Friday, May 27, 2011

Be Careful What You Wish For

In the Summer 2011 issue of Writers Ask, a quarterly publication of Glimmer Train Stories, Armand ML Inezian notes “Oh sure, there are writers who sound very humble, but you have to have some kind of ego to get through all the rejections.” This is at the end of an interview in which he states there are two kinds of successful writers – the people who “win the lottery” and those who stick with it diligently over time, “like a glacier, slowly scouring the earth, and moving ever toward the horizon.”
Having a spouse who is transgender is great practice in this regard. This morning, she said to me “I realize that at some point I will have no control (due to hormones) over how I present myself, gender-wise. I often feel like everything is moving so slowly, way slower than I want, then, I realize, it is all beyond my control. It’s a little like that saying ‘Be careful what you wish for…’ – I want to be a woman, but secretly I am a little scared of it, or want to have more control over the process. Not quicker or just the way I want it at each moment, which is impossible.”
Our relationship to change and to fame, even to downfalls – to life overall - is very, very similar. Of course, at base, everyone wants to be recognized, observed, appreciated for who we actually are. But there’s a lot of mixed information covering that ideal – sometimes we don’t know who we are, or don’t like who we think we are. Sometimes we self-sabotage, which is both under our control and not under our control, and sometimes, as hard as we try, the world seems not to respond.

Writing, and ‘success’ in the arts seems to be especially prone to this dance of ego and seemingly non-ego (hint – it’s always ego, even when we think of ourselves “negatively”). Hope and fear are the same side of the same coin. Many students, for sometimes years on end, write about how they write the same thing almost every week, or so it seems to them. They say “Why should I come back if this is all I write about?” and “Why can’t I write more like X writes, or more like I write every fifth class?” They look to me to “fix” this apparent problem – suggest a way out of something they are not ready to let go of yet, suggest that, yes, maybe they should stop practicing and let up off (eg: ignore) themselves and somehow hope “it” will go away.
It won’t go away. The self-denigration is, also, moving forward at a glacial pace. It has a head start, fed by early teachers or parents who took apart our writing or sense of self. It compiles evidence against us and has a much bigger stockpile than any sense of success or self-confidence. It is not a war, but there’s a definite cache of resources that must be assessed and compiled to weigh against the crap we are carrying around about ourselves. If we ignore the constant barrage of baseline ugly messages, there is no way to work with them. If we let them speak all the time, and never give them any space, they win us over. Equally glacially, we need to erode the seeming mountain of resistance we carry against being who we are. That mountain in fact, contains all the seeds of who we actually are and also who we fear we are.

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
“Litany Against Fear” -from Frank Herbert’s Dune
“Over me and through me.” We must engage. We must be careful what we wish for, and be careful what we fear. By “Be Careful,” I mean, Aware: aware that we have little control and also much to gain from both. If one wants to be famous, or one wants to be a wallflower, the progress toward that final goal is glacial, but it will pass, as will the fear, if we let it happen. That passing, however, is not passive. One day we will wake up and realize “Whoa. It’s almost here:” the fear or the wish, or both. Passing through, awareness at every step, is above all, patience, and what prepares us for the purported goal we aspire to or dread or both.

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