Category Archives: words matter

Pondering Why I Write What I Write, Then Maya Angelou Died

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Gabriel Garcia Márquez said, “All human beings have three lives: public, private and secret.”

Clearly, I write lots of things about myself and things that have happened to me and my family on this blog. I used to judge myself and accuse myself of unabashed narcissism; that my writing about my life must be a token overcompensation due to my incredibly low self-esteem. But I don’t really have low self-esteem, as a chronic condition; most of the time, I’m quite OK with who I am. What’s funny is that I’ve read so much about narcissists over the years that I’d be mortified if I were one. The last thing I want is everyone agreeing with me or living the way I say.

But I have been mulling it over: Why Do I Write What I Write here, anywhere?

I started the blog as a form of love letter to my sons. As a glimpse into my head and as a testament to how I wish to live a rich, succcessful and fulfilling life, without mansions, yachts, white parties and our names in lights. I continue it because I find that life is constantly throwing curve balls. Just when you think it’s time to sit and relax, that you can exhale and zone out, up sprouts another “adventure” (that’s what we’ll call them, ok? cheers!).

So why DO I write about what I write about here? I had been thinking about it for several months. I had an idea, I was inspired several times, to march out onto the worn, grainy wooden stage of my blog, with a top hat and cane. I would push through the massive, tattered, heavy and dusty midnight blue velvet curtains, move forward in a giant hip-swingy, little kid “big step” and SIIIIIIING in my best Steve Martin, “It’s beeeeeecaauuuuuuuuusssszzzzzzze …. >inhale< …. I'm ahhh-liiiiiiiiiiivvvvvvvvve!"

Then Maya Angelou died.

Reading about her life, has made me feel like a princess in an ivory tower. Immediately: I felt small, stupid, uncertain and silent. I thought I had a story to tell. I thought I was a survivor. But I know that if she were here right now, she would put her hand on my shoulder and look into my pitiful face and say to me, "Molly, we all have a story. You don't have to feel small. You don't have to compare, because comparing and competing and trying to be first and measure up… against what? Against who? All of that is to no use. Have you not been listening dear? You write because you simply ARE. That's why. And no one knows your life but you. So you sing it." And she would lean back gently and laugh in that amazing, loving and confident way she had. And she would vanish and I would be OK. But not really. But eventually.

It's because of writerly women: Maya Angelou, Joyce Carol Oates, Joan Didion, Anne Lammott, Dorothy Parker and other bloggers, that I feel I can go on.

I've had people in the flesh, tell me, "Wow. What you write is sooooo revealing. Be careful of what you write… Don't you want to protect your children?"

I answer: "From what? The truth? My absolute WORST fear in life is that my kids won't know who the hell I am; that they won't know how I'd deal with something long after I'm gone and that they'd have no one to consult… Much as how I did not know who my mother was nor what she would have done…" Some moments absolutely exist when I know what Mom would do. (And that's not necessarily a good thing she'd do.) For other moments? Maaaan, she was completely unpredictable. Her capacity to indulge caprice was boundless.

So for those moments I don't share, my third, secret life? I have plenty of things I needn't nor will ever share. Boxers or briefs? Who cares?! How you overcame unbridled narcissism in your mother, only to unconsciously rehash it again and again in females you met as you matured until you FINALLY! realized the damage it had done and broke the pattern it manifested in you? I think people want to know about that.

Some stuff you just can't make up. Some things that people do –intentionally flying airliners into buildings for instance or falsely impugning a child in his own home– defy common, rational imagination. That Maya Angelou accessed the strength inside herself to share her truth which let people in on her harrowing past, is the reason people continue to write. She is the reason I will Write What I Write.

There will always be plenty of other things to write about.

For now, I simply write because I Am.

Thank you, Maya Angelou, for giving all of us, each and every single one: a voice.

Thank you.

Balancing Act

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this is me doing a headstand. i have been practicing yoga for years. this is just one of the many random things you’ll catch me doing because i can. and yes, this requires balance. it’s the balance on the grid i can’t manage so well.

I’ve always been honest with you.  I am having a hard time balancing myself on the whole social media thing.

I recently returned from 10 days of being off the grid and it was like food for my soul. This vacation came on the heels of writing furiously for “Camp NaNoWriMo” (National Novel Writing Month) and almost maniacally for a month straight. During that month, I also managed to write blog posts, almost as a treat to myself to change the tempo, write about some real things and simply get things off my mind. A couple posts were well, totally and completely random.

During NaNo Camp, when I wrote, I wrote about 6k words a day and I never let up the intensity of what I was doing.  I holed myself in my office for several hours and played music to evoke the proper mood and tone.  I said a prayer to my muse and to God asking for guidance and support and clarity.  I requested that I stay on task and that I do what is good and honorable.  On my final day, I wrote 4k words in less than two hours and even I was surprised by how the novel ended.  Oh, and I put on about five pounds and I kept at the writing.  I was told by someone that what I was doing was pointless.

The vacation was right on time.  I loved being off the grid.  As much as I enjoy the online experience, I always enjoy, and prefer seeing and touching and employing all my five senses in the actual experience of being with the people I know (I don’t taste/eat them, I eat with them, and the smelling sense is passive… my olfactory system picks up the people… admit it: yours does too).

On my personal Facebook page, I have the luxury of being in real-life contact with a great majority of the “friends” I have and I always enjoy our real contact.

After vacation, I didn’t go online for almost two more days because I knew that once I did log on, it would be for a while.

So when I did go online, I was online for a long time.  Even though I logged off, I would log back in.  I started a post about what I learned on vacation that started out as very heavy and heady.  On my way back from picking up my son from tennis camp, I realized that I needed to lighten up that post.  So I wrote the humorous post that I did publish about what I learned while on vacation.

But my need for outreach didn’t end there: after I posted, I stayed online to check my stats for visits to the page.  I’m admitting a lot here, and it’s hard to say because it’s akin to a neurosis… not an addiction, but a weirdness in that I would like to be validated through the online world and hear me now: if my kids or my best friend told me what I am telling me (and you) right now, I’d tell them to not bother.  To let it go.  To see their value in themselves and that their basis of “appreciation” or “validation” was extrinsic and completely out of whack and that the amount of “hits” or “reads” or “fans” has nothing to do with their essential value, talents or gifts in this tangible world we have been granted a finite time to live in.

I can rationalize this all I want and say my interest for “outreach” is because of my professional public relations grooming, to see if I “nailed it” when I posted.  Or I can chalk it up to my BA in Writing.  Or I can claim it’s because I’m a social animal (which I am: but I realize that I recharge from actual human contact), or that I’m just genetically inclined to Write.  But Writing is not necessarily or actually at all: the same as Being Online.

But I didn’t say to myself what I’d say to my kids or friends.  I checked to see if people “liked” the post on Facebook.  I went on my Grass Oil fan page on Facebook to see if anyone shared it.  This neediness went on for about an hour and I’m not excited to admit it.

Blog stats … I saw myself saying, “just one more check for hits and then I’ll shut down…” and when I heard myself say it outloud, that is when I finally shut down.
I have wondered about this interest of mine for a while and I think the only way to shut it down is to become hypervigilant and beat it.

So I see a crossroads: the intersection of my online experience impinging on my real, tangible, off-the-grid life and vice versa.  Am I alone in this? Does anyone else have this concern?  Is it time management? Yes, obviously.  Set a timer? Sure… I just have to remember to do that.  Hyper vigilant. I also can’t use my writing as an excuse to be online.  I wonder: if I treat the writing as a “job” then will I be better about my time management?  But then I have another conflict with authenticity… it’s not a “job”; it’s an interest.  A job earns income.  In the final analysis, I see that what I’m dealing with is a value issue. And very likely a dopamine response…

.  .  .

I am realizing that the online thing is more than a balancing act for me, it’s almost an identity concern, in that I am having a need to see myself validated through the online experience.  I won’t say “crisis” because I think that word, the fact that it even exists, is bullshit.  We create our own crises; issues don’t suddenly become a crisis.  It’s because we ignore things that allows the “crisis” label to be exploited and then all shit hits the fan.

Energy crisis.

Crisis of faith.

Political crisis.

Healthcare crisis.

Diabetes crisis.

Debt crisis.

All this stuff is always brewing, we just decide to play backgammon instead.

What I’m dealing with is a “concern” (and I’m not using my PR background spin machine to rationalize it); but I will say this: the nanosecond the social media experiences I am concerned with become a crisis is the day I’m offline for a year.  And sipping mai tais on Oahu…

And if you ever hear me refer to my flesh and bone friends as “my IRL friends,” I want you to point at me and laugh heartily. (I learned about 4 months ago from someone I overheard that “IRL” stands for “in real life”) … I don’t operate in that world. All my life is real. I might squander it, but make no mistake: everything I do has a consequence.

.  .  .

I am a Writer. I have finally enabled myself to say this.  Just giving myself permission to allow myself to think about being capable and prepared to admit it was like, y’know, like HUGE, man.  And I’m good with it.  I have another thing to help explain myself.

That said, I’m not a marketer, a spin master, a social networking maven nor am I terribly interested in garnering massive amounts of attention.  I just wanna write and create and move on.  Is that so bad? So, that’s part of my concern.  But then the trappings of “value” come back in to play.  If I didn’t care about what people thought, why would I share it?  This is deep stuff, it’s sorta circular. For me, I will consider it until I don’t anymore.

Value.  Success.

Success.  How does one (and this is a personal determination, which is why I like it) define success?  What makes you successful?

Let’s define “successful” first:

successful |səkˈsesfəl|

adjective

accomplishing an aim or purpose : a successful attack on the town.

• having achieved popularity, profit, or distinction : a successful actor.

I like the first notion; the one about accomplishing an aim (I’m not terribly fond of the example they gave).  I did that with “Camp NaNoWriMo.”  I met the goal and now I have a bona fide “WIP” (work in progress), which I am farming out to few interested readers (a*hem) for their feedback.

What’s my goal with this tome?  I would like to say, well: to share it.  To publish it and I dunno, sell it? Sure! Why not? I’m game.

(I mean, why does a woman get pregnant? Surely not to stay pregnant… she does it to have a child, raise the child, educate the child and then be able to lean on that child during her golden years, providing she was good to her child.)

So I’ll work to sell the book.  Ok.  That’s a “job.”  But here’s where I get stuck: I feel that the first notion’s contingency on the second notion: “having achieved popularity, profit or distinction” sucks the wind out of the first notion’s sails.

That secondary notion is essentially taunting, “So what.”  Did Michaelangelo (and no, I’m not comparing myself to him, but then again, why not?) have to deal with that? I’ll have to read more about him.  Did anyone (besides a detractor or two) think he sucked?

It’s as if that secondary notion is waiting around a corner and trips that first notion, or shoves it in a locker, or puts its head in the toilet to give it a swirly, or reaches down into its pants and gives it a wedgie.  So the so-called quandary for me then is this: I distinctly hate, am loathe to, dislike and otherwise am annoyed by that bulleted, second notion of the definition.

For all creative types: musicians, artists, actors, painters, poets, writers, sculptors, mimes… That secondary notion is a bully and in the 21st century of social media, and to me: the work of self marketing, dealing with that bully doesn’t automatically help the first notion’s cause.  You can market yourself to the moon and back: tweet, tumbl, Pin, digg, LinkedIn, Facebook, Wiki and contort your eSelf into oblivion and your efforts could still be null.

And so now it’s my turn: “Now what, social media?”

I envy my hero F. Scott Fitzgerald: all he had to do was write and drink and vacation with his rich friends.  He didn’t have to sweat launching a fan page or a ham radio station.  Of course, there was his beloved Zelda to deal with, but I can be my own Zelda if the proper circumstances present themselves. Oh! What fun that would be!

I could do all the eMarketing possible and my book could still not be profitable. Does that mean that it is or I AM therefore “unsuccessful”?:

unsuccessful

adjective

1 an unsuccessful attempt: failed, ineffective, fruitless, profitless, unproductive, abortive; vain, futile, useless, pointless, worthless, luckless.

2 an unsuccessful business: unprofitable, loss-making.

3 an unsuccessful candidate: failed, losing, beaten; unlucky, out of luck; informal: losingest.

No. I am not a failure or the losingest. So the solution, as in many all of our life concerns, lies within.  I can reframe my relationship with social media and my identification with my “Work”: begin tweeting, go to Pinterest and all the rest or I can cut my jib, so to speak, and stay where I am: OK with Things as They Are… until they change.  That, my friends, is the rub.  No sense creating chaos in preparation for something that might not ever happen… And there’s all the sense in the world in just being OK with being OK.

I have determined thus (as I write): If I become annoyed that my online experience is seen as dominant over my tangible, breathing oxygen, using the bathroom, eating a sandwich, petting the dog, caressing my child world then it’s time to get the hell offline.  If I see that my tangible world impinges on my “enjoying” my online world, it’s time to get the hell offline.  The online world is a 24/7 experience.  Emails we write can be held onto for the next day, week or month or year.  The Machine makes us believe that we need to respond now – just because we are able to.  What I need to remember is that an ability does not equal a mandate.  A whiny bladder is a mandate, a child is a mandate, a dog that nudges is a mandate, a growling stomach is a mandate.  A hit on a blog is a nice to have; a fan on the page is a nice to have; a “like” on a blog is a nice to have; a reblog is a nice to have and they are good for the ego but they mustn’t define us.

Wow… I think I might’ve just sorted all that out.

Thank you.

Fear. Eff It.

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I recently had a conversation with a person about the subject of the book I’m writing. It’s a natural question and when I answered that it was hyperfictionalized memoir of my experiences with my analyst, I was asked the following:

“Why won’t you just move on, Molly?”

And

“What is the point of all this? You have a wonderful life, a good husband, beautiful children a safe and happy home.”

And I agreed. I do have all those things.

I answered, “Because it’s a story about recovery, redemption, hope and ultimately, acceptance and forgiveness.  For myself, for everyone in my story.”

The reply was this: “Right, your story. What does that have to do with anyone else?!”

What are you so afraid of?

I have to admit, something in me, a tiny voice agreed with this position, I mean, who the hell am I to suppose that I could benefit anyone?  But a bigger voice told that little voice to pipe down.  And so I tried to explain, vainly (and I suppose probably foolishly), that my story might help someone…?  That answer was met with a “pfft.”  My back went up and my eyes narrowed and the big voice got bigger.  This person was about to get razed.  A person within earshot of all of this smartly intervened and suggested a subject change. That suggestion was met by the interrogator with, “WHY? What makes you think that’s necessary?” and the answer to that was, “Because I see an argument coming on.”  I nodded in agreement and was grateful for the suggestion; I said as much, and I left the room.

The next day, I received an e-mail message from the interrogator apologizing for how I was treated. I was surprised, frankly, to have gotten it.  I wrote back expressing my gratitude for the gesture while also detailing my reflections and expanding on the exchange and what I thought about the line of questioning, essentially proposing, and I hope rhetorically: “Has nothing you’ve ever read taken you to a place where you can agree or picture someone else’s position? Have you never been moved by something you’ve read?”

Crickets. That’s OK. I was pretty intense in that note and I feel like I’ve made my points.

But I’ve been thinking back on my interactions with this particular person over the many years we’ve known one another and I see there has been a pattern: things have never been quite right between me and this person; we’ve tried, or rather it has been suggested to me that I change, you know, in order to make it better.  When I was in college, I was told I studied too much.  When playing tennis or exercising, I was told I played too hard.  When out socially I was told I didn’t wear enough mascara. And now most recently, I am asked, essentially, “What makes you think your story matters?” and “Why bother?”

This is not a person I’m related to. This person does weigh some influence, but not too much in my personal life.  I’ve always sort of regarded this person with a mix of wary kindness; sort of like sniffing your drink before you sip it.  I can’t say why, it’s probably me.  But I have to say this: I’ve never been asked these questions or put back by anyone ever in my life other than by this person, so I have to suggest to you my readers, if you know someone who talks to you like this, first: think about it and ask them, “What are you still so afraid of?” Next: stop talking to them.  Full stop.

And one more: if you talk to someone like this, what are YOU afraid of?

I recently read a comment offered at a blog owned by the amazing Kat Hurley which mentioned Anthony Robbins’s acronym for “F.E.A.R – that it is just False Evidence Appearing Real.” And I scratched my head and said, “yup.” So again I ask you: if you hear people talk to you this way, ask them what they’re so afraid of.  And if you talk to someone this way, what are you so afraid of?  The big bad wolves are mostly in your head. Kick ’em to the curb.

I can say this now because I’ve done what I thought I could never do; what I thought I lacked the courage and guts and the endurance to do: I finished writing my book yesteday. And it’s good, to me.  It’s solid, it’s true and fair, it’s real and it’s so so so strong that I feel like chest-bumping myself and saying “BOOYAH” and other things that people who cross a threshold do. It ended the way I think I’m ready, no that I know I am ready to have life go now.  It is good.

So, yeah, screw fear.  Right now I’m riding the “I just wrote a freaking book!!!” wave and the wind’s in my hair, the ocean’s spraying on my face, my feet are on my board and I’m having a great time. Today is enough.

Thank you.

ps – I’m heading out for vacation shortly so I don’t plan to be blogging (keep your applause to yourself!). I do however have a few reblogs in the hopper; some of my favorites and I hope you’ll enjoy them. if you aren’t already a subscriber, please do leave your name and e-mail address in the field to the right of this post that says “Follow GrassOil via e-mail” and you’re almost done. Just click on the confirmation e-mail and I think that’s it. See you soon. THANK YOU! 🙂