Hello again from the last frontier!
It’s ten-thirty p.m., the familiar hum of the generator has ceased, and I’m writing on battery power. Thoughts seem to keep no rational schedule. Tomorrow we are off on a camping adventure for three or four days so I want to get this out before the idea evaporates like ideas tend to do when left unattended. Let’s talk about The Chronicles.
Today I received an email from a friend accusing me of being, well let’s just say kind of “wussy” in my last posting. The suggestion threw me for a bit of a loop but I mused over it for a bit and saw where he was coming from. This business of writing is a very intimate act between us. I pull thoughts from my head and send them off to you not knowing how, based on your own life experiences and perspective, they will be received. From time to time reactions to what I write are quite negative. Some of you are familiar with the infamous “Jim” (not, repeat NOT, his real name) who brought about the demise of the last series of Chronicles after taking serious offense to a posting which I thought was mostly poking fun at yours truly. All of the offended parties have had different complaints and, here is the interesting part, they always take me utterly by surprise, never from the Chronicles I would expect to make people angry or upset. Not to suggest that the email I received today was an angry one, not at all, but it made me wonder about our reactions to other people’s expressions of their ideas, thoughts and feelings.
Is it wise for me to share with you what most others choose to keep in the secrecy of their own minds? What’s the worst thing that can happen?
These three things: ideas, thoughts and feelings, tend to be temporary in nature. I’ll lump them all under the heading of “thoughts” for the sake of simplicity. Our thoughts are meant to be evolutionary, changing as we grow, learn, experience, and discover. Can you imagine if everything you thought at the age of ten remained constant for the rest of your life? Well we’d all eat a lot more ice cream and own far too many puppies, that’s for sure. So even now, as I write, these thoughts of mine are temporary – I may feel quite differently ten years or even ten minutes from now. As you read this, you may be reacting to something which I do not believe anymore. OK, back to earth, let me give you an example…
My ex-husband, I’ll call him “Mr.M” (I considered other names but children may be reading this), and I got engaged in a short period of time and I was over the moon about it. I was twenty-one. I gushed to everyone who would listen to me about how ecstatic I was about my upcoming marriage and everyone (to my face) seemed happy for me. Everyone except Barb, a fellow Karate student. Barb told me, flat out, no holds barred, that I was making the biggest mistake of my life and should reconsider. She made it abundantly clear that I was too young, too immature, and not thinking clearly. Naturally, I thought Barb was an idiot. She was jealous because I was happily in love while she was single and miserable. She envied my youth. She didn’t know me, or Mr.M, well at all, probably hated men, and was just a generally grouchy person. That is what I thought, adamantly believed even, at that time. What I didn’t know was that Barb had been me once; she had the advantage of years and experience behind her opinion. And now, here in the future, my thoughts on the subject of my engagement to Mr.M are the absolute opposite of what they were when I was twenty-one. My thoughts on that topic evolved based on my experience. I now agree with Barb, a woman I once considered an idiot. Life’s funny like that.
So the Chronicles are not just a chronicle of the events of my life but also of the life inside my head – my thought life. I’m feeling a little existential this evening FYI.
Something else to consider is that my thoughts, although they are sent to you, are not directed to you. If I say, for example, that I HATE vanilla ice cream I’m probably not thinking “Oooooh I know how much Frank loves Vanilla ice cream, boy I’ll sure show him! I’ll fix his wagon!!”. That’s a pretty tame example (well unless you feel as serious about chocolate as I do) but if I replace the noun “ice cream” with “children” or “religion” or “war” or “Democrats”, then suddenly it feels a lot more personal doesn’t it? It isn’t, trust me. And those are only examples, I do not hate any of those things, except war, but you already know that.
Still, no matter how much I may try to convince you that what I write is merely an opinion, and usually a humble one at that, I know that what I have to say is probably going to raise your hackles and have you scratching my name off your Xmas card list at some point. Don’t laugh when I tell you that writing my thoughts and exposing them to almost everyone I know and love is the bravest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I’m a “pleaser”. My ridiculous goal in life is to make everyone happy and offend no one. Stop laughing. Yes, I know it can’t be done but it’s hardwired into my system along with truckloads of guilt and insecurities. On the half dozen or so occasions when something I’ve written genuinely insulted or otherwise damaged one of my friends I was sent hurtling into a spiral of depression. Through tears I vowed never to put fingers to keyboard again and berated myself for being such a thoughtless and cruel human being – it’s true, ask the Prez. Then, I pulled myself together and wrote the next week’s Chronicle.
Am I crazy?
Maybe. But the voices in my head that tell me to write are louder and more insistent than the voices that tell me I’m a bad person.
I read once about an author who taught a high-level writing course and, upon receiving yet another batch of mediocre stories, would ask his students, “Are you waiting for your friends and family to die before you write something good?!” The point being that good writing is truth, truth often offends and so to be a good writer you must risk offending those you love. What’s the worst thing that can happen? I can write something that makes you hate me, that’s what. And is it worth the risk? If it’s not then I should close this laptop forever and start looking for a real job.
By now you may be wondering, was my good friend correct, did I pull my punches on the last Chronicle? Hmmm. Well, from my perspective, I wasn’t trying to throw any punches which leads me to wonder, did I get my point across? I thought I did but maybe…well… maybe I didn’t do it well enough. And here we go, into that other realm of self-loathing, the Am I Good Enough Zone. I’ll just skip the formalities, lie down on the couch and start talking about my mother. Kidding. I suppose there are writers out there who burst with confidence, secure in the knowledge that they possess a supreme talent – I haven’t met one yet though. When I struggle with my words I think, What am I thinking? How can I be a writer, I can’t even write one stupid sentence?? And when the words flow like water I think, Oh my god, that was too easy, it must be total crap! Thank goodness I have a husband who takes none of this seriously and keeps it all in perspective for me.
Now before my battery dies or the Prez wakes up and hollers at me to get back to bed, how can I sum up for you how I feel about writing? Robert Frost said that, “Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat”; that’s always stuck with me. When I write, whether it’s fiction or these Chronicles, I feel a bit like Pinocchio waking up to discover he is no longer a puppet, he is real, he is alive. Taking the swirl of invisible thoughts in my brain and turning them into written words is that kind of magic for me. I feel real, I feel alive. And when someone reads one of my stories and tells me that it made them cry, or that they felt strongly about a certain character; or when a reader takes the time to email and debate something I’ve written in a Chronicle; or when a reader emails to say, “I never thought about it that way”; or when a reader tells me in person how much they look forward to reading the Chronicles each week, well, those moments are the reason I’m sitting here, right now, typing these words.
You are the reason I write. Thank you.
I hope that didn’t sound too wussy.
Vanilla ice cream sucks!! There, that’s better.
Until next week, I hope this finds you healthy, happy & lovin’ life!