Part of a series of ten segments, checking the progress of my 2017 New Year Resolutions.
I joined Facebook back in August 2008. Talk about a face-palm first post, so telling of great things to come! haha I was the mother of a new baby, and these were the days when Facebook seeded the start of your post with “I am…” and you fill in the blank which for me was, “still trying to get caught up on sleep.” Where’s Captain Obvious when you need him? Oh, such insight and wisdom! Duh.
As Facebook evolved, my friends list grew, and I found my footing on what to post, I ended up posting a lot and I got a whole lot better than that first anti-climatic entry. I posted about every day kind of stuff, kid stuff, parent stuff, working woman stuff, and lately politics (don’t hate me)… Short posts and some long ones, too, and I found that I loved it.
Writing was a creative outlet I desperately needed while I held down a demanding, highly logical and analytical job. I craved connection with family and the friends I met from all around the country during my relocations and frequent travels. For as much heat as the social network gets, Facebook was a critical lifeline for me at a time when I was stuck for years at home caring for our young kids without family nearby or any good friends to rely on as a support network. I mean, there is only so much money and time you can use for a babysitter before you are a neglectful parent, and I had waited too long to have kids to make that foolish mistake.
Now over these same years, a family member of mine frequently dismissed any discussion I started about Facebook as a total waste of time, despite how much I personally enjoyed connecting and communicating on it. These comments were hurtful, because it felt like they were deliberately dismissing me and what brings me joy. I don’t bring it up anymore. I don’t bring up my writing or really much of anything that is going on with me, because this particular audience turns a deaf ear.
It’s been almost a decade now. That dismissal still stings, and that family member and I have grown increasingly distant. But as an artist, you need to ignore what your critics say and push through, creating from the heart. Artists deal with this rejection quite a bit from their own families. Thank God my husband is supportive. He’s an artist too, a musician, and he tells me, “You don’t choose your art: it chooses you.”
What surprised me was what happened with my writing on Facebook. It was the number of people who stopped and told me in person how much they liked what I wrote, people who I never realized even read my stuff. Is this what my husband means about my art choosing me? I am genuinely flabbergasted every time it happens but it happens too often to be pure coincidence.
I also noticed I got a lot of positive reaction online whenever I wrote something long…and always when I thought maybe I shared a little too much or got a little too verbose. Every single time, those are the posts that seem to resonate with people the most. Go figure. I’m a slow learner and a late bloomer but I’m catching on!
I wasn’t always a writer. My favorite aunt, Nancy, gave me a diary when I was 9 years old, a tiny little 4″ x 6″ version with a light blue cover, a page for every day of the year, each page trimmed in gold, and the whole thing protected by a little lock. I wrote in it every day. Some days there was more story to tell so I’d continue on scrap paper and tuck the folded postscript in between the pages.
9-year-old me thought a diary was a brilliant idea because I knew my memory and recall of specific details wasn’t very strong. I’d look back at what happened over the prior week and be stunned to discover how much of it rolled off my back or disappeared from memory altogether. I have the entry for the day Aunt Nancy died when I was 10. I have journals all the way through public school and college, and a few years after that while I was still single and traveling for work. I no longer wrote daily entries but I wrote whenever I needed to sort things out, which meant I wrote a lot.
Oh, it’s painful to read those diaries now! Yes, I still have all of them. What a jumbled collection of thoughts. I had zero ability to express myself. My ability was so poor, I never considered writing as a career. What surprised me in retrospect is how my penmanship, introspection, and expression improved over nearly two decades. And if I told you that my honors accounting professor had the single biggest influence over my ability to write, you wouldn’t believe me. I’ll tell his story one day too, I promise. Dr. Thomas J Burns of Ohio State was a doozy of a man.
As a teen I was an avid pen pal with several friends I met at church camp and all-Ohio school activities. These letters switched to email at some point but life kinda got in the way and eventually I fell away from sending long emails.
So Facebook was the first time I had written any personal commentary of any length in years, and it was out there for my “friends” to see. What should I post about? What’s in my heart, or what would resonate in “conversation” with friends, or should any given post be a little of both?
I never ever once thought of myself as a writer. Not once in all these years of journaling, then pen-pal writing, then Facebooking. I just felt compelled to write. I just had to do it.
It got to where a couple of friends urged me to write a book or at least start a blog, which I tried a few years ago. “Denise’s Daily Delights and Dilemmas” was up and running for a few months but I got scared. I became afraid that I would be judged for telling my truth, and it became pretty apparent that I wasn’t quite ready to share my art with anyone.
Then I developed writer’s block: all this pent-up stuff to say but I had no idea what to write about. I wasn’t sure what perspective I was writing from: professional working woman, older mom to young kids, traveler, mentor, friend, artist…what? So I shut down the blog and abandoned the effort for a few years.
I quietly started a second one called “Teeny Tiny Thinker Thoughts” but posted once and never touched it again. Never told anyone about it either.
All the while I kept posting on Facebook and this time, the comments were more frequent and bold, and sometimes sent via private message, imploring me to write more. Write formally. Write anything.
“When you gonna write that book?”
“You have a knack for words. I love what you have to say, your little insights…”
“I want a signed copy of that book you’re gonna write,” and
“You need to write about this in your first book.”
And so the inner doubt wore off after many years. I knew I had turned a corner when I ran into my old boss at a conference two years ago and we caught up over dinner. He’s a traditional CPA type, the managing director for the local office of a global audit and consulting firm. I hadn’t seen him but a handful of times since I left the firm and it was delightful catching up. He asked what I had been doing with myself and I blurted it out as naturally as anything I had ever said: “I write.” He did the classic double-take and I realized what I had just admitted out loud for the first time.
The final straw was this summer talking to my cousin Steve who pulled me aside at an all-too-soon funeral for another cousin. Oh Lord, I’m probably hosing the quote big time but I’m pretty sure he asked me, “Cousin, for the love of God, when are you gonna start writing for real?”
Steve didn’t know I had “writing more” on my 2017 resolutions and that I was penning some essays on the side, starting what may be a book one day. But it was his words that pushed me to launch this blog a few weeks ago on the last day of September, the month I turned 50.
I am writing “for real”, whatever comes in my heart… and I’m not going to question whether it’s worthy or too wordy or too nerdy, or whether I have an audience for it. Of course, I want to hone my craft. I want my tone to be hopeful and positive, like I try to live my life, and like my husband and I try to guide our kids and how we purposefully choose the people around us.
I feel like a Flying Wallenda navigating the inner critic tightrope, carefully balancing informative and constructive thoughts that push my art forward all the while doubts and insults hit me like a wind shear from any given direction, not to mention the very real outer critics who exist.
The difference this time? There is no net and no end in sight. I love it and I’m doing it, for real.