Thursday, January 3, 2013

Shit happens

Ah, life. It's like this impish prankster sometimes. I'm an atheist, but I do believe in this: "Want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans." The God I used to believe in was a little like that. He didn't spout off in Shakespearean-sounding English about mixed fibers and stoning whores. He was always up in the sky, floating and amorphous but definitely sporting a flowy white beard, regarding my fumbling escapades with a bemused expression, tongue lodged in his celestial cheek, waiting to see what I would do next as if he were watching some guilty-pleasure sit-com.

I guess I no longer have to worry about this blog getting corny -- about my morphing into Martha Stewart or some armchair self-help guru, one of the joggers-at-dawn, one of the crossers-off of to-do list items, someone doing sunrise yoga on a mountaintop and so enlightened that no one can relate to her anymore. That's surely not happening right now. No worries there, folks!

Instead of resuscitating my exercise routine as planned (original this time of year; I know), I'm laid up with a sprained ankle, unable to walk even a couple of grocery-store aisles without wincing as I'm limpin' along. That's my own damn fault for spazzing out on the dancefloor in heels on New Year's Eve, but I'm wondering if that's really what's keeping me from going to the short-fiction workshop in DC tonight. I say I want to "make a go of it" as a serious writer. I say I want to get off my ass and do stuff. But hey, what if I don't really want that? What if I only say I want that, because I feel as if I'm supposed to want something?

Here's the unpopular, spits-in-the-face-of-conventional-wisdom truth: I'm sort of OK with my small-scale life most of the time. I'm nerdy-active on Facebook; I have a small circle of about 130 souls on there with whom, for the post part, I interact regularly, publicly (in comments that everyone can see) and privately (messages and sometimes e-mail, if the person is able to stomach my e-mail verbosity). I see many of them out in the real world, at nightclubs or friends' parties and concerts. And here's the thing about that: I'm told, on a regular basis, by many of these people that I make a difference in their lives. Just by sittin' here and being little ol' me. Not by joining the Peace Corps and doing humanitarian things in Third World countries, not by curing cancer, not by winning the Pulitzer Prize for literature. Just doin' that tiny little thing I do.

"That thing I do" would be writing, as openly and honestly as I can. Not just confessing -- but pushing pushing pushing, past the boundaries of what's acceptable or fashionable to think or say. My goals for anything that I write are: 1) to make the reader feel or think something new or interesting; and 2) to make the reader feel less alone. There are secondary goals -- to give the reader some beautiful language, some words well strung together, that they'll want to savor, that light up the little pleasure centers in their brains. And perhaps I have tertiary goals, such as teaching the reader some evocative factoid I picked up on Wikipedia when doing my lazy version of research for a more purely fictional (and less self-referential) story, a bit of trivia that the reader can chuck out at a cocktail party as an ice-breaker. ... No, I think I just wanted to use the word "tertiary" just now.

I'm told that another thing I do is offer empathy and understanding -- like, actual understanding, not just a perfunctory "I'm so sorry to hear that" -- and genuinely effusive encouragement. (I've been accused of being "a cheerleader" before, but the truth is just that I surround myself with admirable people, and I'm honestly enthusiastic about the things they do.)

A few months ago I was feeling lonely and low, so I came up with this thing -- if any of my friends were ever in need of a pal to chat with, about anything (sordid affair, body in the trunk), all they had to do was shoot me the word "pineapple," in a text or Facebook message or in an e-mail, and I would know it meant that they wanted to talk. And I would call or meet them, whichever they preferred -- I'm a big fan of 4 a.m. Denny's conversations myself -- if at all humanly possible for me to do so, no worries, no questions asked unless they wanted me to ask them. Three people took me up on it; two of them just needed to vent in written messages, but one of them needed a night out on the town, some action, to be around people and included and accepted. We met up at a nightclub, drank and danced, talked (together) to other people there, then sat off in a corner and talked to each other about the assorted bits of darkness and longing we both have or have had going on in our lives.

It was a great night, something that we both needed. Both of us needed it. I have a friend who's going to start volunteering with a suicide-prevention group. I would join her if I hadn't already agreed to volunteer, with my housemate, for a different local group, one that helps victims of domestic violence; our first meeting with the group is tomorrow evening. I told my friend how proud I was of her, how I know she has a lot to offer in this role (she's an incredibly caring and empathetic person; as I said, I surround myself with awesome people), and that it can be therapeutic to be in a helping kind of role. For some of us who need it, it reminds us that we have power -- power to help others, and value to other people because we can help them or just be an empathetic listener. (I always use the word "empathy" instead of "sympathy" when I talk about relating to someone, because it sounds less condescending -- I blame Milan Kundera, who went on about this type of distinction in my favorite novel, "The Unbearable Lightness of Being.")  

You know how when someone is struggling to think of what to do for a career, and there's always someone who says, "Well, what do you love doing so much that you would do it for free?" Here you go -- no one is paying me to keep up this blog. No one pays me to write short stories and post them with photos on my writing site. Uh, no one pays me to sit on Facebook and offer my thoughts on nearly everything that my friends post, not so much pop-culture stuff but stuff about relationships, angst, and art (OK, by art I mean "writing") -- but boy howdy, do I do it. (There are other, more frivolous things I get up to for free -- no one pays me to go to Party City and acquire cheap festive bits to assemble into costumes for various club or party theme nights; no one pays me to take pseudo-arty self-portraits of myself, too often these days with my laptop webcam, which my photographer friends tell me is just as much a sin as my using the "Pictures" features in Microsoft Word to edit or play with some of my photos.)

To tie some of the strings together in this blog post -- to make a braid, if you will, instead of leaving you with a bunch of frayed and dangling ends...

Life tripped me hard on New Year's Eve/Day, or I tripped myself, and it feels like Life going, "Ha ha -- Oh, I'm sorry... Did you think you were going somewhere? Not so fast, Limpy!"

Back when I was on that roll the week I started this blog, all gung-ho and sitting in interviews with folks who have connections to writing work, and putting a fiction workshop on my calendar, and quitting at least one wretched habit, and even running four miles, in part to commemorate all that momentum -- I had this idea that I would keep going, higher and harder and faster and better, like a lesser-known Daft Punk song. I do want to do that.

And yet.

Sometimes, at the same time that I'm sitting here chastising myself for inaction, for not sitting in some cubicle or office at some newly landed job, for not holding some letter saying a short story of mine was accepted for publication, for not being fit and svelte and eating nothing but oats and beans... despite not doing any of that, without even trying, I'm helping people. It just sort of happens.

Last night a good friend -- the same awesome chick who first recommended temping to me; and for all my whining on here about the temping lifestyle it sure did help me keep on paying $500 every month for rent/mortgage help to my boyfriend -- told me that I had directly inspired her to start her own blog. Her first-ever post started with a shout-out to me! You can click and read it there, but I'll also post it on here, because I like it: "Christie Chapman, you've created a monster. One that needed a push to take that terrified first step out of the cave it called home and out into the light of the blogosphere. For that, I love you." I've created a monster! I'm so proud of her, and I even actually like her writing (I don't say that about just anyone; yes, I am sometimes kind of a bitch).

Last month, a guy friend told me that after reading some of the short stories on my creative-writing site, he was inspired to write a short story. Which he did, and sent to me.

And a few weeks ago, during one of the best nights I've ever had at my favorite little goth nightclub, a night on which I drank like a normal person and did not pre-game with trunk booze... a friend, someone I'd had no idea was reading this, gave me a warm hug and said, "Your blog has helped me so freaking much." Granted, this was back when I was reporting action on here. I should do that again for her. There's only so much navel-gazing you can do before you die, and then all people can say of you is: "She sure got to know her belly button well."

So while I drag myself kicking and screaming, like the inept personal drill sergeant that I am, into the land of action and accomplishment, out of the realm of mediocrity and procrastination... it might do me some good to remember that I'm not so bad right now. That's no reason to rest on my laurels, not something to use as an excuse, but maybe a little confidence will propel me a few extra inches and help me remember that things are not so dire. Or it won't propel me anywhere at all, and I'll realize I'm happy where I am. Either way, it's nice to think that maybe I'm not so bad.


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. I think we've all felt a little lost in the world, without direction, just bobbing along. Not to worry though. Either you will find your right path or, perhaps, maybe it will find you.

  2. Inept personal drill sergeants are the best kind. Keep being you. Hanging on every word and waiting for more. <3