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This might get weird. I’m just gonna put that out here, right up front. I’ve been in an especially reflective mood lately, and I’m pulling this post from that painfully honest well. Because something’s been on my mind. A series of questions, actually…
When did I start second guessing my every move?
Why have I become so self-critical?
When did I turn into a walking apology?
Maybe I’m alone in this. I dunno. But somehow I’ve let toxic self-sabotage become my go-to move. And I need to shake it off. These days, over and over, I find myself thinking…
You’re too emotional.
You’re too easily played.
You’re too naive.
You’re not smart enough.
You’re not tough enough.
You’re not good enough at this game.
And on and on and on. Yes, it’s good to reflect and push yourself. And a healthy dose of self-doubt is an extremely useful thing. Without at least a little of it, it’s almost impossible to grow. But too much? Too much, and there’s no room for growth at all. Instead, there’s only room for the echo of self-destructive thought.
I think it hit me tonight, when I was driving home from an especially long day at work. Tonight, on a long stretch of highway, I had the music cranked up as I was listening to Pharrell’s Happy. And you know what? I was singing along and acting completely goofy and un-ironic and just being… unapologetically happy. I was just being myself, feeling good like no one was watching, no apology necessary. And yanno what? It was great.
All that toxic self-talk had completely disappeared.
And on that cloud of joy-for-no-reason, I came home and reread a recent interview with Pharrell in Red Bulletin. And over and over, he talks about emotion and the power of human feeling and how hard he works to listen and stay open to it as he creates new things. Without apology, he acknowledged this empathy and emotion, and his inability to push it aside. He owns it not as a weakness, but as a strength. A strength that fuels everything he does:
“…Always shooting for that and using feeling as a compass. We are so dismissive of our feelings. Yet…our feelings can lead us to do really crazy things or really amazing things…”
“…Steve Jobs. He so genuinely bought that product to the world; it is called a computer. But we are human, and that is what a computer will never be able to do is feel. That is what makes us the superior species of this planet…”
“…When I realized that thinking is not my path and feeling is for me, I started to realize that people are so dismissive about other people’s feelings…Ferraris, jewelry, all of those things mean nothing…You can’t take that when you go. You take your feelings with you and your experiences that gave you those feelings. That is the wealth, man. An experience. The coolest thing that you talk about is your trip where you went and you had a good time. The first thing you talk about it in terms of description, “Man, it was awesome.”
I’m no creative genius like Pharrell, but I think he might be on to something. Maybe our weaknesses are also our strengths. Sure, I should still try to hone my critical thinking skills, but maybe, I don’t need to dismiss the core of who I am. Maybe I need to embrace it. Maybe I need to flip that thought loop until it sounds more like…
I’m empathic enough to care deeply about others.
I’m optimistic enough to stay open to possibility.
I’m forgiving enough to look past flaws and shortcomings.
I’m headstrong enough to take chances.
I’m resilient enough to ante up, again and again.
I’ve got enough heart to know which games really matter.
So if I’m not alone, and you’re feeling self-critical, this is my long-winded way of passing it along to you: whatever your weakness is, no matter what your critical thought loop says, the flaws in you are probably also your biggest strengths. Be you, and no one else. Be you and work it, baby.
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof…
Allow me to introduce myself. I’m your favorite literary heroine. I know I’m breaking the fourth wall here, by writing to you directly, but it’s come to my attention that there’s been a lot of chatter about me lately. Yes, I’ve seen those major media essays and tweets and blog posts questioning my character. I know you’ve been reading them, too. So you can’t blame me for worrying. I’ve begun to think you’ve lost faith in me. Because you think I’m… weak. So I ask you this…
Define the word ‘strong’?
Does it mean I’m good with a gun or a knife or a bow? Does it mean I can throw a good punch or read someone’s mind? Does it mean I can control the weather or kill with a touch? Given the right circumstances, of course these can definitely be measures of strength, but would you accept others as well?
I ask, because I’m not sure we should make this all about physical might or prowess. Or even surface level externals at all. I think there might be more at play, when it comes down to defining ‘strong.’ In fact, I’m going to stick my neck out and argue that any character–of any gender, of any orientation, of circumstance or station–can be strong. But let’s just go ahead and say ‘she,’ since lately, it seems my fictional sisters are the ones under fire.
Okay, okay. You got me. I’m the one who’s feeling maligned. So instead of ‘she,’ let’s put all pretense aside and say me. Are you ready for my best defense? Here goes:
I am strong because I am the agent of my own destiny. Whether I choose to save the world or kiss someone or both, it is my choice. I may even opt to stay at home and avoid those outcomes altogether. But that’s beside the point. Through agency, I am mighty.
What’s more, I am more than my actions. Circumstances be damned, I am strong. In the best of times, you’ll see me make the most of the choices given; you’ll watch me choose my own path and stumble. You’ll know me as a self-actualized being, flawed in my ascent. But even in the worst of times, when all other choices are denied, when I am shackled and pushed to my knees, I may be just as invincible. My mind is a guarded palace, lock-tight against every manipulation. My infinite heart; barred against cruelty and assault.
Debase me. Dismiss me. Defeat me. Do your worst. Yes, I may bleed or break or cry out. I may flinch or I may stay silent. But make no mistake; none of it means I am weak or signals you have won. No. I may capitulate in the flesh, but you will never have dominion over the kingdom of my inner life. I alone rule it.
My spirit will always rise.
So look carefully as you deliberate on your final definition. Because in strength, I have many names. I am Katniss Everdeen and Orleana Price. I am Jo March and Jane Eyre and Hermione Granger and Cameron Post. I am Naomi Leon, Alanna of Trebond and Celie Johnson. I am Scout Finch. Bridget Jones. She-Hulk. Jing-mei. Eleanor Douglas. Nhama. Kittyhawk and Verity.
Judge me as you will and curse my choices, but know that I made them of my own free will. And that, I contend, is the better part of strong.
Your (Much Maligned) Favorite Literary Heroine,
If I had to sum up 2013 in one word, it’d be ‘upheaval.’ I don’t necessarily mean that in a negative way (although this past year was a mixed bag–a couple of man-eating tigers, but a thousand adorable kittens). When I say upheaval, I mean I feel the soil of my life has been under the spade, and things have been thoroughly aerated and upturned.
After all, this year, we sold a house and bought a new one. Moved away from one city and moved into another. While my son made friends at a new school, my husband and I started work at new jobs. Oh, and I finished major revisions on my first someday-to-be-published book. (Turns out revision isn’t the hardest part; it’s the best part, the gateway to the dead dragon’s hoard.)
Most importantly, my father survived a terrible accident, and recovered. Ever since since the crash, he’s treated every day like a gift. He’s alive and up and walking and talking…so let me tell you, I’m so grateful it’s 2014 and he’s still here.
So yeah, a lot of stuff happened. I didn’t stop to let that sink in until today. This has been a great year, a turbulent year, one that’s taught me a lot. I’ve learned that change can be wonderful, and even when it’s not, there’s coffee. I’ve learned that the nurses in rehabilitation hospitals are saints, and that my dad cannot exist without Sonic drinks. I’ve learned that my husband is a miracle, and that his arms are strong enough to hold anything, whether it eight hundred pounds of stress or a metric ton of overblown angst. I’ve learned that I can wait another year to see my book on shelves, and that setbacks are sometimes not setbacks at all, but blessings in disguise, and that either way, struggle makes all victories sweeter.
I’ve learned that I need to keep learning. Always. Every year. 2013, thank you for rooting out thorns and mucking around and getting under the topsoil. 2014, I’m ready. For seedlings and sleeping buds. No harvest, but plenty of growth. Welcome, new year; let’s get going, no time to waste.
Let’s plant something beautiful.
Dear V. E. Schwab,
Even though I’m a librarian and ardent reader, these days, I haven’t been able to devour as much as I’ve liked. But once VICIOUS arrived in my mailbox, I just had to flip my desk, shove everything aside and dive in. In fact, that’s why I’m writing. I can’t help myself. Sometimes, you just gotta write a heartfelt fan letter. This is that letter. Forgive me if I embarrass myself.
It’s no secret that I’ve been really looking forward to reading VICIOUS. But with great anticipation, there’s comes something else, too–that little quaver of trepidation. You think, what if I don’t love it as much as I want to? What if I’ve built up my expectations too much? I’d really hung my hopes on this one, V.E. I was praying for a good book. But…I didn’t get one. Instead, I got a MASTERPIECE. A juggernaut, comet-tail rocket ride fueled by sheer brilliance of storytelling.
Truth be told, when I turned the last page of VICIOUS and read the last line, I realized something. I knew, deep in my bookish old bones that this novel was exactly the right kind of book. I felt almost as if it was written just for me. And that is what fiction is supposed to be, isn’t it? A great story swallows us up and refuses to leave us. It’s an unshakeable thing. VICIOUS is that to me.
In it, there are heroes masquerading as villains and villains who wear a hero’s smile, and there’s the realization that both figures duel in half-light inside our hearts. And the story…Oh. My. Cumberbatch, the story. It’s The Prestige and X-Men and The Count of Monte Cristo and so much more. Under the crackling surface of this plot, so many themes and ideas and ideals swirl and spark and burn and I am powerless to resist. I am deliriously in love with the world you created, and you’ve spoiled me for at least the next dozen books. From here on out, I’m going to be comparing novels to this one. I’ll be tsk-ing, pining for Victor (who I love more than I ought) and wondering what Sydney and Eli and Mitch are up to. You have RUINED me, and for that, I thank you.
In case you ever doubted, your readers are here, hanging until the last page. We beg of you; please keep going, we can hardly wait. Your words matter.
Quite Seriously and Sincerely and Not Even a Little Bit Kidding,
The sorting hat says that I belong in Gryffindor!
Said Gryffindor, "We’ll teach all those with brave deeds to their name."
Students of Gryffindor are typically brave, daring, and chivalrous.
Famous members include Harry, Ron, Hermione, Albus Dumbledore (head of Hogwarts), and Minerva McGonagall (head of Gryffindor).
Take the most scientific Harry Potter
Quiz ever created.
Dear Ms. Bowman,
Yes, it’s true. I did fall in love with Gray’s story from page one. Before it sold. Before the beautiful cover and the incredible buzz. Before it became a book-shaped object on my nightstand. But you probably didn’t know that each time I reread TAKEN, my excitement grew. The characters, the world, the SECRETS! All the twists and intrigue revolving around the Heist continue to thrill me even now, and it’s so satisfying to see your debut polished and shining and ready for the rest of the world.
Gray may have grown up in the sheltered world of Claysoot, but I know his path will lead him farther *and* further from everything he thought he knew. I know his heart is torn and that his dilemmas will only deepen that wound in the pages to come. His journey will put him on treacherous ground, in places dark and desolate, and all the while, I know he’ll be compelled to make choices and take a stand against forces so much larger than himself. I know he’ll learn that friends and foe aren’t always what they seem, and that being human is a choice, and not just a birthright. I know that he and everyone he fights for will never be the same.
Write faster, Ms. Bowman. I can’t wait for readers to take that journey with him.
Your Constant Reader