Meet Barb, The Voice in My Head

I recently got back from a family reunion in Missouri, where I got to see some of my favorite people to whom I’m fortunate enough to be related. This meant reconnecting with the very small population of Planet Earth who – thanks to legally-binding Family Member Terms & Conditions – are familiar with (and occasionally even read!) my blog.

Inevitably, then, I was forced to answer the question, “Where have you been? Why aren’t you posting? What’s going on?” from kind and well-meaning relatives. To which I awkwardly and insufficiently responded, “I don’t know! I’ve been busy. Life is crazy.”

Which is true, to be sure: Work has been excitingly hectic, Taylor and I moved back to the city and are now rock-throwing distance from our friends, summer has brought about a half dozen new vacation opportunities, and the days of devoting an hour a day to writing seem far behind me.

But that’s not the whole truth.

I left that reunion with hugs and promises to get back on the horse – but in the meantime, I thought I’d devote a post to answering their question more fully. Why is writing so difficult? Why, whenever I consider picking it back up, do I have a distinct inclination to run for the hills instead? Why, when I do finally sit down at a computer, do I become infuriated with the blinking cursor and its toe-tapping reminder of my inadequacy?

I’m pretty sure (and I consider myself a notable expert on the topic) that it’s because of Barb.

You know that old saying, “You’re your own worst critic?” That’s not even true about me. I’m not my own worst critic, you see, I’m my own assassin. There is a little voice inside my head (I call her Barb), whose entire role in my life is to convince me – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that I will never be Good Enough.

Barb is sometimes me, sometimes not exactly me, but she represents everything mean and awful about myself. She is cold and calculating and knows exactly what to say to make me feel miserable and inadequate. I picture her with yellow eyes and blades for lips, and she is the reason I can never get any writing done.

Let me give you an example: Sometimes, in an effort to get the creative juices flowing, I peruse some of my old writing. This is a profoundly bad idea. When I read through previous work searching for inspiration, one of two things happens:

  1. The work sucks. Sometimes I read through blog posts from three years ago and I want to physically gag. I’ll wonder why anyone ever trusted me with a keyboard – why anyone has ever trusted me with anything, for that matter – and I will actually toy with the idea of deleting this blog forever. In these cases, Barb sits in the corner looking smug, arms crossed, and says, “See? I told you so.”
  2. Or, the work ain’t so bad. I’m as surprised as you are, but sometimes it actually happens: I’ll read a piece and be moderately impressed with myself. (I used to write a lot more, you know, it was just statistically probable that sooner or later I’d stumble upon a successful writing endeavor.) Rather than being encouraged by this fact, however, Barb uses this as infallible proof that I should never write again. She reasons that these accidental talent spasms are as good as it’s ever going to get, and that trying to recreate them will only end in failure → frustration → depression. Best to accept this inevitability and avoid it altogether, she says.

Barb and I are very close these days. She’s taken residence in the crevice of my right clavicle bone, within reach of my ear should she need to claw her way up and hiss into it. For the most part she lays pretty dormant – occasionally lifting her head to sniff the air whenever an opportunity for self-hatred draws near.

Her real time to shine, though, is at night. Each time I lay my head down on my pillow, it’s as if a door has been left wide open – and all the insults I successfully kept at bay all day come flooding in. She pulls out her clipboard and checks them off one by one – reminding me dutifully that I am a waste of space: inept, overweight, and unlovable. Her speech doesn’t vary much from one night to the next, but it doesn’t have to – she spends the day sharpening and tuning these words so that they sting just as much as the first time I heard them. I lay in bed, nodding my head in agreement over and over (I’ve learned not to argue these points with her – she’s a relentless debater, and she’ll hammer them home until your ears bleed), as sleep drifts farther and farther away from my grasp.

Barb was purpose-built for this job, and she didn’t take it grudgingly. It’s not as if she’s only doing it for the paycheck, and off the clock she’s actually this really stellar character. No, Barb applied for this role the same way club bouncers do – salivating at the opportunity, flexing their muscles and admiring their uniform in the mirror. She was born to do this; my undoing is her life’s work.

All this to say, she doesn’t make writing particularly easy.

And so, family (and anyone else who may have accidentally landed here), I apologize for Barb’s behavior and its subsequent effect on my blogging cadence. I appreciate your endearing interest level, and I will try to bludgeon her into submission long enough to word vomit more regularly.

…No promises, though.

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