“You’re a lot.” I heard it a lot.
Or, “You’re really intense.” Sometimes even, “You’re too much.”
But probably the biggest thing I heard growing up — and well into the adult stage, if we’re being honest — is “you talk too much.”
And when I wasn’t being criticized for the volume, I was told that the content wasn’t so great. I was too weird. No one cared what I had to say, folks said. Primarily my family of origin, if you want to know the truth.
In school settings, I had to learn to control my energy and not interrupt other people, little things like that. But when it came to making friends, that was easy. People liked me. I was funny.
When I started writing stories in third grade, my teacher said they were fantastic and encouraged me. Said she just knew I’d be an author someday, that I was wildly gifted as a storyteller.
But at home, it was different. I learned early on to hide my notebooks. My mom would find them anyway and destroy them. One time, she even pitched one into the fireplace. I got called “devil spawn” if I wrote with profanity or anything that was considered out there in my strict religious home (spoiler: a lot was considered “out there” in my strict religious home).
So I learned to write in code. Sometimes subbing words for each other. Sometimes literally writing in cipher systems using numbers instead of letters — those writings were often mistaken for math homework and evaded detection.
I figured out ways around it. But I learned one lesson that was impossible to avoid: I should be ashamed of myself and constantly worried that people would judge me for what I had to say.
I Grew Up to Be an Author, After All
That’s why it’s pretty funny that I grew up to be an author, after all. Just like my teacher predicted.
It wasn’t a straight shot at all. I did a lot of writing work as a young person, balancing that with whatever normal work I could get, and playing music in bands in order to support myself. But after a while, I decided I was wasting my time with writing and focused on getting a decent normal boring job, which was no easy feat in and of itself.
I didn’t have great connections. No money to speak of. And of course I had to pay for my own school (I still am paying for it to be honest and will be for a long time). And somehow survive in addition to that. (They don’t make it easy.)
But I gave up on my dreams and did something boring and sensible. Long story short, I kept bouncing between collapsing industries that were supposed to be safe and steady in theory but were knifed in the back by many forces (big economic ones).
And somehow, improbably, I ended up becoming an author. Half by accident. Is that confusing to hear? Well, good. Because it confused me too. (And I don’t recommend trying to be an author on purpose; it’s been harder, much harder than I ever realized it would be beforehand, and I knew it was hard before I did it.)
I have to say the strangest bit has been how I was told to shut up over and over again as a kid. That no one cared what I had to say. That I was weird and that what I said was unacceptable… and that I would grow into an adult, where it’s literally my job to say things. Where people go out of their way to hear them.
I don’t know that I’ll ever get used to it. But maybe that’s not the point.
Maybe the point is that just because people tell us things are so — it doesn’t mean they’re right. And maybe sometimes we have a purpose that might be unpopular at first but turns out to be exactly what the world needs.