By the time you read this, I’ll have an essay up on Salon. This both feels like a very big deal, and not. When I told a friend last night over dinner, she was excited for me, but also like, “I thought you and Erin sold a script.”
It made me smile. “Next week,” I said. Selling books is apparently now old hat around here. 😉
It’s nice, though, when your friends raise the bar for you. Especially after years of wandering in a wildnerness where my friends supported me, but didn’t necessarily believe in me in that way.
Which is fair.
I come from a family of big talkers and big dreamers. My dad was in advertising and has self-published his own writing. Everything has always been about the big plan that is going to change everything.
While most of us have plans like that, the reality is that few of those plans work out. My dad’s certainly haven’t. And if we are the sort of people who talk about those plans as part of our process, we have to live with the consequences of that talk. Because if we’re publicly verbal to keep ourselves going, we become the boys who cried wolf regarding possibility. And sometimes that leads to shame.
But in the pursuit of getting the thing done sometimes you have to just tell shame — or at least certain types of shame — to fuck right off.
That Salon piece, is, in part, about something I did a long time ago that I feel shame over. It was weird and creepy. It was criminal. And it scared people, who I can’t even apologize to because any interaction with me would probably be not something they’d be into, which is totally their prerogative. Also, let’s face it, an apology would be about me and my desire for absolution and unlikely to repair any harm done to them.
Now, when I had the idea to write the essay about it, I pitched it to four outlets. The first sent me a perfectly polite rejection letter. Which I then stared at and went through a spiral over where I was embarrassed for thinking I could write for such an outlet, ashamed that I had wasted someone’s time, and felt this overwhelming sense of the whole thing being noted on my hypothetical permanent record: INAPPROPRIATE PROFESSIONAL AUDACITY was rubber stamped across the file in my head.
I felt ill and hoped no one else responded. How could I have thought my story mattered? But six hours later, Salon wrote and expressed interest and wanted to see the piece for possible purchase. I took a deep breath, wrote the thing, and had a sale the next morning.
So to recap:
The shame about what I did in high school? Justified and probably useful in helping me learn not to do things like that.
But my shame about pitching an essay somewhere that didn’t feel it was a good fit? Totally not useful. That type of shame is the shame that makes us procrastinate, not put our work out there, and judge ourselves — and others — as bad people simply for ambition.
You want to Do the thing? Then you need to look at your shame, why you have it, whether it’s useful or justified, and how you need to confront it to move towards a better place.
Got the useless type of shame you need to let go of? You know what to do in the comments.