Bob Dylan has a quirky, offbeat voice, and uses it to sing some lyrics that strike the right chord with me every time. I have never subscribed to any religious faith, but I have assembled, on the last page of my journal, a list of quotations in which I firmly believe. One of these comes from Dylan’s song “Like A Rolling Stone.” He says, “You shouldn’t let other people get your kicks for you.”
“Like A Rolling Stone” is about a girl who, after living a privileged, sheltered life, finds herself all alone for the very first time. Dylan addresses this quote to his protagonist; to me, he is saying that self-reliance is very important. I say that, too.
Since I was about six years old, I have had the same dream job: I wanted to be a writer. My ambitions have not changed. I am the high-powered child who has been prepping herself for her career all her life; I have been putting my thoughts to paper ever since I could do the same with a pen.
There was just one problem: I was never sure if any of it was good. I would write something—a story, a poem, an essay—and it would sit there on the paper, waiting for someone’s approval. It would not matter much whose approval I got, if only someone liked it. As it turned out, a lot of people liked it. When a lot of people liked it, I liked it, too. I breathed easier. On the other hand, I obsessed over the tiniest bit of criticism. The sentence in question would become the synecdoche for the entire piece—if there was something wrong with the sentence, the entire thing would need to be redone. It has always been a constant in my life that I like to write. Writing comes easily to me; it’s fun. Am I really that great? This was a constant, too—a constant uncertainty.
Why? Why was I so insecure about the one thing that has always been my strongest suit? Was it because I have always been prone to hyper-anxiety? Because I was never sure, especially after my parents divorced, that anything in my life would remain the same without my clinging to it? Because I thought false modesty was a virtue? Because I was stupid?
Whatever the reason, my insecurity over my writing continued right up until my junior year. That was the year I learned about Buddhism, about the principle of detachment from earthly sufferings as a means to enlightenment. It was also the year I began to read the works of Ayn Rand, about the virtue of selfishness; if you don’t give any thought to yourself, then why are you here? You personally. On the quotation page at the back of my journal are a number of quotes from Ayn Rand. One of them is, “To say ‘I love you,’ one must know first how to say the ‘I.’” Where was my I?
My ‘I’ was, in a large part, the things I wrote. Writing is something with which I have always identified myself. I thought about this, and I thought about Bob Dylan. “You shouldn’t let other people get your kicks for you.” Or, you shouldn’t let other people get your opinions for you. Especially not your opinions of something you created. Especially not your opinions of your writing, of yourself. For your opinions, you must rely, first and foremost, on yourself. That’s what an opinion is—an original thought or judgment. It is implied that an opinion is owned.
If I really wanted to take myself seriously as a budding writer, I had to stop letting other people dictate my opinions of my own work. Before showing a piece to anyone else, I had to form a judgment about it for myself. I had to practice self-reliance on something that was self-created. I am still practicing this self-reliance—I’m doing it right now, as I type. I’ll do it as I watch these pages print out. I’ll do it when I let you read about my beliefs.