Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer. -Barbara Kingsolver
I read those words early this morning. Although I have heard some version of that idea since I was a teenager, this time, it scared the shit out of me. What if I were to write with the wild abandon that I do in my journal, what if I were to write like that always? What if I were to take it even further, because ya know, sometimes I even write in my journal as if someone was going to read it? What if I wrote without the shackles of audience? What would happen if I was the only witness?
I really do try to write like that, always. But when I have a job (and have had many like it in the past) that is all about writing content that people want to read, that’s easy and fun, that will get shared and liked, it messes with the part of me that is an artist. I have to consider that regardless of how much my work doesn’t look like advertising and marketing, I am writing copy. I write content that hopes to sell something. It’s all about audience–they are the first thing I think of when I sit down to work, and they stay right there with me throughout the process. As it turns out, it’s actually pretty easy to write something that people will like. I know how to do that now. And while that’s great for the companies I work for, it does weird stuff to my personal writing. Instead of closing the door, the door is always open, and someone is always looking over my shoulder.
Flip-flopping between writing for audience and writing for art has proven to water down my writing as a whole, no matter its purpose. Finding a way to transition between the two in a manner that doesn’t leave me constantly having to remind myself, Georgie, let go, you aren’t trying to sell anything here, is such a challenge.
Doesn’t this show up in everyday life, too? Most of us are socially aware enough to know what other people wanna hear, what’s going to be easy, what’s going to make others like us. We know how to sell ourselves, some of us better than others. But this is where things gets dangerous. If taken too far, this is one of the many ways in which we can go about doing that terribly painful but not always conscious thing called losing ourselves.
We’re in the Buttermilks, it’s packed. The Greenwall boulder is especially crowded, and another set of climbers have just joined us. They set their crash pad on the ground just behind a small bush, sit on the pad, and rest their feet in the bush. It was as odd as it sounds. Hey guys, you should give that bush a break, I hear Spenser say. After a moment of shock, the woman asks, what bush? while looking directly at the bush. I’m guessing a mix of ego and embarrassment is where her strange response came from. The one that you’re stomping on, he says back. I know it looks dead, but it’s not. That’s why a lot of the plants around here have died. The couple looks at each other like is this dude seriously telling me what to do with my feet? And then they look at Spenser, like who the hell is this guy? After some eye rolls and heavy sighs, they move their crash pad, and eventually slink away to another boulder without any of us noticing.
Spenser could have chosen not to say anything. That would have been easier and kept things nice and smoothed out. It was Valentine’s Day after all. Maybe if he didn’t say anything those people would have become our friends. Maybe they would have heard about Spenser and Vikki’s RV Project and told a million people about it. But that would have been dangerous, for Spenser, (and all of us really) because we know of the impact that climbers can have on the natural environment, and we know that putting your feet in a bush can harm the bush. So it became our responsibility to say something.
I burrow into my sleeping bag in the back of my car. The moon is still behind the horizon, so the stars are particularly dense. My phone lights up, it’s a text from an old friend. I miss my Dad so much and feel like I’m so far away from him and myself, it reads.
These are the people that I find the most venerable. It would have been much easier to send me a text that night that said something pretty and nice, like, Happy Valentine’s Day. Instead it was one that held so much more value, so much more of her. It was an offering of her truth, and I was so grateful to receive it.
It’s not even that I want to write about things that would piss people off necessarily. What’s happening is that I’ve shied away from anything too heavy or too dramatic, out of fear of being judged as being too heavy and too dramatic. But judgment of my character happens no matter what I write about on this blog. Even close friends have judged me for what I say on this thing. Just having a blog is reason enough for some people to think of me in a certain way. But God, I just don’t care anymore. I’m too tired of caring, of thinking about what people want to hear while I’m writing, while I’m living. And maybe tomorrow I will care again, but right now I just don’t. So I guess there’s really only one thing left to do.
The more I write and the longer I live, the more I realize that we’re pretty much all the same. All of us have been through something. And if we haven’t been through something, the fact that we haven’t been through anything becomes our something. But for most of us, truly awful things have happened. The kind of things that we can’t even really mention. I’m interested in that. I’m interested in the fact that no matter how good you are, bad things can happen to you. And that sometimes, if you’re bad, you can still get pretty lucky. The lack of control we have is laughable. But despite knowing this, and despite all of our stories, we still sing in our cars. We still buy each other lunch and write thank you notes. We still laugh at the Daily Show. We work really hard. We are absurdly resolute. That’s how I know we belong here. Just like everything else on this planet, we are hardwired for survival. It seems odd that we have all been born into a world such as ours with souls that are incredibly tender. What is the purpose of a heart that can break in a million different ways? The answer is inconvenient. We are all holding on to our stories, out of fear of forgetting. In a quiet way, we know that we will never forget. But what if? What if when we forgive and let go, that we can’t remember anymore? But we have to do it. No one is going to get abandoned here. Right? I think that with all this searching, all I’m trying to do is learn how to love the space that they left behind.
That space has changed over the years. At first it was numb, and as it started to tingle into awareness again it became the source of anger, then shame, then self-doubt. I’ve got it all mapped out, really. But what has happened to that space recently is even more interesting. It has become the place where I relate to others. It’s what I breathe into. It if from there that I operate. It is from there that I can do the most simple thing–be kind. It is from there that I learned self-love. What happened is gone, but the space it left behind will always be with me. And there’s no way to forget about it, because not only is it with me, it is me.
When my audience is held gently in my mind without controlling me, I think I am always writing about that space. And when I stop caring about what other people think and show up to my life while standing in that space, I feel really, really brave. And that’s how I want to feel from now on.