Nemesis

I believe in spite as a motivator. Nothing has worked better for me than to prove myself to some entity who probably couldn’t care less about me. (NB: This is bad relationship advice. Ask my therapist.)

But spite is what got my through my undergrad in Computer Science. Fuck you, programming! You think I can’t do this? I’ll show you! And then I did it, even graduated with distinction and promptly never worked as a programmer again.

My first Nanowrimo? Nailed that motherfucker. Needed to prove to the world in general that yes, I can so write a shitty novel. (The world has yet to congratulate me for this effort.) My second Nanowrimo? My back proved to me that ergonomics are important. Fuck you, Sonal.

Consequently, I have a writing nemesis. Who actually doesn’t know that they are my nemesis, and probably doesn’t care a whit about me, but unfortunately that means I have to keep juicy details rather vague, since we are technically ‘friends’.

In fact, my nemesis is actually my second nemesis. The first gave me a patronizing speech about being the ‘cusp’ of being published, and so therefore I was not worthy. I was also unpublished, and nemesis #1 had never read my work, but somehow he had determined I was not on the cusp. He put great thought into this speech, as he was trying to generously help a lesser writer such as myself.

I send out work in earnest and shortly thereafter got my first publishing credit. Paid. In an anthology, meaning there was an actual book with my name on the cover. (The back cover, but still the cover.) I had a play produced. I published more stuff. Nemesis #1 has yet to publish anything. Go cusp yourself, asshole.

By contrast, Nemesis #2 never really did anything to me–aside from stumbling over their ego–but my belief is that their writing does not deserve the accolades it receives, and as such, I have chosen to focus all my writerly jealousies and venom onto this one not-necessarily-deserving person who (in all probability) would be happy for my successes. But I can still pretend they are inwardly seething. This has the advantage of leaving me free to be happy for everyone else’s success, so I’m okay with sacrificing this one person to the full force of my mental bad will.

Still, one thing Nemesis #2 does genuinely do better than I do is stay disciplined to produce more work. For a while, I told myself that this was because Nemesis’ life was better arranged in support of their writing, but this is no longer true. And so I am left with the fact that I suck at routine. Self-imposed goals and deadlines slip by. I buy donuts to reward myself but then eat the donut before writing anything. The tricks to force myself to stay on task keep wearing thin.

Even the trick of having a Nemesis. Because what I see more and more, is that my nemeses are reflections of myself. Although I have nicer hair.

Nemesis #1 was my own desparation to prove that I could really do this, and that I belong. And once I moved beyond that, I no longer thought of him. Nemesis #2 is my own desire to succeed. We are both driven, but they work harder. That is a problem I could solve, but haven’t yet.

And this realization makes it difficult to push on out of pure spite. So what’s left after that? The pure joy of accomplishment? I am not sure I know what it’s like to do something and not at least quietly say “Fuck you!” to someone.

Still. At some point, I suppose I should try and acheive something resembling maturity.

 

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Fear of Success?

Things have been going really well with my novel, except for the actual writing part.

I have agents (plural!) who said they’d like to see a revision. I have worked with a story editor and I think I have figured out why it hasn’t been working. I have a plan for fixing it and it’s not an overwhelming amount of work. I have time. I’m even kind of excited about the changes, which is a rare thing when you are some years into a project. And yet no writing.

A friend suggested fear of success, which at first seems odd, since I have been so driven for the past few years, but I sat with that thought for a while and I think she is right. Everything seems like it’s about to happen, except that I am not making my part happen.

It doesn’t quite feel like Imposter Syndrome. I don’t feel any doubt about belonging, or feel like I don’t deserve this. I do deserve it. I’m a good writer, and I have been working towards this. I have no doubts about who I am as a writer.

Yet at the same time, I am a kid from Scarborough with immigrant parents; we don’t write books. We get degrees and jobs and marriages and enjoy our outward trappings of success. That’s still me even though it’s not me.

I was thinking about this in the car, getting a bit teary-eyed, and then Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” came on the radio, and I started crying harder since apparently well-placed bubblegum pop music has the power to be emotionally overwhelming.

When I was a teenager, I remember reading Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, which came out sometime in the 90s. It was a major Canadian literary novel, and it contained characters who looked like me. They weren’t exactly like me, since they lived in Mumbai and I’ve only been there on brief visits, and the time period was different. But there was enough familiarity in the novel that it felt like someone was starting to explain my own family to me. Not completely, but the some of the parts around the edges were starting to fill in. There were other authors like this in the 90s. Shyam Selvadurai. Arundathi Roy. Vikram Seth.

I am no Rohinton Mistry. I am not an imposter, I belong, I deserve this, but do I deserve to deserve this? If I feel like an imposter anywhere, it’s not among writers but among those other children of immigrants, born in the suburbs, who went to a good school, got a degree and a marriage and a well-paying career in IT Marketing, and then tossed it all away for a different marriage, a different degree and a burning ambition to not have a job. Who the hell do I think I am, writing a book?

I never actually dreamed of being a writer as a teenager; that idea seemed so wholly unrealistic. This is not one of the five careers South Asian kids are allowed to have. But it’s the dream I would have dreamed if I were allowed to have dreams.

I’m not naive. I know Canlit is not standing out there with arms wide open to welcome a brown girl. We’ve had a number of raging dumpster fires that make that clear. I had one agent reject my book because there were a lot of strong books by South Asian writers recently, and apparently only white people can publish mediocre novels.

Still, I don’t know if there’s a teenager out there who will see themselves in my book, but I know there are some GenX children of immigrants who might What will they think? Are they going to see me as some sort of self-hating ABCD? What happens when people start looking for my life in my book? What if I say something on Twitter and an onslaught of trolls come out of the woodwork to tell me my book sucks?

Will everything change if this all works out? My gut says, no, probably not, but my fear says what if it does?

I am okay if the book comes out and sinks into oblivion. That doesn’t bother me. I’m okay if no one publishes it; that doesn’t mean anything except that publishers make mistakes. The book is good, or at least, it will be. And if it isn’t, the next one will be.

But as long as I don’t actually write it, I never have to face the question of what happens if this succeeds?