As a kid, how to make people like me–or at least not dislike me–was a constant calculus in the background hum of my brain. I learned how to read the expectations of people around me and how to contort, to fit myself to them. Even when I came home from college, I still made a conscious effort to simplify my vocabulary to keep from upsetting my dad.
In life skills, this chameleon-like shifting has been invaluable, but growing up, it meant that making myself likable came years before liking myself. It meant that unpeeling myself from all the layers of others’ supposed expectations took decades and probably should have involved a therapist. I toned down and held back all the things that made me me, and that made for some serious bullshit to unlearn. But I did that work 15 years ago, though some insidious thoughts and habits linger occasionally.
Only recently have I realized that this pathological need to be liked–or at least to be inoffensive–also translated into my writing. But the contortions of telling the stories I wanted to tell and also pleasing everyone…it didn’t work.
My stories are stronger now, freer since I gave myself permission to not tone down or hold back, with emotional resonances and playfulness that I always admired in others but wrote off for myself. They weren’t for me. That wasn’t my style. Or that’s what I told myself to keep me from wanting what I thought I could never have. Now I can see I created a narrative that pigeonholed me into something safe, something easy and likable.
When I gave that up, my stories started to get weird. In a good way. Mashing together subgenres in ways I haven’t seen before, playing with poetry and reveling in language, turning fantasy into autobiography and autobiography into fantasy–I love what I’m capable of now.
I will someday see these stories out in the world. I still want you to like them. I want everyone to love them. But if not, that’s ok.