I’m Ryan and I bet I’m the most insecure person here. Here in this post. Or there in real life. Or in the fading grey headspace that barely separates the two.
I’m 31 and a father now and I need a job and yet I don’t want the kind of job that one needs to make enough money to buy health insurance and a house and another car to get to the job that I need and leave one car for Kate so that she can transport the baby to the places.
I’m 31 and this word career is still staring at me, just like it’s been since the bubble sheet on the AP test in high school where they ask you to fill out what colleges they should send the scores to and what you’re intended occupation is.
I’m 31 and this word career is so unswallowable because how many people are doing what they love and how many people are just making salaries to get by?
I’m 31 and I’m writing a diary and I’m copy pasting my diary every morning while Kate and the baby are sleeping and I’m posting it on Facebook and then throughout the day I look at the likes and the comments and I wait, and I wait more, and I wait for the feeling of satisfaction to come but it never does.
I’m 31 and at night when we’re brushing our teeth I tell Kate that two posts this week performed better than all the posts last week combined and she says I thought you weren’t going to pay attention to the numbers, I thought you were going to just write, and I spit the foam in the sink and I brush more, and then I spit more, and then I brush, and then I spit and say yeah you’re right I really need to stop looking at the numbers and say fuck it and just write like my life depended upon it.
I have a curly-haired wrier friend who wrote the same heavy-hitting confession, except more succinctly. “I am the most insecure person in most any room I enter—this, I feel, is almost a statistical certainty.” When I read that line I stopped. Stopped eye race forward, to finish, to be done, to move on, to get to something better. “I am the most insecure person in most any room I enter.”
That’s one of the most beautiful lines of English prose I’ve read. Why? Because it’s gruesome honesty. It goes where it’s so hard to go. Gorgeous, because while it may be the most difficult thing to say, it’s therefore the most valuable. And in a way, it’s the most true.
Let me back up. I’m a third-year graduate student in a three year MFA program in Creative Writing. We have these classes called workshops where each week one person writes something, sends it to the class a few days before, and then we get together in a room with white walls and everyone except the writer opens their mouth to say what they think about the piece of writing. Protocol is to say what you like first, and then ease into what you dislike. Run properly, it can be really helpful. Beta testing before releasing a piece of writing to the world. Good workshops hinge on two things: whether the readers carefully read and then thoughtfully considered the meat on the frying pan, and also whether they have the courage and vulnerability to share how the piece really moves them. Many times fear of being a naysaying ass prevents really valuable discussion of weakness. This swings the other way too when a pompous professor, for example, has nothing positive to say; it begins to feel like an ego trip. The writer doesn’t speak until the end and at the end the writer usually says thank you so much this was really helpful.
Last week I was workshopped. I took a crack at this monster of a piece I’ve been wanting to write, but postponing, for a long time. I won’t go into too much detail but the title was “THE MALE MAMMALIAN BRAIN, VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN, AND A TABOO-TAPED CULTURE OF SHHHHHH” and basically I argue that since men are the problem, men are the solution, and because of this, the strategy should be starting a culture of open sex talk with boys at a very young age. The piece received criticism primarily on the grounds that while I advocated openness and frankness and the breaking of taboo, I myself never lead by example and make the hard but arguably necessary statements about my own fraught sexual headspace. An example of a statement the class was looking for would be: I’m a married man. Happily married. And yet I remain sexually attracted to beautiful women. A beautiful woman reading the back of a cashew package at Aldi, for example. Or women doing deadlifts with 45-pound plates on each side at the gym. Or even passing by the bra section at Walmart—minimally arousing, but arousing nonetheless. And yet because I’m sufficiently cerebrally restrained, I restrict all movements of my limbs and limit the words that come out of my mouth that might express this physical attraction. Why? Because I’m a married man. Happily married. And because I want to keep it that way.
The piece needs work. More honesty. Fewer blah blah blah words. Then I’ll share it here.
This week my curly haired writer friend is up for workshop with his heavy hitting confession.
And I agree. In any coffee shop, classroom, chatroom, gym, yoga, pool, I’m lacerated by self-doubt. (Lacerating is the word of the day. It’s in the promo quote on the front cover of A Million Little Pieces, which I’m currently devouring.) But doubt and self-confidence aren’t mutually exclusive. This may sound contradictory, but it’s true. I have immense amounts of both. Perhaps simultaneously. I can’t quite suss out the cerebral order, but I can feel the tigers circling each other in my frontal cortex. I hear their roars, feel their claws, and wait for one to kill the other, even though I’ve read all the myths and know damn well that those big cats never die.
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