What to Write About?

My favorite college professor used to do an exercise with us in which we were to put our pens to our papers and write, write anything, for 5 minutes. She would say, “If you don’t know what to write about, just write that—’I don’t know what to write about’—over and over. Your brain will get bored and come up with something else.” I think it must have worked, because I don’t remember scribbling the same line over and over like Bart Simpson at the chalkboard or Jack Torrance at his typewriter. Still, these days I write (type) original content so infrequently that it’s a challenge to come up with a topic. Forcing myself to write every day this year is my way of trying to restart that long-buried spark of whatever it was that had me churning out essays and literary critiques and hell, even erotic fan fiction at varying points of my life.

I feel compelled right now to apologize, to say “I know my writing is shit, I’m sorry,” even though no one is reading this and I’m the only one it’s supposed to really be for. I am plagued by an overwhelming lack of self-confidence and a terror of being thought annoying, boring, weird, self-centered…the list goes on. I realize many of us have levels of impostor syndrome that we face every day, that I’m not special in this regard, but I wonder often what it must be like for those who have such innate self-assurance that they neither need nor care about the opinions of others. My husband is like that. He has boundless confidence in himself and his opinions, as well as his ability to assess others, that he feels no need to change himself in any way to please someone. Sometimes he’s a bit too full of himself, to be honest; he thinks he knows me so well, but time and again his predetermined conclusions are contrary to reality. I just don’t have the heart to tell him so, and he doesn’t really give a shit anyway.

That makes him sound awful. He’s not. He’s a wonderful person, he’s just, again, very self-assured. And I really do envy that. I’ve spent my life twisting myself into pretzels to appease others. In my childhood it was my narcissistic mother. We were only as valuable to her as medals of honor she could brag about to her friends. If we did less than the best, we were not worth her time. In adolescence it was my father, the alcoholic with undiagnosed and untreated PTSD and a trunkful of Catholic guilt weighing him down. He’s a great dad, he’s just very…heavy. No matter how well we did, our reward was always a criticism of how we could have done better. I think in many cases he meant it as a joke, because we—I especially, in my obsessive need to please—excelled in many ways, so he was being facetious. But every comment stabbed me in the heart and made me determined to do better, be better. It was never funny to me.

My talent, so to speak, is being able to contort myself into whatever the person I’m with needs me to be. In other words, I’m constantly submitting myself to others’ demands, putting my own needs far down the ladder in order to make them happy and ensure my place in their world. I don’t know if there’s a true, single “ME” left in here. I’m a thousand different MEs, each one different from the other. Like I’m composed of a thousand horcruxes, each one containing a little piece of my soul, and when someone destroys their piece, as so many have over the years, I die a little more.

Here I am, writing for no one and still trying to fit into some kind of hole, some mold that will poof! make my writing spectacular and interesting and turn me into an overnight blog sensation because I’ve found that combination of words and personality that people want in their lives. I’m shouting into the void: “Tell me what you want, what I can do that will please you!” Why? Why do I care? Why do I feel compelled to care so much? Why can’t I just do this for myself and be happy?

I need to be needed, to be liked, to be wanted. I want to be part of the group. At work, I do my best, and I know that my best is very good, but instead of feeling proud, I spend my time worrying that what I’m saying or how I’m doing my job or something, anything else in my personality or methods or appearance is turning others off. I’m certain they’re all mentally rolling their eyes at me and waiting for me to just shut up so they can escape. I long for a group of girl friends to hang out with, even on Zoom, and just talk and have fun, but I am terrified of dipping my toe into that pool. My last few rounds have not gone swimmingly, and I don’t know if I have it in me to risk myself again.

Safer to just stay here, alone in my office, tap tap tapping away on my keyboard, shouting into my digital void, where no one cares but me.

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