Back in the days when my only outlet was my diary; before I had you, dear reader, I used to write a lot about how I was feeling. It seemed self-obsessed but it was necessary; and as I now know it is necessary to all writers, to maintain that forensic examination of the inner world – at least those writers who write about the inner world as opposed to those, like Lee Child, who don’t.
It isn’t only our own inner world we obsess about. We try to figure out what’s going on with others too, examining in minutest detail their every word and action and trying to figure out what’s behind it. Before I understood these habits I tried to cure myself of them – and failed. I tried because they took over my life, leaving me no time or energy to hold down a job or maintain any sort of normal life. Nowadays, by contrast, I’ve given up the habit of normal life, resigned any attempt to fit in, and just tried to accept who I am.
It’s a process of coming out much like any other, I guess. I know it doesn’t seem as risky as declaring your stoutness (sorry, gayness – a bit of ‘Not the Nine o’clock News’ got in there) because being a writer doesn’t carry the pariah status that homosexuality can. But it feels like it. When you’re used to hiding all your life because your real self has been ignored, criticised, shouted at, feared and hated, it feels like it. Because people fear writers. They fear you precisely because they don’t want you to see the things that you see. And especially they don’t want you to write about the things that you see.
And this causes some problems. Not being a bull-headed, egoistical, insensitive sort of soul, I am unable to do what some writers have and just drive a coach and horses through all the obstacles. Instead I must pick my way through them like a wincing, barefoot bather picking her way across a stony beach. Some of the stones are hard. They pierce the skin and I bleed.
I’m not saying any of this because I want you to feel sorry for me. I don’t, on the whole, feel sorry for myself: writing thrives on obstacles and if I hadn’t had this particular set of problems there would have been something else. Plenty of people have it worse. But what strikes me at the moment is the struggle with what, in my diaries, I used to call LSE. I suffered from it so frequently that it was necessary to come up with an acronym for Low Self-Esteem – or ‘low self-steam’ as I put it in a recent poem. I like both abbreviations.
So right now it seems to go like this; I get a good day and then a bad day. On a bad day I wake up with inexplicable feelings of LSE. On a bad night I wake up at four in the morning with inexplicable LSE. It seems to come out of nowhere, and it won’t let me rest. So I have to wrestle with it.