why we write
I am in misery. It’s a Maroon 5 lyric and it is on internal repeat. For good reason.
Lots of reasons, but the reasons aren’t the reason I’m writing. I’m writing because this is the reason we write: so that we are not alone. So that we help each other along the way. So that somewhere some woman hears my music and it helps her through her day.
That’s a manifesta. That’s why we sing, we dance, we paint, we drum, we photograph, we tell stories, we create. We’re trying to wrestle pain that is amoebic and specific into universal cylinders. We shape. We interpret. We pour our hearts into each other.
That’s why I write, and write personal.
And because my apparent transparency is a mirage. I might get naked in text and but in life I wear a puffy parka. There’s a line from Titanic – I’m not ashamed to say I loved that movie and Kate Winslet’s sumptuous naked breasts – that says “a woman’s heart is a deep ocean of secrets”. Mine, unfortunately, is a labyrinth and I get locked in the maze. There’s always a minotaur.
I’m sure I’m not the only one. It is a function of storytelling, so it is no wonder that storytellers get trapped. We get enmeshed in our own web, a sticky internal monologue of failure. From the outside, people see us and think ‘amazing! accomplished!”. But they’re not privy to the false starts and mistakes. They don’t know that the visible accomplishment is a function of six million invisible fuck-ups.
But I do. And you do. And so, despite evidence of success, we continue with the internal monologue of failure. For every loving relationship, there are secret stories of harm and foul. For every win, there are dozens of losses. For every smile there are wells of tears.
And so that’s why yesterday morning – after weeks and weeks of doctor’s appointments, blood tests and ultrasounds (I’m ok, don’t worry), after two years of failed affair after failed affair, after a summer short on work but longer than my cash reserves – I cracked open. I bawled. I tallied it all up and realized that I’m consistently good at only two things: writing and mothering.
But I suspected – knew – that to make my life the capacious, generous space that I desire, to be able to contribute to my family, my community and the world, I need to have a few more things in order than that.
And that laid me low. It wasn’t new. I’ve been there for a while. But yesterday morning it struck me that my heart is broken. I’m raw, I’m cracked, I’m fragile, I feel everything and most of all I’m feeling loss. I answer the phone and unexpectedly break into tears. I can’t predict when that will happen, but it is happening a lot.
This, I think, is good news.
When your heart is broken, you find yourself inhabiting a different planet than the rest of humanity, one where tears erupt at the slightest provocation, hours (and hours) can be spent on fantasies of revenge, reprieve, and regret, and every single thing that happens in the course of an ordinary day becomes either a good omen or an awful one in your quest to heal your heart. Waking and sleeping, heartbreak becomes your whole world. Sorrow (your own or others’) pierces you to the core. Joy (your own or others’) does as well. You are keenly attuned to the presence or absence of love. Things that used to trouble you are revealed as inconsequential. Any certainty you had about the future is gone and you have to let go of the past.
Welcome to the world of poets, adventurers, sages, and saints. According to wisdom tradition, this is how they see the world all the time. Every moment is alive with meaning. 100% of their focus is on love. The conventional world holds no flavor and there is only the present moment. This is your world now. It has a lot to teach you.
With much the same wisdom and care, my friend Julie tells me , “Accept it. Go to bed and watch Sex and The City. Cry.”
And my inner Type-A responds, “I don’t have time for a nervous breakdown! I’m househunting, moving, I need to ramp up my business, I might have to have surgery…I need to do more.”
Yes, I know. That’s resistance talking. It’s also practicality. Life doesn’t slow down and wait for me to be ready to cope with it.
Last year a co-worker lost her husband. He was at hockey practice and had a heart attack. He was 36. Their children were five and three – the same age as mine. We all assumed that she wouldn’t return after her bereavement leave.
She did. She returned to work because she has a family to support. She had bills to pay and so she came to work where she couldn’t sit at her desk and cry all day.
And this is life. Life is mercilessly practical. It goes on even when we think we can’t.
The sun comes up, the sun goes down, it rains, it thunders.
And sometimes someone lights up the sky for us.
Like last night. There was an incredible lightning storm. I had just tucked the girls in, and I thought they’d be frightened. They weren’t. Sophie opened her blinds so she could lie in bed and watch it.
Still, I ended up with a bed full of babies. Sophie, her baby doll (Lucy), Lola and her baby doll (Toothless), and me.
And as I lay with a six year old snoring in my armpit, a four year old heavily asleep on my chest and the unforgiving Toothless wedged under my hip, I was suddenly grateful. Being a good mama is a privilege and an accomplishment. Being able to love and be loved by my daughters is a gift.
And, I thought, I can write about this tomorrow.