(If you’d prefer, you can listen to me read this post on Sound Cloud.)
This is going to be a blog post. A blog post is what this will be. And it’s a shame, really. I mean I do feel some shame over it. Also, I feel a little bad for it: the piece of writing. This poor bastard. It surely had much higher aspirations. No writing wants to be a blog post after all. No self-respecting assembly of letters, of words, of paragraphs, wants this to be its lot in life. In the hierarchy of writing formats, the blog post is by far the lowliest and loneliest. In the broad spectrum of epistolary ejaculation, this gasping, unflattering poste de blog, scrawled unceremoniously on bed sheets at three am, is by far the most bitter and heartbroken. It is the least virile. It is the most puerile. It is the most broken and hard-shipped with tragedy.
And yet, maybe that’s why we need it: maybe the blog post reminds us of our failures and our humiliations. We need it to compare low to high, this to that. Without the blog post, the boastful article would have nothing to feel superior to. Without the blog post, the presumptuous op-ed would be less of a fashion statement.
I happen to like the simple, lowly blog post, though. I like it the same way I like a dive bar at two in the afternoon. It is low pressure. It doesn’t really expect much of you. It’s totally good with you being a bit oily and sweaty, devoid of any well-reasoned self-appraisal. It’s fine with the grime. It expects your faults. And it accepts them, too, without judgement. It knows that if you’ve come here to this place, if you’ve sat down on this particular bar stool at this particular hour, chances are, you’ve got bigger predicaments and complications and it wants you to forget those as soon as possible. Go on, then: get on with the forgetting, it says.
I have avoided the modest blog post for some time. I’ve honed my words into honorable things called “flash” and “essay.” I’ve done quite a bit of remembering. And listen: I’m really fucking sick of it. Of the seriousness and the weight. Christ, almighty. I’m so sick of that bullshit.
Let’s talk about something light. Let’s talk about dogs, shall we? Here’s a truth: The biggest predicament for me every time I travel is my dogs. What to do with them? Where to send them this time? Will they be okay? Will Honey re-aggravate her bad knees? Will Rothko eat Honey’s shit and end up in a vicious cycle of liquid poop and vomit? Then will he try to cover up his horrible, shameful accidents by burying them in the concrete, ending up with a case of Raw Schnoz Condition (RSC)?
It honestly makes me not want to go anywhere. No, really. If it were up to me, I would probably choose not to book a trip to Vietnam (just to use one recent example) so I wouldn’t have to leave my dogs.
Some of you will hear that and you will relate to it, you will say, “Oh, yes! I feel the same way! I can’t stand to leave my dogs.” Others of you will look at me with disbelief and say, “Do you know when the last time was I traveled anywhere, oh and let me tell you all the very real life reasons I’m unable to do so? I would never let something like dogs stop me.”
Yeah, I know. Look, I know it’s fucked up. I’ve said it before, but I’m a Well-Traveled Reluctant Traveler
Let’s move on…
I’m doing the final edits to a collection of nonfiction essays, along with one lone piece of something my editor has smartly labelled “speculative nonfiction.” If all goes well, this will end up being my first real book. If things go as they’ve been going, however, I’m going to vanish this weekend and y’all will never see me again.
Many of the stories in the collection are deeply personal. Some of them contain secrets I’ve never told anybody before. Some of these secrets used to make me feel ashamed. And here’s the thing about shame: It’s a motherfucker of an emotion. No really, shame will up and fuck your mother without thinking twice about it. Right in front of you, too. Like on the hood of a car or some shit. Just to make you feel extra bad about it. Shame makes us behave in ways we wouldn’t normally behave. It keeps us from being our true selves.
But here’s the secret about shame: it thrives on secrecy. The less we keep secret, the more we fuck shame over.
I am done with shame. In my own personal history, I am done with worrying over being shamed.
But our personal histories all blend together, don’t they? Mine blends into yours which blends into some other person’s. And so on. And sometimes people you care about do not want you to write about stuff in any sort of public, identifying way. They don’t feel the same way you do about shame, or about secrets. They think secrets can be okay, maybe even honorable. And maybe they’re right. This is, after all, only my particular way of dealing with something. Not everybody has to deal with a motherfucker like shame in the same way.
A couple of things happened in the past year which for various reasons, I can’t write about openly. The primary reason is that they are secrets that affect the people I love. And so I find myself keeping secrets again. For them. I find myself burdened with a shame that isn’t even mine to keep. And yet the things and events are things that affect me, too. They are my own life events even as they are theirs. They belong, at least partially, to me. They are, on some level, mine to process.
My therapist says I don’t have to publish everything I write. She says, “Some things you can just write for yourself.” And she’s right, of course. Nothing’s stopping me from just writing stuff, you know? Just putting it down to see how it looks on paper. It may look like shit, after all. But writing something only for myself has never interested me. I mean, I admire people who keep a private journal. I find those private journals very important things. I like reading the journals of famous people. And I also like reading the journals of everyday people. People I never knew. They are windows into a different life, a different time period, a different soul. And yet, I can never get myself to journal for any extended period of time. For me, a journal is an excuse to make sloppy writing. Oh, but they’ll find it when you’re dead and they’ll read it then! Ah, right. But why? Why wait until I’m dead to have people read about stuff? Why not just put it out there right now? The bottom line is that, for me, if the intent isn’t to publish something, and to do it as soon as possible, I don’t feel motivated to write it.
I loved Cobain: Montage of Heck. Maybe “love” is the wrong word. I thought it was really interesting. But of course, I happen to have been a 90s, grunge-era kid who was influenced by Nirvana and Kurt Cobain and the culture of the time. But even if you were none of those things, the documentary is well done. It’s a good piece of film-making, even though it’s not necessarily an easy thing to watch. One major theme that comes out of it is how Cobain was both devastated and motivated by shame. Krist Novoselic says, during an interview in the documentary: “He hated being humiliated, hated it. That’s when the rage would come out.” That really resonated with me.
In the mountains of writing and audio and video footage that came out in the documentary, there is a story a teenaged Kurt reads aloud of a sexual encounter he had with a girl who, we gather, may have been mentally disabled. And in the story he talks about how he felt bad about it. It’s something that maybe nobody would ever know about, something nobody ever had to know about. Except of course for the fact that he wrote a story about it and recorded himself reading it and saved this story to various forms of media. And that’s what’s interesting to me: What makes a person do that? Take the one thing that makes them feel horrible and shamed and humiliated and delve head-first into it and expose it? Instead of tucking it away and hiding it, what makes somebody give it words and images and a voice.
Cobain recorded audio and video of himself long before that was commonplace to do on the Internet. And it makes me wonder, if he was born twenty years later, would he have put his stories on a Tumblr? And if so, would the stories have been inherently different because that would have been the intent (to make them public)? Did he characterize himself more “honestly” because he was writing things and recording things only for himself. Didn’t he on some level think: Other people will find these someday, and when they do, here is what I want them to find. Is the only reason these recordings and stories aren’t on a public blog because public blogs hadn’t been invented yet? Maybe. Maybe it doesn’t matter.
I’m not sure we really portray our “true” selves when we blog or post things for public consumption. I admit that. But I’m also not sure what we mean when we say something like that. When we use words like “true” in relation to words like “self.” I think part of what blogging (or essay-writing, or personal, creative non-fiction) is is a sort of “myth-making.” Whatever the subject of the essay—divorce, abuse, sexual humiliation—there is always the implicit subject of the narrator-as-character happening. That’s okay to me. I like it, in fact. That’s what makes it good to me. If a non-fiction writer tries to avoid that, I think they’re avoiding the most important part of the thing. And usually they are doing it with the intent of writing something more “true.” Fuck that.
Personally, I don’t think framing the narrator-as-self in a particular way makes it less true. If private writing seems more likely to shine light on the id, and public writing seems more about the super-ego, I feel like that’s fine and I don’t think that necessarily makes either one more or less “true,” more or less “real.” They each lend themselves to a particular voice. They each come out of the self.
Watching Montage of Heck inspired me to write one additional essay for the book. It confronted some of themes I had explored in the other essays, but in a much more direct, less self-conscious way. I purposely didn’t worry over language as much as with the other essays. And it’s interesting, but in some ways I now like that piece better than most of the ones I “crafted.” And interestingly, maybe it says more about the narrator than the other ones do. I don’t know what any of this means, by the way. I really don’t.
It’s hot and the dogs think they want to walk, but then we get outside, and they realize that fucking hell, it’s hot, and pretty quickly they’re ready to come back inside. Groundhogs be damned. Tongue drippage eventually outweighs the most compelling of critter situations.
I enjoy telling you guys about my dogs. If I thought about it, I’d probably be a little embarrassed about how much I factor my dogs into my daily life and how difficult it is for me to leave them to go places, even when those places are places I really want to go to in order to see exciting new places or people I love.
Okay, I just thought about it and see? I’m a little embarrassed.
But the dogs are like my bar at two in the afternoon. Non-judgmental. Accepting. Non caring if I stink. And so, if I didn’t have the former, I might end up in the latter.
I’ve got more edits to do. I’ve got a lot more edits to do. I’ve decided I may need to write entire new sections. I’ve made one decision to take out an essay that just didn’t fit. All of this is good. But all of this takes time and it takes a sort of emotional energy that I’m short on at the moment.
And my brain needs to forget for a bit, which is why I have come here, to the lowly blog post. To this medium I find comforting and kind of like home. To switch mental gears. To rest and forget for a bit. To sandwich a bit of troubling stuff inside something light and fluffy.
TAGS: Dogs | Kurt Cobain | Montage of Heck | Secrets | Shame | Writing