Voices Like Candles

Matthew Graybosch wrote an interesting article yesterday about not fitting in despite appearing to be part of the majority. I might not agree with his suggestion that he doesn’t deserve congratulations for still being functional, but I wholeheartedly agree that sharing feelings of isolation is better than leaving the world in some grand gesture. Because people listening is why I don’t feel isolated.

My mother worked as a librarian, so my love of words, writing, and learning has been nurtured since before I was even aware people weren’t all like me. I went to a primary school where being one of the smartest children in the class was reason for other children to challenge you intellectually not physically; I still remember an assembly where we played a game of Blockbusters with me against a group of my class. And my parents chose to send me to public school (United Kingdom expensive, not US free) rather than spend the money on holidays or other things.

At every stage I was surrounded by people of status who both viewed expressing opinions as a good thing, and considered a poorly expressed opinion represented a problem with expression not with the opinion itself.

As I’ve mentioned before, this theme of people who had power and authority listening to my thoughts and opinions as a matter of course only increased once I started studying and practising law. So, with hindsight, I’m unsurprised that I don’t carry much trauma from those people who have suggested I’m odd.

But I am saddened that I’m probably in the minority. Between the children whose dreams died because they chose to fit in with the cool kids and the ones whose innocence was fractured by the cool kids isolating them because they didn’t conform, I suspect plenty of people are pretending to be fine.

And not feeling fine isn’t something to be ashamed of. I said that I’m not carrying much trauma, not that I’m free of it. If someone with a background that actively helped them be strong enough to be themselves didn’t escape the fear of being labelled different, there’s no shame in anyone else feeling it either.

So, try talking to someone about how you feel. And if someone tries to talk to you, try not hiding the fact you feel it too.

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5 thoughts on “Voices Like Candles

  1. I’m wondering if we writers can relate to this especially well, given the experiences some of us have had with rejections. And I’ll bet a lot of us are pretending our books are “doing just fine,” while we’re really fretting about lack of sales, reviews, attention, etc. Some of us may be wondering if the epithet “failed author” describes us. I can say quite honestly that it’s easy to get the impression that everyone else is succeeding while I languish in obscurity. That’s probably because the people who are having success tend to be the ones that talk about it, while the rest of us are a silent majority. Somehow there’s no feeling of fellowship within that majority. Strange, isn’t it?

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    1. I was thinking about that earlier this week. In direct contrast to the flawed idea that it isn’t art if you do it to earn money, there seems to be an equally strong flawed idea that you aren’t an author unless you earn enough that you don’t need another job (or in some extreme cases, enough that your partner can give up their job too).

      I feel the sense of being behind the curve sometimes too. My attempt to counter it is three-fold:

      (1) remember reporting is biased: I post about successes publicly, but don’t post about days that were the same as before, so I am probably only seeing the exceptional.

      (2) create my own successes: for example, 97% of ebooks allegedly sell less than 100 copies, so selling the 100th copy puts me in the same 3% of authors as Stephen King.

      (3) measure like any other business: for example, the average time for start-ups to make a profit is five years, so I’m not actually unsuccessful unless I’m not making a profit after the equivalent of 5 years full-time.

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      1. Each of us writers (specifically self-published) must work this out for themselves — what does success look like for me? Are my expectations realistic, and are they my expectations or someone else’s? I especially like your point #2 — we who have broken the 100-sales barrier should celebrate that, rather than fret that it’s not a million.

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