I write fiction because it feels less intrusive. We invent the worlds we need to make sense of reality. It’s a safe space to taste the juicy goodness of the present moment, or stretch your heart open to let the vague foggy sadness out. No one has a clue what you’re doing, and it looks interesting and fun to watch. But writing is always confessional. The need to hide always gets crushed by the weight and weirdness of the need to confess. And suddenly, your characters start talking to themselves, or to each other; and there lies everything you want to say.
Say you’ve had a bad day, or week, or month, hell, even year. It may have been foundations you could not change, hurts you could not release, or taking parts of you out of the darkness and placing them in the light of another – as we all do when we are in search of that ‘me too’. You were hoping that, given glimpses, flashes, peeks under the curtain, they would only get more curious about you. ‘I’ll take the one with the beautiful dents that cries at movies. I see potential in this one. Sold.’ Only that they didn’t. That’s right. Let that sink in for a moment, or a day, or a week, or…
So you turn your But I’s into I’m sorry’s. So you start playing Peace at Any Price, where the price is your surrender. So you let yourself disintegrate and fragment, only to find out that people get what they want and usually hate it after. That was all pretty pointless then, wasn’t it? But you’re terrible at picking your battles. You’d pick every single one if you could, and end them all with saving both yourself and them. And you feel the break in your heart break all the way to the bottom, and you write some fiction to mend it instead of screaming your fucking heart out. Louder. No, louder. Even louder still. I still can’t hear a damn thing.
Do you see, the thing about giving up? You don’t realise you’ve done it until it’s much too late to fight it. It starts so slowly. Your little everyday joys all line up in a row. Your hard memories soften. You grab the sun. You want to hold it in your fist and squeeze until it leaks light on everybody. Life is exciting and you are full of it. Life is the door you open with your entire body. Life is the room you refuse to leave even when it never asks you to stay. But the easiness is broken up too frequently for you to curate your life once and for all.
Here comes the hint of disgust you feel when they tell you on the way out that you are not so easy to love. At first, you brush it off. At last, it swallows you whole. To be loved means to be recognised as existing, but you are invisible to everyone you refuse to please – and, as soon as you’ve pleased them, to everyone you accepted to please. Like your presence and your absence mix together only to dissolve into one another and disappear.
Out in the world, you begin to feel a barrier separating you from it. It comes disguised as a defence mechanism and you let it. Silence takes over, the worst of all evils. My friend Nadège so wisely said that a woman’s silence is her siren. If only they heard it. If only they saw you. And then – if only you heard yourself, not just them. If only you saw yourself, not just them.
You can’t break off from the journey, so you break off from their questioning stares instead. You curl up in your bed, your mind alive and searching, your soul tired and numb. You take long baths and long walks and look at yourself in the mirror for far too long. You start to really get to know yourself. You feel, simultaneously, that the unexpected and delightful live inside you, and that your heart is a mass of wet, bloody pieces, evidence to support a cliché you used to laugh at. What doesn’t kill you makes you want to die.
Only that you don’t. What you really want is arms that want to hold you after dark, and minds that want to unwrap you for hours, and hearts that, whether they want to or not, start glowing when they come close to yours. You want to find more of your people, the kind who stand at the gates of your dreams not to break them, but to break them open for you when you shout ‘Ready!’ Who cut your lies short and ask for the real you to please stand up. Who point at your heart and say, ‘Listen, fucking listen, please fucking listen.’ They are such gold to carry, and so you carry on living, because you know more of them are out there and you will find them.
And you will come across more who only come to steal your sparkle. The ‘You were magic. You didn’t know it. I figured it out pretty fast and forgot it even faster’ type. But there will also be those who come to make magic with you, simply because they like it and they like you. Yes, yes they do.
“I beg your pardon,” they will say, “I’ll just be here burning.”
“Ah, don’t bother. The best parts of me aren’t even real,” you will admit. “I’ve created this person for others to love, and I’m a little too tired tonight to bring her out.”
And they will say, “Bullshit,” and light you up when they come near and touch you anyway.
Those are your people, the people it’s safe to burst into flames with. You’ll know them, because the last thing we can resist is being truly seen – especially for what we want to be. You can’t close your eyes to that, or fight them when they come for you. Your potential unveiled is the strongest of temptations. And the ashes of that will look like fairy dust to everyone – you included, and you will thank yourself for still believing. How does it feel to come so close to it? I want to come that close to it.
So you get up, because you know that getting up alone might be the first step towards shaping the future you want to be living in already. Sometimes you will have to start your search for reasons to stay alive again. The café dates, the independence, the happy hard work or the quiet, gentle life you built for yourself won’t be enough. Fairy-light-strung trees will remind you of the lights that have gone out. City breaks will remind you of their walls that you couldn’t climb, and your own that you couldn’t build. Art will remind you of them telling you too soon, ‘I love you & your mind,’ until they read it and didn’t say it anymore. You will need new reasons.
You will find them when you will be brave. When fear will creep up your spine like spiders again, and you will let your people hold you down and show you that there is nothing to fear.
“I want to live, but I don’t know how to live with myself,” you will be brave enough to say to a real person.
“You’re not the only one you have to live with. I am here too. I want to live with you too,” the real person will be brave enough to say back to you.
Wait for those moments. They are so precious. Even when they are gone, they leave behind the most important gift: you. They help you believe in yourself. They let you be yourself. They make you, you. Don’t keep yourself from living them again and again, even if they look nothing like the last one, and the one before.
Fiction looks like scratching the surface without anyone knowing what hides beneath. It’s clean, private and intriguing. This feels more like twisting a knife inside a bleeding wound and making you watch. But the beauty of it lies in the fact that it is honest, raw and, if you listen closely, you may find it has healing powers.
Not every story I find myself in is mine to tell, and this is a challenging aspect of writing about a life. There are things I cannot confess, wrapped up in others too tightly to be untangled – but even writing around them this carefully frees me. The sooner you deal, the sooner you’ll heal, right? I’d better be right.
Storytellers are some of the most sensitive, intelligent, emotive and intentional people in the world. But people with such emotional strength require twice as much fuel to fill their tanks, and can be the hardest to love. Being one fills me up with pride regardless. Telling my stories is a very particular type of kindness that I can and I want to extend to myself and to others.
The vulnerability paradox says that vulnerability is the first thing I look for in you, and the last thing I want you to see in me. But to that I finally say that, if I learn so much from what other writers share, I too will gladly lay it all out for other readers. No names, though. And no pictures. Not unless they’re really, really blurry.
“You are so good. So good. You’re always feeling so much, and sometimes it feels like you’re gonna bust open from all the feeling, don’t it? People like you are the best in the world, but you sure do suffer for it.” – Silas House