Sometimes I Even Write Things: Observations from Press Publish

“Meg, you should be a writer.”

This is simultaneously one of my favorite and least-favorite things to hear.

Of course I’m flattered when people say that. It means they think I’m good enough to get paid to write.

The downside is that I’ve known that I should be a writer since I was about 13. I always figured I’d grow up and be a writer. I just didn’t. Instead I became a mom and a breadwinner and a marketing communications professional. I never really got to the writer part. Sometimes I feel like it’s too late.

Which is ridiculous, of course. It’s not too late. I’m 43, for god’s sake, not dead.

I started this blog three years ago, when I turned 40. In the beginning, my head swam with ideas. Every thought spun itself into a potential post. I blogged about nothing and everything. Thinking like that made me more observant…you know, like a writer. I blogged with steady excitement until I found myself in a serious romantic relationship (the advent of which I blogged about extensively) and then suddenly my observations weren’t so entertaining anymore. The really meaty stuff felt too personal to share (not for me—I have, shall we say, very flexible boundaries—but for my former partner). I was so consumed with the relationship that playful, everyday observations just stopped happening. My writing became more labored and my posts felt forced or canned.

I miss it. I miss the days when writing—blogging—was an intrinsic part of my daily discovery process, instead of some kind of calculated response to it.

So this weekend, I did something writerly: attended Press Publish, a conference hosted by Automattic, the people who create WordPress (which is the platform on which this blog is built).

At the conference, there were maybe 150 bloggers like me in attendance. By “like me,” I mean other humans with blogs. Some were younger; some were older. Some were men; some were women. Some sounded like blogging experts, and some, to my great relief, sounded less informed than I am. There were folks who blog about food, crafts, women’s issues, religion, health, aging, photography, business, fashion, and on and on.

The conference included technical workshops, writing clinics, how-tos on topics like SEO and self-promotion. For me, the most exciting part was listening to bloggers—regular schmucks like me—who’ve experienced various measures of success via their blogs.

My blog hero, Katherine Fritz, was the first speaker. I am not making this up: her talk made me cry. (I was slightly mortified, but no one saw me.) Katherine writes a personal blog like mine, which she started on a whim. Now she occasionally has to pinch herself because her blog landed her on big media outlets like Yahoo, MTV and The New York Times. THE NEW YORK FREAKING TIMES. A literary agent sought her out and persuaded her to work on a book. That’s right: the agent came to her.

Katherine (and several other wonderful speakers) talked about the strong sense of connectedness that blogging allows us, how gratifying it is to put a piece of yourself out there and have total strangers identify with you and respond with their own stories. She talked about taking risks and being authentic. She talked about how her blog made her happy.

So why the crying? Because I see myself in her. Yeah, she’s younger and hipper than me but whatever; she’s still a regular person. I met her. She’s real. Just a regular person who started a blog, like me. When she talks about the opportunities that have resulted from her blog, I feel a swell of possibility. Somehow, her success validates my aspirations.

She said that since she started blogging, she sees herself as a writer.

What a coincidence. I’m a writer, too.

Probably the greatest benefit of attending Press Publish was the opportunity to be surrounded by writers. I listened to writers and thought like a writer and talked to writers about writing stuff. And sure enough, my heart filled up and crowded my brain with ideas until I could hardly follow the scrawl in my notebook.

Man, I needed that. I have a lot of writing to do.

Ruthless Self-Scrutiny: The Girl Who Put Herself Down

On a number of recent occasions, a well-meaning friend has pointed out that I often put myself down. Apparently that bothers her. It bothers me, too, because I try pretty hard to be positive. People who constantly put themselves down are annoying. I don’t want to be that girl.

The thing is, I don’t really think that I am that girl. But I also want to be open to criticism, especially from a well-intentioned friend. Time for RUTHLESS SELF-SCRUTINY.

Do I put myself down too much? I don’t think so, but it’s possible.

Could I be doing it without realizing it? Highly unlikely.

I pride myself on being self-aware. My four older siblings made sure of that. They found comedy in my every move, whether I intended to be funny or not. And they reminded me of my unintentionally hilarious behavior for years afterwards, especially on those rare occasions when I had a boy around.

My mother also contributed to my exceptional level of self-awareness by promptly squelching what she perceived as attention-seeking behavior. Any time I put myself down, I was “fishing for compliments.” Any time I said something positive about myself, I was being conceited. Any big outbursts would get me labelled “Sarah Heartburn” and were regarded as disingenuous or manipulative. There really was no safe way to express feelings about myself.

I learned to watch every word I said. I still tend to think very hard about everything I say about myself, anticipate how it might be perceived. For instance, if I’m feeling fat and ugly, I’m sure as hell not going to say, “I feel fat and ugly,” because STOP FISHING FOR COMPLIMENTS. I will just feel fat and ugly quietly to myself. Never mind that everyone feels fat and ugly sometimes. DON’T SAY THAT OUT LOUD.

So, I’m going to rule out the possibility that I put myself down without realizing it. If I do it, I’m definitely aware that I’m doing it. But if I know it’s annoying, why would I do it?

Here are some situations in which I, knowingly, might say something negative about myself:

  1. For comedy. Self-deprecating humor, in small doses, is funny because it’s highly relatable. You’ve got to laugh at yourself sometimes. People get it and they laugh with you. Read the Mattress Adventures post about how I have no idea how to pick up a man. It’s true. And it’s kind of funny, don’t you think?
  2. For relatability in general. Admitting a weakness, like a lack of self-confidence in a particular area, helps people trust you. They see your vulnerability and feel safe to expose their own. Revealing vulnerability could be perceived as putting myself down, but I’m not going to stop doing it because I want other people to trust that they can be vulnerable with me, too.
  3. Because I actually need to talk about it. (This one only applies when I’m with my very closest friends. I don’t unload this stuff on strangers.) There are things I don’t like about myself. There are things I wish I could change. When I’m with my very close friends, I want to be able to talk about everything. I don’t want to pretend that everything is fine and I feel invincible. Sometimes I feel like a fucked-up mess. Sometimes I want to talk about that. Sometimes I want to hear that I am not a fucked-up mess, but usually I just want to hear someone else say, “Yeah, I feel like that sometimes, too.”

Those all sound like good reasons to me. I’m a big believer in transparency. When we hide the things we don’t like about ourselves and we pretend everything is great, we do ourselves and others a disservice. Insecurity feeds on shame and isolation. We’re so afraid people will find out what’s wrong with us…talking about insecurities discharges that fear and helps us feel connected.

But there’s another reason I talk about insecurities. Take this conversation I had with a guy on Tinder, for example.

During our very first exchange, we played The Question Game. He asked, “What are you most insecure about, specifically?”

I said, “My body.”

He said, “That’s too vague. Be specific.”

I said, “Man, you’re ruthless! Fine…I’m insecure about my weight and my skin.”

He said, “Great. Aren’t you glad we got that out of the way?”

And I was glad. I was relieved. When I eventually met this guy, I felt like I’d already pointed out the ugliest parts of myself, and since he hadn’t objected to them, he wouldn’t reject me based on those factors.

Telling this story now, I realize that I do that even when I’m not directly asked: I point out my shortcomings, the things I’m insecure about, before anyone can judge me for them. It’s like a preemptive strike– a self-inflicted preemptive strike. Under the guise of transparency or humor, I’ll tell you what’s wrong with me before you can point it out. You can’t hurt me; I’ll do it first.

Yikes. When I start to write about touchy-feely stuff like this, I figure things out. Obviously I have to knock that preemptive shit off.

But I’m not giving up my transparency or my ability to laugh at myself.

Owning your flaws for the sake of connection is fine. Pointing them out in a twisted self-defense maneuver is not.

In general, I feel pretty good about who I am. I don’t always feel beautiful or confident or like I have my act together. (Sometimes I do! Sometimes all three at once!) But I’m smart and funny and loving, traits that are way more important and permanent anyway. I don’t think I put myself down too often; I think I’m a vulnerable, open, self-aware human who is honest about her shortcomings and occasionally needs reassurance.

But just in case, I’ll pay attention to how often I speak negatively about myself. And more importantly, why.