Is This Really the Story We Want to Keep Telling?

When I first saw the trailer for Split, I knew I wouldn’t be going to see it.  For one thing, the scene shown in the teaser where three girls are abducted in a parking lot marked it clearly as Horror, and I hate scary movies.  (Not to mention that I already check under, behind, and around my car before I get in, lock my doors, and immediately drive away from any given location, so thank you Hollywood for reinforcing my paranoid safety check.)  Then there was James McAvoy’s character, who apparently is yet another example of Hollywood’s fascination with (and frequent mistaken representation of) dissociative identity disorder (DID).  It seemed unlikely to me that situating a person with mental illness as a kidnapper and probable villain could involve tasteful representation of mental health problems, so that gave me another reason not to bother.

Last week, two of my coworkers began discussing the movie.  They expressed their admiration for the apparent “twist” ending, praised James McAvoy’s acting, then turned to me and asked if I’d seen it.

“No, and I don’t plan to.”

“Why not?” one coworker exclaimed. “It’s awesome!”

“I don’t like thrillers,” I started, “and even more importantly,” louder over their protests that it wasn’t that scary, “I think it’s contributing to social stigma surrounding mental illness by continuing to portray people with those illnesses as automatically dangerous or monstrous.”

They looked at me.  “It’s actually sooooo good!” one of them said, but her voice was quieter.

“I’m sure it’s an interesting story,” I said, “and I’m sure that as far as movies go it has all the drama and suspense that it needs to.  But I don’t agree with perpetuating damaging stereotypes to do that.”

There was a slightly awkward pause.

“His acting was, like, insane, though,” the other coworker finally said, and they were off again.

I have no doubt that McAvoy’s acting in this movie was impressive; just watching the trailer, I was amazed by his ability to differentiate and fully inhabit even the few personalities shown there.  I have no doubt that the writers constructed a compelling enough storyline to accomplish all the goals of the genre.

My problem is with the priorities that this movie represents, the priorities that keep allowing movies like this to be made instead of giving us popular culture filled with realistic and non-shameful pictures of mental illness.  My problem is that even this article in The Guardian outlining cinematic misrepresentation of DID through the years ends with praise for McAvoy’s acting.  We keep putting “It’s a good story!” and “It’s a chance for the actor to show off their talent!” above the damage done by shoving mental illness into the same old categories.  And mental health deserves better from our popular culture.

Individuals with illnesses other than DID suffer from this idea of the “mentally ill monster” too.  Schizophrenia is the most directly affected, since it is often mistakenly conflated with DID and therefore seen as farther along on the “crazy” spectrum.  Depressed people are often assumed to be suicidal, even though the reality is that symptoms vary widely in intensity and depending on the individual.  As for anxiety, our society already mistrusts people who cannot conform to the Extrovert Ideal, so sufferers of anxiety are often watched as though they might “snap” at any moment.

This isn’t just me over thinking things, either.  The American Psychological Association has done studies interpreting the link between media and the perception of mental illness as dangerousness.  While conclusions vary, the researchers agree that this link does exist and that it is actively contributing to continuing stigma against mental illness.

Given all these perceptions and pictures of mental illness surrounding us, no wonder few people seek help when they need it.  Who would want to seek out a diagnosis or admit to having one of these problems?  Who would voluntarily categorize themselves as a monster?

I congratulate James McAvoy on his talent in his chosen profession.  But I refuse to pretend that admiration for a complete stranger is more important than the work we need to do to alter the perception of mental illness in our popular media.  Now, a movie about a man with DID figuring out how to live everyday life despite the society he lives in constantly viewing him with fear?  That’s a movie I’d go see.

Disabling the Exasperation Filter

Whenever I decide to call in sick, my brain immediately turns on what I call the Exasperation Filter.  This filter colors every email, text message, and Facebook chat from my boss or coworkers with a tint of irritation on their part, stemming from and reinforcing my assumption that I have horribly inconvenienced everyone and therefore everyone must be annoyed with me for not sucking it up and coming in anyway.

Some of this probably comes from the classic Impostor Syndrome, which gives me the sense that I am the only person to ever call in sick without being in the hospital, clinging to life.  Never mind that I know that’s not true.  Never mind that logically I know my workplace is more caring than that.  Never mind that catching whatever has left me unable to do my job would probably inconvenience everyone far more than covering for me for one day.  No, the Exasperation Filter adds a layer of guilt and nervousness to every piece of communication on a sick day, which just makes everything worse when I’m already fuzzy-headed and exhausted.

When I caught The Death going around campus (that’s what we all call the annual virus that makes the rounds at the beginning of spring semester) immediately after getting back to work from Christmas break, I tried to push through it.  I tried to read students’ papers and direct small group workshops and ask my coworkers how their holidays had been.  But pretty soon it was clear I needed rest.  So (with the Engineer sitting supportively beside me) I sent out the dreaded sub request.  It was a Monday, one of my longest days, so I worried that not all of my hours would get covered and they would be understaffed and the Writing Center would go up in a ball of flame.  (The Exasperation Filter comes packaged with the Worst Case Scenario Upgrade.)

Instead, my boss, B., sent me a nice email with a smiley face saying not to worry and to feel better, that they would manage without me.  The next day that I did drag myself into work, B. heard me coughing and asked, “How many hours do you have after this?”  I told her.  “Any classes today?”  Yes, I was facilitating one small group.  “Go home when you’re done with that,” she said.  “You need to get better.  We’ll be fine.”

I started to protest, but she said she needed me at 100% when she would be out of the office later that week.

Her genuine concern for my wellbeing made me squirmy, especially knowing I was about to miss quite a bit of work to tour grad schools with the Engineer.  My work has always been a wonderfully affirmative place, particularly when I first started after my super-stressful and toxic internship sophomore year.  But I worried that as I started preparing to leave, the Writing Center would have no reason to keep being nice to me.  I didn’t want to damage any relationships in my last remaining months.  So I pointed out that I’d be gone a lot in the next month already, so I didn’t want to miss any more work.

B. tilted her head and looked at me.  “All the more reason you should go home and rest.  You absolutely need to go with your boyfriend and you should try to get well by then.  Those visits are important too.”

Turns out that was the phrase I needed to disable the Exasperation Filter.  Now I manually replace it with the B. Filter, forcing myself to read her emails in her actual tone of voice, not the false accusatory tone I’ve never actually heard her use, and reminding myself that she and the rest of the Writing Center actually do want the best for me.

It’s a much more pleasant way to read my emails.

Review(ish): L.M. Montgomery as Unexpected Mentor

I’m not really sure how to categorize this post, because the extent to which I identified with Lucy Maud Montgomery throughout the first volume of her selected journals had an enormous impact on my impression of that collection. From her opening entry declaring that she had burned all of her childhood diaries (I have more than a few I would like to shred) to her descriptions of the “melancholy” that seized her when she was older (and sounded hauntingly like my experiences with depression), I felt like this woman was my “kindred spirit,” as her most famous character would say.

Anyone who loved Anne of Green Gables will essentially find bonus material in this collection of the beloved author’s journals from 1889 to 1910.  It’s easy to find the places where Montgomery drew on her personal experiences to create Anne’s world, using her own memories and sometimes brutally honest depictions of her own feelings to remember what the emotional turmoil of childhood really feels like.  It’s also easy to see her writing style as it grew into the L.M. Montgomery we know and love.  I could recognize phrases she used directly or in altered form in the Anne books, as well as general sentiments that Anne would later echo.

I could also recognize myself in Montgomery’s inner life, as I said before.

It wasn’t just the melancholia that gripped her in the winter, leaving her without the motivation even to get off couch, as the worst of my own depression has done to me.  It wasn’t just the way she felt about books as friends, the way my own bookshelves act as a comfort when I feel lonely.  It was little things, little dislikes for irritating classmates and frustrations with unseen obstacles to her dreams.  Reading her journals even went so far as to comfort me for my own sporadic entries (I cannot seem to maintain a daily habit no matter how good it is for me).

Maybe I just connected to her as a fellow woman writer.  Maybe this is just one of those things among writers, to seek out a mentor version of yourself in the ranks of those who have gone before.  Maybe it’s just a more generic writer thing (it’s well known, for instance, that many writers have struggled with depression).  Maybe I just felt close to this real person who had created one of my favorite childhood characters.

Whatever the reason, I was not expecting such a personal level of connection when I picked up these journals on a whim at Half Price Books – but I’m glad I did.

Brain in Revolt

I just finished rereading the entire Calvin and Hobbes collection for the umpteenth time.  I’m so familiar with the eponymous boy and tiger that I found myself looking forward to specific strips, especially the Sunday ones with their bold colors and creative layouts.

Some of my favorites are when Bill Watterson shows little Calvins running around with goggles and helmets in Calvin’s brain.  These mini versions of Calvin operate his life like the crew of a spaceship.  They attempt to recalculate when Calvin missteps and falls down the stairs.  They descend to the subconscious, a cluttered dump of a place, to retrieve movie reels for that night’s dreams.

I like this imagery.  There’s something appealing about personifying the decisions and operations of one’s brain, perhaps because it makes it seem like there are little allies inside one’s head working to one’s consistent benefit.  After all, if they’re part of you, they must want your wellbeing, right?

Depression, to me, feels like a mutiny.  It feels like I can never quite trust the little workers running around in my head because they get bored, or they get lazy, or they get moody, and without consulting the protocol for Normal Operations or checking in with Management (which would ideally be, y’know, me) they decide that the Mood Balance should shift to sad.  Or irritable.  Or let’s just throw the whole system into neutral, and coast for a while, which is not as bad as sadness or anger but is still less than ideal for a productive, happy life.

I can do certain things to prevent these shifts.  I can be mindful of my stress levels, my eating habits, my sleep schedule, my exercise routine.  I can watch that Christian the lion video if I need to cry.  I can read Calvin and Hobbes if I want to cheer up.

But all of that feels like placating the tiny workers, keeping them in check.  It feels like I am not in control.  And shouldn’t I be?  This is my brain, mine, but I’m not calling the shots.

This, I think, is the problem with mental health.  It’s invisible, and even when it is made visible, whether through the images of neurons firing in our high school textbooks or through the imagined Mini-Me workers of a cartoonist, there remains a certain expectation of ownership.  The owner of the brain in question is supposed to be able to squash any rebellion.  But how do you do that when the center of control is the part of you that’s rebelling?

Purpose

the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc.
an intended or desired result; end; aim; goal
determination; resoluteness
As the Engineer waits to hear back from grad schools and I wait to hear what part of the country I’ll be living in come September, I itch to start a job search.  But not just any job search.  At the risk of sounding like An Entitled Millennial, I admit that I want a job that gives me a sense of purpose.  I wouldn’t mind working as a waitress, a barista, a data entry person – at least, not at first.  There are many necessary jobs that make our society run smoothly in the ways that we are used to, and I respect the people who fulfill those needs.
But it turns out that I am the kind of person who, if she is unsatisfied in her job, is unsatisfied in general.
I blame some of this on my brain’s deeply entrenched habits.  I’m already much better at exaggerating negative emotions, consequences, and difficulties than celebrating and remembering victories and little happy things.  And if I spend a week writing down good things for my Gratitude Jar and journaling every night and Naming and Recognizing My Emotions, I do notice that life is not quite as Blah as it seemed the week before.  So I do try to do that.
The problem continues, however, when I try to make my job relate too closely to my passion.  I have already figured out that I don’t want writing to be my career in a traditional sense, at least not now, so I thought working at the Writing Center would be a good way to earn money while sticking close to the field that already provides me with a sense of purpose.  So I spend several hours a day showing students how to better put words into sentences, and then I come home and I open my laptop and I open my own Work In Progress…and the last thing I want to do is put words into sentences.
I read an article in a magazine a while back about the concept of “reservoirs of energy.”  The gist was that everyone has three reservoirs: Mental, Emotional, and Physical.  A full day at work might deplete your Mental reservoir, so coming home and being asked to figure out what the heck is wrong with the refrigerator because it’s making that high-pitched noise again is only going to demand Mental energy from an empty reservoir, making you feel more exhausted.  The trick is recognizing activities that might drain one reservoir and not pushing yourself past your limit in using that type of energy; for instance, you might exercise after work because your Physical energy is still nearly full, giving your Mental and Emotional energy a chance to refill in time for dinner with your family.
I think working too closely with writing on a daily basis does something similar.  I think it depletes my Writing Energy (more probably just Mental energy, but humor me).  This, of course, wouldn’t be a problem if my job were only focused on my own writing projects, where I could finish the day tired but satisfied at a job well done.  But right now, I’m so focused on helping other people with their writing that I still feel dissatisfied with my day’s work because I so rarely manage to make progress on my own projects.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “A vocation is a terrible thing.”  He was talking about the call to one day join God in Heaven, to go through the difficult work of preparing for that kind of relationship, but I think the quote applies equally to those of us who know what we are meant to do on this earth but don’t know how, exactly, to go about it.
Writing, it has long been clear to me, is my God-given purpose.  It is “the reason for which [this person, Grace] exists.”  But while this gives me a long term goal, a desired result for my life (fantasy books, and maybe a historical fiction or two), and though I have been determined and resolute in this goal for years (despite every unoriginal snarky comment in the book), that leaves a bit of a gap in my daily life.  Because I’m still trying to figure out how, exactly, I’m supposed to find a job that gives me a Daily Sense of Purpose without sapping energy from my Big Picture Purpose.

Misfits

something that fits badly, as a garment that is too large or too small.
a person who is not suited or is unable to adjust to the circumstances of his or her particular situation

It’s bothered Bird and me for years.  Every Christmas Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer comes on and every Christmas we wonder what on earth is wrong with the doll on the Island of Misfit Toys.

Turns out, according to producer Arthur Rankin, it’s psychological.  In a 2007 NPR interview, he said that Dolly’s problem was low self-esteem and doubting herself.  Depending on the backstory, it sounds like a similar situation to Jessie from Toy Story 2: after being rejected by her human owner, Dolly doesn’t trust her ability to be a good companion to another person.  She’s hurt and depressed.

Some people dismiss this as inserting modern psychobabble into a cartoon from 50 years ago.  This post claims that the alternative explanation is “as plain on the nose on your face” because the thing that actually makes Dolly a misfit is her lack of a nose.

I disagree.  For one thing, plenty of cloth dolls in that style and time period didn’t have noses, or eyebrows, for that matter.  And for another, the majority of the misfit toys are not simply missing something.  Some fundamental part of them has been replaced with something different that interferes with their traditional function.  The train has square wheels.  The cowboy rides an ostrich.  The bird swims but cannot fly.  (OK, the elephant has the addition of polka dots, but he’s also a white elephant, which suggests being historically unwanted in the first place.)  These toys are misfits because something in them has changed to the point that they no longer fit the mold, and something would have to change again for them to be considered “normal.”  It’s not a one-step fix.

That’s why Dolly’s psychological misfit-ness rings true (for me, at least).  She needs more than a few stitches or a new dress.  There is something about her, as with the rest of the toys on the Island, that fits badly, that is not suited to her situation.  The visibility or invisibility of her struggles does not alter their validity.

And even if the explanation was inserted later to cover up some forgetfulness on the writers’ part, I’ll take any opportunity to point to well-known characters in popular culture who can help me normalize mental health.

 

Succulents and Stress Spirals

I potted some plants the other day.  I pulled on my brand new neon orange gardening gloves, scooped Miracle-Gro into an azure blue pot, and settled some spiky purple blooms around a central plant with trumpetlike white flowers.  Promptly forgetting the names of the plants, I have dubbed the spiky purple ones dragonsbane after a plant described in Dealing With Dragons.  I haven’t come up with a name for the white ones yet.  There’s also an adorable tiny succulent on my windowsill, which I have named Junior after the asparagus from VeggieTales.

I was proud of this attempt at gardening.  I was adding life to my home (and the plants seem like they’ll probably survive!).  That burst of productivity even extended to vacuuming, cleaning the kitchen, and balancing my budget.  It was a good afternoon.

Then the next day I came home from work and didn’t move from my couch for the entire afternoon.  Dinner was forgotten.  The dishwasher did not get unloaded.  Nothing happened except that I sat on the couch, coloring, until Netflix asked, “Are you still watching?” (a message I can’t help but read with a judgey inflection, even if Netflix is truly just concerned for my wellbeing).  Even my mindfulness coloring book didn’t seem to help my mood.

And all I could think about was, “I never do anything anymore.  I am so unproductive.  I’m going to completely fail this year” – and there I went, slipping and sliding down a Stress Spiral.  Basically, when I get into this self-overwhelming mindset, I use my current mood/emotion/situation to build illogically dramatic visions of the future.  In this case, it went something like:

I’m not feeling productive today ⇒ I’m falling behind on all the things I wanted to do today. ⇒ I’m going to fall behind on all the things I wanted to accomplish this year. ⇒ I won’t get any writing done. ⇒ I will be a failure at achieving my dream of being an author.

Looking at this through a logical lens, of course, the extrapolation falls apart.  For one thing, this year is not the only year I have in which to become an author.  I have my whole life to do that; this is just some time I happen to have set aside to work toward that specifically.  Scaling it back down, the dishwasher could conceivably be unloaded the next day.  And a bout of unproductive-ness one day does not mean I’m that way all the time – just the day before, I’d potted plants!  I’d budgeted!  I’d been an adult!  But the funny thing is that on those Good Adulting Days, I never think to myself, “I am always like this.”  Those thoughts only come on days when I am not being who I want to be.

IMG_20160714_121549My favorite counselor once told me, “Emotional states are not personality traits.”  It’s a helpful thing to repeat to myself when I’m scrabbling for a toehold in a Stress Spiral (and not just because it rhymes).  At some point I developed the habit of mistaking my darker moods for reflections of my Core Self, and as painful and overwhelming as that is, it’s a difficult habit to break.  So I journal, because sometimes just identifying the twists and turns of the Spiral helps me unravel it.  I talk to the Engineer, whose belief in my abilities is dazzling and unwavering.  I text my friends, who tell me I’m putting too much pressure on myself.  And I stand at my window and see that Junior seems to be doing just fine.  So odds are I’ll be fine too.

Review: Daring Greatly

The Southern Belle introduced me to Brene Brown’s work our sophomore year.  She showed me Brown’s TED Talk on the power of vulnerability after a long talk about how we both deal with our emotions (spoiler alert: on my end, usually not well).  Ever since then, I’ve been on the lookout for more of Brown’s work.  When the Commodore and I finally made it to a local bookstore she’d been telling me about for ages (where I promptly set up a frequent buyer account and spent far too much money), I scooped up my own copy of Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.

Like Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (a book that changed my life), Daring Greatly brings devalued parts of our thinking to light.  Brown takes readers through the various strategies we use to avoid vulnerability, many of which were familiar to me (especially numbing).  And then she explains how dodging vulnerable moments adversely affects us.  It turns out, frustratingly, that while we avoid vulnerability out of fear of disconnection, vulnerability is necessary to truly connect with those around us.  We’re stuck, then, between the exposure of being vulnerable and the isolation of the very disconnection we were trying to escape.

Even as Brown outlines this uncomfortable truth, she admits that she’s frustrated with it too.  Which is comforting.

The title comes from a Theodore Roosevelt quote about being all in, about the arena of life and who really wins and why, about the people who “strive valiantly.”  Roosevelt says that “there is no effort without error and shortcoming,” which is something we don’t like to think about.  We’re supposed to make everything look effortless – our makeup, our fitness level, our accomplishments at work, our homes.  But when we’re vulnerable, we can admit that we’re actually “daring greatly” and that life is scary, but it’s worth it.

Brown describes years of conducting research and interviewing people who live “Wholeheartedly,” as she puts it, identifying trends in their behavior and attitudes that allow them to recognize the importance of being vulnerable.  She even gives examples from her own life, times when she shied away from vulnerability and times when she embraced the discomfort in order to live more Wholeheartedly.

My academic brain, trained as it is in editing and workshopping, wished for a bit more flow to the general style (the writing was sometimes choppy and the organization unclear), but other than that it was a thoroughly enjoyable read.  There were several parts that made me set the book down and stare at the wall as I absorbed the truth of what I had just read, parts that made me think, “me too.”  Teetering as I am on the edge of a new phase of life, I think this will be a book worth revisiting.

4/5 stars on Goodreads


Have you read Daring Greatly?  What did you think?  Do you think Brown’s work will change anything about the way you live your life or try to interact with others?  Share your thoughts below!

Shell Shock

When my professor called on me, I couldn’t contain an inarticulate growl before proceeding with my response to his question.

“Wow,” he said.  “The rage is strong with you today.”

It was indeed.  We were discussing the two doctors who “treat” Septimus Warren Smith in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and which of the two was worse/more destructive in his treatment of PTSD.  If you never read Mrs. Dalloway, Septimus is a character suffering from “shell shock” – hearing voices, seeing his dead friends, believing himself the recipient of a grand message from the universe, and feeling suicidal in the aftermath of serving in WWI.  The first doctor, Holmes, literally pushes Septimus’s wife, and therefore her worries for her husband, aside in order to lecture Septimus about how there is nothing at all the matter with him and how he should just get a hobby and go outside more.  The second, Sir William, agrees that Septimus is ill, but his focus is on normalization – that is, getting Septimus back to being a Contributing Member of Society, Back to Normal, and if he can’t do that, then letting him stay in an asylum rather than burden society any longer.

Grr.

These two delightful characters undoubtedly spring from Woolf’s own experiences with medical professionals while struggling with manic depression.  And even though Mrs. Dalloway was published in 1925, these doctors are still representative of social reactions to mental illness.

Setting my rage aside for moment (difficult as that is), I can understand the outside perspective.  It’s difficult to “believe in” an affliction we can’t see.  It’s not like a broken leg or a bleeding wound – there’s nothing visibly wrong, so a tiny doubt wriggles its way in.  He seemed fine two weeks agoIs she really that sick if she’s still getting all her work done?  He’s always been so reasonable – is he really thinking of suicide?  We base our assumptions on what we’ve seen and known of people up to this point, and sometimes it’s difficult to overcome that desire for them to “prove” that they’re “really sick.”  Similarly, I can see why, once we realize that something really is wrong, we want our friend/family member/classmate to Get Well Soon.  We want them Back to Normal, because isn’t that what they’re supposed to want too?  Our society often views healing as a process with an end point, a time in the future when the sick person will have Gotten Over It, whether It is a cold or the flu or the death of a loved one.  Of course, we are not completely callous.  We know that some things take longer to heal from than others.  But we’re still envisioning an end point rather than the possibility of “living with” the thing.  “Living with” seems to suggest an uneasy compromise, which we don’t like, because there’s the underlying possibility of another upset where the Bad Thing takes over, and of course we don’t want to see this person go through that again.

So I can understand these viewpoints.

But people who hold these views usually cannot understand me.

Both Holmes and Sir William fail to recognize and validate the reality of mental illness.  Yes, it’s difficult to “see” sometimes, but that doesn’t mean the person is making it up.  Visibility does not equal proof.  And, while there are sadly a few individuals who do make things up to get attention, why should that be our default assumption?

As for the push to Get Better Soon, while it usually comes from a place of genuine care and concern, it forces the sufferer to “take responsibility” for their illness – a problem that is actually beyond their control.  It may make the person feel as though the longer they take to get Back to Normal, the more irritated or fed up their support system will get.  Believing that the people around you think you should be over something makes you question yourself and begin devaluing the reality of your experience.  Also, prioritizing Back to Normal-ness denies a major fact of mental illness: it doesn’t always go away.  Balance can be achieved.  Strategies can be developed.  But when there is something chemically awry in a person’s brain, it can’t always magically be fixed.  So in that case, “living with” it instead of being crushed by it is actually a victory.

We have progressed significantly since the days of Septimus Warren Smith and his two horrible, horrible doctors.  But there is still room for improvement and understanding.

 

Rejecting a Resume Builder

I might have done something dumb.  Or I might be getting the hang of self care.  The line between the two, at least for me, is occasionally hazy.

The email came from out of the blue, with Congratulations! in the subject line next to the name of the University Lit Journal.  I’ve been published in this journal before (2 stories in one issue, actually), and submitted to it multiple times…but not this past semester.  I hadn’t had time to work on anything I felt confident submitting.

Confused, I clicked.

They had accepted my piece for publication, pending revisions, and needed a bio and headshot of me by Friday.  I didn’t recognize the title of the piece they mentioned, but the girl who had emailed me knew me from previous classes and one of my other friends was the managing editor, so it probably wasn’t a case of mistaken identity.  I texted Editor Friend.

“Um, it’s the piece you wrote for Professor C’s class,” he said.  “Last spring?  Here, I’ll email it to you.”

Vague memory dawned.  It was a creative nonfiction piece about my time abroad the summer before, but I was thoroughly “meh” about how it turned out.  Professor C, though, loved it.  He had encouraged me to submit it to University Lit Journal and, when I wasn’t sure, asked if he could at least use it as an example for his creative nonfiction editors.  I said that was fine, and maybe I would revise and submit it for publication eventually.  I never got around to it – had forgotten all about it, actually.

And now University Lit Journal was offering to publish it.

I remember how it felt getting the email saying that not one but both of my previous (fiction) pieces had been accepted.  I was exhilarated.  Over the moon.  Skipping down the sidewalk (well, I do that anyway because I’m basically a 5-year-old pretending to be a college student, but you get the picture).  The meeting with the editors to go over revisions was one of the best workshopping experiences I have ever had, and I was truly proud of the product when it came out in print.

This time around, all I felt was panic.

I did not have time budgeted for this.  I did not have a spare hour to meet with the editors again, much less several afternoons to devote to revising the piece to a point where I would be happy to see it in print (again, this was not my favorite thing I’ve ever written, and though when I reread it I could see some potential, it would take a while).  And I had no desire to carve out that time.  I didn’t want to rush to a meeting where my own writing would make me feel harried and inconvenienced.  I didn’t want to spend energy that I needed for class, work, thesis, feeding myself.  I didn’t want to pick up a project that someone else had started on my behalf.

“How much would you hate me if I said no?” I texted Editor Friend.

Some people might think I’m crazy for retracting my piece.  “How much time could it really have taken?” they might cry.  “You should have jumped at the chance to get published again!  I’m sure if they wanted to print the story it would have been fine no matter how you felt about it.” And maybe, being a young almost-graduate who’s hoping to get an entire book published eventually, I should have been grateful for the chance to have another printed piece on my resume.

But I just wasn’t.  And I have enough of a sense of ownership of my writing that I wanted to be excited if I was going to have something printed.  I didn’t want it to feel – well, like this.

So I retracted my “submission” and immediately breathed a sigh of relief.  Now I could focus on the stuff I want to write – like my thesis, my manuscript, and this blog.  Maybe it wasn’t the best choice for my resume, but it was what I needed to do for myself right now.  And I’m okay with that.