Jan 9, 2009

The Sticky Perception of Others

I wonder sometimes at how important the perception of others is to the vision I have of myself. How important is the assumption I have of the perception of others toward me?

All through my school years, I wouldn’t try anything new. I had to already excel at something before I performed in front of others. Others could mean my teachers, my parents, classmates, etc. Anyone except my brothers. They alone knew how silly I could be. (We liked to play poker at the kitchen table, pretending that our long pretzels were cigars and getting “drunk” off of fruit punch.)

I learned how to read before I started school. I learned the basics of Spanish before I took Spanish in high school. I would read ahead. I listened to my classmates give opinions and ask questions before I raised my hand.

After hitting puberty, I stopped playing sports because I wasn’t as fast as I had been before. I had curves to contend with by the time I was twelve. I wasn’t good anymore so I just stopped playing. I dropped guitar and piano lessons because I couldn’t get it within a short period of time.

But I never gave up on my writing. I wrote stories compulsively, like the physical need to eat. I wrote stories without any thought as to whether they were good or not. I wrote stories without the slightest idea that I might not be a very good writer. I wrote because the characters were alive in me and they were begging for a universe to live in.

Then I went to college. I learned about good literature and bad literature. I got scared. What if I was writing bad literature? What if I was a bad writer?

So I worked on one single story idea, two characters, and the beginning chapter of a novel for years. I rewrote the first sentence at least twenty times. I tried writing it in all lowercase because I thought that might be avant-garde. I wrote it in third person. I wrote it in second person. I felt like I would never finish the story. It was never going to be good enough.

For who, you ask? Good enough for who? The pre-conceived perception of others that I had concocted in my head was more important than listening to my gut. What if they didn’t think it was a good story? What if they didn’t think I was a good writer?

Fortunately, I was the recipient of a good kick in the ass. I was handed a silly, little kit called “No Plot, No Problem,” a new laptop, and time to write. I had a plot. I had just lost the childlike joy of writing for the pure thrill of creating something out of nothing. Writing a story was a wild adventure because even though I was the author, I was continuously surprised by my characters.

I peeled and pried off the thick, sticky film of anticipatory embarrassment, then dove headfirst into the deep, liberating river of utter and honest conception.

Two years later, Cast the First Stone was born.

Now, here I am holding my first, complete novel and I’ve come full circle. I wonder how much I’ve grown emotionally because I’m still contemplating: what are others thinking? If I get very quiet though, shush the imaginary voices that whine “maybe they won’t like it” and “what if they say it’s no good,” and listen to the dark places of myself, I hear the characters and I know. There are more stories to be told.

2 comments:

Okie said...

Yesterday I was sick and at home, and I sent a long email ranting these same frustrations to Jacqui. I wasn't as concerned with what others thought as I was with my own thoughts. I ranted and ranted.

She gave no comfort and ranted herself.

We both felt better after yelling at each other (via email) about our writing frustrations.

"Write" on, Sista!

David said...

Brava! Your bravery is truly inspiring and speaks volumes of the growing up experience. Also, it speaks volumes of your intelligence, passion and deep artistry... I am so glad that you are you and that you are willing to take necessary risks despite your fears. (I love you!)