This little light of mine…sure gets dim fast

Stand still,
Let me scrub that brackish line
Where something rose and then receded.

-The Weakerthans, “Watermark”

Sometimes it’s almost comforting how predictable my patterns of self-sabotage are. Just as I’m gearing up to not only write more, but also to pursue avenues towards polishing and publishing my writing, the voice steps in and tells me, “Jeremy, there is nothing new under the sun, and even if there were, it sure as hell won’t be coming from you. Sit down and shut up.” They are some damn strong psychological shackles. Damn strong. Looked at with a little bit of distance, it’s actually breathtaking how intently, how systematically that voice scrambles to pull out every possible piece of evidence to shut me down.

    There is a prison strike in California happening right now, Jeremy. There is more revolution happening in Egypt. It’s history in the making. You aren’t doing shit about it, so anything you have to say about anything is clearly coming from the sidelines. Come back when you’re actually in the game.

    Jeremy, do you see all these other articles and blog posts you are reading? You see those little numbers that are strewn all over the place? Those are called footnotes—and you don’t ever use them because you are a fucking wannabe who just spouts stuff from the top of your head with no grounding in any real discourse.

    Jeremy, don’t you see the thirteen, fourteen, twenty-six errors that you’ve made down here in Guatemala today alone? Who are you to have anything to say about justice, equality, change? You can’t even maintain a great conversation at the family breakfast table.

    Really, my friend? You are going to write about how relationships are key to movement building? Ha! Let’s have a look at your own scattered husks of starved and roach-infested friendships, the zero birthdays you remember on Facebook, the trail of forgotten promises.

I don’t know why this voice hates me so much. I don’t know what I did to deserve its rancor, its unremitting bile. I try to be grounded, I try to remind myself of all the other people who share their writing, warts and all, and to recognize that they are doing just fine after the fact. Almost robotically, I chant through all the reasons why I think I am good, am worthy, do have something to contribute. This voice doesn’t give a shit. This voice knows all the ways to rip apart any rational argument I might have.

A little while ago, I read a book called the War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield. It’s got quite a following, and that’s because it’s like this nice, compact Art of War aimed at that little voice. Pressfield calls that little voice “Resistance.” Here’s a sample of what he says about it:

    Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.

A little later…

    Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole. Resistance is protean. It will assume any form, if that’s what it takes to deceive you. It will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in your face like a stickup man. Resistance has no conscience. It will pledge anything to get a deal, then double-cross you as soon as your back is turned.

Although one reading of Pressfield can basically feel like “Pull Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps: The Book,” through a more flexible, politicized lens–with a conceptual toolbox for things like internalized oppression–the War of Art felt like the feminist “click” that many women describe as an experience during the women’s liberation movement—the realization that your reality is not just yours. It’s shared. It’s collective. Could other people have this voice, with this intensity? Could it be that I’m not alone in this self-hatred?

I feel buoyed for a spell. I feel held. I take another dozen steps forward. I have 5 separate drafts for 4 different posts, plus a grant application for a larger project, all right here on my computer desktop. I hook up the little 3g wireless modem we have here, use our little bit of data left on it to read a few more articles on other blogs—damn you, Miami Autonomy and Solidarity for being so damned awesome—and then the voice winds right back up.

This is one of the hardest parts, something that I’ve also been noticing in other readings like David Gilbert’s striking reflections about ego in his incredible memoir, Love and Struggle: this voice turns the people and places that should feel like comrades, the highest sources of inspiration, and it turns them into the most threatening enemies.

I feel so lonely so often, so surrounded by critics waiting to take a bite out of me. Even here in Guatemala, where the urgent reality of both my privileges and my opportunities, where my actually quantifiable impact on 22 other people’s lives, is constantly impressed on me, I become so tempted to just give up. Pick up your 3DS and play some more Mario, Jeremy. There’s nothing to see here. Revolutionary work is too hard.

Tonight, right now at 2am, at least, I chose to turn on this computer instead.

If you are going to keep attacking me, you ugly and brash and overhyped broken record of a voice, then I’m going to at least expose you. The very least I can do is call you out into the open and see how you will do in the sunlight. You aren’t me. I’m not that mean, I’m much too loving to have produced you. So, go now, back out into the world where you came from.

This little light of mine…I’m going to let it shine.

Currently Reading:

-Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi

2 comments

It seems like we are always our own harshest and most powerful critics. I find it really helpful to remember what Amy Eva shared about impostor syndrome, because knowing that a lot of people feel like frauds (who clearly aren’t) gives me a strong defense against that voice that tells me I am not capable enough to make the impact I want. It’s normal to feel inadequate. Let that light shine!

Wow, this feels familiar. I’m glad I’m not the only one. There is something about the Left that breeds this voice. I’ve only been able to start writing again by basically throwing myself into my teaching, family life, and spending time socializing with folks outside of the “scene”.