a quick comment about comments

In the late 90s, much of my social life centered around a couple online communities. There was the newsgroup “misc.writing,” where I learned how to call myself “a writer.” My first paid writing gig came from a friend I made in my other favorite online community, the newsgroup “alt.music.soulcoughing.”

In those newsgroups, I learned about myself and my writing. I learned I am not a troll, and never could be. I am also not interested in “combat prose,” though several of my good online friends were terrifically skilled at it. While I relish passionate debate, it’s rare that being unkind feels like the right thing for me. These are just a few things the newsgroups—so much like comments on a newspaper’s website—taught me.

Today, I responded to a comment on my Bangor Daily News column. For the most part, I don’t read the comments. Or, rather, I didn’t after the first column. There were so many (what an ego-boost!) on the first couple and I knew it would be difficult to avoid taking them personally. For this last piece, though, there were only a small handful of comments. I read the first 10 or so as they came in, and then I stopped. One of them criticized my writing, and the awkward absence of transitions. It made me re-read the column with new eyes. I wanted to thank the reader for the comment, but I was wary about participating in the comments section. I did, though, post a thank you and a clarification. I went on to respond to a few of the other comments, “since I was there already,” I said to myself.

While I may respond to comments in the future, I suspect I mostly won’t. I realized today that if I have the sense that “I can clarify any misunderstandings later” then my writing won’t improve. I welcome the challenge of brevity. I need to make my point clearly and without distractions. It’s not easy. But, oh my, it is fun.

be still.

We sit. Quiet. Breathing. How loud loud loud my mind. So full of fast thoughts. So full of fast thoughts. So full of fast fast fast fast fast thoughts. So full and busy and I can’t hear anything because so much is going on in my mind.

People sneeze, cough, shift in their seats. What is it like, at meeting for worship?

meeting room

Portland Friends Meeting

Settling in to a comfortable position. Aware of my posture, my legs, my arms and hands. More aware of my body as the chaos of my mind’s voices chatter away in the background. Noticing new aches and pains, behind my left eye, throughout my jaw, my spine, my lower back. How my jaw clenches tightly over to the side. Becoming aware. Gently reposition my lower jaw so my teeth rest not quite touching, but in line. How awkward the rest of my face feels. How I notice my spine more now. I lift my head lightly as if a string comes from my spine up through the top of my head. Lifting.

New people enter the room, finding seats. Some have loud shoes on the wood floor. So much shuffling and adjusting. The room’s sounds flow in waves. More than the clicks and hums of human sounds, my anxiety comes from thinking of people who might be bothered by those sounds. I notice that about myself. I breathe. I return to my body. Someone’s stomach gurgles. Someone may be snoring. As the sounds mingle I notice. I notice I can find quiet even in the middle of the clutter careful accidental necessary noises of these friends. My mind is slowing. As each of my to-do items flashes in I welcome it and say, not now, and say, goodbye. As a new column or blog post begins forming, I enjoy playing with the words for a while, then notice my distraction away from the moment. Each moment of distraction, when I am not mindfully resting and seeking the space and light I know I will find in the silence, I don’t fight. I don’t fight the distractions, I only notice them.

Inside me, like the quiet sounds of the other humans around me, there are waves of noise and quiet. Again, a flowing.

As more space opens in me I notice I’m feeling sleepy. Oh, how tired I am. I begin worrying this will be one of those meetings where the struggle to fight sleep is so miserable, I consider leaving (I did leave once). Instead, I adjust my legs and my arms. I bend my head to one side and then the other. I imagine my blood flowing from my heart through my body, especially along my spine, and back into my heart. I catch myself in a deep and possibly loud exhale. It’s okay. We are all here to find the light. The space. The peace.

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too personal for the Internet

In the 90s, I wrote (online) my most intimate thoughts for anyone who would read them. The concept of personal boundaries was new to me. Back then, I called what I did “web columns.” In 2001, a friend of my then-husband called my writing my “blog.” I thought it a quaint term used by a computer geek (as it was). When blogs went mainstream, I resented and resisted the term. I’ve since accepted the label, but am now challenged by the content.

As everyone and her sister (and brother and cousin and step-son and grandmother and co-worker and politician and business owner and…) share their offline lives via the Internet, I find myself wandering in a bit of a daze. Or, shocked like a pinball being whipped around, slamming against bright lights and loud sounds. What do I want to share online? What is the point of it for me?

With the addition of the significant consideration of my family’s privacy—especially my children—and my growing need for a more professional public presence, most content feels inappropriate.

Then, I listened to Montaigne’s essays. I am reminded of the value of sharing my introspective fascinations. The richness of my inner life deepens when I write regularly about my thoughts. I also miss experiencing a response from readers.

Next week I will begin as a (monthly) columnist for The Bangor Daily News. Based on the comments following my op-ed in October, I’ve found a forum to experience responses from readers.

Next week I will also publish an updated version of my business website. In the process of developing new content, I considered telling “the story” of how grantwinners.net came into being. That story relies heavily on my struggle to balance parenting and income production. It was too personal for my business site. I miss being “too personal.”

I’d like to return to “blogging” (writing!) here on serenebabe.net. The Montaigne essays inspired me. As I said in a tweet, “Comparing myself to Montaigne is so Montaigney of me.” I have no interest in publishing hyper-personal journal entries. I won’t take time to follow current events enough to dissect my opinions about many of them (and the BDN column provides some space for that type of content). It feels good, being attracted to using this space again to write about random thoughts and ideas as they occur to me. As I’ve said twice now, I’ve missed it. I’m not sure what will end up “published” here, but I know I want to find out.

“And taking upon me to write indifferently of whatever comes into my head, and therein making use of nothing but my own proper and natural means, if it befall me, as oft-times it does, accidentally to meet in any good author, the same heads and commonplaces upon which I have attempted to write (as I did but just now in Plutarch’s “Discourse of the Force of Imagination”), to see myself so weak and so forlorn, so heavy and so flat, in comparison of those better writers, I at once pity or despise myself. Yet do I please myself with this, that my opinions have often the honour and good fortune to jump with theirs, and that I go in the same path, though at a very great distance, and can say, “Ah, that is so.” I am farther satisfied to find that I have a quality, which every one is not blessed withal, which is, to discern the vast difference between them and me; and notwithstanding all that, suffer my own inventions, low and feeble as they are, to run on in their career, without mending or plastering up the defects that this comparison has laid open to my own view.”  – Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays

that time we almost died

For the last few days I’ve been frazzled in a way not typical for me. Life is good. Work has been busy. A new painting has been swirling around in me and seems like it wants to come out. Last night I blogged about my medical freedom being stolen by the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries. I love writing stuff like that. Then, last night and today I was working at the computer all day. When I paused my billing clock and looked at Facebook or twitter—and I did that a lot—I felt anxiety-ridden and frenetic. Click! Click! Click!

On Monday morning this past week, I was hit by a truck. I was walking my three year old in her little stroller. As we entered the crosswalk, a pickup truck began turning (right on red) and drove into us. We weren’t physically hurt beyond a little stiffness in my thigh/hip/shoulder. The palm of my hand also burned all day from where I slammed it down on the hood of the truck as I screamed. I don’t remember much of it, really. My body bent with the impact, though I didn’t fall. My daughter’s stroller had mostly already passed the truck, so it didn’t make much contact (if any, again, my memory is fuzzy).

Mostly, I haven’t talked about it. Mostly, I found myself blurting out what happened at the most surprising times. In an email to a subcontractor. To the barista at Starbucks. Blurting is the right word. Moments after it happened, I used my phone to email several people and said “I just wanted to tell people who I knew would care.” The whole day was, in retrospect, hazy and confused. I kept thinking I was making too big a deal of it, though at the oddest moments I’d burst into tears.

One of my closest friends pointed out if I kept trying to convince myself it wasn’t a big deal, my body wouldn’t let that happen and it would keep coming back until I dealt with it. Thankfully, I had what I needed for support. I did spend some time crying that night as the horrifying “what if” scenarios played out with unstoppable force.

The moment when I knew there was nothing I could do to stop that truck from continuing on into me.

The moments after, walking away quickly, just wanting to get away away away when I only wanted to be away.

Not scooping my daughter up in my arms because to do that would be to face the what if of those what ifs that I can’t put into words because they are too horrible.

The anxious, confused, disconnected, insecure, self-doubting frenzy I felt in the last 24 hours or so, I now realize, was a reminder that what happened was “a big deal.” As I consider it, I begin to lose words.

This past summer I had some important experiences that helped me rediscover the richness of offline life. Those who haven’t experienced authentic depth and intimacy in their online life might not understand what it means to forget about how beautiful offline life can be. The last day or so caused in me an uncommon confusion, an absence of connection to myself. When I wrote about being a recovered alcoholic, I wrote about tapping into an infinite source of strength. When I connect with that strength I can live mindfully in the present moment. Making that connection is, most of the time, nearly second nature. It’s more than a habit; it’s where I mostly live.

Still, I feel rattled. This chunk of hours full of anxiety and disconnection from my center are leftovers. Remnants or echoes of how I felt when we were hit by that truck. Everything was called into question. I felt an obsessive need to focus on only what is really important and to let everything else slide. I connected with people who mean the world to me, even if it was just a brief “oh my god” shared moment. Now that I’ve identified the source of the last day’s puzzling spurts of staccato existence—I’m not finished feeling all that is there to be felt about the truck hitting us—I can do something about it.

Thanks to what I learned this summer, I know that what I need to do about it now can’t be done online. There are ways my online life supports me when my offline life can’t. It was one of my closest online friends who helped me through much of the adrenaline-induced traumatic fallout the evening after the truck hit me. And now, after getting the bulk of my computer-dependent work done, I’m going to go back to those peaceful places I rediscovered offline. I’m going to breathe. Thank you for reading this.

[youtube:http://youtu.be/ThWgNvV0LNs%5D

noticing.

The assignment was to paint a still life and I did. I zoomed in so far, to an intersection of the tulip stems I found most interesting, the painting ended up looking “abstract.”

Walking quickly through the garden, it’s easy to not hear it. Walking slowly, taking time to notice, the chorus of the bees in the buckwheat pulsates and simmers and swells. So many individual insects doing their individual thing while flowing entirely together; parts of a near-entity created by the movement of their sounds. Sitting quietly here at my keyboard, more than an hour away from the garden, I can still hear their music.

Every few months, when I am “between audio books,” I re-listen to Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace is Every Breath which brings Life back into my awareness. I’m also reminded each time I sit silently during meeting for worship: it takes practice to notice. When I make paintings, I move easily into noticing. There are other times where noticing (breathing) feels effortless (walking in the woods or on the beach, being in the garden, moments of awe with my daughters). But practice has shown me that anywhere is a place where I can notice (breathe).

At any time, I can stop.