I’m Afraid Of Seeming Forward



“Forward:” it’s a Little House on the Prarie sort of word, isn’t it? A word from the days of long skirts and corsets and hair done up with pins. Forward is a woman who presumes too much. Who insinuates herself into unwelcome company.

Or, worse, forward is a shameless, wayward woman. A woman transgressing. A woman crossing boundaries of politeness and decorum and goodness.


I’m trying to acquire an agent, a publishing contract. It is harder than acquiring the measles (though like the measles, it makes you horribly uncomfortable.) Like every hopeful writer, I have to hustle. I steel myself to ask and seek and knock.

To wit: yesterday I wrote an email to a (very mere) acquaintance that has published a book. I asked if he could give me names of potential contacts.

Look, I hesitate to ask friends over to my house. When I’m offering to feed them for free. Asking favors of people I don’t know well? I feel queasy.

In the email to the very mere acquaintance, I said, “At the risk of seeming forward …” as I asked for the favor. I liked the anachronistic ring of it, and also it was the most honest thing I could think to say to him.

Give me a hoopskirt to hide behind, and I would feel much safer. Give me some rules like velvet ropes to constrain me and I could let go of my dreams like helium balloons with a little sigh of relief. Decorum would let me off the hook of bravery.

Instead, balloons clutched in my hand, I am wading out into battle. Battle with my ego and a long habit of hiding. Battle with the lie of self-sufficiency. Battle with decorum and inoffensiveness. Battle with fear.

I am bushwhacking. I am clearing ground in a forest for my dreams to take root.

The hardest lesson I’ve learned as I move forward with faithful pursuit of my dreams is that I need help. That the myths of solitary knights fighting dragons are a load of $%#*&. Even knights have to think about logistics; even the pioneers joined wagon trains. And behind every army were the women who made the coffee and bandaged wounds.

But to get comrades in arms, to join a cohort, to get the help I am more and more aware that I need, I have to be so forward. I have to tug sleeves and tap shoulders. I have to put myself out there, over and over again.

I have to go past my own reserve, past my desire to hide and disappear, and go to the front. To the borderlands of the unknown. To the edge of battle, where the worst action is. I have to abandon all polite decorum.

Decorum protects us from rejection. Decorum is kid gloves and niceties. Decorum keeps us safely chained.

Look, don’t get me wrong—by “decorum” I don’t mean “civility.” I won’t ever abandon kindness to put myself forward. I won’t achieve goals at the expense of someone else. I am not fighting other writers, artists, or human beings.

Instead, I’m joining the battle against the forces of inertia, erasure, and silence. I am raising my tiny dagger of defiance against letting my gifts disappear. Of burying my talents in the sand to keep myself safe.

So many forces conspire to keep us quiet, motionless on the edge of a couch, sipping tea. There are forces of systematic oppression, heavier on others than on me. The cruelty we learn along with kickball in schoolyards. Abuse at home, or in school, or in jobs. There’s simple fear and complicated mental or physical health. And the simple hard work and brutal luck involved in creative endeavors.

Sometimes, I want to cry because putting my work out there hurts. It hurts to hope and ask and risk rejection. It hurts to feel lame or risk asking the wrong question. It hurts to care more about my dreams than others do. It hurts to feel like a newbie, a beginner, a clueless schmuck. It hurts to face fear over and over again.

It hurts to be forward.

You know what? I’m doing it anyway. I am leaning forward, and I am asking for help anyway. I am writing anyway, and trying anyway.

Here is the miracle: the more I lean forward wildly into the air, completely off balance, giving myself over to the pull of the earth, the more I feel hands and help and blessing holding me up, and keeping me aloft, and never letting me go.