Self-Loathing for the Egoist

Hello, and happy Monday friends! Yeah, I know, I know, Mondays aren’t exactly happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting to crawl back into bed. I know.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s think of Mondays as a chance at a fresh start, a reset of sorts, every single week. Let’s take this opportunity to do it differently. Let’s make the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world, okay?

“He who hates himself is not humble.”

— Emil Cioran

What is it about self-loathing that is so damn satisfying? When I say satisfying, I don’t mean that it feels good. It hurts to hate yourself. It’s depressing, and it hinders you from realizing your potential, from taking care of yourself, and from being truly happy. It’s cruel and abusive, and yet, we all do it, some of us compulsively. Why do we do it? Why can’t we stop?

I am a chronic self-hater. I don’t like myself very much. I don’t see any reason why anyone else should either. I think I am a failure. I think I am ugly. I think that I am annoying and stupid and I feel like a burden to everyone around me.

I am hard on myself. I keep a running tally of all the ways I have pissed people off, said something stupid, made mistakes, made more work, or made the wrong choice. I remember that I always do this, that I always forget, and that I am always wrong.

I find some point in time when my actions could have changed everything and because I acted this way instead of that the whole train of events, and all the hurt feelings and frustration that result are on me. I can trace my negative impact all the way back to my birth. I am the worst; I tell myself this at least once a day.

I don’t want to feel this way. Hating myself is not something I enjoy doing. I want to love myself because somewhere deep down I know that I not only need it, but that I deserve it. I know this but I can’t get there. I have listed things I like about myself. I have told myself I am no more flawed than anyone else. I tell myself I am beautiful and smart and kind and worthy of love and happiness. I have treated myself and forgiven myself, and still, I fall back into old habits. I have tried, and some progress has been made, but I still can’t help hating who I am.

Clearly, giving myself a few compliments and staying hydrated are not the way. Or, they aren’t the only way. Self-love needs more than words; it needs an acknowledgment of the pain that brought you to such self-loathing. It needs an investigation into what purpose it serves and what satisfaction is derived from such thoughts.

Within each of us lives the ego, or our identity and sense of self. To act in an egotistical way is to put oneself at the center of your world at the exclusion of others. When we think of the egoist, we think of someone who is selfish and mean, ruthless and uncaring. Someone who thinks they are better than everyone else. We don’t think of ourselves as acting in an egotistical way when we heap hatred on ourselves because to us we are acting in a way that put everyone else above us.

We love other people more than ourselves. We value them more than ourselves. We take their blame and pain and anger and place it on ourselves. We carry the load for everyone and put ourselves down for not doing more. We don’t think we deserve as much as them. We don’t think we are as good.

But who we place above anyone else has nothing to do with who we are placing at the center. When we are so focused on ourselves by imagining ourselves greater than others and worthy of more, even if what we are giving is hatred, negativity, and insults, we are still acting in an egotistical way.

Maybe this is a form of control, a way to make sense of the world and feel some part of which way it turns. Maybe we are like a child who has simply gotten into a habit of seeking out negative attention because it is better than no attention at all. Maybe this is a way to make yourself feel important. Maybe we want so badly to be the best at something that we are willing to accept being the best at being the worst.

Self-hatred is a real concern. It is unhealthy and negatively impacts your mental health and quality of life. The pain that led you here is real, and your feelings are valid, but the result you are chasing may not be what you think it is. You are not giving yourself what you deserve, punishing yourself, or being honest with yourself. You are not making the world better or making people around you feel better either. You are putting the spotlight on you.

I realized this when someone I love, and who loves me too, pointed out how the feelings of others often got overshadowed by my self-hatred. When things went wrong, when I hurt someone’s feeling, for example, I focused on how I was always doing this and making mistakes and saying stupid things and fucking everything up, not on the person I had hurt. I thought I was helping by letting them know how awful I was, but I wasn’t. I was serving my egotistical self and making myself feel better by focusing on myself.

Admitting that I have been acting in an egotistical way has made me view my self-esteem in a new light. There is more to it, of course, but it is helping me make further progress in my healing. It is helping me see the difference between what is real and what isn’t. It is helping me find the right path forward.

This week, take a look at how you feel about yourself. If you are you a chronic self-hater start asking yourself what purpose it serves and explores why it is so hard to stop. When did you start to hate yourself? When did you start to believe that you were less worthy than anyone else? What prevents you from seeing the flaws in others as well, or letting them take responsibility for them? What effect has your self-hatred had on others?

Often the expectations we put on ourselves and the blame we place there are unrealistic and wildly beyond what we would place on anyone else. Sometimes our motives for doing so aren’t apparent to us. We have to consider that we may be indulging in giving ourselves special importance as someone who is especially damaged. We may be looking for someone else to give us the love we should be giving ourselves. We may be looking for ways to be rescued or special acknowledgment for how we suffer.

Self-criticism is the middle road you should be trying to achieve. A realistic view of your strengths and weakness and your progress toward becoming a healthier more whole version of yourself through the pursuit of wisdom and fulfillment. Self-criticism is an important part of self-love. It is nothing less than what we would offer another human being that we loved. Able to see their flaws and their strengths without placing them above or below what is normal. To do otherwise would be cruel.

Be humble in your ideas of both the positive and negative aspects of yourself. Remember that you are never to blame for as much of the good or bad that happens in this world as you think you are. You are just plain old regular good and ordinary everyday bad.

***

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The Error of Arrogance

Hello, and happy Monday friends! Yeah, I know, I know, Mondays aren’t exactly happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting to crawl back into bed. I know.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s think of Mondays as a chance at a fresh start, a reset of sorts, every single week. Let’s take this opportunity to do it differently. Let’s make the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world, okay?

“I am a member of a fragile species, still new to the earth, the youngest creatures of any scale, here only a few moments as evolutionary time is measured, a juvenile species, a child of a species. We are only tentatively set in place, error prone, at risk of fumbling, in real danger at the moment of leaving behind only a thin layer of our fossils, radioactive at that.”

— Lewis Thomas, The Fragile Species

Have you ever heard of the Greek goddess Aidos? She was said to be the daughter of Prometheus and the personification of the feelings of modesty, humility, and shame, reverence, and respect. She was said to be a companion to the goddess Nemesis who punished men guilty of arrogance before the gods.

Together they represent the shame and respect that keep men good, and what can happen when we lose sight of how small and fragile we are. Or, put another way, they represent the “emotion that a rich person might feel in the presence of the impoverished, that wealth was more a matter of luck than merit,” and “righteous indignation aroused by the sight of wicked men receiving undeserved good fortune.”

Humans have accomplished much on this planet. We’ve colonized every continent, invented culture and society, found math and the sciences, conquered nature, and each other, and soon even the distance and emptiness of space between the stars won’t be left untamed. We are the pride of our planet, and of the universe as far as we know. Most of us believe this reality was made for us to rule, many of the rest believe we have earned the right, I say we haven’t earned shit, and nothing here belongs to us.

I say we need a little humility, a little shame for the way we are acting, and a bit of respect for or planet and the life on it. I say we need to remember that we got here purely by luck and we shouldn’t be so damned arrogant. I say it’s time for some righteous anger for those who forget that and act carelessly, putting all our futures in danger.

Humans are what we are because of our big brains, and our thumbs, and the ability to walk upright. Our feelings of empathy and self-awareness, our ability to reason and work together, and our unwavering curiosity have taken us far, but when you put our accomplishment on the scale of time from the beginning of the universe, we are less than a blink of an eye. On the scale of space, we are less than a speck of dust; we are very nearly nothing at all.

Yet, here we are acting like it all belongs to us. Like gods deciding who gets to live and who dies. Gods who cannot give life to the ones we take it from and who cannot fathom a future farther than our own. We are polluting the planet, killing off species who have been here long before the first thing even resembling a man was born. How is this much ego even possible?

There will be a price to pay for our arrogance. There will come a time when we’ll regret being so damn stubborn and stupid. We’re going to wish there had been more respect, reverence, and shame to keep us good. We will wish we had been better. I can see it now, and every move we make in the name of ideals as short-sighted as money or convenience makes me cringe.

Of course, I am speaking of our President, a man who seems to made entirely out of foolish pride and extreme short-sightedness, but I am also talking to people who refuse to see what is happening around them and refuse to listen to reason. The science is conclusive, the rest of the world is leaving us behind, the future is coming and you cannot stop it.

I’m talking about climate change. I’m talking about us thinking that cutting down the trees, dumping chemical into our rivers, throwing plastic into the ocean. I’m talking about hunting for fun and profit. I’m talking about taking land that animals need to live. I’m talking about the blood on our hands, the death we are bringing now and for eons to come.

I am talking about the way we treat our home and the life that fought just as hard right alongside us to get just as far as we have. I am talking to anyone who believes that we have the right to use this planet for our own ends. I am talking to those with no shame and no respect!

Arrogance is a human emotion that comes far too easy and one we have to be ever aware of. We have to fight it to keep from acting stupidly, another human tendency that comes far too easily. We are a species that has learned to imagine the future but only so far as it concerns us personally. We have difficulty holding vast expanses of space or time in our minds, but we have grown in numbers and strength that affects whole planets and eons of time when they act. We literally possess power we do not understand, but instead of stopping for a moment to grasp the impact we have, we stupidly move forward. We double down in the face of facts and warnings and become bolder and more arrogant. No good can come from this.

This week, take a moment to check your own arrogance. I have found the easiest way to do this is to take time every day to look up at the sky, particularly if the stars are visible. Or maybe get out into nature. See some tress, not ones we have planted but old ones that were here before this place had a name. Get out of the city and away from the influence of other humans if you can.

I have found that looking at the sky reminds me how small I am and that finding my way into nature reminds me that this world does not need us to go on turning, growing, and creating. We have only just gotten here and so much happened before us and will happen after we have destroyed ourselves once and for all. We are not gods and this universe does not bend to our will. We are not omnipotent nor omniscient. We have no right or claim to this world.

 

We are small, and dumb. We are barely beginning to be anything at all, but we do have some power, and it would be better to use it for good than for bad. It would be better to stop here, realize our recklessness, and make a change but it has to start within each of us.

It has to begin with letting go of our pride and letting ourselves feel some awe and gratitude and a sense of protection for what we have been given.

***

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May Your Terror Make You Brave

Hello, and happy Tuesday friends! I hope you all got to enjoy the holiday and are starting your work week a whole day later. Three-day weekends can be nice, but sometimes the worst kinds of Mondays are the ones that land on a Tuesday. You wind up more tired, less motivated, and more aware of everything you don’t like about your life. All you want to do is crawl back into bed, I know.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s think of think of today as a fresh start, a reset of sorts. Let’s take this opportunity to do it differently. Let’s make the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world, okay?

“may I never lose
that terror
that keeps me brave”

— Audre Lorde, The Black Unicorn: Poems “Solstice”

The world is getting to be a scarier and scarier place. Every day I wake up and turn on the news, despite my anxiety, and hear nothing but war and death and instability. These things used to happen elsewhere and to other people. I used to feel safe in my city and in my little bubble, but the bad things are creeping closer and closer, and I’m having to really confront what kind of person I will be in this new world.

I’ll be honest, sometimes I am afraid to go places. I am afraid of events that draw big crowds and attention. I am afraid that a day out with my girlfriend will end in tragedy. I am afraid of the hatred all around me.

I know it isn’t people who are the enemy but ideas and ideas can lurk in any skin, age, and gender. Unlike those who only see the danger from the other side, I see it everywhere. I feel the tension all around me, and I am terrified to become a casualty of it.

I want to hide away, but I am trying hard not to let my fear win, but there is a new terror now. I am afraid of how I will act if tragedy does hit close to me.

I’m not just talking about guns and bombs either. Every day there are new videos posted online of fights, assaults, and harassment based on race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation and in nearly everyone there are bystanders in the background watching it all happening and doing nothing. The hateful know that the natural tendency of the general public is to keep silent and keep to themselves. No one wants to get involved, no one wants to get hurt.

I never want to be one of those people. In my eyes, they are almost as guilty as the perpetrator. I want to be one of the ones who stands up for what is right.

But then, last week, two men were killed and another injured for doing just that. They stood up to a man ranting and directing hatred at two young women, and they were attacked for it. I won’t lie, that has me terrified now too.

There was a time when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, lately, it seems there is no end to the way people can terrorize one another and no end in sight for the war happening in secret all around us. So, what can I do when I feel too afraid to leave the house and too afraid to let those who want to keep me there win?

I try to remember the worst case scenario. Not the hatred, not the violence, not even the prospect of losing my life. No, the worst case scenario is to become something I’m not. To become a part of the problem. To let my fear control me, or worse, turn me into someone filled with hatred and willing to do anything to feel safe again.

This week, when the world all around you feels on the verge of violence, and you worry you might be the next victim, remember that there are worse things than death and that there are ways to live and die that are preferable to others.

What I am really afraid of is living my life cooped up and alone, cut off from humanity. I love people. I love experiencing life alongside other people. I want to feel like I am part of a community. I want to feel joy, and wonder, and curiosity with others. I want to feel connected to the rest of the world. That is a big part of what makes life worth living. Other people!

We should be able to go out and be with each other without feeling so afraid. Human beings are social creatures. Human beings are also rare creatures in this universe. We should be treating each other better than we are and we should be helping each other learn how.

What we all should be afraid of is being part of the reason everything keeps falling apart. What we should be terrified of is becoming more and more disconnected from one another. What should be keeping us up at night is the prospect of losing our humanity and of becoming something dark, and lonely, and mean.

We should be afraid of becoming ruled by fear. We should be afraid of succumbing to evil ideas about who deserves to eat, to work, to live. We should be afraid of succumbing to ideas about when we should act and when we should speak up.

I don’t want to be too afraid to be human. I don’t want to live my life cowering inside, or holding back, or keeping quiet when I see people being hurt. The terror of what I might become is what will keep me brave.

How about you?

***

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Douglas Adams on Where Ideas Come From

Writing, like any art or discipline, takes daily practice and dedication to learning about the craft from those who have come before you. In learning, I like to teach, so each week I will take a piece of advice from the greats, both living and dead, famous and not, and apply their lessons to my own work and share my thoughts and progress with you.

This week I have chosen a quote from Douglas Adams.

4Douglas Noël Adams, born March 11th 1952 was an author, scriptwriter, essayist, humorist, satirist and dramatist best known for his book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which originated in 1978 as a BBC radio comedy before developing into a “trilogy” of five books that sold more than 15 million copies in his lifetime and generated a television series, several stage plays, a comic book series, a computer game, and in 2005 a feature film that was completed after Adams’ death.

Adams’s contribution to UK radio is commemorated in The Radio Academy’s Hall of Fame.

Adams also wrote Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, and co-wrote The Meaning of Liff, The Deeper Meaning of Liff, Last Chance to See, and three stories for the television series Doctor Who; he also served as script editor for the show’s seventeenth season in 1979. A posthumous collection of his works, including an unfinished novel, was published as The Salmon of Doubt in 2002.

In the early 1980s, Adams had an affair with novelist Sally Emerson, who was separated from her husband at that time. Adams later dedicated his book Life, the Universe and Everything to Emerson. In 1981 Emerson returned to her husband, Peter Stothard, a contemporary of Adams’s at Brentwood School, and later editor of The Times.

Adams was soon introduced by friends to Jane Belson, with whom he later became romantically involved. The two lived in Los Angeles together during 1983 while Adams worked on an early screenplay adaptation of Hitchhiker’s. When the deal fell through, they moved back to London, and after several separations and an aborted engagement, they married on November 25th, 1991.

Adams and Belson had one daughter together, Polly Jane Rocket Adams, born on June 22nd, 1994.

Adams died of a heart attack on May 11th, 2001, at the age 49.

 

Toward the end of his life, he was a sought-after lecturer on topics including technology and the environment. He was known as an advocate for environmentalism and conservation, as a lover of fast cars, cameras, technological innovation and the Apple Macintosh, and as a “devout atheist.”

“The fact is, I don’t know where my ideas come from. Nor does any writer. The only real answer is to drink way too much coffee and buy yourself a desk that doesn’t collapse when you beat your head against it.”

— Douglas Adams

I’m suffering from a real writing crisis here. I am a writer with no ideas! I love to put pen to paper, to type away all day the thoughts that pop into my head, thoughts that don’t mean much and in the end don’t leave me feeling very fulfilled, accomplished, and are not at all as lucrative as I’d like.

To say I have no ideas isn’t exactly the truth. I have ideas, they are just bad ideas, and I don’t know how to find good ones.

I want to be a good writer, and that means that I can’t write stupid or pointless things, but I’m not a good writer, yet. The catch is I can’t become a good writer without writing all the stupid and pointless things first. It seems simple enough, just write, and you will get better, so write already! But the embarrassment hurts! It’s paralyzing to be such a noob! The shame of being bad at what you love and sharing it with the world freezes you at your keyboard.

But summer is coming, and I have to use the time to move forward. I’ve been stuck lately. I had found something, a community and publication to be a part of but just as I was really getting into it, they decided to move in another direction. I’m sad, but I’m trying to think of it in a positive light. This was never something that I thought I could do as a job, it was always a stepping stone, a place for feedback and practice. I’ll miss that, but maybe now I can finally make something of my own. But what?

I want to be a freelance writer, but I’m afraid without school or a ton of connections that dream feels too far away.

I want to write a book, but I’m not sure I have enough passion or talent for fiction.

I want to be an artist too but my confidence is low, and I have no idea where to begin.

Nothing feels small enough to start with. I don’t have experience, I don’t have mentors or peers to learn from and work with. I only have idols who are light-years ahead of me and the internet which seems severely lacking in information about how to go from knowing nothing about writing to knowing something about it.

Oh, sure there is plenty of information on the rules of writing and the best practices of publishing. Even if everything contradicts everything else you at least have an idea of where to start, but what do you do if you have a desire to be a writer or an artist, but you have no idea what it is you are trying to say or how to even say it?! What do you do when you feel like a stupid noob and you can’t muster courage enough to start?

I know how to write a blog post, I know how to fill a page of my journal, I don’t know how to make something someone might pay for. I don’t know how to put together a project that is unique and valuable. I don’t know what I don’t know, and I have no idea where to begin to get an idea.

But maybe I am going about it all wrong. No, not maybe, I am certain I am. I am waiting for the ideas and the inspiration, to come to me before I get started and if there is one piece of advice I have read over and over again from author after author it has been that you just have to do something until you stumble upon something worth pursuing and sharing.

So, I’ve been rethinking everything.

I’m pushing my big dreams back to work on something small, something tangible, something that feels like a place to start. I’m working with what I know and love. I love non-fiction. I love essays. I love creative non-fiction and stories about real people and what we feel and know. I love I am putting that together with simple art, doodles, and collage, and I’m spinning these ingredients around in my mind for a little bit every day and seeing what I can come up with.

I am taking the summer to make something, and I’m doing it before I have the inspiration and the ideas all squared away. I am just going to drink coffee and bang my head until something interesting happens.

And you know what? I have a feeling that is what everyone else is doing too. It isn’t magic, or maybe it is, just not the kind of magic we are used to wishing for. We want to walk through fields of flowers, or fall in love and let the words just come to us, but that’s just not how it works. Instead, maybe we just have to brainstorm like hell, write something, post something, draw something, and decide what we think afterward. Then wake up tomorrow and do it again, only a little bit better, and a little bit better, and a little bit better, again and again. You gotta bang your head like hell and drink liquid energy, or liquid courage, whichever you need, until one day someone declares that you are finally a “good writer.”

That is the fucking magic. That is where the ideas come from, and that is the only way to get the work done. The miracle is doing the work, and I plan to work until magic and miracles happen for me too.

adams_ideas_sq

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Biographical information via Wikipedia and Goodreads

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You Have to Believe It

Hello, and happy Monday friends! Yeah, I know, I know, Mondays aren’t exactly happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting to crawl back into bed. I know.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s think of Mondays as a chance at a fresh start, a reset of sorts, every single week. Let’s take this opportunity to do it differently. Let’s make the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world, okay?

“What makes you think you deserve to be happy?”

Thigh High

I read this some weeks ago, and my immediate thoughts were not positive ones. What does make me think I deserve to be happy? Who told me that and why do I believe it? Maybe none of us really deserve it. What does it matter in the grand scheme of the cosmos whether or not any of us is happy, or suffering miserably until death? It doesn’t.

So, why do I think that just because I was born, and I am here, I should get something out of it?

A feature of the human condition is endless frustration between ourselves and the universe over what we feel we deserve but are not getting out of life. We’ve all heard that life is unfair. We don’t want to believe it when we are young, but we learn it as we grow older. We learn that you don’t always get what you want and that good doesn’t always win. We learn that our hard work and sacrifice will more often than not go unnoticed and that the universe doesn’t owe us a damn thing.

We come to understand this, but we draw the wrong conclusions.

We grow bitter over time and sometimes, having nowhere to direct our pain and feeling a desire for understanding and control we turn the bitterness inward and believe that we don’t deserve happiness. It must be something within us that makes the world hate us so. There must be a reason that the scales are so tipped against us. There must be a reason that other people get ahead and we are stuck where we have always been, doing what we always have, and feeling shitty as ever.

But the real truth is, sometimes it is that shitty feeling that keeps us from moving forward.

Sometimes we hold on to these toxic worldviews, worldviews that, often, other people have put into us. People who didn’t believe they deserved better or happier either. People who were frustrated with the indifference and unfairness of it all. Those people drew the wrong conclusions too. They thought that because they didn’t deserve something, that you don’t either, but they are wrong.

The sad part is we all deserve better, but that doesn’t mean we’ll get it. The good news is, just knowing that can give you a better perspective and change things. Just knowing that you have the right to reach out and pull all the good things that come your way into your life and that no one has the right to take any of it away, can make your world a very different place.

If you think all you have is all you are ever going to get, you stop looking for more. When you think that this is what you get you think of your life as a punishment you accept and even seek out pain as a punishment. When you think that you don’t deserve to have the same as everyone else you set yourself apart as less than anyone else and inflict the greatest cruelty on yourself. If you do this and expect that some sign or someone will come along, tell you differently, and magically change things, you will be disappointed, because even if they do, it won’t make any difference.

You have to be the one to say it. You have to be the one who tells yourself that you have earned every breath, every joy, every hope, and opportunity. You have to be the one to tell yourself that you deserve more and better, and you have to believe it because no one else can make it so.

No one has the authority to tell you what is for you and what isn’t. No one is judging you or weighing what you have given against what you get. There is only you up against a very harsh and hard world. You may not be able to have it all, the world may not open for you and suddenly show you the way, but that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve it. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do what you can and get what you can, while you can.

This week, walk like you deserve to be here, work like you deserve more, and talk like you deserve to be heard. Love and accept love like you have earned the right to. Imagine a life where you are happy in all the ways you aren’t now and simply tell yourself that is what you deserve. You deserve more money, more consideration, and more respect. You deserve not to have to hurt so much, worry so much, stress so much. You deserve to feel good about who you are and what you look like. You deserve to be confident and to be accepted.

I’m not asking you to do anything different, I just want you to know, you are deserving of better and more. I want you to tell yourself that until you believe it, and when you hear your mind ask back, why? I want you to have an answer.

Maybe the universe doesn’t care, and maybe it doesn’t really matter either way in the long run, but I care, and you care, or you should, because you only get one chance at this, one chance! If there is no other reason why it is that. You get one chance, and no one has the right to limit you or give you less than what you’ve earned.

You, like everyone else, was born, has lived, and suffered. You were given a beautiful but limited gift and whether or not it was only down to chance doesn’t matter, because we all have the right to make the most of our miracle.

But you have to believe it to make it so.

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You Have a Right to Be Here

Hello, and happy Monday friends! Yeah, I know, I know, Mondays aren’t exactly happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting to crawl back into bed. I know.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s think of Mondays as a chance at a fresh start, a reset of sorts, every single week. Let’s take this opportunity to do it differently. Let’s make the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world, okay?

“It took many years of vomiting up all the filth I’d been taught about myself, and half-believed, before I was able to walk on the earth as though I had a right to be here.”

― James Baldwin, Collected Essays

I’m working on being honest about all the bad things I think about myself and how damaging those thoughts are. It’s taken a lot of work, but I’ve gone from the bad thoughts occurring to me and me just accepting them as truth, to being able to see them for what they are. They are thoughts that come from somewhere that is not me, somewhere in my mind where I have less control and so, and am less responsible.

Understanding that has made a huge difference. What I hear in my head is an echo of my past that has become a habit, a habit so ingrained that it takes real effort and strength to fight. The more I remember this, the more I fight, the easier it gets, but old habits are hard to break and sometimes, I still believe that I have less right to life than anyone else on this Earth.

When I was young, I was told I was stupid a lot.

Now, as an adult, I believe that my mind works in some defective way and that the ways it is defective are somehow my fault. If only I would be better, think better, learn to grasp something obvious and easy then I could finally stop being such a burden and a hindrance to everyone around me. I believe that I am the reason that the people around me are frustrated, angry, sad or stressed. I believe that my stupidity it the cause of all the problems around me, even the ones that aren’t mine.

I believe that this, and my many other flaws and deficiencies mean I don’t deserve to be here. I don’t deserve to be loved or to love myself. I don’t deserve to be successful or to feel pride in my accomplishments. I have no right to look another human in the eye or to demand respect, to be heard, to be counted among the beautiful, the intelligent, the “normals”.

These thoughts live in the back of my mind and subtly influence the way I walk through the world, the way I carry myself and speak to people. These thoughts make me small and quiet and cautious. They make me feel sad and serious, and constantly anxious. I worry about overstepping my place or lowering myself further by saying or doing more stupid things every day.

It’s hard to live this way, and it’s wrong.

There is part of me that knows none of this is true. There is a part of my that genuinely knows that I am smart and good and worthy of all the good this world has to offer and so much more. I am strong and talented and capable. I am loved and deserving of that love. I am something special, and I am just as normal as everyone else.

I have the right to live and breathe and make my life into something I can go to my grave satisfied with, same as anyone else. No one else has the right to hinder that, but we often forget the ways we can hinder a life and a pursuit of happiness. We put our shit on other people and forget how our own wounds never closed and how a few words can break a person.

I have been a victim of other people putting their shit on me when I was vulnerable, like many of you.

So many of us carry around false ideas of who we are and what we are and are not worthy of. So many of us were told by someone who’s opinion we held dear that some part of ourselves was “bad”. So many of us have internalized this filth, and we are having the damnedest time letting it go.

We think we are ugly and stupid. We think that we never have and never will get it right. We think that we are broken and beyond repair. We think that we were set apart and built wrong from the beginning. We spend our lives hiding, making ourselves small, putting ourselves lower than anyone else because we think it is our place.

We all have it so wrong. I’ve never met a person who wasn’t fighting a battle, who hadn’t been hurt, who was suffering and struggling same as me. Every person I have ever met, even if we had nothing in common, even if I didn’t like them, even if I thought they were mean, or hateful, or toxic, I have never met a person who I thought didn’t deserve to be on this Earth.

This week, I want you to know that you that you deserve to be here, and I want you to practice saying that to yourself.

Try talking to yourself like someone you love and respect, someone you think the world of, or simply someone who has done you no harm and whom you have no desire to do harm to in return. Remind yourself that no one is perfect, that no one has all the answers that not one of us is inherently better than any other. Each and every one of us is lucky to be here and that lucky accident should never be wasted on believing such filth about ourselves.

This week, I’m asking you to tell yourself that all the bad things you think about yourself are not your own thoughts, they are the result of other people being people and forgetting that their words can hurt too. I’m asking you to remember that every person matters, and that means you too.

It isn’t easy but I’m asking you to believe, a little more every day, that you have the right to every breath, every step, and every bit of happiness and peace you can get your hands on because it is the truth.

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Featured image via Unsplash

Virginia Woolf on the Path from Reading to Writing

Writing, like any art or discipline, takes daily practice and dedication to learning about the craft from those who have come before you. In learning, I like to teach, so each week I will take a piece of advice from the greats, both living and dead, famous and not, and apply their lessons to my own work and share my thoughts and progress with you.

This week I have chosen a quote from renowned English writer Virginia Woolf.

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Virginia Woolf was born Adeline Virginia Stephen on January 25th, 1882 in Kensington, London. She was educated by her parents in their literate and well-connected household.

Her parents had each been married previously and been widowed, and, consequently, the household contained the children of three marriages. Her father, Leslie Stephen, was a notable historian, author, critic, and mountaineer. He was a founding editor of the Dictionary of National Biography, a work that would influence Woolf’s later experimental biographies.

The sudden death of her mother in 1895, when Virginia was 13, and that of her half-sister Stella two years later, led to the first of Virginia’s several nervous breakdowns. After her mother and half-sister, she quickly lost her surrogate mother, Stella Duckworth, as well as her cherished brother Thoby, when he was in his mid-20s. She was, however, able to take courses of study (some at degree level) in Ancient Greek, Latin, German and history at the Ladies’ Department of King’s College London between 1897 and 1901. This brought her into contact with some of the early reformers of women’s higher education

Her most famous works include the novels Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and Orlando, and the book-length essay A Room of One’s Own, with its famous dictum, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

Woolf suffered from severe bouts of mental illness throughout her life, thought to have been what is now termed bipolar disorder. She spent three short periods in 1910, 1912 and 1913 at Burley House, which is described as “a private nursing home for women with nervous disorder.” Though this instability often affected her social life, her literary productivity continued with few breaks throughout her life.

Woolf committed suicide by drowning in 1941 at the age of 59.

“For once the disease of reading has laid upon the system it weakens so that it falls an easy prey to that other scourge which dwells in the ink pot and festers in the quill. The wretch takes to writing.”

― Virginia Woolf, Orlando

Every since I can remember I have loved books. I learned to read early and easily, and my comprehension levels were always well advanced for my age. Books felt to me what watching TV must feel like to other people. I was transported right into the action, the emotion, into whole different worlds with different ways of thinking and doing things. I felt most alive, most like I was becoming future myself when I was reading.

During my 6th grade year, I volunteered to work in my school for part of my lunch period. It was so quiet in there, and it smelled like books rather than sweaty kids like the rest of the building. My job was to put the returned books back on the right shelves, but most of the time I just walked the rows and ran my hands over the worn spines. I flipped through the ones with dragons or spaceships on the front and scoffed at the ones about cheerleaders and love.

The ones I took home I could never put down. I read in the dark after my mother insisted we go to be until she grew tired of trying to force me and asked that I only keep to my room and keep quiet.

My father and his father loved reading too, and I often stole books with subject matters much too advanced for me from their collections.

I loved reading so much, and then I became a teenager, and between the depression and trying to be cool, I forgot all about reading. Then I became an adult and life got too busy for books. At first, I was busy falling in love and making a home. Then I was busy fighting for love and always working harder to build a better and better home. And no matter what there never seemed to be enough time for love and home and work and friends and sleep and reading.

Things have changed. Reading has come back to me. I realized that I had let something I loved go and I wasn’t at all happier for it. I realized I wanted something for myself. I remembered how good it felt to learn things and see the world in new ways. I remembered how reading made me feel more like myself all those years ago. So, I went looking for my old friend, my first love, and I found that she had been waiting for me all along to return. We picked up right where we left off, and we’ve been going strong ever since.

I’ve also come back to writing, another old love from my childhood. I’ve come a long way since those old angsty journals, and I want to go further still, and I know that in order to get there I can never take reading or writing for granted again. I have to make them a priority in my life along with love and home and work and friends and sleep. With them, never behind. Not when I can find the time, but when I make the time!

I wish I had learned this lesson a long time ago. If I had spent more time with books than I may be a better writer now, or at least a better person. But I am still grateful for the time I had, without having experienced the magic of words being worked on me I would never have craved such power myself, to wield over other minds and time itself.

I am grateful that books never leave you entirely and that reading is a patient and understanding friend who will let you leave and return as often as you wish. I have come back to my first love and friend, and I found that our passion for one another never really waned. I had only been a stupid human who forgot what life was really about, doing what makes you happy.

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If you like this post, check out my weekly-ish newsletter for some existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering + important reads from others, or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Biographical information via Wikipedia and Goodreads

See also: Short and Sweet Reviews // Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf

Featured image via George Charles Beresford [Public domain], Wikimedia Commons