Resolve and Reach
Though it’s been years since I’ve made any resolution seriously I’m making one now largely because it’s been gnawing away at me for awhile, and announcing it like this might strengthen my resolve. A couple years ago one of my mentors in the MFA program pointed out that I’d been hiding behind my writing to avoid writing. We were discussing the most recent packet of work I’d sent her and she something like “You know what I think? I think you’re writing this stuff to avoid what you really need to write.” Scenes from old movies came to mind, where characters would be in some desperate situation, trapped in a burning building or hiding from a psycho. There was always one who’d be running in frantic circles, shrieking, on the edge of hysteria (almost always a woman, who’d fall and break a heel in the process) when someone finally smacks her so she’ll calm down and think clearly. With that statement I knew Emily wasn’t going to let me get away with anything, and that though I sometimes like to think I’m elusive and mysterious, she somehow really knew me and exactly what I needed; if I stayed open to her feedback and didn’t take things as personally as I usually did, she was going to really help me.
She was right. I hadn’t realized what I was doing then, and sometimes still don’t see it. Then I’d work hard at perfecting a scene, focus on description or delve into other characters and their motivations. The problem wasn’t so much what I was writing, it was what I left out. I wasn’t sure where the real story was, but she helped me figure that out by showing me how I was avoiding the real work: probing my own psyche, questioning my own feelings and motivations. Good writing requires plunging into the deep, and digging deep enough to uncover the real story requires fearless examination of what you find there. I wasn’t getting to the soul of the story because in focusing on crafting the words into vivid description I’d effectively kept myself from looking for it. I’ve since made some progress, and the characters have changed and setting have changed, but this part of my story has remained the same to a degree.
At the orientation for my cohort the program director said to us before closing, “This program is going to change your lives.” I might have said it, but definitely remember thinking Thank God – can we get started with that? Sitting in a room full of writers all beginning our journeys I had the feeling I’d finally met My People. I wanted desperately to connect with others, and was sure it would happen there, if anywhere.
Though I can strike up conversations with complete strangers and get along with most people I meet, it stops there. I mix with people in probably any social group, at any socio-economic level, and am comfortable among rich or poor, white and blue collar, liberal and conservative, one religion to the next, meeting tons of people everywhere, getting along with most. I could probably have a party and invite all of these people, float freely between their clusters making sure everyone is comfortable, enjoying themselves, and make it work. But this is both a benefit and a downfall. I get the variety pack, the sampler platter, but never really, truly get to know them. I do well breaking into conversation with others whenever we meet, but have never been good at progressing to a deeper level. Bus loads of people and I are stuck in a sort of relationship purgatory: we’re more than acquaintances, may even know some deep shit about each other, but don’t call, write, or get together. We don’t investigate that deep shit, just leave it sitting there between us, like cold pizza we’re too full to eat. I’m perpetually late for departure and watching busses full of friends drive off as I stand there stuck at the port for Friendship, ready to go but unsure how to get there. It bothers me to know there are people I could surely really connect with, but when I get to the point when we either keep talking and connect or back off and maintain friendly distance, I choke.
I listened to the readings and read the work of the others at residency and focused on how alike we were. I loosened up and confessed to one that I felt like a mere wannabe writer who doesn’t belong. “They’re going to figure out I’m a fraud, politely thank me for my interest, then dismiss me.” He nodded as I said this. “Any half-way decent writer has a fair amount of self-loathing,” he said lightly, adding that he was still wracked with doubt sometimes. Before moving on to say hi to someone else he put a hand on my shoulder, smiled and said, “This is the right place. You do belong here, and you’ll fit right in.” I wanted to believe him, and worked at it until I did. Steve had been right – things were already starting to change.
I still have to work at it though. This past year I’ve read some blog posts and essays about women and friendship…and sat silently, coveting the honesty and intimacy those women share, the type of strength and bond unique to girlfriends. The few girlfriends I have live across the country, and we remain close, but not being near enough to get together leaves a void I feel frequently, and sometimes I’d give anything to spend a few hours at a café with them. Those friendship would have even stronger bonds were it not for my tendency to withdraw when I’m not feeling or doing well and don’t want to complain, despite sometimes needing to. Some people back off swiftly when conversation is anything less than cheery distraction. My girlfriends are supportive and understanding, but I often hold back, worried. Unsure.
That doubt and insecurity have also kept me from reaching out to other women, even as I’ve read about their friendships and thought about people I’d like to know better, “Facebook friends” that could be developed into meaningful friendships. But for the insecurity. I start to write an email, but an image comes to mind bringing my intentions to a halt: a piece of notebook paper folded several times into a tiny square or some cute little shape, the message inside simple: Will you be my friend? Circle one please, “yes” or “no.” Jesus. I’m like an awkward little kid. I don’t want to look like that desperate little kid. I tell myself I’ll write it or finish it later.
I’ve also started many emails or letters (even comments for blog posts, for God’s sake!) to writers whose work has deeply resonated with me. I’ve actually got half-written letters to a few people that sit unfinished while I worry about sounding stupid, unimpressive, or just bothersome. I begin writing a post in a flurry of ideas or emotion but then I hesitate, unsure. I need to take a break and come back to edit it. I want to wait and reread it after an appointment. More than once while I hesitated someone else with the same or a similar idea has published something like what I was writing, or said it the way I wanted to, leaving me throwing my hands up with big drama. Well, hell! I can’t do it now. Someone else just did, and now I’d look like a loser trying to imitate their idea. Hesitation. Indecision. Vacillation. All the opposite of “resolve.”
In the mean time, life has gone on, others have written (and actually sent) letters, others have read them, friendships have been nurtured, all while I’ve sat on my ass, biting my cuticles and cowing down to big, bad Insecurity.
Well, screw that. I can just get over it or I can sit here wallowing in it, but I’m damn tired of letting it stop me. It is 2013. And this year I’m going to be busy. I’ve got letters to write (and send), and blog posts to get up and old friends to whom I owe more than I’ve been giving, and new friendships to nurture. Thus my resolution: resolve and reach. To stop vacillating between determination and insecurity, and to reach out and reach for.