We had to get a shock collar for the dog last week, since she keeps chasing deer out into the road. She has responded to it so quickly— we only had to push the button once or twice before she became reluctant to test the limits of her tether again.
This connects somehow with the conversation I had with my writing partner L— the other night about our shared middle school miseries, the lonely and contradictory world of precocious children trapped between the world of adults and the world of children. The manners and words that are enforced by one group are anathema to another, and to a self-aware child the shift between the two creates a kind of split— in striving too consciously for perfection in either sphere, something of the authentic self, the instinct, is lost in the gap.
"I'm thinking about joining the mathletes."
"You can't do that, it's social suicide!"
L— and I both had the experience of our vocabularies becoming dangerous, something that stood between us and the comfort of obscurity. When your things are regularly stolen, torn up, thrown down the hall; when you are pushed down stairs and into lockers, when the boys behind you regularly make a target of the back of your head while chanting the words that you realize you should not have said— it presses a button of fear and shame and embarrassment that is difficult, later, to un-press. It creates a kind of tether that limits how smart it is safe to be. It happened to me, and I’ve watched it happen to younger cousins or girls that I babysit for. It’s such an accepted cultural thing that young women have to change to fit in— and not only is it not always considered problematic, it’s often glorified.
"Tell me about it, stud."
L— and I are both attempting first novels, and for me there is a panic attack that I have to push through each time I sit down to work. Sometimes I can conquer it, sometimes not. It’s that old zap of “THIS IS UNSAFE!” that prevents me from stepping beyond the social boundaries imposed so forcefully when I was young.
I can't imagine why they thought I was weird...
But those limitations no longer apply. I bought something that looks suspiciously like a Jedi hood the other day, and I have received lots of compliments on it— and if I didn’t, I would still wear it because I am twenty f-ing six years old, and I do what I want. The people I hang out with now are not random strangers that I am stuck in the prison of public education with, they are awesome weirdos like me. So why is it still so hard to overcome the wave of nausea that overtakes me when I sit down to write and find myself about to cross the line back into that imaginary world that I had to give up in order to fit in?
My present self is pretty much my former self with more weapons and a higher corset budget.
Anyway, I’m interested in whether other writers have encountered similar feelings, and how they can be managed or overcome. Discuss!