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Lions Roar : March 2013
A NOVELIST FRIEND of mine stopped writing fiction and confined herself to journal writing and the occasional email. I couldn’t understand it. The novel she’d published four years ear- lier was beautiful, masterfully composed, and delectable to read. Besides, she often indicated that not writing fiction plagued her. Why had she quit? Over coffee she explained to me that she’d felt shame after her book was published. Some critics had been harsh, some book club readers outspokenly unsympathetic to her protagonist. To me, it didn’t add up. She’s a writer down to her core—the kind of person who is always jotting observations in her notebook. Even in a casual letter, her way of portraying the world glints with a unique sensual vision and canny, telling drama. The day after our coffee together, it occurred to me that per- haps the shame that had subsumed my friend’s career was really a guise of her own personal verdict. We each live in our own ver- dict, by which I mean the story we tell ourselves about ourselves and our work and how we deserve to feel. Some people—I’m sure you’ve met them—characteristically feel good about their work. And others characteristically do not. As a professor, I have ample opportunity to observe this. I see that the verdict a person places on their work often doesn’t correlate with how good the work actually is. I am writing here about you. I want to wake you up to your own tendencies. A person’s verdict has a life of its own, a rhythm of its own, an endurance of its own in the way bureaucracies have an endur- ance of their own. Whether we feel good about what we do or whether we always connect with what’s wrong with our work, we feel we’re being quite rational. This is a key aspect of our verdict; it wraps itself in reason. There is always a potent justification for why a person whose verdict is “I’m not good enough” is, at any particular time, sure he or she is warranted in feeling that way. The verdict exists before any action we take. It goes looking for reasons to incarnate itself, and when it finds one—and can’t it usually?—out it springs. This is why it’s not at all obvious to us when we are being captivated by our verdict. I came to discover my own verdict by noticing its persistence over time, how it endures despite changes in my reality. The achievement that I am convinced will warrant me deserving of my colleagues’ respect almost instantly seems dull as soon as it is achieved, and I am back to ducking down the corridor, smiling with a sense of fraudulence at anyone who congratulates me. I am left, again, with the old hunger, the old craving. If only I can achieve that next thing—then—then how good I’ll feel! I can’t wait! Recognizing the judgments we all pass on ourselves, says BONNIE FRIEDMAN, is the first step to freedom. ILLUSTRATIONBYSETHSMITH BONNIE FRIEDMAN is the author of The Thief of Happiness and Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction, and Other Dilemmas in the Writer’s Life. SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2013 25