“You should hear what he says about you when you’re not around,” she says.
“Oh?” I say. She has my attention.
“He says your writing is too personal, that you open up and share too much,” she says.
I’m stunned by this news. To my face he’s never been anything other than complimentary. We support each other’s work. I’ve always thought it was an important aspect of our friendship. He’s much more successful than I am, and while I’m envious of it, I’m not bitter. After all, we write different things.
“Are you sure he wasn’t joking? Maybe he didn’t mean it that way,” I say.
But then another friend jumps in and corroborates. “He wasn’t joking. I was there. He was being really negative.”
“What do you think?” I ask them. “Do you think that I inappropriately overshare? That I’m too confessional? ”
They both laugh. Shake their heads no.
“I won’t get mad,” I say. “I just want to know if it’s true.”
My friends tell me not to worry. They advise me to just keep on being me. That he’s just jealous of me.
I can’t imagine why. He’s leagues ahead of me, publishing multiple true crime books that are selling really well. And I’m just writing an essay a month (on whatever) that a few people like.
My chest aches. I can’t reconcile the actively supportive fellow writer friend I’ve known with what my other friends are telling me.
But deep down inside, I know they’re telling the truth.
Researcher, Trainer, Manager
I shelve creative writing for a few years to become a researcher. I focus on conducting experimental studies and authoring lit reviews. It’s gratifying work. I APA cite in my sleep. Wake up with new hypotheses. I want to catalog everything. Find the most beautiful questions I can answer. And the most elegant way to do it.
After graduation, I land a professional gig managing the training department of a psychological consulting firm. I work with corporate clients, administrators in higher education, and supervisors at manufacturing plants. Training their employees, sure, but also managing a group of trainers who conduct seminars, too. I design custom curricula founded in cognitive psych principles. I’m always looking for that sweet spot — the way to deliver the most information in the shortest time and actually have it be absorbed.
And each of the 64 trainers I manage have different strengths and weaknesses. I consider them as individuals when setting them up with certain clients, handing out the assignments, and advising them on how to approach topics. They’re so important to me that I consider them my “kids,” even though most of them are older than I am. Because I worry about them and want to help them do their best.
I love this job. But I hate the company I work for. I’m on the path to becoming a director, but I can see that it’s not any better there, within spitting distance of the narcissist who runs the show. Who hires mostly women so he can underpay them. And who doesn’t know I can hear his sexist and racist rants through the thin office walls.
He becomes paranoid when I’m running phone audits that I’m going to check the call record on his line.
I want to tell him, “Look, I don’t care if you’re having an affair or something. I’m just looking for ways we can save money so we can implement a proper executive coaching program,” but I’m buried in projects. Just getting by day to day.
“Because You Get Triggered?”
I open up to my coworkers about having a history of PTSD while I’m consulting on a client case (it’s relevant to the solution). They’re broadly supportive. Except for one.
She attends a training I’m conducting at another company on stress management. She’s there ostensibly to take pictures for our company promotional materials.
I’m going over some common coping tactics for the workplace when she raises her hand.
“Is that why you go for walks when you’re at work sometimes? Because you get triggered from your PTSD?” She’s smirking.
Really? I think. Fucking really? You’re going to out my condition in front of a class I need to teach?
It’s a high-profile project, too. The pressure is on. And though in that moment I want to eviscerate her, I instead smile and take two deep breaths.
“Actually, I leave the office to get gas,” I say. “I like to fill up during the day so I don’t get caught up in the rush from everyone on their commute home. And you’ll never guess what happened when I went to the station.”
I tell the class a story about how kind the people were at the gas station the last time I went and tie it back into some psychological research principles. It goes well. My students learn; my coworker looks foolish.
I talk to my boss about it later. Even though my coworker admits that she did it, my boss can’t understand why that was inappropriate.
This coworker continues to needle me in small ways. Jumps into my projects and then drops them. I think she’s gunning for my office.
I Start Writing Again
In the stress, I turn back to words. I start writing blog posts more often as a way to cope. Justin notices.
“You know,” Justin says in the summer of 2016. “You’ve been writing for so many years. You ought to have a proper website.”
“Eh,” I say.
“No ‘eh,’” he says. “It’s true. We should get you a domain name. Your stuff is really good.”
He tells me I should edit the book I wrote several years before and put it out.
“Nobody wants to read my memoir,” I say.
“You’d be surprised,” he says. “It’s a hell of a story.”
I start to post every day on my blog. Not many people read at first, but over time, I generate a good audience.
My Writer Friend Reemerges
Nine months and nine drafts after I start daily blogging, I put out Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory.
And who should show up but my old writer friend. The one who said that I was too confessional, shared too much. We’ve lost touch in the meantime, but now he reaches out.
“Congratulations,” he says. “I always knew you had it in you.”
Did you? I wonder. Because I sure didn’t. And you seemed even less of a fan of my work than I was.
The Secret “For Me”
I learn something valuable from this friend, that there’s always an unspoken “for me” tacked onto the end of the judgments we make about other people.
Aloud he said, “Your writing is too personal.” But what he really said was “Your writing is too personal for me.”
You have to listen very carefully to hear them, but those words are basically always there. For me.
Like Chinese fortune cookies are always appended with “in bed” or “between the sheets,” depending on who you spoke to about it first.
“For me.” It was always there after his words. I just didn’t hear it.
I won’t make that mistake again.