being "the best"

I had my first writing class this evening and I'm finding myself in this familiar place afterward... one that seems to make up much of what I choose to do lately: I don't want to, but I am willing.  I don't want to face all of the emotions and triggers that show up in a room when I try to be creative, face to face with individuals I just met, in a living room of the instructor's home in Los Feliz, but I am still willing to do so.  I don't want to engage in conflict, of any kind, particularly not the kind where I've said something that is upsetting to someone that I love, but I am still willing to have the conversation.  It really applies all over my life...  I don't want to go jogging, but I am willing to put my jiggly ass in stretchy pants and go out into the world all red faced and sweaty every once in a while if it's going to be good for me.

being the change is hard.
'cause everything keeps changing.
All of this willingness comes from a never quenched thirst for improvement... which is something I appreciate about myself, but it can be just as rooted in the darkness as the painful shit that comes up in these moments.  There's not a lot of nobility in the pursuit of growth or transformation when it is attached to this need to be seen as the "best."

I never thought of myself as a competitive person, and it was easy to get away with that because I didn't play sports so I was never in situations where I needed to be competitive.  As I started to see myself more clearly I began to joke that "I'm not competitive, I just like winning." And even though that contains truth, it isn't the whole truth because really I avoid situations where there are "winners" because I am too afraid that I won't be one.  Honing in on some clarity now I'm going to go back to claiming that I'm not competitive, but it's going to be because I'm realizing that what I am is comparative.

I'm always looking at someone else to see how I'm doing.

Tonight, in class...  No wait, back up: Tonight, leading up to class I noticed that I didn't want to go.  "What if I suck?" came first.  Followed by "what if no one likes what I write?  what if they don't laugh at the funny parts or they laugh at parts that aren't supposed to be funny?"  And then later I even got a little bit of "what if no one thinks I'm pretty and doesn't want to be my friend?"  Really?  Yup.  Willing, despite the not wanting to go, I trudged ahead.  The class moved me through more opportunities to practice willingness without wanting (like interviewing and being interviewed by a classmate and then presenting about each other) and finally landed me at the big'n for the evening.

When it was time to read our first assignment (the "Why I Write" that was about anything but from the other day) I was asked to go first.  I did, and the reaction I got was perfectly satisfying.  There were some places where I didn't hear laughter and I wanted to, but plenty of others where snickers and chuckles sustained me.  When I was finished I felt appreciated and heard.  I thought that I was done with the hard work and I sat back to listen to my classmates.

The young woman who went next started to read her piece and within a few moments I realized that I was starting to hate her.

Woah--let's go into that...
me: why do I hate her?
me (in response): I hate her because she's good.
me: Okay.  Wow.

I tried to make more sense of it.  I am a part of another creative workgroup (we call ourselves the Fucking Geniuses.  More about us humble souls later...) where I do not hate the members when they share work (and they're all good!).  In fact, I love them and celebrate their great work.  So, why not hating there... but so much here?  What's different?

me (in response again): I have a pre-existing relationship with the women in Fucking Geniuses, I am not in competition with them for anything...

another me: Did you hear that?  Competition.  Am I competing with the women in the writing class?  What am I competing with them for?
me (in response): Attention.  Affection (in the form of praise).  Establishment of worth in the room by being deemed the (fill in the blank: smartest, funniest, prettiest, "best" writer).

I tried to just "notice" myself feeling this way, but it was hard to do it without judgment.  Ay yay yay, Kate.  Really?!  You do not need to feel this way.  Go back to how you feel in your creative workgroup--find a way to make that feeling come with you here.  I made a mental note to ease the need to compete by finding something about these strangers to love.  Form a pre-existing relationship with them in your head.  Want them to be happy and successful.  Do not allow yourself to be intimidated by their success.

I could decide to love them for being good writers if I found nothing else.  One girl had a cardigan with heart shaped patches on the elbows, that helped.  Another grimaced a lot which I decided was because of some painful internal dialogue that I had empathy for.  I was getting there...  It was working.

Then a woman, whose work I didn't think was particularly successful, read and I noticed that I became completely endeared to her almost instantly.  I felt safe again.  I might not be the best, but at least I'm not the worst.  Phew!  Cue: relief and then when I noticed what was happening, more judgment.

Back home with Devon, I debriefed the class experience.  We compared notes about competitive feelings. I deduced that mine were all about worth.  In our existing group I already had worth because the group was made up of preexisting relationships where I knew I had value.  In the writing class my only chance to establish my value was by performing successfully in class (yes, I hear myself and all the un-truths in this belief system).  Devon suspected it might be more than that... I heard her, but I didn't have any more ideas and we went to bed.

Then I got out of bed...  drowning in shame, I couldn't sleep.  I wrote this blog post and didn't feel any better.  I wrote in my journal and found myself in a conversation again.

me: what's up
other me: i'm an asshole
me: why don't you go to sleep?
other me: assholes don't deserve to sleep

I have conversations with myself, in my head and my journal, quite often but this is the first time I've ever written anything like this.  I've been reading Elyn Saks' memoir about her life with schizophrenia... I think my subconscious is getting new ideas about how to more effectively self loathe and and punish myself.  I gotta finish that book and move on to something lighter.

I will maintain that it's about worth, but the habit is deeper ingrained than just wanting to be the favorite...  I compare myself to others constantly.  In situations with new people I compare myself with others to see how I rank and establish my worth.  In situations with people I love I still compare.  Sometimes it's just to see how I'm doing.  Other times (especially now that I choose relationships that challenge me by having something to teach) it's to make sure I'm measuring up.

It's amazing what I'm finding still buried deep inside.  I suppose I am somewhat grateful for the opportunity to pull these things up from the roots, but like any landscaping project (going literal with the metaphor here) it ends up taking much longer and being much more intense than I ever expect it will.

Big to-do list for 2013:
1. dive head first into conflict
2. know own worth without having to evaluate it alongside another's