This is me at every new writing group

My body is ambitious. You must do this to succeed and move toward your goals. This is what you need to do. This is what you have to do. I move quickly down the street, dodging obstacles and people in the Mission sidewalk. My feet carry me to the bookstore. I know exactly where it will be and once inside, I skirt around a walking customer, the bookshelves, and head directly to the chairs in a circle in the big open airy space.

I say airy, because I know that the room has high vaulted ceilings. But as the movement slows toward the empty seat, my mind takes over. It realizes that the inevitable is arriving. That the challenge of getting to the bookstore has been overcome. Now what?

My mind forces my body to be as inconspicuous as possible. I am harmless! my mind wants to yell at eyes recognizing an unfamiliar face. Don’t judge me. Don’t think of me as any less. Please treat me well.

The night hurtles forward. Critique after critique. Anxiety sets in. Am I good enough? Will my writing be eviscerated? Will I be considered that young writer who never deserved to even try? Will they tear into the line editing and miss the plot story? Is my writing too egomaniacal? Too unrelatable? With an unsympathetic character? Or even worse, a boring story?

My mind starts yelling, Can we leave? It declares feeling faint. A rush of blood to the brain. A feeling of unease. Better to run. Better to hide. Better to never leave the bed, hide under the covers, and settle into safety.

My body wonders if it will have an anxiety attack. It knows that past anxiety attacks haven’t been real. They were contrived, pushed out from stresses. My body feels guilt, because it doesn’t understand what a real panic attack is—the suffocation, the noise, the whine, the feeling of true frailty. Thirty minute passes. Then an hour. Then 90 minutes. The facilitator suddenly declares that there’s time for one more.

My mind wonders if it would be disappointed if I weren’t called upon. Disappointment? But the mind knows that the body would be then be determined to return. The mind knows the body the best. The body believes in efficiency and optimization. You printed 10 copies of your work. That’s 3 pages each. And that’s 33 pages of very nice paper from your laser printer. Your personal laser printer.

My name is called, and I clear my throat. I apologize that I have only 10 copies, but that anxiety is not a big deal—two others did the same thing. I worry that my voice is not loud enough as I read, but what’s the point? I am reading and they have the pages in front of them.

Then the critique comes. And then it’s over. It’s over. But then there’s that awkward moment after it finishes. I whisper my thanks and dart out into the night, breathing the cool air, tapping on my phone to an app that I can control. Pokemon, where are you? Let me capture you. Let me evolve you. Let me be your trainer. Because you allow me to know you best.

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