Raised with Jackals
Growing up in the 70s and 80s was a precarious endeavor. Instead of 1 or 2 savants-du-torture, we GenXers collectively bullied each other on a constant basis. Sure, some kids stood out but mostly we were a rotting pile of equal-opportunity menaces. Even the shiest, weakest kids spit out epithets on the regular. Boomers had manners; Xers had mayhem.
Any tiny family nickname, minor incident, or nondescript event was fuel for the merciless machine. Any. Little. Thing. was fair game. Your mother called you “Honey” at pick-up? You were a cloying version of “Sweetums” or “HoneyCheeks” for months. Some kid landed a good punch on your brother at baseball practice? Your family’s honor would be the next day’s lunchroom fodder. Any sign of weakness was also documented and replayed.
One day in 2nd grade I felt sick, but the nuns insisted I finish my school lunch. I swallowed whole the canned peach slices in order to clear my plate. Less than an hour later, that lunch and those perfectly preserved peach pieces came out in a violent stream of vomit all over the classroom floor. The very LAST DAY of my SENIOR year, when the cafeteria served those peaches again (they were a recurring nightmare), my classmates reminded me to chew them thoroughly.
My school community was dinky, of course, but the never-live-anything-down culture stuck with me. In my (mostly analog) life, my secrets had not only been exploited by classmates but also by my mother, who would quickly circulate anything I said to my friends’ mothers, which in turn would came right back to me. (My father and brothers were absent in various ways; Confiding in the walls would’ve been more productive). Strict self-censorship was my only chance at survival and escape. What started out as a defense finished up as a way of life.
The Silent Hack
When I started blogging in 2004, mommy blogs were in full swing and I couldn’t understand the pull. How could these mothers expose their children in this way? How could they put themselves at risk of ridicule or compromise their personal safety?
Fast forward more than a decade later to today. The money’s gone out of it, so mommy bloggers are throwing out excuses for shuttering their sites: “I don’t have time;” “I want to go into consulting;” “The kids are older and need more privacy.” This last bit of reasoning irks me. Babies and toddlers don’t deserve privacy? Am I annoyed the mothers never thought of this? Or, really, am I still angry with the people and betrayals of my youth? This last bit probably holds the most truth.
But there is another reason for my ire about mommy bloggers, especially ones that quit for “privacy” reasons: I’m miffed/jealous they had the eggs (or blissful ignorance) to blog so personally and publicly, and I’m livid/disappointed they came back to feeling my same wariness of online soul-baring. Their changing ways make me question everything about being a writer or a blogger. I wonder if having Internet access is worth the effort. How does an essay writer (because this is what blog posts tend to be) live a sometimes-on life? Which parts are allowed onstage? Are we supposed to write, live, love with abandon?
When friends’ Facebook pages have post after post of
- wonderful vacation pics
- fierce workouts
- kids’ milestones
- new cars & houses
- parties (that I’m not invited to, natch)
my 1980s snark sets in. I think, it must be nice to get your money for nothing and your chicks for free.
We’ve talked about this ad infinitum: Rare is true struggle or distress portrayed on social media. These friends use Facebook as a photo album service. So then I ask,
How is it OK to show only one side of your life?
But that just brings me back to the other extreme and my original confusion:
How is it OK to raw-blog every post-partum depressive wave?
Nora Ephron and other back-in-the-day analog typists seemed to say everything about life while revealing almost nothing about themselves (which famous mommy blogger Dooce claims she did in her posts but it sounds a bit protest-too-much-y. She revealed more than she was conscious of at the time, and she probably knows that now).
No Justice, No Peace ––for a Writer’s Family
This sets my head spinning about “privacy” (<-nice quotes, if I do say so myself) and what it means to feel legitimate in this online culture. None of this is new, of course. In writer lore there are two (pre-Internet) sayings:
- “You own your story and you are allowed to write it,” and
- “If people in your life didn’t want to be written about, they should have behaved better.”
A bit mercenary, admittedly, but engaging the guerrilla-writer’s mind is necessary to build courage. Writing is art. Doing art is hard. One is never more vulnerable than when sharing creative efforts. It’s like hoping no-one will slice into your heart after you’ve offered it up on a serving dish. These mottos give us writers permission to release the relentless urge for words.
Thinking maybe it would help, I set out to make my own guerrilla motto: Be free, no matter who it hurts. Just reading that hurts all of my sensibilities. Some writers are indeed assholes. Just like some stand-up comedians are jerks, laying waste to their anything and everything for a laugh, some writers wreak havoc on those they write about. When Ayelet Waldman says, 10 years later, that her kids got through the “I love my husband more than my kids” row just fine, I have to wonder what her and Michael Chabon’s children would honestly say about it. Maybe they just know the deal: being the spawn of two writers comes with certain risk. We all have our sliced peaches to swallow, I suppose.
But it must be possible to balance the need to write honestly and the need to not hurt those who matter. The conspicuously false balance mommy bloggers thought they were striking is my nightmare, and the fear of vomiting all over my kids’ (and yeah, I guess my husband’s) feelings keeps me from writing the essays I need to write (and publish, let’s be honest. I journal 3 pages/day and it isn’t the same).
The Burning End
One of these days, I’ll stop hemming and hawing, and you will have something of worth to read.
But I can’t figure it all out tonight.
I guess I just gotta chew my peaches, one by sickeningly-syrupy one, and hope they don’t all come back up to haunt me. I have to believe I have a right to write, and even if I do brandish backsides I never meant to burn, I won’t end up, ever, as alone as I felt growing up.