Friday, September 14, 2007

The Angst of Self Examination

I have a confession to make. I feel sorry for Britney Spears. Now, I don’t particularly like her, I’m not interested in her. But I do feel sorry for her. The media has a fascinating tendency to build up people as heroes or idols, and then tear them apart.

When I was 18 in a manner of speaking I ran away. At the time, I thought I was leaving all my problems behind me, as though they could be compartmentalized, boxed off and but away forever. It took a long time, a lot of countries to realize that you can’t run away from yourself. We all have things that shape our lives, that have contributed to making us the person we are, for better or worse. And over time we either succumb to those influences – the abused child becomes an abuser, the child of an alcoholic becomes an alcoholic themselves, for example – or we spend a lifetime trying to break the chains… or we actually succeed in ending the cycle. I learned that you can’t undo the past, that as much as you try to run away from it it can always catch up to you, and by trying to suppress it you give it power in your life.

This is why, on some levels, I understand suicide. I’m not saying I condone it. I’ve lost a brother-in-law, a cousin, and dealt with the aftermath of suicide attempts by close family members. What I understand is the overwhelming feeling of hopelessness that closes in on you and threatens to crush you, the feeling that you can’t breathe, where everything in life has just become such a mess you feel you can’t find your way out of it.

I guess I’m what some call tough. (Others use the word bitch.) If only they knew the truth. But as much as possible, I’ve tried to avoid mind games. I think what’s fair is to make your position on things known, so that people can avoid making mistakes with you. For example, I hate spam. This is no secret to most people who know me. And I’ve said something about it on lists and forums and whatnot whenever an issue of an author spamming people has come up. The result is, I’m not too popular with authors. By criticizing it I’m “against” them. An attempt to be completely fair – nobody has any excuse for not knowing of my hatred for spam – results in criticism. I went off lists where my email address was being harvested for spam purposes by other authors when nothing was done about it. Should I feel guilty? Not for a second. I have the right to my feelings. Now, I just set a rule on my email. Once an author spams me, they will find future emails go straight to the trash. Good luck to them when they send review copy requests. It isn’t like I haven’t warned people how I feel…

But I’m the bad guy. Okay, fine. I’m the bad guy. One of the things I’ve learned navigating lists and forums over the past few years is that a lot of people put on a nice, smiley public persona and keep their real feelings or opinions locked away. They become an illusion, a mask, a presentation of what’s acceptable. And it works. You need to look no further than Britney Spears for proof that the public image will be completely favourable until you’re proven to be a human being, flawed like everyone else on the planet, and then you’ll be torn apart.

We’ve seen it happen over the past year, even in the crime fiction community. Ian Rankin can recover from the misrepresentation of his remarks and intent from one interview, and all the people who’ve denounced him as a woman-hater and anti-gay as a result. He’s had enough presence, been around long enough for most to give him the benefit of the doubt, and there are enough people that love his books who’ll read them no matter what. And so the industry will not shun him, because he’s still a bestseller and award-winning author.

For others, though, the same cannot be said. Honesty isn’t welcome. You’ll find yourself judged and convicted by people operating off of rumours alone, unsubstantiated.

That’s been the last year of my life, anyway. There have been rumours of affairs I’m allegedly having. Rumours by people I’ve never even met (but I’ve seen the emails). Considering I live in a village in Canada and don’t see people in the industry for months at a time and have never had an affair in my life, I’m amazed at how I apparently get around.

I’m even more amazed that anyone is so pathetic they don’t have something better to talk about. I guess I’m of the opinion I’m really not that interesting. Believe me, the reality is nowhere near as spicy as the rumours.

I always thought the best thing, the fair thing, was to be as straight with people as possible. Not that I’m perfect, and there are times I hold back saying things because I don’t know how a person will take it, maybe don’t feel I know them well enough to speak freely, but at least I thought people could respect the fact that I try to be straight with people. Me, I don’t even need to like you to read your books. Or interview you. On some level, I think I assumed that people would at least be civil and give you a chance instead of writing you off based on what others say alone. I thought I was done with high school. Sure, I have my impressions of people, but have been pleasantly surprised on many occasions to find some who intimidated me to be delightful. I admit it (and he knows it) – I was completely intimidated by Mark Billingham for ages. There was just no rationale to that. It goes down to me, I guess, and my own weaknesses and insecurities.

Maybe it’s just my own peculiar delicate balance that’s brought me to this point, and maybe because of the damage I’ve seen from lies and pretense over the years, but I never wanted to feel like a fraud as a person. I can handle being thought of as tough if people also think I’m fair. What I can’t handle is being thought of as a flag, following the winds of popularity instead of having my own direction based on reason, tastes, integrity.

The problem is, once you’re in the public domain, you can and will be judged by those who are predisposed to dislike you, even if they base their opinion 100% on rumour and lies.

Something else I’ve experienced this past year.

I’m good enough myself at looking in the mirror and being critical about what I see. Most days I think of myself as pretty happy, and as having dealt with most of my demons. And then something comes up and all those insecurities and fears are right back.

But I’m not really supposed to admit this. I’m supposed to go to the next con and kiss some ass so that the industry people like me, and I’m supposed to be supremely self confident and pretend I’m perfect, so of course you should love my books because I’m a wonderful person and a fantastic writer.

You know, being a wonderful person and a fantastic writer has nothing to do with being perfect. Rather, it’s usually in exploring our own weaknesses and fears that we translate on the page what is of most meaning to the reader, because no matter what country we live in, the colour of our skin, our sexual orientation or our gender, we all know what it is to be human. We have hopes and dreams, and we face times of grief and loss. These are the things that bind us together. I guess that’s why I wanted to call this ms The Frailty of Flesh. The theme at the core is all about human weakness.

The one conclusion I’ve come to? I doubt I’ll ever feel as though I belong anywhere. And as long as I don’t base my own self worth on being accepted by a person or a community that will be okay.


norby said...

My husband and I always joke that when we were little we thought being a grown up was supposed to be fun.

Nobody told us that being a grown up meant always trying to figure out who you are and if you're okay with that. Of course, I'm not even sure if I feel like a grown up yet.

Then, just when you think you have it all figured out, some jackass says one sentence that manages to make all crumble down around you. Amazing how that can happen, isn't it?

Ah, ignore me, it's turning out to be one of those months for me.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Norby, that actually sums it up pretty well for me.

And you really don't need anyone else playing mind games with you when you're so good at playing them with yourself.

Steven said...

Sorry that there are those who are trying to wear/tear you down. Even worse that they're authors. Unimaginable to me. Stay strong and I'll see you in Anchorage.

Austin Carr said...

Let'em drink Drano, Sandra.

Christa M. Miller said...

Ugh. I am dealing with similar problems, Sandra. When I first met my husband and moved out of my parents' house, I suddenly realized how dysfunctional my family was and spent about a year "debriefing."

Now that I have kids, I'm finding that 1) I have gained a new understanding (note that I did not say "appreciation") of why my parents acted the way they did and 2) I have absolutely no idea how to raise my children, because I never had appropriate role models. I'm flying by the seat of my pants in the pitch black.

As a result, I've been accused of both being too strict and not loving enough, and too permissive. It is un-fucking-believable. I'm so done with people now. Why can't they mind their own fucking business and focus on doing the right thing by themselves, rather than tearing other people down?

I'm so sorry you're dealing with it too, hon, and such nasty rumors to boot. Big hugs coming your way. You are just fine and someday I hope to meet you!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Steven, sorry, I'm not going to Anchorage.

Austin, perhaps I can find a bartender who carries that...

Christa, yeah, that's why I don't have kids. You're right that it's none of anyone's business. I've read your blog and I know how devoted you are to your kids. Of course it's a human tendency to try to elevate yourself by tearing others down, and in our own ways we all do it from time to time (like the little girl who tells the other little girl, "I don't like you" so little girl says, "Who cares? I don't like you either" - that self defense mechanism is just a variation).

Anonymous said...

In life there is always someone who will want to take you down a peg or two, it's easier for them rather than reaching your level.
Don't let them bring you down Sandra. xxx

Jack Ruttan said...

I think when B. got so famous no one would dare say "no" to her. So there was nobody to set limits on her, or tell her when she was going too far. Paris Hilton?

One also needs a bit of support, or people to count on, who like you not just because you're famous.

In the meantime, one also has to be strong inside, convinced that you are worthwhile for your own sake. That lets you overcome the nasty things people will say, because you know they're not true. You can't help them being idiots, so what does it matter?

Chris said...

It seems (perhaps unsurprisingly) that there's a bit of a thread amongst the writers commenting here (myself included). A lack of proper role-models, an occasionally difficult past, an undercurrent of anxiety and insecurity. The funny thing is, you're worried you'll never find your tribe, and it seems to me, you're tribe's found you already.

Oh, and those people who gossip about you? I hear they eat babies.

Anonymous said...

Sorry you're going through this. I think there's always a tendency for people to dislike those who are too honest and upfront. Been there and so relate to that. Focus on the few people in your life who are your true friends and fuck the rest. That's my philosophy and it's working so far (most of the time).

Pepper Smith said...

Ugh. Folks who tear each other down are not comfortable companions. You're better of not worrying about what they'll do or say, because those who bother to listen and get to know you will know they're wrong.

One thing I've noticed about some people is that they have a hard time seeing past their own point of view. They will often accuse you of motivations or actions that they themselves have done or would do, because they haven't the imagination to see that what's normal for them isn't the way others operate. If they're putting on a false front, they probably assume you are too. An organization or list that supports their behavior isn't worth belonging to.

The saying "actions speak louder than words" became a saying for a reason. Their actions are saying a lot of things about them that they probably don't realize, and as to their words, those who believe them weren't interested in the truth anyway, which in turn says a lot about them that they might not be very proud of.

It's not worth the aggravation of being around people like that. People who are open-minded and listening will find you, because they'll recognize honesty when they see it. It stand out in that sea of false fronts.

Anonymous said...

Sandra I am sorry people are being nasty to you - having met you I have to say what a nice straight forward person you are and I'm looking forward to meeting you again. I also find people can be rotten to the core. And for years not being a self confident person it affected me badly but as I get older I do find myself being surer and clearer in what I want from myself and those around me. For me, honesty if fine to a point- fairness is my bible- I get really really upset at unfairness and still do which is silly 'cos it's aint'a fair world. As you say where we come from, actions taken and not taken, people we interact with, all these shape our lives - the past is gone and the best is to hopefully take a few good lessons and carry them forward.

Child rearing and role models - I don't think there are any no matter what kind of a family you come from, generations change, the world changes and your children's partner (hopefully) is'nt from your family so they too have different role models as parents. I think the basic concept for rearing children IMO is 1)love them lots so they are secure in that love, 2) teach them right from wrong, 3) give them a belief in themself. You find that children on becoming parents usually do the opposite that their parents did and so on, but most parents are'nt all wrong so again take what you felt make you the good person you are and use that.

Life sucks at times and so do people, but if you can surround yourself with people you trust that's a bonus. Take care Hon. Betty

Sandra Ruttan said...

I had some trouble getting on yesterday to comment, but wanted to say thanks to those who took the time to post or email.

What I will add is this: Should I care what anyone says? Ideally, no. But writers/artists often feed off recognition for their work and you can't have it both ways. You can't say the compliments matter and the lies and insults don't hurt.

When what people do threatens to hurt your relationships or your career, you can't so easily shrug it off. I've given up on a personal dream of mine by terminating a collaboration project this year. I guess I should just remember that people only attack who they feel threatened by. But that doesn't mean they get a free pass for all the hurt they've caused me, some of my friends and colleagues, and my family.

And these people would do well to make sure that our paths never cross. The shameful insecurity, to feel threatened because other people are friends.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I know there would be less angst in my life if I stayed off of the Internet. Anne Fs comments about it saving her neck strain, extends fo angst strain. I find the discussion pages particularly hard because there are so many people I don't like to see slammed. The constant choosing and not choosing of books and authors is painful.
But it's like turning off the news, it's still there, watch it or not.