Thursday, July 16, 2009

On humor and bitchiness

Oh, I have been in quite the peevish mood lately. My workload has eased since we just put out a double issue, which means we get to kick back a bit for the month of July (thus my recent productivity, quilt-wise). But my babysitter has been gone much of that time, and my youngest child has been sick twice (and I sick once) and my husband is maniacally trying to meet a major deadline for work on Friday, and has become kind of unbearable to be around. In the meantime, we have made the decision to start sending our youngest to daycare starting in August, which means that, starting late August/early September, I will have my days to myself again, free to devote to work, housework, writing, and, of course, quilting.

This decision has been so difficult for me, and at one point I just cried for over an hour, feeling that I was abandoning my child, pushing her away from me to achieve my own selfish ends. Intellectually, I know that the decision was based on many factors, my own needs being just some of them. She has been home with me since birth, and she is now at an age where she loves me beyond all measure and wants to be with me 24/7, but at the same time is trying to be independent and separate and so butts heads with me all day over issues such as which shoe to put on first or the exact spot on the floor where she wants me to sit. Her sister was in daycare from the age of 4 months on until she went to pre-school at age 4, and I am convinced that the interaction with other kids and other adults was very, very good for her. And I am convinced this will be good for Devon as well, but I still can't shake the fear that it will cause her some sort of irreparable psychological damage.

On top of this, I was reading a much-anticipated book, It Sucked, And Then I Cried, by Heather Armstrong of Dooce fame. As is the case with many blogger books, it is a re-written, re-edited compendium of blog posts which recounted her battle with depression during and after her first pregnancy. As someone who has been through post-partum depression herself, I have always taken some comfort in Heather's story and I have been a follower of her online work for several years. It would not be exaggerating to say that Heather Armstrong is one of the reasons I became a blogger and decided that it was perfectly okay to write in my own snippy, snarky voice.

So, I was really looking forward to reading the book, but as I plowed through each chapter, I realized that I was NOT enjoying the book AT ALL. I mean, I wanted, several times in fact, to take the book and throw it against the wall. I wanted to tell her to shut up already about your swollen feet, like you are the only person who ever had a baby? GOD.

It really just pissed me off in deep, visceral ways. She exaggerates everything about her pregnancy, about her size and ungainliness and swelling and difficulty urinating, in chapter after chapter of, well, endless bitching. By the time she gets to the point where she has both a newborn and a mental illness that needs treatment in a facility, I as a reader felt like her crippling anxiety was just more bitching. There is nothing in the book that makes her seem like a warm, vibrant, loving individual, which I am quite sure she really is, and so her breakdown seems (and I emphasize "seems" because I do know that this isn't actually the case - I'm just criticizing the mechanics of the telling of it) like just a consequence of a life of incessant negativity.

Reading this, and being so disappointed, kind of forced me to take a look at my own writing and to wonder if I am in danger of falling into the same trap. It has occurred to me, and upon further reflection I think this is true, that what is funny in a blog post, even if the blogger posts similar content fairly often, is not funny at length. when I take a minute out of my day to read about Heather's new baby, and she says that little Marlo doesn't cry, but instead yells, "pot-bellied, weathered by years of tragedy and illness and unemployment kind of yelling. Drunk on scotch and just got home from the coal mine yelling," it makes me guffaw out loud and once again wish I could be that funny and clever. But a whole book of the same kind of "my kid is so difficult" exaggerations just sounds mean.

So you'd think my conclusion would be that my bitching can be amusing on the blog, but I should just come up with a new plan when the inevitable (right?) book deal comes through. But, no. I may work myself around to that conclusion eventually, because I can't really think that I am going to stop complaining about my incompetence, if I am truly honest with myself. But at least I can go through a period of appropriate reflection and meditation in the subject, to make myself feel better.

Thus, right now I am thinking a lot about humor and the writing of it, both online and off, and wondering where the lines between satire and hyperbolic whining fall, and if if I have a place in that that I can make my own, that I can be comfortable with. Lord knows I have exaggerated my own incompetence here simply because it is funny to me to do so, and it helps me to get over the lazy perfectionism that has kept me from pursuing so many things in my life. David Sedaris has done the same thing, though not about his lousy quilting skills and in a much more talented and wonderful way than I ever will, and apparently everybody was taking him seriously all those years. They truly thought that he intended each and every crazy story to be taken as fact, as reporting, and when it turned out that he was exaggerating, people were shocked, shocked, that it wasn't all gospel truth.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that writing this blog has become a bigger enterprise for me than just yapping about my sewing misadventures. It may have opened a door, a small door right now - but still a door, into further writing, and with the time that is opening up before me this fall, I have an opportunity to, in the second half of my life, finally do some of the things I have long wanted to do. Like write a book.

I just don't want to fuck it up.


Linda said...

I think the only way you can fuck things up is to not do anything at all! I love your writing. I'm fully aware it's occasionally exaggerated (one g or two?), and that's as it should be. Good writing is good writing! Keep enjoying life and writing about it! And, by the bye, both of my kids were in daycare early (my second earlier than my first) and have turned out really, really well! Take care. Lurking Linda

~Michelle~ said...

I think Heather does what she does because homegirl is bringin' home the bacon that way - just name one of the most influential women in media, so the girl is struttin' her stuff. But I still get the sense she is grounded, so I think you could remain that way too, even while giving us some satirical sewing adventures to read about! Just keep reminding yourself that a bunch of us feel that way, but aren't gutsy enough to let others see it. ;)

Vicki W said...

Ok, just my 2 cents (which is worth shit in this economy).....stop reading these crappy books. DS makes me want to slit my wrists. These are people who think what they have to say is funny and profound. I don't really want profound with my funny. Your writing is tremendously entertaining. Don't overthing it - just do it!

Anonymous said...

Several disjointed things: Thanks for using the word "peevish." It is one of my favorites and whenever I hear it (in part because I am often peevish at said moment) it immediately makes me giggle, and therefore eliminates my peevish state. It also makes me think of Peeves, the ghost in in Harry Potter, which also makes me laugh and sometimes snort and generally embarrass myself.

Second: As a writer and an editor you see this all time: we are our own worst critics. Write what you want, how you want, when you want, where you want. People like it, or they don't. Learn from others and figure out how it applies to you. I was at a book fest here in Chicago a few weeks ago listening to a panel of cartoonist and someone made this great point: If a random stranger came up to you and said, without provacation, that your work is shit ... they'd be a right royal bastard. But somehow, somewhere it became OK for us to say that about ourselves. (What can I say, I was feeling profound at the time.)

And finally, a semi non-sequitor. I don't tell this to most people, but I write full time. That said, it's a very different kind of writing (in content, tone, style, etc) than what I put on my personal blog. I'm so thankful to have the balance of the two: the pays-the-mortgage gig, which lets me learn so much about the world and gives me perspective; and the blogging part, which helps me remember why I love to write in the first place, keeps me centered and helps me organize the rock-and-roll concert of thoughts that goes on in my crazy addled brain.

So in summary, you're not fucking it up. Rock on, girl friend. :-)

Ginny said...

Ok a couple of quick things... first off I am not a write, hell I can hardly string a bunch of word together to make a coherent sentence, plus I can't spell for shit! That said, I love reading your blog, yes we know you exaggerate, NO ONE could quilt as badly as you claim! LOL so I read you blog very tongue in cheek (tongue being a word I can actually spell correctly every time)
So write your book. Just do it! The worst that could happen is it will be a smash hit, you will sell millions, go on to wealth and fame, screw up your kids and end up on drugs! Ok so seriously, write it, you will never know what you can do till you attempt it.

Now on to the most important part of my post... Daycare for your little one, I am a licensed provider... So my professional opinion.. take a breath, now take another, and let her go to care, she will grow and benefit from time away from Mom, and time spent with new friends, you little one will be happier for it. I know that sounds strange, but like we adults, children need that social interaction, and if she can get it before she starts school it will be much better for her. Plus, think everything you can get done while she is playing with her friends, heck you could write a book!
Hugs to you, we love ya!

soggybottomflats said...

Are you kidding? I get giddy when my blogger says you wrote another blog! You have a loyal following of quilters who would love to be able to admit there shortcomings but are to afraid to admit it. About the exageration...don't we all? It's kind of like someone tells you your dress is cute and you have to defend that claiming it's just an old thing and never admitting you bought it the day before and spent 2 paychecks on it and worried it wouldn't be just right. I love your blog. I also think you are funnier then a pap smear on a 90 y/o nun. Don't sell yourself short, you do have what it takes, write the book.

On the daycare thing. Just remember that this is not a dress rehersal, this is life. Your job as a mom is to teach independence and autonomy. Sometimes it hurts, lots. But you have to take care of you to be a better mom.

I can't wait for your book.

soggybottomflats said...

(omg, I hope to God she doesn't have the damn red pen for the misspelled words and grammer, shit!)

Carol R. said...

I read your blog for the sheer entertainment. You have such a way with words. Like one of the posters before me, I can't wait until my Google Reader tells me you have posted another post.

I wish I were out-going enough to display my true emotions on my blog the way you do. I guess I am drawn to your blog because you say the things out loud that I think, and I admire that.

On daycare? Enjoy your time away from your daughter. She, and you, will end up with a better relationship because of it. It will make it easier to have quality time with her when she is with you. JMHO.

Sarcastic Quilter said...

first, I'm going to say that this was a great stepping-stone lesson for when you write your own articles and books. You've learned what is too much and that's part of not fucking it up.

Now, I have to say, you could have gotten to that conclusion in a much shorter post. -wink-

Lindsay Jean said...

I read "It Sucked And Then I Cried" also, and I am so relieved to hear my impression come from someone else. I'm devoted to, and I knew the story, but the book came off a little less poignant, a little more whiny. And I felt bad for thinking that because I know she's been through a lot.

You write beautifully, and your blocks from Take Two are lovely. The long and short of it is that if you were a bad mother, you wouldn't think twice about sending her to daycare.

Sunna Reyr said...

I wish you the best of luck there, both with daycare and writing, which according to your writing here, both grumpy and happy, should not be a problem for you. Having four kids and living on a farm my little ones just loved daycare and the other kids they met there. At home they got so fed up with each other from time to time, that I loved daycare dearly too.

2ndAvenueStudio-Rachel said...

Noodles is right you won't fuck it up.

I just wanted to write "fuck" and post it... :)