Four to seven very important things happened to me this weekend, though none of those things involve how I got stuck in an elevator last week, which is also an important thing, but I’ll save that one for later. That story involves why I won’t be saving the world.
- I finally accepted the increasingly LOUD and OBNOXIOUS voice saying I’m not ready to start working in the second creative career I’m building. Skill-wise am I ready? Yup. Can I train in it? Yeppers. Work? Nope. Why? That’s answered by the other important things.
- I attended a virtual workshop on writing tragicomic memoirs. My two natural writing styles alternate between serious-lyrical and humorous. Half the vignettes for my memoir are in the style of “Let’s laugh while we almost die!” and the other half are “I’M THE MOST MOROSE, MELANCHOLIC, ROMANTICAL FUCKING POET THAT EVER POETED IN ALL THE UNIVERSE FOREVER AND EVER THE END PERIOD.” I feel like I probably have to decide between the two for the memoir, and I don’t want to yet, so I continue writing vignettes in whatever tone they come out.
But the tragicomic workshop was high guffaw times. The instructor, Elissa Bassist, is a sweet box of jokes in a human suit. Her handouts are the silliest handouts I’ve ever gotten and I now understand what I’ve been doing wrong all my life in creating for others Very Serious Resource Guides that severely lacked comedy. Mea culpa.
So Elissa talked about writing her own tragicomic memoir, Hysterical, which I already want to give 5-Stars to and I haven’t even read it (yet). A major point for her was that it might be a better idea to save writing public material about your experiences until after the healing.
Heeeeeeere’s the thing. What if, perchance, you’ve lived a silly little life of batshit fucked up horror? My traumas have trauma and they want their day in court, but the horror hasn’t signed the cease-fire yet, and actually it’s like, “If you want to get out of the fun house of horrors, you better find your own way out, kid, ‘cause I’m sure as shit not making it easier on you. In fact, I’m going to make it harder every month, for fun. They do be calling me the fun house of horrors for a reason. Smell ya later.” My trauma for some reason talks like it’s from the 90s.
Oh. It is.
- Anyway, her other advice was the next important thing that happened to me. Because she also talked about writing the thing that you don’t see, that you want to see out in the world, and I personally prefer seeing people share what it’s like to go through a storm while they’re going through it. I want to see the messy, human clumsiness of it all. (Somewhere in the world someone is sharing a meme that reads, “I am the storm.”)
Sure, everyone likes a comeback story where the lessons learned can be turned into nice little bite-size pieces of insight. But that’s not been my life. There is no end. My life is a series of missives from the moon about what it’s like being trapped on a planet with monsters.
Which leads to a question Elissa shared with us that she once wrote to Cheryl Strayed who ran an advice column called Sugar. Her question was about feeling dejected about her writing, her life, and feeling like people would mock and misunderstand her. The whole thing is available here, but the critical part of Cheryl’s answer was this:
“How many women wrote beautiful novels and stories and poems and essays and plays and scripts and songs in spite of all the crap they endured. How many of them didn’t collapse in a heap of ‘I could have been better than this’ and instead went right ahead and became better than anyone would have predicted or allowed them to be. The unifying theme is resilience and faith. The unifying theme is being a warrior and a motherfucker. It is not fragility. It’s strength. It’s nerve…I want to know what you have inside you. I want to see the contours of your second beating heart. So write…Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a motherfucker.”
I actually am very fragile right now, but I am also the only one who can write like a motherfucker about my life, and at least for some of it, I don’t want to wait till it’s all just a fogged-up memory. I want to see the blood, you know?
- After accepting I can’t start working in my second creative career, I got a free whiteboard. I am calling it “The Whiteboard to Freedom.” What life has taught me to be very good at is pivoting. I’m good at pivoting in sportsball, but I’m also good at pivoting in life, and pivoting is important so no one calls foul on you that you’re traveling with the ball.
Buuuuuut, this isn’t sportsball. No one’s gonna come running over throwing red cards in the air. If I want to travel with the ball, well, damn, I’m gonna do it. So the Whiteboard to Freedom is filled with a list of all the lateral skills I can be learning this year that will make both creative careers easier AND emphasizes the idea of doing “Only what gets you free.” We’re fresh out of fun, kids. Freedom’s the only thing on the table.
- Next important thing. I’ve been mostly haunting the library one town over, morning, noon, and night the past couple weeks. It took my agoraphobic self a couple months to get there, but now that I’m here, I’m here. But this weekend I had to go to another library for something, and walking inside, my vision doubled and the panic attack set in. AT A LIBRARY. My safe place.
If my safe place doesn’t feel safe, how much less safe is a creative career going to feel where I have a lot of interaction with men, since it’s a male-dominated field? Nah. Gotta work on safety first. Then jobs.
- Which brings us to the second to last important thing. My confidence, self-esteem, optimism, and hope have plummeted in recent months. I know why it happened. I know what would have made it a lot better. I know that won’t be happening.
There’s a gaping wound, and it’s infected, and for some reason, filled with ants. A Bandaid won’t cut it. It needed to be opened back up, cleaned out, stitched; then bandaged. So I’m gonna have to go the long-way around back to confidence, which means building safety in other ways back into my life.
Walt Whitman says, “Tone your wants and tastes low down enough, and make much of negatives, and of mere daylight and the skies.”
I’ll be counting the costs of this year, of trauma, of serious mental illness for a long time.
- The final important thing. This quote from Melissa Febos’ craft memoir “Body Work” that I was reading while walking into the library today:
“I want to feel on the page how the writer changed. How the act of writing changed them. Navel-gazing is not for the faint of heart. The risk of honest self-appraisal requires bravery.
To place our flawed selves in the context of this magnificent, broken world is the opposite of narcissism, which is building a self-image that pleases you. For many years, I kept a quote from Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet tacked over my desk: ‘The work of the eyes is done. Go now and do the heart-work on the images imprisoned within you.’
Listen to me: It is not gauche to write about trauma. It is subversive. The stigma of victimhood is a timeworn tool of oppressive powers to gaslight the people they subjugate into believing that by naming their disempowerment they are being dramatic, whining, attention-grabbing, or else beating a dead horse. By convincing us to police our own and one another’s stories, they have enlisted us in the project of our own continued disempowerment.”
I understand why people have to run away. I also know why I can’t. Not ever again.
So I’m pivoting for a while. Not running away, but focusing on lateral skills and safety-building. I’m letting the fields lie fallow, letting the nutrients replenish, gathering seeds for the next season. And I’m focusing on the fields of “Only what gets you free.”
My confidence and self-worth used to be a house of cards. I’d finally, finally managed to build them into a house of Popsicle sticks and Elmer’s Glue. The Universe took one mischievous look at my childish work, and blew it down, then laughed and said, “Cute try, kid. Come back when you’ve got something real to show me.”
Me: “Does that mean I have to write the memoir now?”
The Universe: “1. Get free. 2. Write the leaden weight in your stomach, the tightness in your chest, the double-vision-panic-attacks in your safe place, the crying every morning in your bed until you find the right song to listen to that lets you crawl out of it, unless you want me to slam every door in your face and keep fucking your life up forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever, ‘cause I can do it, too. And I will. With impunity.”
Me: “So, the memoir?”
The Universe: *raises one brow* “Write like a motherfucker.”
This morning’s whimsy-esque song selections for getting out of bed and facing the world. Some days it takes more songs. Some days less:
“Best Day of My Life” – Tom Odell
“Little Boxes” – Malvina Reynolds
“Birdhouse in Your Soul” – They Might Be Giants
“Move Along-Acoustic Version” – The All-American Rejects
“Embryonic Journey” – Jefferson Airplane
“Nocturne” – Blanco White
“New Soul” – Yael Naim
“Enjoy the Ride” – Morcheeba
“Happy” – C2C (the music video has much fun dancing)