Ever since reading her essay in Marie Claire about her divorce from Elon Musk, I’ve been following Justine Musk, and even though I haven’t delved into her fiction yet, her blog is a constant source of inspiration. Lately I’ve been thinking so much about self-sabotage and what the source of it is for me, because it’s not any isolated incident. It’s a consistent, repeated process, a way of drawing myself back from the brink of success whenever it dares wave at me. I shrink away as if it’s something horrible, as if I don’t deserve it, and I think part of it for me is the fear of being different. That might sound ridiculous because, the fact is, by dint of doing what I do, by having dropped out of law school, a safe, seemingly easy but actually crazy hard path, and then not only writing about sex, but writing about my personal life, exposing truths and my flaws and my body along with my fears, I have chosen an unconventional path.
And I have a love/hate relationship with that path. I have trouble seeing the good in the things I do that are different. I am constantly looking for mentors and people to emulate, and sometimes it takes those very mentors coming to me and asking questions, or telling me they are proud of me, for me to unravel all of that not-so-deep-down self-hatred and realize that the unconventional path is not necessarily a bad one.
It’s confusing in so many ways, not least of which because there are no true roadmaps. I don’t necessarily feel like I’m floundering, but every once in a while I look around and think, “How the hell did I get here?” I really don’t know, and I’m back to being that girl who worked at 2 Park and got in trouble for wearing sneakers or talking on the phone. Sometimes, though I hated that job, I want to be that girl because she was anonymous. Much as I’d like to think I am, I’m not, not really. And that’s at the heart of my discomfort: It will never sound anything but self-aggrandizing to me to say I’m not anonymous. And of course a writer wants to be read; of course…and yet, not always. Not always with the level of scrutiny I am. Not always when the joy of creating something new from a blank page morphs into feeling like I need to defend not just my body of work, but myself. Not always when it creates a very clear disconnect between my “persona” and how I see myself.
Justine Musk writes in a post on how to be a creative badass*:
To produce good work, you need to dive beneath the surface of things. You need to “go there” in a way that we specifically train ourselves not to do in day-to-day life. We believe that if we reveal too much, we’ll expose ourselves as unworthy. Shameful. But it’s shame that keeps us isolated, silent, and disconnected from each other. Part of believing that you have something to say is flying in the face of all that. When you lean into what discomforts you, what scares you, you’re getting to the good, original stuff.
I get that, completely. I feel like sometimes I live and breathe that shame and have no idea how to get rid of it. It’s confusing because on the one hand I am go go go, trying to get people to write about me at, say, my college paper, where I was once rejected as a columnist, where I wrote letters to the editor, where I never ever ever thought I’d be writing about sex for a living. I am happy when I’m at the post office sending out dozens of copies of my new book; that feels healthy, familiar, something I know how to do: give things away. Or, to use a horrible word, marketing. Horrible because that is part of the “persona” and me, well, I like to think of it as creative, as taking a tool that the big people use, like Amazon Prime, and scaling it down to my level.
I am rambling, I’m aware, but my point is that I can see so clearly that there’s a moment, a moment I keep missing, where you have to push that shame aside. Where you have to, in order to succeed, truly not care and not want to be “normal.” And I’m really not sure I know how to do that. I know that I produced some work last year that I’m very proud of, that I went places I couldn’t have gone before. I wrote stories like “Espionage” and “Punching Bag.” Now I’m coming up with all sorts of titles that tickle me so much I flesh them out. I’m getting back to the non-fiction that is what I really want to be doing. But still there is a part of me that is always tempted to just hit delete, not just on this blog, but on this creature I’ve created who I can’t seem to get away from. She’s me but…not entirely. Maybe that’s why one of the people I love spending time with the most is one who’s created a truly new life for herself, one that is so far removed from what I could read about her online it’s like she’s two different people.
I know that there are plenty of people out there, because I know them, I’m friends with them, I’ve gotten to know them, who get that there is more to anyone than what you read about them online, who can make sense of the fact that someone like, um, me, might be fearless in some ways and scared as can be in others. I am working toward getting toward a place where I don’t want to be like everyone else, because even if I did, I think it’s too late for that. I can’t really put the sex writing genie back in the bottle and ultimately I don’t want to. That genie has opened so many doors for me and has also pushed me to grow and embrace this person I never expected to become. I want this to be the year I don’t fuck things up, the one year with no regrets around assignments, no burned bridges, no horror stories. Maybe not everything will work out, but it won’t be because I was so afraid of being different, looked at, noticed, that I didn’t try.
*I don't think it's a coincidence that this quote is from her instruction to "be vulnerable." See my "Be as vulnerable as you possibly can."