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.

How to Write a Blog Post (in 26 easy steps!)

1. Talk about writing your blog post. Talk about it all day long. Tell yourself, your boyfriend, the pictures on the wall. You are going to write a blog post today, damnit. Make sure everybody knows.

2. Set aside time. Schedule a date with your blog, pencil it into your day calendar, and stick to it. At some point in your life, actually turn down another activity because “I’m sorry, I can’t. Today is a blog post day.”

3. Prepare your blogging area – whatever that means. Tidy, organize, plug in your laptop, make some chips and guacamole, play some Beatles, whatever. Make your space blogging-ready.

4. Also, prepare your blogging self. Make sure you are well-fed and comfortable. Get in your jammies, or wrap yourself in a blanket, or pull the cat up onto your lap. (truthfully not my pet-of-choice, but I’ve noticed an interesting trend in bloggers and cats. Someone should do a study on that.)

5. Rid yourself of any distractions. That means taking care of any unfinished business, if applicable. Call your mom back. Do the dishes. Pay the electric bill.

6. Sit down to start your blog post, totally pumped and ready to write.

7. …Stare at the blinking cursor.

8. Allow yourself a few minutes of browsing to get the creative juices flowing. Review the weekly writing challenge, or get desperate enough to do something hopelessly pathetic like a google search.

 Picture 2

9. Spend some time on other blogs. Spend a lot of time, actually. Be really impressed with other bloggers’ work. Hate yourself for not being as good as they are. Kick yourself for not thinking of [INSERT POST IDEA] first. Wallow in self pity for a few minutes.

10. Go back to your post. Stare at the blinking cursor for awhile longer.

11. Decide to start typing before you even really know what you’re going to say. Let a few disjointed words flow from your fingers. Something like “blahdee blahdee blah, I have no idea what to write about.”

12. Delete delete delete.

13. Actually come up with a semi-plausible idea, start typing. Three sentences in, realize you’ve already communicated the entire idea and three sentences does not a blog post make.

14. Delete delete delete.

15. Start physically looking around you in hopes that someone might have written a prompt on the wall or in the dusty corners of a shelf somewhere. Zero in on each object around you like you’re waiting for it to sprout legs, walk over to your keyboard and start typing for you.

16. Reminisce about the fact that today at work, post ideas were practically spilling out of your ears. And in fact, whenever you are NOT actively trying to blog, there seems to be so much to write about. But the moment you sit down to communicate them, the ideas all scurry like cockroaches when you flip on a light switch. Be annoyed about this, for a minute.

17. Suddenly, allow everything to become inspiration. As you look around, be murmuring ideas to yourself about every piece of your surroundings. It’s cloudy out, you could write about seasonal depression. You are surrounded by all of your favorite books, you could write a response to one of them or write a post in the style of a specific author. A bird just flew by, you could write about how your old boss was terrified of birds. You always thought that was illogical, but then she also thought it was illogical that you were afraid of sharks. You could write a post justifying your fear of sharks.

18. Start writing one of those posts. Quickly realize they weren’t very good ideas to begin with.

19. Delete delete delete.

20. Decide that maybe today isn’t a blogging day, after all. Give yourself a break. Everybody gets writer’s block. JK Rowling made people wait three years for the fifth Harry Potter book, you can certainly hold off on posting for one more day. Walk away from your blogging area and do something else.

21. Feel guilty. Feel like you betrayed yourself somehow. Feel like you made a commitment and flaked on it. Start shaming yourself with these thoughts. Convince yourself that if you can’t follow-through on this then you’re probably never ever going to be a writer, and you might as well just give up now.

22. Sit back down. Stare at the blinking cursor some more.

23. Start to formulate an idea for a post.

24. Realize you have more to say than you originally thought.

25. Write the post. Feel pretty good about it.

26. Hover over the word “Publish,” but before you click – issue a brief apology to your readers that the most authentic blog post you could conjure up today was about your writer’s block. (Sorry guys.) Promise that next time you’ll write about something better.

…Like maybe your fear of sharks.

A Letter to the Girl in My Driver’s License Photo

Dear Girl In My Driver’s License Photo,

 
Dear, dear girl. What a life you lead! The winds of change have blown you through four cities in the last year, and spat you out here, spinning, with your hand on your hat. In each new place you have shaken your head, dusted yourself off and walked forward into another new situation – scarcely even taking the time to absorb your surroundings.
 
And as a gentlemanly gesture, your surroundings, in turn, did not absorb you either. You and your respective cities of residence have lead lives as kindly neighbors – acquainted, sure, but otherwise hardly cognizant of one another’s presence. Arizona’s sprawling desert and beautiful, panoramic views made friendly eye contact in passing but did not call to you, did not whisper sweet nothings into your ear. Similarly, the noisy, pulsating streets of San Francisco were quaint and appealing in photographs, but in the end warmed someone else’s bed. No, the dapper charm of these cities was lost on you, dear one.
 
It seems needless, then, to say you have not felt “at home” at all this year – flighty and transient as your existence has been, that four-letter word has not even snaked its way into your vocabulary. What is home, but a place to hang your hat? A place where you never got around to stocking the pantry, where you’re not quite compelled to unpack allthe boxes… just in case. No, a mere stepping-stone to the next adventure, surely not a home.
 
Were you afraid? Of course you were. Before this tumultuous year you were secure in your place in the world. Your entire life – friends, family, every school you ever attended – were all a stone’s throw away. You had hunkered down in your hometown like a bird protecting her eggs: You spread your wings out wide and strong, but stayed firmly perched on your nest. Because to do anything else would mean certain danger – even an inch’s movement in any direction would be much too risky.
 
Little did you know, little bird, that you would move from that nest of comfort and familiarity – not just an inch but 400 miles, and then another 800, and then 600 more. As if your ties to it were not made of rope but of rubber, and you wanted to see just how far they could stretch.
 
And did they stretch? Do you still feel like that little bird, pulling and tugging against the bonds that held you there for so long? Or is the resistance all just imagined, and the cord was severed completely when you first left home a year ago?
 
And if no binding ties exist to that old nest, to what now, dear girl, do you consider yourself bound? Not the sunny plains of Arizona or the bustling streets of San Francisco, surely.
 
Are the evergreens and snowcapped mountains of your current surroundings enough to provide anchor? Your new home carries not a single unpacked box, and your cabinets are full of canned goods. Could this mean that you are, after all, itching for some measure of permanence? A place to call your own?
 
I think the answer might lie in the one, solitary declarative act of relocation you have made. The only time, in three moves over 13 months, that you have taken the time to stand in line and notify this new location of your intent. Like crying from a rooftop that you are here. You do exist, and you wantthis city to open itself up to you, and vice versa.
 
Dear girl, waiting patiently for your turn in metal folding chairs, standing behind the yellow line and looking up at the camera, wide-eyed and grinning…
 
Welcome home.

A 5th Grade Tale of Love & Loss

Valentine’s Day is on Friday.

Recently the Daily Post issued this DPchallenge, which got me thinking a little more about my history with this Hallmark holiday.

When I was in elementary school, Valentine’s Day meant dragging my mom to Party City to buy a pack of 30 themed valentines to distribute to the rest of the class. I would stay up late the night before addressing each one individually – spending hours trying to decide which generic greeting best illustrated the intricate subtleties of my relationship to each classmate. After all, who was most deserving of Strawberry Shortcake’s “You’re a BERRY special friend!”? Not just anyfriend, surely.

In 5th grade, this quandary was kicked into high gear, by a boy named Zach Whitaker*. Zach was cute and charming in a way that suggested his ancestry might have been linked with the likes of Casanova or Hugh Grant. He was easily the coolest boy in our class, and his bleached, spiky hair and freckles made me (and the rest of the 5th grade girls) utterly weak at the knees. We could often be seen drooling at the crosswalk as he cruised by on his black Razor scooter. With all this competition, it was imperativethat my valentine to Zach accurately portrayed my undying love for him.

That year my valentines were themed after the movie “A Bug’s Life.” The most romantically-worded option available said “BEE Mine, Valentine!” …A play on words, which, under different circumstances, might have been the perfect choice to adequately sum up my infatuation for Zach. HOW-EV-ER, the premise of the card annoyed me, since the movie “A Bug’s Life” DID NOT HAVE A BEE IN IT. Anyone who has ever seen the movie would know this, and would automatically think this valentine is stupid.

So now I was faced with a pressing dilemma: Do I give Zach the more appropriately romantic card – even if it makes no logical sense? Then I would risk him thinking the card was stupid, just like I did! Or do I give him a different one – albeit less affectionate, but at least cinematically accurate?

In the end, I decided to err on the side of caution. I gave Zach a different card, one that would not raise an eyebrow if he was a fan of “A Bug’s Life,” but which also did nothing to sufficiently communicate my passion for him.

Inevitably, it got lost in the sea of other neutral, platonic-sounding valentines on his desk.

Holly Winters, on the other hand, DID give Zach a romantic valentine. She sauntered up to him with her French-braided pigtails (making me curse my simple, unbraided pony) and placed it tenderly in his open palm. It was “Lion King”-themed, and said something along the lines of “I could say I don’t like you, but then I’d be LION.”

…And Zach asked her to be his girlfriend, right there in front of everybody.

They were our celebrity couple for the rest of the year, together for FOUR WHOLE MONTHS – the elementary school equivalent of forever – and at our 5th grade graduation party at Soak City, they rode the same inner tube down the big waterslide and kissed.

I have spent years replaying this story in my head. That should have been my story, Zach should have been my valentine, and sliding down a giant waterslide with the boy of my dreams should have been my first kiss experience. I could blame the greeting card company, for producing a line of movie-themed valentines without bothering to actually WATCH the movie in question… or I could blame my mother, for never teaching me how to French-braid my hair, which was OBVIOUSLY a factor here…

But in the end, I blame myself. I was afraid that Zach would think I didn’t know my stuff when it came to Pixar movies – and that fear prevented me from taking the leap and asking him to “Bee mine.” So instead of throwing caution to the wind for love, I made the logical, sensible choice. And as a result, Holly got the good first-kiss story – and I’m forever stuck with the story that came four years later, ‘the back of a movie theater watching Shanghai Knights.’

I am a walking parable, children. Learn from me.

*Actual names have been altered… partially to protect the identity of those involved, but also because I think we’re still Facebook friends and if they knew this post was about them that would be way-hay-hay embarrassing.