I will no longer apologize for myself. I just won’t. Apologizing for myself has always been a sick way of saying, “I’m going to knock myself down first so you can’t do it before I do.” A pathetic game of tag to the bottom of my self esteem. I remember when I used to apologize for myself, by starting off with something like, “I know you are not going to think this -insert noun- is that good, but..” Or, “I tried really hard to get this right, but..”
The pivotal point of leaping off the apology wagon came when I met my editor and writers workshop friend, Beth. I was late coming into my first writers workshop, which would really turn out to be therapy sessions for me over the course of the next year, and all the writers already had their heads bowed and were scribbling furiously in their journals. Beth had given me a few prompts to write off my first journal peice on a phone call I got on the way in. So, I apologized to everyone for being late, which was waved off with a “Yeah..whatever, sit down and write”. I wrote and wrote and finally it was time to read the stories. Everyone had written from a different prompt. I wanted to walk out of there. I was terrified to read my story because it was “wrong”. When my time came, I started with a fast paced, breathless account of how I was late and had gotten the wrong prompt and I was sorry..and then Beth uttered a few life changing words. “Don’t apologize for yourself. Just read.” I shut up and read my story, and it was good and no one beat me with a stick.
After that, Beth told EVERYONE never to apologize for themselves. It made people lose the focus and the expectant energy for the story ahead. Isn’t that alot like life?
Beth’s “Don’t apologize” mentorship came back to play when I was writing my first book, “How to Move to Kona’. A group of local residents had told me not to write the book since they felt we did not need any more people moving onto the island. I told Beth. She said, “Fuck them. It’s your book, write it.” Then I turned in my first manuscript and Beth called me and said, “You have to get rid of Chapter 10. You spend the entire chapter apologizing for writing this book. Do you think if a man wrote this book that he would apologize for writing it? Fuck no. Then don’t do it.” Beth is the strongest woman I know. I was shocked at how easy it was for her to tell it like it is. I was worried, but I loved her moxie of telling me a MAN would never apologize. So, I didn’t and I learned a new personal culture of not apologizing for myself. It made me stand up a little straighter, hold my shoulders back and sit in a place of confidence.
I started seeing what would happen when women around me would apologize for their work, their kids, their lives. I could almost visibly see the hunched shoulders, the weaker voice, the downcast eyes. I realized I had been doing that for years. My step father would roar from six feet two inches in the air down upon us four foot kids and we would slump our shoulders, cast down our gazes and apologize for whatever he wanted us to apologize for. We apologized for not cleaning the house well enough, eating his junk food out of his special cabinent, not eating our lima beans or enchiladas fast enough. We would apologize for asking for help with homework, and cookies for class bake sales. Hell, I even remember apologizing for getting my finger broken before my parents went out to dinner with friends. We just stopped asking for anything really and we would get out of the house as quickly as possible on weekends and stay out as late as we could so not to be found guilty of something we had to apologize for.
Thanks to Beth and to other mentors in my life, I am giving up the ghost of apologies. The ghost of those dead eyes of us kids knowing there would usually be a belt behind the accusations. No one is going to hit me anymore and dammit, I am not apologizing for me, my choices, my kids or my life. I am free and I am looking life right in the eye, my shoulders set back and my voice on full register. Get out of my way, ghosts.