Do you ever get down on yourself for being exquisitely mediocre?
Heading in to week three of this strange little project, I’m really struggling. Somehow in the past four or five days the demons of self-doubt and self-disappointment have come to sit on my shoulders and dig in their claws, the bastards.
Nine handmade copies of two different stories float out there in the world. I haven’t heard if any have been found or read. That doesn’t surprise me; it’s what I was expecting but not what I was hoping.
I went to the diner on Thursday morning and felt the stomach-drop of embarrassment when I saw that the copy I’d left the week before was still there. It had been moved, placed into the molded-plastic pamphlet holder, but not taken. Why did that make me feel so disappointed and so full of embarrassment?
My whole life I’ve had an awkward relationship with trying. Trying usually means doing something you don’t yet know how to do or don’t know how to do well. Trying means something is important to you, that it’s something you’d like to be good at, something you value. Trying often means that you’ve allowed, or asked, other people to watch – whether a teacher, a friend, our strangers out in the world. Trying means that you care, and to care is to risk getting hurt. Not trying, and its evil twin, quitting, seem so much easier. Of course, not trying has its own risks, its own hurts.
I also might be more of a perfectionist than I like to admit, which, if you’re trying and not being perfect, (which – isn’t that all of us?) than that feels pretty uncomfortable and embarrassing. So I guess that means that with perfectionist tendencies, trying always involves what feels like failure. That’s just the way it goes. It takes a lot of emotional and psychological energy to understand and counteract my inner nature. Those shoulder-demons of self-doubt and disappointment weight a lot.
This week it’s taking more energy than I feel I have to keep trying. Not just with this weird little project, but with anything expressive – my ‘cello practice, a demanding overhaul of a short story, or just believing I have the ability to say anything worth listening to. There are so many amazing voices already out there doing work that is so far beyond anything I could ever do, why do I even bother to try?
Most weeks the only logical answer to that question is: You’re right, so stop trying. That’s when I have to throw myself a pizza/red wine pity party and keep trying anyway. There have been many things I’ve tried and quit; writing has never been one of them. No matter how low I might get about it, the stories always find me again and I can’t help but try to tell them.