💁♂️ Help wanted? Advice given.
how to handle self doubt and how soon is too soon to remarry AND MORE
Hello and welcome to all the new readers joining us today! I’ve hired a Private Detective to look into each of you and I’m happy to say: you’re all cool. Except you, Mitchell— you have got to stop getting tattoos of character’s from TV shows when they’ve only released the first season of the show. Stuff changes over the course of a show, but you will always have “Daenerys Is An Angel Who Can Do No Harm” across your forehead.
Today is our 2nd edition of Help Wanted, where we give bad therapy to good friends. I have loved getting questions from y’all via Substack chat, by email at email@example.com, and anonymously via this form, so please keep those coming! I enjoy answering these and wanna do more.
Two great questions today, so let’s get into it.
A writer paralyzed by self-doubt
I started a substack about six weeks ago. It’s my first time sharing my writing ever, really. It’s been fun for me and the first few posts were fairly easy. However now I’m having trouble because I end up wondering how each person who I know is reading will react/feel about whatever I’m saying. Even though only people I know IRL (friends and family) are subscribed and I haven’t even shared it on my social and it’s really no big deal, I feel like I’ve already run smack into the wall of self-consciousness/self-doubt. Do you have any tips for breaking through the wall?
Dear Abby S.,
You're in luck — see, you've stumbled upon the world's most experienced practitioner of the dark subtle art of Self Doubt. Given that I’ve doubted myself for every second that I’ve been alive, I have done Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 rule a whopping 306 times over. So I’ve got some things to say.
Lets start at the beginning: congrats on starting to publish your work at all. I have it on good record that most people never get that far and end up instead throwing their computer into a nearby river and calling the police screaming "my computer, someone hurled it into the river" and demanding the police make a public announcement on the local newspaper’s Police Blotter that "Alex's genius writing was tossed into a river by a dastardly criminal who wanted nothing more than to see Alex suffer and lose. Alex is so distraught now that he won't even try to write any more because he 'left it all on the page and it was going to change everything but now it's gone. All gone. What a shame, a crying shame.'“
Next, I would like to gently challenge the premise that writing for your friends and family is not a big deal! At least in my personal experience, which is really all I have besides the lived experiences of The Real Housewives of Various Cities who live life fully and authentically (you know this because they call the program a reality show), I think the opinion of those closest to us matters the most! Whenever I write something, I have several specific audiences of people whose opinions matter a lot to me and they are ALWAYS friends and family. I obsess over what they will think and end up flying to meet with each of them in person to find out exactly what they think before publishing. It takes a while and flight prices are bananas but you have to do it.
I think it might even be a big deal for you. How do I know, your honor? Because you took the time to write me asking for advice!
If you're anything like me, I would venture to guess that minimizing the feelings you have around this stuff is a way for the mean part of your brain to get mad at you for why you're caring so much: "no one is even reading this, what the hell is your problem you dunce, you spud, you daughter of the soil.”
So before we move on, I would like to grant you the permission by the power vested in me, by the great state of Rhode Island, to let yourself believe that this is in fact a big deal, that your feelings are not only valid, true, and real, but in and of themselves proof that you do care!
And lemme tell you one more thing— the doubt is a good thing!! It means you're a human being and not some sort of sicko who believes their work is god's gift to humankind. Those sorts of people, along with positive people, scare me beyond measure.
Does this first part help? Knowing that the doubt is natural and good and frankly not going to go anywhere? Does it get a lil less scary now that you have acknowledged it without telling yourself you're dumb for feeling it. Might you be able to even say waddup and invite it in for a cuppa or some four loko actually jk do not give self doubt four loko EVER trust me.
K. Now that we've got that out of the way, let's address the ‘wall of self-consciousness’ you seek to break through.
From my experience, there are two Important Moments involved in releasing your work to the world. The first is climbing into the cannon with your self-doubt, hugging if that's cool or back to back if you prefer, lighting the match and, by the powers of cartoon physics, catapulting yourself straight into the wall. This is the single moment you decide to publish, like actually clicking on the button that says "send now." And the smallness of this moment is key because it means you only need to be brave for like a second. Not forever, not even most of the time, just those two little seconds it takes to click a button.
"Brave is just how you BE at a RAVE.”
— Anthony Robbins
You've shot yourself and your doubt out of the cannon and are hurtling forward at high speed directly into the giant 100 foot wall of self-consciousness when PLOP ---upon impact, you do not slam into it and slide down the façade, but instead realize that you are somehow INSIDE the wall which, as it turns out, is not a wall at all, but rather a wiggly yet firm substance, pinkish red in color and smelling mostly of strawberry and also faintly of...bones? Like the bones of animals maybe?
Yep. It's Jell-O, and you're glooped right into the middle of it. This land of gelatinous wiggles is self consciousness. You've done the thing, released the work, and now you are stuck in the muck and the mire that is your awareness of how everyone else must see you right now. Also there are fun house mirrors everywhere that somehow work really well even though they are stuck in the Jell-O too.
There is no end in sight, though, and it is not clear how long this slog will take, but what can you do but trudge on. So you grab your self-doubt who is gorging itself on the Jell-O even though that’s like rule one of a situation like this is DO NOT EAT THE FOOD THAT IS ENTRAPPING YOU, and you trudge on
I call this experience the ‘Post Post Blues’, cuz you get them after you post - nice right? PBB is that sad state of affairs when all you can think about is how big of a piece of shit you are, how unoriginal what you wrote is, and how everyone you know has gathered together in an air conditioned, warmly lit room with a high end buffet like the kind that has actually good sushi, and they're just sitting there eating crab rangoons laughing about you.
But there is good news. And also good news' weird very tall cousin aka bad news is there too.
Good news is you always get to the other side. Always. It may take a week or a day—its never clear how long you’ll be in there—but I can guarantee you that there will be a day, soon, when you will no longer care what people think about that one specific thing you wrote.
Bad news is that as soon as you emerge from the Jell-O and gasp for air—it is unclear what people breathe inside the Jell-O and Science won't return my call—right at that moment, you find yourself along with your self-doubt on a conveyer belt being shuttled toward a human sized car wash to get all the Jell-O off ya, which is great, but then the escalator doesn’t stop as you pass your house and your good time dog, it just keeps going until—what the heck, that’s the cannon from earlier and yes, you are right back to where you started.
And so you begin the process anew, like a butterfly turned back into a caterpillar, over and over and over until, well, until forever.
And as far as I can tell, having been a writer now for two hundred and three years, it doesn't really get easier. Well, it does and it doesn’t. The feeling itself, that gnawing feeling that says brother you're a garbage truck, that doesn't leave ever leave.
But nowadays I don't spend as long in the Jell-O before escaping to the other side, meaning I have more faith—though still not a ton—that I will make it to the other side because I have before.
Besides that, two things that help me tangibly are:
to plan the day of your Post Post Blues to include some time doing something fun or consuming that does not involve The Screens. Like I dont know go for a hike or rake the leaves or learn how to fly a tiny plane. That way you aren't tempted to check and ruminate on what you just put out there.
Tell some friends! This is a big one. If you have a friend or two who know this is hard for you, you can call on them to help you get out of the Jell-O or just even come and hang with you in the Jell-O.
Mostly though, I think the hardest and most important thing is allowing it all —the writing, how you feel about it, etc. —to be a big deal and not beating yourself up for feeling that way.
That and also all of the stuff about the Jell-O.
Word at a time stories
So we’ve been doing this dumb fun thing in Both Are True’s Substack chat called ‘word at a time stories’ where, shockingly, we tell a story one word at a time.
Here are the instant, Pullitsah Prize winner classics from last week:
There’s a pony in the bank
Eleven winters ago, she bought insurance for her pony. Incredulous, the pony reversed course, trotting directly into her bank asking anyone for sanctuary from bigfoot. Nobody listened. Feeling outraged that horses were always shortchanged.
Really no idea what happened here
Accused possum lover arrested on charges of ferreting sanctimoniously through lingerie rental castoffs. Officials discovered further evidence of malfeasance by interrogating mercilessly innocent underwear, Fruit of the loom. If only all derrieres could understand the importance. Alas, loving possums have mourned significant loss.
Wanna help write some stories or just hang? Join the chat below (you gotta dl the substack app which is honestly very good so yea I recommend)
Should a widow remarry within 2 years of husband’s death?
Should a widow remarry within 2 years of husband’s death?
Dear P. B.,
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Let’s talk about it. Some prompts;
How do you beat the beasts of self doubt and self consciousness?
how soon did you remarry after your spouse passed away?
Do you want advice? Literally comment and I will answer in a future edition
What is your honest to god relationship with Jell-O.
]The question presupposes that there is in fact a length of time before which it is not acceptable to marry, which is simply not true. That'd be like me asking someone "how often should I clean my house?" No one can answer that for me, even though trust me my parents have tried oh boy baby have they tried. Now if I NEVER cleaned my house, maybe probably that'd be a little strange, just as it might be strange if you were to remarry THE DAY AFTER your husband passed away. But even that, in certain circumstances, could make a whole lot of sense.
In other words, the only person that can answer that question is you, just as the only person who can answer how often I should clean the house is me. And also my wife Lauren who probably would actually say that I need to clean it way more often than I do.
I’m sorry for your loss, by the way, genuinely.
Now you know what they say about what happens when you surmise - you make a Sur out of Mi and Se (Selenium), but fuck it I'm gonna do it anyways - I am going to go out onto a limb and surmise that at least some part of you wants to remarry, otherwise you wouldn't be asking this question. There's also part of you that feels stricken with guilt for doing that to your deceased partner which I also surmise because, again, you're asking the question.
But here’s the thing — I don’t know if you’ll ever be rid of that guilt, just like I don’t know if you’ll ever be rid of the love that you had and still have for this human being with whom you shared your life.
Now I didn’t meet the guy (y’all never invited me to your wedding and frankly, I am not going to talk much about that here because this is about you but seriously what the heck I bought a blue suit with little pretzels on it and sent yall pictures of the suit did you get the pictures??), but I sure as heck would bet that he'd want you to spend the rest of your days being happy. Fulfilled. In touch with the menagerie of human emotions that is this life. And if this new human you're with makes you happy, helps you connect to the many flavored Cobb Salad that is this life, then that is great. (Note to self: look up the word menagerie and make sure it means what you think it means and not a substitute for butter or a threesome).
I find myself wanting to come up with some quirky metaphor like they always do in advice columns, but I can’t think of any. Like ok, here's one: a phantom limb, like how people who've gotten a limb amputated will still feel like they have that limb there? That’s what your husband is - a phantom limb but more like a phantom soul. He has set up permanent residence there in your mind and spirit, his fingerprints in every room, and I don't know if you can ever really make that go away. I imagine that must feel like a lot, both awful and bittersweet and angry and the most joyous important thing there ever war.
And that guilt, that love, that pain, that’s a big part of you, but it isn’t yours to bear alone. That’s the beauty of love of any sort — not just romantic but friendship love, family love, doggie love (do not even think about it you sicko), you share the weight of it together. And carrying this weight, together, is where so much of the rest of life's growth may come.
If I died before Lauren, a fact I’m not worried about because I paid $250 to a guy on the internet who blessed us both with The Juice Of The Gods (we met up at a Starbucks and he walked up to our car and sort of sprinkled it on us and it smelled pretty awful actually like if an onion produced milk and then that milk went sour? we haven’t been able to get smell out of the car or honestly the whole house but it acts as a reminder that we are going to live forever.) BUT if for some reason the Juice Of The Gods fails AND the lifetime warranty I purchased for an additional $305 also fails AND I die before Lauren, well that would suck.
It’d suck because I wouldn’t get to spend more time with her, and spending time with her is my favorite thing to do in the world. But if it happened, I would want her to find someone with whom to share that loss, to rebuild , and mostly to sit around and talk about how awesome I am.
We're all so fortunate to almost never come face to face with The Big Stuff of life, so when we do it feels impossible to talk about it, like it's wrong to bring up the things that scare us most for fear that doing so will make them come true. But I don't believe that. I think we have to face this shit head on because this is the real stuff, the big stuff, the impossible stuff that human beings have somehow always managed to muddle through, onto the other side, alone, together, whatever makes sense for them.
So I will end by asking: is two years too soon to remarry? I think deep down you know the answer. And if you don't, cuz I am never sure of anything so I understand, then share that with your new person. This very question, the depth and struggle and beauty of it -- that's life right there, and no one can bear it alone. So be bears together, no matter what happens.
OK wait: re-reading the question, I realize this may not be about you but someone you know? If that’s the case, let them figure it out. It’s not your battle. And if you care about em, just love them no matter what. Unless they say you can have as many bites of their french fries as you want but then get super mad when you have several bites. THAT is not okay.