The old season dying in its throat*

I don't know when it was exactly that I got the message--how does one 'get' a message? Passing remarks, sighing attitudes, rich subtext?--that writing about one's life, one's feelings about one's life, was somehow aliterary, or at the very least, less literary. I'm starting to think about a personal essay that I've wanted to write for a while, so the 'no' chorus is loud in my head, performing all the reasons why this would be a bad idea. To be sure, I've written about myself before--here, past blogs, Real Pants, etc. Contrary to what some might be tempted to think because it is written in first person, my forthcoming novel MOTHEREST is not autobiographical or even semi-autobiographical. First person helped me inhabit the character of Agnes, and it felt good (and bad, but mostly good) to zip into someone's life, someone's skin, and navigate the world from there. It felt, in some ways, like cheating, although I don't think there's anything inherently 'easier' about writing fiction in first person. If anything, you're in a constant state of pivot, of not-me. First person, in some respects, is the closest thing to acting, to putting on someone else.

But there was a period of time, maybe college, maybe grad school, maybe not inside the classroom proper but in the halls, in the bars after class--where I got the distinct sense that poets such as Plath and Sexton and writers like Nin were sort of in-jokes, hysterical women edged into the canon for the sole purpose of being something that men--Serious Men With Ideas--could laugh at: at best, foils; at worst, amateurs, zeros. 

I mean, look at this shit.

I mean, look at this shit.

I don't think one can call oneself a serious reader or critic and feel this way, not really. I'm also intrigued by the term itself--'confessional,' as in, the Confessions of St. Augustine, with its starkly religious overtones, the admission of sin or perhaps more interestingly, the very room in which the sins get confessed. I love this notion particularly for poetry, since stanzas are just that, cubicles of language, where humanity gets told, whispered, yelled, confessed. The 'original confessors' weren't necessarily women; and yet, the genre is more frequently associated with women--their woes, their manias, their dreams deferred. I was a pre-teen when I first became aware of the outrageous popular theory that Feeling is circumscribed by women; Thinking, by men. That the memoir or personal essay or confessional poem was, at some point in the course of literary history, asterisked or demoted, speaks volumes about a general cultural discomfort with people's stories--i.e., their pain--much more so than reflecting anything at all about the artistic merit therein.

Furthermore, I'd argue: it is extremely difficult to write about yourself, to shape your life into language, into a readable format, to overcome the fear of judgment, to not flinch, to get it right, to get it exactly right, to be fair, to be true, to be bold. Alison Bechdel, Molly Brodak, Melissa Broder, Mary Karr, Audre Lorde, Eileen Myles, Jeanette Winterson--all are such examples, and these are just the great books whose spines are visible from where I sit right now, books that have lit up the darkness with their bravery, wit, wisdom, feeling

And I mean, I know men can do this too. 😏

________________

*Title of post is a line from Jenn Blair's poem "Tell" from her wonderful new book Malcontent, which I don't think I'd categorize as confessional, but who am I to say, really.

 

I love my children & I'm shocked by how often I want them to leave me alone.

A partial list of questions I ask myself regularly/consciously/subconsciously:

  • Do I love my children enough
  • Do my children love me
  • Do I love my children as much as other mothers appear to love their children
  • Do I dedicate enough time to them
  • Do I let them be themselves
  • Do I help or hinder their development
  • Are they OK
  • Are they going to be OK
  • Do they resent me
  • Do they know what resentment is yet
  • Am I paying attention
  • Am I a good mother
  • Am I a bad mother
  • How will they remember me
  • Do they understand what I "do"
  • Will I write all the books I want to write
  • Can writing & motherhood intersect in a way that isn't devastating
  • Are they stimulated enough
  • Are they too stimulated
  • Will they remember their childhoods fondly
  • Do they believe in God
  • Have I enjoyed them today
  • Are they helpers
  • Are they resilient
  • Are they happy
  • Are they close
  • Will they grow closer
  • Am I being fair to them
  • Do I treat them equally
  • Are they in a good school
  • Do they have good friends
  • Are they good friends to others
  • Am I doing my part to raise decent, socially responsible humans
  • Am I doing enough to teach them about cruelty without scaring them
  • Am I scaring them appropriately
  • Do I scare them
  • Are there things I don't know about them
  • Do I demand too much
  • Am I too pushy/controlling/stern/overbearing
  • Would my mother and grandmother approve of my choices
  • Is it possible to teach empathy
  • Am I modeling empathy
  • Did I do my best today
At the Harvard Museum of Natural History, late March 2017

At the Harvard Museum of Natural History, late March 2017

Pain Management

There's a lot of pain in my life right now but surprisingly I feel OK. I have physical pain in my lower back that has been there for a very long time and that I've come to accept as part of me, part of my actual body, and not some oppressive machinery operating outside of/atop it. I don't know if accepting the pain has made the pain better or worse. Some days the pain is more intense than others. For close to a year I emptied my wallet and a good chunk of my time at the chiropractor's. I was promised that I would be pain-free if I followed his "care plan." I'm 39 and I somehow still believe people when they make promises where money is involved. I stopped going to the chiropractor and started exercising more rigorously and with more "intentionality" aimed at my back, building up core muscles and stretching, occasionally doing yoga, along with stuff that gets my heart rate up, which reduces my anxiety and the sharpness of my emotional pain. I'm lucky to work from home in this regard. I can easily fit my exercise in after I take the kids to school. When I'm home, I'm working, but I have a timer that reminds me to get up and move every 30 minutes. I also walk the dog (lol/fml).

This is how pathetic we look when we're online

This is how pathetic we look when we're online

In nearly all ways, stasis = death. Not progressing/advancing/evolving in one's thinking leads to the death of the mind and spirit. Not moving/sweating/exerting one's self leads to toxicity within the body. And when my mind is stuck, it helps to unstick my body. 

I also bought myself my first desk chair, which isn't anything spectacular, but is at least an actual chair meant for sitting at a desk, and not some whimsical decorative thing I picked up at a thrift store. I think it has helped. Sometimes I put a tennis ball against the wall and lean my lower back into it and sort of roll it around--this offers a lot of relief. Sometimes I lay on the floor with my legs up on a chair and read for 15 minutes. Feel free to use any of these tricks.

The state of the world brings me pain, should bring any sentient person pain. I don't feel like writing any more about that right now, but I'm sickened by this administration and its criminal actions. I have to read the news, but it's tough for me to do so and then resume "normal," productive activity. I've experienced a certain blockage since November's election, and I know many other writers have, too.

When I'm not writing regularly, I feel pain, pain manifested as anxiety, self-doubt, and depression. I combat these outcomes via distraction, which I foolishly used to trivialize as something inauthentic and immature, but I now know is a powerful weapon against many modes of pain. Distraction can take infinite forms. Like stubbing your toe when you have a migraine. Like watching bad TV if that's what you need to do to feel OK. Cleaning your house. Folding some laundry. Praying if that's your thing. Eating some candy. And my late grandmother's favorite: helping someone else. Even just texting someone to ask: how are you? If that friend is in pain, take some of hers, too. Sometimes other people's pain halts our own, even if just temporarily. Sometimes we learn what we need to do when we offer someone else advice. There is no judge or jury when it comes to distraction. It is teleologic and it is yours alone.

My mom is sick, which pains me in an immediate, instinctual way, but also, I suspect, in ways I haven't fully discerned yet. The whole of our relationship glints in the garish light of her leukemia, a now sixteen-year illness that, while constant, has shape-shifted a hundred times, keeping us guessing, hopeful, relieved, in anguish. To say nothing of how it has kept her and keeps her still. Being a mother to daughters is a strange reverse-mirror, and on both sides, I worry about how I'm doing.