Not 10 minutes into our first conversation, a new male friend decided to pull out this little ditty:
“You really don’t seem like a writer.”
“I mean, aren’t you a little too happy to be a tortured artist?”
He didn’t appreciate the torture that comes from having to field this question. Again. I decided to be patient.
“Why does someone need to be tortured in order to create something? Don’t they just need to be inspired and then work hard?”
“Yeah, I guess,” he said, “but, like, you come from a good home. What could you possibly have to say that would be meaningful? No offense.”
None taken, asshole. Where have you been all my life? Everywhere, actually, as naysayers are an epidemic. I should know. I have one living inside of me. I call her Bertha.
Naysayers are convinced that mild-mannered people don’t have a storm brewing inside them, as though the perma-perky woman at your office isn’t hiding her shit day from you out of professionalism. She’s got a hundred things on her mind, but instead, smiles and helps you with the photocopier.
Naysayers think that kindness means weakness, as though your respectful, polite classmate didn’t have to contend with abuse throughout his childhood. He could take that pain out on you, but instead presses on and makes you laugh.
And for some reason, naysayers think that happy people are vapid, as though the artist you know with the contagious laugh isn’t also an expert in her field. She could make you feel dumb, but instead, chooses humility and makes you coffee.
This new column, “It Wasn’t that Bad,” is dedicated to the naysayer in all of us; the one some people manage to ignore. Every week, I will look at a recent event – it might be personal; it might be (pop) cultural. These events will, for the most part, seem decidedly negative…unless you decide to shift your perspective. General frustration and heartbreak are often not only poignant, but pretty freakin’ funny. You just need to take a longer-than-average time to consider them.
I think it’s only right that I provide full disclosure from the very beginning: I am a reformed pessimist. I am not a novice when it comes to self-defeating inner monologues. For the better part of a decade, I suffered from chronic, debilitating anxiety and depression.
I worked hard to heal myself, but not before the anxiety and depression culminated in some very self-destructive behaviour. The details of this are not as interesting as something a friend said recently when I told her that no matter what I did, there was a voice asking me the same question: What gives you the right?
“What gives you the right to think you deserved that praise? You didn’t! That person was just being friendly! What gives you the right to befriend her, anyway? She’s way cooler than you and can walk in high heels without teetering. What gives you the right to apply for that job? You were an English major who dabbled in philosophy and religious studies. Shouldn’t you be doing transcendental meditation so that you can write a haiku about the categorical imperative?”
My friend told me that the next time I heard that voice, I shouldn’t resist it. “Just let it be. Just say ‘Oh right, you’re here too.’ Accept it. Breathe into it. But don’t react or resist it because that will give it power. Give it space.”
That voice was personified by the guy who told me that authentic artists had to be miserable. I heeded my friend’s advice. I didn’t fight him. I just let him be, gave him space, because in the end, it wasn’t that bad, since he inspired everything you just read.