Friday, September 26, 2014

I remind myself of the point, publicly

I just finished another Alice Munro paperback, Moons of Jupiter. I bought it in a sleepy bookstore in Manzanita, when we were down at the Oregon coast for the last week of holidays. My children were in the store with me, and they were not using inside voices. They begged me to buy toys from the children's section, jumping up and down while holding various packages of brightly-colored things. Genevieve was bouncing directly under my nose in order to compete with the height advantage her brother was using to lobby for a set of dinosaur books he held (without bouncing) in my face. It was over their whining heads that I spied Munro on the shelves. I felt the book and I shared a secret, as if the scene with my children was something we were both observing: my exasperation, their insistence, my longing for a quiet book to hide myself with. I bought the book and not the toys.

Sometimes I think about how I'd be described if I was a character in an Alice Munro story—makeupless in print dresses and boots, long messy hair with gray roots, direct conversation, practical second marriage, extra baby weight, a longing to escape social gatherings, a vague unease and pride about how my life's turned out. It's not terribly flattering, but comforting all the same. But I would want to leave it there—no sifting through the contents of my mind to reveal the weaknesses and unsolvable entanglements. The whimpering and prejudice.

One of my dear friends has given up writing her blog, and so doing made me ponder why I still post here. Why do I write this blog? I suppose the answer is simple. I want—need—to write, and I prefer writing here to writing in a private journal. I've kept a journal since I was eleven. Five years ago my journals were damaged in a flood, and as I flipped through their water stained pages I felt I needed to stop. It is easy to be lazy, repetitive and pathetic in a private journal. Writing online pushes me to avoid complaining, to find a solution to a problem, or make sense of chaotic lived experience. That is to say, I write here for myself. I know there are a select few people who do read my blog, and I am pleased with a little readership. I am not writing for a general audience, even if the site is available to anybody (or any bot) with an internet connection. Thankfully, I am not popular and so can pretty much write as I please.

Writing connects me to myself, and it also connects me to others in the same way I connected to the Munro book at the sea shore bookstore. The part of me that began writing journals at eleven was borne of reading. Books were my childhood friends. Authors and titles I read in the years before I went to high school—most of which I haven't seen in over thirty years—appear without effort:
Elizabeth George Spear's The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Bronze Bow, The Sign of the Beaver; Marguerite De Angeli's Thee Hannah, The Door in the Wall; Elizabeth Enright's Four-Story Mistake, Return to Gone Away; L. M. Montgomery's Emily of New Moon, Anne of Green Gables; E. B White's Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, The Trumpeter Swans; A. A. Milne's The World of Pooh; Daniel Pinkwater's Lizard Music, The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death; C. S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia; Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. 
These books, and many others, provided me with a way to make the world sane. They gave me templates for feelings and experiences I had not yet had. They directed me to what was important: honesty, friendship, laughter, curiosity, loyalty, endurance, love. They reassured and inspired me. And it follows that my writing does some of this same work now. I remind myself of the point, publicly. 

Photo credit: Azrasta, Flickr


Julia said...

When I saw the link I immediately thought: "Jenny." I was surprised that it linked to flakedoves!

I am very glad you are going to keep blogging. I want your blog to keep going. It is a little island of refined sensibilities on the internet, but mostly I value it as a personal connection to YOU, just as you describe. At its height, blogging for me was always a way to connect personally with people I knew in real life. There are many "fabulous" blogs out there, but they don't mean much to me.

But a lot of that depended upon the notion (illusion?) of mine and my friends' blogs being a cozy corner on the internet, immune from weirdos and predators. I really wrestle these days with the notion of the internet as a safe place. It's true that not being popular (which neither of us ever aimed to be) keeps you under the radar, and makes blogging feel more safe. Your blog posts aren't going to generate those horrifying toxic comment threads that you see on, say, the Atlantic Monthly's online articles. But I've just grown so much more aware of the circling wolves (aka internet trolls) that are out there, waiting to pounce on nice people. I think this latest news story of Emma Watson's speech at the UN has just confirmed for me the presence of these unscrupulous trolls and made me want to be even more private about what I share online.

That's one part of it. The other is that I seem to have moved into a primarily "hands on" phase of life. Sewing, studying for teacher certification, working at a school, making my kids' lunches every day. I feel like my life is so much more task-oriented than it was when I stayed at home with pre-school age kids. It's almost like the abstract thinking pathways in my brain have been closed down like hiking trails that get closed for a few years to protect them from erosion. I'm hoping that they'll open up again at some point? But it's hard when mundane things like "our family really, really needs a second salary," are dominating my thoughts and my immediate actions and short-term goals.

One last thing (this is turning into a blog post of its own-- you made me do it)! I think Alice Munro is brilliant and I have enjoyed reading her, but the notion of my own life/self being framed in the way that she frames the life of her characters is horrifying to me! It makes me feel cold and pathetic just to entertain that idea. If I were more brilliant or had a lot of time to think it through, I could probably make a good argument for why her stories have that effect on me, but I have to go now and get the girls ready to go to their swimming lessons. ~~~~~~~~~

A M B E R said...

Jules--I hear you on dreading being a Alice Munro character. She would find your weakest point and show how it completely shaped the direction of your life. But I guess that's the fascination too, because those weak points reveal our humanity. I think the same thing about Flannery O characters. Although it's easier for me to find myself in a Munro story than in a Flannery O story.

As far as the unsafe internet goes, well, that is totally true. It isn't safe. But I feel I have to keep writing and let my little hazy light shine. And it serves a practical purpose for me too: when I am working on design projects I like to have a post brewing at the same time. It clears my head to go back and forth between the two. Probably when I start my winter knitting I'll stop blogging for awhile 'cause knitting serves the same purpose as writing!!

Manuela said...

Don't stop writing, Amber. I need your blog posts. They help me to know that I am not alone out there and thoroughly enjoy your writing style. Thanks for doing it.