The most stressful part about traveling for me is the expectation. Like-- you're going to Greece? DID YOU GO TO THE PARTHENON? THE ACROPOLIS? Oh, you were in South Africa? DID YOU GO TO CAPETOWN?? CAPETOWN IS THE BEST. Oh, you were in New York? DID YOU GO TO THE STATUE OF LIBERTY???
Often, I feel very anxious and stressed, like why didn't I go to those places? What was I doing swimming naked in the sea while I could have been... IN CAPETOWN? The answer to that question is because swimming in the sea, especially naked, is like the best, most spiritual thing ever. And while I am sure Capetown is amazing and inspiring, so are the cool waters against my free-spirited body.
Another thing-- going out. DID YOU GO OUT? WITH THE PEOPLE?
Sometimes I do go out, but after the conference, I was tired and really wanted to slice into this delicious triangle of brie cheese I bought from a sidestreet market. When the other writers asked if I would go out with them, I said, "I gotta go home to my cheese."
And that was honest. I wanted to go home to my cheese.
Even if I went out with them and sang Shania Twain on a stage, I'd probably still secretly be wishing I could sink my teeth into that delicious slice of cheese and drink my wine in peace. And I've decided that I get to choose the cheese, wine, and book in silence. That gets to be my choice, without any judgments towards myself. And when the next day arrives, and I'm well-rested and wake up feeling light as a feather because I didn't get blasted drunk and eat a whole pizza by myself at three in the morning, I get to make another choice-- to stay in my Airbnb and work on my novel.
But why aren't you traveling? Around? In the city?
I was, and now, I am tired, and what sounds really good to me is to sit in this space in my shawl without any pants on and work on my novel. That sounds effing amazing. It's hard to accept that, however, and so I usually struggle with anxiety for about the first four hours of the day wishing the clock would just sink into the 5:00 hour where people aren't expected to be doing much of anything besides drinking wine and eating cheese and laying low.
I poured myself one glass of wine at 3:45, feeling really rebellious. So, I walked around the block and went to a book store, and then I came back home and worked more on my novel. And then, I let it go-- it's okay for me to want to sip wine in the afternoon and work on my novel.
Is it not what others would do? Absolutely it's not what others would do, but that's A-OK with me.
Part II to this whole "please, just be yourself" thing is we all say we literally don't care what others think (no, I actually don't care, Kendra) but in reality, we care a lot.
My favorite phrase that I get from random strangers that I meet is "I don't know why I'm telling you this, but you just make me feel comfortable, so I'm going to tell you..." And then I sit back, making my most therapist appearance, and continue to do what I do best-- listen.
What comes after is something they think nobody would ever guess about them: they're pregnant and posting adorable photos on Facebook, but really didn't want to get pregnant and never even wanted kids, they want to leave the country and move to Bali but they're 43 and who makes that type of decision at 43??? they're married and never wanted to be, they're divorced and still in love with the woman they married 15 years ago, they're depressed on the inside and that's why they have to make people laugh all the time, they want to leave, they want to leave, they want to leave, but they just don't know where to go.
And then what comes after that is: you must think I'm __________.
It's that part that we care so much about. What everybody else thinks about our lives as we piece them together and still have no idea what we're doing in our 40s and 50s. We're still figuring it out, and we don't want to be judged by others.
To calm my anxiety about the fear of What Others Think About Me, I started reading the 1 Star reviews of books I've thoroughly enjoyed and received a lot from. This is what I found:
Nora McInerny, No Happy Endings:
"Superficial, tame, predictable, cute, girly and not funny.
My time is precious, I won’t be finishing the book. But maybe this is important to someone in her position. The deaths didn’t happen in my life...yet, but everyone’s spouse dies eventually. Nora seems extremely lucky or fortunate. She’s got some looks, two loves and a good kid and good income. I don’t get it."
Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love:
"She knows nothing about life."
Suleika Jaoura, Between Two Kingdoms
"whiny narcissistic pathography. well written but totally inward-focused ignoring depth of other characters and physicians almost entirely. A great example of America’s obsession with “ME”."
These books also have many more 5 star reviews that sound like this:
"Before I review this book I want to make a note about all the terrible and unfortunate reviews this book has received simply because people see the author as a "privileged white woman." To me, these are the same people who turn up their noses anytime a friend of theirs says they are going on a fancy vacation or has had a life-altering revelation. Self-help and self-care and self-love may not be your cup of tea, but there is a reason why it is so important and vital to survival on this earth and to be truly at peace with yourself and the decisions of others. There is a reason that this book received such a strong reaction. It gets really raw and really real. It talks about things society tries to sugarcoat or shove under the bed. It rips open bandaids and makes us look at things we are uncomfortable with seeing and hearing. And it does so amazingly."
And, "I wish I could give this book eleven stars."
If these women would have kept themselves boxed up, afraid of what others would think if they put their stories out into the world, we wouldn't have these amazing, life-changing, powerful stories that have transformed millions of peoples' lives across the globe.
My favorite 1 Star review for memoirs is this: all she talks about is herself!!! This book is about HER!
Yes, my love, that is the genre of memoir. It is that person's story, entirely from their own perspective. If ya don't like it, read fiction.
When I think of publishing my own story, I am preparing myself for the same spectrum of responses. Some people will think it's great and they will be held by every single sentence, consuming it in under two days. Others will say, "eh, not for me, she started off as a sweet innocent girl, and then she makes all of these awful decisions. She must have serious mental issues."
And to that, I raise a glass, and say, "don't we all."