An invisible audience lives in my head and they’re not a nice squad of onlookers. Or, more accurately, when they are nice, it’s the bad kind. They have a lot to say about everything – and everyone – I do. They’re very supportive of my emotional maturity but also aghast at how much of a childish moron I am, and it’s hard to tell if they’re wooing or booing most of the time.
Especially when it comes to things I care the most about, like my writing.
You see, when it comes to the words I put together, while this Truman-Show-style studio audience are viciously pelting me with pointed criticisms and small, sharp rocks they’re somehow simultaneously scooping every word I type right off the page and placing it on its own unique pedestal in a museum devoted to how brilliant all my ideas are.
Also because of how brilliant my art is.
Because of this
self-conscious narcissism, I painfully analyze every idea I develop within my blog to ensure that it’s perfect, as if by divulging advice like, “Avoiding the freshman 15 is as simple substituting beer and pizza with weed and celery,” I’m at the risk of not only offending the entire world but also somehow potentially giving instructions that masses of people will follow and, if they turn out to be shitty instructions, it means I’m a shitty person.
And because of that, a lot of what I write is self-conscious, axiomatic blather.
I think that being a writer involves a lot of bullshitting, though. I’m pretty sure I’m right about that since, as a teacher of writing, it seems like most people don’t actually understand that “writing” and “bullshit” are not synonyms, and as a teacher of reading I think it’s also fair to say that a lot of The Greats could have gotten to the point in a few thousand fewer pages, with a few thousand fewer subordinate clauses.
I’m talking to you, Dickens. You’re on my shit list too, Austin.
I know that some of what I write is good, and I also know that it’s impossible for everything I write to be. Some people have trust issues in intimate relationships; I have them with my writing, and in the same way they might manifest were they directed toward a romantic partner: if you love my writing, you’re an idiot who doesn’t know what you’re talking about; if you hate my writing, you’re an idiot who doesn’t know what you’re talking about.
Everyone is an idiot who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. I guess I really am a democrat.
It didn’t take me long in life to figure out that no one is as concerned about me as I am – it’s just like dating, only there’s one person involved (so, in a lot of cases, it’s exactly like dating). This knowledge of my isolation was both liberating and terriffying, and it started – like all of my liberating terror – around high school.
I first started committing to writing for fun in high school, when I realized I was good at it or something. My creative writing teacher was incredibly critical of what I wrote but she also paid me hefty compliments, and because this felt like an authentic balance between feedback and fawning, I believed that her critiques were at least her own version of objective – if anyone can ever examine a piece of art objectively, or have “their own version of objectivity.”
Now I sound like a fucking republican.
SIDE NOTE: HOW DID I MISS THAT THE RNC CHAIRMAN’S NAME IS REINCE PRIEBUS?! IS HE A TIM AND ERIC CHARACTER? HOW HAS ANYONE EVERY TAKEN THIS MAN SERIOUSLY IN HIS LIFE? It’s fine I’m not being offensive it’s just my own version of objectivity toward this man’s stupid dumb name.
But in high school, I learned that I could write well if I tried hard enough, and that trying was what made the writing change from words to art.
Sometimes crap, but also sometimes art.
However, what I wrote then was not always “art;” by the time I got to college, it turned into mostly “art with an f,” or more accurately a “sh” because everything I produced during my dorm years was essentially wet shit. I hardly cared about any of the words I put together during the years I was earning my degree because it was very quickly apparent that I was a lot more concerned about the quality of my writing than my community – and eventually, state – college classmates or professors did and, since they could tell I cared a lot, they told me things along the lines of, “gee whiz you sure are a wordsmith go write a book or something lol.”
The only people who gave meaningful feedback were (go figure) a writing professors. Two of them. My fiction professor – who herself had published a handful of successful pieces, so in spite of the fact that her teaching style included PowerPoints and “workshop time” during which she studiously ignored us as we wrote on our laptops, I respected her opinion as a writer and critic of writing. She was unlike my high school creative writing teacher in that she pretty much thought everything I wrote was garbage juice with a side of rancid meat.
To her credit, she always had very specific feedback: stop starting stories with smells, too much alliteration, all of your characters have Dawson’s Creek names (I checked – not one of them was named after a Dawson Creek character, so I guess she really meant “shitty affluent people names”), stop inserting so much parenthetical commentary into your narrative, too many fucking lists.
She never actually swore, but she did tear apart most of the stylistic choices that I had come to wear like a badge of wisdom.
I can use semicolons however the fuck I want! There’s no such thing as too much figurative language! I’m going to start every sentence with a conjunction, and then I’m going to include a billion subordinate clauses because I’m the next Dickens or Austin or oh shit I just accidentally said that I hate myself again God dammit.
So, my fiction professor joined the ranks of dissenters at the Me National Convention, which takes places once an hour, in my brain, and the speakers are usually drunk.
My journalism professor, from whom I took a few different classes, was more even-keeled in her feedback, but she seemed to be of the opinion that I was just a “new writer,” (which, really, I was. I still am. I’ll forever be. FOREEEEEEVR YOUNG! I WANT TO BE FOREEEEVER no jk being young is terrible get me outta here) so I could do whatever I wanted. She, like my fiction professor, was established in the field; she hosted a radio show for NPR and frequently contracted high-profile stories for publications like Time. But she would write things like, “Interesting use of adverbs!” or “I like your punctuation style!” in the margins of my writing.
She joined the crew opposing the fiction professor and her cronies, and they shower me with unfounded compliments and encouragements. They’re also the ones who cheer me on when I’m contemplating things like another drink or a risky text. They’re not the most helpful part of the audience.
Really, there is no helpful part of this fucking audience.
Because now, these three voices, or some weird subconscious representation of them, have multiplied into an agitated crowd who waver between hating every idea I write and coveting my wisdom as if it were gospel. How can anyone operate under those circumstances? This fake brain audience has me convinced that I’m either at the starting line or snapping the ribbon as I cross the finish, when in reality I’m just dragging my stupid feet somewhere along the track with no motivation to move forward or turn back since everyone already thinks I’ve done it – or never will.
It’s like a parody of “The Tortoise and the Hare” in which I’m a genetically altered Hortise who’s both arrogant and very, very slow.
HERE I GO TO WIN THE RACE LOOOOOOL I HAVE TURTLE FEET THO FML I AM ACTUAL WORST.
Those women are not actually in my head, though. If they are, the issue isn’t my fickle internal peanut gallery; it’s schizophrenia. But my shrink said I’m mostly sane aside from self-esteem and anxiety issues and a lot of perfectionistic (she really used that word and she has like fifteen college degrees so I think it must be real) traits, so I know there aren’t people living in my head really.
We all have internal critics though, and they can be a helpful group because they’re us trying to make ourselves better. When the crowd dons faces of others, though, it becomes a more counterproductive event.
Although I’m not sure I’m keen on my brain audience just being a room full of me arguing with myself about how great or terrible I am.
Or, like, I could just stop worrying about that.