Wednesday, March 6, 2013

"They Were Wrong"... and So Was I: An IWSG Post

Today (and on every first Wednesday of the month) I am participating in the Insecure Writer's Support Group.  Check out the list of participating blogs here.  The goal of the group is to provide a safe haven for sharing our writing/life-related struggles and fears in a supportive and understanding community of writers and readers.  So here goes...

In my typical way, I am going to go all in to this in a way that truly frightens me.  There are things I hide from my blog, from my friends, and many times myself.  But to be honest with myself, I have things to say.  Things inspired by this...

(If you have already seen the To This Day Project by Shane Koyczan, continue reading.  If not, it is well worth your time.  Teachers, parents, friends, teens, writers for teens... I simply can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t be better for watching this and finding just a bit more empathy than they had before.)

I first watched this stunning video a few weeks ago and have wandered back since, gathering more, reliving more, falling more, remembering more.  To This Day is such a great title, because it is the proof that events we lived through in our pasts live again in our thoughts, are carried with us as baggage that we discard and pick up again throughout our lives.  A friend recently told me of the horrible names her sister called her when she was young, never calling her by her (lovely) given name (one of my favorite names).  As she said the words, they lived again for her.  No, she is not still traumatized by them, but when she remembers, she lives those moments again.  She will set down that baggage again and live her life as an amazing and active, decent and generous mother to a very lucky boy.

Like everyone else, I have my wounds of words and events that I pick up, carry a while, and then discard.  Most times, they are far away, but sometimes in winter, when blue skies are fairy tales, and everything becomes a swirl of cold and grey, when the life I dreamed of looks starkly different from the life I live, those events come to life again.  Baggage I must carry.  To This Day reminded me of the seeds of my sorrows and how long ago they were first planted, how thickly they grew, and how hard they are to eradicate.

I was the smallest student at my grade school and I remember the things I was called, but being a small girl wasn’t always bad.  The first real bullying I remember came from a teacher who falsely accused me of cheating and then lied to my mother and the administrators about it.  And while shocking to me at the time, there were enough wonderful teachers to buffer the one who wasn’t.  I remember middle school as nothing but awkward.  I was the target for some and a friend to others.  Once again, that was just something to survive, not something that left too many scars.  And maybe that was because I was in gymnastics.  I had other adventures that kept me busy enough to not wound too easily.

And then there was high school.  I’d quit gymnastics and maybe, looking back, that changed things for me, but high school was where patterns were formed, where self-doubt owned me, where I faked confidence to such a degree that perceptions of me grew more and more distant from the real me.  I didn’t fit in... and more than any real bullying or abuse from the outside, I suffered from something else.  I became the invisible girl.  I was the girl forgotten about.  The girl who was left behind.  In truth, this began earlier.  I remember being left behind on a field trip.  I remember the day my friends from church ditched me at the mall.  I remember being forgotten on the call back list for a play I auditioned for.  I remember never getting a part in any play in all my years of high school.  I remember all the dances I didn’t attend because I was invisible, and who would ask an invisible girl to a dance?  I attended just two dances, a Sadie Hawkins and my prom, both times asking my date to the dance and having a great time.

In my invisibility, I excelled at everything I did.  I worked behind the scenes in theatre, graduated with honors, traveled to Australia and Germany, earned a Bachelors and a Masters.  And I wrote... and wrote and lived in fiction.

The trouble is, once you are invisible, being seen is a thing beyond your reach.  I’ve spent almost my entire adult life alone, never picked for anything, making a wonderful life out of the scraps of fallen dreams.  And just like my friend who only wanders into her sister’s nasty words when they come up, I don’t dwell on this all the time.  I’m too busy with my adventures, but here is where this intersects with writing and publishing.  The process of querying was a test of whether I could survive the letdown.  I honestly think that challenge was what held me back for so many years, but when I felt ready, I launched myself at querying like it was my purpose.  Four years.  Four projects.  Close to four hundred rejections.  But an invisible girl’s legs are strong, and they didn’t buckle.

In To This Day, my favorite part is when Shane so beautifully and powerfully says, “They were wrong.”  I don’t know if agents will one day believe they were wrong about my work, because the truth is, now that I have found my way to indie publishing, which is a perfect fit for me, “they” aren’t what my journey is about.  It is about “me.”  Instead of “They were wrong,” I choose to think “I was right” about me and the stories that burn inside me until I free them.  I was right to work this hard to make a wonderful life.  When I think of my life as the invisible girl, I see that it is just one facet of a beautiful life, the saddest perhaps, but still just a part of a blessed whole.  The other sides of my life are the friendships I have made with generous, loving, supportive people who do see me.  Family who are inspirations.  My goals.  My gifts.  My plans.  I have more peace in my life than many visible people have, more to be grateful for, more good to focus on.  And then there is the future, where maybe an invisible girl might one day be seen.

I do see in myself the weakness that invited invisibility, a place where I felt safe from risk.  A place I don’t want to live in anymore, hence a blog post about things I never thought I would share in a forum like this.  I knew I was ready to be seen when I published my first book last year, followed by my second.  With two books coming out this year, I am staking my claim.  And every time a reader contacts me, moved by my books, it is a nail in the coffin of my former life of invisibility.  When a young reader told me she hated reading until she found my book—that was the proudest moment of my life.

I was right.  To write.  To share.  To dare.  To serve my purpose.

And as Shane said, 

“... If you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself, 
Get a better mirror.
Look a little closer.
Stare a little longer.
Because there is something inside you that made you keep trying,
Despite everyone who told you to quit.
You built a cast around your broken heart and signed it yourself—you signed it They Were Wrong.”

And so was I... about myself.  Now it is time to be right.