Let me say this now: I don’t expect anything from you. From anybody. All my life I’ve had to prove myself. You’d think by now I would get used to it. But there’re a very distinct difference between getting used to something, and accepting it as pure, undiluted fact.
I believe it’s along this crevice of uncertainty where a lot of artists trip and fall through. Not because they don’t have passion and belief in their own abilities, but because that vision comes to be chipped away, slowly, incrementally, over the years – at first by other kids in the playgrounds of our childhood, then by the parents who scoff at their dreamy progenies and try to corall them into soul-murdering professions lest they risk permanent dissaproval. Whether it’s a tacit dissaproval or a barrage of rejection letters, eventually confidence can come to collapse unto itself like an erosion of rock formations along a sea edge. The rockface is corroded in invisible increments, for months and years, and after a while simply dissolves into the seawater below.
I can’t even start to pinpoint where I began to fight against the wave. It would probably be easier to ask when I didn’t have to struggle. As far back as I can remember, I was always in the corner, watching others come naturally into that which took me eeons of strength and resolve to achieve.
I was the angry kid, the jealous kid, the one who came to school unwashed, snot-nosed and with lice. No parent ever helped me do my homework, pack my lunch or iron my school uniform. Everything I ever did, I did alone. No one celebrated my small victories or wept with me over my petty defeats, over the courtyard bullying, the horrible names kids love to call outsiders like me.
In this new country of Canada I no longer wore a tattered dress or ran around the streets like a stray dog, but the physical and mental scars of my past turned me into an angry, defiant teenager who didn’t fit in anywhere. After years of peer bullying and foster homes, I dropped out of high school, fell in with a rough crowd, later turned against them and moved across the country. And finally, at 18, I pulled my shit together – I took a high school equivalency exam and to my surprise passed it on the first try.
Why not reach higher, I thought, deciding to apply to university next. Based on my entrance essay, I was accepted into every university I’d applied to. Ecstatic and in awe, I decided to share my good news with a Youth Employment Services counsellor at the downtown youth bureau, thinking he’d believe in me. To my shock, he took it upon himself to pull me into his office. He closed the door and gestured for me to take a seat. “I heard you’re applying to university, Kat.” (that was my nickname then).
“Yes,” I beamed. “I got my acceptance letters this week. Can you believe it? From all of them.”
“Hmm, right, yes,” he said gravely. “I wanted to speak with you about that. You do know that university is very, very difficult, don’t you? It’s extremely tough to keep up with the academic demand. Not a lot of people make it.”
“I don’t think I’ll have any problems,” I said.
He frowned. “Yes, well, the thing is, I would hate to see you fail after a semester. You do know a lot of first-years drop out after six months, right? I’d hate to have you lose your place in our program, only to start from scratch in a few months…”
I was furious, looked him right in the eye and said, “I won’t be back here. Do you think I WANT to be in a program that discourages me from pursuing higher education? I mean, you’re a social worker, aren’t you supposed to encourage me? I know I can do this. I don’t need you to tell me what you think is good for me. You know absolutely nothing about my potential!”
Over the four years that followed I was a Dean’s Honour List student, received scholarships every year and graduated magna cum laude. But along the way, I learned that no matter how certain I am of something, no matter how palpable my vision is, I cannot make anyone else have faith in me.
We live in a world where people have been knocked around so many times that they have become jaded. Where miracles don’t happen anymore. Where it is easier to dismiss someone with a flick of the wrist or a sarcastic comment than to give them the benefit of the doubt. And where your worst adversary is another wounded person angry at the world for dismissing their own dreams; someone who’s given up, and now serves to mock and ridicule those who still struggle forward.
To be perfectly honest, other than my partner and the odd friend here and there who have known me long enough to witness the blood, sweat and tears that have propelled my goals into realization, I don’t really think anybody believes in me. Sure, I am surrounded by well-meaning, good people, but do they REALLY think I can succeed?
Does my agent genuinely think I’m a brilliant writer? I honestly don’t know. Probably not. Does he even believe he can sell my book, or just that its subject matter makes it an easy sell? It’s hard to tell. Will the publisher who buys it take a leap of faith because she or he genuinely loves my writing, or will the decision be made simply on a financial calculation at the pub board? Likely the latter.
What I’d love more than anything is to have that dream we all have – to be recognized for our talents, to be praised, to be loved. I mean, isn’t that what we all want? But through my life I’ve received surprisingly little praise, fewer compliments still, and certainly more rejections than acceptances. I’ve never been “discovered” or hailed as a genius of any sort. The few compliments I’ve received make me oddly uncomfortable; I hear them so infrequently that I’m suspicious of their intent. I may have published a few pieces here and there and won my share of grants, but it was always through a blind, anonymous jury. And afterwards, nobody’s ever called me up and said, “you know what? I really loved your work.”
I’m being sincere (and perhaps slightly bittersweet) when I say that I’ve always been the little match-girl, standing on tiptoes in the snow outside a beautiful mansion, peeking into a world where I’ve never belonged. And as much as I’d love to be invited inside, that’s just the way it’s been and will probably always be.
For someone who has battled depression and suicidal impulses most of my adult life, this is a very difficult thing to accept – that nobody will ever save me but myself. That if I don’t choose to live, nobody else can do it for me. Just like nobody else can have faith in my ability to thrive like a dandelion through cracked cement. Only I can do that.
That’s why I don’t expect anything from you. I’ve never gotten anything for free. I know that I have to constantly fight back my own fears of inadequacy and self-doubt. The truth is, I may not have had much of a childhood, but the one thing, the ONLY thing, I have clung to, is my idealistic faith in people and their ability to accomplish that which is closest to their hearts. If I didn’t, if I’d become as jaded as the world around me, what would be the point of anything?
If you enjoyed the read or found it useful, please consider dropping a dollar in my Patreon donation jar .