I can’t speak for you, but sometimes I feel so completely freakin’ misunderstood that I even begin to question myself. It’s astounding how many people there are out there who are willing to tell you that you shouldn’t feel the way you feel or that you shouldn’t do what you do. The world is so full of noise that it’s hard for people to listen. And everybody’s a critic.
After enough time in that emotional meat grinder, I feel completely drained of my life force, and I start to wonder if they’re right and I’m wrong. Maybe if I just twist myself into a particular kind of knot, maybe then I’ll be viewed as saner, stronger, braver, more confident, less irrational, more well balanced, and more appealing. I, too, can be functional, if only…
“Stop being so sensitive.” “Stick up for yourself.” “It’s not that big of a deal.” “Here’s how you should have handled it.” “Why do you think that way?” “You’re making too much of it.” “This is how everyone else sees it.” “Grow up.”
It’s enough to make me want to crawl into a hole and pull a rock over the entrance. Just long enough to lick my wounds. Long enough to heal and remember who I am. Long enough to keep my wounded butt from lashing out and verbally tearing my attacker limb from limb. Because despite how much it may be merited, it never helps.
What do I take with me into that healing place? Truth. The things that I know are true about myself. The things that no one can take away from me no matter how hard they try. Everyone has a different set of things. Here are some of mine, in no particular order.
I am intelligent.
I love my dog and my dog loves me.
I’m a good writer.
I am a fantastic bridgetender.
People can count on me.
If I say I’ll do something, it gets done.
I’m not afraid of being alone.
I love a hot bath.
I have a great sense of humor.
I’m good with my money.
I love to learn.
I have a creative mind.
I draw strength from nature.
I can be trusted.
I live to travel.
I set goals, and I work toward them.
I am a good friend.
People confide in me.
I’m proud of these things. I hold them close. They are my passions, my values, and my strengths. They are what hold me together even when I feel like I’m being torn apart.
Never forget that you have your very own set of things. Take them with you wherever you go. They are what’s best about you, even in your darkest hour.
So, hold on to your truth. Tell your detractors to get stuffed. And don’t ever, ever give up.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve always had piss-poor self-esteem. I’ve always felt kind of weird. Different from everyone else. Like I don’t fit in.
Because of that, I leave myself rather vulnerable to criticism. Any hint of censure from someone else causes me to think, “Maybe THAT’S it! That’s what has always been wrong with me!” I’ve spent most of my life searching for that puzzle piece that will make the picture complete, the problem solvable, and allow me, finally, to be like everyone else.
So when the moderator of a local storytelling group kicked me out and said, among many, many other things, “Your ego has been growing exponentially for months… Your need for more and more recognition has been tiring for me to deal with,” it caused me to place myself under a very harsh microscope.
Am I egotistical? To me that means being selfish and uncaring about others. It means being vain and conceited. It means feeling like I’m better than those around me.
That doesn’t feel like me at all. But that’s the trap, isn’t it? If I am egotistical, would I be capable of seeing that?
Is that the image I project? I asked a friend of mine who is a counselor, and she said, “If anything, you’re the most understated person I have ever met.” That was a relief, because I truly, genuinely don’t feel superior to those around me. If anything, it’s just the opposite.
And I try really hard to use my blog to highlight causes that need help. I’ve also volunteered and donated, and lent my writing skills to people and groups that need to spread the word about their organizations. I vote. I recycle. I try to comfort people when they’re hurting. I ask for help even when it makes me uncomfortable. I compliment those whom I admire. I try to give people credit, especially when I feel like their efforts have been overlooked. Are those selfish acts?
But egotism also means talking about oneself, being opinionated, being boastful. I do have to own that. My blog is mainly about the things that rattle around in this head of mine. It’s about the way I see the world. Is that bad? Is it wrong? How could I write every day about anything other than my own experiences? And 99 percent of my entries are, in fact, opinion pieces. Everyone has opinions, don’t they? As far as I know, I don’t try to force anyone to agree with me.
I asked my counselor friend if it is wrong to be proud of my blog and my book. She told me I should be proud of both. I worked hard on both of them. There’s no shame in feeling good about things that have taken so much effort. There’s also nothing wrong with gaining confidence from their success.
It occurred to me that this critical man only knows me from the stories I’ve told in his group. Well, one of his rules is that the stories you tell have to be about yourself. It seems to me, then, that talking about oneself in that context isn’t egotistical. It’s what’s required. But it did cause me to look back at all my stories. Most of them have been recorded and are on line, if you’d like to hear them.
The first story I told was for the theme Who Do I Think I Am? I told the story of Chuck, the love of my life, who died unexpectedly, and how that sent me 3100 miles across the country to start over. I think this was my best story of all of them.
The next theme was Personal Mountaintops. This was a story about moving from Florida to Seattle, and comparing and contrasting the two places. I’m a little bit embarrassed about this one, because it sounds like my attempt at stand up comedy in retrospect. But that wasn’t what I intended, and it came from a sincere place. I was trying to bring across the profound changes I was experiencing.
My third story was on the theme of Comfort Zone. I told the story that I had told years before for StoryCorps, which they decided to include in their anthology. It was about being the last person to see someone alive. Supposedly. And then learning that my reality wasn’t the only reality.
The theme he gave us for my fourth story was Change of Heart. I talked about my insecurities about my looks as opposed to my confidence in my intelligence. And basically I was trying to say that beauty comes from within.
Story five was on the theme The Hardest Thing to Say. So I talked about the nightmare that is internet dating. I thought this one was pretty good. Several other people have used that topic as well.
In January, 2016, the theme was Starting Over. I told the story of having a gypsy give me the evil eye, and how that kind of gives me an out of jail free card. In other words, if something goes wrong, blame it on the evil eye.
Mistakes was my 7th story. Now, this one may be why that guy began to think I’m egotistical, because I told a story about all the amazing things that had been happening to me recently. I talked about the StoryCorps anthology that I’m in, and all the media publicity I was getting, and the fact that I was about to publish a book. But the story was mainly about my shock that all this great stuff was happening, and how I really felt that I had done nothing to deserve it. Still I have to admit it was shameless self-promotion. But, hey, you can’t make this stuff up.
My next to last story was about the theme Say Yes. This was about desperately wanting my sister’s approval, and how hard I tried to fulfill her dying wish, and how devastating it was that I couldn’t do so. And it was also about how amazing my nephew is.
My very last story didn’t get recorded, unfortunately. The theme was You Can’t Always Get What You Want, so I told the story of my recent vacation all alone on the romantic Oregon coast, and how in the end it turned out to be a wonderful time regardless of my being all by myself. It’s still a beautiful place, after all.
Do any of those (well, except that one) seem egotistical to you, given the requirement that stories are to be true and about yourself?
So after a week of soul searching, and trying to determine the health of my ego, and picking my stories apart with a fine-toothed comb, I tend to agree with my counselor friend’s ultimate conclusion. Apparently I represent something to this guy that pushes some button or other, and causes him to be hostile and have a low opinion of me, but this is through no fault of my own.
Maybe he has a book in him that’s dying to come out, and somehow my pride in my own book has triggered him more than my many compliments of his writing ever did. If so, that makes me sad. But this is pure speculation. I’m quite sure I’ll never know.
Yes, I’ll continue to write about myself, because I’m pretty much the only frame of reference that I have. But I’ll also continue to be fascinated with the world and all the people therein. I’ll continue to want to learn from others, and about others. I’ll continue to delight in those who get me and support me, and be confused by and try to figure out those who don’t. I’ll continue to be glad that I’m just a tiny part of a big, amazing universe, and I’ll always, always enjoy observing bits and pieces thereof in this blog and getting your feedback.
And maybe instead of trying to figure out what’s wrong with me, I should just work on getting a thicker skin. There’s a thought. Sigh.
Ever since I moved to Seattle, I’ve sort of felt as if my heart has come to reside outside of my ribcage. Vulnerable. Exposed. Sensitive. It’s kind of a crazy feeling. I need to develop a thicker skin.
I’ve just been through so much in the past couple years. I’ve given up so much, sacrificed so much. I’ve taken some insane risks, some of which have paid off, and some of which have blown up in my face.
But on a positive note, this has caused me to appreciate all the good in life so much more deeply. When I think of my friends and loved ones, near and far and old and new, I often well up with tears of joy. A good sunrise can take my breath away. I can be walking down the street and suddenly it hits me how lucky I am to be where I am, and I have to stop dead in my tracks for a second and gather myself.
In essence, I’ve become a sentimental old fool. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.