Thursday, May 17, 2018

Scared of Being Afraid

It was 2010. I sat beside my parents in a room in the library downtown. The room had black walls and a black carpet, and was filled with black chairs that held a handful of people. The room was dark, but it felt official. There was a podium in front of four or five rows of chairs. A woman got up and stood behind the podium, and began to announce the awards for the short fiction and poetry contest. I was there because I had won third place in the young writer's short fiction contest. Each winner had been asked if they wanted to read their piece aloud. I had said no, although I had a folded up copy of my story in my jacket pocket, just in case.

As the evening wore on, I listened enraptured as all these writers, young and old, shared their work and a let a little piece of themselves out into the world. They invited us, the audience, into their perspective with their words. When it was my turn to receive my award, I took the envelope handed to me and left the podium as quickly as I could. It ended up that I was one of the only two winners that didn't read my piece aloud. Later, when I emptied the folded and crumpled story from my pocket, I imagined how I would have read my piece, how I might have invited people into my world. Next time, I promised myself. Next time I would do it.


Next time turned out to be two years ago. I had submitted a poem to my university's small, under the radar literary journal, and they were launching that year's issue with a reading. All contributors were invited to read their work. Trying to ignore the intense self-doubt and anxiety, I said I would share. 

The literary journal's launch was small and intimate, perfect for a timid writer and first time reader. It was held in an older wing of the school that was filled with couches, cushy armchairs, and a volunteer-run cafe that often lost customers to the newer, shinier cafe in the new library, but thrived through the love and commitment of die-hard hipsters with a love of independent business and school spirit. In the evening for the launch, the hall was filled only with writers and readers and those who loved those writers and readers, maybe fifteen people total. I sat with a couple of friends on a couch and listened. It was mesmerizing to hear each person's unique stories, filled with their own incredibly distinct voices. All kinds of pieces were accepted for publication in the literary journal, and it was delightful to experience all of them, to see how these people were in the midst of developing their expression, just like me. 

Then it was my turn. Trying to keep my voice steady, I read my poem. That moment was nothing special; it was the moment after that mattered. The moment when the readings ended, the snacks were brought out, and people began to talk to each other. Each person's writing had initiated a conversation, and I was pleasantly surprised that my poem was also a part of it. Writing is so often such a solitary activity, I had forgotten that it could communicate so much to others in ways that normal conversation often can't. The launch ended, everyone dispersing, analysis and praise turning back to less soulful conversations. And all I could think was that I needed to do this again. 

I am not very good at sharing my writing. I like to hoard it, because in my hands it is safe. I don't understand how people constantly share their work on social media, put up summaries of their works in progress on their blog, or post their work on various websites or forums. For a long time, I have been too afraid of being criticized, or not expressing myself in the way that I want. I make excuses. It's not ready yet. It's too personal. And then I put it off and put it off and it becomes a larger and larger wall that's harder to get over. But then I miss out on the experiences on the other side of that wall - the connections, the deeper communication, the opening up of conversations that I would never have otherwise, and other things I haven't had the chance to experience yet.

I recently read YouTuber and singer/songwriter dodie's book of personal essays, Secrets for the Mad. One of my favourite chapters is actually the chapter that she didn't write, where she has one of her old friends from high school write a chapter from his perspective about her concert. It turns into a reflection on how dodie has made a successful career for herself. He talks about how a lot of her life and career is about being vulnerable and sharing very personal aspects of her life, whether that be through her songs or her YouTube channel. He says that "Dodie succeeds in creating beautiful songs because she isn't scared of being afraid. The difference between a song that speaks to you and a song that you cringe at is that the success expresses vulnerability without fear" (135). 

Sharing, being vulnerable, putting yourself out there doesn't mean fear goes away, but it does mean you aren't scared of being afraid - of being vulnerable, opening yourself up to critique but also to so much more. 

One of my goals this year is to share more of my own writing. I've been starting slowly, but you can check out some if it here, or on Twitter where I have been trying to participate weekly in #1linewed. And, speaking of sharing writing, I am on the hunt for a few more critique partners and/or beta readers! If you're interested in reading my work or swapping work, comment below with your email or email me at asherlockwrites(at)gmail(dot)com and we'll see if we're compatible. 

Further reading about my writing struggles: Book Blogging, Sharing Writing, and Other Scary Things // The Future // Begin Again

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