Each month, we ask one distinguished author or illustrator to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!
Self-Loathing and The Trouble in Me
by Jack Gantos
The Trouble in Me (Farrar 2015) is, in part, an answer to the question “How does one go bad?” It’s something I’ve been asked often since the publication of Hole in My Life (Farrar 2002), which features my drug smuggling and life in prison.
Trouble manifests in a number of ways in The Trouble in Me, but most notable is the trouble that comes from self-loathing. It never occurred to me that the passage between my childhood and adulthood could possibly be filled with such disgust for who I was. Looking into a mirror was torture and an occasion to describe myself in the most hateful and corrosive ways. Whatever strengths I had could not be defended against my unrelenting scree of self-deprecating insults. I was pitiless toward any argument that offered itself as an explanation: that I was young, that I was overly self-conscious, that I was vastly insecure.
I had expected the middle grades to be the reward for getting over being an elementary school mama’s boy, a jerky younger brother, and a bumbling kid, dependent on everyone in the family. Those years were supposed to offer maturity, independence, and achievement. I was unprepared for the inverse: self-hatred and a mad, blind obsession to become someone else. That someone was Gary Pagoda, a charismatic, flawed sociopathic neighbor who in my eyes was everything I wanted to become. I was a moth to his flame.
I can think of no greater self-generated infliction than self-hatred. Even now I can feel that dark shadow beneath me like a bed of hot coals, and I believe that every wrong thing I say and do, and even think, is generated by the still active embers of self-loathing.
In Hole in My Life, while behind bars, I began a more balanced and honest dialogue with myself. This conversation was the silver lining to my incarceration. To be a lifelong prisoner of self-hatred must be a misery beyond bars, but somehow I managed to survive those troubled years and gradually entered a more productive period.
Now, when I stand before a group of students of a certain age and speak about the emotional torque in The Trouble in Me and Hole in My Life, I can see in their eyes that they know exactly what I’m talking about. And I always hope that through reading they find the stronger, more balanced voice within themselves—an honest companion, not some unrelentingly negative foe that makes them turn their backs on themselves.
All text and images are courtesy of Jack Gantos and may not be used or reproduced without his express written consent.