It’s rare for me to post an entry here without editing it several times – and when I do, I usually end up regretting it, feeling like I’ve short-changed my readers or failed to express myself as clearly or as eloquently as I could have done. Writing this now, and posting it now, is something of an experiment – or perhaps a plunge, into the deep end of a rather ominous-looking pool.
Although openness (and the vulnerability that goes with it) is something I look for in the writing of others – and indeed, strive for in my own work when it comes to poetry and fiction – it’s hard to divorce my writing on this blog from a need to appear ‘professional’. Calm, composed, collected, in control of my life. After all, that’s what this blog is for – it’s not like pseudonymous blogs I’ve previously had, it’s an Official Outpost for Information About Hel Gurney (Writer, Activist, Poet, Et Cetera). It’s probably the first thing someone finds when they google my name, and the idea that my innermost thoughts will just be sitting around waiting to be read by anyone with an internet connection is… well, terrifying.
Ironically, there’s a half-written blog post about moving away from the illusion of perfect professionalism and towards a more organic, conversational, open, vulnerable mode of communication on this blog – but, y’know, I haven’t finished drafting and redrafting and redrafting it to make it express that idea perfectly, so on the pile it stays. (Perhaps even more ironically, was titled Towards Ugliness.)
But this is ridiculous. I’m a writer. I write not because I want to construct a perfect mechanical self to impress everyone around me with my sparkling wordplay, a perfect untarnished statue-self which will outlast the ages and stand in testament to my sharp wit and incisive mind. (I mean, that would be kind of cool, if deeply weird, but that’s not the point.) I write for the same reason I read – because the flawed, messy, struggling, imperfect human that I am wants to find a connection with other flawed, messy, struggling, imperfect humans. Those connections are one of the things that can make reading so magical, and I feel the other side of that magic whenever someone tells me that my writing – a poem, an essay, a story – has captured something for them, taken a feeling they’ve had and just… articulated it. This Alan Bennett quote has been doing the rounds among my Facebook friends recently, and it sums it up so well:
The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.
So. The openness and vulnerability that is vital to most of my other writing – well, I’ve not been doing so well at bringing it here. For the most part, I gloss over the hard times, skim over the crushing lows, and most of the time when I have to make a decision between posting something that’s imperfect but mostly-finished and slipping back onto the pile for further editing in the ill-defined future… well, obviously, I go with the latter, which is why my blog is curiously empty even though my Facebook is full of multi-paragraph status updates that look for all the world like short blog entries. There’s something about the highly public nature of a public blog – as opposed to the semi-public self-curated spaces people can build on social media – that makes writing on here so intimidating. The feeling of this being a permanent record – because the internet never forgets, in the age of the wayback machine – and the scariness of doing growing and learning in public, in setting down opinions I may change or struggles I may never overcome. But it’s important. Connecting with people is important. Bringing down the walls, finding your community, giving and receiving both support and challenges. It’s why I do what I do, which is why I need to do it more here.
Like most of the other times I’ve written something emotional on here, there’s a catalyst for this post. This time it’s not a bereavement or a pressing need to come out. It’s just… a cumulative sense that I’m strangling myself with perfectionism. I have so many half-written essays I want to post on here – so many things I’ve tried to articulate, and maybe got 80 or 90% of the way through – and it kept coming down to this: feeling too afraid to put something out there in case Something Nebulously Terrible happens. (Something nebulously terrible but probably involving flame-wars in the comments.) And then I was sent a link to a post by Meg Barker, and this message really jumped out at me:
When we withdraw and erect all these barriers we end up in more pain ourselves. We’re also more likely to hurt other people as we bump against them in all that armour, bruising them and encouraging them put up their own defences to avoid getting hurt.
The alternative is gradually softening instead of hardening: opening up instead of closing down.
So. This is me clawing a hole in the barriers. Writing something and letting it be imperfect. Saying that things are hard, rather than that they were hard but I’m okay now. I hope I’ll be posting something here again soon.
[Extra note: I then procrastinated by trying to find the link to a really good post I read years ago about the links between perfectionism and procrastination! I’ll put it here if/when I find it.]