I want it both ways
Notes on criticism, contradiction and true compassion
So I wrote a book. A memoir called Totally Fine (and other lies I’ve told myself). It tells the story of my boyfriend’s suicide when we were both twenty-year-old university students and the decade of grief that followed, which was a time when I was pretending to be ‘totally fine’ - hence the title.
My book isn’t a diary and my memoir isn’t therapy: my book is a creation for public consumption. I want it to be read, to be enjoyed, not in spite of, but especially because of the subject matter. I believe it needs to be readable, relatable and a good reading experience for the message to be digested and shared. I want it to be devoured, talked about and for it to have an impact on its readers. What writer doesn’t want all of those things?
My book sits in a genre that I like to call ‘narrative self-help’. All stories are self-help really, from Winnie-the-Pooh to Harry Potter, because stories are how humans learn. Winnie-the-Pooh teaches us about friendship and Harry Potter teaches us that love conquers all. And my book is a call for us to focus on what matters in life and is a warning against the pressures of youth, myths of success and everything we’ve been taught about what’s important that’s all a lie, really.
"A day without a friend is like a pot without a single drop of honey left inside." Winne-the-Pooh
I find my book’s self-help message helpful in my own life. It makes decisions and priorities incredibly easy. People often say that grief can be a gift because of the new perspective it gives you, but in our culture, that perspective is so easily forgotten. I forget it all the time and so I find my book a helpful reminder and I wanted to help others, too. But it’s a paradox that I created my book for public consumption, and therefore public scrutiny and yet, at the same time, if I do see any criticism of it, I think; ‘fuck you, that’s my life you’re talking about there.’ I can’t have it both ways, and yet here we are.
I also want to be thin and eat burgers, to be considered attractive but also to not care what anyone thinks. I want equal pay and opportunities as men but I want my boyfriend to do all the driving. I want to have plans with friends but can be too lazy to make them. And so on. I am riddled with contradictions and wanting to have it both ways which, in theory, makes me a terrible human.
My dad said that if I do my work out in public, then I have to suffer. And I get that, but I’d also rather not suffer, if it can be avoided. I feel a lot of shame for not being able to read my book’s reviews, but I took comfort when Daisy Buchanan, author of multiple books, talked about how she can’t read her reviews on her podcast, Careering. Daisy, is a pro. So it’s not just me, hooray!
I should probably act as though no bad reviews exist and like my book is the best thing ever so that you rush to buy it. But the truth is, it may not be for you. It depends on your own mindset, circumstances, mood, tastes and experiences. As my mum said; ‘it is a bit shocking in places’.
We’d all be a lot happier if we embraced our contradictions and our unreasonable and childish, but also authentic tendency to want to have it both ways. Life is complicated, we are complicated and we’re all different. On Steven Bartlett’s show, Johann Hari author of ‘Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention’ when talking about why reading books is important and how the medium is the message, says: ‘what does a printed book say to you? Firstly, the world is complicated and you might want to take a bit of time to think about one thing.’ I love that, the need for us to embrace all forms of complexity, while the algorithms try and rob that from us is urgent.
Compassion isn’t taking baths or lighting overpriced candles, but accepting our contradictions. As women, we’re so often told that we can’t have it all, and that may be true, but don’t shame me for desiring it. It is kind to not berate ourselves for our wants and desires. Once we forgive ourselves, we can be kinder to those who contradict themselves, too.
Happiness is also to be found in realistic expectations and I know that I can’t have it all. I can’t publish a book, expect pure praise and be an elevated human who doesn’t take criticism personally. But I’m not perfect, and neither are you. I find comfort that writers need to be sensitive in order to be able to absorb and communicate the world back to us. It’s almost our job to be hyper-aware and over-sensitive. If I had a ‘thick skin’ (which sounds kind of gross by the way), perhaps I’d lack the sensitivity to write. Or, I’d be ‘pretending to be fine’, which is off-brand and I’m trying not to do as much now.
Liked this? Why not try We are creatures of comparison and that’s just how it is
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