Thursday, October 13, 2005

My adult censor

When I was a child, I could concentrate. I think I could read for long periods, and I remember being one of the fastest, most accurate readers in my classes. In fifth grade, I breezed through the colours of the reading program so quickly that I ran out of them. I could focus; I could become wrapped up in what I was doing.

Some of the things I did seem silly or amusing now. I recorded music from the radio by holding a microphone up to it. I listened night after winter night to Buffalo Sabres hockey games. I wrote sports columns, often about fictional games and featuring fictional interviews (with real players). I may have written other things, but I don't remember. And I read. A lot. My dad drove me to the public library probably four to six times a month.

At some point in junior high school or high school, I changed. Perhaps it was because I found myself in a much larger school with a huge group of strangers, being swallowed up by the crowd, or maybe it was my growing feeling of being on the outside, or the fact that one of my elementary school teachers had recommended me for a math class for "slow" kids while my few friends were taking advanced classes.

It must have been around then that my confidence in myself began to erode. No matter how well I did in school, I feared failure. The more I feared failure, the harder it was to work. By the time I took advanced and college composition classes, my INFP personality and my fears had teamed up to make me a lifelong procrastinator. My papers were due on Monday mornings, so I would write them on Sunday evenings and type them (painfully slowly on a manual Royal Sabre typewriter) overnight, probably keeping my poor mother in the next room awake.

I never liked anything I wrote, or, if I did, I knew it would be subject to scathing criticism—which it rarely if ever was. I lived in terror that my work would reveal what I'd tried to keep secret—that I'm neither educated nor bright.

Fast forward 30+ years; not much has changed. The internal censor triggered by the process of getting out and growing up is as oppressive as ever. I have a terminal case of writer's block and can't do the one thing I'm reasonably good at. I read what others write and feel ashamed that it comes so easily to others and not at all to me.

Although my job requires little meaningful or intellectual effort and although I'm very good at it, I still procrastinate, still out of a fear of being found wanting. I can't focus on reading or anything else for more than a few minutes at a time; my mind never wants to settle down and think things through. And I never want to start anything; if I do, I never finish it.

How do you kill the adult censor, the fears programmed into your psyche over so many years, and how do you recapture the self-assurance and unselfconscious creativity of childhood that time and experience conspire together to repress?

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