Daily writing cracks open the earth beneath my feet. While working on an essay, I’m distracted by a flit of memory and fall through a fissure. I open a new doc to catch a 26-year old memory, disquieting and itchy. I identify the itch as shame–not my shame, but shame that was assigned to me I realize now through the lens of adulthood. I catch it before it slips away and see the truth glimmering there.
Later I stumble upon Elissa Altman’s incredibly beautiful On Writing and the Permission to Succeed. Below, an extract, but it should be read in its entirety. I will return to it again and again.
“There are plenty of hurdles in the writing process: distraction, diligence, envy, arrogance, dedication, time, space, money, nagging, poison, gossip. There is the seductive conceit that lures you, like an animal into a trap, towards the belief that your work is spectacular, whatever that means, long before your work is actually even done; there’s the quicksand of self-doubt so immobilizing that you can’t climb out of it, and the more you struggle, the deeper you get sucked in. Writing is balance. Mrs. Ramsay was right: A light here requires a shadow there. The hurdles can make you think you’re better-or-worse than: they can shut you down, prop you up, alter your course, tack your sails. They can result in moments of bliss and terror, calm and panic, hubris and humility, pomposity, paranoia, and paralysis. Often within moments of each other.
These obstacles may hinder permission to write, but they don’t withhold permission to succeed at it. That — the rickety, splintering plank connecting the two, as quavery as a rope bridge over a gorge — is reserved strictly for shame.”