Fear of Re-Rejection

I’ve faced the obstacle of fear one too many times while writing this memoir.

“What is it now?” You might be asking. “You’ve already talked about fear of your family not being pleased with your book; what the devil is it now?”

Glad you asked.

Last week, I was writing about my sophomore year of college. It wasn’t a year in which I spoke to my father a lot, so much of this writing focuses on the underlying impact that our lack of relationship had on me. That means that I’m writing more about my relationships with my friends and with guys that I was interested in (who were, of course, not interested in me. But that’s alright now.) As I sat down to write a scene in which I had a conversation with one of these crushes, my heart started pacing so badly that I had to leave my co-working space, come home, and have a fig bar and some tea. THAT BAD.

It took only about half the cup of tea (though all of the fig bar) for me to realize that the ickiness in my stomach, the sensation of bugs crawling on my flesh, was actually fear.

Why would I be afraid of writing about a conversation that happened over ten years ago, that is now so inconsequential, that I practically got hives?

Part of me believes that the visceral reaction is an answered prayer. I have prayed multiple times for God to let me feel the same feelings that I felt back then so that I can properly express them in writing. But with those sensations come the fear of being rejected all over again.

Yep, I said that.

It is a fear of being rejected by that same guy all over again.

“But, Vonetta,” you might be saying, “you already know what’s going to happen!”

Exactly! That’s the problem! I know that I’m going to get rejected and it is incredibly embarrassing.

“But, Vonetta, you’re married to wonderful man!”

I know, I say, shaking my head slowly. But that doesn’t change how I feel every time I think about that conversation.

This left me with a couple of options. I could either (a) skip that part and continue pretending none of it ever happened or (b) swallow my pride, face my fear, and write the damn scene so that others can gain a measure of comfort from my embarrassment and be a little bit soothed by my vulnerability.

I understood that (b) was my only option, but, man, (a) was really tempting. But I wrote it out, wincing all the while, and I got through it. I felt the feelings again, and they sucked again, but everything is okay now, just as it was then. I don’t know why I didn’t tell myself back then that being rejected by one guy wasn’t the end of the world. But that’s the benefit of hindsight and one of the easiest parts of writing a memoir. The hard part is believing that the future will wind up being okay, too.

 

Whatever happened to the truth?

“Pearls are layers and layers of soothing ‘nacre’ intended to insulate the delicate mollusk from the irritant that abraded it. At root, a pearl is a ‘disturbance,’ a beauty caused by something that isn’t supposed to be there, about which something needs to be done. It is the interruption of equilibrium that creates beauty. Beauty is a response to provocation, to intrusion. …The pearl’s beauty is made as a result of insult just as art is made as a response to something in our environment that fires us up, sparks us, causes us to think differently.” –Julia Cameron, The Sound of Paper

This weekend was tough for me (see here and here why that was the case). I watched the inauguration, CIA speech, press conference coverage, and Sunday morning political talk shows only because I want to be an informed citizen. I walked away from all of those television events asking, “Since when is it acceptable to blatantly lie to your own people?”

Luckily, the TV hosts were thinking along the same lines as I was. As both George Stephanopoulos and Chuck Todd asked the president’s “senior advisor” that very same question, I hoped that I would get some insight into the point of telling wanton untruths. Instead, I witnessed with my own eyes and ears the way she danced around the question, refused to answer it, and defended fraud in her use of the phrase “alternative facts.”

During his press briefing yesterday, the White House press secretary said, “Sometimes we can disagree with the facts,” thereby showing his lack of familiarity with the definition of the word “fact” or his confusion of the word “fact” with the word “opinion.”

I’m not writing about this as a partisan object. This isn’t a matter of liberal versus conservative or Republican versus Democrat; this is an assault on the truth.

Whatever happened to the truth?

I was aware of the talk of “fake news” during the election campaigns, but when did we lose respect altogether for the truth, the most sacred of values?

I read in the Wall Street Journal that the White House press secretary said that Friday’s inauguration crowd “was the largest ever, although available evidence disputes that claim.” The size of crowd is not the focus of this sentence, and no one should allow themselves to get distracted by it. The sticking point is the “available evidence disputes that claim.” I have been a juror in a serious court case before, so I have firsthand experience with the importance of evidence. Evidence can help find someone guilty or prove their innocence. In other words, depending on the case, evidence has the power to determine if someone will continue living or if they will die because they committed an unspeakable crime. Evidence is the closest representation to truth there is, and it is the backbone of our justice system. We cannot let the truth be cast aside as optional. If we can throw out the truth, I shudder to think what could be disregarded next.

The Declaration of Independence states that the founding fathers held “these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Lies, falsehoods, and “alternative facts” impinge upon freedom and equality, and they have since this country was founded. I am baffled at the current administration’s audacity to so boldly counter American values as it touts a [Nazi-inspired, according to history books] “American first” agenda.

I do not understand how this has happened, or why it has happened, but I do know that I will continue to stand for the truth, and I want you to do the same. Call out the lies that chip away at our democracy. Do not apologize if you are well-educated and intellectual, but be proud of who you are and what you know, and despite the ugly wishes of those who want otherwise, the result will be beauty.

An Act of Worship

I was the new kid, sitting on the floor of my first-grade class in Spencer, North Carolina. I was six years old and my family had just moved to North Carolina from Camden, New Jersey.

A lady had come into the classroom with a tape player and a big smile. “Bonjour, mes amis!” she chirped.

“Bonjour, madam!” The class called back in unison.

I stared on, confused. What were they saying?

“Comment allez-vous?”

“Fine!”

My heart started to race as I continued to wonder what was happening.

The lady pressed play on the tape player and led the class in a song that sounded like it was about the alphabet, but wasn’t the ABCs that I knew. A was “ah,” like what I would say when the doctor told me to open my mouth. H was “ash,” like what came on your elbows when you didn’t use lotion. Y was a whole word by itself and I couldn’t make my mouth say it. Z was “zed,” like a man’s name. I never met a man named Zed, but it seemed like it could be a man’s name.

At the end of the class, the lady introduced herself to me and said that she was our French teacher.

French. That’s what it was called.

I knew a little bit of Spanish, which I’d learned from the Puerto Ricans who lived on the same block as my grandmother in Camden, but I had never heard French. Instantly, I loved every part of it. The way the letters made my tongue lap the roof of my mouth, so softly. It didn’t make my head vibrate the way Spanish’s rolled Rs did.

French seemed like something rich people were born knowing. I had accidentally been invited into their club, even though I was wearing a cotton short set my mom had bought from Goodwill, and I hoped they’d never be the wiser.

In that moment, I knew that my life would be different from anything anyone I had ever known had experienced. It was as if a door had been opened and when I stepped out of it, I fell softly onto an open parachute called the whole wide world. The world was so much bigger than I would ever be, bigger than anyone I knew, even my really tall uncle who lived in St. Louis and not in Camden with everyone else.

I suddenly wanted to see the whole world. Where in the world did they speak this French if we were learning it in North Carolina? What if there were other languages that I had never heard? I thought.

It was a call to worship.

Worship is an expression of reverence and adoration, particularly to a deity. To me, travel (like writing) is an act of worship.

I first responded to this call during my junior year of college. I wanted to go to London to study abroad, but my academic advisor recommended a small school in the east of England. I reluctantly agreed since the school has a well-known creative writing program. When I arrived on campus, I was blown away the rolling hills whose beauty winter’s cold rain couldn’t wash away, only amplify.

Seeing God’s creation with one’s very own eyes, even if it’s just to verify that the creations exist, is the action that goes with every “God is good” thought. We weren’t there when He made it all, so seeing the world is like watching Him create all over again. You become more confident in God’s amazingness when you’ve seen the sun melt into the Pacific Ocean. It makes sense that God called humankind “very good” when you’ve walked on the thickest, highest portions of the Great Wall of China. It’s a sure thing that He provides for needs when you’ve seen flora and fauna flourishing in the desert of Arizona.

Now, don’t get me wrong — I understand that not everyone will get the opportunity to see the farthest reaches of the earth, due to financial, physical, or other limitations, and I believe that God shows Himself to everyone who is interested in seeing Him in some way or another. But those who can travel should.

Travel changes you in a way nothing else can. It instills patience, empathy, and fearlessness, three characteristics that most therapists would say make for a satisfying life. I can attest to that. After we climbed a real mountain in Arizona just last week, my husband and I stood at the summit, looking out for miles, beyond the desert that lies beyond the farmland that lies far outside of the city.

“Should we pray? I feel like we should pray,” my husband said. And we said a quick note of reverence to the One we believe created all of the beauty we were looking out at and also the mountain we climbed to see it all.

My husband and I had allowed experienced trail runners to jog past us as we clung to rocks for dear life. I wanted to be jealous of their speed, but I couldn’t: I had to take my time because I’d never done this before. I would have to be patient with myself.

Hardly any part of climbing the mountain was easy. I struggled a lot. It made me wonder if I had been skipping over other people’s struggles, failing to recognize how hard they’d worked to get to where they are. How many of those train runners had fallen like I had on their first-ever climbs?

At the end of the climb, my hands were dirty and my feet were exhausted, but I felt strong and invincible.

“This is scary!” A young girl kept saying as she climbed behind us.

“But you can do it!” I called back. “You’ll never be scared of anything again!”

I was joking, but part of what I said was true: climbing that mountain will never be scary to me again because I’ve done it.

I came, I saw, I conquered. I worshiped.

 

Happy New Year! (Let’s not do 2016 again)

Happy New Year, all!

I didn’t really want to do a retrospective because 2016 was sort of an awful year for me (like everyone else). But since I had so many life changes, it’s fitting to reflect on them.

2016 began with my husband and me going on vacation for a week to the Dominican Republic to escape the dastardly cold of a New York January, and our jobs. My spouse loved his job, but it was exhausting. Breathing in the salty air and sleeping by the pool restored his soul. By the time we left, he was energized to leap back on the horse and gallop for a while longer, at least until our next vacation.

I, on the other hand, felt drained the entire wonderful trip. I tried sleeping by the pool like my spouse, but I kept getting nervous that someone would steal my iPad (not likely given that we were at a Westin resort, so everyone else had iPads, too). I tried napping in the sun, but my brain wanted to be engaged instead. I became exhausted. Then I realized the root of the feeling came from thinking about the fact that I had to go back to work in five days (four days…three days…two days…you get the picture). I loved the work that I did as a private equity investor, but as soon as I walked into the door of my firm, an unshakable cloud descended upon me and the knuckles of my sternum locked together. In meetings, the cloud filtered into my mind, fogging my confidence and analytical skills.

When I got back to work, I took some time to think about what I was feeling, thinking that if I could identify it, then maybe I could change it. One thing I noticed was that the partners’ faces lit up with engagement when they spoke to each other, but drew blank when I spoke, regardless of what I’d said, it seemed. I didn’t feel welcome to speak, I didn’t feel comfortable to ask questions, and I felt constricted from applying my talents. Ultimately, I didn’t feel that I belonged in a place where I was told that I did, because I was hired into the company.

This feels familiar, I thought. Why does this feel so familiar?

My brain had a flashback to my father’s funeral, in September 2015. Just the thought that I would maybe encounter my sisters, whom I had not spoken to in years, made my heartrate stayed elevated. When I walked into the church, I saw one of my sisters and gave her a somber smile, thinking that if she responded positively, I would go talk to her, make some amends, and know that we could finally behave like we were family. But her face stayed cold. Maybe she was in shock. Maybe she didn’t recognize me since it’d been so long (at least five years) since she’d seen me. It didn’t matter; the point was that I was not welcome in her life and I never would be.

So that was it.

My bosses were treating me the way my sisters and my father did: creating an environment in which I felt completely uninvited despite the fact that we were one family living in the same house (or, one company into which we’d all been hired).

The first half of 2016 was filled with feelings of inadequacy. I chose to walk away from the source of those feelings – the company I worked for – and start a journey to ensure that I’m never made to feel that way again. That meant telling the story of how all of these feelings began and, just like skin, clearing out what lies beneath that erupts into grossness. Since the second half of 2016, I’m 105,000 words and 286 pages into the grossness and I’ve still got a decade to cover.

2017 will be about re-establishing my confidence in myself and my abilities through writing. Writing is one of the worst ways to accomplish this, in my opinion, because it results in so questioning and shakiness, but I think that’s the point. In 2015, I made it a mission to get physically stronger, and over the past two years of gym-going, I’ve learned that muscles only build up when they’re broken down first, and that requires some shaking.

So, here’s to shaking myself to strength in lucky number ’17.

fitness22
This isn’t me and it never will be, but you get the point.