The Perils of Writing

I often find, when having a conversation with someone, lots of other thoughts arise.  So it was this morning at my yoga studio.  I had been working on a blog about the studio, and I had sent it to the owners to read before I posted it.  Several of my yoga blogs have been posted on our city yoga site, so I wanted to be sure it was ok.  I was really proud of it, and I was excited to share it with them.  The response I got back was not what I was expecting.  They both said “Wait: parts of this are really rough; let’s discuss.” 

I felt terrible, because I had meant it to be a feel good piece, so I put it aside and went on to other things.  Both of them asked to discuss it with me and I did what I usually do in awkward situations:  I avoided them.  Despite my best efforts, one of the owners caught me this morning and insisted we discuss the blog.

In the blog I talked about the different classes I had taken that month, and I described each teacher in what I thought was a flattering way.  In fact, I spent a fair amount of time coming up with what I thought were the most positive characteristics of each teacher.

When I talked to the owner this morning she said that the description of her had hurt her – not because it wasn’t accurate, but because it brought up her own childhood stuff.   I had referenced her as happy-go-lucky, which is the persona she brings in to class.  I thought this would be flattering to her, because she has some major crap going on in her own life, and to always come to class happy and energized is, quite frankly, amazing.  She told me that as a child that was the role that was assigned her:  to be the happy one, and she was actually trying to shake that role, to show her vulnerabilities.

As we talked I wondered what someone would write about me.  They would most likely say “inspirational.  takes all the shit life throws at her and makes good come of it”.  In fact, I just received an ovarian cancer survivor “spirit” award.    Then I got to thinking of how much I despise that characterization.  Yes, I show a happy face to the world, and when I venture out I show a strong, capable person, but I don’t venture out very much.  Most of the time I’m in my home, being an anxious cry baby who can’t make a decision and wants to run away!  My forays into the world in which I put on my smiley face are exhausting.

I was trying to describe this thing to my sister-in-law this weekend, and it was a major fail.  When I accepted my “spirit” award I gave a really good speech.  I hope that doesn’t sound too braggish, but public speaking is one of the few qualities I currently like about myself so…..

Over the weekend one of my cousins called and said “you should be in DC advocating for research money.  People would just throw money at you, you are such an inspiration”.   I’ve learned to say “thank you” to comments like these and walk away, but they eat at my soul.  Why?  Because what is I hear “you aren’t doing enough.  do more.  you must do more to be worthy”.

My mother has done this to me for years.  I’d make a really cool cake and she’d say “you should be a baker”.  I went gluten free and learned to make all my own food, and she says “you should have an online gluten free baking store”.  I get a blog published and I should be a writer, or a teacher or an advocate, or any of the million other things she has suggested over the years.  My sister always says I should take it as a compliment, she is saying I’m really good at something.  But honestly, it nags at me.  I don’t think it’s a compliment.

Which brings me back to my original blog and the owners response.  She started by saying yoga teachers don’t like to be “pegged”, which I got the minute she said it.  Yoga is a holistic endeavor by it’s very definition.  It is meant to bring the mind, body  and soul together, making it a complex experience.  It’s not like the dance aerobics of the 80’s in which every teacher followed a script and was meant to provide the same class as every other teacher.    I had turned very complex human beings into Flat Stanley (child’s book character)  While I didn’t mean it to be offensive I can now see that I was probably reiterating the scripts they had been given as children, or adults, and in essence, saying they aren’t enough.  I was most likely referencing those inherent aspects of their personality that maybe they don’t love so much, that are maybe even the mask they show the world to protect their fragile soul.  In the same way I hate being called “inspirational”, this woman hates being called happy-go-lucky, because that is what we show the world:  it is not who we are.

As we wrapped up our conversation, which I was grateful for, she said that perhaps that is what good writing is supposed to do: to bring up our “stuff”.   It was in that 1 little sentence that it all came together for me.  Writing is what I want to do.  I want to write about what I see in the world, what I experience, how I perceive people and things and places.  Doing so authentically though is really, really risky.  My mother recently said to me “you should write a book about our family.  there’s certainly enough material there” and she is right.  I could write an incredible book about our family, but people would be offended.  There would be hurt feelings, there would be misunderstandings, misconceptions and anger.

There is a tv series called October Road.  It follows a young writer who has left his hometown and written a best selling novel based on his childhood.  He returns 10 years later to face those he wrote about and, needless to say, the reception is much chillier than he hoped it to be.  I watched the first episode and knew it should have been something I’d like to watch, but I turned it off.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  It was clear I was avoiding it, but why on earth would I do that?

Now I get it.  In the same way I used to avoid watching happy family shows, I am avoiding this show because it is who I’d like to be.  I’d like to be that person who bravely puts in writing what may or may not end up hurting someone.  I suppose I’ll have to start watching again, to see what I might be in for!

Someone in our studio put a little note on the wall that says “what would you try if you knew you could not fail” and for me, it’s writing.    While the experiences in my life haven’t necessarily been unique, piled on top of each other they make a hell of a good story and, whether I like it or not, I am a testament to the human ability to survive, even thrive in the face of adversity.

For today, I’ll ponder.    I know what I want to do, I know how to do it, and I know that I could be on borrowed time, so only one question remains:  am I brave enough?


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