September 22, 2012 § 20 Comments
~It looks like this where my people come from.~
Last weekend, while at a family reunion with people I see only once every three or four years, my mom whipped out her iPad and began pulling up this blog (literally, this one — Mary and Bob’s Journal) to show my aunt and uncle. I felt immediately embarrassed. So much so that I actually said, “Oh Mom, please don’t. I’m really self-conscious about my blogging.”
She got so far as showing them the adorable photo of Ruby The Hairstyling Kitteh and then we changed the subject. It all passed painlessly.
Now, seven days later, as my 43rd birthday looms half a day away, I’m questioning my insecurity.
I’ve written publicly at this site since 2007. At first, it was an anonymous endeavor. I kept a boundary between my day-job self (public – “in real life” – 3D – Ruth) and my soap-box-activist, melodramatic philosophizing artistic self (roolily – Ruth at Mary and Bob’s Journal). My disguise wasn’t absolute — people who knew me well enough to have my roolily email address could find the blog, but the separation was adequate enough for my comfort.
A couple years later, when I began posting blog links at Facebook, it was like a passive coming out to my friends and family. I progressively became more and more open, and now I tweet under my full name with a link to this blog. It’s not an unusual path.
Last month, perhaps as an early birthday gift to myself, I purchased my first domain name (currently under construction). I sit at my computer every morning around 7:00 to read about CSS. I’ve dusted off the Photoshop tool box and am rubber stamping my way to my very own logo — all in preparation to fully integrate my fragmented online presence. Cobbled together with my bookkeeping work and Andy’s support, I am self-employed.
I’m in control of my time and I spend a lot of it writing and blogging. These are good things.
So why, when my mom wants to share my creativity with people who love me, do I clam up and cringe?
I hate that I’m self-conscious about my blogging; It feels immature (not the blogging, the self-consciousness). I want to be confident about my work. No — more accurately — I want to do work worthy of confidence.
When I surf the blogs of my friends, like An Acorn Dreaming, and read the stellar work of writers I learned about at BlogHer ’12 – Citizen of the Month, Edenland, Mocha Momma, Native Born, Schmutzie, (to name only a handful), and especially when I encounter a gem like Susannah Conway, (who a cousin recently recommended) I’m struck by intermittent bouts of inspiration and envy. But mostly I’m grateful, but because it’s so uplifting to see that sharing deeply can be done with professionalism, humor, grace and intelligence.
These writers help me realize that I am not a freak for making the choice of disclosing highly personal thoughts and feelings in this completely public forum.
In the not so distant past (like yesterday) I felt my openness was a mistake that I was somehow getting away with. Have I been a sheep in the pop culture of self-exposure? Has this been a years-long bad habit? Am I too hungry for connection? Desperate for attention? I would ask my shrink these questions, but I know what his answer would be: “What do you think?”
Two years ago, when my personal life got messy (simultaneously wonderful and confusing, and eventually tragic), for better or worse, I used blogging as a healing tool. I still do.
The things I’ve written about here — god, how could I? How many elephants are in this room? Just one? Two? Neither of them are elephants, though. They are human beings I care about.
Blogging about my grief despite its odd circumstance has created even more awkward circumstances. When I’m vague, it’s to protect other people as best as I can while trying to be true to myself. But I don’t know if I’ve succeeded in protecting anyone. Mostly, I’ve just been trying to keep it together.
Sometimes I think it would be easier if I wrote fiction. Damn, though, making stuff up is hard. It’s a craft I intend to develop because I suspect that fiction might be the only way I can be open about my most profound experiences.
Preserving memories with words feels like a reasonable way to mimic sacred moments. While language can only approximate the holiness, it’s better than nothing — especially after relationships transform, after people die.
So I’m conjuring the past? Conjuring lovers? Conjuring myself?
And to conjure with witnesses — a magic blogging affords us — is to receive nods, handshakes, and hugs. An assurance that someone has heard the tree falling.
No shame in that.
Maybe acquiring confidence requires a rehearsing a script. Here’s one:
I’m a writer who blogs. I am learning to tell entertaining stories by practicing publicly.
My readers appreciate it when I write about what’s really going on rather than the first (gag-me) Yahoo headline I see in the morning. Today’s was, “Before and after plastic surgery – Ali Wentworth was tired of looking like this.”
Yeah, I don’t give a fuck about that. Sure, it could be bouncing off point for a post like the one I did recently about covering my gray hair and how I feel about appearance and gender roles.
But when I’m having a hard day, to hell with the safe topics, I write my truth.
Now the blogger in me is saying, edit some more, woman, this thing is too long. And don’t post on a Saturday night, no one will read it.
But I’ve been writing this post since the sun was rising, and now the sun is setting, and my only break all day long was to sit in a three hour French class.
Plus, I turn 43 tomorrow. The candles have been lit, they won’t last forever.
July 21, 2012 § 4 Comments
Oh, the pressure’s on. Since announcing that I’m taking requests for topics on which to blog, three have come in. Unless a flood of more than nine great ideas arrive, I will be doing posts on the following suggestions over the next few days.
1. From a professor whose background is in rhetoric, composition, and all sorts of intimidating ways to describe written communication, a gem she encountered during her days scoring SAT essays, “What makes a good friend?”
2. From a woman who has been a writing instructor of mine for years (and more recently has become someone I’m honored to call a friend), this prompt: Take one moment (it might be the color of the sea) and what grows out of that moment. . . let it evolve on the page. This came after I posted the Bermuda pics, so I’m going to pull a moment from that trip.
3. From a man who was the youth pastor at my church when I was about 12 years old, whose humor and intelligence on FB regularly delight me, a follow up to #1, “Write about whether you’d rather have a zombie as a friend or a vampire.”
Open Call Continues . . . Let me know if you’ve got any requests.
This is not to say I don’t have plenty of ideas of my own. Not to sound arrogant, but I’ve got lists of plans for posts. I keep track of those unfulfilled promises, you know. In the meantime, some reader participation will be fun; don’t you think?
Full disclosure ~ When I sat down to write today, I intended to dive into #1. “What makes a good friend?”
I know full well that the hungover, flat-stomached teenagers with suntanned feet and the keys to Daddy’s Lexus in their pockets have only 25 minutes to crank out a hand-written essay after receiving the prompt. Here, I’ve had days already to mull it over. Plus, I’ve got this handy dandy dictionary that pops up in the corner of my screen and helps me verify that yes, “mull” is what I meant to say.
But I’m a coward. I just googled “How to Write an SAT Essay” and began a crash course at SparkNotes. I know the suggestion wasn’t to actually write an SAT essay, it was merely inspired by the topic. But what if what I come up with is an incoherent mess?
Here I call myself a “writer,” yet I just can’t imagine writing a “6″ essay. That’s a score. Did you know that? I didn’t know that. The last time I took a clear position on a topic, it was a messy incident.
What the hell are PhD’s doing reading this blog anyway? I need to go back to school. Will my “3″ essay (“shows developing competence“–that’s me, in perpetual development) earn my acceptance into a good grad school? And how will I pay the tuition?
Earlier today, I was in the middle of my too many cups of coffee and turned to Andy with, “I think the cats might be getting too thin.” Two months ago, I worried that Ell-kitty was too heavy. Five minutes later, “I’m concerned about our lack of earthquake preparedness.” To which, he aptly replied, “Honey, pick an anxiety. Just one.” I took a shower instead.
Tomorrow, I’m going to do it; I’m going to write about friendship.
July 20, 2012 § 2 Comments
Last month, I walked up and down the aisles of Orchard Supply Warehouse looking for neem oil. It was the last resort to save my little potted garden.
Do you know what neem oil does? According to DiscoverNeem.com, it enters insects’ bodies and blocks their “real hormones from working properly. Insects ‘forget’ to eat, to mate, or they stop laying eggs. Some forget that they can fly. If eggs are produced they don’t hatch. . . .”
When I first read that months ago, I couldn’t do it. I refused. Maybe because I have close friends — family, really — who suffer from depression. I know how painful it is when people won’t eat, won’t mate, forget they can fly. I wouldn’t do it.
So I tried a home remedy: diluted laundry soap (purported to dehydrate the bugs; awful!). At least they’d die with appetites in tact. This solution seemed to — to my untrained eyes — kill the plants.
Now I had dead bugs on sticks, and wilting leaves in pots, all brown. Decaying. In May. Not a flower in sight. I’m no gardener, and I don’t have time to be googling this shit every other day, so I did what made sense to me. I cut those babies bald. It hurt to do it. The result: sticks minus decay, bugs gone.
When some green leaves began to sprout, my aphid friends returned in full health. Square one.
So I talked to our family therapist about the whole thing, as you do. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but my take away from the conversation was this: sometimes you have to choose between lives. I had to make a choice: bugs or plants. Someone had to go.
When I went to buy the neem oil, I photographed stacks of terracotta pots. It occurs to me that they’re kind of like words stacked up, these pots. People will buy them, fill them with soil and water, and seeds or already living plants. They’ll be given away with smiles, or left as offerings with tears.
These containers will be the sites of power struggles and color bursts, of deaths and rebirths, of infinite drama and intervening monotony. Some of the pots will be demolished and repurposed.
And I wonder what and where they were before they became pots? They’re the stuff of earth, right? From deep down below the surface.
I’m not a gardener, I’m a writer. I don’t have to strip living beings of their libidos in this line of work; but I could. Words are like that.
I’ll be planting 11 new blog posts over the next 11 days, and I’m taking requests.
Color burst or monotony? How deep will I dig? What shape is the mold? Which seeds will grow?
If it sounds like fun, throw a writing prompt my way. I’ve already got two really good ones (thanks, you know who you are).
June 4, 2012 § 6 Comments
Nearly 24 hours later than promised — here’s the text of what I wrote especially for my writing class’ big “end-of-term multi-class reading”. The criterion was simple: stay at or under two minutes fifteen seconds.
This week, I’ll write another post about the masochistic and stupid choice I made of imposing this unnecessary deadline on myself. What did I call the process the other day? Bliss? Ha! If by “bliss” I meant “painful and terrifying,” then that was a spot on way to put it. But it was also fabulous, and a gift, and horrible, and great. More about all that later. I’ll also include some details about the reading.
Without further ado, here’s my piece, which it turns out is fiction. Go figure.
Last Tuesday, my therapist asked, “What do you believe in?” The tissue in my hand was damp, and I knew it had left traces of white residue all around my eyes. It always did.
I looked at him when I answered, “I believe that we’re all going to die.” He blinked twice. Which, from a shrink, is a pretty big reaction.
Did he think I was going get all Bull Durhamy? All Kevin Costnery? All stoic? If a minor league catcher were familiar with the novels of Susan Sontag, if Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, if anyone, ever, actually used five single syllable adjectives in a row, then this would be a different universe.
But as it is, in this universe, I don’t believe in, nor do I want, kisses that last three days. I mean, I have to eat at least once every six waking hours, and slow, strong, sweet (stopping two adjectives short of five) inhales through the mouth are my preferred method of breathing. What do I believe in. What do you believe in? What kind of mind fuck of a question is that?
On my walk home from the session, I stopped by the skate park to watch for a minute. This one little kid – maybe ten or eleven – got to the top of the ramp, and jumped up flipping his board into a mid-air rotation. It’s a stunt I’ve seen skater after skater try and fail. As soon as his board landed – wheels to the ground – rolling, he landed right back on top of it, smiled, and kept full forward trajectory.
I wanted to cheer, to run, to thank him.
I wanted to high five anybody with a palm.
I wanted to tell yell, “I saw that!”
And “What did you see?” my shrink might later ask.
I’d squeeze that cheap white tissue and say:
In his jump, I saw the water from Annie Sullivan’s well rushing up over the sands of the Atlantic to my nephew’s toes.
In his flight, I saw Galileo’s moons shining on Vincent’s stars reflected off Jesse Owens’ gold medals onto each strand of hair of Rubens’ young lady.
In his landing, I heard Bach’s Cello Suites accompanied by a cricket in the corner.
I heard the start up chimes of a new apple computer; I heard an EMT shout, “Clear!”
I heard Faulkner’s Benjy singing Cohen’s Halleluiah, and Lee’s Scout chanting Ginsberg’s Howl but Twain’s Huck didn’t add a noise because this — after all — was just one jump.
June 2, 2012 § 7 Comments
In 26 hours, someone will gesture that I’m next. I’ll stand and walk to a microphone. The room will be mostly dim except for a light shining down on the top of my head. (Roots dyed? Check.)
I’ll clear my throat. Swallow. Inhale. Exhale. And then, for just under two minutes and fifteen seconds, despite the way the page in my hand shakes, I’ll read an original piece of writing — one of my own. It’ll be something that came out of my recent weeks studying with the incomparable Jack Grapes. It’ll be something short — a poem or flash fiction, or god, I don’t know, maybe a mini-personal essay, a scene or a — fuck — it’ll be something. Right now, though, it doesn’t exist.
Today, I am a working writer with an audience waiting and it feels wonderful.
I know the folks gathered in the theater won’t be like a real patrons — more like parents at a dance recital, but still, it’s going to be a neat experience.
And the best part will be hearing the work of my fellow students. Every class has been a feast: I’ve heard phrases that have made my jaw drop, stanzas that have brought my hands to spontaneous applause, pages that have made me say, “Don’t stop,” with embarrassing urgency.
My fellow students are so good that I keep track of their names — not because I’m a creepy stalk monster — but because they are ones to watch for. My fellow students make me say, “Wow!” on regular basis. My fellow students have inspired my best work, they know my secrets, they know my weaknesses.
My fellow students won’t mind if I read something tomorrow that they’ve heard before. Besides, it’s a group reading with people from all the classes. But I’ve decided that I want to make something new. Because isn’t that what this is all about? Creating?
I love waking up in the morning knowing that by the time I sleep again, I’ll have put something into the world that didn’t existed before — that couldn’t have existed if I didn’t make it. I love this feeling. I love it.
I’m not procrastinating; I’m prolonging.
Okay, prolonging with maybe a tiny side of procrastination, but not panicking. Okay, maybe panicking just a bit, but not, like, in a panic-attack kind of way, more like in a, “Where’s that doo-hicky to make the straps tighter before this bungee jump?” cotton-mouthy, “Is it hot in here?” “Oh my,” kind of way.
Yeah. I’m procrastinating.
Recently, a friend of mine wrote to me that it would pain her if my writing leads to disappointment. Years ago, I would have shared her concern. But not now. Now I know that the process is why I do it.
I’m so grateful when I get to sit and write. And being able to share everything about that with people who love it as much as I do — man, I don’t know if there’s anything I like more than that these days. Sap, sap, goo, blah. Drivel paste snore.
So. Whatever it is that’s about to get made, I’ll post it here tomorrow after the reading. . . I wonder what it’s going to be? Exiting, huh?