Me, Myself, and Writing

I’ve always believed in the power of writing; whether it was to share my thoughts on some ‘serious’ so-called ‘intellectual’ issue, or to pour down personal feelings, which is apparently something I can’t do IRL. Seeing letters come to life on a blank space, letters and words that are far from being unique, but that for that space only, can and do become solely yours, is both rewarding and comforting.

Writing to me is a safe space, which ironically makes it personal and detached at the same time. It’s personal because unlike spoken words, I put a lot of thought and time into it, going back to my sentences and my choice of words, and the end product will depend a lot on my state of mind, not on the consideration of how my interlocutors will think or react. Not that I blurt out whatever passes through my head when I talk, but I don’t exactly spend more than seconds on my spoken words, whereas I could spend days on end on a single post. There are things I would never say out loud or share directly with friends, even close ones; not because they are fascinating and complex revelations about my personality, but… well, I guess because I’m not much of a great talker to start with.

Yet as personal as they can be, I know the number of people who will actually read what I write is limited, and words on a screen are still far from being my actual face, with my instant reactions and facial expressions . The medium of blogs and the computer screen I imagine people will stare at provide a shield I can safely hide behind, with no fear of judgment or ridicule, or even total disinterest.

For the past year however, I have had a hard time managing the delicate ‘personal’ and ‘detached’ equilibrium, mostly because I have come to realize another power that writing provides. Putting your innermost thoughts and feelings in writing is quite a compelling and vulnerable process, if you think about it. It’s admitting to the world, but first and foremost to yourself that you are feeling helpless. It’s not just about knowing that it’s wrong to feel certain things, but acknowledging it. Once the words are written, there’s no going back. Your doubts, feelings, and anxiety become truth. And there are certain things I don’t want to admit even to myself. No, especially to myself.

I don’t want to admit that I can’t do this on my own, that feelings of loneliness engulf me more times than I can count, that at least once a week I want to drop everything and disappear in the farthest, smallest corner of my existence, and not care about how others will feel.

I don’t want to admit that my heart rarely lets my head control my life, that I’m doing so many things against my belief and conscience, that I’m a more emotional being than a rational one.

I don’t want to admit that I need, that I want, help. I don’t want to admit that it would be nice to feel loved from time to time.

Because I’m a fucking 21st century strong woman, for god’s sake. Because I have so many things that should keep me strong – I’m not starving, I have pretty shoes, I have good friends and a supporting family, I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do. Because there are so many other people who are struggling daily with so little. Because, theoretically, I should be happy.

But maybe happiness is not about being thankful for every single day. Maybe it’s not supposed to be easy. It’s a process, it’s a journey. There are ups and then there are downs. It’s about learning how to maintain your ups for a second longer than your downs. And maybe, some day… my ups will be there for a minute, an hour, a day, longer than my downs.

I am slowly learning that it’s okay to feel vulnerable – it sucks, but it’s okay.

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“Dear Life” – by Alice Munro (or Some Personal Reflections)

I’m cheating a little here because I haven’t really finished the book yet. And this is more of a reflection on my life for the past few months during which I haven’t been able to write, rather than a book review per se.

I haven’t written anything ‘voluntarily’ for almost over a year, and just like a foreign language, the skill, no, the sheer will of writing slowly disappears with its lack of usage. You lose its grammar, its vocabulary, its syntax, its flow.

I have spent every minute of my ‘free time’ this semester watching Netflix and Amazon Prime shows, YouTube videos, and browsing through meaningless Buzzfeed articles or shopping sites to fill in the gap in my life. Because none of these actually required me to take a minute to reflect on and acknowledge how shitty my life was. For the few minutes or hours my brain was wired to the moving images in front of me, I was allowed to forget I was still making mistakes in life well into my 30s (okay, not ‘well into‘ really, but you know). I didn’t have to face the fact that I had the tools to get out of the shithole I had dug for myself, but I just couldn’t push myself to use them. Or maybe I didn’t have the tools after all.

This is why I haven’t really written anything or even read anything (besides scholarly articles) to, however cliché it sounds, ‘feed my soul’, because writing or reading require you to face reality, your reality. And that’s absolutely scary when you’re still writing and re-writing your reality, and you have no idea how the ending will go. They demand that you pause your life for hours and face your joys and your demons. They cannot afford your brain to shut off, which is what you do when you laugh at Kimmy and Titus’ banter on “Unbreakable” or shudder at the thrill “Bosch” provides. They want you to understand the grammar rules, to finish the vocabulary, to review the syntax, and to analyze the flow of your day, your week, or that moment you decided beer would solve everything but didn’t.

“Dear Life” has, in this context, come at quite an opportune moment. I did learn earlier of the beauty of ‘that is not said’ that short stories provide; and today, as I read through Alice Munro’s words and sentences, they make a little more sense, and provide me with some sort of comfort. The comfort that just like her short stories, things can be left unsaid, yet still matter. The relief that I can still write my own future, with its good and its bad. It’s okay to make mistakes even at 31 years old. 31 years old is not too old to get heartbroken, procrastinate, or lie down in bed well past 9 am because you just can’t be bothered with life.

My life doesn’t have to be a 300-page novel with a clear start and ending. It can be a series of short stories; some find their happy ending, but most of the time, I am and will be left troubled with the missing details and at a loss as to how I should feel. But it’s okay. Each story matters.

“The Color of Water” by James McBride

I went on a limb for this one, having no idea who the author was and having never heard of the book either. But the subtitle, ‘A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother’, was enough, needless to say, to captivate my attention and prick my curiosity. Was she his foster mom? Was he adopted? Was she just a mother figure and not his real mother? Those were, unfortunately, the first questions that crossed my mind. There was no scenario in my mind, for a black man to be old enough to be writing a memoir on his ‘real’ white mother, considering the recent history of racism. Yet, it was real enough. James McBride is the child, one of 12, of Ruth McBride Jordan, nee Ruchel Dwajra Zylska, a Polish immigrant, daughter of an Orthodox Jew rabbi.

For the longest time, McBride was unaware of his mother’s background, how her parents came to immigrate to the United States, where they lived when she was young, how she left her home and came to New York, why she ran away from home, why she never talked about her family; in other words, there was this enormous part of his mother’s past life he had no way of peeking into. His mother finally decides to tell him and this book is about her tumultuous journey, one that is alas more embedded with prejudice, pain, suffering, than happiness. Along with her journey, this book is also about the author’s own journey, his life growing up with his 11 siblings in a New York neighborhood mainly populated by blacks, the various forms of racism he had to face, the different civil rights movements he was involved, directly and indirectly, and his search for identity as a black man, and as the son of a white ex-Jewish, currently-Baptist woman who felt more akin to African Americans despite her difficulty to be ‘fully accepted’ by some of them. And the two journeys are both incredible.

Although it is personally hard for me to understand why anyone would want to have 12 children when she doesn’t have the means to ‘abundantly’ provide for them (this is the same frustration I get when reading Irish/Irish-American literature. I sigh every time the children are told to go outside of their small, shabby apartment, because that means when they come back, they’ll see their mother propped up in bed with a new baby), I don’t want to judge her, I’m sure there is a certain dimension there I am not able to understand. Besides that though, her journey is one of a strong person and a strong woman, having survived an abusive childhood, having found love and having managed to find the energy and tenacity to raise and educate all of her 12 children.

Some of the reviews on this book criticize the author for writing too much like a reporter and for giving a voice to his mother she didn’t want in the first place. Those are valid criticisms, I guess, but when one’s writing style cannot escape the influence of one’s job and him being a reporter, I don’t think it is fair to accuse him of being what he is. As for the second point, true, Ruth avoided the story of her childhood for most of her life and the way her son wrote it may not have been how she would have put it, word for word. But I empathize with and understand the author’s effort and desire to know who his mother was and is, and his inclination to put it into letters and words and share her story with the rest of the world.

Mothers are funny influences that way. When you’re growing up, they’re your heroes, your source of comfort, the very rendition of how love would look like. Their simple physical presence is everything. They tell you bits of their stories and you cry when she cries, you laugh when she laughs. Then, you grow up, and you see faults and weaknesses you never thought she had. After the initial disappointment, you learn to deal with them with a feeling of compassion and understanding, mixed with – let’s be honest – the inevitable annoyance. And so you want to know more about them, to be the psychologist without her knowing, to dig deep in her childhood and her youth, so that you can perhaps have a better grasp at their changes and prepare yourself, especially if you’re a girl, for any changes you may also go through in the future. And for a child, your mother’s story and her voice are worth writing, telling and sharing with others, because that’s what people do with heroes, isn’t it? People write comic books, build figurines, make movies and hold huge conventions where fans flock to. No mother is just a ‘normal, ordinary’ person to a child, and that is why you want everyone else to know her ‘superpower’.

I guess this is somewhat what went through the author’s mind when he dared give a voice to his mother; writing as a therapy, to cope with who she was and is, and with who he is.

McBride’s own story is just as fascinating as his mother’s and I would like to leave it to the readers to discover for themselves the exceptional story of a man who embodies a mixture of identities, voices, biographies, injustices, achievements, and victories.