I’ve been thinking about pride a fair amount these past few weeks, as might be expected. I have a complicated relationship with little-p pride—not with Big-P Pride, which I embrace, in my introverted way. (Visibility is crucial, equality is non-negotiable; I hope all my LGBTQIA+ peers are having a great time, and I’ll catch up with them when things are less hectic.)
My feelings about little-p pride stem in part from sticking out from the pack as a bright kid with no small amount of ridicule as my reward. Academic success, and then professional success, didn’t make things better; it just enabled me to take my emotional baggage with me to new places. That started to change about twenty years ago, but it’s been a gradual process, and one that’s still ongoing. I still catch myself holding back creatively, and I still have to ask myself why I’m afraid to push forward. Is it because I’m afraid of failing… or of how others will react if I succeed?
About three months ago, I wrote about imposter syndrome, and how that’s not the problem I have. “I never doubted that I was good at what I did,” I wrote. “I just didn’t think I was special.” In some ways, I still believe that: One of the fundamental premises of this newsletter is that anyone can be a writer if they’re prepared to sincerely embrace a writing practice and keep at it. We can all learn to clearly identify the things we’re most passionate about; we can all learn to communicate that passion to others.
And because I believe anyone of us is capable of that, I also believed that it was not particularly remarkable. It was, simply, a choice that some of us had made.
That’s where, in recent years, I’ve started to recognize my thinking was a bit sloppy.
Because making that choice is pretty remarkable. Sticking to that choice even more so.
And, I don’t want to lean in too hard to this point, but: The choice we make as writers to be honest with ourselves about our passions and to share those passions with the world, openly and authentically, is similar to the choice that those of us who identify as [insert your preferred queer nomenclature here] make to live our lives honestly and intentionally.
(Actually, I think I came to recognize this because, for years, I’d also felt there was nothing remarkable about my particular form of queerness; I didn’t completely hide it from the world, but neither did I showcase it publicly. As the current regime brought with it newly invigorated waves of homophobia and transphobia, however, I decided it was time to step forward, to acknowledge my stake in the fight.)
There’s an argument I might crudely simplify thus: “Pride” and the other “deadly sins” were devised by the powers that be to keep the masses in line—know your place, don’t aim for more than we tell you you deserve, and so on. Embracing pride thus becomes a radical act—it is to say, “This is what I deserve,” whether this is simply to be treated like any other human being, or to have one’s accomplishments genuinely recognized.
This is not, however, to receive more praise or recognition than one is due, not to command respect that one has not earned. That’s hubris—a trap you don’t want to fall into while taking pride in your writing practice.
Your writing practice doesn’t make you better than anyone else. It might, if you keep at it long enough, eventually make you a better person than you were before you started—but, ideally, it will probably also help you understand, as you begin to see yourself more clearly, that you were already better than you thought you were. For that matter, as you begin to see those around you more clearly, you’ll realize that many of them were better than you thought they were, too. (Which doesn’t mean they were great, necessarily…just not simply as bad as you thought. Although some people will turn out to have been as bad as you thought, maybe even worse.)
When you write, write with deliberate consciousness. You don’t know what the end result will be; you certainly don’t know how it will be received by the world. What you do know is that you have chosen to take this path, when you didn’t have to, and if you stay on the path you will eventually come back with a purer expression of yourself than you had before you set out. For all that, you should be proud.