Confessions of an Artful Coward

Hello, readers. This will be another of those posts where I unpack my latest batch of unearthed psychological problems on the blog. This will not be another post where I try to tell you I’m done with the blog or writing. Those were never the desires I wanted to escape from. I understand that now.

I need you to understand that I’m writing this one for my own benefit. I need to get these words out of my head in hopes they’ll hurt less. I’m going to hold a dialogue with myself about the feelings I have about writing. You’re allowed to listen in. I won’t go out of my way to hurt you. I may think of particular people in writing this, but I won’t reference them.

But in order for this exercise in self-loathing and humiliation to serve any purpose, I must be honest with myself. I can’t fall back into the habit of packaging my pains in a way that will put me in the best light. Right now I need to be ugly. So if you keep reading, you must accept that you may get hurt anyway. Please go ahead and click away if you’d rather not take this journey with me.

Especially because I’m pretty exhausted by folx who only turn up when I have spicy, gossip-worthy trauma to work through. I know now that I’m stupid, but every day I find new layers of my own idiocy in the things I took for granted. I thought it was intuitive and natural that if someone’s been hurt by struggling alone, you’re supposed to help them. Seriously. I didn’t need more readers who’d keep this vigil with me and then disappear without a trace when I’m back on my feet.

I’m not accusing most of you of that. I do wish every single one of you took my past requests to share my work more seriously, but… well, we’ll come to that. Writers can write on their own, but they can’t build careers out of followings that are just scattered individuals who never talk to each other or post about the writer outside the writer’s own community.

And if you have done those things I’d love to thank you, but how would I know? It’s not like any of you ever use the reply box. I don’t know what you’re thinking. Every last one of you could be a bot for all I know. It’s so rare that people actually talk to me on this blog that I can still remember all their comments.

What poetic irony. Every time I write, I sing myself into being as living person vibrant and in pain. But if I’m honest about how I feel, and I’ve already said there’s not much point writing this if I’m not, I feel treated like a machine. Click the button sometimes. I’ll keep performing the task.

If that’s not how you felt about me, well… you could’ve said something. A single sentence. A few words. “This was cool!” “I like this detail!” “this idea really speaks to me”. I see them so often in reply to the writing of others. Why do you make me beg for it? Why won’t you believe I’m human enough to need these small words? Or is it that you don’t believe I’m human enough to deserve them? Why can’t I have some hint every now and then that I’ve spoken to you enough that you’re inspired to speak to me in turn? Isn’t the writing, thousands and thousands and thousands of words, a clear enough cry for connection?

But… maybe it’s my fault. Maybe the problem is the opposite. Maybe I’ve been too successful at convincing others of the fa├žade: the indie author with the bit in her teeth. The one who will take care of all the hard parts on her own.

For many years now I’ve kept myself motivated with differing versions of the same childish idea. You’ve seen echoes of it if you’ve followed the blog for any length of time. I was always looking for some great enemy to defeat. Some triumphant crescendo so glorious and resonant in its clamor that it would bring tenfold recompense for the empty swath of my childhood.

You know that I’m dealing with too much emotion when I start going Gothic. Well… no helping it.

This started in my late teens, probably because my family was always moving around so I was always getting thrown in with a new group of people. It’s hard to express the agony of the outside who knows she’s the outsider. It’s such a simple thing. That’s the trouble. You’ve experienced it or you haven’t: to see others laughing, smiling. To try to picture yourself with a share in that joy.

Maybe it was all in my head, or maybe to write that is to gaslight my younger self. I truly don’t know. But even when I did work up the courage to join this group or that, even when they learned my name, there was always dissonance. And sooner or later I moved on. I was too young to handle it well. I couldn’t help but think that if I’d been better, less flawed, less known for the meltdowns and drama of autism, then maybe I’d have a few lasting friends.

The stories I most love often hurt me, still hurt me, because of this. Fantasy and SciFi thrive on found families. The inability to find your family is the mark of the forsaken. The condemned. Written off by fate before she was even born so that one day the heroes would have someone to prove their virtue upon.

The villain.

Eventually the pain of forming bonds only to have them broken by time and another move became too much. I couldn’t overcome my fear enough to reach out. A support group in my second high school helped bring me back out of my shell for a time, a little. But the damage was done. My teenage blunders, which I now see were no more awkward or shameful than anyone else’s, seemed indelible proof that I deserved my isolation.

That was where the big, stupid lie took root. If I could just be strong enough, skilled enough, clever enough, if I could purge myself of flaws and trauma by a thousand psychic wars in the shadowed veil of my lonely room, then I could return as a hero.

I knew, deep down, that people care less about whether that work is done than they do about how much of it is done where they can see it. In a story this would’ve been called a Deus Ex Machina. Half the fanbase would’ve hated me for derailing the plot and throwing the stakes off, not to mention eclipsing the characters who actually grew together where everyone could see and get invested in it.

In real life it just didn’t work. I told myself I just needed to prove to myself that I could do this alone. That I didn’t want to be a burden to anyone. That I was just sparing their energy so they could help someone who really needed it.

Of course the truth was, and is, that I was afraid to need anyone’s help to grow. I was afraid that when they saw how ugly I could be in failure, because failure is always the first step to growth, they’d leave me behind. And most pitiable of all, I was just afraid of failing because failing hurts.

If we prove our growth by succeeding where once we failed–what does it mean, then, to fail over and over again through the years, if not that every lesson I learned was but a craftier lie than the last I told myself? That none my supposed growth never happened?

I always found a shallow excuse to hide my fear. If I was too afraid to challenge friends in a game they knew well, then I’d pick out foibles in its gameplay that did genuinely stick out to me and pretend they were bigger sticking points than they truly were. If I was afraid of meeting a new group of people, I had something to work on that night. If I was too afraid to enter my writing in a contest, well, I knew it was good and had nothing to prove.

We all know that I talk too much for someone with nothing to prove. I had everything to prove. I’ve given everything to prove it. What have I to show for it?

Defeat. The handful of times I worked up the courage to invest myself in something, I failed. That’s what I do: I talk myself up beautifully. I convince everyone around me that I can do what I promise. And then I fail.

Each defeat deepened my terrors. One would think I’d have grown too aware of it to deny it anymore. Yet I’ve been daydreaming since the day I was born. Perhaps I did have one innate talent in that. By now I have such a wondrous power to entrance myself with the visions. I am a weaver of illusions so beguiling I believe them myself. Reliably, even–when I started writing this very piece, I put on a bit of music.

It wasn’t even particularly good music. Ghost Rider’s theme from Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3. Anyone remember that banger? The one that starts out fine but then plays the same repetitive five-second motif for 30 seconds, then ends?

Yet to that accompaniment, I fell into my natural habit of visualizing. Sinking into the sensations and emotions of a scene. And there she is: a perfect vision of a Caerllyn McCurdy who’s just returned from some secret sojourn in the umbral planes. So beautiful, infallible, and inevitable. Who could stand against her? Who would want to?

It’s childish if I hold myself outside it. So obviously childish that I never believed anyone else could believe the picture I painted–that unflinching heroine and I look nothing like. I have no such power or will. Anyone who pretended to take it seriously was only being kind. But if I fall into it, if I can believe that I just need to push hard enough, defeat enough of my inner evil–oh, then it’s beautiful, and the surety it offers feels like strength enough to save the world.

Strength enough to break it.

It might even be possible! Except… why am I running? Why take this journey where no one can see it? Some are thrust into journeys like that, but why would anyone choose to leave behind their friends and the comforts of home to fight alone in the dark?

You must remember that I don’t fear the pain of loneliness. That’s pointless. We most fear the evil that happens to us often. The evil that happens to us with every waking breath is simply reality.

That support group didn’t last. College came. It brought new friends with them. Those friendships didn’t last either–at least, not for me. My late teens became my early twenties. I grew more potent as a writer, and my delusion grew stronger with it. It gained nuances, grandiosity, enough touches of self-awareness to pretend I was being honest with myself.

That any day now I’d be strong enough to make it real. Reborn, like ancient steel flashing in the sun once more.

Any steel that’s good for swords rusts if someone doesn’t keep some oil on it and the other liquids off. One can’t just leave it alone, hidden away, and think it’ll somehow grow purer. Anyway, people aren’t swords. They can delude themselves that they are. That doesn’t mean they’ll prosper by it.

I sustained myself for such a long time, through so many trials, by my fervent belief that it would all pay off. Any day, the turnabout was coming. If I just stayed true to myself, then there would be glory, fortune, and happiness to balance all the emptiness before.

Long after I stopped worshipping the God of Protestant Christianity, I acted as though there must be some supernatural force that would ensure I received my breakthrough. My day in the sun was coming.

It isn’t. It never was. And in all the years I spent waiting for it, more in my mind than in the world around me, I only missed the joys right there for me to experience. The more I missed, the more the few experiences I had needed to make up for. And since my coping mechanism hinged on picturing myself as the heroine, I placed an ever-higher burden on myself to do something good.

My keen awareness that I’d actually achieved nothing of note compounded both. I’m the sort of woman who pours her whole self into whatever she does. That means that if whatever I’m doing fails, then my whole self risks being destroyed along with my hopes for it.

I knew that, deep down. What could be so terrible, so profane, as to bury it all beneath this? What’s my forbidden truth?

The truth is, I’m a coward. I don’t think I always was, but I became one in certain ways. First with friendship. I became too afraid to try. Too many fell apart. Then with exploring my own life: stepping into new places, meeting new people. And finally over these past few years, as I’ve tried again and again to achieve some measure of success with my writing, something that would at least let me believe the breakthrough was coming… I’m too much a coward to take action.

I thought it was all so transparent. And maybe to many people it was. Maybe that’s the reason my following remains so small. But whether that’s true or not, the people who stayed closed to me would by definition be those who believed in me.

I love the friends I have now. Truly. There are times when I almost feel at home with them. There are times when all these deep, unspeakable fears in me put me on the verge of hurting them. And of course, I’m terrified of the day that I do, and they leave me like everyone else. I’m terrified because I believe I deserve that, and that they’ll be better off.

Yet at least for them, all my fine words, my eloquent tirades, the smile on my lips and in my voice whenever we speak–they believe in the side of myself I’ve shown as the sum total of my being. They believe in Caerllyn, or North, as a good friend who cares deeply for them and wants their work to succeed just as much as her own.

That me exists. And yet, often, I perform her even when I’m feeling just the opposite. When some innocuous word or element in a piece of art touches on the thousandfold ruptures beneath the pretty skin I’ve wrapped over my soul. When I want to be petty. To tear down part of them the way they’ve just unknowingly torn down some part of me.

They believe in me as a writer. My stories, my characters, my skill and insight. Perhaps you do too. Maybe that’s why it’s always so quiet here on the blog. I’ve gone so far to perform someone who might snarl, suffer, and gnash her teeth, but would never let a defeat stand unchallenged.

Someone who only needs to be witnessed, not helped.

I thought it was so obvious that I was full of it every time I said I’d do this or that no matter if anyone helped me. Who on this Earth ever actually achieves that? What kind of gullible sap would ever believe a promise to win from a loser like me? But I had a hard talk recently, and… I suppose I underestimated how skilled an actress I’ve become.

This is the part where I’m supposed to rally and say that I’ll do it for my friends. That I’ll become the woman they believe I am, and that I’ll help them through every struggle. Maybe I’ll do some of that.

But that’s not what we’re here for. We’re here for me to talk with myself. The hideous soul behind the pretty mask. What’s the truth, Caerllyn? Why do you really have those friendships? Why did you seek them out, these people you claim you care for so deeply? Yes, they all appeal to you in various ways. Was it really for the color of their character, the resonance of their spirits with yours?

Of course it wasn’t. You know that you’re too weak, stupid, and incompetent to survive in this big, scary, indifferent world alone. Deep down you picked them because they were people who showed you chances to put their strengths to work for you–even if the strength is just being more visible on Twitter. How paltry: the self-styled loner so dependent on others that she’ll manipulate them by a too-bright smile and a too-eager hello.

You tell yourself that it’s okay because you make it feel good. Amazing, even, occasionally. No one’s as careful of the feelings of others as you, as affectionate, as ready to listen. Of course that’s so: everyone else knows they’re for real. They don’t have to perform just to hide the fear that the performance might slip.

Fortunately you learned to be a good little actress years ago. You know it works. You can hear it in their voices when they greet you. They all feel they’re your special friends. Maybe they even are–if real people can have a friendship with a parasite using them to spread itself wherever it seeks to go. If bonds sought out by a mind so self-serving and rotten can ever find life.

If you’re still with me after all that, I might as well tell you where all this leaves me: with my stories. With myself.

I still want them to be the best they can be. I’m still going to do my best to avoid hurting people with them.

Now, though… now there’s no question of making them anything more than they are. Overwrought, overindulgent stories written by a worn-down woman pushing thirty who will never amount to much of anything, and is done fighting against the place she’s been shown in the world.

I want to keep writing my vapid tales because they still make me happy, but whether I’ll get to… I’ve had no luck whatsoever with getting paid for writing. I’ll continue as long as, and whenever, I’m able. But maybe I’ll be forced to leave the stories written only on the shifting dreamscape of my mind, and sink into the quiet oblivion of a 9-5 job I no longer have enough fight in me to hate.

I am the protagonist of my own story, as are we all. This is a story about a woman who wanted desperately to be a heroine once. Someone people would look up to. She has failed too bitterly and too often. This is a story about a woman who has given up. Given up seeking a following, pay, or even the simple fleeting joy of a few words from a friendly stranger who likes the story she wrote.

This blog now champions nothing save my need to have something to do. A place to keep the silly, mediocre stories I write.

If you’re thinking of telling me that my writing isn’t mediocre, don’t. Let me believe what I’ve written. If my writing is mediocre, than I deserved to fail, and there’s nothing to fight against. No dissonance. I’ve spent so many years feeling that I can write well, that there must be someone who will care for my stories besides me, and hating myself for a hundred possible mistakes that prevented those readers from reaching me.

It hurts too much. I’m too afraid of facing it any longer. Let me believe there was never a chance. Let me believe I failed because I deserved to fail, and not because I should’ve been good enough but this world just doesn’t account for what we deserve.

The magic of writing for others is gone, do you understand? But I can keep the magic of writing for myself if I just accept that these stories were only ever for me.

I don’t want to be anyone’s heroine anymore. I don’t want to fight for great causes, lead anyone, make a name for myself in anything. I still want to be beautiful by my own definition, but I know I’ll never look as good as the me in my head. I still want to be powerful, but I don’t see how that will ever happen. I was never the girl who gets chosen by some supernatural being to bring magic back into the world, or who unlocks her inner strength in a moment of crisis, or stumbles on the last great master of a forgotten art in their seclusion.

I’m not even in the same universe with those girls. I’m nobody. I was born nobody and I’ll die nobody. I have no lineage of power, fame, or note. The only achievement I have to my name is that I’ve tricked some very good people into believing that I was going places.

I’m not.

Maybe this is supposed to feel wonderful. A grand epiphany as I finally learn to be happy with what I’ve got. That’s how it goes in every story, right? The person who wanted too much from life learns to stop doing that, to stop being such a narcissist thinking they’re too good for the normal good in life, and then they’re happy. Now that I’ve stopped being greedy by dreaming dreams bigger than the dreams of others, I should be overjoyed. My life should feel complete.

It doesn’t. I’m still worn down and miserable. I just won’t be making myself more worn down and miserable by burning the joy out of the scant experiences that make it all worthwhile by trying to barter them into wealth and acclaim. I didn’t want the things I wanted because they were more, though sometimes they were. I wanted them because they were the things that would’ve made me happy. But the world where I can be complete doesn’t exist. Maybe someone else will make it. I don’t have the strength to try any more.

I’m ready to accept that I’m a stupid coward who can’t stomach competition any longer because she knows she’ll lose. I’m too afraid to get hurt any more in trying to be something I’m not. Let all the thirty-somethings who actually got somewhere change the world.

Put me in a slice of life anime with my boyfriend where he does all the important things and I’m just there to look pretty and disrupt our walks around town to have sex in irresponsible places. I don’t care how disempowering that is. I’ve spent my whole life trying to be empowered. It’s made me consistently sad and tired, whatever scraps of help I’ve received haven’t been enough to make it work, and I can’t do it anymore.

If I could trade every skill I’ve ever honed and every unique trait about me to be an affectionate bimbo housewife whose only achievement is being a good wife and mother, who doesn’t even remember she’s technically trans because she lives in a reality where was born with a vagina and she’s just glad to be alive, I’d do it in a heartbeat BECAUSE AT LEAST THAT CAERLLYN WOULD BE FUCKING HAPPY.

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