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.


Chemist Ken said...

Excellent post. Kind of reminds me of my time in high school. (or the first couple of years in college for that matter). I have yet to get to the query stage, so I often wonder if I'll eventually decide to go indie, too.

I'm glad you're part of the IWSG.

J M Filipowicz said...

Beautiful. I was the quiet kid at school. When I was twelve my mother visited the school and one of my classmates told her that I hardly even said anything. My mother had no inkling before then that I was shy. She made a fuss, talked loudly to me and my teacher in front of everyone. She didn't understand why I wanted to fade into the background (I get my introversion from my Dad). After that I made a conscious decision to talk more, be more outgoing. I was embarrassed by my mother then, but if not for her I might still be invisible.

Jai said...

This is such a powerful post. You had me in tears.

In grade school I was the heavy kid AND I wore glasses.

Thank you for your comment on my blog. I will take your advice.

Jai Visiting from IWSG

ilima said...

I saw that video a couple weeks ago and it left an impression on me, too. Sometimes our inner critic is the worst one to shake. Great post!

Fida Islaih said...

I know that feeling of being forgotten. It's still happening in my life (excluding writing). I'm still waiting for the adventure, still dreaming. Thank you for sharing!

Elsie Amata said...

I'm so grateful I visited your blog today. This was a beautiful and powerful post. Thank you.

Words ARE powerful and when they come from those people we love the most, those who are supposed to teach us, they are the most damaging and cause the most harm. Parents especially must learn to choose their words carefully.

This touched me deeply. Great to be a part of IWSG with you!

Anonymous said...

Oh, wow. Such a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing it, Julie. BTW, your book covers rock! :)

Kasie West said...

As always, beautiful, Julie. And I saw that video a couple weeks ago too. Love it.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I had to press the stop button because I couldn't stop crying. I did listen to the rest, and I also loved the line, "Get a better mirror."

I think your post was wonderful, Julie, and I thank you for sharing Shane's video. I'm probably going to share it on my blog one day when I'm feeling stronger.

Happy IWSG. It's great to meet you. BTW, your writing in this post is stunning. If your work is anything like what you've written here, I'm your newest fan!

Nancy LaRonda Johnson said...

It is a beautiful video and poem that speaks the truth in such a touching and relatable way. It does surprise me how mean kids have gotten. There were some mean kids growing up, but not nearly like today. It's like parents forgot that teaching manners and empathy to their kids was their responsibility.

Great post.

Carissa Taylor said...

Such a beautiful post.

In grade school, I was the tall kid. At first I didn't really think much about it, but then as I kept growing and others didn't, I felt so ... awkward. Too tall to finish gymnastics. Too tall to talk to the boys. And then one tragic day I found out that the girl I'd thought was my best friend thought I was her teacher.

I'm not sure I ever really recovered from that moment. Or at least, I'm still recovering. But I guess that is what makes us human. What makes our stories touch people. I can't wait to read yours =)

Kathryn Neff Perry said...

This is the second time I've tried to post a comment. Maybe I'm invisible!
I wrote the first time that I think you've accomplished everything to have because of the rejection you suffered most of your life.
However, you persevered and won. You are no longer invisible Julie! You are an amazing person and I'm so happy I found you. Must mean you are no longer invisible!

Julie Musil said...

My goodness, this post just gave me chills. Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful story. You are definitely NOT invisible.

Melissa said...

Excellent post! Good for you.

IWSG #135 until Alex culls the list again

Nancy Reece said...

Your post reminds me of so many of the issues I had in school. I was heavier set than other, I wore thick glasses, and I was smart. Not a one of those will get you a date. Or friends. But I taught myself that the only person I needed to make happy was myself. I found a wonderful man who believes in me and that alone gave me the courage to write. Take heart. You are not alone!

Anna said...

March 7th, 2013

Dear Julie,
I'm new to IWSG too.

Oh my, you have really started out with a bang here! I think a lot of people can see themselves in this video-story about Shane. School can be a really tough place for children. And a small misunderstanding can really mess things up.

I am still a beginner. I have yet to finish my first novel. But I am hopful about my writing.

Nice to meet you!
Best wishes,
AnnasAdornments for Insecure Writers March 6th

Rachna Chhabria said...

Hi Julie, nice to meet you. My high school was pretty normal, I was a shy kid who had a tight group of close friends.
Dropping in from IWSG. Thanks for sharing your story and also the follow.

Liza said...

Thank you for such a wonderful, inspirational post.

Julie said...

Thanks everyone for the lovely comments! So glad I found this group! I look forward to getting to everyone's posts. :)

Suzanne Furness said...

A powerful video and a excellent post. Words can have a dramatic effect on people's lives. I never fitted in at school, for no particular reason I could fathom, but the scars do stay with you.

Jemi Fraser said...

I LOVE Shane's video - it is so powerful. My students are a little young for some of the middle section, but I'm incorporating the beginning and the end into my next Literacy unit. We're also using it with our older kids at school.

I've often dealt with invisibility too - it's tough, but we can make it through. You're amazing Julie, thanks so much for sharing this! *hugs*

VR Barkowski said...

Brava for a poignant and moving post.

It doesn't matter if "they" recognize they were wrong. You know. Your readers know. And there is nothing more freeing or empowering than the realization that "they" don't matter.

I'm inspired. Thank you.

Tammy Theriault said...

Thanks for sharing something so personal! Things like our adversity in life, will make us stronger.

Shannon Lawrence said...

This is a wonderful post. You say it so well. I've felt like the invisible girl, high school included. In fact, when I run into people from high school, they only recognize me as someone else, because I and another girl looked similar. And the reasons she was known were not good ones, so I guess in that case I would rather be a little more invisible.

You're not invisible anymore.

Shannon at The Warrior Muse