Today I would like share with you a very sad story from my childhood. Sitting comfortably? Imaginary violin at the ready? Good. Then I’ll begin.
I was about twelve years old, and like most twelve-year-olds, I was at school. To be precise, I was in an English lesson and for reasons best known to herself, the teacher thought it would be a really good idea if we did the balloon debate.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this old favourite, allow me to explain; a group of people each pretend they’re someone important from the world of history or entertainment. You know; Florence Nightingale, Winston Churchill, Timmy Mallett, people like that.
They imagine they’re in a hot air balloon which is sinking and the only way to avoid death for everyone on board is for someone to get chucked out. Each person must prepare a speech to explain why they should be saved.
After writing our speeches, we were told to perform them in small groups first. Then each group would choose one person to present their case in front of the class.
I was William Shakespeare (obviously) and as instructed, I read my speech to the other kids on my table. When we’d all finished, the girl next to me said, ‘Well, I think we all know who it’s going to be…’ The others all nodded and looked in my direction. I was the chosen one. I was horrified.
‘No! I don’t want to do it!’ I protested. ‘I’m scared!’
‘Oh, go on’, the girl said. ‘Think who you’ll be up against. It’ll be a walkover.’ When my teacher came over, my group told her she simply had to listen to my amazing speech. ‘Excellent!’ she cried once she’d heard it, boosting my confidence a little. Yes, perhaps I could do this.
So up I got, along with Queen Victoria, Alexander Graham Bell and whoever else was there, to face my fears of public speaking. Although I was nervous, the reassurances I’d received carried me through and I dared to believe that my classmates would love my work too.
‘Any questions?’ my teacher asked the class once I’d finished. ‘Yeah’, Queen Victoria sneered. ‘Why are you so boring?’ It was like a dagger through my little heart. I was shocked. Boring? Me? But I was told my speech was excellent. How could this be?
Instead of telling Her Majesty off, my teacher announced that she had a question; I’d made the point that I couldn’t be thrown out of the balloon because my audience depended on my plays to escape their difficult lives and problems. My teacher asked if some of my plays weren’t also a bit depressing.
I answered that seeing a depressing play would make them feel better about their own lives, which over twenty years later I still think was a pretty good argument for a twelve-year-old facing imminent death. But it was no good. My classmates were too busy applauding this question to hear me.
When voting time came, I got no votes at all. I looked over to my table with pleading eyes. None of the little bastards had their hands in the air. Not even ‘walkover’ girl. I couldn’t believe it. You told me to do this, you bitch! I thought as she sat there grinning at me.
I turned to my teacher, and looked at her in bewilderment as she, who’d proclaimed my speech to be excellent, gleefully gave me the thumbs down and chucked me out of the balloon.
Even now I can still remember the feeling that engulfed me as I went to sit back down. It was like my whole body wanted to cry. I was so embarrassed, utterly humiliated.
I was also confused. How could something that had seemed so promising turn into such a flop? And how come those people who’d said it was great didn’t still think so when I needed their help? Had they all been lying to me about how good it was? How could they let me face such ridicule?
The devastating effects of being thrown out of an imaginary balloon
Now, I have to say I was never a confident person, so I can’t claim this episode was at the root of all my troubles. But it is the one that has most commonly come to mind over the years as I’ve struggled to make myself heard.
That day was a big lesson for me. It told me this: I’m boring. No-one wants to listen to what I have to say. I think too deeply; nobody cares about the things I think about. I must also avoid public speaking at all costs and if I’m forced into it, I must accept that all those watching will think I’m a dick.
Oh yeah, and I can’t write for shit. Anyone who tells me I’m any good is just saying that, probably to set me up for total humiliation later on.
I thought like that for a long time. There were so many situations when I wanted to say something, express my opinion or say how I felt and each time, that memory popped up and I stopped myself. I made a joke instead of being serious. I laughed off the fact that I felt annoyed or upset. I didn’t express an opinion because no-one would be interested. Everyone would laugh at me.
I didn’t tell people what kind of music I liked, what films I enjoyed or what books I read. Even when I got into spirituality, supposedly to learn how we’re all one and perfect the way we are, I’d hide my books from any visitors so they wouldn’t see the kind of stuff I was reading. I did everything I could to avoid revealing anything about myself so that I wouldn’t be rejected.
As a result, most people thought I was boring and I was rejected.
Since I began writing, I’ve had to face this story more and more. It still haunts me every time I write a post, every time I go to share something on Facebook or Twitter. It’s there in the background now as I write this, telling me I’m going to be thrown out of the balloon again.
But I’m learning to accept that if people don’t like me, then the best thing they can do for me is reject me, as when that happens, it leaves more room for the people who will accept me the way I am.
Now, part of my mission in writing is to see how much more ‘me’ I can possibly be. And in doing that, I’m facing my insecurities in the following areas:
This post was partially inspired by this article on Wait But Why, which I love for several reasons; I think it’s sweet, funny, useful, wise and true. It’s also bloody long, laughing in the face of those who say we need to keep our posts short and snappy for the busy people of this busy world.
I hear this a lot, and while it’s true that some people like articles they can read quickly before they rush off to play squash or whatever it is they do, I’m not one of them.
I like to have a good read online. I like long articles that go into detail. I like being told a few stories before the author gets to the point. I like a few random comments that are there for comedic purposes only. I like to read something that’s going to make me think.
And so that’s the kind of thing I aim to write. I always cringe when I hear comments like, ‘readers want this,’ or ‘people today like that.’ No. Different readers like different things. And I want readers who like my thing.
For me, true creativity is producing something from your heart and then sending it out to the world for whoever wants to accept it. Not stressing out over whether someone can be arsed to sit down long enough to read something you’ve written.
You may have noticed that I swear quite a lot, and I don’t bother to edit my expletives with a cunning * to hide the real word. Take, for example, ‘f*ck’ . Is there really any point? We all know it means ‘fuck’, so why not just write it? What is it exactly that we’re all protecting ourselves from?
That’s what I think, but I still find myself wondering whether I should edit my potty posts or write ‘drat’ or ‘fiddlesticks’ instead so nobody will be offended.
And each time I find myself thinking that, I tell myself the swear word has to stay. That’s the way I talk. It’s the way I write. If people are offended, they need to go to another blog. It’s the best thing they can do for both of us.
So fuck it.
Through my writing, I’m sharing more and more of my private thoughts and feelings. And in doing this I’m facing something of a strange problem; I have no problem at all with the thought of complete strangers reading my blog or my book, but the moment someone I know says they’ve read my work, a feeling of mild panic comes over me.
Even if they tell me how great they think it is, my mind starts racing with thoughts about how they now know what goes on in my mind, how they know things about my personal life. I’m convinced this will lead to rejection, but in fact all evidence is pointing to the contrary, which leads me to my next point:
Why we need to let the balloon go
I think we can all look back into our past and find a story that we’ve allowed to affect us for far too long. My teacher and classmates would have long forgotten about my speech; the vast majority of them probably don’t even remember me.
They had no idea that I would be affected in the way I was. Usually the people who hurt us when we were younger really didn’t know what they were doing. I don’t remember anyone even mentioning my speech to me again after that lesson. For them, it was over the moment the bell rang.
I was the one who gave the experience all the meaning it had for me. I decided that I had to keep myself to myself and never tell people what I was thinking.
Since I’ve begun to let the story go and share my thoughts with the world, I’ve found an almost magical thing has begun to happen; already I’m receiving comments on how my writing has helped others feel better about themselves and that it’s made them feel less alone. Some have even said it’s helped them become more compassionate towards others.
People I’ve known for years have started talking to me about the things that matter to them, and it turns out that some of us have the same interests, which I hadn’t realised before. All this time, I thought I was alone; it only took me to start revealing a little of the real me to see that I was not. I hid for so long to protect myself, I didn’t realise that I was in fact harming myself by keeping others at bay.
I also didn’t stop to think that perhaps someone may benefit from what I had to offer. And that’s possibly the most important reason to stop hiding; other people need you. They need you the way you really are, not the person you’re pretending to be.
Now, whenever I find myself questioning whether I should share something with others, I know it’s a sign that I’ve got to go ahead and do it. Some will reject me, others will appreciate me. And either way, it’s all good.
This post has pressed just about all my buttons; it’s really long, I’ve banged on about myself and my sad story for most of it, I’ve sworn a lot and I’ve added a few emotional comments that might make people want to vomit.
And right at this moment, I can hear Queen Victoria calling me boring, I can see my teacher with her thumb pointing towards the floor, I can see walkover girl smiling at me and I can hear the class of twelve-year-olds applauding my demise. How ridiculous is it that more than two decades after I was thrown out of the balloon, I’m still holding on?
So fuck it. Again. I’m tired of hiding. I can no longer see the point in being accepted for who I’m not. I want to be accepted for who I am or not at all. It’s time to let the balloon go and learn how to fly.