I have an angel on my shoulder. It’s hard to see his wings, since he usually wears a trenchcoat. His slouch Fedora is pulled low over his eyes, except when he’s excited, which is often. The soles of his loafers leave little imprints on the shoulder of my shirt. The angel tells me things as I go throughout my day. Unfortunately, my angel is addicted to crystal meth, and his supply is erratic.
When he is on the upswing of his addiction, he whispers how wonderful I am, even if others don’t see my unique talents. Wait until they see the wonders that I am even now crafting. Writing? Parenting? Making videos? Working at my job? Singing? Playing racquetball? I am and have always been a wunderkind, able to do anything I want with the greatest of ease. From under his hat my angel’s face beams, lit from within by the fires of creation.
But when he crashes, oh, the things he tells me. How I am a fraud who has somehow escaped being exposed for the fraudy fraud I am. He is quick to point out the co-worker who disagreed with me and was right, the reviewer who hated my writing, the friend who didn’t call. Everything I do smells of failure, the acrid smell of fried electronics mixed with the aroma of flop-sweat.
Anne Lamott talks about this in Bird by Bird, though for her it’s a radio station.
If you’re not careful, station KFKD will play in your head twenty-four hours a day, nonstop, in stereo. Out of the right speaker in your inner ear will come the endless stream of self-aggrandizement, the recitation of one’s specialness, of how much more open and gifted and brilliant and knowing and misunderstood and humble one is. Out of the left speaker will be the rap songs of self-loathing, the lists of all the things one doesn’t do well, of all the mistakes one has made today and over an entire lifetime, the doubt, the assertion that everything one touches turns to shit, that one doesn’t do relationships well, that one is in every way a fraud, incapable of selfless love, that one has no talent or insight, and on and on and on.
I first started hearing this angel in graduate school. No, I lie: I’ve heard him for a long time, but before graduate school most things came easy to me. If they didn’t come easy to me, I dropped them. But in graduate school I had picked a profession I enjoyed and was good at, and suddenly I was surrounded by people who were far smarter than me and far better at physics than I was. I started having a hard time ignoring my crystal meth angel.
Lately my angel has been on the downward arc of his addiction. Every shot I hit in racquetball is evidence that I cannot play and never will. Every less-than-ecstatic review of my recent work of interactive fiction is proof that I have no idea what I am doing, and no one will like what I produce. Silence or strained grins from friends forced to watch the videos I’m working on demonstrate my incompetence.
The worst part of it is that there is always evidence to back up my angel’s claims when he’s depressed. When he’s higher than a kite his words are comforting, but they’re just that: words. But evidence of my mis-steps is easy to come by.
Dealing with my crystal meth angel is a long and laborious process. When he is manic, I remind myself that I may be unique, but that doesn’t guarantee that I’m interesting. My social security number is unique, but just you try to dance to it. I remember that it is one thing to be confident, but another thing entirely to have overweening and unsupported pride. When he is depressive, I wander around and distract myself with good memories. I lose myself in the details of what I’m doing, ignoring the big picture for a while. I breathe deep and remember that this is a phase my angel is going through, and that he’ll be better soon. I try not to rip off his fedora and cram it down his throat. My success rate in both cases is less than stellar.
I’m guessing a lot of you have a similar angel, or a radio tuned to KFKD, or a manifestation of Julia Cameron’s censor. How do you lot deal with this?