Back in school, when I was 11-12 years old, we had dance parties when a semester would end. At these parties, girls would line up on one side of the room, boys on the other. As a girl, I wasn’t supposed to go to a boy and ask him to dance. I had to either sit or stand there and wait to be chosen. Smile, to increase my chances of success. Do not look grumpy, annoyed, bored, disinterested, or sad. For me, as a girl a head taller than most of my classroom, and especially compared with boys (who were growing slower than us girls), this was a recurrent nightmare — a situation where I did not get to choose and was frequently not chosen.
To be honest, it wasn’t much better when I would get chosen, since the (shorter) boys’ eyes would often end up lingering over my breasts, or, at best — my lips (through most of my childhood, after turning 4, I looked 3-4 years older than I actually was, which had both advantages and disadvantages), and the boys that chose me were almost never the ones I liked and would have chosen myself. Recently, while watching a movie in which teenage girls prostituting against their will were waiting to be chosen by clients, I clearly remembered this exact situation — young girls against a wall, waiting to be chosen.
Later in life, I continued waiting to be chosen. By the directors of my students’ theatre group for specific roles in their plays. By potential employers and eventually actual employers: for a job, for a job title promotion, for a raise. By scientific magazines, by literary magazines and publishers. And, of course, through most of my life, by men: chosen to go out on a date, to go together to an event, on a hike, for more than a one night stand, to get married and have children, etc., because this is what women are supposed to do. Wait. There were times when I didn’t want to wait to be chosen and instead wanted to make my own choices. I sometimes did make my own choices — I do no regret any of them, but they weren’t always the best.
After a lifetime of being conditioned to be chosen rather than choose, choosing often felt like a foreign concept and, when I did make my own choices, I’d use my head to choose much more than my gut. And there were times when I settled — while friends kept telling me I was being too picky and I, on the other hand, kept feeling like I was selling myself short, violating all my needs, wants, and boundaries in the process of making certain choices and then continuing to live with their consequences. Well-meaning friends would say (operating within their own “waiting to be chosen” framework) ill-fitting things like “go talk to him, get him to choose you” (as if forcing things/holding on to something and/or someone that was no longer there was the answer). There were times when I felt hopeless and like I should grab whatever was being offered to me, because “obviously” there wasn’t anything better for me out there.
A friend has recently told me that she feels like I am at least 10 years older than her, although we have the same age, because I go for what I want, while she is still waiting for someone to come and name her Head of X, although she is a freelancer running her own business and could easily call herself whatever she wants. I deflected her remark at the time, being well aware that I was still mostly begging to be chosen – chosen for a higher job title, for someone to give me a book deal, for someone else to take charge of my life and make it all alright.
At the end of the day, though, this can be a neverending game, as there is always that next job title, that next higher-impact publication, that next affair, marriage, flat/house, whatever, you name it. I have come to learn that it is important that we choose ourselves before others do and only pursue “being chosen” in our “chosen” situations, not in all areas of life. If you think about it, most of what we do through life is in fact figuring out what we want and then balancing what we want for ourselves with what is being offered. If we only go for what is offered, we may lose our sense of choice and willingly give away our inner driving power from the very start. But there is a catch (just like when we develop fictional characters and the inner conflicts that work against them): what we want and what we need may be two different things. Our wants may have to do with a need for external validation, and our real needs, which we may not always recognise or know how to go for, much more with true belonging.
As writers, we send our voice (as a written text) out into the dark (aka the slush pile that yes, does get touched and looked at) and hope for someone to pay attention to our call and to keep listening in. As all committed writers know, we are often faced with rejection, although not all writers openly talk about this, just like not all humans are willing to discuss their romantic life failures and tend to mostly share only their happy wedding and family pictures, leaving out what happens behind closed doors. I’m not saying we have an obligation to share our private lives, but social media and author websites often give us a limited, distorted view of someone’s actual becoming, as they usually only focus on successes, awards, books, the highs — all those times when they were chosen by someone else — while leaving out the lows.
And while I have always been a fan of the established literary path (write – submit – face rejection/acceptance – repeat), I am starting to appreciate more and more the options of self-publishing and the hybrid in-betweens. I sometimes find myself wondering the following, in writing/publishing as well as other areas of my life: by staying on a given path, what am I actually trying to prove at this stage — to myself and to the world? How is repeating this pattern serving me in becoming the person I want to become, as a writer and as a human? Am I (still) doing it for the right reasons? Am I still deeply invested in this pursuit, not just for historical reasons, but from my gut? Depending on the answers, I may choose not to wait.