“Least Threatening Woman in the World” Self perception and writing

I am the least threatening woman in the world.

When I sat down to write about something, that’s the sentence that flew off my fingertips:

I am the least threatening woman in the world. 

And then I thought about what it means.

I

That one is sort of obvious.

Least

the smallest extent

Threatening

There’s a lot of definitions for this one, but I think that the one my brain was going for is “causing someone to feel vulnerable or at risk”

In the world

Wicked hyperbole because I’m an author and we’re into hyperbole.

But seriously, I am the sort of woman that even the most insecure people don’t care if their spouse texts. This is essentially true in all things work and life related.

Or am I? My perception of myself is pretty unthreatening, but one of my friends recently told me I have no chill and I could totally throw-down. He meant it as a compliment. Another friend told me, “You are so super mellow and chill. What was he talking about?”

Different people perceive us in vastly different ways, but even how we perceive ourselves can be all over the place.

So, when I think, “I am the least threatening person in the world,” am I actually just falling into a writer stereotype of self-loathing? Am I really saying, “I’m ugly and boring and nobody is intimidated by me because I’m basically nothing?” Or is it something else?

And why do so many of us writers (and comics, and artists, and bankers, and humans) do this? When this negative self definition is obviously not a helpful tool.

Writers and Self Loathing

Back in 2015, the New York Times asked two writers on their thoughts about writers and self loathing. 

Thomas Mallon wrote, “The aggrieved writer’s immortal longings represent, finally, a loathing not of the self but of the human condition, a desire to thwart the tragic fact of death. Writing has always offered a particularly good means of doing that.”

I read that to a friend and he rolled his eyes. “You aren’t self-loathing. You’re self deprecating. There’s a big difference. You’re afraid to claim your success. I think it might be a woman thing or a New England thing or something.”

“Are you telling me that I’m afraid of being successful because I’m a woman? Or because I’m from New Hampshire?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Hm,” I said because honestly? That’s a pretty big assertion that takes a lot to unpack.

Or maybe the self deprecation is because of my New England-ness and me being a woman and told not to ‘toot my own horn’ because it’s “tacky.” But maybe it’s also a thinking thing. Writers think a lot. We think about humans and society and our place within it. We think about character growth and motivation and that means that we sometimes think a lot about our own selves.

Anna Holmes wrote in that same Times piece, “Although I don’t buy the idea that self-loathing is a requirement for writers — I know too many writers, particularly men, who hold themselves in perhaps higher esteem than they should — I do think that writing demands a certain amount of self-awareness, and that self-awareness and self-loathing can be two sides of the same coin.”

Being judgmental about who we are, knowing our own flaws and faults, it can be hard. It’s hard to face our lack of personal perfection – not just for writers, but for all of us. And while we often give our friends and family space for errors or ‘flaws’ or screw-ups and forgive and love them anyway? That’s not always so hard to do with ourselves. To be self aware means to know we are imperfect. But our imperfections aren’t the end of the world. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that.

Making Ourselves a Trope

And the thing is that when we write about writers? We are making ourselves a trope and often continuing that cycle of negativity. I remember a couple of years ago when I had a five-second meltdown about how I could never watch another movie or television show about a writer.

“It makes me depressed,” I sputtered. “They are all just — they are either super wealthy or alcoholics or creepy.”

Apparently, I’m not the only one who has thought this. In 2017, Ben Blatt published a survey of some literature called “Writers are Self-Loathing: 50 Writers on Writers, In Fiction.”

Okay. It’s fiction, not movies, but it’s all about our culture and how we define ourselves.

Blatt wrote, “Writers don’t have the best reputation and they have no one to blame but themselves. Instead of writing stories where writers are attractive, heroic, and strong, they describe the writers within their own works as eccentric, depressed, reclusive, broke, and egotistical.”

Blatt gives example after example of writers putting writers down, defining them in not a very positive light.

Here are some excerpts that I took from his Signature article.

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I’m going to beg the rest of you out there, don’t define yourself as miserable, as nothing, as non-threatening, as invisible. Don’t believe yourself to be the trope. And maybe think about why that trope is there? Negative self awareness and self loathing and self deprecation. It’s like an evil trinity that holds us back, keeps us down. We don’t need it.

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It’s awesome and quirky and fun.

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Being Nice: Who Do You Think You Are?

I spend almost all my time trying to be a nice person. It’s always been like this; I kid you not. Like in fifth grade I was voted MOST COURTEOUS like that was some kind of damn honor or something, right?

Carrie is polite.

Carrie is courteous.

Carrie is word-of-the day worthy.

That’s not who I thought I was.

“Most Courteous” wasn’t what I wanted to be, you know, right? Like I wanted to be “Smartest” or “Prettiest” or “Class Clown” or “Most Athletic” even though “Most Athletic” is something I could never be since I have zero hand-eye coordination. This is because I don’t use my left eye to see. They thought I was blind when I was born. I had an operation. I had glasses when I was one year old and kept them all the way until fifth grade when I prayed to God every night to not have to have glasses in middle school.

There was this stupid Dorothy Parker quote that says, “Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses,” and that quote was like the word of God to me. I knew I would always be most courteous and not real superlative worthy unless I actually got rid of those damn glasses.

So I prayed.

At the doctor’s office, I sat in the chair and stared at the eye chart. It was all on my right eye, I knew. It had to perform at 100 % to get rid of those damn glasses.

The doctor was all, “Can you read this line?”

And I was all, “E.”

And he was all, “Can you read this line?”

And I was all, “T.O.Z.”

He made an interesting noise, like he was impressed. “Go down as low as you can. Just keep reading each line. Start at the top. How about that?”

“Okay.” I took a deep breath and started from the top. “E F P T P Z L P E D.”

I went on and on. I could see them all.

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Sadly, the magical return of my eyesight didn’t make me magically popular as one boy reminded me at a sixth-grade dance at St Joseph’s the one Catholic church in our town. We had one Catholic church, which was where some of the Irish and French Canadian kids went. We had Protestant church, which was Presbyterian. That’s it.

I wanted to be one of those church kids so badly. But one of my dads was an atheist. Another dad was a lapsed Catholic who believed that hell was where we were living right now, on Earth. And my mom gave up her Methodist Church in Manchester because she caught the minister cheating at bowling and called him out on it.

“He lied to my face, that man,” Mom would self-righteously retell us for decades. “Right. To. My. Face. And this man was supposed to be in charge of my spiritual growth? I’ll show him spiritual growth. He was always looking at my cleavage, too. Creep.”

Bowling mattered a lot to my mom. But I was just annoyed because her cleavage and insistence that you aren’t supposed to cheat in bowling meant I couldn’t go to church.

And I wanted to.

I wanted to belong, you know?

plot pacing and proms writing tips

So, when S. slow danced with me three times in a row at the CCD dance, I felt like I might actually belong.

But then he pulled away from me and said, “Carrie, let’s face it. Neither of us are lookers. So we might as well make do with each other.”

I stepped out of his arms and I said one word, “What?”

“I’m saying… I’m saying… We’re not tens so we might as well make do.”

I cried and I ran away and hid in the bathroom. I didn’t come out even when his mom, a freaking chaperone, came in to check on me. I didn’t come out until there wasn’t any music playing at all.

Only then did I run out to my mom’s old Chevy Monte Carlo, which was waiting in the parking lot. I wrenched open the door and slammed myself inside the car.

“What is it?” Her smile went into the anger place where her lips were just straight lines. This was how she looked when she talked about her little Methodist minister friend.

I blurted out what S. said. With my mother, there was no pretending something bad hadn’t happened. There were no secrets, unless they were hers.

“That bastard,” she said.

“I’m ugly.” I sobbed that out somehow.

“You aren’t ugly. That boy is ugly. His heart is ugly. He was working some line. He thinks he’s some actor. Some comedian. He’s a punk.”

But I knew in my heart that my mom was lying. I was ugly. I had to be.

I suddenly became someone I didn’t think I was.

And the thing is, no matter how many times I’ve heard people tell me I’m not, heard boys and girls call me cute or beautiful or lovely or pretty, I’ve never believed them. It’s S.S’s words that I hear in my head, over and over again.

Neither of us are lookers.

            We’re not tens.

Writing tips and help from NYT bestselling author Carrie Jones
Prom dog

I have this other friend who photographs well. She is the opposite of me because I photograph like poop.

She says to me sometimes, “I don’t know how so many guys like you. You and me? We’re alright looking, but we’re not beautiful like OTHER GIRL.”

And I smiled at her.

OTHER GIRL is skinny and blonde and full of acne scars and holes of anxiety that threaten to eat her insides away. And I worry for her all the time.

And I am?

Alright looking, I guess. I became who she said I was.

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Her words shouldn’t matter.

It freaking matters.

 

Other people’s words have echoed and echoed and shaped me until I don’t even want to be in a photograph anymore. I’m too afraid that the image of me that I see will be even worse than I imagine.

I had delusions of insignificance. Every time I felt badly about who I was it was because someone else had put me in a comparison situation.

You know how that is right?

Ah, I’m not as successful as Rick Riordan.

Ah, I’m not as beautiful as all these famous actresses and models or even that random police dispatcher in my town. 

Ah, I’m not as smart as…

Ah, I’m not as good a runner as…

But the thing is? That’s crap. You are magical as you. You don’t need to be compared to anyone else or compare yourself to others. Superlatives are bull. We are all superlative at being ourselves.

Your life is your message to this world.

And what is that message? The truth of you? The truth of me? It sure isn’t how we look. It’s how we are on the inside. For me that’s word-of-the-day Carrie, Courteous Carrie, Writer Carrie, Photographer Carrie, Hug Your Dogs All the Time Carrie.

That’s the truth of you, too.

And looking into mirrors? It’s about more than seeing what’s on the outside, about more than being defined and labeled by what’s on that same outside. It’s about the inner you. The real you and seeing it – really seeing it – and knowing how freaking magic you are just by being you, authentically and truly you.

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That’s not saying you don’t have flaws, that you won’t mess up. We all mess up. We mess up constantly.

Some people are afraid of the #metoo movement, of making their own mistakes when it comes to racial issues, religious issues, sexuality, identity, ability.

That fear? It’s good. It makes us better. We are all heading straight into truth; burning it out of ourselves, all the ugly things that we don’t want to see. We can’t let our fear slow us down. We can’t let other people’s visions of us control us. We can’t be afraid to look into the mirrors that see deep inside of us.

Social media brings out trolls. That’s so true, but it also gives us a voice, a hope. We have a new template for telling our stories, for making our lives and for sharing them in a world where our voices often didn’t matter. We can share our magic in so many ways.

And it’s intoxicating and terrifying. People are interested in other people. People are sharing with other people. People are even interested in us. In us.

And that’s power.

And that’s magic.

Use it wisely. I know I will try to. I know I make mistakes. I know that I am human. But the thing is? I love being human. I love growing and evolving and changing. I hope you do, too.

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