• V.P Colombo

Writer's life: the fear of being a fraud

Being a fraud, is what most writers are worried about, even the most successful ones.

We hide it, of course, this sentiment of extreme insecurity, because if we don't show to the world that we know our work is good, who would believe in us ? It's one thing putting stories or our lives on paper, it's another one to reveal it to an audience, as large or limited it could be.

In high school already, I felt inadequate.I was restrained in my essays : don't give your point of view, don't show your feelings, shut down your exacerbate personality ! What is the point of answering a question if not to give an opinion ? What is the point on commenting on a book, a text, if not sharing how it made you feel, if you agree or disagree ? What is the point of writing not to say anything ? I was called by my French teacher "La Pasionaria", the one who is passionate, who actively fights for a cause she thinks is right. And that is what I was and what I still am, except that the curriculum asked to not have any opinion whatsoever, just to coldly observe and describe a text. And I was too driven, uncompromising but I learnt to do that, to mute my voice, to let it die slowly, to write pages of non writing just to please the scholars.

For the sake of my studies, I had to give them what they wanted, to tame myself, and to distance myself from my emotions. I mastered this art of deception up to my high school certificate, when I had the highest mark of Paris and around in French literature, I wrote four pages of lukewarm observations, thesis, antithesis, synthesis, for at the end answering to the question by the interrogation itself. How ironic is that ? The best grade, congratulations, etc... for not having answered the question. It could be hilarious if it wasn't that ridiculously pathetic. And it left me with a bitter after taste, being acclaimed for who I was not...

How could I ,as a young adult in literature studies at La Sorbonne, being inspired to write if I wasn't allowed to think by myself, forge my own judgement and be rewarded for not being a sheep ? How could I feed this need in me if it was to be aborted by a system I despised so much ? Is our French culture stuck in the memory of the glorious Siècle des Lumieres ? Is the art of writing kept in hostage by those who didn't succeed, willing to make it inaccessible to others, maybe more talented ? Why do those people feel entitled to decide what to write and who can write ?

There was an exception though, as we say in French : " Chassez le naturel, il revient au galop", which could mean " What is bred in the bone will come out in the flesh", I couldn't inhibit myself constantly. I was a single mum of a toddler, doing my homework at night after a full day at university, after the crazy dusk hours with a baby, and that essay was due the next day, and was part of the end of semester exams. I sat at the table, discouraged already at the idea of having to develop for pages the emptiness. It was about "Manon Lescaut" (author Abbé Prévost), a very controversial book when it was published in 1731 which was banned until 1753 when he added some morals to it and rewrote it with less scandalous details, although the first edition became quite popular and was secretly published and distributed. I was so tired, that I didn't have the strength to refrain myself to accuse the Chevalier des Grieux of being a pimp ( and believe me, it's exactly what he was ), I went on and on and finished my assignment on time.

I can't even describe the anxiety which held me during the few weeks it took the professor to grade it and give it back to me. The fateful morning arrived, I was totally overwhelmed, sitting at the back of the class, already ashamed at the thought of having deliberately failed because of my inability of tuning my feelings down. Surprisingly I passed, with a good mark but also with a warning whispered to me when I collected my paper, that this kind of writing wouldn't be approved by other members of the faculty. Once again, I complied to what was asked, and started losing interest in my studies and thinking that what I had to say was not to be shared.

I also applied this behaviour to my daily life, to my interactions with people, walking on egg shells, worried of what I could say, how it could be misunderstood. I have always heard, as far as I can remember : you are too much this, not enough that, you should compromise a lot more. Well I did it, to the extend that I lost myself, with at forty years old no clue of who I was nor where I was going.

So when I started to write, all those thoughts, comments, advices, critics came back to me : the fear of being too passionate, too harsh, too direct, too French, too woman, too loud, not interesting enough, not good enough, not English enough, not subtle enough... What paralysed me was simply the fear of being.

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