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On Confidence

Friday 3 December is International Day of People with Disability. IDPwP is a day to celebrate the contributions and achievements of people with disability. In celebration of IDPwP, EWF has invited #EWF21 artist and EWF At Home Residency recipient Beau Windon to write a guest blog on gaining confidence and seeking opportunities.

My entire existence has been dominated by a near-debilitating sense of low self-esteem. This already makes for a difficult stroll through life but it becomes an even bigger mountain when you add my desire to make a career out of writing – where rejection is as common as workplace gossip about lazy supervisors and how Dave and Linda are totally crushing on each other, it’s so frickin’ obvious!

To stake your place as a writer, you must get comfortable with rejection . . . and lots of it . . . even worse, you have to get comfortable with being ghosted and left with naught but confusion regarding what it was about you that didn’t resonate with the mighty gatekeepers of success. It’s part of the job . . . or for most who aren’t making any income, it’s part of the dream. To say this industry is a healthy home for the sensitive, self-conscious types that usually inhabit it would be like saying that a beehive is a good home for a platypus . . . sure, they look cute stumbling their way through an uncertain environment but getting stung is a painful certainty.

I was young when all my “issues” became apparent. I’ve been under treatment for chronic mental health issues and a neurodivergent noggin’ for most of my life. A side effect of this is that I’m used to being misunderstood and left behind. I confused social cues so often in my childhood that I became extremely paranoid about putting myself out into the world ­– because being out in the world meant there was a high chance I’d do something “wrong” that would alert neurotypicals to my existence, ushering forth laughter and mocking. This is a common fear among many disabled folks. We’re so used to being disregarded or casually insulted that we’re cautious about where we step out of our shell, constantly calculating the risks in a bid to avoid being shamed.

My low self-esteem is a symptom of my abusive relationship with shame. When constantly second guessing yourself becomes a self-defence mechanism, it becomes challenging to see yourself as being worth . . . well, anything. Thus every step towards a goal is fraught with anxiety and wondering “is there any point?”

Everything has a rough tendency to happen slower for disabled people. And even as we press on, chasing a dream, there is the added worry of being left behind by the industry. Publishing’s systems are often built around a very inaccessible ableist mainframe that alienates alternative approaches.

How? Well, look at the lack of transparency with a lot of the industry. It feels a bit cruel for editors to encourage disabled writers to submit to them and then still hold them to the “no response means no” tagline. Speaking as an autistic person that has some complex trauma around acceptance, no response may just as well mean give up. I’m eight years old again and have misunderstood the rules of the game, but my peers don’t tell me how I’ve misunderstood them instead they just move forward with the game . . . leaving me to wander off to find a quiet place where I can freak out and wonder just what it was that I did wrong. It’s just another learning moment wasted because the neurotypical structure refuses to clarify things to someone that needs that clarification. Without clarification, I’m doomed to mess up again. So why bother?

Low self-esteem and a gaping hole of confidence is a common feature of disabled creatives. So what can we do about it? If the system won’t change for us, we need to find our own hacks to participate in the industry. As with most things, we create our own accessibility.

When lockdowns assigned me to isolation, I managed to form a new mental framework with my writing goals. The actual writing has never been much of an issue for me, I obsess over this stuff. But the confidence . . . the requirement to submit and then go through the anguish of wondering what went wrong . . . that was my roadblock. Not just with writing, but with life itself . . . but mainly with writing because that is what I was obsessed with. I can write 100,000 words in three months and then shelve it for years trying to build up the confidence to prepare for submission. Build up the resilience for a possible rejection or a ghosting.

Last year, I rewired my goals. No longer was publication or acceptance the endgame. Instead, my goal was just to submit. Submit and then expect to never hear back. Submission itself was my victory. It was such a simple way to think about it, but it removed a giant chunky block of anxiety from my path.

In 2020, my goal was to submit for fifty writing opportunities. On and on, I submitted, never looking back, each submission tasting like triumph. The rejections came, but they didn’t bother me because I hadn’t expected to hear at all. And as the rejections filtered in, I no longer wondered why I had been rejected. Acceptance wasn’t my goal so why stress over it. I was submitting and letting that be my high.

Towards the end of the year, I actually got a few successes. I was maybe forty rejections deep when EWF contacted me to tell me I had been awarded one of their ‘At Home’ residencies. A couple days later, Varuna also alerted me I had been awarded a fellowship with them. And then slowly, among rejections, more acceptances started creeping through.

The thing is though, these successes haven’t done much to improve my confidence or my self-esteem. What has helped improve my confidence is submitting. Every submission offering me the chance to feel like I’ve won, which makes me feel more confident in myself. Acceptance is just the melted cheese on top of the Vegemite toast; it’s nice, but Vegemite toast is fine on its own.

@WhoIsBeauWindon