Wednesday, July 22, 2015

You own everything that happened to you

Back in April, two days shy of her 61st birthday, Anne Lamott wrote a kickass Facebook post that patched together her accumulated wisdom from the past six decades. The whole piece is fantastic, but one paragraph climbed inside my brain and has been roosting there for the past three months. She wrote,
Writing: shitty first drafts. Butt in chair. Just do it. You own everything that happened to you. You are going to feel like hell if you never write the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves in your heart--your stories, visions, memories, songs: your truth, your version of things, in your voice. That is really all you have to offer us, and it's why you were born.
This morning, I woke up to an email from someone called "morning dew" (Hello, morning dew. Thanks for the email.) She wrote, "Hi! I was hoping you could fill me in, or link me to, what you're currently writing. Your blog, though currently an archive, has meant a lot to me." 

She went on to say lovely things, but I got stuck back there on those three words - "currently an archive."


She's not wrong, of course. I've written just one post in the past year. That's hardly prolific. But still. Archive.

It's not that I don't have anything to say. I have composed full posts in my head that I've never put in writing. I've put posts in writing, but let them linger in draft form. I've written and deleted more than I would have thought possible.

The thing is, I can't reconcile my inside voice with Anne Lamott's shared wisdom: "You own everything that ever happened to you."

Except that I don't feel like I do.

I'm not just talking about Bud's privacy here.  Every parent who blogs has grappled with the line between the appropriate sharing of a parent's story and the violation of a child's right to privacy. I started writing about that line when Bud was seven, and I feel like I've developed really good instincts since then. If I've ever felt a hint of "I wonder if that crosses the line," I've edited it out. As Bud gets older and the issues become more complex, the area on the privacy side of the line has gotten a whole lot wider than the area on the sharing side of the line, but still, the line remains clear to me.

But Bud is not the only person who has been in my life. Anne Lamott tells me that I own everything that happened to me. But virtually all of those things that happened to me involved things that happened to other people, too. 

Things were a whole lot easier when I started blogging back in 2005 and was completely pseudonymous. Nobody who knew me in real life even knew I had a blog. Slowly, over time, I started to tell people about it, but even then, I had some control over who knew about the blog and who didn't. Then, in 2010, a number of things happened in rapid succession - the Hairdryer Kid series took on a life of its own, I got a bit of recognition, and suddenly, I was out there on the internet as a real person with a real name. Google the blog and you find me. Google me and you find the blog.

At first, it wasn't really a problem. I'd written carefully, so there wasn't much on the blog that I was reluctant to share with the general population. The few things that made me go hmm got deleted. But I quickly found that writing new pieces became a lot more challenging, and the more complicated the things I experienced (and believe me, the past five years have been nothing if not complicated), the more difficult it was to find a comfortable way to write about them. So the posts became less frequent until they finally petered out completely.

And yet, that Anne Lamott paragraph has been haunting me since April. I own everything that ever happened to me. I am going to feel like hell if I never write the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves in my heart - my stories, visions, memories, songs: my truth, my version of things, in my voice. But writing it and tucking it away in a drawer - that just doesn't do it for me. I have never been a diary-keeper. What kept me writing when I was writing was the dynamic element of blogging - the sharing of stories, the comparing of perspectives, the crowdsourcing and the collective creative problem-solving. Without someone to write to, it hardly seems worth the energy to write at all.

I'm getting to that point in the post that I've gotten to many times over the past year - the point at which I've said what I've come to say and it's time to publish (and go public) or perish (and hit delete). Here I am at the end of the post, and I'm still not sure which I'll do.

But I'll feel like hell if I never write the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves in my heart. I'll feel like hell if here, smack in the center of midlife, I decide to be an archive.

Here goes nothing.


TC said...


Unknown said...

Since you've always been one of my favorite writers, that's great news indeed! Can't wait!

TBZ Racial Justice Blog said...

So many parents, educators, and children in their care benefit when you share your experiences, wisdom and insight. Thank you!

Jen said...

Thrilled to read this! Have missed following your experiences.

Kaethe said...

I missed your return due to my own offline life, but I'm delighted to see your font again. And congratulations to you all.

Donna S. said...

You just articulated my exact feelings on blogging... it's still so very hard to ignore all of the self-critique, doubts, and questions and just hit "publish" already. So thank you for sharing, writing, and owning your experiences, and please keep writing! Your posts have encouraged me more than you know.

grace said...

thank you for the quote from Anne Lamott! it is so true and my brief note to my self was : since when did my journal become something Nothing about me? I have stopped i began again with a prayer that i will resume the me that is real...thank you!