True, Necessary, Kind

If only we could know each other’s fears, pain, and insecurities--maybe then we’d be better to one another.

It was earlier this year and I was a couple beers into the conversation out on a friend's front porch on a beautiful early summer night in Chicago. Both of our girlfriends were inside the house, and my friend, who I’ll call Ricahrd, and I were having a heart to heart. I’ve been bad at male intimacy in the past. It’s not unusual. It’s been well written on and discussed how heteronormative men typically have a hard time creating meaningful relationships with each other. But with Richard it’s never been hard. If you didn’t know him, he’d come across as your typical jock, but he’s sensitive, funny, and in general a good guy. I depended on him and his girlfriend so much during my breakup.

We were talking about fears and insecurities. Richard is a storyteller so immediately he launches into an anecdote about how in high school he’d read someone’s journal. Mortified, I immediately asked why he did that. He explained that of course it wasn’t something he was proud of. That he was a stupid teenager and he regretted it, to a degree. Aside from the incredible breach of privacy, he said it taught him something really valuable.

The journal he read was from someone other people in the school perceived as having their shit together. However, in this journal they laid out their insecurities: they were afraid no one liked them, that they were stupid, that they wouldn’t accomplish much in life. My friend came away from this experience with a deep sense of peace; these were the same fears he had. He realized that everyone was probably walking around just hoping to feel special. Hoping to not get caught being a fraud, hoping their deepest fears wouldn’t come true.

Despite how that story starts out, it ends with a truth that you’re grateful for. I love stories, so I’ll give you another story from another friend. This time let’s call her Marie. Marie was on Broadway with Maggie Gyllenhall several years ago. Maggie Gyllenhall, who’s a household name. A star that any indie film producer would fall to their knees and thank god if she agreed to be in their picture. So you’ll be surprised to know that while she’s getting her makeup ready in the dressing room, she casually says out loud to the rest of the ladies, “I just don’t know when the next job is going to come.”

When Marie told me that story I was floored. “It never ends,” I thought. But then a kind of peace washed over me. It never ends. My shoulders slumped down and I ate my fries and smiled. “Thank god,” I thought. Even for the people you think have it all, even for the people you think that have their shit together, it just never ends. The fear, the loathing, the little voice who whispers to you that you’re not good enough. It just never goes away. For anyone. “Thank god I’m not alone.”

My name is Cory Hardin. (That’s my name in the URL, so you already knew that.) What you may not know about me is that I’ve written almost everyday since the pandemic started. I used to just be an actor, but every time I’d start an acting job I’d bemoan the fact that I had no time to write. Having a day job and rehearsing a play almost seven days a week leaves very little room for much else. I’d spend a lot of time just kinda wishing life would make me have to giddy up and write.

Then the pandemic hit, which I feel responsible for now, all those time wishing life would just come to a screeching halt. Then the government gave me money to stay home and save lives. So I treated it like a grant and set up a residency in my little apartment on the Northside of Chicago.

You see, I’m one of those people who needs something creative to work on pretty much all of the time. For instance, I play sports video games in my spare time. I’ve done so for years, so it’s kind of a habit now. But in order to stay interested I have to make up stories about the players, the coaches, the staff. I imagine them--us--all working together as a unit, focused on the same goal. It’s very dweebish when you think about it, but it gets my creative juices going.

Without an outlet, I lose myself. I need to write. I now write damn near everyday so I can stay in conversation with myself. It’s like saying a prayer--and sometimes if I can’t write, I do pray. But if I go too long without checking in on myself, either through written word or talking outloud to my imaginary friend, I get lost. I neglect my needs, go inward, and I shut people out. I become like Golum, huddled in the basement here at my aunt and uncle's house where I’m staying until I moved to NYC at the end of the month. It’s cool and dark down here. Not much light reaches me. And as my skin turns white and my voice gets hoarse and I drown my brother in the creek while fishing on my birthday while trying to get ownership over the most powerful piece of jewelry in all of middle earth I realize that I’ve turned into a sad man again. At that point I barely have energy for anyone. When I’m in those dark places I get mean--mostly to myself.

You might recognize this pattern, minus for the Lord of the Rings references. You might be in it currently. I would like to advise you to take the ring off, toss it into your nearest volcano, get some sunlight, get away from the screen and call someone. Check in with them. If you can’t do that, then check in with yourself. I don’t know about you, but this pattern is a product of how I was raised. A trauma response to an unstable and abusive home. I’m trying, learning, failing, and trying again everyday at choosing to make different, better choices. How I choose to treat myself is a reflection of how I choose to treat others.

Writing helps me to mill through my thoughts, get my house in order, and be generous and gracious with myself so that I can be generous and gracious with people. I try to remember, even in the dark moments: thoughts become actions, actions become character, and then that’s basically who you are. So start with the thought. Which started with me being more serious about writing.

I read Stephen King’s book On Writing in April of 2020 and began writing a novel. I got over 100 pages in before I threw in the towel. Novels are hard. Also it was about zombies. How passé. I moved on to screenplays and plays, taking two writing classes and participating in a playwriting workshop. I read a few script analysis books, and am currently in the middle of The Playwright’s Guidebook by Stuart Spencer, one that I would highly recommend for all you playwrights out there.

[I want to take a second and highlight that I don’t know why I just decided to basically give you my credentials. It’s likely because I’m feeling insecure. I want you to trust me, whoever you are. I feel like it’s important that you know I’m taking this seriously. But maybe I want myself to know that I’m taking this seriously. That this isn’t a flash in the pan, some kind of whimsical hobby that I’ll give up when the going gets rough. It’s interesting that I’m so focused on that. Something to ponder, I suppose.]

Writing has been a welcome creative outlet since acting took a backseat last March. But sometimes my brain isn’t in the space it needs to be in for screenplays and plays. Sometimes the idea of making things up seems daunting. It requires a lot of generosity on the part of my imagination, and lately I’m running on empty--a symptom of my isolation. Sometimes I want to get my thoughts out more directly instead of in veiled subconscious meanderings of people and situations I’m making up.

Lately the only things I’ve been able to write about are people dealing with grief and hungering for connection. It’s not hard to figure out why. I’ve lost a miraculous amount since the start of this year. I broke up with someone after five years, and let me tell you what: there’s no easy or clean way to do that. I lost friends, the theatre company I helped start, and of course the person I broke up with. I envy those who are able to come away from a break up and be civil. How do you do it? No seriously, I'm really asking. Drop me a line and let me know. Because I failed at that and it still haunts me.

Ever since I moved back home to Kentucky temporarily, I’ve become isolated and lonely. If you don’t have clinical depression but you’d like some, I suggest moving back to your hometown and never trying to make friends ever again. I’m usually pretty friendly, but I’ll be honest: this year has broken my spirit. I was made to believe that I was a terrible person. So now, whenever I have an inkling of doing something nice and being kind, there’s this voice that says, “you are a monster. Other people said it, so it must be true.” Despite months of therapy, these dark feelings don’t just go away. So, in lieu of these problems, I decided to pretend that it’s the early 2000’s and start a blog.

The last time I started a blog I was in high school. I wrote all about my adventures with my high school friends, breaking into abandoned houses, drinking and smoking weed, and anything else that stupid teenagers do. I modeled it after this awful human being named Tucker Max, who had a book I was obsessed with in high school called Assholes Finish First (I know, I know. Please don’t @ me. I know.)

Within days of publishing it, it erupted, blew up in my face, and got me and several people close to me into a lot of trouble. My aunt, who was a principal in the school system, was contacted by my guidance counselor, so that got messy. I was aggressively angsty in the posts too, saying how I hated everyone and I couldn’t wait to leave. People came up to me and sincerely asked, “do you really hate me?” it was shocking. Here was someone who I had no idea even cared about what I thought, and I hurt them just with my words. It was a lesson early on in the power of your message. I hurt people because I was a hurt person myself. If you’ve watched the most recent episode of Ted Lasso I want you to know that I have been Nate at some point. I’d like to think that I’m not that way anymore, but I see him and I get it. I think we all have the capacity to be Nate. If you don’t think that, then I sincerely hope you’re okay.

I promise that my previous experience with making a blog is not what I’m aiming for this time around. I have some rules for myself now:

  1. Is it truthful?

  2. Is it necessary?

  3. Is it kind?

These are three things my therapist advised me to think about before I share my thoughts with someone. I think they’re perfect principles to keep in mind when making what is basically an online journal that the public is welcome to read and not feel guilty about years later. This is not a forum for me to complain about people--at least not specifically. We all have squabbles and conflict. Isn’t what Twitter is for? This also isn’t going to be a gossip column; I don’t even know how that would work and I think Perez Hilton (memba’ him?) has that corner of the street covered.

No, my number one reason for doing this is just for me. Getting my thoughts out helps me to stay sane, as I’ve already mentioned. When I try to think my way out of a problem, keeping everything stuck up in my noggin, I get batty.

The second reason for me doing this is the sheer practice of writing. It won’t be on a schedule, but it will be consistent. The days I don’t feel like writing a play or screenplay, I’ll turn here. I have so many thoughts from moment to moment. I make up things in my head, have little grievances that don’t even exist. Usually I come back around to some salient point that grounds me and I move forward to the next problem. Trigger and heap. (Backwards and Forwards, anyone?). I'm trying to be more principled with my life, and I think this might help.

The third reason is purely ambitious. I don’t expect anyone to read this, but I am tired of writing in a vacuum. I have about 15 screenplays and plays just sitting on my celtx profile that I’m too scared to release or I'm too precious to let out. They have to be just right. Perfect is the word. So I’d like to have something to show for my consistency, no matter the medium. And SEO’s being what they are, the more I publish on my blog the more my name and my website gets hits and searches. For some reason I’m way more comfortable with vulnerability than I am with people critiquing my imagination. I don’t know what that means either, but I’m sure it’ll be a blog post at some point, too.

And lastly, maybe you’ll read my thoughts and find some peace. Maybe the fears I voice will help you to not feel alone. Maybe you think there’s no one out on the metaphorical dance floor called your fears and insecurities. So I’ll take it upon myself to down my drink and get out there and bust a move. Maybe you’ll join me. Maybe you’ll watch from afar. Either way is cool. I’m just tired of not dancing anymore.

So read my journal, know my thoughts, see my fears. This is my blog. Welcome.

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