Hitting Your Head Against the Wall Isn’t Really Therapy

Mom--about 4 months before she died
Mom--about 4 months before she died

I wished I took drugs. If I’d been that sort of girl, I’d have felt better. Thinking like that is easy in the middle of the night when you can’t sleep.

This is how people go crazy, I thought, and turned over again. I threw the covers off and tried to sleep with my head at the foot of the bed. I curled up in a ball, my knees tucked under my chest. I could’ve called a friend, but everyone was asleep, and what would I say? I’d say, I’m sick. And she’d ask what was wrong.

I put my head in the center of the bed and my feet up against the wall. I rolled onto my stomach and hung my head off the bed. I was 21 and thought about the years of my life stretched out in front of me like a void and that I’d feel like that forever. Though I knew that I wouldn’t, I felt that I would. I sat up in bed and dropped forward to let my head hit the mattress as hard as possible. That eased the pain enough, briefly, to consider the wall next.

I called my best friend instead. A phone call at 3 in the morning frightens anyone, and I was instantly sorry. “Are you okay?” J. asked.

“I’m fine. I’m fine,” I said. I looked out my window down into the parking lot. No one was out. “I want my mom back,” I said, and felt like a jerk. What was J. going to say to that?

In my writing life, I want to ask to people to read my work, but then I feel like a jerk, like I’ve put them in a no-win situation. If they like it, they’re being nice. If they don’t, I’m crushed. If they say nothing, I’m confused and crushed. And why can’t I figure this out on my own? What answer can anyone give when you are taken over by insecurity? What keeps so many of us from writing and being happy about it?

I feel like I could run my head into a wall. I won’t, but I wonder what magic words will make this feeling go away?

Do you believe people when they say good things about your work? What is the best thing anyone has ever said to you about what you do?

13 thoughts on “Hitting Your Head Against the Wall Isn’t Really Therapy

  1. Paul’s Mom passed away a year ago this past Dec. I only had her in my life a few short years, yet she was the only mother I knew…I still miss her and want her back. It’s a testament to how much these woman touched our lives..

    As for the writing part, I think a little bit of insecurity is good for the soul. If you are egotistical you get a swelled head and won’t listen to much needed criticism. There is no such thing as perfection, you will not please everyone. Humility keeps us real, keeps us striving to improve. All the great ones questioned how good, how worthy was their work. You will find the harshest critic of them all is yourself. If you truly want to write, you have to be prepared to have your work decimated and rebuilt, rewrote a few times before the publisher finally says it’s a go. No, I haven’t been published (I’ve had enough people who want to see a book out of me, I’m not seeing the book myself yet). I do however know a few writers who have been struggling for years. Some get published, some don’t have the courage to continue.

    At the end of the day it’s a question of, “Can I do what is required of me?” …It’s work, make no mistake about that. (Hugs)Indigo

  2. I don’t believe people when they say good things about my work – I think they’re just being kind to me. Mind you, I’m still at the stage where that is probably true and when I get a critique from someone I don’t know it tends to be much harsher.

    If they like it, they’re being nice. If they don’t, I’m crushed. If they say nothing, I’m confused and crushed.

    I can relate to that!

  3. I don’t believe people when they say they like my work. I didn’t believe my agent liked my book when she signed me. I’ve imagined how it will feel to have an editor acquire my book, and I won’t believe the editor really likes it, even though it’s business at this point and why would he worry about hurting my feelings? I don’t think it ever goes away. All I can do is take people at their word and keep on truckin’.

  4. christyjean

    Thanks for always writing about the personal side of life. It seems like the past few things I’ve read from you have really hit home. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one out there who has these thoughts, feelings, insecurities, etc! I hope you never creating!!

  5. I am a bit skeptical, but I do have a certain few that I can realy trust. Then I have those I agree with and those I don’t…that’s when it gets hard, to edit it or not to edit it.

    i usually edit it.

  6. Indigo, my condolences to you and Paul. For the writing, I know work will be decimated and all that, but it would be nice to know the best person to do the decimation. Keep writing you.

    fairyhedgehog, well, harsh doesn’t always mean true.

    sherri, yes, we shall keep truckin’.

    christy, you are so not the only one.

    D’Arcy, editing is good. I don’t know when to stop.

    Squirrel, seems to me that knowing there is a difference between what people mean and what is true, is a big thing.

  7. That’s a great photo of your mom.

    I’m skeptical too. But more than not believe what they are saying, I tend to just think they don’t know what is good enough to get published. And I believe they are going to be nice and only pick out the good things about my writing and not tell me what is really wrong.

    You know, this post made me think that maybe an MFA program would be good for you. Because you seem to want to know the truth about your writing and though you may not believe your friends, I think you could safely believe the other writers and professors in an MFA program. Because that’s what they’re there for. Especially the professors – they are not going to hold back. (That’s one thing that always scared me about going to school!)

  8. Agree with shelli: majorly cool picture of your mother. (Of all the ones of her you’ve posted here so far, I think that’s my favorite.)

    I never know what to do with feedback. But sometimes a reader knows just what I was getting at, and how close I came to it (and/or how far I have left to go). Whether their report is good or bad, that kind of response is worth waiting for — and if I sought NO feedback, I’d never get that kind.

    You may, if you want, draw a lesson from that for yourself. 🙂

  9. I’m struck by the way you’ve equated grief from your mom’s death with asking people to read your work. The experience of “no one can help me in my vulnerable longing” and “who am I to ask for help” is a very, very hard place to be- a suffering that , when in the midst of it, seems to have no solution, no end.

    I know when I started writing a novel, lots of feelings came up. Grief, anxiety, regret ,issues with my own mother, and at times, regression to a very young place. I showed my work to two people in the very beginning who both love me and yet won’t kid me. They both said “yes, go for it,” which helped, but from that point, it was by writing that I grew stronger and more self-assured, just as walking through grief helps lessen its grip. When it was done, it didn’t matter as much anymore what people thought. Not that I don’t still care about producing a successful novel- I’m still working on that, but I’m no longer waiting for someone else to tell me if I can write, or if I should write.

    It always come back to the work- if I stay focused on the work, on writing, the rest of it- the anxiety, the “who am I kidding”, the deep sadness, fades away.

  10. One of the reasons why I assembled a local writers group is so that I would never have to feel apologetic about asking someone to read my work. Antsy? Yes – especially when it’s something “experimental”. But having other writers to call upon, who are more or less on my wavelength, saves me from pulling non-writer friends into the primordial soup which a piece of writing can be (particularly if it’s an early draft, or a draft you think is complete but then realize too late is an “early draft”).

    “Do you believe people when they say good things about your work?”: yes, in the sense that I believe that they are being honest. Whether I trust that what they think is “good” is the same as mine is another question.

    “What is the best thing anyone has ever said to you about what you do?”: I had a stranger approach me, after I’d read an excerpt from an early novel, and tell me how I hit the nail on the head about the city we both live in yet were never born in. It’s that kind of immediate feedback that is so rare yet worth its price in gold (or, depending upon the stock market, molybdenum).

  11. shelli, don’t give up on an MFA if you that’s what you want. At least, don’t shut the idea out just yet.

    Shelly, perhaps in a few months?

    JES, I’ll think about the lesson. Lessons are, after all, every where every day.

    Sarah, I seem to connect most things to my mother. Maybe that’s not a good thing, but there it is. And yes, it always comes back to the work.

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