“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent… develop a thick hide.” —Harper Lee
Well, I am totally screwed.
I’m the first to admit to having a thin skin. It’s not something I’m proud of. Some days are better than others, but there have been times – especially when I was younger and less self-aware – when I felt as though I was walking around with a permanent first-degree burn that stung like hell whenever I received any type of negative feedback.
Also? I’m introverted and feel a little socially inept in most situations. It is still hard for me to take a compliment without feeling like a fraud. My usual response to a polite expression of praise is, “No, I think you have the wrong person”.
If I didn’t have four very outgoing children who, since they are children, need some sort of outside stimulation anyway, it’s possible that I might become a hermit and a cat lady for sure. I don’t think that I would become an agoraphobic because I do enjoy the occasional outing to eat lunch or dinner, or see a movie with the kids. I also love visits to Costco, Lowe’s and Hobby Lobby, but I like to go early in the morning when there’s no one there. In spite of my introverted-ness, I really do love people. I love to talk to them and watch them. I know it’s hard to comprehend.
I don’t get it, either.
Funny thing about Harper Lee – after To Kill a Mockingbird was published and she was awarded just about every accolade possible (including a Pulitzer), she reportedly withdrew from public life because she couldn’t tolerate the pressures of fame. She was awarded a number of honorary degrees, but always declined to give commencement speeches, because, in her words, “…it’s better to be silent than to be a fool” (to which I say, “Amen, Sister”). With the exception of a few essays and letters, she never published again.
Is it because she is introverted and sensitive, too? How does one go about growing a “thick hide”?
I’m not sure if it’s possible.
I don’t give advice. I’m not an advice-giver, but I will tell you about some things that help me to roll with it a little better. Who knows? If you have the skin of an over-ripe tomato, these little nuggets might help you, too.
1. I know who my real friends are. Having an objective point of view that you know you can trust is valuable. My family and the few – but very precious – friends who really know me well have offered loads of support and encouragement when I needed it. They have also slapped me around and told me to just get over stuff that didn’t matter. Because of those who are close to me, I know I’m not alone and that others struggle with some of the same crap. It’s reassuring to know that we are all playing this poker game together.
2. Love. Love is…it’s…well…it’s hard to explain, but I know that it feels good. Here are some things that make me feel “love-y”:
Family and friends.
This writing hobby.
Star Wars and Cats.
Vacations, chocolate, and wine – not necessarily in that order.
Definitely NOT Facebook or Pinterest. They are evil and make me feel hate-y.
Facebook and Pinterest
3. Perspective. The world is a big place with lots of small stuff on it that looks big even though it’s not. I guess it’s easy to say something contrived, like, “Don’t sweat the small stuff”, but sometimes, the small stuff seems insurmountable, doesn’t it? It is hard to see situations as they really are through a veil of anger or sadness or emotion. I’ve been mad/sad/emotional about something once or twice in my life, and when someone told me to count to ten, I wanted to blow them up. However, it works. It’s hard as hell to do, and I am not a pro at this by any means, but it is helpful to just stop and think for a minute. Trust me. I learned this trick from watching “Blue’s Clues”.
I also try to get outside of my own head, because it has come to my attention that the world does not revolve around me. I have to think of other people and their feelings. Once I’ve had some time to think, I usually see things very differently and realize that perhaps the problem is but a small scab on the knee of life.
This works pretty good unless you’re in jail for life or something.
4. I try to keep busy so that I am not sitting around ruminating about what others think. Not that I spend a lot of time doing that, but sometimes, I say something idiotic that I end up regretting, and I stew about it longer than is really necessary.
Although I’m introverted, get me talking and I won’t shut up until I’ve said something really dumb and bad, or I realize that I’ve changed the subject about a thousand times and I have no idea what my point was, or I realize that the adrenaline has gotten out of hand and I’m visibly quivering with excitement because I’m actually having a conversation – although likely one-sided – with a live adult human being who appears interested in what I have to say. Basically, I turn into Chatty Cathy on meth. This paragraph-y thing here comes pretty close, I think.
Example: At a recent social gathering, someone asked me about homeschooling.
That is a hard subject to talk about on the spot because it raises so many additional questions that are not always easy for me to answer articulately. Our reasons are not exactly black and white.
I feel good about schooling my kids at home, but some folks feel like it’s just the worst possible thing a parent could do, and apparently this person I was speaking to felt that way but didn’t let on until I had already made an ass out of myself.
Afterward, I felt really foolish and I thought about the exchange for a couple of days. I felt like I had ruined any chance of cultivating a new friendship with this person (who was actually quite delightful) and I was just sick about it. I was mad at myself, then I was sad, then I was mad at this person for being narrow-minded (which was just petulant on my part), but then decided that I needed to let it go because I would maybe only see this person once a year at this particular gathering anyway. If he thinks that I’m a loser, then I guess that’s the way it has to be. We are all allowed to feel the way we do about anything, right?
Still, it’s hard not to relive situations like that over and over and wonder how I could have handled things differently, especially when I’m lying in bed trying to get to sleep. Once the lights are off, and there is no sound except for the prominent buzzing of my foolish brain, it’s hard to relax because the thing just won’t turn off. It thinks and thinks and thinks about the most bizarre things that don’t really matter, or it will make stuff up that will never, ever happen. Probably.
*Note: Consequently, bedtime is when I employ AIR the most. I breathe in slowly, and then I breathe out more slowly. Deep breathing sounds hokey, but it really works. Although, if I run into Darth Vader in a back alley or get sucked into a Sharknado, I think I’m out of luck. Deep breathing probably won’t help in those cases.
5. Flossing. Flossing is undoubtedly one of the greatest things you can do for yourself in my honest opinion. It’s right up there with a good night’s sleep and eating nourishing food. Flossing makes me feel right. When I floss, it’s a reminder that self-care is a priority. I’m a priority, you know? So, remember to floss and do all of that other stuff that constitutes “self-care”, like nail clipping, showering and going to the bathroom when you need to. You are a priority.
6. Getting older has helped A LOT. Bring on the aging and wisdom. I’m not one of those people who dislikes birthdays, and in spite of the additional aches and pains associated with getting older, I welcome my birthday every year because it means that – hopefully – I’ve learned more about how to navigate my own anxiety. There is also a weird, increased sense of self-respect. I almost feel entitled just for living this long.
There are moments when I imagine myself as Ouiser Boudreaux from “Steel Magnolias”.
Well, maybe not. Take away the southern accent and the pearls, then add a cocktail, a pack of smokes and ten cats and I swear that’s my mother right there.
7. I try to feel good about myself. Yeah, it’s tricky. Sometimes possible, sometimes impossible. There are days when I feel a surge of self-confidence and a comfort with myself as I am. Those days are precious and few, because I wasn’t exactly raised in an environment that imbued me with those virtues, nor did I try to cultivate them in myself when I was older. I never explored their value until I’d made a lot of mistakes. I mean, A LOT.
I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t truly understand what respect was until I was well into adulthood. It was just never something I thought about. Can you imagine? I remember admiring certain people, but it was usually for the wrong reasons. I refer to that time as The Clueless Empty Shell Years. And it was a lot of years.
I didn’t get the importance of self-respect until much later.
Things are certainly different now. Funny how time and life events shape a person. I suppose that, sometimes, positive change and the self-awareness stuff comes later.
What I’m trying to say is this: When I feel good on the inside, the bothersome outside stuff doesn’t trouble me as much.
I think that’s the “thick hide” Ms. Lee was talking about.
* * * * * * * *
I hope that the sensitive folk out there find some value in the things I’ve mentioned. If not, I hope that at the very least, you enjoyed that Steel Magnolias meme. I think it’s a hoot.
Oh, and one more thing?
* * * * * * * *
Written to the tunes of:
The “Amelie” Soundtrack