I spent last week in an existential funk. I won’t get into the specifics, but it did involve eating a lot of fun sized Milk Duds and Babe Ruths.
Some of my angst has to do with keeping this blog. I have been sternly warned that if I want more readers, I need to boost my social media presence. This made me realize how hopelessly out of date I am.
I grew up in the era of letter writing. When I was in fourth grade, my best friend moved to the U.K., and her mother gave me a beautiful box of thin blue stationery, the proper weight for sending airmail. I wrote long, self-conscious descriptions of our town (in case she forgot what being an American was like) and finally received back a note with a few sprawling and misspelled words telling me she got a cat.
This is how I should have known I was a writer. The joy of composition, the sense of a sacred responsibility to the Truth, the shame at proving unequal to the task, and then the inevitable comeuppance from my readership.
Give her a break, Val. She was only seven.
The embarrassment of oversharing still haunts me. Putting my thoughts on paper is like having that dream where you really have to go to the bathroom, but the only available toilets are standing on the field of a packed sporting arena.
I have this dream, or some variation, a lot. (The hilarious thing about the dream is I invariably think, “Huh. I’ve had this dream so many times; now here it is happening in real life!”)
I don’t know what I’m so afraid of.
- Sounding like a jerk.
- Being “friended” by no one.
- Having nobody relate to what I say.
- Being too careful and never saying what I want to say.
- Offending my parents.
- Being stalked by an obsessive stranger.
Although I imagine some writers are frank exhibitionists, who relish being in the spotlight, I’m guessing most of us are shy folks who ducked when a ball flew near their head and tried to read while walking down the street. We thought about being popular but couldn’t take the pressure.
Writing candidly about my life in a place where thousands of people might read is a lot of pressure.
Indeed, the problem I brought to the marriage was I couldn’t take the pressure. I wanted to stay at home, write in my journal, futz in my garden, manage the finances, take care of our daughter, and plan for the next stage of our life, the one in which it was my turn.
I kinda forgot how to be myself, and I didn’t fade to gray with a good grace. I was pissy and resentful about it.
When I think about keeping a public blog about my divorce experience and what I, specifically, bring to the discussion, I think about my own personal and psychological transformation during the marriage against a larger cultural and social backdrop, and questions like these keep cropping up:
- Why is it not okay for a woman to be “just” a stay-at-home mother?
- What is a fulfilling human relationship?
- How is it that our society reacts so poorly to other people’s trauma?
- How can women forge connections that are real and nurturing?
- What is the difference between career and purpose?
It surprises me just how many of these questions are feminist. From the time I was in my early twenties until my ex husband decided to leave, I considered myself a feminist but did not really dwell on it. I tire easily of political agendas.
But the one thing this whole experience has shown me is that we do view women differently — men see us differently, and our perceptions are formed in reaction to theirs. I want to start a discussion about that and see where it takes me.
Meanwhile, I’ve been messing with my tagline and header image as I figure out what exactly my message to you is. I hope you can have a bit of patience with that.
The painted birds you now see on my header are above the tiled fireplace in “little Otie’s” room. Otis Billings died at age four, and his ghost is said to preside (benevolently — he is a kind presence) over the old Maine farmhouse I just bought. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I found myself going into this room and talking to Little Otie quite often, reassuring him that his house was in good hands and that I would take care of him.
I’m not sure what the birds mean to me. That’s another thing I hope to figure out.
The cover image is a detail from Gerard Terborch’s “Woman Writing a Letter,” ca. 1655.
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