Writing

Hereinafter follow three indisputable facts about my friend The Theriomorph, and a conclusion drawn therefrom, and I hope Tmorph will forgive me for putting her to work in this parable.

Indisputable fact number one: not long ago, The Theriomorph wrote the following about her blog-reading preferences:

the real diary blogs (which I don’t ever, ever read, since I would rather rip out my own eyelashes one at a time with tweezers)

Indisputable fact number two: The Theriomorph reads this blog on a reasonably frequent basis.

Indisputable fact number three: Vermont white-tailed deer wish they had eyelashes like these, the kind that spur chaotic fractal storms in the tropics with a mere New England blink, and which manifestly have not been ripped out one at a time with tweezers.

We may thus draw the conclusion that this blog, which The Theriomorph reads with no damage to her eyelashes save perhaps that incurred when my writing puts her to sleep face down on the keyboard, must therefore not be a diary blog.

And that conclusion would be a correct one.

I can certainly understand how one might come to the opposite conclusion, of course. I am a self-involved kinda guy. That self-involvement has two main effects relative to what kinda blog this is:

1) I write a lot about my life, my self, the impact of my self on my life and vice versa, and what further effects those reciprocal impacts may have on me from my perspective, at least as far as I see things, and;

2) I sometimes forget that people don’t know what I’m not writing about here.

So let me say, formally and with kindness as my sole intent: There is a lot I do not write about here.

Some of the stuff I don’t write about is just boring. Some is stuff about which I have not yet worked out what I want to say, if anything.

And some of the stuff I don’t write about is neither mine to write nor yours to read.

Again, though that last may sound abrupt, kindness is my sole intent here. The boundaries are blurry, I know. With some of the stories I have written here about my family, I have made the stark decision that telling the story is more important than sparing my family members discomfort. Any writer who mines biography for material comes up against this sooner or later. Even when the story involves events that are relatively unloaded, the Rashomon effect is often relevant. The boundary between public and private is a fluid one, and the disputes over where it ought to be make that whole Janmu-Kashmir thing look like kids squabbling over back seat territory in the station wagon. About that last of which I have a story I am saving until my siblings are dead.

Still, much of the material I have posted here is intensely personal. I tend to relate only that material that is internal to me, that does not intrude on anyone else’s privacy. If the material involves other people — if it is not, for instance, melodramatic moping about how much I miss my dog — said material usually concerns events that have lost their sting with the passage of time. On occasion I have wilfully violated the privacy of those of my friends who are dead, though I do largely hew to the de mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum est rule. Or I use first names of people I haven’t spoken to in twenty years. Or I give them misleading initials and move them to Riverside. Or I refer to them vaguely and by category alone: “A woman I used to have a crush on.” “A former classmate.” “Some people who were my parents back in the 1970s.” OK, that last one doesn’t work.

I would remind counsel that absence of evidence — this is supposedly a science-oriented blog, after all — is not evidence of absence. I write about missing Zeke because 1) I miss Zeke, 2) he is dead and even if he wasn’t I wouldn’t be hurting his feelings writing about him here except in that I would be not walking him while writing, 3) my describing his shitting on the rug lowers him in the estimation of no one worth considering. I do miss Zeke terribly, and it hurts like hell, and I think I’m gonna take kathy up on her “borrowing Buddy and Cora” offer. But missing Zeke is not the worst thing in my life right now. It’s just the worst thing in my life I have shared — can share — want to share — on this blog.

That works with the parts of my life that do whatever the opposite of hurting is, as well. Most of it won’t show up here. Just the stories that are mine to tell.

Again, I recognize the boundaries are likely quite blurry from the reader’s perspective. I have written about seeing pshrinks. I have written about my Wellbutrin habit. There’s some pretty personal stuff in the archives here. And the boundaries among the readers here are blurry from my perspective, as well. Among you are real-time friends of decades’ standing, total strangers, friends I have never met in real-time but love devoutly, nieces biological and adopted, antagonists, lurkers, friends of friends I went hiking with 20 years ago. A few of you know everything that’s going on in my life, or at least as much as I do. (One of you probably knows more about what’s going on in my life than I do.) Some of you know only what I put here. It’s impossible to make any kind of generalization about CRN readers, excepting the one about having internet access.

Yes, I do have a point. Be patient.

My intent here, believe it or not, is not to tell total strangers about my life. (Remember? The Theriomorph’s eyelashes are abundant, not scarce, and this is therefore not a diary blog.) My intent is to write. Because the last filter a story has to make it through, after the “interesting” and “appropriate” and “not completely none of the readers’ business” tests, is the writing worthiness test. Do I have something to say about this? Can I write this in a way worth reading even for those readers who don’t care about Chris?

Because hell, even with the missing Zeke thing, if it was just about catharsis, just about recounting the events of the day, there would be a lot more lugubrious posting about my dead dog here, ten old photos a day, videos of Zeke with Cançao Verdes Años as the soundtrack:

And yes. I have been feeling hopeless of late, fairly often. I have also had moments of blinding happiness and mild satisfaction and abstracted boredom, but the hopelessness is there. And I have damn well earned it. I lost Zeke, I left a job in order to lose Zeke at which I failed to accomplish most of the long-term goals I set (and am now watching my modest accomplishments being rolled back), and what do I take on as an avocation in the meantime? Finishing a book that is an in-depth profile of a passionate love and vegetative mentor that will probably be extinct in the wild in a hundred years. And that’s just the stuff I can talk about.

Being hopeless for a couple hours a day is a healthy response to that kind of stuff, folks.

We all have our own internal responses to despair, and one of mine is to write about it.

And we all have varying external responses to despair, too. You see a person you care about — decades’-long friend, online pal, writer whose work you enjoy or just a random Donne-style non-island man — talking about being hopeless, and a natural, healthy response is to check in. A lot of folks have done that, and I am touched. And different degrees of presumption are appropriate for different levels of intimacy. If you and I have ever talked outside of the comment threads here — in email, chat, on the phone, face to face — what follows is not really addressed to you. And if it is addressed to you, remember: it is intended in kindness.

It is not your job to fix my life.

Anything I write is fair game for discussion in comments. I put it up there, it’s only fair to expect you’ll have something to say. And I understand the urge to fix things that seem to need fixing. But if you try to extend the discussion to parts of my life that are off limits, I won’t be able to answer. And people will draw conclusions from my not answering that are probably wrong and certainly none of their business, so please just don’t.

And if I do not know who you are, and you have never commented on the blog, and I receive a message from you in which — out of kindness and concern, which I do appreciate — you instruct me to make a doctor’s appointment and start taking drugs, like the more-than-a-dozen such I’ve received in the last 48 hours? Not only is that manifestly not helpful, but it shows, given my writing about pshrinks and Wellbutrin, that you don’t know me well enough to be issuing such instructions. Which means you have removed yourself from the “helping Chris” context and placed yourself in the “first, do no harm” context, and not favorably so.

Besides, there are in fact concrete things you could be doing that would help me deal with the periods of hopelessness if that’s your goal, and yes, I am just crass enough to say that one of them involves my Amazon Tip Jar, because one of the things contributing to said hopeless feeling is the [income]-[expenses]=[negative number] issue. But there’s an even easier way:

Comment on the blog. Take part in the discussions. Tell a story of your own. Tell a joke. Best Rob G at horrible puns. Go off-topic and ask advice about car repair or Cambodian food. You know? Whatever you like, as long as it’s kind. The commenting community here is among the brilliant and good and wise and healthy aspects of my life, and I’d love to have you join in.

And if you still feel the urge to give me medical advice, go here. Read the whole series. I lost a whole family, a whole future, I lost my pregnant lover in a traffic accident and couldn’t even talk about it to anyone for seven years, and I survived it scoured and annealed and arguably better for the experience, and this without any perspective or sense of myself, and — most importantly — without the ability to try to turn it all into some halting form of art, as I do here. All I had back then was inertia.

I am not afraid of what I’m feeling now. Don’t you be.

24 thoughts on “Writing

  1. jason

    Cool.  Now we can talk about farm animals and mustard.  Some more, I mean, as I’m wont to discuss such topics from time to time.

    Okay, kidding aside, Chris, I hear you.  Expressed well as always.

    Zeke should never be far from your heart, although I’ve learned that living eventually diminishes the daily pain so the joy bubbles to the surface more often.  Still, it’s there and it hurts, but it grows less fierce…mostly.

    Oh, and my new fetish?  Farm animals and ketchup.  How cool is that?  Think of the color combinations!

  2. Theriomorph

    About the eyelashes: you, sir, are a crackpot.

    [Also, I feel I should mention, the eyelashes have a context. It is a foul-mouthed context involving extreme usage of New York Speak (be warned, it is a one-word-lingo practiced, in this case, by my recently-ex-New Yorker sister and moi), family genetics, an examination of the Patriarchy, and childhood photographs of my brother in safety goggles (since his eyelashes make everyone else’s look bad), but it is a context nonetheless. You know, not just diary about eyelashes. It has MEANING, man.]

    Which brings me to my point: good craft supercedes both emotional goo and the need to pass out facedown on the keyboard (a thing which does, in fact, tangle the eyelashes, but which CRN has not once made me do).

    (In fact, Chris, I really need some sleep, so if you’d like to just get solipsistic and untalented for a week or so, that would be great. Thanks.)

    Okay, seriously.

    Blogs can be tricky in this arena. We read a book or journal, we don’t presume that a) the author is necessarily writing autobiography, or b) that we have the right or the intimacy to tell them what to do about it. (Unless they are evidently a woman writer, in which case, many people presume both.)

    On blogs, we develop actual relationships with the bloggers sometimes, ranging from epistolary friendships via the blog alone to fully dimensionalized relationships, which makes the commenting issue more complex. But you know, if someone’s hitting the ‘publish’ button on a well-crafted piece of work, I figure my ‘right’ is to respond to the well-crafted piece of work. That may include personal response, but the writing comes first, out of respect for the writer and the work they put into the craft of the piece.

    Their eyelashes come second.

    If at all.

    If there isn’t a relationship to support and justify such entanglement of dust-screens, I’m just getting all up in their face, uninvited.

    There’s also the whole projection thing, which gets more wildly out of hand on the internet than anywhere else I’ve ever hung out. People invest hugely in their projected fantasy about the blogger, the blogger’s life, the blogger’s marriage/partnership/dating habits/sex life, the blogger’s job, the blogger’s blog – and then get IRATE and INJURED when the blogger fails to conform to their fantasy in some way. It is deranged, even when it is not particularly malicious. The internet facilitates this irritating-in-any-context dynamic in a big way.

    So, I love this post, Chris.

    Right on for writing it.

    Many of us rant about this off blog, but few of us write about it on blog.

    Very glad you did.

  3. Baskaborr

    As a long time lurker, a couple of years now, I shall take your advice and participate in the discussion here. I have enjoyed your writing even when it made me cry. Please keep writing, I’m sure there many like me who haven’t ever commented but who would miss you if you stopped blogging.

    Wishing you peace
    Baskaborr

  4. Chris Clarke

    Welcome, Baskaborr!

    And Mr. Killus, sir, that man-on-pshrink joke was, um, yeah.

    I think the “when all you have is a hamburger, everything looks like a nail” aphorism was first written as ad copy for Heinz’s rejected “Maslowest Ketchup in The West” campaign.

  5. kabbage

    I read more often than I comment because I take too long to write something that sounds worthy of the post.  Perhaps if you would write drivel like I do, I could comment more often.

    Even now I think I should write something more intense, more thoughtful, more soulful about your post.  Instead, I’m going to let it go and just send this sucker off.

    That way you will know I read you, even if 18 months of (income -expenses) < 0 leaves me in the non-tipping segment.

    Maybe I should sign this drivel Sauerkraut instead of kabbage?

  6. Chris Clarke

    kabbage, after you found Zeke the butt leash that helped him walk on bad days, you could repost Rod McKuen’s worst poetry here and I’d be happy to see your name in the thread.

  7. Rob G

    I camembert a time when I gouda been a contender in this thread, but I emmentaly too feeble to partake.

  8. Rachel Shaw

    Oh, man.  I cannot brie-th.

    I really appreciate this post.  It seems that one of the best things about blogging is the way it allows one to explore that personal-public space, a place where you can be emotionally open and vulnerable -but also in control.

    I know that when I started blogging, it was very much about needing a place where I could experience catharsis, and, more to the point, public, shared catharsis.  Writing the same things over and over in the privacy of my journal was feeling like a rat on a treadmill, and I was feeling self-conscious about inflicting my pain on people near to me over and over.  So… blogging.  There you get the public feedback that can break up the loop, and also the possibility that something more can come from the sharing of personal pains and joys -that one’s life can speak to others, and inspire writing that’s worth doing.

    But, yeah, the boundary between the blogger-as-persona and blogger-as-person can get a little thin, and it’s not always clear to the audience who is speaking, and how to speak to and about the person behind the voice (or the person behind the persona behind the voice).  I’ve found it rather nice lately being able to interact online as ME (rather than as Rana) in another venue; if nothing else, it refocuses the intentions of the blog toward the writing, and less towards the diary-in-public thing.

    I love your writing -as if you don’t know this already -and, yes, I also enjoy the bad puns and silly interplays.  :)

    I hope that wasn’t too cheesy…

  9. Fred Levitan

    Chris -I hope well-meaning advice on my part that you, do indeed, follow through with plans to visit the desert is not taken as ill-considered meddling.  No, it’s pure, outright jealousy.  PLEASE live vicariously for me!  Thanks.

  10. Charles

    What am I feeling now, you ask?  I know I’m spoiling the vibe but our beautiful shepherd dog Coalie was just this afternoon diagnosed with prostate cancer.  Apparently it’s basically always terminal in dogs.  So whatever positives you can send our way we would really appreciate.

  11. Rob G

    You’re spoiling nothing, Charles. You’re directing us to the truly important. Best wishes to you and Coalie.

  12. Charles

    Thanks, everyone.  I really appreciate it.  The vet is doing a biopsy, maybe it will come back negative.  But something is really wrong: there’s a gigantic tumor in there that the vet could feel and he has that “please help me” look in his eyes.

  13. kathy a

    charles, that’s really hard.  your poor pup.  we recently lost our senior cat.  a gigantic tumor is not good, however a biopsy turns out.  many thoughts and wishes for comfort, to you and coalie.

  14. kabbage

    Thinking of Charles and Coalie and their family.  it’s   just   hard.

    Chris, I want you to love me for my words as well as my links!  And I will hold back from searching for Rod McKuen poetry, although I’m curious what “awful Rod McKuen poetry” would yield in Google.