who do you inspire + how do you handle it? seriously, i’d like to know

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Yesterday, I received a lovely card that put me on pause. An old friend and fellow Columbia alumn apologized for our constant misconnections, relaying that, though often from afar, I have always admired your determination and thoughtful bravery. You inspire me! I set the card down alongside the ambitious and wonderful literary journal she’d started and I supported, and I felt…uncomfortable. A few weeks ago, I’d invited a friend, someone whom I respect + adore, to contribute a small piece of writing for my blog. After weeks of emails {translation: my stalking}, she acquiesced, but said, with trepidation, that the thought of having her work alongside mine gave her anxiety. Shocked, I turned it all into a joke. Recently, someone told me that I was intense, that sometimes the way I shine has the propensity to glare and blind others. Someone else relayed that I often can get away with saying things others couldn’t in meetings + presentations because of the way I am.

Note: this is not a humblebrag. This is more of a, How am I? This is: I’m legitimately fucking confused. This is I’m not a Pulitzer-prize winner. This is a I haven’t written anything for four years until now. This is a I’m nearly three months sober after a bad two-month bender. This is a I’m always trying to figure shit out. This is an are you serious?

I’ve never been good with compliments. I’ve gotten better, but I’m still rotten at them. For a time I never thought I was particularly great, simply for the fact that there was always someone better. When I was small and started assembling words in strange ways that made teachers give me a second look, made them affix stars on my little haikus, my mother said she was a writer too, but better. When I created stories from albums of stickers, my mother purchased more stickers and her albums were neater, cold, but neater and precise, nonetheless. As an only child, I often skirted around the fringe, never understanding the concept of belonging to a crowd, because I always felt more comfortable in my own company. I always bloomed with very few to witness. As a teenager, I wrote stories that always placed second because I frightened guidance counselors with my tales of young girls who hung themselves from trees. I always placed second chair in clarinet because although I had passion, I lacked precision. I always lacked precision. I always drew around the object that was in front of me instead of coloring in. And this, this strangeness, always alienated me. I wasn’t popular in high school {I was ceremoniously ridiculed for the texture of my hair and the fact that I was that weird girl who wrote those scary stories and read books, and was too honest for my own good}, I was relatively popular {if one could be popular} in college because I did all that I could to be “normal,” and “fit in.” I drank, I wore flannels, and listened to the music that everyone else played.

In my senior year, I quietly submitted a story, a very early story that would eventually find its way into my first book, to the college literary magazine. I remember the editor stopping me on the way to the caf, asking me if I’d really written this. If the girl who wore GAP and baseball hats and drank with the boys {and like a boy} wrote this? I said, yeah, and shock registered across his face in a way that I’d never seen, and I grew numb and cold and ran away. The story was published, and some of that crowd secretly congratulated me, but never publicly, because my crowd didn’t really mix with theirs. They saw me as I’d seen my high school peers, someone who was normal.

Years later, I surrounded myself with writerly friends. I was in my twenties, and still trying to untangle myself from the mask I’d so fastidiously worked to create. Although we read the same books and understood the same references, the only way that I could relate to any of these people was when I was drunk. I felt very much an outsider amongst the very small and insular New York literary set. At the time, I had ruffled feathers with one of its matriarchs, and to this day, I know people who read my blog, follow me on Twitter, and write me these private notes, but never acknowledged me publicly, and it’s fucking weird. These people tell me they admire me, and I wonder, for what? And why not say it out loud? As I’ve told off Kinfolk out loud.

My best friend at the time told me that she had a hard time being around me. That I always seem to get exactly what I wanted — that everything always seemed so easy for me — and I grew furious with her because she knew me, she knew how hard I struggled for everything, for the ability to put one foot in front of the other, and I shook and said, How could you even say that? This friend and I are no longer friends, for reasons I may never really understand. However, the loss will always be palpable.

Years later, I played the corporate game, yet was an outsider in that too, because while I tried jargon on for size, it was always an ill-fit. Yet, a client tells me that she was nervous for a meeting with her client, not because of her client, but because she had to present in front of me.

I guess I struggle with the fact that I don’t fit in neatly anywhere, so when people say these things, I’m legitimately confused and often feel awkward. I guess part of it is that I surround myself with so many incredibly brilliant and kind people, that I’m always in awe of how they shine, I don’t tend to think of myself as someone who glares. That’s not to say that I’m not blind enough to know that I can put a sentence together better than some, but we all have our gifts. We all have the ways in which we can individually shine.

I guess I’m also trying to come to terms with the fact that I have to be okay with not fitting in neatly anywhere. That, to a certain extent, I’ll always be an outsider. I’ll never roll with the lit set or marketing set or food set, and I don’t much want to. I just want to roll with people who inspire me, who raise the bar and crack the whip.

I guess I don’t see what some people see in me, and I’m trying to reconcile that, too.

/rambling rant

17 thoughts on “who do you inspire + how do you handle it? seriously, i’d like to know

  1. Being many years older than you but finding your honesty refreshing I want to say, follow your true self – do no harm to others – but embrace the unique person you are – truth to self is our salvation

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  2. oh, I may have to get back to you on that. this sounds all so very familiar that it is almost frightening. for me, it’s not just that I’ve never fit in, it also feels like I haven’t achieved anything, too distracted by the too many things I like, and too busy sabotaging myself for fear of being or becoming what some people think I might have in me. especially because of the latter it makes me incredibly awkward when someone tells me I inspire them. I want to ask which of the things I haven’t done in life exactly is it that inspires you?

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    1. Petra – I too, am constantly distracted. I recently read an article on Medium where the author said it’s important to pursue many passions and side projects, but once you’ve found the one — the big project, the big work — you need to be myopic about it. I’ve been thinking about that, and I think the problem for me is that I never just have that one thing. It’s always 2 or 3 things…

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      1. Petra,

        Reading this, I feel as if we’re indeed kindred spirits, as I tend to travel alone and take comfort in my alone time. I want to sit with your lovely piece and allow it to sink in before I properly comment on your space.

        Warmest, Felicia

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  3. I was forty years a priest before I finally understood that I sometimes intimidated others without intending to do so, while I felt so humbled by their gifts. I see connections in an instant that others grope toward. I communicate with passion and enthusiasm. I have extraordinarily recall (based on connections) and can put together a sermon or a lecture in minutes and talk without notes. I write easily. I can put together a good meal by associating flavors, often without a recipe. People ask me how I do it. I honestly don’t know. But I also know that I was never good at sports, am dyslexic enough that any form of math is hell for me, have always found it difficult to remember names, and I overcompensate when I am uncomfortable or become paralyzed with indecision. Yet I have also learned that I have made a good difference in the lives of people. It’s all very mysterious. But then, isn’t life a mystery to be lived and not a problem to be solved? So I think sometimes all we can do is move ahead and let the meaning become clear to us later, when time has given us some perspective. Thanks for being you.

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    1. Dave, thank you, so humbly, for leaving such an indelible mark. I couldn’t help but read your words over and over and found so much truth in them. Recently, someone relayed to me that those who are depressed live in the past, those who are anxious live in the future, and those who are happy, truly happy, live in the present. I’m trying to cultivate that strength to be present in every moment of my life, knowing that focus and presence will drive what unfolds.

      Warmly, Felicia

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      1. Thanks, Felicia. You gave me much to ponder.
        What led me to your blog was your extraordinary review in Amazon of The Kinfolk Table. Thank you for that, as well.

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  4. It’s an odd duality to shine, but not feel like you fit in. It is one that I often feel t and many parts of what you describe I can totally relate to. One of my favorite poems, “Be Nobody’s Darling”,by Alice Walker is a mantra that I have carried with me for many years. The opening lines resonate with me deeply, and I recount them when I feel odd or awkward or like hiding and get me to a place of feeling calmed and empowered by my weirdness.

    Over the years, my professional goal is to simply “do good work”. My goal is never to be noticed or to “lead” in the traditional sense of leadership. In fact, I’m incredibly uncomfortable with being seen as a “leader”, though folks often tell me I am. I’m fine when the “good work” gets me noticed or makes me speak truth or ask hard questions in ways that make others uncomfortable and I’m okay with that, as long as at the end of the project or when I’ve said my peace, the work stands and I’ve moved the needle to make folks’ lives are better, or helped people understand something clearer or shifted someone’s perspective. The drive to “do good work” keeps my mostly sane, and always humbled and (awkwardly) thankful for the compliments when they come.

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  5. I don’t think anyone who inspires others has an easy job doing what they do and often that might be the reason for the inspiration, because effortless progression doesn’t motivate others, perseverance and a passion for life does. Life is great in that what might be normal for one person is inspiring for another and we all need our inspirations to motivate us towards the next goal.

    I understand the discomfort with being thought of as brave, courageous or inspiring, as if it exists on its own, but then I remember that when I think of someone else in that way, it is a message of hope for one’s own pursuits, so instead of reacting in terms of whether or not I deserve the compliment, a better response is be encouraging of the person who is admiring your effort. Words of encouragement back to them about their own project or goals (even if it may already inspire you) is a good way to channel compliments.

    It’s not even necessary for us to understand how or why we inspire others, but perhaps it’s a reminder that everyone needs a little encouragement now and then and by doing what we do we are already helping them achieve their own goals.

    My guiding ambitions underneath it all, no matter how I might be perceived are empathy and compassion, looking at any situation through these two powerful lenses always brings greater clarity.

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  6. Claire,

    I absolutely agree. I often try to use praise as a means to also motivate others — sort of a reciprocity exchange for our mutual inspiration. Thank you for such terrific insight, and I’ll ponder this more over the weekend, certainly fodder for further exploration.

    Warmly, Felicia

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    1. Thank you for your thoughtful reply Felicia, yes, two little words behind them a mountain of exploration to tap into and the idea of an exchange which becomes more than the sum of its parts. Personally I had to learn this, observing those for whom it comes more naturally, often because it was something taught to them, even though I may not have been gifted this insight in my own early years, I learned that it is possible to nurture it.

      If you want to read the master, find anything written by the Dalai Lama that seems to speak to you, I could recommend something, but it’s better that you go out into the beautiful day and wait for the right thing to show itself 🙂 I am sure you will find his words resonate.

      You already posses one ultimate creative nourishing gift of baking, looking at the images of your creations infuses such a good feeling and reminds me how much my two children love it when I make them pikelets. Bonne Continuation Felicia!

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  7. “I finally know the difference between pleasing and loving. Between obeying and respecting. It has taken me so many years to be okay with being different, and with being this alive, this intense.”

    ― Eve Ensler, I am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World.

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  8. I thought a lot about this post. I’ve been thinking about it for weeks now. I wanted to write something because it hit me so much. I wanted to say something profound and epic. But, for some reason the right words haven’t come. So, here is what I have to say and take it however you want. Felicia, I love the way your blog challenges me to think about things. How sincere your writing is and when I’m reading your site your love of food seems to shine right through my computer into my kitchen. Anyway, I know this was all about how to take a compliment, which I also struggle with, but your website and writing inspires me and I thank you for writing such a candid and honest blog. Also, I am fairly certain, I have no idea where I fit. I feel as if I don’t fall nicely into any category and I struggle with this often but I am feeling more and more okay with it as time goes on. So, in conclusion, thank you for writing and thinking what I haven’t been able to say, about compliments and fitting and for always making me think. Thank you.

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