The Red Queen Effect — It’s OK to Not be Satisfied

It’s been a long time since I’ve written something for funsies, and I feel really shitty about that.

Now that I write for a living (sweet, right?), I write for fun less often. This change in me stems from a sense of inadequacy, from a feeling that although I’ve come so far, I somehow haven’t grown at all. Even though I spend 8 hours a day wearing a writer’s hat, I manage to convince myself that I’m not a real writer.

In another life, I used to say ostentatious things like “I need to work on my craft” or “the muse is calling” These days I’d rather slide my laptop under my bed and out of sight than have to face a blank screen.

I know, I know. I’m dumb to draw an association between getting paid to write with feeling like I’m not good enough to write. I think it’s because there’s more pressure now. Like, hello, how can you do this for a living and still end your sentences with a preposition and interject “like” into every paragraph? What if your colleagues read this? Where did you go to school again? You mean to tell me you didn’t major in English? Do you even know what a comma splice is? What a bloody imposter!

You get where I’m coming from, right? How am I supposed to go on with all of these (British) voices in my head? I’m sitting here, typing away (gotta get that first draft down, just keep going), trying to simultaneously think of a metaphor or “truth” to make this more meaningful so it will resonate with more people. This needs to be more literary. I’m racking my uncreative and pressure-ridden mind searching for something I can grab a hold of, something that will connect me to someone or something else and…

Oh wait. I got it.

The Red Queen Effect.

The Red Queen Effect is the idea that animals must continuously adapt and evolve in order to survive predators who also happen to be adapting and evolving. (There’s the purpose of my science degree, ha!)

So a rabbit evolves to be faster so it can outrun the fox. But the fox also evolves to be faster than its slower ancestors, ancestors that eventually died out because they starved to death. And this goes on and on, while the playing field remains relatively stable. Although things are in flux over many years of evolution, it appears as if nothing has changed at all, because after all that effort, the rabbit is still at risk for becoming stew.

This idea is named after the character in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. When describing the reality of Looking-Glass Land, the Red Queen says to Alice:

Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.

See? It’s a real thing that happens. I’ve stumbled upon a real universal experience here! One, in fact, that is applicable beyond the animal kingdom. Now let’s bring this back inwards and back to where we started — talking about me and my problems.

So even though I changed careers and now work at a company I love, doing work that doesn’t make me want to stab myself in the neck with a pen, I still find myself feeling like I stopped getting better. I feel like I need more. On some level it’s selfish, but it’s also written in my biology to want more and to expect more from myself. I just can’t let the inadequacy that comes with it cripple me to (a figurative) death.

And you can’t either. (This is the part where I take the focus off of me, and bring it back to you, the reader. Because there’s supposed to be a reason for you to be reading this, right?). We always want more because it’s how we survive. Sometimes that means we feel like we’re on a hamster wheel and not going anywhere, but the truth is that you’re not in the same place you were last year.

All I’m trying to say is: just keep running.

And I’ll keep writing.