I have known I wanted to be a writer since I was about six years old. It took me until I was twenty-two to tell another person this aloud. Even then it was only my therapist, a woman professionally pinky promised to secrecy on the subject.
What was I so afraid of?
Daniel Mallory Ortberg has a piece, “Why are you lonely?” The experience of reading it is like being slapped in the soul multiple times in quick succession. It’s a useful diagnostic tool if you can stand it. The part that most pierced me was this:
STILL JUST WAITING FOR THINGS TO HAPPEN TO YOU INSTEAD OF EXPRESSING YOUR DESIRES ALOUD
The most terrifying part of admitting your desires aloud is the possibility that someone, even the just universe, will say no.
I was worried people would think I was foolish, that people would think I was dumb, that if people knew what I wanted and I failed to achieve it, they would know I was a failure. I was worried my parents would be disappointed in me.
Geraldine, my beautiful, beautiful therapist, said, “Bonnie, if all you fear comes to pass and even the people you love think you’re a dumb, foolish failure, will that change anything about you? You don’t have to live your life defined by your reflection in the minds of other people. You can just exist in yourself.”
You might say, “That’s all very well for you, Bonnie, but I cannot just cleave myself from the expectations of my parents, of my family, of my society. And it’s not always easy, but it’s never as impossible as it feels either. If you are trying your best, doing what you think is right, and not hurting anyone, shouldn’t they be proud of you anyways? And if their pride comes with higher qualifications than that, you need to consider whether or not it is something you’d be happier living without.
Ultimately, you can’t live your life to make other people happy or proud. You can try but you will never actually know what another person truly thinks or feels (and good loved ones will lie and say they always believed in you anyways). At the end of the day, the only person whose expectations you have to live with your whole life, the only person whose standards you have to life up to, the only person whose ideas of what makes a good, meaningful life truly matter – is yourself.
Oscar Wilde said, “There are moments when one has to choose between living one’s own life, fully, entirely, completely – or dragging out some false, shallow, degrading existence that the world in its hypocrisy demands.”
And that was a hit, a very palpable hit.
A desire never voiced is a desire never denied, but it is also a desire rarely spontaneously granted.
I have since started telling people that I am a writer, even when it feels like a lie. It’s not. I have as much claim to the word as any other. They do not laugh at me or spit hate or declare me a fool or liar like any of my secret fears suggested they might. Usually they just say, “That’s cool.” Other times they offer encouragement, support, opportunities even. The more I say it aloud, the truer it feels, and the less I fear anyone, even the universe, can deny it or take it away from me.