Draft No. 13: Opening Gambit or Death Knell?

A pocket watch laying near pile of autumn leaves.

In January this blog will be entering its 11th year. Blog. I can’t even say the word without chagrin. Substack is laughing off-stage, with Twitter and Instagram spewing out witty one-liners and memes and giggling about that old broad over there getting ready to write a blog post. Snort.

This is a special place to me and I feel ashamed of its neglect. Over there in the corner, covered in cobwebs, are the 12 drafts I wrote and never posted. Up in the attic of this blog, there are dusty WordPress Freshly Pressed awards, stats that used to seem impressive, and a couple of dick comments that got deleted. That is the old world. I pull up my reader. Who’s still around? I see old friends with whom I’d exchange comments. We’ve all aged, our blogs looking worse for the wear, the graying Classic editor, the temperamental and annoying Block Editor who won’t shut up while you’re trying to write.

This is where I learned to write in public. I made friends as real and as important to me as in-person. It’s where I met friends who will likely be lifelong (it might be because I’m old and lifelong is not really that long). This is where I learned that a friend I’d been communicating with died from lung cancer. Where I manned holiday comment boards in a group effort to provide company to those who needed it. This is where I met the lovely people now in my writing workshop. This is where I wrote curmudgeonly posts about the holidays and my first (and only) tattoo. This is where I grieved the death of my grandfather, several pets, and tragic world events.

Ten years and all this blog gets from me is an occasional perusal, as I go to Twitter to get my adrenaline hit of rage and to send profane memes to politicians. This disloyalty has been rewarded with a tinny voice in the back of my head that says, each and every day, I should write a blog post. Off and on over the years, I’ve had to review my reasons for maintaining a blog. These days, mired in an MFA program, writing groups, and writing-heavy volunteer work means that the writing habit is there. The blog no longer serves that need. So what am I doing here?

Cartoon drawing of man with chaos in his head.

The bumptious hamster wheel of modern life means that my attentions are fleeting. I jump from app to app to app. Screens light my face more than the sun does. I task switch 460 times in a single hour. And complete sentences are…what was I talking about? I can analyze the underlying metaphors of a narrative, but don’t ask me how I’m feeling today. I will stutter. I will struggle to form a coherent thought. Perhaps that is what this space should be for me now – being forced to form coherent thoughts around the life that I seem to only be tangentially living.

The last few years have been hard. From my daughter’s medical crisis, the loss of my mother-in-law, both my cats, and of course, the things that are wearing all of us down – politics and the pandemic (and fuck the opportunists who have conflated the two and killed so many of us), I’m just soul-tired. The most exhausting process is recognizing the tiredness, standing back up, and saying, how can I make things better? Rinse and repeat ad nauseam. Perhaps the reason I’m soul-tired is that I haven’t been writing the muddle in my head out enough. Or at all, really.

Perhaps it is because I have never communicated so much with so many in such a variety of ways. Many of us are struggling. When I get the texts, e-mails, phone calls, and Zoom requests, it is my nature to want to be present. It feels the least thing to do for someone, a simple message of: you are not alone. But I’ve begun to recognize my limitations and started disconnecting a couple of days a week in the hopes of finding what, in my own brain and body, needs attention. And then I remember this blog. This dusty, stale little blog that has seen shinier, more social days.

Autumn Leaf

As I write this, it feels like an alien experience – putting what’s in my head into words. Not saying it out loud, not chopping it into a tiny Tweet, not saying oh shit after I send out an irretrievable email with typos. I will write it and then I will go outside on this windy, autumn day and feel the sun on my face. Then I will read it again, trying to fix inevitable typos and muddied thoughts. And then I will send it into the chorus of voices that is the internet.

It is, perhaps, a start to remembering my own writing voice again.

Who is out there still? How have you been? Are you still blogging?

Staying with the Troubles

It’s uncomfortable. This sense that you are out of step with the world and that when you dip your toes in, all you want to do is retreat. I’ve been doing the hokey-pokey all week.

canstockphoto9027095

I’m still trying to process the election outcome. The daily news of one old white guy apprentice after another being paraded for administration positions in front of that other old white guy enrages me afresh. Representative government, my ass.

My husband continues to remain stoic, which sometimes aggravates me further. This morning I childishly said, “Well, I guess this doesn’t bother you, since you aren’t affected by it.”

He sighs. “It does affect me, because every morning after you read the news, we have these conversations.”

I am troubled. I’ve always considered myself a reasonable, thoughtful person, but I can’t seem to get a grip on the anger. I’ve been clumsily trying to reorient myself towards a mission of writing and service and being a decent human. I know anger, unfocused and misdirected, is a waste of energy.

canstockphoto8732102Anger directed is a different story. I did interview to become a community volunteer in my school district and sometime after Thanksgiving, I’ll start tutoring high school English language learners. In my imagination, I’m cancelling out one white nationalist and restoring a little balance to the universe. Still, I worry that I won’t be helpful, that I won’t be able to connect, that I’ll just be another progressive trying to self-soothe.

I’ve felt compelled to read more, listen to more classical music, memorize poetry. All the snide conversation about intelligentsia and liberal elites and derogatory comments about education have made me want to bathe in knowledge – and I am more determined that my child learn about climate change, evolution and sex. Isaac Asimov comes to mind frequently:

“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’

It’s unsettling, this nervous, apocalyptic-driven sense that something has gone horribly wrong. I am still working at the whole meditating thing (up to a whole 11 minutes now!). I began to notice how frantic my mind can be and that in the minute before the timer goes off, I feel desperate to be done and a sense of relief when I hear the beep-beep-beep. I let myself off the hook just when it’s difficult, when what I really need is to stay in that uncomfortable place.

Writing is much the same. I write until I’m mentally screaming at myself that it’s awful and how I don’t know anything. Then I hit a multiple of 500 words. I take a break and relieve the tension, take a walk, get a snack, breathe in, breathe out. I know I have to push past that critical voice to get to the good stuff, but these days, I just seem to be sitting in the trouble spot.

prisonwindowborderIn the midst of this all, I see that the troubles are exactly where I need to be in order to grow as a human and as a writer. We cannot strengthen our character unless it is tested. We cannot defend our freedoms unless they are threatened. We cannot become better writers or artists or humans unless we have obstacles to overcome.

A troubled mind is my new normal and I’ll be here awhile.