“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.”
My writing is rarely confessional. I try to open the juicy goodness of the present moment, or stretch my heart to let the vague foggy sadness out, but it always just feels too messy to begin, and so I don’t. I write fiction because it feels less intrusive. We invent the worlds we need to make sense of reality, but are permitted to play pretend while we’re at it, until the need to hide gets crushed by the weight and weirdness of the need to confess. After all, some thoughts are so private that you can only share them with a therapist or a few million people on the internet.
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 something as simple as taking parts of you out of the darkness and placing them in the light of another. You were hoping that, given glimpses, peeks under the curtain, flashes of understanding and insight, they would only get more curious about you. ‘I’ll take the one with the beautiful dents that likes to cry 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 lined up in a row make you feel warm and you ache to 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 though it never asks you to stay. But the easiness is broken up too frequently to help you curate your life.
Here comes the hint of disgust you feel when you remember that maybe you’re not so easy to love. They say that to be loved means to be recognised as existing, but you feel 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. Silence takes over, the worst of all evils. My friend Nadège so wisely said, “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.
Out in the world, brushing up against life, you begin to feel a barrier separating you from it. You can never 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 that only exist as 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 uncomplicate 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, those who stand at the gates of your dreams only to break them open for you. Those who cut your lies short and ask for the real you to please stand up. Those who make your soul go, ‘That one! Pick that one!’ Those who take off the veils shading pieces of you and don’t flee away. Those who make you say it, then make you think, ‘Ignore it. But listen. Ignore it. But listen, but 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 again, 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 the ones who come to make magic with you simply because they like it and they like you. Yes, yes they do. They see your spark’s gone but are not afraid of the darkness.
‘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 think 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 you will go and burst into flames with them, because the last thing we can resist is being truly seen, especially for what we want to be.
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 and the independence and the happy hard work and the quiet gentle life you built for yourself won’t be anywhere near enough. Fairylight-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 writing over your scars that only you could see and touch and feel, and them telling you ‘I love you & your mind,’ and you thinking, ‘If you could really read my mind you wouldn’t say that.’
Sometimes you will feel anchorless again, and fear will creep up your spine like spiders. But your people will hold you down again, 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 this time.
‘You’re not the only one you have to live with. I am here too. I want to live with you too,’ this real person will be brave enough to say back to you.
Wait for those moments. They are so precious. Don’t waste your chance to live 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.
In my experience, storytellers are some of the most sensitive, intelligent, emotive and intentional in the world. But people with such emotional strength require twice as much fuel (/love) 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.