Anne Lamott really pisses me off. In fact, when I saw her Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year in the parenting section a couple years ago at the Harvard COOP, I actually gave the book the finger. Such was my resentment at some writer journaling in public about motherhood, like I could. Or, like I should.
It must be trite, it must be drivel, it must be painfully common. How presumptuous to think she had something unique and fascinating to say about parenting.
The fact that my resentment blossomed and exploded with physical force (the middle finger jammed up at the softcover book) didn’t elude me. I recognize jealousy. I recognize fear: Afraid. Really, really afraid. Here was this dream and someone else was living it and how could I possibly ever do it if other people already are. I only want the path less traveled on; I won’t be a sheep or a lemming.
So it required great bravery on my part last week to pick up the book, purchase it, and open the cover to read. I finished it in 36 hours which says a lot as a parent of a 4 year old.
That weekend as I read, I began feeling rumblings in my body. Discomfort. A loosening of my glue.
I turned to the wisest person I know. I turned to this four year old who has spent her life facing her fears and asked, “Sweetie? There’s something I really, really want to do but I’m scared to do it. But I want to do it, but I’m scared. What should I do? How can I do this thing? How do you do it when you feel this way?”
Very seriously and with several long long seconds of contemplation, she looked at me with those ocean-deep eyes and gave me the answer. “Mommy, I listen to what my body is telling me. I might need to give myself more time with my Mommy first, but when my body tells me I’m ready, I just do it.”
Later that day, lying on my back finishing up the Lamott book I spilled empathetic laughter every few minutes. With my four year old audience demanding it, I read the funniest portions out loud (meatball-like poops rolling away, slapping an infant for fear it wasn’t just sleep overcoming him but rather a seizure). Most items made Maya giggle, too.
Years ago (1996 to be exact), I began writing a weekly column and posting it online. This was before I knew the term “blogging,” and certainly the activity of blogging hadn’t reached the masses. My self-imposed deadlines kicked my ass, really. I took them so seriously. I remember many a Wednesday evening sweating and twisted at the computer screen researching “What in the hell is going on with the Hutu and the Tutsis?” Or simply commenting on my latest self-revelation that I somehow imagined might interest someone.
For the past year, I’ve known an intense magnetic pull bringing me back to writing personal essays. I left them when I became suddenly embarrassed at how self-obsessed I knew I seemed to some.
I’ve found the courage to begin reading these kinds of things again, Anna Quindlen, Barbara Kingsolver, (and of course that beastly and fabulous Anne Lamott), most recently. In their words I’ve found not only camaraderie but also inspiration. Much of why I drink their words with such abandon are the feelings I get of a Shared Experience. As I approach my own writing, I feel a permission to address the day-to-day.
Each essayist has a unique voice and experience, no matter how common the theme. Knowing I can say “what’s already been said” and have it still be new and unique simply because it comes from me frees me from the sheep and lemmings fear. Any path I choose will be less traveled because the path belongs to me.
I’m falling apart from the inside out. I’m unhinged, unglued, and frighteningly free floating. My writing days return like a herd of buffalo. Knowing I seem just fine, perhaps a little tired, but as if I’m a functioning member of our simple world, well, that’s just craziness at it’s strangest. How these feelings can be mauling my insides while I stroll through the pumpkin field with my darling daughter and my dreamy husband? I know it’s all because the writing is coming.
I know it because my body says I’m ready.