Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I am a writer.

In less than forty-eight hours, I will be at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts for the second of four MFA creative writing residencies.  After my first residency this past June, I am feeling a little better about this one, partly because I enjoy familiar environments with familiar people, and partly because I am finally starting to identify as a writer.  A writer who belongs in the company of other writers.  And I guess I kinda like the idea of feeling like I belong in a place that is familiar and comfortable.  I'm pretty sure that that is the very definition of security.

The difference between last June's residency and this upcoming one, of course, revolves around Beckett the wonder dog.  He will be accompanying me on this journey and staying with me at the pet-friendly Marlowe hotel.  I thought about boarding him, but decided against it once I realized it would simply be too long a stretch and we could lose too much ground with a separation of such length.  Then, of course, Beckett's ongoing cough (and resulting lack of vaccinations) finalized my decision by rendering him "un-boardable" - both for his health and safety and the health and safety of the other animals.  And it's ok.  And we will be fine.  And quite frankly, I didn't take too kindly to the suggestion of Beckett's "un-board-ability" -- so the protective (somewhat in denial) petmom in me decided he was too good to be anywhere other than at the center of my world.  And that is where he will be.

But for a pleasantly unexpected change, Beckett is the least of my worries.  In fact, given how dramatically panicked I was about this residency a week ago, I am happy (and surprised) to report that I don't really have many worries.  At least not about the writing part of the thing.  And my lack of worries tends to worry me.  And that, dear friends, is the very definition of anxiety.  I worry about everything.  All the time.  And in the absence of worry, I worry that I am not worried.  Because what if constant worry is what actually keeps all my worries from transforming into realities?

You see where I'm going with this?

The thing about anxiety - my anxiety - is that I tend to joke about it.  A lot.  I find myself ridiculous most of the time, especially when I am frantically Googling symptoms of various terminal illnesses and deciding that I have every one of them ("Hello typhoid.  Won't you come in?" ). And I certainly snicker at the futility of my obsessive money worries -- the way I check my bank account for the sole purpose of convincing myself that I cannot possibly live on my salary and secure my retirement and continue to pursue my MFA and, scariest (but most necessary) of all, switch careers in the middle of my life.

Well, not switch careers as much as return to my original plan. 

Because, you see, I am a writer.  On some level, I have always been a writer.  I have been an academic writer.  A teaching writer.  A closeted writer.  And now, I am just a writer. A writer who isn't writing enough.  A writer who is working in a makeshift career of politics and policies and election campaigns.  A writer who depends on domestic violence - other people's domestic violence - to pay the bills and further distract and exhaust me until I have no energy and no time and no desire to write something meaningful.  Something that could actually touch other human beings.  Or help them.  Or simply engage and entertain them.  And, most of all, something that could compel me to return to it again and again because I simply have to.

And that doesn't feel ok to me anymore.

I've never deluded myself into thinking that I was causing or perpetuating domestic violence simply by working in a field that, on its surface, claims to prevent (or at least attempt to prevent) it.  First of all, I don't have that much power or influence.  What's more, I believe it when I say that abuse of another is a conscious decision the abuser makes, and no amount of law enforcement or human services interventions will stop (or even temporatily dissuade) someone who is dedicated to exerting power and control over another.

Even so, my work is depressing.  It is thankless.  It is daunting.  And I suck at it.  Because in my little piece of the domestic violence puzzle, a "good day" means that a law was passed.  Or a document was promulgated.  Or a power point went off without a hitch.  Nothing but passive language to describe nameless, faceless generalities. When I had more spirit and energy (read: naivete)  for this work, I was able to see the "big picture"  successes and imagine the trickle down effect of federal dollars designed to provide services and safety to abuse victims and their children.  The tear-filled tirades of the justifiably irate women living in shelters often called and asked me (rhetorically, of course) how I could sleep at night with the knowledge that I was living comfortably on a "domestic violence paycheck."  Even though I hated their assumptions about my life ... their assumptions were correct.  And the ability to pay my rent and my college loans and my grocery bills because I was able to write policies about their lives ... well, it felt like shit.  But of course, I never told them that.  It wouldn't have been professional -- pure, uncensored honesty rarely is.

When I look at the efforts and the positive changes happening around domestic violence these days, I am encouraged.  Many people care.  Many people try and work and fight for justice and human rights.  Many people take positive action and make positive change and spend millions of dollars to do what seems like the right thing.  Or at least the right thing, right now.  And as wonderful as this is, it isn't enough.  Not for me.  Not anymore.  For many years, I have convinced myself that THIS was practical work.  Stable money.  Job security.  And so much more admirable and "grown up" and focused than a writing career.  Even as a writer of memoir, I led myself to believe that writing was nothing more than a release from reality and an escape into the unachievable fantasy of doing whatever I wanted, in my voice, on my terms, with my words.

And then I met an abuser who hurt someone close to me and shook the foundation of everything I thought I knew.  Whose actions exposed the futility of every helpful effort I thought I was making day after day.  And I realized that the only way to make any of my knowledge and work mean anything at all was to step out of this politicized world, perhaps not right away, and perhaps not completely, but to inch my way out one footfall at a time and speak for myself.  Certainly, it would be arrogant not to acknowledge all I have learned in my work. But I can no longer sit in meetings and on conference calls and allow research and faceless data and nameless statistics tell a generic story.Writing is about shedding the euphamisms and stripping away the metaphor and simply telling the truth.  As I see it.  Recall it.  Experienced it.  Live it.

So as I pack 9 days worth of clothing and workout gear and Beckett-related essentials, I am thinking about my next chapter.  Knowing that the words landing on the pages will fall from my fingers and fit into one another in my voice eases the anxiety a bit.  Because in spite of all the unknowns - Will the hotel be alright?  Will I find foods I can tolerate for 9 days?  Will travelling with Beckett officially break my malleable barrier between sanity and insanity?  Will I forget anything essential in my frenzied packing ritual? -- I know one thing:  I am a writer.  And when I finally get to where I am going, I will be able to look around me and confidently declare: "I belong here."


  1. I'm so proud for you. Good luck! Hopefully I'll get to hear all about how it went at East Line soon?

  2. Thank you so much Nicole! YES!! I plan on taking the next 6-week class and I have to contact Robyn to see when it will be. So I hope this means you will be there, too? And Sharon, I hope! I just got an email from her and will respond too. I let the puppy adoption consume me for a few weeks and haven't been good about writing and yoga classes, but I realize that if I wait for life to "settle down" before I get back to the business of living my life ... well ... I will never get back to the business of living my life! I hope your holidats were great! And I am jonesing (is that actually a word?) for the next chapter of your book, too. I hope the writing is going well. I think you have a best seller (or two) in the works!

  3. I just read my above comment and had the following reaction:

    My oh my but I do love me some exclamation points now, don't I?

  4. I'm happy that you're chasing your dream! I'm sure working where you work much be pretty awful. I felt that way at ACS when I worked for the Child Support Helpline. I felt I was more of a part of the problem than the solution. It felt horrible.

  5. PS: We use the same blog template. I just don't use the background;)

  6. Thanks so much for the comments Wendy! I think you hit the nail on the head when you said it feels "more a part of a problem than the solution." It occurred to me recently that I am not only ignoring my own dreams, but I am doing so for the purpose of doing work I don't really believe in anymore -- I believe in the fight against domestic violence more than ever, but I don't feel a part of that fight and often feel like I am on the wrong side of the conference room table. I'm hoping my book will speak to people in a way my power points and training modules simply can't.

    I like this blog template, how about you? I am still learning the ins and outs of blogging. I do want to just kind of go with the flow and not stress about design much, but I know people are having trouble commenting on things so I am trying to learn some of the basics beyond just the writing and posting -- I find this one pretty user friendly though.

  7. I love this layout. Then again, I've changed my blog layout at least three times since I started it at the end of November.


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