How alive are you willing to be?

Got home from Iowa at just after 11 last night. House quiet. Peered into Wally's crib first thing and saw Elmo's face (on his t-shirt) peering back at me. Wonderful. Alex asleep too, though not intentionally (i.e., splayed across couch, street clothes on, no blanket). These days that's the usual "Can't wait to see you" pose that one finds the other in. I'd been exhausted in Minneapolis, running to catch up with gate changes and short transfers, and nearly hit rock bottom on bus from Laguardia to Harlem (every stop was "get friendly, there's more people gettin' on") but once home I felt fully energized and almost at loose ends with a kind of electricity. Don't know if it was just the 20L of Cherry Coke kicking in, or the happiness of seeing Wally cozy in bed (still have that mind set that no one else will be able to take care of him), or something inherited in this apartment -- last call can never come before midnight -- a tradition Alex lately carries on more often than me.

I've been hesitant to post again on my blog, however, and I'm struggling to figure out why. There's this vague irritation with blog Rachel -- concern that it's a separate person from real Rachel (how could it not be?) -- and wonder if the incredible "gift" the blog offered (helping me work through mom identity crisis and general anxiety over others' perceptions) now makes it obsolete. Like a good teacher -- if he does the job well, you won't need him anymore. 

I like the questioning on it, people questioning me, asking for explanations, calling me out on one thing or another, "But you said...". I like being forced to come up with another reason, a new one, admitting to an altered perspective, or allowing myself to be grateful even if it feels corny and Midwestern (no offense to Iowa; probably should not have made fun of that state yet again in wedding toast at my second wedding there). And in making fun of Iowa, our perceptions of it, I am really just making fun of myself too. For being surprised that we fly through Minnesota, that it's so close to Wisconsin. For "going to the finest schools all right miss lonely" but not knowing really basic stuff. And there's a part of the general hesitation. Kidding in person is one thing. But in written form, who knows how it translates, or how much I'm held to something I wrote, even if it's in my own head. (But you you better...). Then again I'd like to hold myself to higher standards, in terms of creativity and productivity and mom-hood and as a sister/daughter/aunt/cousin/friend/girlfriend, so maybe that isn't a bad thing. Having things written down, and trying to live up to what you say are your ideals.

It comes down to, like Anne Lamott says about writing at the end of Bird by Bird, after talking through all the frustration and aggravation and scariness and disappointment of the craft: "Why again do we write?" And her answer is that, basically, we don't have to, but it depends on how alive we want to be. 

And I keep coming back to that, too. Even while I get annoyed, not just at Blog Rachel, but at some amorphous, imagined, amalgam of a reader out there, like an impatient editor, or school child, who says in a testy voice, "But you already said that," or "Well you shouldn't worry so much" or "You overthink stuff". And in my head I have these imagined frustrating conversations, spitting back to that amorphous, imagined, dim-witted reader: "But you repeat yourself all the time", and then a corkscrew, high-pitched, defensive, laugh, "But you worry about so much more than me! You're worried about making money and looking good and ironing your shirt and people making fun of the way you dance-- those are all things I don't care about one wink." And not one person I've ever met who doesn't overthink wouldn't benefit from thinking a little more. Or, that voice: "But you shouldn't second-guess yourself so much." To which I reply: "Well I wish you'd first guess yourself every now and then." And then I hear real live people saying, as of course they do and should, some of that stuff I wrote isn't really that good and isn't really that true. And then I get stubborn and resistant and say "Most of the stuff you're doing isn't really that good and isn't really that true, but you're not putting yourself out there to be judged and criticized."

And except for the artists and musicians and writers and loudmouths and moonwalkers among those real and imagined readers, maybe the answer will simply be "You're right. I'm not. But you are." 

But I am. I am just always doing it. Whether it's on the steps of the China Ruby or the high school bleachers (what do you call those things -- that we stood on in chorus -- where I fainted off the back and cracked my head on the stage then slipped down to the rug beneath while the choir kept along singing Billy Joel "And so it goes") or in food court or inappropriate wedding toasts or at Brownies or at CBGBs or in the Music Trivia book or on the blog. In really tiny ways. Really small town ways. And maybe the 125 people who check the blog a day are all really the same person (that raspy imaginary reader, laughing himself sick) checking from different computers. 

"Why again do we write?"

It comes up with running too (This feels awful--why again am I doing this?), with kids (Why again do we have them), with relationships (Why on earth would anyone put this much effort into something?), at times.

And then at other times, we just can't not. We're just born to do it -- to run, to have kids, to have relationships, and to try to express ourselves in some meaningful way.

So no matter how many times I really put my foot down in these silent conversations ("Rach, you really do sound crazy"/ "But everyone knows you're 1000 times crazier than me!") and say I'm not going to continue

it's not really true. Cause I just can't imagine not wanting that examined life, that aliveness, that unnameable electricity of being a bit too open--with myself, with everyone--so that I can feel my way through sadness, irritation, and frustration, and find out if there is some way to get better. I just can't imagine being enough alive -- we only have a short time as it is -- without finding the meaning in the events, without pushing and pulling and trying to get more out of it. As long as I'm also able to let go. It does bother me that people think I'm crazy (especially when I know for a fact they're nuts). But it'd bother me more not to be honest about it. Not to stay up and wake up and be alive to it, and look at it in the face. Even if it's Elmo staring back.


  1. I believe they're called "risers."

  2. Virginia Woolf A Room of One's Own if you haven't read it might help. And that feeling...of looking in the crib and seeing Elmo's face...I love that feeling...

  3. Ah yes --read that years ago but will give it another read. Also great, in that vein, Gift from the Sea (A.M. Lindbergh), Writing Down the Bones (Natalie Goldberg), and The Right to Write (Julia Cameron).

  4. and...Stephen King's On Writing. One of the most straightforward books I've read on how to self-motivate if you're tired of philosophy ;) and feminism..

  5. That's one of my top 10 writing books for sure. Recently added: Page by Page by Heather Sellers. What kind of stuff do you write GGW? Also, when do you find the best time to be now that you are (I think) caring for two kids at home?

  6. No one ever says on their death bed "I'm glad I didn't embarrass myself." [Or maybe they do. Anyway I wouldn't.]

  7. Thanks for your honesty, Rach. Do you find that the blog is a sort of lifeline to others? I find that it's easy to be swept away when we don't have content accessible to others in some way....even though that is far from my first choice of how things "should" be.

    Elmo and the Examined Life. I like it.

  8. I'd like to think that we don't all read your blog just so we can ridicule you in our minds - hee hee. Picture me reading it and smiling :)

  9. Oh but that's why I write them - to ridicule everyone else!

  10. I have another friend who is going through a similar thing--her blog is She started it to chronicle her life waiting for a double-lung transplant, and gained more readers/followers than you and I could ever dream of (combined). But once she got the transplant, she has lost her motivation to blog! I think it's somewhat of a natural progression, and you shouldn't put pressure on yourself to post regularly or write well--the beauty of it is that it's spontaneous, and free for your readers (and unpaid for you), and allows people to read what they want and skip over the other stuff.

    If you decide you don't want to come back to it, that's fine too. It's still nice to have a bit of a chronicle, and you might eventually decide your blogging interests lie elsewhere (like me).

    If it is helpful at all while you're trying to figure out why you like to write your blog, I will tell you why I like to READ your blog: Whether or not I can relate to your post, you often make me ponder some big questions in my own life--getting married, work/life balance, the arguments we have with ourselves and think that no one else has.

    For instance, I love your talk about the difference between blog Rachel and real Rachel, and it got me thinking about a guy I dated once. He and I met via work (but had never met in person), and used to write each other occasional and not-so-occasional, very long emails about life. When we finally met we lasted only 2 visits--in real life, we didn't have anything to talk about! (The thing is, you don't talk about the big questions of life and love that much on a daily basis--you need to at least have a similar taste in movies/music.) In thinking back, I am always nostalgic for the "email him," and have always wondered what real part of him those emails were.

  11. It's great to hear I've prompted you to think about some big questions in your own life. I feel obnoxious even writing it that way, but what I mean is --thank you for letting me know and for being willing to share your experience (and for remembering things I said in the B&N stairwell 3 + years ago!!) I like your point that it's spontaneous and low-pressure and I don't have to be responsible for writing every day or nearly everyday at times when I don't feel like it.
    Evie - that point about how you don't "talk about life and love that much on a daily basis" is such a good one. I've often thought about it but not from the exact angle of meeting someone you had these great conversations with after you had them. Sometimes I think a good relationship is just agreeing on who will run out and buy milk in the morning. That seems to factor in more to its success than philosophical breakthroughs and heightened, breathless conversations.


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