By now, those of you who are Gordon Ramsey fans like myself have seen the Kitchen Nightmares with the frankly insane woman on it, causing GR, a man known for being willing to throw down, to simply give up and walk away.
Her utter inability to admit that something’s wrong when presented with an internet’s worth of evidence made it the most compelling Kitchen Nightmare in years — no amount of hidden mold in a not-so-cold freezer can compete with epic trainwreck.
As awful as she was though (and as cathartic as it was to see Gordon realize what was going on, try to break through, and then finally give up), I do have some small amount of sympathy for her. Because to be successful as a writer you do have to know where the line of denial is and then step widely over it.
When you start out so many people aren’t going to believe in you, it’s not funny. Your spouse, your teachers, your relatives — hell, you won’t even believe in you (if you’re me). The only thing that’ll get you through the doldrums of disbelief is one hell of a crazy case of self-denial.
Not surprisingly, seeing as writers lie for money, we lie to ourselves all the damn time. You start off pretending a project doesn’t mean that much to you, or that you’re writing it to learn, or that you’re writing it for art, or that you need to do something during your lunch break. You tell yourself that your book is genius, that you’re a genius, that if not this book, then the next one. You send stories or novels out and start getting in rejections, and that’s the icing on the lie-cake — maybe my protagonist looked like that editor’s ex-wife, maybe I formatted it wrong, maybe space opera isn’t in (again) this year.
Because on some level the self-denial does protect you, and you need it to survive. You may know you need to get better, and can see yourself getting better, but if you don’t give your self-esteem a space place to grow and experiment, you’ll never achieve better. I know a lot of writers who know what level they feel they ought to be writing to, and because they’re not there yet, they harangue themselves endlessly and don’t accomplish very much. They haven’t learned to lie to protect themselves yet.
At the center of each successful artistic career there has to be a seed-sprout of outrageous sheer belief in who you are and what you’re working on right now.
The secret is to use the moments of willful self-denial to benefit and shield that outrageousness — because honestly, thinking that anyone is ever going to give two fucks about any artistic endeavor in this day and age is, just like JEM, truly outrageous.
But you have to be in control of the self-denial, and know that you’re in control of it, in some deep down way — and not to use the lies to become someone with an inflexible worldview with an “us vs them” mentality.
I feel bad for that lady even though she’s clearly awful, because maybe (as I write here from my penthouse office in Projection Central) she had to tell herself some things to get by in the early days starting out as a baker-artist. But she never had nor gained the introspection to realize that there’s a vast gulf between the lies we tell ourselves to get by and the lies we ought to expect other people to believe, which is a pity because those cakes looked pretty damn good.