Saturday, January 26, 2013

Cowboy Christie Is Coming

The first time it happened was in a dark nightclub. I went to hug a female friend, someone I know fairly casually "in real life" but am connected to on Facebook. There by the edge of the dancefloor, as the shifting-color laser lights etched spin-art patterns onto the parquet, she embraced me genuinely and said over the loud music, "This is probably not the place to tell you this, but your blog has helped me so freaking much." Something in her tone let me know she wasn't just saying that to be nice. Something in her tone let me know she could have said a lot more, maybe under different circumstances. 

It was a tiny shock to me -- up until then, I'd pretty much assumed that I was writing this blog for myself, that no one else wanted to wade through the incorrigibly byzantine, semicolon-studded, frequently wannabe-Didion-esque sentences and dense blocks of text; the unrelenting bleakness; the, you know, not actually accomplishing my stated goals. I reckoned I was writing the least inspiring self-help blog in the world. "Hey hey, I have a reader," I thought after that night at the club.  

The next time it was a Facebook comment, after I'd shared a then-new blog post, in which another female pal playfully told me she was "jealous" and wished that she could write like I do. Within hours of first reading my blog, she had started her own (exquisitely well-written) blog, and thanked me by name in an introductory note at the top. She wrote that I had given her a much-needed nudge to be brave and start sharing her writing on the Internet. She wrote: "Christie Chapman, you've created a monster."

And then last Monday, a holiday that most people I know had off from work, it happened twice. Two more female friends. In the afternoon I went for a stroll through the Kunzang Palyul Chöling Buddhist Peace Park in Poolesville, Maryland, with a friend whom I've long admired. Soon after I got to "Facebook-know" her, having run into her briefly at clubs and been introduced through mutual friends, I thought, "This chick is one of the most 'together,' enlightened-seeming people I have ever known!" Her posts were wry and obstinately free-thinking. She seemed to emanate rare inner strength and clarity of thought.

So I felt enormously gratified when, on Monday as I followed slightly behind her on the muddy trails of the peace park that she knew better than I did, she told me that she liked my blog. Again, it didn't come off like just some nice, polite thing you say to fill in the silence -- it sounded deliberate, as if she'd been meaning to tell me that. 

Meanwhile I struggled with the same old self-doubts that hold me back when I want to say something admiring to someone but worry it'll come out awkward. For much of our time together at the park, as pleasant as it was to walk with her there in that calm place in the winter sun, I worried about disillusioning her -- I worried, as weird as it sounds, that I was not living up to her image of the person who writes this blog. Instead of reciprocating there in person and telling her how inspiring (in a non-corny way) I've always found her to be, I hesitated too much and mentally fumbled with how to word it, and then finally just told her later in a Facebook message instead.  

That evening I talked on the phone and then in person at an IHOP, over variously fruit-themed pancakes, with another friend I admire, a pal with depth and spunk who doesn't truck with phoniness. She, too, was getting something from this blog -- it seemed that something about it made her want to talk with me, made her feel that she could talk with me, about anything, and that I would understand and might even have something insightful to say. I was moved and humbled by the nice things she said about my writing, on here and in a few other places. Referring to these posts as well as my penchant for cringe-inducing openness on Facebook, she said she'd once cited me as a "superhero," in a Facebook message to another female pal of ours, for my being so publicly honest. 

Once again, though, while we were together in person I worried that I was failing her in some subtle way. Sitting there across from her at IHOP, listening to the brave and sometimes discouraging stories about how her life is going these days, I could feel myself trying to morph into the person I figured she hoped I would be. My attempts to convey the air of some sort of secular oracle were awkward and unconvincing. In a well-meaning effort to let her know she could tell me anything and never feel like I would judge her, I blurted out references to some out-there misadventures I've had in the relationship/guys realm that weren't even at all related to anything she had been talking about. ("So yeah, I can e-mail you the links to those two stories I wrote about this S&M guy I was fascinated with briefly..." "Oh, you saw the link to the liquid-latex photo shoot? Yeah, I have other albums on that Flickr account...") You'd think I was doing PR for my sins or something. (And is my linking to these "scandalous" things here just my doing even more PR for my sins?)    

Nevertheless, driving home from the IHOP closest to where she lives, on dark streets mostly devoid of other cars on a worknight, I had the strange sensation of actually mattering, of actually making some sort of impact, in a meaningful way, in a few people's lives. Of somehow providing them with something they weren't getting anywhere else, at least not in quite the same way. 

I don't think "flattered" is exactly the word for how I felt, because that makes me think of inflated egos. OK, so there was some of that going on. But there was a deeper, humbler sense of... I guess "fulfillment" is the word that comes closest. A part of me felt justified for the ostensibly flawed way in which I live my life. 

A friend I was once very close to has been telling me for years now that I can't possibly help anyone else in my current state, or until I had "helped myself." (He would say, "What do you want to do in life?" and I would say, "Write," and he would say, "Why?" And I would tell him that I hoped to be able to help people, even if just in some small way.) He wasn't expecting me to be perfect, he says. But I disagree with this notion that's out there and maintains that in order to help people you need to be some kind of saint, some kind of "together" person who never drinks too much out of insecurity or a longing for heightened experience, who never has a dull day at work because her job is exactly what she's always wanted, someone with no issues or problems in her personal life, who floats through life on a cloud of bliss, bestowing upon everyone she meets sagely advice and a beatific smile. I have to tell you, if I met someone floating along on a cloud of bliss, giving me sagely advice and a beatific smile, I would probably want to punch her.

I told him recently on the phone about the nice things my female friends have been telling me about this blog, and he was quick to point out what he interprets as the "lies," the "bullshit," that he thinks I propagate, on here and in other places. He mainly refuses to believe that I could be as happy with my boyfriend as I, well, honestly am. He seems to think that I cherry-pick certain things to be open about -- things that are just on the edge of socially acceptable among my peer group, but still decidedly in the acceptable realm -- and then I whitewash over the truly dark or ugly or unflattering stuff. 

He might be right, to some extent, about that last part -- I mean, there are some private things that will never make it onto this blog, at the risk of sounding un-superhero. That's not because I'm trying to craft and micro-manage my image here, in some "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain way." I only won't share something bad if I think it will embarrass my boyfriend (I try to avoid even typing his name on here) or someone else. However, I'm being honest when I say that I'm happy with my boyfriend, I love him, he's done more for my well-being than any other guy ever has, and I want to share the rest of my life with him. 

If I had started this blog, say, four years ago -- believe me, you would have read about some seriously flawed people and relationships. Hell, most of the stories on my fiction site are full of it. (See the above link to the S&M stories, which are based on a real guy I knew.) 

But back to my point, about how my friends' kind words regarding this digging-out-of-a-hole endeavor have moved me -- I felt fulfilled, like, "Hey, if I died tomorrow, I would have done something with my tiny little time on this planet." And I felt a responsibility (like how Spider-Man tells us that with great power comes great responsibility, not that I put on a costume and fight crime... at least not the fight-crime part) to keep it up, to not let people down -- this batch of friends who spoke up plus, who knows, maybe another anonymous reader or two out there (hello, if it's you!). 

The weird thing is, until my friend told me that night at the club that my blog had helped her "so freaking much," I was just about ready to scrap this blog, to relegate it to the Land of Broken Promises (and Defunct Blogs), ready to copy-and-paste the long posts into a Word document or Gmail draft for later reflection and just delete the whole thing from the Internet (well, as much as you can ever really delete anything from the big bad Internet). After that nightclub revelation, I resolved to at least keep posting. 

Then after two friends in a row told me pretty much the same thing on a Monday, I made up my mind to never just phone it in; to never lunge for the easy conclusion; to never give you the pretty, Instagram version of my life or rely on flowery, English-teacher-pleasing prose to trick people into thinking they're reading something better or more meaningful than it actually is. I try to approach writing for this blog the way Hemingway said he approached writing literature: "All you do is sit at a typewriter and bleed." Except I don't have a typewriter, because what do you think I am, some sort of goddamn hipster?

That means, among other things, telling you that I'm nowhere near figuring out what to do about the part of all this in which I feel that I don't measure up in person, that people who read this blog expect someone witty and wise, someone who spits out vocabulary words rat-a-tat-tat, who expresses deep thoughts with some semblance of fluidity, or at least coherence. I mean, I tell you all over the place on here that I'm shy, that I have crippling social anxiety. And yet still, I sense friends' disappointment upon being confronted with the jarring disparity between my online persona and my real-life personality. 

It feels as if there's a clear-plastic barrier that separates me from other people in real life. (This only isn't the case with people I'm extremely comfortable around: my immediate family, my boyfriend, just a handful of old or close friends.) Through the clear-plastic barrier, other people and I can technically see and hear one another -- but it's all hazy and muffled, and nothing really comes out right. There's a lack of warmth, a lack of connection, that somehow feels like a rip-off to people, because some of them do get that warmth and sense of connection from me online. 

I explained it to one friend like this: You know that scene in the movie "Parenthood" when the kid's having a birthday party, and all the kids are excited because his parents hired Cowboy Dan to entertain them at the party -- and then the parents get a call from Cowboy Dan's agency saying the beloved balloon-twisting ersatz cowpoke isn't coming, so the kid loses his shit because Cowboy Dan isn't coming? Well, I feel as if I go through life showing up at places where everyone is expecting Cowboy Dan, and I have to inform them that I'm sorry, but Cowboy Dan isn't coming... it's just me instead, wearing chaps I made out of a cut-up bathroom mat. 

And yet (oh god, am I really going to continue with the "Parenthood" metaphor? yep, folks), in the end Cowboy Gil, the impromptu character Steve Martin makes up because Cowboy Dan isn't coming, winds up being a hit with the kids, maybe even more so than Cowboy Dan would have been. He's not what they were expecting; in some ways he's better. 

One of the friends I hung out with last Monday said, in her reply to my Facebook message in which I apologized for being so lackluster in real life: "At the risk of sounding New Age-y, you have a very pleasing energy" and that I have "a naturally calming effect." She also said that "this will serve you immensely when you embark upon your volunteer work with women who desperately need more grounding energy in their life." 

That was something I badly needed to hear, and that will make me feel less guilty about not being some hi-octane chatterbox around people who are accustomed to my spewing forth so many words on this blog, over on Facebook, and in e-mails that are as wordy as any piece of florid Victorian correspondence. 

The thing is, it goes both ways, this providing a little insight and occasional spurts of inspiration. Because I'm not an oracle. There are a handful of useful things I have to say, but there are more things I need to hear. I can promise you that I'll keep up my end of it, as best as I can. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing and for your commitment to keep doing so. For the record, I read every word of every post.