Today is the day that I finally lay my heart on the line. I don’t spend nearly enough time admitting some of the things I’m about to say to myself, and I think that’s true of a lot of artists. Sometimes I hold these things in until I’m just about drowning in them, and I’ve decided that this habit is more harmful than just about anything else that I do, so today i’m going to send them out into the world.
It’s just that these insecurities are difficult to put into words. Putting them out into space makes them feel more real, even if they are just words. Because the truth is that there’s no such thing as “just words.” The things we say, the things we write, have more power than we know. I believe that because I’ve seen it to be true. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been a lifelong reader. Because words matter.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. Like most of the other aspiring artists I know, I’m crippled by self-doubt. It’s tough to try and see a light at the end of the tunnel when you know there are no guarantees it will ever appear.
My whole life I’ve been a reader. Most of that time I’ve been a writer, too, even if I wasn’t always writing. I pissed away my twenties being mad at my father because he could not be the person I needed him to be. Because he was abusive, and angry, and because he trained me to be the same way.
Because he would not let me be the person I needed to be either. If I doubted myself, that doubt was confirmed each time he took my life apart simply to show me that he could. I took some of his insecurities as my own, but more so I chose them, as stupid as that sounds. No matter what I said, before the age of thirty I never believed I could be anything in this world, and I squandered my talent in doing so.
These days I’m done with all of that. I’m writing. I’m creating. In a way I’m reinterpreting all of those things into something some people might call art. The hope is that it affects them, but the reason is because it affects me. Every time I put pen to paper it lets some of that venom out. It’s a venom that very nearly consumed me, a venom that arrested my development for ten or twelve years before I got past it.
A large part of that healing has been my wife, and a large part has been jiu-jitsu. I’m so thankful for these things, even as I still feel like I don’t deserve them sometimes. If that sounds hard to understand, well, I don’t really understand it either. That’s the best I can do, sorry.
It’s just there. I spent my twenties knee-deep in criminal activity because I believed that would provide me with an escape from becoming my father, working a job that I hated, raising a family that I might have come to hate in the same way he did. I have always been consumed by the need to be who I am, and every day it feels like that is threatening the things that have helped shape me into that person to begin with.
I believe I have a talent. I believe I can do this thing as well as anyone who has ever done it. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t do it. It took me a long time to say that to myself. It has taken me far longer to say it to you. If it’s ego, that’s okay, no one really escapes that kind of thing anyway. I just hope it hasn’t become entitlement, because success as a writer is something none of us are entitled to. We have to go out and get it. I’m doing my best.
I’ve heard people say they don’t care about the money, or the success, that they just write to write. Maybe that’s true for them, but I’m at a point in my life where I can admit that I do want those things. I want this to pay my bills. I want to travel the world and meet other amazing writers and share in a brotherhood and sisterhood and have fans and accolades and all of those things. More than that, I want to communicate with and move other people, and this is the only way I know how to do that.
So here I sit, sacrificing short-term financial earnings for a dream that may never pay me back. I often feel like a fraud, or a leech, or like I’m letting down my wife, my mother, and others. Like I’m less of a man because I’m not out grinding away at some job that I hate, or at least that I don’t feel any sense of passion for, suffering silently, biding my time to retirement. I have to remind myself of how disrespectful it is to the women in my life to say things like that, as if it’s my job to take care of them, as if they can’t take care of themselves.
The truth is they take care of themselves better than I ever could. But that doesn’t excuse it, doesn’t relieve the guilt, and it DEFINITELY doesn’t relieve the anxiety that I might be selling them a dream that will never materialize.
I feel that life is a precious gift. I have never wanted to spend even a second doing things that I dislike. It’s selfish. It’s self-indulgent. It’s who I am, and I can admit that now, at least. I don’t want to let them down, to let anyone down. I wish I had a better sense of truth and perspective, but those only come with experience, and I’m a little behind in that department for reasons I’ve already mentioned.
I will never understand how I can believe with all my heart while simultaneously feeling terrified that I’m lying to myself. I don’t have an answer for these problems, so I write them down, put them in stories, share them with other people, I guess in hopes that someday someone will use those stories as a step on their path to finding their own truth.
I know I’m rambling here, so I’ll get to the point. I feel a lot of shame, but also a lot of pride. When someone brags about how hard they are working for their financial stability, I often think to myself, “Yeah, but could you do it for free?”
I do it for free, and I know a bunch of other amazing writers who do too. At the end of the day, there’s a lot of luck and timing involved in this business, however capable you are. It may just be delusion that allows me to pick myself up in low moments and keep going on this path, when even the people I care about the most are questioning my motives, questioning the admittedly unknowable outcomes.
I’m sorry I don’t have the answers. Sometimes it breaks my heart. But I want you to know I’m going to keep trying. I hope it can be forgiven, but most of all, I hope I can forgive myself if it never works out. It may well be that success is the only way to vindicate it, and if that’s true I may never get my vindication. But one thing is for certain: It will never happen unless I try, and in my lowest moments those are the words that get me by.