It should not have been so daunting. I go to a café and write all time. I had a venue in mind and an idea in my head. I wanted to tell you about the mellow flow yoga class I went to on Friday night. Happy hour, the instructor called it. Over 120 of us gathered in an enormous room, six inches between our mats, which were lined up row after row after row. The clamor of a beer hall crowd and the clank of our water steins faded into a collective steady chant. In the far corner of the room, the DJ started up the ambient music. Yes, you heard me right, a DJ, in yoga class, at happy hour on Friday. Welcome to San Francisco. I still haven’t told anyone about the class and kept a straight face, but the truth is, for an hour or so, I felt connected to a room of sweaty dripping strangers, and I felt a sense of much needed peace.
When I approached the café the next day to write about the class, there were construction workers jackhammering near the street corner. Despite the noise, I went inside. Choosing another locale was beyond my current abilities, so I went all the way to the back room. I stood in the center and hearing only the faintest sounds from outside, I decided to stay. My squash soup lacked any flavor, but the bread was perfectly toasted, warm, doughy and covered with a crusty outer shell. I dipped it in the soup, filling my belly, feeling like a prisoner shoveling gruel, desperate for the calories, ignoring the taste.
Everyone at the surrounding tables worked quietly, except for one pair. All I could hear was their conversation. I couldn’t decipher their relationship, but one held the power and the other listened intently. If the one giving the advice was a teacher or a counselor, she was a bad one. I put on my headphones to listen to music, the wrong music, the kind that brought back memories. I stopped it immediately, hearing only the distant rat-a-tat-tat of the jackhammer. Then I started to cry. Lately, I am a loose cannon, packed with tears.
In MFA writing school, I learned that being sentimental almost always makes for bad writing. My teachers discouraged me from being “confessional.” It reminds me of an older essay in the New York Times Book Review section, “Misery Loves a Memoir,” decrying the modern day memoir. In Benjamin Kunkel’s opinion, we are infatuated with the struggle of a victim, overcoming adversity, “hurt and healing.” He praises Thoreau’s Walden as an early example of memoir outside the everyday triumph stories like Augusten Burrough’s Running with Scissors. (I’ve read the article several times and still don’t fully comprehend it, so feel free to comment).
I often think of that essay when I’m trying not to overexpose myself, use pain and struggle as story. But that is what I do, expose myself, work through my battles and epiphanic moments. I find that the line between therapy and art, honesty and confession, showing the heart but not spilling the heart, me the person and me the character is always unclear, especially in the beginning.
This weekend a much older relative of mine was asking my cousins and me what’s up with all of the social networking sites, all of the blogging. “Why do you put all of your personal business out there?” she asked, not fully understanding that we don’t put our phone numbers and addresses on the Internet.
The question that I’m circling around, is how much to share or not to share with you? Why do I feel the need to reach out into the black hole of cyberspace with my personal struggles? Is it okay for writing to be entirely self-serving if put out into the world, hoping to be read?
When I started my blog, I purposefully avoided choosing a subject. For the most part, I even avoided a large point of blogging, which is to comment on something in the world, moderate and engage an audience in conversation. There is another point to blogging, but that is better called live journaling or an online diary, things I’d prefer not to cop to. But which this is, sometimes, as much as I hate to admit it.
All the discussion and critiques of self-disclosure and confession are nice to keep in mind, especially in a literary context, when the final product is the most important outcome. But ask someone who has a stack of unpublished manuscripts in her drawer and she may tell you the important part was the process. Ask me, someone who often writes out of loneliness, to connect with others in a shared sense of humanity, and I will say that I do it for the process, to feel my arms extending from my body, reaching out for an embrace.
After a week of being unable to write anything other than “Dear Diary, woe is me…” in my actual journal, and “Please enter the name as it appears on your credit card,” for my job, I think I finally have a blog post here. Instead of trying to tell you more about the mellow flow yoga class, a post I just couldn’t write, and instead of coming up with another subject, a distraction or preoccupation from my sadness, I ended up writing about my problems. Sort of. Sometimes it seems like the best thing to write about is the one that makes sitting in front of the computer possible. Sometimes writing is nothing more than an attempt to make the jackhammer stop pounding.