When I met the writer of talesfromthemotherland at a writing workshop recently, she warned me that in order to write an effective blog, I had to be willing to get naked. The thing about getting naked is that you can be blissfully unaware for a while that the whole process is taking place. It feels good to connect, to play, let it all hang out. But then there you are. Naked. (The only game of strip poker I ever played was on my honeymoon in a tent in Yellowstone National Park. We gambled our combined savings of $500. We both won.)
It was in a pre-naked state of unawares that I first started the blog. I was not doing well, (see “Good Grief”), not sleeping, not talking to family, some days not eating, and worst of all, not writing. Blogging seemed like the perfect answer. I could bleed on the page and reach out to other parents while working on the writer’s “platform,” or “online presence” that agents are so fond of.
I discussed the idea with my family. Liz was a little uneasy but thought I needed to write. She knew I had been stalled for several months, preoccupied by family, disappointed by a novel that hadn’t enticed a buyer (does that sound any less pathetic than a “novel sitting in a drawer”?) I told her I didn’t have secrets, but that I needed to use the blog as a journal of sorts. I wouldn’t feel free to express myself if I had to worry about what she would think. I wanted to put my concerns out to my peers, parents of other gay teens. She agreed not to read my posts. (I hear snickering. Yes, I really am that naïve. If we weren’t raised in the same house, I probably trust you implicitly.)
Since the beginning of this rebirth, my husband has continually expressed concern for our safety as a family. Once he realized I would not be stamping the blog with our address and phone number, he was onboard.
So with my family’s blessing, I plumbed the very shallow depths of my technological know-how and created a home where I could explore the questions that wouldn’t lie down. It was a kind of purging I was ready for after years and years of emotional silence, years of writing in the dark. How wonderful it was to receive instant feedback! Readers sent me beautiful, encouraging emails. The told me their stories, resonated with mine. My husband became my first and best reader, though he has realized he doesn’t like seeing himself in print. He says it reminds him of the Gilligan’s Island episode where the castaways eat seeds that allow them to read each others’ minds. The kids asked daily about how many readers had gone to my blog and what feedback they had left. A cousin to optimism began visiting me in the quiet hours.
But then the unthinkable happened. My daughter read my blog. Aberration. Grief. Oh, what had I done? Why had I veered away from my primary teachings? Hadn’t I been told never to share my feelings? Now my daughter would have to pay.
Ok, so it wasn’t really unthinkable. It was your first thought—of course your daughter is reading your blog. It’s about her! Your next thought might have been so what. So what if she did? The lie aside, something about knowing that she was reading stopped me cold. It has been the worst kind of writer’s block, the most difficult of conundrums: you must write in order to live; if you write you will kill. My response must seem overly dramatic. She assured me that reading caused more guilt than satisfaction because they were the things we talk about every day. She knew she had violated my privacy and felt horrible for doing so. She assured me that she was merely curious and that nothing she read upset her.
But the blockage was real. I felt paralyzed and only recently have I realized why. It was the same terror that gripped me the minute she told me she was gay. She suddenly seemed so fragile. The one hundred ways I could screw up her life bred in front of me as she spoke. Now there are thousands of ways I can damage this precious child, not to mention the droves of misguided supplicants who are waiting to knock her unconscious with their family values. (Oh, cousin to optimism, come back.)
Maybe I overreacted, but not so long ago, Liz was very fragile. In the weeks after her announcement she hunched inward when she sat, tiptoed when she walked, whispered when she spoke. She scanned our faces constantly for signs that she had broken us. She relayed stories she’d read on the Internet: a mom who’d had a heart attack upon hearing the news that her son was gay, disastrous outings on Christmas Day, children made homeless after their declarations. One day I was irritated and hollering, no doubt the usual haranguing about a messy room. Liz burst into tears. “I caused this. Everything is my fault.” I want to see myself hugging her, but I don’t know if I did. I was irritated, maybe kicking through books and papers on the floor, going crazy over a moldy apple core, confused about what was clean and what was dirty. I remember looking at her matter-of-factly and pointing out that I had been getting irritated for years about certain aspects of my thankless job and would probably continue to do so.
Slowly, she has gained confidence in us. Slowly, we’ve all learned to stop waiting for the other shoe to drop. No one is broken. Our joy in each other seems deeper. But this is our new reality: Gay teens commit suicide more often than their straight peers. Gay teens turn to risky behaviors more often and become homeless more often. Gay teens get bullied. Given her membership in this disenfranchisement, can my daughter be anything but fragile? This too, is our reality: We will climb out of our anxiety and confusion only to be sent spirally down again when another aspect of this new life reveals itself.
I convinced myself at one point that I couldn’t do the blog anymore. But we’ve all paid for the decision. Writing requires a mysterious mix of creative energy and intellectual curiosity. When it’s flowing, there is magic. When it’s not, well, it’s gotta go somewhere. My family knows when I’m not writing. I expel my energy through elaborate decoration schemes. Projects involving German glass glitter and a soldering gun spring up overnight. Suddenly every chair needs reupholstering, by me. Someone must need a birthday crown of beads and Victorian ephemera. My mantra becomes “How hard could it be?” In my manic state I order books and supplies, stay up late sketching plans and watching instructional videos on YouTube. Everyone gets exhausted.
Is it any wonder they’ve begged me to return to my desk? “Write. The blog. Another novel. Anything.” So here we are again. Because I need to write. Because fiction doesn’t seem nearly as compelling as every day life right now. Because I need to hear from other parents. Because I need to know what I think. Because the house can not take one more bough of holly.