I have decided to keep a simple promise to myself. To sit down at my computer and reclaim my love for writing. My love for it started out of such a simple belief that I liked it and that I had something to say. That was all it took to pledge my allegiance to a craft that has since become a fixture in my constant battle with “imposter syndrome.”
The more I liked it, the more I wanted to be great at it. The louder you declare yourself a writer, I quickly learned, the more people will come out of nowhere to critique it. I think the most annoying thing I have observed strictly speaking from my own experience is the readiness people have to accept that someone is a writer when they are not a person of color.
But when a person of color says that they do anything in a professional capacity there is an instant request for their credentials and a readiness to critique their work. That has mainly been my experience. I am not speaking for the entire community. I am speaking of my experiences and my observations. I have been reciting my resume since high school.
I have been critiqued since high school. And I learned pretty early on that it is an insanely subjective trade. My means of survival through college was to write to the interests of whoever was critiquing my work. It worked for a little while. But eventually my desire to grow as a writer became difficult to ignore. I mean I am going into debt here. I might as well try to experiment and learn while there is no obligation to taking care of a family or (student loans). I wanted to do more than parrot revisions of established opinions that were being taught to me. I did want to be able to tell the stories of others.
But I wanted to expand my voice as well. I can honestly say that my skin was not thick enough for the critiques that I knew would follow committing to such a venture. Nevertheless, I tried it anyway. I graduated by the skin of my teeth. Ego bruised, confidence non-existent and in the kind debt that inspires panic attacks that feel eerily similar to my asthma attacks. My final lab professor (reporting class) looked at me one evening during her office hours and said words that I am just accepting now (to quote the Queen of the North, “I’m a slow learner. But I learn”).
“Ju’lia, it feels like you are defeated. It even shows in your body language. You shrink up when we discuss your writing.”
In that moment, I became cripplingly loyal to being defeated. I would eventually believe that I was broken.
You hear so many stories about people who lost so much of their lives building up a dream that never happened. That at some point they had to walk away and painfully start over. Most of the times it enables them to accept the very things that they use to passionately reject. I spent years wondering if that was my intended journey. Why couldn’t I go with a practical major? Why didn’t I have the mind for engineering or science?
If you actually read all of this, I respect you. And I am guessing you are wondering how I worked with this energy while creating Worthy Magazine. My answer is cheesy. I hate typing sentences like this. I always question the authenticity of these words whenever I see them or read them. But my discomfort and distrust of these next few statements can’t make them less true. These are cheesy facts.
Every issue of Worthy was just as much for me as it was for my desired readers. I needed those messages. I needed to write some of those words. But I still found myself trying to create content that I thought people would read. I was still trying to tell the stories of others while not even believing in my ability to do so. It took me years to realize that I stopped writing for me even in the most intimate sense.
What I liked about writing all those years ago was the freedom to get out what I needed to say. I lost it in the pursuit of being a “gatekeeper of history,” which is a popular journalist mantra. And then I let the critiques on my ability to do that corrupt and convert my passion into fear. I became voiceless, by CHOICE. I think it is important to say that it was a choice because I still had critiques that spoke favorably of my ability to write. I realize now that there were honestly just as many positive critiques as negative critiques. But I have no problem admitting that my mind has always had a unique ability to absorb the negative much easier than anything positive.
I hate that my intro to starting something new has to be buried so close to the end of a growing text but to sum everything up that I am trying to say, I am now creating as a release and a way to reclaim my voice. I can’t say that I will be doing this with confidence. I am still insecure. I still see myself as broken. I can still quote verbatim some college critiques that surpassed reviewing my work at the time and tried to predict my professional future. So I can’t say that everything will be flawlessly executed. I do hope I get to see that day though. What I am certain of is that there is a place for my voice. And if the things I create never mean anything to anyone else, they will mean something to me much like this piece that I am writing and sharing.
I am currently working while feeling broken and while my anxiety originally flourished in such a space, and after years of being afraid to move and too sick to create, I have realized what most people who break and don’t die realize, which is that my obstacles forced me to adjust just to endure them, which forced me to evolve.
I have never been more effective in knowing how to take care of myself and understanding the NEED to do so. I have never been more calm when telling someone, ‘No’. I have NEVER been more at peace with not taking a call. I have never been more kind to myself. So while some people would think it is a terrible thing to admit to, I would say the fear of speaking about it betrays a lack of understanding of what it means to be broken and how it can inspire change if you let it. I would accept that claiming brokenness while not trying to change could be bad thing. But transparency and vulnerability have taken on a powerful meaning to me.
And I can assure you that this isn’t a selfish “creative” declaration about creating for myself exclusively. I know that I will still have to write pieces that are not strictly just for my own interests. This is a declaration about returning to a practice that I abandoned years ago. This is about working on my confidence. And getting back to loving something that means so much to me. And while my skin is getting a little itchy ( I scratch when I am nervous) as I write this long promise to myself, I have a small glimmer of hope about the success of this commitment. I have found that the things I did with a casual attitude and a sincere interest have always ended up getting more interaction from people who I wouldn’t even guess were paying attention.
So if you were looking for an unexpected but direct sign that your interests matter and that your efforts are seen, you can take this as your confirmation. We never know who is listening, watching or reading. You never know who references you as motivation. Keep going predominantly for your own sake.
But get acquainted with the fact that there is real intention behind your existence and your creative contribution to the space that you occupy.
– Ju’lia Samuels