I am going to confess something; something that bothered me for a very long time, but that I eventually faced and overcame. I hope that by sharing this example I can help other people who may be scared, to face their fears and realize, that forgiving ourselves is sometimes far more important than being forgiven by others.
Ten years ago I was living in Tokyo as a freshly graduated student who was unsure what she really wanted to do in life. I was teaching English part-time and writing in any free time I had. I enjoyed reading ‘Metropolis,’ which was and still is, the largest English publication in Japan. I was particularly interested in the last page, which was entitled, ‘The Last Word.’ This was usually written by a gaijin English teacher who wrote about their experiences in Japan and what they did or didn’t like or what they found strange or interesting.
As a writer I decided to give it a go for myself and when I’d finished I asked my two housemates to sit down while I read it to them. I wanted to know what their opinion was and whether they thought it was good enough to publish.
When I finished reading it I looked up to find two people staring at me intently. I wasn’t sure how to react. Did they hate it?
My Scottish housemate grinned and said, “I love it! It’s hilarious!” My other Canadian housemate was not so enthusiastic. “Seriously? You think all that?”
“Well it’s not to be taken seriously!” I said. “It’s just a joke. I’m an Aussie, we pay out on people all the time, but we don’t really mean it. If we really, really meant it, we wouldn’t say anything.”
I knew I was trying to justify what I’d written. In my heart of hearts I knew it sounded offensive. Really offensive. I sounded like a stereotypical gaijin know-it-all… the type that today, I stay as far away as possible from.
Despite my Canadian housemates feelings, I submitted the piece and was thrilled when the magazine agreed to publish it. My joy was short-lived.
On the day it was published I stupidly decided to read people’s opinions about it on the website. Most of them consisted of telling me if I didn’t like it here, I should go back to Australia. Funnily enough, all of the comments were from foreigners. No Japanese person seemed to be offended and I even received congratulations from my hairdresser who had read the piece and said he thought it was really funny and well written.
Admittedly, when I read the piece years later I cringed initially, but after re-reading it many times I realized just how young I was and how immature my writing was at that stage. People say that good writing or art should make people uncomfortable and cause a reaction; I’m not so sure. Yes, it certainly caused a reaction, but it was one that embarrassed me and one that offended many, many people. That was never my intention.
Whatever the case, I was so depressed and stressed by what I’d written that in the end I decided the critics were right. I loved Japan, but I felt after what I’d written, I had no right to stay there. Like a dog with its tail between its legs, I left. I never told anybody that that was the real reason; I made up an excuse about being sick and going back to Australia.
This situation haunted me for years. I stopped writing because I was scared that anything I wrote was going to be offensive or hurt someone and I didn’t want to do that. I felt that writing had also hurt me and caused me to be vulnerable. I didn’t want anything to do with it.
Just the other day I was reading Brené Brown’s book, ‘Daring Greatly,’ and I came across the term, ‘creativity scar.’ It refers to a specific incident where a creative person (artist, writer etc.) is told they aren’t any good at their chosen craft. I wasn’t specifically told I wasn’t good, but because I had hurt so many people with what I’d written (rather than someone who likes writing to make people feel good or to think about something, which is what I want), I figured the best thing was not to write at all. That way I would never hurt anyone again; stupid thinking and totally irrational, but understandable given the circumstances.
Many years later I spoke to a friend about it and said that I’d been thinking about moving back to Japan. I confessed what had happened and told her that I was scared the government wouldn’t grant me a visa because I’d offended so many people in the country. I was shocked when she laughed. “Oh you silly thing! You think people even remember that?! You’re being super paranoid! No one cares, move on!”
So I did. I started writing again and I got my new visa.
And my friend was right. I What I learned was that I was the only one who still remembered it. I was the one who was beating myself up about it, when everyone else had either forgotten or moved on from it a long, long time ago. We are always harder on ourselves than anyone else can ever be. Don’t forget that. Instead, forgive yourself, you’re only human.