The writer’s retreat was, as I feared, populated by Big Fish. Super established writers, and people who work at the top of various other fields like marketing and coaching and make a thousand dollars an hour and know how to blow dry their own hair.
In preparation for the retreat, I had gotten a salon lady to blow dry my hair so I would look like a grown up, (because when my hair saw the ocean it got super excited and sprung up and remembered it was really a poodle in it’s soul). I had also gone to Target and bought a new shirt, so I totally seemed like a grown up until I told them all about blow drying my hair and buying a shirt from Target. You would think this would be a bad move because it would make clear that I was not Big Fish, but it was not a bad move at all. Because it was very okay to be Little Fish in this group. Turns out that it is not Bigness of Fishiness that makes people into jerks, anyways. It is Bigness of Jerkiness. You can have all sizes of fish be part of the same loving pond. And the little fish can ask advice of the big fish, which you bet I did at every available turn.
“You’re big fish” was the advice. Followed by “and why do you try to squeeze small so much? Why do you talk so fast and mumble and hurry your writing through to the flattering parts? Why are you making this book that should be about blood sweat and tears into a tidy story about UU congregational polity?”
It’s a question I’ve been asking myself for a year, as I’ve been trying to reframe myself into writer. Trying to work up the courage to set aside the time to do it well, to submit to real publications, to write what is honest rather than the kind of tidy stuff you put in the Memos On Spiritual Formation that you hand in for seminary. I have been mumbling affirmations of my own worth grumpily as though they are Our Fathers assigned as penance. I have been writing Facebook statuses saying “maybe we don’t ever believe in ourselves all the way—maybe we just come to accept that this is who we are”. And not posting them, of course.
“Forget believing in yourself” says super-ceo-amazeballs who grew up to a single mother working three jobs in Detroit. “Believe whatever you want about yourself, and just put your writing forward. Your writing is useful. Do what you need to get that writing to people who need it. The rest, you can work on later.”
I carry this advice home in my chest like a glowing ball, feeling it seep deep into me. I sit with it like a cup of tea, as I watch the Canada geese flying overhead in the crisp fall. I think about how the things I’m most proud of didn’t come from believing in myself at all—they came from wanting to reach for someone so badly that I forgot to think about whether I believed in myself or not. I forgot to categorize myself--or anyone else--by Fish Size. The way you do, when you are being real.
Overhead, the geese shift spots. The current leader falls back to rest, and someone else steps forward to take their place in front, creating an updraft for the others. The new front bird is not any bigger, or any better than the others. He’s just the one taking that spot.
It turns out that 95% of the seemingly unsolvable problems of my life are solved by that one, simple formula:
1) Figure out who you are reaching for
3) Stop doing all that stuff that is not reaching