(If you want to skip ahead to that reference immediately, I understand.)
So I have this problem. I like to refer to this problem as Feminist Blogger Nausea – well, actually, I do not like to refer to this problem at all, but I have frequent occasion to refer to this problem. Also, Feminist Blogger Nausea is not, strictly speaking, an accurate term, but I’ll get to that.
I bring this up now because of Shit What Went Down not too long ago. I had occasion to spend a couple of days with the rather spendiferous WildlyParenthetical. My problem is, most of the time I spend with her and, for that matter, femsphere people I know offline in general, involves some level of nausea. I’ve written about this before:
I frequently worry that my writing isn’t good enough, that there’s some standard that I’m failing to meet, that I will be unmasked as the fraud I really am, who knows how I’ve lasted this long? This worry is so bad that I feel nauseous when going to see blogger friends in person.
But it’s not entirely about that. I mean, I do feel like a fake and hugely out of my element here, but a good part of the nausea is due to all the stresses of 2009 which was, in case I haven’t made it clear, beyond horrible into a new dimension of horrible. I feel sick about pretty much anything over which I have anxiety, and this has produced a state of ongoing nausea which has been slipping more and more towards my default state since October to the extent that anything from brushing my teeth to drinking water to listening to loud voices can make me want to chuck my guts.
So, anxiety, I have lots of it. And at the end of the week before last I was hit with a tonne of it, but worse than ever, really intense nausea of the close your eyes and breathe deeply and that won’t do a thing for you kind. So a couple of times while we were hanging out in the middle of Canberra I had to wander off to go find a bathroom to throw up in EXCEPT when I moved away from WP the nausea lessened so that I still felt awful but with no chance of relieving that through actually vomiting. Fun. Times. Eventually I pulled her into a bathroom with me, the poor dear, spent a few minutes spitting up bile and not much else (‘I can’t even vomit properly.’ ‘That’s probably not a thing you want to be good at,’ floated in from the other side of the stall) and eventually was over it enough to function a bit better. At this stage, however, I still had to do some other anxiety-inducing things such as a) meet WP’s parents (her dad? IS A PRIEST. Religious leader types make me rather nervous, which is weird because they tend to be very nice people in my experience so I don’t know what that’s about, and for the record, WP’s dad is super nice) and b) meet Jennifer Gearing, who I really really was looking forward to meeting, but the thought of meeting her was making me feel (more) violently ill under the circumstances. So, alas, and I feel really bad about this still, we had to cancel with Jennifer and I spent some time breathing slowly and shaking and listening to WP reassure me in this lovely park next to the federal police building.
Essentially, I barely ate for two days and spent that time trying to be hyper-polite and useful because what if the Parent-heticals don’t liiiiike meeeee.
Friday and I was on my way home on the bus. It started to rain, this was intense rain. I dozed and listened to my iPod (and what the pancake is this crap I have on my iPod? why don’t I just get new music?) and couldn’t concentrate enough to read my queer theory book and it rained and rained and rained. There was flooding at Campbelltown and the traffic probably would have been backed up anyway seeing as it was a Friday afternoon, and between that and the fact that I live out in suburban suburbia it took me five hours to get home. When I did, I couldn’t go longer without checking the Internet, and I got to the website for the feminist conference I am speaking at in April. (OH RIGHT DID I MENTION I AM SPEAKING AT A FEMINIST CONFERENCE IN APRIL NO WHOOPS SILLY ME.) And they had the speakers list up. These are people from UNSW and WEL and the HREOC and and and Larissa Behrendt. LARISSA BEHRENDT.
I felt instantly sick. The five hour journey and lack of food? I was fine. Larissa Behrendt in a few months’ time? I immediately predicted my death only to revive in order to VOMIT MY VERY SKULL OUT only to DIE SOME MORE and then maybe, in some future time, to revive and have kids and then when they reach an age where I know they’ll remember say, ‘kids, I SPOKE AT A CONFERENCE WITH LARISSA BEHRENDT and I vomited fifty times in advance of this and it was all I could do to not vomit all over her shoes during the conference itself because LARISSA BEHRENDT. Now excuse me kids, I have to go die again, I’m sorry, but, you know, I had three good runs at life and I’m not Jesus or Jack Harkness or whatever.’
So, I am thinking, in advance of meeting Prof. Behrendt, I should probably do something about this anxiety. Also, in order to actually spend time with my friends without thinking about the odds of my chucking my guts all over them. Also, I am losing a lot of weight, which is sad for me because of rapidity and wellbeing and because I worked REALLY HARD to gain that weight. By which I mean I sat around and ate a lot but, you know, I find it quite a difficult thing to put on weight and I was very pleased I had managed to. Don’t worry about me, readers, I am still at a weight I am comfortable with at this stage, I just really need to maintain the weight I’m at now. Also, as I mentioned, this is probably symptomatic of underlying problems apart from meeting scary feminist types anxiety.
I think the heart of it is this. I honestly do not think I am good enough. (Which is, I know, awful because it devalues the beautiful responses I have received from readers; I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I appreciate your kindness so much, it’s not you, it’s really me.) I think all this attention I am getting is a blip, and very soon you all will realise I am not as good as you think I am, that I am, in fact, a huge fake, and that will be that. Because why the fuck else would I be asked to write for Feministe except through an enormous fluke, and surely any day now Jill and Lauren are going to write me emails saying I’ve been had and this was some huge joke on me from the blogosphere. Which is obviously not the case, that’s just the scenario that keeps playing in my head. And why do all these people like me? Why are all these incredible people even smiling at me or spending time with me or talking to me?
And when I get to that conference? They will see a young white abled blogger girl (oh, come on, you’re not really who you say you are, lots of white people aren’t even as fucking pale as you and please don’t tell me you’re disabled you’re one of those weak middle class Western women who get mysterious illnesses that are so FAKE, just like YOU) next to these professors and writers and activists who’ve done shit since before I was born and worked really bloody hard. And all my words and thoughts and ideas will disappear, and everything I’ve done will count for nothing. Because who the fuck wants a nervous little teenager on their bright shiny clever panel on the future of feminism. OH CRAP I NEED TO LEARN SHIT ABOUT AUSTRALIAN FEMINISM BEFORE APRIL.
The first thing is, what am I supposedly faking? I mean, everything is right there on the page in black in white, I didn’t make anything up. I’m not faking because I’ve been writing as sincerely as I can. As I’m writing this, I’m now thinking that’s the scariest part of all, the thought that stuff that comes from my heart, the truest things I can write, is what I’m being perceived through. These are not academic essays, not short stories, not things I can set out as separate from myself. This is hard and raw and bitter stuff, sometimes, it’s stuff from me, it’s me I’m writing out into the ether. It’s scary that those things – me – might be read by others and deemed lacking. Alternatively, it’s scary that these things that would generally be private are so out there and accessible and understood. It’s scary that who I am might be okay and that’s because it’s scary that people might know me. Because that might mean living big and brave and true and I don’t know how to do that with any consistency.
And if stuff that’s so personal has led to offers to write elsewhere, stuff that could get me out there writing things as I’ve always wanted, well whoa, because that’s not how it was meant to start. This was just a blog, a little blog, a way of recording and working stuff out and hopefully doing a little good. So how do I start from the highly personal (I know, I know, if you’re surprised now because it doesn’t seem that personal to you, let me just say I have a reputation for extreme – EXTREME – privacy) and move off into building a writerly reputation from that? But, self, isn’t that what you always wanted, the hard-hitting personal letting yourself out there through your writing? Well, yes, but not like this, this was JUST AN INTERNET JOURNAL, the fantasy was of novels you can claim or distance yourself from personal connections to. And besides it’s just AN INTERNET JOURNAL and it’s not even my good writing, it’s just the word vomit I spew out checked for ideas but not for beautiful structure or language flow. Now self, you’re talking like you are a big Internet writer, but you are not at all and SHAME ON YOU for being so up yourself. It’s pretty bad that things are, finally, going so right and I just can’t seem to accept what I’m being given here. Well, I’m not a big Internet writer or anything. But these offers of conferencing and interviewing and magazine writing have been big for me, the me who is so unsure of her capacity to live life at all that just getting through a month is a spectacular achievement, especially following on from the inconceivably FUCKING AWFUL year that was 2009. And that should be enough. And it didn’t come about how I predicted, but it came about through all that aching and rage and shame and astounding INJUSTICE and having nothing to do except sleep and watch TV and eat and type and type because I couldn’t concentrate enough to read a book and everything was very dark and I didn’t know if it would ever end until I died, but I could do this, and I did, and I wrote lots of things people cared about, that helped them and changed things for them. That is really a fucking incredible achievement by any measure. And it is sufficient. I should be able to walk into any gathering of feminist writers and activists and say, ‘Look what I did. There are people out there I’ll never meet or speak to or know of who like what I do. And best of all, I survived.’ Even if I never write another thing in my life, I should be able to hold my head up high in the company of these my peers.
I am typing this as an email to myself, because that’s the likeliest way I will remember where I wrote it down, and have been wondering where to put it more permanently, and I am now thinking I will put it on my blog, though you will probably receive an edited version (and you have). As a record, which is what the blog is for, and so that you know what is going on with me. This is really not my asking you for ‘Oh Chally you’re so great’ reassurance, it’s a writing down of my condition, a working it out, an attempt at self-therapy because I really don’t want to vomit on any of you lovely people and I want to feel right in myself.
I am going to stick messages on my mirror and meditate daily on how worthy I am and do whatever else I need to do until I can accept these beautiful opportunities, writerly and friendshiply, I am being presented with. Until I can accept them and me for what they are, beautiful and full of worth and sufficient.
For everyone who is not from Australia and has been all what the pancake during this post:
Canberra is Australia’s capital city. It’s usually a three hour journey from Sydney by road.
Campbelltown is a major suburb in south-western Sydney.
UNSW is the University of NSW. New South Wales is my home state.
WEL is the Women’s Electoral Lobby. They’ve been very influential in Australian feminist work.
The HREOC is the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.
Larissa Behrendt is a law professor at the University of Technology, Sydney. She has written a bunch on Indigenous experience. She is AMAZING. You can read more about her here.