I’ve been cycling through battles with self-doubt for most of this month. I crashed and burned on the NaNoWriMo experiment, and, even though I should be happy that I wrote at all, I am depressed. Every day is a life-and-death struggle against inertia that leaves me feeling tired, inadequate, and out-of-place, like a kid who wandered out of bed and into her parents’ late night dinner party.
“Am I really a writer?” I ask myself.
“Can I really do this?”
“Am I good enough?”
Like many people with anxiety, I struggle with perfectionism. Something deep down inside me believes nothing is worth my time unless I can do it perfectly.
But true art is not a display of perfection achieved.
It’s not one of those posed, sterile apartments that demands we admire the owner’s fine taste and decorating abilities. It should be more like a snug bungalow, with scuff marks on the front door where we push it open with our shoe when our arms are grocery bag-laden and a couch that the cat uses as a scratching post. The edges of the coffee table’s bottom shelf are worn where we rest our feet on it while watching TV, and we lick our teaspoons after we stir with them, even though Miss Manners told us not to. Come inside, it says, sit a spell, and don’t fret about the sweat ring your water glass is making.
That is how good writing should feel–like an invitation to rest your bones while I tell you about my neighbors whose skunky weed I can smell coming over the fence every single night. Or like two old friends, legs crossed toward each other, mugs warming their hands while the contents go cold because they don’t want to miss a word the other is saying, and then one reaches out and places her hand on the other’s knee and says, “Oh, girl, that must be so frustrating.”
For too long I’ve considered writing to be like kabuki theatre, with white foundation spread mask-thick over the face. But writing is standing under a hot spotlight with no makeup, or maybe with makeup applied using decades-old techniques and styles you picked up from teen magazines. It’s you in all your blue eyeshadowed, frosted pink-lipped glory. As a reader I might laugh at your perm, but I won’t judge it. It’s you, as you are, right at the moment the camera caught you. I want to see you come through in your words. Show me what you think is beautiful and wear it proudly. You may feel like you’ve pulled out a picture of you in your first princess costume, from Halloween circa 1989, but I will treasure that picture like I was your own mother. And when I show you my scribbles, I hope you will read the whole dorky, beautiful me in every line.
Because art should be artless.