Thursday, June 28, 2012

Who And Why?

Yesterday in my reading I came across some advice to writers that encouraged knowing your audience.  It occurred to me belatedly that I might want to think about that idea. Time to put the cart after the horse I suppose.

Of course, at this point I have no real audience, because I've never actively sought to build one.  I have resistances to sort out.

One is that I'm made distinctly uncomfortable by self promotion and hucksterism.  Part of my distaste for the necessary job of marketing comes from a shame issue that may be pretty obvious to any readers I do have by now.  The other part is a simple preference for subtlety and....

Who am I kidding?  It's mostly about the shame.  The thought of trying to convince anyone that I can do great things is....well, it just isn't done.  I want to lower my head when the subject comes up, not lift it and hawk my wares.  I am STILL waiting to be told at any time that I am a loser, a lame-o, a failure.  I'm still expecting to find what I worked so hard and happily on judged sorely against the other competitors, like the banana bread I made for a class competition in 5th grade.  I thought it was good and dreamed of winning--until I realized that the under flavored, badly colored one on our anonymous sample board was actually mine.  I knew I was a loser then.  I hoped no one but me knew which one was mine.

I just judged an ice cream cake contest on Monday.  I hope none of the not-winners felt that way, especially if I had anything to do with it.

Anyway, I have no skill or appetite for self-promotion, and I've never given any thought to who my audience might be, even if only in my imagination.  But it's a good question.  My shame may make me want to avoid the question of audience (read: potential judges), but writing does kind of presume readers, doesn't it?  Who would I want them to be?  Or, to put it in a less self-centered way, who would benefit from reading about my journey through life?  I squirm at the question of what I have to offer anyone, especially when I'm in the trough, but what do I have to give here?

One thing could be comfort.  Yesterday I also read an account of one woman's near paralyzing anxiety before a public speaking event and appreciated it immensely.   That may not be my trigger, but I know the fear.  I bless her for helping me feel...entribed, to make up a word.  (Hey! Making up words is fun).  She's a bright, talented lady who can be honest about some of her trials and still be taken seriously when she writes about happy, "normal" stuff, too.  As if difficulties aren't normal.

So one value in writing about my real inner life could be that it helps someone else who wants to find her people, who needs to know that she isn't alone in her navel gazing, anxious-yet-joyous, always-asking-the-deep-questions ways. She may be encouraged in the same way I was encouraged when I read about that other woman's anxiety.

If I do try to picture my people, they're, well, a lot like me--sensitive, searching, educated, artsy, wounded but walking, dedicated to learning and growing, even when that means dealing with fearful things.  Maybe they're also souls who know much darkness, even as they love and seek the light, and would like to be honest about that without being deemed a flake.  My top aim in life, and the focus of this blog, is to always seek to make life fine and beautiful.  Honesty is part of that.  I try to name and know the bad well, so it won't swallow me.  Then I can appreciate the good even more.

The question for me has always been how honest to be here. Let me be clear:  I DO NOT want to carry on like a Jerry Springer guest, or the customer who once told me way more than I needed to know during the purchase of a cookie.  Revelation has its limits.  There are parts of myself and my life that I will always keep private.  I weigh the potential consequences of lifting my veil often and say nothing here that I wouldn't say to a friend or acquaintance, if it seemed pertinent or helpful.  I may not be a person who needs many secrets, but I do have a sense of decorum.  Deciding to write only about the positive, which I've tried, just causes blockage.  As I said, I'm transparent.  A wee-little all or nothing, maybe.

But despite my desire to be open, the truth is that after pushing the publish button on the Flat Line post, I was even more anxious.  In my morning journaling I found that I was scared because of it, afraid that I'd seem like a tortured, flaky whiner.  The inner toddler was feeling extremely vulnerable.  I seriously thought of deleting it or abandoning writing altogether (again!?).  All the better to stay safe, my dears.

Then I went on to work (People--the extrovert's cure!), where no one emailed me to say that obviously I am not up the this job if I'm going to bare my pathetic soul on the internet, pretending to be seeking enlightenment.  The anxiety storm blew by, and I'm here again. 

As I have come closer to whole in my journey, I have consciously wanted to be the one who could hear people when they needed to share their darkness.  Like the friend with the baby she adored but also the guilt complex for not loving every minute of it because she was up ended and sleep deprived. I don't mind sitting with tears, fears, doubts, and painful stories.  I know how much good it does to let those feelings out with someone who can hear them without fixing or judging. I hope that being the listener makes them feel less alone.  There's nothing like the feeling you get when you know that someone else KNOWS, too--has been there, gets you--and also accepts you even when you bawl piteously and blow your nose.

Whether we're listening or telling, our stories help each other.  I tell mine here and listen to others when I'm needed because I believe that to be true.  We're here to help each other.  I hope that whatever wants to be written through me, as Julia Cameron would put it, contributes even if I don't know how.

And I don't know.  But sometimes that works for me.  We didn't know why we wanted so suddenly and giddily to buy this barn, but it's worked.  I didn't know why I wanted to go to culinary school, but that's paying off for me wonderfully.  I've learned to trust my gut.  She's not so stupid.

I've not always felt that way about myself.  When the anxiety attacks, I still don't, mostly because somewhere back there I was taught by crazy makers (that's a clinical term, by the way) not to listen to my own instincts and judgments.  I could be controlled better that way.  Self doubt and shame hold a person down quite tightly.

And there's one reason to continue.  When I probe my reactions to writing about anything unseemly, like my difficult times, or even thinking about an audience, I feel that 5th-grade-banana-bread shame all over again. The danger is that showing the world anything but the good stuff, or maybe even displaying what I think is good, will reveal me as pathetic, that I'll be rejected when people know how I really am.  I will do whatever I have to do to get past that fear, to shed that shame which seems to be the kernel of my resistance to writing.  I may struggle, but I won't let it stop me from doing what I feel I must do.  It's risky, but it's the only way to grow and be better for others, too.

Contributing to others does matter to me.  I want to be clear about that, as well.  I may write about myself, but it's not because I over-value me.  If anything I do battle with the opposite tendency.  I'm confessional and personal because that's all I've got, and because I find the process of simply trying to be a healthy, full human being fascinating in its illogical difficulty.  I'm not gifted with imaginary worlds and characters like my husband.  Real life is what speaks to me, with its good and its bad, its fabulous dinners and pains that heal.

Well, after all that, I still don't know who my right audience is, but I can live with the question and see what answer arises.  I suspect that breaking through the shame barrier will make it easier to answer it.  I'll write until I know.  

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