Monday, March 01, 2010

Introducing PDawg

Heather's first "blogs" were actually lengthy emails to family and friends. She'd sit for hours, entranced by the blue-grey glow of a word processing program, editing and re-reading. She'd pour her heart into a careful extended metaphor, a page-long ode to this or that, and then tear up when she'd receive a one word reply. To most, email is necessary but disposable. To her, it was a blank canvas and a memory box of feeling. She'd hoard email like chocolates for days when she was sad--collecting words to devour in solitude. She'd try on new phrases like gloves, new images would burn at the edges of her thought until she could imprint them in Helvetica. She'd misplace hours writing about something that happened with the kids, or what was keeping her up nights. People were polite, but most didn't know how to respond.

She decided to start a blog in lieu of a Christmas letter. Cuteness of pictures and template were her focus. It was like iceberg lettuce. A whole lot of effort with no nutritive value. Her initial stab at blogging was a bust. "I was scared," she confides "to show the world that we weren't this perfect family. I sent out what I thought people wanted to see and in a few months I was bored with it." Buoyed only by the kind of of cliche narration she saw in Christmas letters, she sent her vanilla and white bread life out into the void; the void responded with crickets, and she wasn't happy. Too many fences confined her creativity. Voice got lost in "nice" and "safe".

Fate struck on a lonely night after her husband moved out. Through some Facebooking she stumbled upon Have Joy. Who was this person who was so unafraid to post her most painful and embarrassing thoughts? Heather was addicted. She found herself returning for another hit, checking in from work, reading every post from the beginning. After she gobbled the first blog she found another. And another. And another. Her soul tugged as she recognized the unique aches of her own heart in other people's words. This is what writing is supposed to be, she thought. Respectful, but honest. Open, but dignified. The kind of writing that makes you know you've felt something before but never known how to say it. "I thought, hey, I could do that... or I could at least try. What do I have to lose? My life already fell apart."

She let it all show, the emotional equivalent of her frizzy hair and the holes in her socks. She let go of the fear that someone might find out who she was and judge her or that a former student might read about her life and realize she was real. She just didn't care anymore, frankly. She figured it was better coming from her than the rumor mill, anyway. A few months later, her almost-ex husband asked her to attend a marriage conference for people with troubled marriages. It was a turning point. "I knew if I wrote about him, about how nervous I was to go to Retrouvaille and maybe fix my marriage, I was really opening the door to writing about anything at all. There's no going back from something like that. Once people know you're not perfect, you can't unring the bell."

Her risk paid off, and she earned an odd niche as that almost-divorced but trying to not be dancing English teacher, though she's still convinced she hasn't found a niche yet. "Maybe my niche is honesty. I found that once I wrote about what was actually happening--and not in a salacious way--people responded to it, that they identified with some part of what I was going through. It was so comforting. The hardest part for me about being stuck in an awful marriage for so long was that I felt so alone. When we separated, that lonesomeness was magnified. It was a risk to share all of that, but it brought so many people closer to me, and I hope I was able to help someone else know that it's okay." Heather also found that family members suddenly understood her better. Wishful that someone would ask, but reluctant to bring up difficult subjects, she found a connection with her loved ones that wasn't there before. "My mom would call and say, so, I see you're feeling, or that you've been up to XYZ today--whatever was on the blog--and then we'd talk. I've also thought that even if I was just writing it for E, it'd be worth it. He gets what's going on inside my head now. He just gets it."

Heather continues to blog in the hope that it will serve as a peek into her life for her kids once they're grown. "If I can just figure out how to print about a thousand pages, I'm golden!" she grins. If she wasn't blogging, she'd still be emailing those weighty tomes to unfortunate buddies. "But I like the idea of sending my words out into the void like a dentist office magazine. Then whoever wants can pick it up, read for a while, and move on. Maybe they clip something out. Maybe it makes them think differently. Maybe they sneak it off and show it to a friend or go so far as to contact the person who wrote it. Maybe, they look for that same magazine the next time they come back. That's pretty good, right?"

This post is written in response to a Travelin' Oma assignment:
Shine yourself up and write your own bio.


  1. I love this! Your images are vivid: the iceberg lettuce, the frizzy hair—awesome. I like what you said about not being perfect. I've realized nobody thought I was perfect in the first place. It's comforting when we all acknowledge that fact, and just start talking about how we're making it through life.

  2. It's funny to me that you write so much about your frizzy hair/curly hair. I always thought you had great hair. And, by the way, it changes as you age. So much to look forward to! I've realized that I can no longer fight my hair. I just use the product and move on!

  3. Dentist office magazine? Brilliant.

    I'm glad you ditched the Christmas letters for blogging. You're a pretty verbose chick. I can't imagine how LONG your Christmas letters were. :)

  4. I agree. Openess when writing about your daily life makes for a more interesting read. This is why you have so many fans!

  5. I love this! It's a great way to see where you started! And I love that you're an English teacher! English teachers have a special place in my heart, if I could get a degree in anything it would be English or Literature. Books are a dear friend to me when I can stay awake long enough to read them.