I submitted an essay for publication today. Not a big deal, right? I’m a writer. I’ve written all kinds of stuff over the years and some people have read some of my stuff. But still … when I clicked that deceptively benign submit button, a hot flash consumed my whole body. Not literally, of course. I wasn’t actually turned into a pile of ash, a victim of the mysterious “spontaneous combustion” phenomenon stamped into my fearful subconscious via the back-page comic book ads of my youth. (Funny, even back then, I preferred the weird back page stuff to the comic content. I guess I never was a Marvel gal.) No. I still exist in corporeal form. No ash. Just sweaty.
But for a minute or so, I felt as if I was on fire. It’s always this way. Whether it’s an essay for publication or a query to an editor, or a blog post for this site, my body always reminds me that my mind is overwhelmed by a sense of something that I can’t quite name. I’m a writer so I should be able to come up with the perfect word, but shame is the closest I can get.
So, if it is shame (or shame adjacent) then what is it that I’m ashamed of? The answer to that question makes little logical sense. The best I can come up with is that I feel both unworthy (so ashamed of thinking I am) and boastful (so ashamed of going public with my work). Simultaneous opposing shame spirals. Fun times!
I look back at my childhood and see its genesis. I loved to learn new stuff and read and write and get good grades. Not to brag but I was a bit precocious. But by about the fifth grade, I realized two things. First, smart girls weren’t the ones holding hands with a boy at recess. And second, I kinda wanted to be one of those girls holding hands. And it only got worse from there. In my mind, smart girls didn’t get picked for the pom-pom squad or get invited to the best slumber parties or get asked to be a member of a secret sorority. I was convinced that if I just wasn’t so outwardly brainy, my life would change. I’d be popular. Life would be perfect. But I also wasn’t willing to completely sacrifice my GPA. So, I tried to be smart without looking smart. Predictably, the results were mediocre. Socially and academically.
This attitude followed me to college with worse results. College drop-out worse.
Thankfully, age brought some wisdom and by my 30s, I started to reclaim and reembrace my inner geek. I returned to school and did well. But in the back of mind I worried. But now, my shame had shifted. Who was I to think that I had something worthy to offer? I had wasted my opportunity. I was in my 40s now. Invisible. Someone younger and more confident was always ready to step to the front of the line.
And I was letting them.
But age can be an awesome thing. As I moved further into my 40s, I grew impatient. Was I really invisible or was I hiding? I wrote a book about a woman who felt suffocated by the 19th century societal assumptions and laws limiting women. She felt unheard. Invisible. Giving voice to her struggle strengthened my own voice. Maybe I am invisible to some but I still have things to say. And they can listen, or not, but they can’t shut me up.
So, (long story short), that desire gave birth to another book, then a novel (still under construction), this blog, and those dreaded submission buttons.
Flaunt it! That’s what I tell myself.
BUT still … the naysayer, my inner monologue, lives. Telling me I’m a no talent hack before it reminds me that nobody likes a smart girl. No one’s listening so why bother? You’re invisible! I’m looking forward to the day that I defeat it. It would be a relief if the voices in my head cheered instead of jeered. Until then, I claim victory every time I decide to hit the SUBMIT button. Knowing the fire makes me visible, even as I feel it consume me.