I feel as though I should be writing this post in a tiny font or some other way of indicating a secret, a shame. I know what I’m about to say is no different from anything most of us feel, but we don’t talk about it, and I think that can have an impact on our work and our confidence in our abilities. It certainly undermines my sense of my own value as a storyteller, an artist and a human being.
I love the villains in fairy tales. I know they can be truly awful and rarely do they actually learn a lesson - really it’s more about punishment - but they are so human. They are often the only characters who behave in understandable, if wicked, ways. They experience something that hurts. They lash out.
There are days when I am the Wicked Queen from Snow White. I look in my mirror and see myself as old, outdated. I am in that odd generational gap commonly known as Gen X, sandwiched between the Baby Boomers and Millennials. When I began storytelling I was the baby in the room and when I tried to do new, innovative things (personal stories about sex, revamping fairy tales in experimental ways, judged storytelling events and so on) there was always someone telling me I was pushing too hard and no one would want that kind of stuff.
Now that kind of stuff is all the rage.
I now often hear stories and see performances that are similar to what I was trying to do 15 years ago; I truly celebrate that our art has grown so much and that there is room for more diverse visions of what storytelling is. Even in my celebration, every once in awhile that hurt part of me thinks what about me? I was doing that way back when and no one cared. I still do it. I still push boundaries. Does anyone care? I'm not the young generation now, does anyone want innovation from me? I stifle those voices and carry on. They help no one. I'd rather keep doing new work and supporting other tellers, but those voices are there. While I don't lash out, I do get jealous.
There are days when I am the cursing fairy from Sleeping Beauty. I feel left out and so am less generous. I am the old woman in the road who offers spurned gifts. I am the giant who really just wants to be left alone. I am all of these villains some days.
We don't have a community understanding of this kind of stuff. The storytelling community is amazing but still quite young, so we don't have a way to express these feelings in safe ways. We also live in a culture that doesn't support artists more generally, so there is little conversation about all the ways being an artist is also all the ways we are human, with good and bad feelings. I don't always know what to do with these emotions and I certainly don't feel safe expressing them. This post is terrifying me, I'm afraid to click publish. I'm afraid that by naming it I will lose work, I will not be considered for other gigs, or people - you, my colleagues whom I love and respect - will think less of me. I'm afraid I will be punished as all fairy tale villains are because I'm not supposed to feel this way, right?
What really matters, of course, is what I do with these feelings. Most of the time I acknowledge them and move on. If it's a particularly bad day I might call a friend and rant for awhile, then put on my big girl pants and try again. I do my best to not act on these feelings, to not become the wicked queen, even if I understand her more now than I ever thought I could when I was 25. I like to think it's the action (or lack thereof) that matters. All I can do is keep doing the best work I can and be as generous as I can be, regardless of some of my less noble feelings.
Who does it hurt? If I don't act on it and do my best to remain a supportive member of the community, then I hurt no one, right? Wrong. I hurt myself because I begin to doubt my own abilities, talent and voice. I hurt others because, if I feel obsolete, I am less likely to seek out performances and teaching opportunities, so I remove my voice from the world. And my voice matters, just as much as yours does, just as much as the newest storyteller who hasn't yet heard a broad range of performances so thinks all their ideas are new.
I know I'm not alone in this, but so rarely do I talk about it with anyone. I have two colleagues who has expressed similar feelings to me, and I am grateful because I know I'm not the only one who feels petty jealousy sometimes. Surely there are more than just the three of us?
I know I'm not the only
storyteller artist human being to feel this way. The old stories tell me that, because there are so many characters who struggle with feeling left behind or worthless. But the old stories don't offer me a roadmap of a way out of these feelings; they tell me only that acting on them is evil. I remind myself that I still have worth even if I feel petty things. I do my best to not stifle others as I was stifled. I work to remain generous with my time, my mentorship, my leadership, my talent. But some days it's not easy and all I want is to have my mirror tell me that yes, I am still fair.
What do you do when you feel jealous, frustrated, and ashamed of having those feelings? Am I the only one?