“Hello, is this mental and emotional support?”
“Yes, how can I help you?”
“I’m having trouble with my self-confidence.”
“What seems to be the problem?”
“Well, there’s this overwhelming feeling that nothing I write will ever amount to anything, that nobody will ever read it and even if they do, they’ll hate it, and I’m wasting my life pursuing impossible dreams. Oh, and also my sense of humour is not working.”
“Did you try switching it off and on again?”
“The self-confidence or the sense of humour?”
“Well, they both kind of switched off themselves and I can’t switch them back on. I tried.”
“Okay. Could you check if your sanity cable is plugged in?”
“Yeah, hold on a second.” (fumbles with cable) “Yes, it’s plugged in and there’s a heartbeat, so it’s not an outage.”
“Okay, I’ll come have a look.”
I’ve been following the #writingcommunity on Twitter for a couple of weeks now and support is probably the main theme, the biggest theme there. Honest, enthusiastic, generous support.
I’ve been racking my brain to come up with a beautiful, original and funny explanation of the importance of mental and emotional support but all I come up with are cliches that have one thing in common: they all suggest necessity.
The mental and emotional support of other people is the salt on a writer’s meat (or salad if you’re so inclined). It is the oxygen in their personal air. I’ll drop the poetics because I’m not good at poetics. Anyone creating anything out of thin air and imagination needs the support of other people to keep doing it.
The reason for this is that creating something out of thin air and imagination, as one member of the community accurately noted, exposes you and makes you vulnerable. It doesn’t have to be your painful memoir that lays bare your deepest feelings and greatest fears. Anything you call into existence makes you vulnerable, probably because you invariably need to tap those deepest feelings and greatest fears to do it.
I hear there are people who don’t consider art work. I actually have a friend — a brilliant artist — who’s cursed with some relatives that believe the only work that is legitimate is a nine-to-five in an office for a salary. Art? That’s not work. As far as they’re concerned, my friend is just too lazy to find a real job. Sadly, there are still people like this and people like this have without a doubt put a lot of promising artists, writers, and musicians off their true calling in favour of a real job.
This is how great the importance of support can be. It can be the difference between an unhappy life cut short by the inevitable illness that is so often the result of living a life you don’t enjoy and a long, fulfilled life spent doing something you love, even if you have a real job.
I’ve been exceptionally lucky in the support department, I have to admit, which only makes me all the more furious when I encounter talented people being hampered by clueless — and uncluable — individuals refusing to understand anything outside their own tiny little boring world.
As is often the case with people in relationships, my strongest anchor and sturdiest pillar is my husband… who is so picky in his fiction tastes he could drive someone more sensitive than me insane. He’s never read anything I’ve written, including, I suspect, a 5,000-word vampire story I wrote for him as a birthday, um, card.
But when I got my author’s copy of the Transcendent anthology last week he insisted on seeing my name and story title in the contents. And he looked very proud when he saw it. His expression reminded me of the time he first saw me in my wedding dress (yes, before the wedding, the horror).
He’s not one to overanalyse things, my better half. And he’s also not one to rain praise on me on general principles just to encourage me. No. I had to ask him one day, while I was in labour with the fourth and final draft of The Lamiastriga, if it was even worth it. I asked him directly if he thought I had any chance of ever getting published or I should drop it and find something better to do.
Of course you will, he said in such an assured, matter-of-factly manner I was this close to strangling him, I swear. If you keep on working, he said, unaware his life had been in danger for a second, you will get published. I naturally asked if he was sure because I wanted to hear it from him. Of course, he said with that same infuriatingly assured voice that reminded me of my dad when I boasted I’d passed my Syntax exam (on the third sitting) with flying colours. Even the bloody words were the same: “Of course you passed.” As if there was never any possibility of me failing even though I did fail twice before that.
This is the best kind of support infuriating as it may be because it is not generously and regularly shared with its object. The kind of support that simply excludes the possibility of failure. The kind of support that is made up of respect for one’s work and a search for ways to make this work possible.
These ways include, but are not limited to, finding a small enough, cheap enough computer and installing it in the kitchen so I have somewhere to binge watch Midsomer Murders while I draft and not risk the life of my laptop because the kitchen is for cooking after all and that means things producing vapours that are bad for a computer’s health. Yeah, I can draft and cook at the same time, I’m very multitasky in that department.
For some reason I happen to have the same kind of support from my friends although they, at least, have the decency to cheer and clap, and be as surprised as me when I get an acceptance email for a story. “Of course” is a phrase I often hear from them as well, even those who have not read the stories.
It’s a phrase I use myself when their skills receive their well deserved acknowledgement. Not because they are my friends but because they do deserve acknowledgement. I just happen to have talented, skillful friends. Support is easy to give to people like this. Funnily enough, they never ask for it. In fact, I have a suspicion the people who most need support don’t ask for it for fear they would come across as needy or because they feel they don’t deserve it.
Since I’m in a good, mellow mood right now, I’ll say that everyone deserves support… and since despite my mood I am not generally a nice person, I’ll add there are many exceptions basically covering people who are willing to hurt others in pursuit of their own goals. Excluding these, everyone deserves support, if not from their family, then from friends and even random people on the Web.
Random support can be as good as a friend’s: it’s given willingly, after all, and that means you’re worth it. Everyone who’s brave enough to do something with a passion that lays their soul bare for everyone to see, making it vulnerable to mockery and hate, is worth it.