump. Dreams suck. They haunt you. They won’t let you go. As much as I long to be a chill, super-underachieving Eurotrash pothead, this stupid dream of being a writer won’t leave me in peace. Why can’t I just live in obscurity? Why does this ridiculous writing motor keep revving up, wanting to go for a ride? Can’t it see that I’m busy? Can’t it see that I don’t have a helmet, or body armor, or rain gear to weather the inevitable crashes and the storms? Dreams don’t care about you. They only care about their own fulfillment. I feel like I’m a pawn to mine. I resist and resist and that loud motor still keeps me up at night. Now it’s so loud I can’t breathe.

In The End

I have nothing more to say. I hate myself. I hate this doubt, this fear, this ennui, this cynicism, this patriotism, this hope, this yearning, this embarrassment, this past, this present, this unknown future. All of it. When will I give myself permission to be the pathetic, needy, vulnerable, untrustworthy, selfish, narcissistic writer that I am? When will I see myself as worthy, compassionate, solid, generous, talented person that I am? When will I ever write?

Please. Someone push me.

 

___________________________

Photo credit: Isabell Schultz on Flickr

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Julie 12 June 2014, 2:27 pm

    Thanks for sharing, Christine! It’s so difficult to be completely honest while writing online.

    Maybe try starting with one time per week where you dedicate an hour to writing, where you can ‘meet with yourself’ at a coffee shop and turn off distractions? Good luck finding your passion and saying YES to yourself! 😉

    • PurpleCar 12 June 2014, 2:56 pm

      Thanks Julie! You know, this isn’t a bad idea. Maybe just lend myself an hour a week for “no holds barred” writing, and just vag up and publish whatever comes of it. This is a good baby step process.

  • Mari Adkins 12 June 2014, 4:39 pm

    putting pen to paper is the first step …

    “When will I see myself as worthy, compassionate, solid, generous, talented person that I am” ~~ i’m still working on this one! 😀

    • PurpleCar 12 June 2014, 9:23 pm

      Pen to paper.

      ….

      Okay.

      ok… I’ll try.

      • Mari Adkins 12 June 2014, 9:59 pm

        there is no try. only do … LOL 🙂

  • Pishba 12 June 2014, 7:56 pm

    OK. Pushing here. I’ve read that many writers and I mean many – famous and not so, have a discipline about their writing. Most often, they write EVERY day. Or they write one page. EVERY day. Or they do all their writing before lunch, EVERY DAY and the rest of the day is free. Or they write FIVE days a week, EVERY week and take off the weekend. Point is, they create a structure and religiously stick to it. Whether they feel like writing or even if what they right is crap. They write. Something. Then once they’ve gotten themselves on whatever track gets to them write, then they begin to look at what they write and then they try to move forward. Or not. Or whatever. But, they have a discipline. A structure. Most wouldn’t consider themselves WRITERS without it. It’s not about publishing. Or even being public. Hopefully it is about getting better. At the craft. They do it because they have to. And no one else needs to understand why. Thinking that just clutters up your head. Gets in the way of whatever it is you must say. It’s hard enough to do that at all, let alone well.

    • PurpleCar 12 June 2014, 9:22 pm

      I write every day already, in a journal. 3 pages. I hardly ever skip, even on weekends. I can make a habit, that’s not the problem (although this is KEY advice, definitely). It’s having the thick skin.

      • Pishba 13 June 2014, 10:12 am

        Wish I had insight about thick skin. It can get thicker as you get older. The discipline that you clearly have, should make you feel great about what you are working on. Because you haven’t given up.

        • PurpleCar 13 June 2014, 1:11 pm

          You know, I don’t think my fear is illogical. I’ve seen horrible things happen to women writers especially on the ‘net. I don’t have a thick skin, and I don’t know if I’ll ever learn how to have one. I don’t crumble at every criticism but I can’t muster the strength to battle trolls daily.

          • Julie 7 July 2014, 9:04 am

            I have heard you haven’t made it until you have a few haters online. 🙂 But agreed. Or if you start writing for bigger blogs, you could try to go under a pen name for the more intimate posts?

            This is something I struggle with as well, though…

            • PurpleCar 7 July 2014, 10:45 am

              I am feeling a bit better since I posted this. I’m working on an op-ed I hope gets accepted somewhere. Still, it isn’t what one would call “personal” work. I think I’m just going to have to give up writing publicly about personal things.

  • Liz 12 June 2014, 8:19 pm

    Thanks for your honesty and candor, Christine.

    I felt this way about my blog. I had no problem writing posts when I started in 2007, they just flowed. I wrote about anything and everything that caught my interest. But when I started getting readers, I totally froze up. Having an audience just silenced me…I began to think I needed to have “worthwhile” content and my blog posts went from personal, honest and revealing to “10 Tips about Whatever”.

    My blog became a snoozefest, trying to anticipate what readers wanted to hear, what they expected, what would be most “useful”. I thought any comments about more personal content would be comments about me, not the writing. The irony is not lost on me that most bloggers go to great lengths to attract a readership and it’s actually that which caused me to stop blogging.

    • PurpleCar 12 June 2014, 9:20 pm

      Exactly. And when I do blog, I get hate. Why write, then? I want to move onto writing for more national sites but what then? More hate. I can’t write to gain crowds, I realize that. But I’m NOT writing to gain peace. And I hate myself for it. I just don’t know if I have the strength to do this.

  • Karen Hunter McLaughlin 14 June 2014, 11:35 am

    As a visual artist, I feel this pain, and it puts me right into mommy mode (sorry).
    The best art requires soul baring. Boy is that scary.

    I think one of the biggest problems with Social Media is the feeling that we have this additional HUGE group of friends. We don’t really. Your real friends, the ones you have outside Facebook and Twitter (maybe even some you made on SM- like me hopefully), will like/love you no matter what you write. They’ll occasionally disagree, but that’s okay they’ll still be your friends. As women we’re compassionate and often care too much about our public appearance. Men also feel this but are conditioned to hide it. Let’s continue to work on both those issues, ’cause neither is productive. The best lesson we give our children is to be ourselves- warts and all. They’ll appreciate it when they get older. Really.

    On Pretending (Kurt Vonnegut):

    “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

    There are so many other quotes from writers, artists and psychologist on the benefits of pretending to be what you want to be. There’s that old faking it saying, you know the one…

    On Haters (Ben Franklin):
    http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2014/02/20/the-benjamin-franklin-effect-mcraney/

    On Mistakes (Robert Genn): Don’t assume there is only one way. Don’t assume that mistakes are a bad
    thing. Don’t think for one minute that everyone agrees with what ‘good’
    is. (Robert Genn)

    You’ve made some kind of awesome strides in your career, Christine. But that doesn’t mean you haven’t made mistakes. Learning and growing from them is the key. That might mean you change your career, or your path in that career.
    Either way, sending good wishes that your angst is short-lived.

    Thanks for all the soul baring.

    • PurpleCar 16 June 2014, 7:53 pm

      Karen, I love you for this. Thanks. And yes, the soul baring is hard and the mistakes are plenty. But I should definitely fake it til I make it.

  • anon 22 June 2014, 9:51 am

    Borrowing from Douglas Adams, the trick in learning to fly is learning how to throw oneself at the ground and manage to miss it, by virtue of forgetting to hit the ground on the way there.

    I don’t think you need someone to “push you” into doing this. I think you need to just take a (proverbial) flying leap at it. How much of yourself you expose, how many risks you take in doing this, how much time to invest in it are all decisions you make to fit your life.

    Like everything else in life, there will be things about writing that will be very rewarding for you, and there will be things that will be mundane or unpleasant. We can’t escape that. Never. It’s just life.

    As for the potential “dangerous” aspects of negative responses to your currently unwritten work, our society usually gives a good bit of money to people who go to the trouble of becoming famous. Publish under an assumed identity, or hire burly security guards.

    • PurpleCar 23 June 2014, 7:45 am

      Thanks, anon! Yes, no one can push me anywhere but the Fates, and even they have only temporary influence (Death on the other hand…). Writers are basically lonely people until they’ve written and published quite a bit. I just don’t know if it is a good way to spend my time. Honestly, I’m afraid it’ll be a mistake in the end and I will have wasted the last of my good earning years. It’s a practical decision as well as a dreamy one.

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