In my dream life, I start every morning with a healthy breakfast and then a quick workout that invigorates my brain and body for the rest of the day. Then, if I feel like plunging right in to whatever fulfilling creative work I have lined up, I do that. Or, if I’m feeling lazy and in need of inspiration, I read some of the novels that are lying around, then dive in after I’ve recharged and refocused my brain. For an hour or two I delight in productive, joyful work then take a break for lunch – healthy, of course, but also budget-wise and homemade. I eat every bite mindfully! I take a little walk, do some errands, maybe listen to a podcast. I listen to the podcast because I enjoy it, not to forcibly block out my own thoughts. My thoughts are pleasant and happy, not overly concerned with whichever climate emergency or intractable systemic injustice is currently making headlines. I don’t even keep close tabs on those headlines, to be honest – my news diet is careful and deliberate, mostly taking the form of deep engagement with the print magazines and newspapers I subscribe to. Why would I let a bunch of strangers’ algorithmically-suggested amateur analysis of breaking stories penetrate my subconscious? Better to calmly ingest the work of thoughtful, artful reporters and writers at a time when I know I’ll be able to process that information. Anyway, I finish up my little walkaroo and then return to my desk (in this fantasy, I have a desk) for another few hours of steady, engaged writing and thoughtful correspondence. Then I pick up my kids from the childcare they reliably have access to, take them home, cook them a nutritious dinner that they love and we all fall asleep by a reasonable hour so we’re ready to do it all again tomorrow.
In my real life – well, you can imagine my real life. Some days, it bears a passing resemblance to the dream I’ve just described. Most days, the only thing it has in common with that day is that I eat lunch. I always do manage to eat lunch. I would even consider it a “win” that recently I discovered that I can watch a 28 minute tv show while eating lunch, rather than mindlessly scrolling as I chew. I watched Girls5eva and the first season of Feel Good this way. You’re welcome for this brilliant lifehack!
I have written but I haven’t really written anything lately, if you know what I mean. I put down the beginning of a novel circa December and haven’t worked on it since. I crank out an advice column every week, which isn’t nothing, but to be honest, neither is it something. I wrote a jokey, fun piece about books for the September issue of VF which took a long time to fact-check because it was full of “funny” assertions like “back then, social media didn’t exist!” I would really like to get back to the novel but somehow I can’t. I used the first 5000 words of it to apply for a fellowship that I didn’t get. “As we know how much time, dedication, and vulnerability it takes to share work-in-progress (especially with strangers), we thank you for entrusting your project with us,” the rejection email said. I read it and thought, shit, I didn’t mean to make myself so vulnerable, and now I really wish I hadn’t! I also wish I hadn’t chosen “making myself vulnerable” as a professional identity. Is there still time left in my life for a do-over on that score?
I’m kidding, but also not. First person writing has felt very bad to me lately, still doable (unlike fiction) but just barely. A new thought entered my mind sometime in this past year and now won’t leave. It’s hard to articulate, but it goes something like: is routinely turning myself inside out for public consumption doing anyone else any good, or doing me any good? If the answer is no, why am I doing it? “Because I’m good at it” is a less compelling reason to do it than it’s ever been. So, so, so many people are good at doing it now. I have been doing it longer than they have, and possibly the only result has been that I’m getting progressively worse at it, mostly due to overthinking it (as I’m doing right now.)
Meanwhile, Keith is writing a book about parenting. His essays about Raffi and school, Raffi and sports, and Raffi and Russian have been published in n+1, the New Yorker, and the New York Times magazine. My blog posts about Raffi and Ilya have been published in this newsletter, and on my various semi-defunct blogs. I love Keith’s writing, and I love Keith, and he has a right to his version of our life together, even when it’s not how I’d choose to tell the story in terms of form or in terms of content. I knew what I was getting into when I married him, except of course that no one knows what they’re getting into when they marry anybody. I have been unprepared for how flayed I would feel by the existence of Keith’s book, and it hasn’t even been published yet. It may be that the mere idea of inflicting that feeling on anyone else is the reason I’m loath to write even the most anodyne essay. From now on, I will never be able to un-know how being a subject feels. I can only hope to someday be able to clamber over those feelings. I will summit them and then surive the sheer drop on the other side and arrive at a place I can’t imagine right now.
If I have one piece of advice from my decades in the meaning-mines, it’s that if something you’ve written feels “very personal,” you should at least put it between the printed covers of a book, where people will at least have to pay for the book or get it from the library if they want to try to use it to destroy you. Then again, it must be hard to take my advice when it’s delivered in this format, so I’m not sure where this leaves us. Do as I say, not as I do? And I’ll try, too.