Carter’s favorite thing to do is something he calls “swinging stuff” and that my husband and I refer to as “ninja ballet.”
Carter’s favorite thing to do is something he calls “swinging stuff” and that my husband and I refer to as “ninja ballet.” It involves a plastic sword, light saber, or stick, and lots of jumping, spinning, and twirling (of both the stick and the boy himself).
Carter is devout in his practice of this art. For at least four years, he’s spent many hours every week, sometimes several hours in a single day, working with his stick in the yard. He spins. He whirls. He shouts.
The whole thing is surprisingly graceful and fun to watch. In his imagination, he’s fighting battles like the ones in the movies and TV shows he likes (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Ninjago), but from my place in the dining room where I watch him through the sliders, it looks more like dancing than dueling.
I see him out there, toiling happily, working and puffing and struggling to master a new move he’s invented and he is an artist of his own training and invention. “I can’t wait to go home and swing my stick,” he says sometimes after a day at school, and I imagine young Mozart saying after a day with math and history, “I can’t wait to go home and get to my piano.” He’s like Emily Dickinson, devoted to his art not for fame or admiration but because the art is its own reward.
Does that seem like too much? Maybe. Comparing an eleven-year-old boy playing in the yard with a broomstick to some of the greatest artists in history is a stretch, but Carter’s devotion is unassailable. Unless something changes in our culture, there aren’t going to be any TV shows that showcase his skills. He’s not going to get rich or famous because of it.
But…is his life not immeasurably better because he has art? Because he seeks to meet a challenge he has created for himself, and is diligent in improving his form? Because he loses himself in something he loves without concern that the thing he loves is nothing most people would recognize?
He does this with almost no audience. Sometimes, he shows Brian or me or one of his grandparents what he can do. He took his stick to our church retreat and enjoyed showing a few people his moves. He doesn’t mind being watched, but he doesn’t do it for the purpose of performance, or for any other purpose beyond the joy of the thing itself.
Whether we are stick swingers, word slingers, food composers, paint smearers, garden tenders, quilt builders, or music makers, may we all find some of Carter’s perseverance and dedication in ourselves. Our lives, too, will be immeasurably better.
If I wanted to do this blogging and writing thing with a bag on my head, I would have had to make that choice at the very beginning. I don’t think I would do it differently even if I had it to do over again.
I kind of hate it when bloggers write about blogging because duh, most of my readers aren’t writers at all, so apologies in advance.
In November, 2010, I decided to take a short break from blogging and and all things internet-y to spend some time with my youngest son, Carter, during his fall break from school. That was true, but it was only half the story. Over the summer of 2010, No Points for Style had gained a respectable readership. I wasn’t playing in the big leagues by anyone’s definition, but my blog was growing and it was thrilling. I wanted (still want) nothing more than for people to read my words. Yes, I’ll cop to it: I want to be famous on the internet, and maybe even famous in the real world. That’s more complicated than it sounds, because it has more to do with wanting to be heard and needing my life to matter in some broad way than it does with fame per se, but I don’t guess I’ll figure everything out right here, right now, so, on with our story.
While watching my blog gain readers was exciting, it was also terrifying and confusing. I’m still not exactly sure why. Comments and emails about how I am poisoning Carter by giving him medicine, or how I’m ruining my relationship with my older kids by sharing stories of my marriage to their dad, or the occasional generic hate-filled diatribe peppered with misspellings and grammatical errors don’t particularly bother me.
I do know that I was paying far too much attention to the noise in the blogosphere (and social media more generally) about what was and was not OK in a blog and I pretty much tied myself in a knot over what other people might find acceptable.
Which, well, let’s back up a little bit, because this is what I do. I define myself, not based on my own preferences, talents, abilities, limitations, etc., but based on what others expect. And this is no small thing. In fact, it’s been pretty much sucking the life out of me for as long as I can remember. On meeting me for the first time, people tend to think I’m shy, but I’m just taking a few minutes to suss out who you would like me to be so I can be that person for you.
However (and this is one big-ass however), I am also an extremely passionate person with strong opinions, and I don’t just share those opinions; I deliver diatribes. In meetings, at church, at community events, in groups, I’ll be sitting on my hands thinking, “Be quiet. Just skip it this time,” but alas, I’m what you call mercurial, and before I know what I’m doing, my hand is in the air and there I go, speaking, and I have big gestures and high volume to go with the words. Put the passion and the fear together and (as my husband would be very willing to tell you), there is one sorry-ass puddle of shame-filled Adrienne to be found in the after.
Oh, Lord, The After. It can be ugly.
The After wasn’t particularly applicable to writing for a long time, in part because my audience was tiny, but more because writing gives writers as much distance from their subject matter as they choose. If a topic feels safe, I might dance right into the heart of it, and if it is dangerous I can stay safely away from the tender center.
And authenticity, integrity, blah blah blah. We analyze and dissect these ideas in the blogosphere as if they were real, achievable goals, an endpoint that some will reach and some will ignore in favor of a well-managed online identity and the product endorsements that are the supposed result of such bedazzled lives.
For the record, I always thought that was the falsest of false dichotomies. Whether we aspire to authenticity or not, we are all carefully managing our online identities with every word we share. I just had no idea how trapped I would become between the two non-existent poles.
I have never lied here in the virtual pages of No Points for Style, which is not to say that everything I’ve written has been factually accurate, but storytelling is the very definition of subjective. The truth as I have written it here belongs to me and no one else. The facts? Well, I don’t know to whom those belong. God, I guess, or maybe the past, but certainly not to me.
Even more strangulation has come in the form of replaying over and over the random bits of advice I’ve heard across the years. Be funny, said some; focus on mental health advocacy said others. Write shorter posts, from one corner; be more casual from another.
Why I even listen is beyond me because I know good and well that the only real advice I need is stop investigating your damn naval and write, you foolish woman. Some of it will suck; some will be brilliant. Most will be passable. Just fucking write.
I took that short break from blogging in the fall of 2010 and when it was over what happened was this: I found myself sitting at my keyboard, staring at the screen and thinking not about what I wanted to say, but how you would receive what I did manage to say, which is sort of like dropping a soggy wool blanket over a dancer: it stops all the art and replaces it with futile, ugly struggling. I tried several times to find my way back in, without much success.
I don’t know how one negotiates two desires that are so entirely at odds. I want to speak, and speak loudly, and be heard. I also want to hide under the bed where no one will ever have reason to call me names or fart in my general direction.
To speak and to be treated civilly is too much to ask if one is doing one’s speaking on the internet. All of us who put our hearts and minds into the public in this medium know that. If we haven’t experienced it directly, we’ve witnessed it.
If I wanted to do this blogging and writing thing with a bag on my head, I would have had to make that choice at the very beginning. I don’t think I would do it differently even if I had it to do over again. There’s nothing to do from here but shut the whole thing down, or take a leap back into the heart of the thing. I don’t know if the world needs my words or not, but I do know that I need to speak them. I am made of, for, and by words, and to be silent is to wither.
Even the knowledge of my own fallibility cannot keep me from making mistakes. Only when I fall do I get up again.
—Vincent Van Gogh