Monday, February 4, 2013

Mid-life Crisis Part II: Unlearning to shut up and the line between self-examination and whining. (In the category of Say What You Mean.)

I started this blog as part of my process of coming to terms with the reality that I missed my career goal of being a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist by age 40. And while my aunt (a retired high school English teacher) assures me that blogging doesn’t count as writing, I disagree. My aunt doesn’t use a computer much, and I doubt she has ever actually read a blog (making it impossible for me to take her opinion of them seriously). I appreciate that she shares my disappointment in me for having missed that career goal (in a kind way, not judgmental). We both think I should write more, but she favors the more traditional tools and processes for getting published. It’s a product of the 30-year-wide generation gap between us. For her, publishing success involves a multitude of rejection letters (which I have), an agent, an editor, paper, ink, glue, and boxes of unsold books. I measure my publishing success based on how many people claim to have actually read what I wrote, something I don’t have much luck with. (Hell, I can’t even get my co-workers to read my emails. Instead I hear, “Saw I had an email from you; what did it say?”) By such measurements, I have failed.

I cannot pinpoint the moment when I realized I was experiencing a “mid-life crisis.” It’s been coming for a while, this nagging feeling that I missed something I was supposed to get. It has something to do with my career — it must, for my personal life is all I could have wished for and more (a fact that does not escape me, and one for which I give thanks every day). All I can pinpoint with surety is that my need to write, to be read and to receive praise (or criticism) for the work (even a bad review proves that someone read it) is in direct conflict with my failure to write with any regularity or acquire a readership beyond my husband and few friends who indulge me. It is my intention to resolve this conflict, and a blog seems like a good approach.

In order to better understand the medium, I began reading blog posts on all manner of topics: cooking blogs, literary blogs, industry blogs about packaging machines, political blogs, relationship blogs, feminist blogs, sports blogs and crafty blogs. I even follow a blog by a triathlete, which I will never be. It’s been an interesting foray into the blogosphere; I think my aunt would enjoy the quality of writing in most of them. But this research has been completely useless for me, as it doesn’t solve the fundamental question of what I want to write about. Which direction should I take? There are so many to choose from.

I could use my blog to whine; I’ve certainly encountered blogs that are used this way, but I dislike whining and whiners in general. It’s so self-serving — a plea for attention — “Look at me! My needs are unmet!” Welcome to the frigging club.

I could use the blog for self-examination, an on-line journal of sorts, where I explore the darkest places of my psyche, bring light to them and own them. I know of quite a few blogs that work this way. The successful ones (in my opinion) always maintain a fine balance on the knife edge between soul-searching and whining. But I don’t keep a private journal (which will disappoint my BFF, should she outlive me...she thinks I keep a journal, and I fear she looks forward to the day she can read all the awful things I wrote about her...). So I see no reason to keep a public journal. Who would want to read it anyway? It would go something like: “Feb. 4 Snowed today. God I hate snow. For a short month, Feb. always drags for me. I spend most of the month thinking about Theresa...” Even I don’t want to read that crap.

I could use the blog to express my political or religious opinions. I have a wealth of opinions about everything under the sun. I have a right to express those opinions, and some of them (I think) are even humorous, insightful, and profound. I wish I could be more like Jon Stewart or Lewis Black: funny, pointed, unafraid to say exactly what they think. Unfortunately, many years ago I became adept at shutting up, biting my tongue, keeping it to myself. It was the right thing to learn at the time, and it greatly improved some things for me: work relationships, family relationships, friendships. “Keep it to your self” became my mantra. Unless I was asked, I refrained from throwing in my nickel’s worth. I guarded the answers I did give, mindful not to be bigoted or judgmental, I resisted the urge to be negative, even when all I could think was, “holy shit, that is the dumbest thing I have ever heard.”

I am sure shutting up has served me well, but I’m bored with it. I’m tired of holding my tongue and turning my back on my God-given talent for sarcasm, my zeal for irony. The high road, always the effing high road, and what has taking that gotten me? I can’t say for sure. Perhaps it’s like light — meaningless unless one also comprehends darkness. Perhaps I will not find out what I gained or lost until I choose the low road, unchain my tongue, once again say what I mean, exactly what I mean.

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