Yesterday was a big day in our house. The print copies of my husband’s first book arrived.
He’ll tell you that technically I was published first, but as that book was an anthology to which I was merely a contributor, I see the publication of his novel as a much bigger achievement.
Of course I’m fretting about this. While playing the supportive wife, secretly I’ve managed to take self-doubt to a whole new level. I imagine my husband becoming a very successful author, and one day when he’s representing his urban fantasy series at a comic convention, he’ll be stricken with lust for a cosplay girl dressed as a demoness in a pleather bustier and horns. He’ll divorce me, the two will marry and live in a mansion, and when it’s my son’s week to come stay with me, the demoness will have to cajole him into packing his bag. “I know you’ll miss the swingin’ parties we have here, and I know your real mother is unsuccessful and very lame,” she’ll tell him, “but it’s only for a week, OK, sport? Chin up.”
The fact that I think young girls say “swingin’ parties” is probably evidence of my lameness.
Anyway, it was fitting—symbolic, even—that I too received a package yesterday. As I carried both packages inside, I remembered that it was Tuesday…WHICH MEANT THAT THIS PACKAGE MIGHT BE MY ELECTRONIC FOOT FILE!!!
Emotionally, I was like that pigeon in the Mo Willems books, jumping around and singing, “Foot file foot file foot file!” Why was I so excited? Because I have been waging a thirty-year war with my own calluses, and as I age, it’s becoming a war of attrition, with me caring less and less as my dead skin accumulates. Basically, I’m a poor exfoliator. When I was a kid, my feet callused and peeled so bad that my mom would rub Vaseline on them and cover them with cotton anklets. As an adult, I’ve tried cutting the hard skin off with a blade (dumb), getting regular pedicures (expensive and time-consuming), and using a pumice stone and lactic acid moisturizer (giant pain and not that effective).
In short, I believed I now had a weapon that would turn this war in my favor. Thanks to technology, my troubles were over. For $39.99 and a single click on Amazon, I would triumph.
I could already feel that rotating 360-degree extra-coarse sander “pulverizing” my calluses. I put it in quotes because that’s what the description said—“pulverize.” Few words are more satisfying, right? I prepared myself to rip open the box and proclaim with joy, “MY FOOTBLASTER!”
Then I realized the absurdity of the situation. Was this what I had become? My husband and I had started out as staffmates on the Wildcat’s Roar, our high school newspaper. Both of us had always longed to write and publish. Our journalism advisor had even given me a little blank book in which she had written, “Use this book to house your ideas. One of them will inspire a future bestseller!” And now, my husband was itching to open a box of his very own bookchildren, a project years in the making, while I was itching to open an electronic callus remover. Sorry, Ms. Elkins—I haven’t written a bestseller. But you may be pleased to know that I’m going to pulverize the fuck out of these calluses. Hear me maniacally laughing from amid a violent storm of dead skin particles.
As you might know, I have a complicated relationship with achievement, because achievement is intimately bound up with my sense of self-worth. My self-worth is conditional; I’m only as good as what I accomplish. When I’ve achieved ____, then I’ll feel validated.
Here’s a secret about people like me: We never feel validated. Because we always demand more of ourselves. Whenever ____ gets achieved, some other goal will rise up and take its place, and we’re scrambling again to prove we matter. I’m sure this phenomenon is tied to mortality and may even be more prevalent among those who tend toward existential angst. I’m not alone, I know. But I want it to stop.
When I get the email that says “This isn’t the right fit for us,” I want to stop seeing these words:
This isn’t good enough.
You are not good enough.
You think people care what you have to say, but they don’t.
You think your boring, stupid, inconsequential life matters, but it doesn’t.
Every time I say that my voice matters, and there are people who want to hear, I can’t truly believe it. I mean, I might believe it for a little bit, but before long, the default takes over.
How insidious are depression and anxiety, with their lies. If worthlessness is what I feel by default, then that means I told myself I’m worthless enough times that I started feeling it. Worthlessness became automatic, like a song you somehow know the words to, even though you don’t remember learning them.
I regret to say that the package didn’t contain my latest weapon in the War on Calluses. It was a talking hippo from Disney’s “The Lion Guard” that I’d ordered for Jack. When he heard the hippo say “Lion Guard defend!”, his face lit up. Which was pretty satisfying, I have to say—maybe even more satisfying than footblasting or book publishing.
Sometimes it’s about what makes other people happy. And you just have to be grateful that you’re there to watch.
p.s. Package update, a few days later: Talking hippo stopped working. Sent him back and ordered second hippo. Second hippo stopped working. Fuck that hippo.
Footblaster still hasn’t arrived.