This situation really inspired a lot of introspection as well as a lot of retrospection on my part. The bullying I dealt with in middle school was fairly intense. There were kids whose taunting was basically nonstop in any situation where adults were unable to see–the bus, the locker room, the halls during passing periods–and subtler but still extant even in class. The kids who didn’t torment me still made their general dislike known. I mean, I was wildly unpopular. My nickname among all but the small handful of outcasts who would even talk to me like a human being was “Anti,” because they were all against me. The entire grade was anti-Monica.
Literally. Just swallow that for a moment.
People are awful.
But there’s usually hope.
We didn’t have #ItGetsBetter in the ’80s. For all we knew, it didn’t get better. But I had hope that it did. I centered that hope around the idea that one day the world would recognize how awesome I really was, and that hope developed around my writing. That was my escape, not only into the future as I imagined that destined recognition, but my escape from the present, as I plunged into these sublime other worlds I could create to avoid living in the ugly mundane world that hurt me.
The Fox and I sometimes talk about this the vast gulf between past and present. A talented kid enjoys the act of creation, takes pride in what she accomplishes, and sees perfection in everything she does. When you’re 12 years old and writing your way out of an almost intolerable life, you have great faith in the greatness of your work and its ability to float you over the rough times. When you’re 40 years old and have a master’s degree in your craft, you analyze everything. You critique your own work. You anticipate your critics. You take it apart and put it together backwards and agonize over single words and get your heart ripped out with every rejection. You recognize the potential to failure and the human frailty of art. But you never would have gotten there if you weren’t first a 12-year-old with an unquestioning belief in your own righteousness.
First you have a butterfly, but as soon as you start caring how others will respond, you get a snake. The more I ponder this, the more I seek out this childish and optimistic way of existing in the world.