Friday, January 15, 2010

Why I write

...though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Journal from Barnes&Noble

Yesterday in search of paper for a to-do list, I pulled a blue spiral-bound penguin notebook off the shelf and unsnapped its cover to see if it was blank. I really hope I'm pregnant, it mused at me. I feel like I am but there's no way to know yet. I just have this feeling. I really didn't know the miscarriage was going to be so hard, even after this long. I really hope I'm pregnant.

I wasn't. Not yet, anyway. The journal was from January of 2002. It was probably a few weeks before I got pregnant with Roo. I miscarried our first baby in November of the year before, and I was nearing the end of my three-month waiting period before we could try again. I'm pretty sure we'd been cheating on that deadline. I read those first few lines yesterday and clasped the snap, leaving it for another day. That blue penguin journal stands silent, shoulder-to-shoulder with all my others on the top shelf behind some photo albums and spine bent paperbacks. I don't want to leave it out, but I like that it's there.

I collect words. It started in junior high with a card I saved because it touched my heart. I still have every high school report, but also every note from a friend. A chicken-scratch memoir of friends and boys, hand-holding and dance--they're all in the attic with papers that say "beautiful work" and "kids like you are the reason I went into teaching" across the top. When E was away in college, stationary and spiral notebooks held my heart; I wrote him lonely letters from the shade of the Arboretum. I met my notebooks with the same regularity as my bedtime makeup removal: not so consistent. My enthusiasm for anything is sporadic; while I might've been careful to remove my makeup only when peppy, it was usually heartache that brought me to those notebooks.

Most common to my writing is a sense of trying to work through something difficult. A particularly grim and heart-wrenching Holocaust in Literature and Film class engendered hours of writing, crying, questioning in college. For a while I outgrew notebooks and began to use a bit of freeware called iDailyDiary, a password-protected, date-sorted word processing/diary program. I see it as my first foray into blogging before I really knew what blogging meant. It was blogging for an audience of one. I continued to write mostly from pain, confusion, or sadness. When times were easy, I didn't write much. My commitment was spotty.

I taught poetry, I started to attempt poetry. Poetic form didn't make sense to me until I was trying to mold it into word pictures for students. Suddenly it was just another organizational form, rules to follow while embellishing with my own tone and personality. I was inspired. I no longer cared if my poems were "good." Who was judging? Poetry bled into prose. Metaphor amused me. Vocabulary--a longtime fascination--started to fit me like a pair of broken-in slippers, rather than my dad's overcoat. I started to write in order to record: a weekend with my girlfriends, the birthday of a child, the last day of school. Writing captured moments, even if I was the only visitor to the archive.

I have a fondness for the Anglo-Saxons I studied in college--lovely Norse guys who blew their noses in the wash bowl but celebrated the warrior-poet. What they gave me was more than nerd love for a good kenning. Being not even slightly warrior-like, I latched on to the latter half of that ideal and espoused the central truth illuminated in each legend: your story is your immortality. Through your story, you live forever. These guys believed that one's life had to be worthy in order to be retold. They also believed that if your story was forgotten, so ended your imprint on the world.

My first attempt at blogging failed because it wasn't honest. I was in the darkest pit of my marriage but I wrote only sunshine--out of fear of what others would think. That effort was quickly abandoned. My words were limited to lengthy email exchanges at work. After hearing repeatedly from a friend that I was a writer, that I had so much to say, I started this blog. It was in the middle of so much pain and I let that truth show. Eventually life turned a corner and it wasn't all doom and gloom, but I've continued to try to paint the picture of our life with truth and clarity. This openness has actually brought me peace.

"Writing is sharing our common secrets," says a sidebar on Travelin' Oma, one of my favorite blogs. What could have been embarrassing and damaging about laying out the truth of our life--struggles and all--has actually shown me how ordinary we are. Having a blog has opened my eyes to how much fear people have about anyone seeing behind their mask. What if they knew the real me? What would people think? I could never let people know what I'm going through. I will write, but it's only for me. I want all of my journals burned before I die, they say. I'm not a good enough writer. I don't know how to say things the right way, they lament. Many people won't ever move beyond that, and it's okay. This process has shown me that there are so many fears and a multitude of reasons that keep people from writing or sharing their story.

But remember: your story is only your own. There is no right way to tell it. Yes, like any other art there are skills to be learned but there's no substitute for heart. Truth. Your story is your immortality. Maybe you write it down, and nobody ever sees it until you die. I figure by then I'll have no need for embarrassment over whatever secrets I kept in life. Make no mistake, there are secrets. Self-editing is essential, even when one is open. But if I write, if I allow Ad and Bud to feel what I felt, I like to think that they will know me in a way that they wouldn't have otherwise. It helps me to know myself better when I look back even a few months. It allows a connection to E that is otherwise impossible. I want my story to be a peek: a look into my purse or a window into my house. That is why I write.

This post started out to be a draft of this Sunday's installment of Unsolicited Advice. Obviously, I didn't get to the advice part. My introduction took over and wanted to be the whole thing. Though I don't claim any kind of mastery, the subject of Sunday's UA post will be writing, a subject which I will be studying myself for years to come. But I'll offer what I have to you then.

(And to the person who thought that my earlier post about having a cold and my kids being sick wasn't appropriate in light of the situation in Haiti: of course my prayers are with those people. Of course it's a heartbreaking tragedy. Life continues, though, and I'm not a news source or a charity. I hope that people are looking to reputable world news sources who know more than I do about the world for their information on the situation. My having a cold won't make the situation worse or better. But way to comment anonymously--brave.)


  1. did someone really leave you a comment about you not talking about Haiti? wow, the nerve....

  2. Great post! It is nice going back and reading old journals- it makes us realize how far we've come. I keep all of mine as well.

    PS. Someone really left you a comment like that? I am SO sick of these anonymous cowards hiding behind their computers and spewing mean stuff! On another blog I read someone wrote her a hate filled comment because of the name she chose for her baby that isn't even born yet! It's like seriously?! Get a life! UGH! Ok, finished ranting now!

  3. Seriously?? People need to get off their soap boxes and realize that while great tragedy has struck Haiti our lives continue on and these are our blogs about OUR lives.

    Anywho, I've always been a sporadic writer/journal keeper. I have many many half filled journals. I doesn't help that I love good, pretty paper and will collect it like there is no tomorrow!

    All of my writing ventures have been in times of pain, confusion and frustration.

    I don't reread my journals much because of that.

  4. "I met my notebooks with the same regularity as my bedtime makeup removal: not so consistent. My enthusiasm for anything is sporadic; while I might've been careful to remove my makeup only when peppy, it was usually heartache that brought me to those notebooks."

    Beautiful. The entire post. I echo almost every sentiment.