As you can see, I didn’t do much blogging this year. I had the realization that I missed my voice, and that’s as far as I got.
In my house growing up, we communicated primarily by writing notes. We wrote notes about matters large (“THINGS ARE GOING TO CHANGE AROUND HERE!”) and small (“Ate the last hot dog”), leaving them on the kitchen table for the recipient to find. My friends and I exchanged notes, and in high school those missives (along with mix tapes) were the most important artifacts of my life. Some carefully crafted, others dashed off quickly in a boring class, and passed hand to hand between bells. My collection still exists in 3-ring binders, and when I see the handwriting of those old friends and lovers I can access some of those feelings again. One friend’s carefree scrawl, and another’s self-consciously stylized, all-caps, lettered only with the finest (.20mm) Micron pen, and folded with origami-discipline. The packaging expressed the person as well as the words themselves.
And the notes were full of song lyrics, because we were so full of song lyrics, and feeeeeeelings, and I can still read all the mundane details of Peggy’s chemistry class or whether she thought we’d win that night’s game, or what a jerk her brother was being. Notes from my girlfriends were different, sometimes written in code, sometimes not, and always with the fear of discovery. I can still recall the visceral dread and mortification of the day one of my notes was found by my girlfriend’s friends in the pocket of her jeans. Full of declarations of my devotion and plainly libidinous, she threw me under the bus to save herself (“She’s in love with me, what can I do?”). Going to school the next morning was one of the hardest things I ever did.
(I wrote my own journal in indecipherable code, because I knew my mom was onto it, and after a few months even I couldn’t make out my own acronyms and allusions.)
Aside from the all-important notes (“you owe me one!”), I also wrote in school. Wrote in history and English classes, wrote for the school paper, and the literary magazine. In college my major was Reading, Writing, and Rhetoric (words, words, words), and later I worked for small papers, continued writing letters until email happened, and then blogged daily for more than a decade. I wrote some terrible short stories, and I wrote in personal journals, which were sometimes discovered and again, nearly life-ruining. I swore off private diaries for a long time.
All of this is to say, I had a lifelong habit of writing. But it was always writing for a purpose. A persuasive purpose. Rhetoric is the art of argument. Journalism, like science, aspires nobly to objectivity but can’t escape or hide its inherent humanity. Everything has an origin, a point of view. I spent years and years writing from my own point of view, saying, look at how I see this! Look at this my way. See me.
And that is powerful. It’s powerful to create a reality and pull people into it. Persuade people of its worthiness or truthiness. There is the desire to connect and illuminate. But there’s also the desire to persuade, and to shape reality. To create reality. To control the narrative. To manipulate.
A year ago, I was asked by my wife to stop writing notes. They were crowding her mental space. She felt I was using words to control and create the narrative of our lives.
This idea took the wind out of me. Was I bullying with words? Was I being manipulative, controlling? I’d never considered this. Isn’t writing my feelings what I do, what’s normal, and isn’t it your partner’s job to read, and listen, and understand? To process you, appreciate you, and believe your version of events?
Maybe not. And then, what was the reality I was trying to create anyway? Was it even a good one? Was it one I wanted, or a story about something else? To prove what point?
And then, I tried to pick up journaling again. But without an audience, and without a point to make, with no one to persuade, what was there? What do I have to say alone, with just myself to listen? What’s my story now?
Well, I don’t know. That’s why I haven’t written shit all year. I’ve been rethinking the power of storymaking, and now I don’t know what to do with it.