tales of a girl in the city

mars 02, 2006

I Know You Are, But What Am I?

I believe in other people. I hand them my belief in bright, shiny boxes, wrapped up in paper as gold as the stars my first grade teacher used to put on homework. My belief is unconditional. It is absolute. I say: You are brilliant. You're gorgeous. Of course you can do this. I offer my friends--and even some of my acquaintances--these sentiments one after another. Like party favors: a bag of my best to take home.

I don't even have to pause to consider the things I'm telling them. I know they are true. Do what you love: I'm the first one to say it. He should know how lucky he is: I've practically yelled that one at women across dinner tables. You have so many gifts: I just spent an hour writing a friend an email where that was the main idea.

So much unconditional belief in others, it makes me wonder why the voice I use for myself is so conditioned to doubt and to fear.

It's like that with everything. My writing: I wish I could tell you how long I'd been hiding my writing. And then I started this blog, and shared it more or less accidentally with 200 strangers who seem to think it's OK... And still--still!--I have a hard time giving a friend or an acquaintance one of my stories. Why? I think: They'll hate it. They'll laugh. Or--if they're supposed to laugh--they won't. There'll be that horrible period of time when they avoid me rather than telling me the truth about how not-good it was. How average....

And my acting: I did a scene from "Sophie's Choice" on Monday. For weeks I'd been dreading it, worrying, "My accent will sound ridiculous. They'll sit there and compare me to Meryl Streep--and, of course, I'll never measure up." On and on and on and on, this cycled through my head as I put doing the scene off, making sure I was too busy to look at the script. And then, finally, on Monday, I sat down and performed the scene for the class. Sweating inside if not out. Afraid, afraid, afraid, afraid.

As soon as the last words were out of my mouth, they let me know that they loved it. One girl breathed, "My God, I thought you were her!" My acting teacher, who is known for hurling books and being distant, called it "Brilliant!" instead. And then she hugged me. Hugged.

But did I let any of that praise sink in? Did I let myself hear--and believe--the terrific things they had to say? No. Of course not. Because, on some level, those great, positive words of reinforcement and belief are ones I save for others. And for some reason, deny myself.