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.