Saturday, December 29, 2012

“Write like a motherfucker”


I was wandering around the little independent bookstore on Main Street when I saw it. I had never heard of the author, but the title caught my attention: Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Life and Love from Dear Sugar.

I don’t know why I bought it. I pay full price in that store so that I can support a local, woman-owned business—but doing so means that buying something I don’t know anything about is a bit of a risk.

But there was something about that book….

Maybe it was that I’ve always been an advice-column junkie. When I was a kid, I would get the newspapers (back then, there were two each day!) and turn straight to Dear Abby in the morning or Ann Landers in the evening--even before I read the comics! And long before I was old enough to understand half of what I was reading, I was fascinated that people would write to a complete stranger in the belief that Abby or Ann could help them with their problems.

Or maybe it was the “Dear Sugar” part that got me. There’s just something so….Southern…about a “Dear Sugar” who dispenses straight-from-the-gut advice and who calls her readers “sweet pea” and “honey bun.” Before I even opened the book, I suspected that I would recognize and connect with such an author.

What I recognized and connected with was myself.

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The title of this post come from this Dear Sugar column. I’m sure that some people will be offended by the title, but that’s the way it goes.

And, in a way, those who will be offended are part of the issue that compels me to write this.

You see, I am a writer who no longer writes. My last blog entry was seven months ago today. And if you look at my blog archives, you will see an interesting set of numbers:

Posts before my divorce:
2004—6
2005—8
2006—6

Posts after my divorce:
2007—46
2008—54

Posts after my marriage to Dear Friend:
2009—30 (12 after my wedding)
2010—9
2011—7
2012—7 (counting this one)

I wrote very little when I was married to the Hydra. Enveloped in the fog of depression, I couldn’t summon the energy.

When I finally left, it was as if the floodgates opened. I wrote a blog post nearly once a week. Given how much I agonize over most of them, that was nothing short of a miracle.

And then….my voice began to diminish again. It is clear that my depression has returned. (Not, I hasten to add, as a result of my remarriage. There are other things—my grandmother’s illness and death chief among them—that have had an impact.) I am doing what I need to do to deal with that issue.

But to prove the point, in 2012, four of my last six posts have been about death. The other two are about despair. In a presidential election year, I—the former political scientist and lifetime political junkie—wrote not a single word about the process, the candidates, or the main issues.

I have lost my voice again…and in small, almost imperceptible ways, that loss is killing me.

If I don’t start writing like a motherfucker, I may disappear entirely.

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There are a couple of things that have brought me to this pass.

First and foremost has been a sense of responsibility to Dear Friend. When we started dating, he was just so damned PROUD of me. He told everyone who would listen about my blog and, with each additional person who knew about my alter ego, my sense of freedom contracted a little. To his everlasting credit, he has always told me “Doxy, you say what you need and want to say. People know you are not me.” But I was afraid. I love him with all my heart, and I didn’t want anything I wrote to reflect badly on him—especially since the things that most often move me to want to write are religion and politics.

We all know what they say about discussing religion and politics….

Like many churches, St. Swithin’s is filled with people who don’t agree on a lot of things. A fragile peace is maintained because individuals avoid the “hard topics.”

Dear Friend makes no bones about the fact that we are a welcoming and inclusive congregation (code words for “LGBT-friendly”), but he doesn’t talk politics from the pulpit. I suspect that people know where he stands on most issues—and it’s no secret that I’m the “Feminist Socialist for Jesus” either. One look at the bumper stickers on my minivan—the one the Empress refers to as “the Socialist Sleigh”—will confirm that…

So why did I convince myself that I needed to be silent—or that I was somehow hiding my thoughts and positions? 

And what does it mean to give up your voice to protect your spouse—especially when he didn’t ask to be protected?

If you are a member of Dear Friend’s parish, it is important for you to know that I married the man, not the church. It would be wrong of you to judge him by what I do or say.

These are true things about me: I am passionate, loving, and I try to be kind to everyone in my path. BUT….I struggle with depression and hang on to my faith by my fingernails. I swear—a lot. I am certainly no one’s idea of a “good Christian” (whatever that really means). And I need to stop pretending that I am.

I don’t think that saying “fuck” is a sin at all. But even if it was, it's not in the same league as say….denying healthcare to other people because you value marginally lower taxes more than you do those people’s lives. Or insisting that your right to own a gun trumps my children’s right to live in safety.

I guess I just got political, didn’t I? And that is true of me too. I am a political animal. Dear Friend is constrained by his role as a priest and pastor to keep overt expressions of politics to himself. But I am not. I am Christian BECAUSE I am a feminist and a socialist—and my failure to write about things I care about for fear of offending someone at St. Swithin’s is, ultimately, a denial of my faith.

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Second was the fact that blogging has, in a lot of ways, been superseded by Facebook and Twitter. I found myself spending countless hours on social networking sites, reading other people’s brilliantly pithy thoughts, and thinking to myself “Everyone has already said anything useful that could be said about X. Why bother?”

But I was listening to my favorite radio program (On Being) recently, and Krista Tippett was interviewing Brené Brown about her work on shame and vulnerability. (Please go listen to the entire interview—it is certainly worth 52 minutes of your time). The interview itself is not focused on writing, but Brené Brown makes some brief comments on the connection between creativity and a “whole-hearted” life. In her research, Brown has discovered that the single biggest killer of creativity is….comparison.

When I heard her say this, it was as if a grenade had exploded in my head.

I know full well that there are any number of people who are better writers and thinkers than I am—but the bottom line is this: I am a writer. There is a real, and steep, cost to me in the act of giving up on writing. It is not only a denial of my faith--it is a denial of who I am.

I realized that I don’t even necessarily need anyone to read what I write—I just need the outlet and the discipline of writing.

So here I am. Writing.

Finally.

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Another kick in the pants was this essay on Cracked.com: Six Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person. There are many criticisms to be made of this article, but….it resonated. Especially numbers 1-3.

The only way to be the "better person" I want to be is to DO SOMETHING. Make the effort. Take the risk. Say what I need to say—regardless of whom it might offend.

So…I am committing to write like a motherfucker in the coming year. No holds barred. No comparisons. No excuses.

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. And “if your Nerve, deny you –,” as Emily Dickinson wrote, “go above your Nerve.” Writing is hard for every last one of us—straight white men included. Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig.

You need to do the same, dear sweet arrogant beautiful crazy talented tortured rising star glowbug. That you’re so bound up about writing tells me that writing is what you’re here to do. And when people are here to do that they almost always tell us something we need to hear. I want to know what you have inside you. I want to see the contours of your second beating heart.

So write, [Doxy]. Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a motherfucker.

Thank you, Dear Sugar.

Game on.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Love remains the same....

What follows is the eulogy that the Empress (my 11-year-old daughter) gave for my grandmother--the Empress' self-described "best friend" and confidante for her entire life.  My daughter is very shy and does not like being the center of attention--so I was shocked when she stood up and spoke. It was an act of courage on her part--born of great love and pain.

I have typed it verbatim from the notes she wrote for herself, and I share it with her permission:

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Ammama was, and is, the most special person in my entire life. She comforted me in every situation--from falling and scraping my knee to much more important things. I can't even explain how kind she is to everyone she meets.


When I felt all alone, Ammama was there for me. In a sense, she was like my second mom. Ammama did so much for me, and I never really got to properly thank her.

May her soul rest in peace, and I hope that the day I die, Ammama will be waiting at the golden gates of heaven for me.

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I do not know if heaven really exists. No one does.

But this I do know--the love that can inspire a shy and brokenhearted child to stand up and declare it to the world is a love that will never die. That love has shaped who she is, and who she will be, and it will course through her, and through everyone she ever loves.

I believe that love is the most powerful thing in the universe...and it is born of the simplest of things--bandaging knees and singing lullabies and hugging all the hurts away.

My grandmother is gone, but the love remains.


Monday, May 14, 2012

Words to live by....

In the wake of the disaster in NC last week, I find myself repeating this, over and over.....

 “
Loneliness is the human condition. Cultivate it. The way it tunnels into you allows your soul room to grow. Never expect to outgrow loneliness. Never hope to find people who will understand you, someone to fill that space. An intelligent, sensitive person is the exception, the very great exception. If you expect to find people who will understand you, you will grow murderous with disappointment. The best you'll ever do is to understand yourself, know what it is that you want, and not let the cattle stand in your way.” ― Janet Fitch, White Oleander

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Going Home to Memphis....

Doxy's Note: This was the eulogy I delivered at my grandmother's funeral today. It does not come close to doing her justice....

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Ammom in the 1940s


It was her stock threat when she was mad at me: “I’ll just go home to Memphis!”

Over the 15 years we lived together, I heard it more times than I could count. I could almost predict when it would pop up in an argument. “Here it comes...in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...”

But we both knew it was an empty threat. She might actually have decided to go home to Memphis and leave me--but I knew she would never leave as long as the Emperor and the Empress (my son and daughter) were around.

(My Uncle John and Aunt Jo Ann confirmed this for me at the funeral home last night. They said “Every time we talked to her, she told us all about the Emperor and the Empress. We had to ASK about you..." ;-)

Two weeks before she died, we had a fight. She hated it that I insisted on calling in a home healthcare agency to watch over her when I went out of town. She was almost hissing she was so mad. “I’m FINE! I don’t need anyone to stay here with me! All those people do is SIT!”

Which, of course, is what we were paying them to do.

And then she pulled the usual line: “If you are going to call those people again, I’m going back to Memphis.” And she looked at me and added “SOMEBODY [meaning me, of course] has decided that I’m going to die, and I am NOT going to die!”

At that point, I laughed and said “I hope you don't. But let me know how that works out for you...”

It’s impossible to avoid the occasional argument when you live together as long as we did, but by bedtime, we had made up--as we always did. As I kissed her good night, she said “You know I’m not going back to Memphis.” And I laughed again and said “I know.”

And yet...here we are. She has come home to Memphis for good now. She was born here, began her life with my grandfather here, and raised her children and grandchildren here. And now she will sleep here, until Christ comes again in glory and we all experience “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”

The time between now and then will not be easy for those of us left behind.

I have often wondered what I would say in my grandmother’s eulogy. I’m a writer, and words tend to flow pretty naturally for me--but not now. The enormity of this loss is too large, and my grandmother’s absence seems to be blocking all my attempts at eloquence.

So I will just speak the simple truth--which is that my grandmother is truly the best person I’ve ever known.

In all that she did, Ammom was kind, thoughtful, and loving. She always put others first--sometimes at great cost to herself.

She showed me how to love--deeply and even wastefully.

She demonstrated that “love” is a verb. For my grandmother, loving was DOING. It was clean laundry and a homemade coconut cake. It was caring for my grandfather for so many years--and then caring for my children--and treating both sets of responsibility as a privilege, rather than a chore.

In all her loving, she was no stranger to sorrow. She knew the price of love is always loss...and she did it anyway. She never held back her love or her gift of service in defense against the pain to come--because, even though she knew what love costs, she also knew what it was worth.

In that, she was a model for us all.

Ammom often said “I have faith like a child.” I know that she took seriously Jesus’ words that we should love God and one another, along with his injunction to us to care for the least among us. She had a servant’s heart and she loved with all that heart, and with all her soul and all her mind.

And now, as Christ promised, she has her reward. She rests with God and all the other saints we love and miss--and she has come back to Memphis at last. Not in anger or chagrin--but in peace and in hope.

Welcome home, Ammom...welcome home.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Death and Disney

I learned that my grandmother had died just after exiting the Soarin’ ride at Epcot. In true 21st century fashion, I got the news on my iPhone in a Facebook message from my mother.

Disney is a surreal place, soin some weird wayit all seemed appropriate to get the news here, and in that way.

I had already been planning a blog post on my Disney experience. I knew I wouldn’t be the firstor the lastto comment on the artificiality and the consumer culture run amok. The four Disney parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios) are paeans to an America that never was, idols to the cult of capitalism, monuments to sexism and patriarchy, and cultural Imperial Storm Troopers, who will co-opt anything that will make the Walt Disney “brand” a buck (or a million).

They also have kick-ass roller coasters, which is not an insignificant point in their favor.

What struck me as I stood there, staring at the message that my grandmothermy rock, my role model, my championwas gone, was how much I wanted that Disney version of the world to be true. Disney bills itself as “The Happiest Place on Earth,” andon some levelthat may well be true. The place is overrun with little kids who are delirious with joy. The employees are invariably friendly and helpful. Everything is spotlessly clean.

And there is no death here.

Well, that’s not entirely accurate. Disney “does” death, of course. But the only Disney characters who die seem to be those in the background (mothers, mostly) and those who “deserve” it: the witch in Snow White, Ursula in The Little Mermaid, Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, and Shan Yu (and his army) in Mulan, to name a few. All the main charactersthe “good people”get to live happily ever after.

There is no room for the messiness of death and grief in the Magic Kingdom. You have paid a ridiculous amount of money to be here and to be happy, andby Godyou have no excuse and only yourself to blame if you aren’t.

But tell that to an 11-year-old, who weeps for the loss of her “best friend” and who keeps asking me “Why did Ammama have to go away?” She has never known a life without my grandmotherfor whom she is named. They have been friends and confidantes, and my daughterin true Disney fashionhad convinced herself that my grandmother would not…could not…die and leave her with no chance for “happily ever after.”

This is a hard lesson to learn in the Happiest Place on Earth. For both of usI wanted that to be true as much as she did.

We are riding the roller coaster of grief now. There is no line for that one. There is no Fast Pass that will get us through the waiting and the pain and the just-plain-tedium of death and its aftermath.

There is no end to that ride. It will just keep going and going, untileventuallyit will run out of steam and we will be allowed to exit. But we will be instructed to watch our step and to take our baggage with us as we leave. And "happily ever after" will never look quite the same again....