Imagine three women, all bloggers, living in different parts of the U.S. We are all college level teachers: One teaches at a major state university, one at a private Catholic college, and one at a community college. We are all Catholic, in some ways: one is a cradle Catholic who has walked away, one is Catholic by way of husband and daughter, and one is converted after a lifetime of walking the fringes. We all three have just one daughter, and all three live in very different relationships. The first woman has a college-aged daughter and lives in a long distance relationship with her husband, who works in a different state than the one in which she teaches. The second has a an elementary aged daughter and maintains a conventional marriage. The third has a high-school aged daughter and maintains a close friendship with a man, but they do not live together.
They all blog. The first woman, I shall call her Lee, blogs occasionally but regularly: long, carefully described entries that read like detailed essays. She is erudite and likes to write about how place shapes identity. Her voice is careful and professional. She weaves in allusions to poets and literary theories, to nature and art. An artist and photographer as well as dressmaker and writer, a cook and backwoods hiker, a humorous and loving wife and mother, she seems able to do everything. I envy her the order of her life, the way it swells and glows. She travels to England for research, meets well-known academics. She is genuinely kind. There was a time when I knew her, back when we were in graduate school together. Her daughter was three. We swapped dreams and stories of weddings, but she was always looking ahead, looking to rise. She is published, an expert in her field, leaves behind a wake of those who stand in awe of her. Her blog gives glimpses of her, but I never really know what hides below. Occasionally she writes about her daughter, and I love these small openings into a part of her life that I can understand. We walked in the sunlight across campus 18 years ago, and my memory of that day rises when she mentions her daughter. It is what I hold onto about her.
The second woman, I shall call her Dee, writes prolifically. She writes in fragmented images, skipping from one idea to the next, careless about traditional transitions. I see her eating at her computer, her daughter playing videos beside her. She weaves long, graceful narratives of her past with staccato visions of her present; a childhood trip to Mexico is part reflection, part juxtaposition against the exact moment of writing. She hints at darkness, steps back, plunges forward. Her entries often seems to be addressed to her creative writing students; she mentions them by name, describes them vividly. She writes with humor and matter-of-fact persistence about her hemorrhoids and her crazed dog. Uninhibited, spontaneous, intimate at times, her writing draws me in. She is one of the first people I visit when I see she has added a new post on bloglines.
I envy them both their ability, although from a personal perspective I prefer Dee’s writing. Lee’s writing — so professional and polished — keeps me at a distance. I admire it for what it says about her as a professional. But I don’t always feel like reading it. I don’t get lost in it. I see why she has risen so high in her career, why she is so admired. But I’m not compelled by her in the same way I’m compelled by Dee’s wild perambulations.
And then there’s me. TK. I’m torn always, between wanting to present the beautifully polished, allusive, professional essay-like entries that are Lee’s specialty, and the paralysis my desire causes. And then I remember that I only like to read Lee’s writing when I’ve got time and energy, and sometimes I am bored by it. So I think about Dee’s writing, about how it pulls me in when I need to be doing something else, how it remains with me after I walk away from my computer. I like her, not because she is kind in a distant way that is undergirded by professional grace, but because she is both flawed and immensely alive. Lee’s writing doesn’t admit to flaws. Dee’s is raw and beautiful with them.
I incline to the personal myself. I want to write what I want to read. But that simplifies it too much. It’s not that I don’t enjoy reading Lee’s entries. I do. She reminds me of some other bloggers I read, who form a tight-knit community of shared interests, diverse in style, yes, but also polished and careful in their writing. I never see typos, or awkward sentences, the kinds of things that creep into my writing so often because I always seem too much in a hurry.
So to return to the question that prompted this entry in the first place: How do I reconcile my desire to be somehow professional and polished in my writing (So that others might say, “Oh, how polished and lovely her writing is”) with my desire to read — and therefore to write — lovely, wild, intimate pieces?
I won’t. I suppose I’ll swing between wanting to maintain a cool and mysterious distance from my audience, and yet also wanting to close the gap between me and my readers. I want to pretend there are no readers out there, so I never have to backspace again. And yet I want readers to comment, so that I don’t feel I’m shouting down into an empty canyon, waiting for an echo.
The tension between the two desires drives me to write, then slams me against an invisible wall of worry. My drafts pile up: I have entries from more than a year ago, about Easter, about choosing my patron saint, about a particular lovely walk in the canyon. There are occasional darker ones too, attempts at continuing my retrospective that get pulled sideways, that expose what I don’t want exposed. I put them away, mull over them, and then bury them.
I wish not to bury my writing again, but I suppose the cycle will continue. I suppose I am self-medicating. I suppose my fear of overdosing keeps me cautious. I suppose I will continue seeking a balance, and accumulating drafts, and promising myself to finish my retrospective. In the meantime, I read Lee and Dee, and seek TK’s way, a balance between the two that more and more often swings towards Dee’s way.
It’s been raining, but the sun is out now. I have papers to read, bills to pay, a house to clean, and a memo to write for work. Thank God for Memorial Day, a time to let me catch up. Somewhere in there, I’ll squeeze in a walk for the dogs, and whether it’s raining or sunny, I’ll write as I walk.