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Telling the Truth

May 24, 2011

Let’s be honest. Good writing is, as Anne Lamott says, about “telling the truth,” and so I am going to say what I’ve been afraid to say for years, and what I especially have not said on this blog.

Like many mom-bloggers, I want to be a writer. A published one. Except I’m afraid I won’t be, and that all of you will be instead. In my head, I’m certain that the publishing business is a game with only a finite number of winners, and you will win, and I will lose. And then I will be a raisin shriveling up in the sun, stinking like rotten meat, festering like a sore. Except I’ll still look like me, just with more wrinkles. I’ll be sitting in a dark living room in suburban Philadelphia, surrounded by cats, with a bowl of brownie batter on my lap, lamenting what might have been.

And while I value the connections I’ve made and the relationships I’ve formed from “mommy-blogging” (ugh, that term), more than anything, I want people to like what I’ve read. I want them to want it, to share it, to feel it.

When I started a blog, I did it because I knew it would improve my writing and give me an outlet. Once I got immersed, though, I—like many bloggers—started to see it as an opportunity for fame and fortune and a book deal. I agonized a bit about page views. I tried to read more blogs so that those bloggers would visit my site and read me and fall in love and never want to leave. I asked my husband to help me make business cards for BlogHer, and when I had a ton left over and sitting in my diaper bag, I gave one to my yoga instructor, who, quite surprisingly, became my friend. (She lives around the corner. That helps.) I’ve even considered passing these cards out to moms at the library or the grocery store. “Oh, your baby is so cute. I just wrote about tantrums on my mommy blog. Here.” Luckily, I haven’t gone that far. But I may.

Then, when I had less time to peruse blogs while letting my children eat their breakfast crumbs off the floor so I could finish a post (which I’m doing right now), and actually go out somewhere to work, I had to let go of the addiction. I had to stop worrying about page views and comments and what other people were getting and what I was not getting. I remembered why I wanted a blog in the first place: to write. For the seventeen months that I’ve been doing this, I’ve written more consistently than I have for years. I’ve become better, even–dare I say!–found my voice. I write because I have something to say, and I feel much better once it flows out of my fingers rather than hanging out in my chest and making me bitter. I actually like taking pictures of my dirty house and messy cabinets and posting them in The SuperWoman Chronicles for someone else to see. It makes me feel less oppressed by domestic activities. Thinking of myself as a superhero or making my worries humorous for the sake of a post detaches me from some of the moods and feelings that drag me down. If no one else, I entertain myself. I think I may even be a nicer person.

What blogging has taught me is that what is most important, what matters to me most, is that I am developing as a writer. The only way to do that is to keep writing, not fret about who is reading.

This is perhaps why Anne Lamott’s writing memoir, Bird by Bird, was such a relief to me as I paged through it these past few months. She addresses the question that all of us novice writers ask from the very beginning–how do we get published? And she says that this job is not about publication, but about writing: “Writing can give you what having a baby can give you: it can get you to start paying attention, can help you soften, can wake you up. But publishing won’t do any of those things….” This is something I’ve grown to realize as I read more and more from published authors. Unless I write a book that gets published and subsequently made into a movie, my life won’t be much different than it is right now. I doubt I’d be able to buy a new house with my earnings, or even a housekeeper. I’d still have to listen to my daughter scream in the supermarket; I’d still be cleaning up crumbs from around the coffee table and wiping piss from the base of two toilets. A published book would be nice, but it’s not going to make my problems go away. Or the things that make me happy–my children, my husband, a good book, dinner with friends, margaritas.

So I’m glad Anne Lamott visited me in my dream early this morning, her dreadlock bangs sparkling in the afternoon sunshine. (I know what you’re thinking—this blog has practically become my dream journal. And so what?) We sat in a garage surrounded by a bunch of beat up lawn chairs and a broken refrigerator, and she quietly nodded and listened. Come to think of it, the garage belonged to Erica, my best friend from sixth grade. Sitting here hours later, writing this post, it’s clear to me that I dreamed about Anne Lamott because her book left such an impression on me, but she also taught me I should be writing about my sixth-grade friend’s garage, and her house, and how we used to choreograph dance routines while her mother watched General Hospital. And how the following year, she was really, really mean to me.

Here are just a few nuggets of wisdom I took from the book, words and phrases rolling around in my subconscious that led to my special, unconscious visititation from Anne Lamott.

–“The writer is a person who is standing apart, like the cheese in ‘The Farmer in the Dell’ standing there alone but deciding to take a few notes.” So that’s why I always feel left out!

“This is our goal as writers, I think; to help others have this sense of–please forgive me–wonder, of seeing things anew, things that can catch us off guard, that break in on our small, bordered worlds.”

–“You get your confidence and intuition back by trusting yourself, by being militantly on your own side. You need to trust yourself.”

–“The rational mind doesn’t nourish you…. Rationality squeezes out much that is rich and juicy and fascinating.”

And lastly…

–“We write to expose the unexposed. If there is one door in the castle you have been told not to go through, you must.”

I was going to pick this book for the Maladjusted Book Club, but I know that many participants have already read it. So while this post is a Maladjusted Book Club of One, please share your own ideas on what makes good writing, or if you read it, what stuck with you from Lamott’s Bird by Bird.

Please, enter the castle with me.


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