Pondering Why I Write What I Write, Then Maya Angelou Died

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Gabriel Garcia Márquez said, “All human beings have three lives: public, private and secret.”

Clearly, I write lots of things about myself and things that have happened to me and my family on this blog. I used to judge myself and accuse myself of unabashed narcissism; that my writing about my life must be a token overcompensation due to my incredibly low self-esteem. But I don’t really have low self-esteem, as a chronic condition; most of the time, I’m quite OK with who I am. What’s funny is that I’ve read so much about narcissists over the years that I’d be mortified if I were one. The last thing I want is everyone agreeing with me or living the way I say.

But I have been mulling it over: Why Do I Write What I Write here, anywhere?

I started the blog as a form of love letter to my sons. As a glimpse into my head and as a testament to how I wish to live a rich, succcessful and fulfilling life, without mansions, yachts, white parties and our names in lights. I continue it because I find that life is constantly throwing curve balls. Just when you think it’s time to sit and relax, that you can exhale and zone out, up sprouts another “adventure” (that’s what we’ll call them, ok? cheers!).

So why DO I write about what I write about here? I had been thinking about it for several months. I had an idea, I was inspired several times, to march out onto the worn, grainy wooden stage of my blog, with a top hat and cane. I would push through the massive, tattered, heavy and dusty midnight blue velvet curtains, move forward in a giant hip-swingy, little kid “big step” and SIIIIIIING in my best Steve Martin, “It’s beeeeeecaauuuuuuuuusssszzzzzzze …. >inhale< …. I'm ahhh-liiiiiiiiiiivvvvvvvvve!"

Then Maya Angelou died.

Reading about her life, has made me feel like a princess in an ivory tower. Immediately: I felt small, stupid, uncertain and silent. I thought I had a story to tell. I thought I was a survivor. But I know that if she were here right now, she would put her hand on my shoulder and look into my pitiful face and say to me, "Molly, we all have a story. You don't have to feel small. You don't have to compare, because comparing and competing and trying to be first and measure up… against what? Against who? All of that is to no use. Have you not been listening dear? You write because you simply ARE. That's why. And no one knows your life but you. So you sing it." And she would lean back gently and laugh in that amazing, loving and confident way she had. And she would vanish and I would be OK. But not really. But eventually.

It's because of writerly women: Maya Angelou, Joyce Carol Oates, Joan Didion, Anne Lammott, Dorothy Parker and other bloggers, that I feel I can go on.

I've had people in the flesh, tell me, "Wow. What you write is sooooo revealing. Be careful of what you write… Don't you want to protect your children?"

I answer: "From what? The truth? My absolute WORST fear in life is that my kids won't know who the hell I am; that they won't know how I'd deal with something long after I'm gone and that they'd have no one to consult… Much as how I did not know who my mother was nor what she would have done…" Some moments absolutely exist when I know what Mom would do. (And that's not necessarily a good thing she'd do.) For other moments? Maaaan, she was completely unpredictable. Her capacity to indulge caprice was boundless.

So for those moments I don't share, my third, secret life? I have plenty of things I needn't nor will ever share. Boxers or briefs? Who cares?! How you overcame unbridled narcissism in your mother, only to unconsciously rehash it again and again in females you met as you matured until you FINALLY! realized the damage it had done and broke the pattern it manifested in you? I think people want to know about that.

Some stuff you just can't make up. Some things that people do –intentionally flying airliners into buildings for instance or falsely impugning a child in his own home– defy common, rational imagination. That Maya Angelou accessed the strength inside herself to share her truth which let people in on her harrowing past, is the reason people continue to write. She is the reason I will Write What I Write.

There will always be plenty of other things to write about.

For now, I simply write because I Am.

Thank you, Maya Angelou, for giving all of us, each and every single one: a voice.

Thank you.

2 responses »

  1. I hate it when people ask the question about our children. As mothers, we’re careful. As writers, we’re honest. Betwixt and between the two lies the area we play within. And we never do it irresponsibly.

  2. I love this, Molly. I am pretty sure that is exactly what Maya Angelou would say to you too.

    I’ve had people make similar comments about me writing about my daughter and even my husband. Some of that writing is for my daughter. Parenting is difficult sometimes and exhausting. When she grows up and has kids I hope she will read some of my stories and know that it’s normal to not always be the “perfect” mother or that sometimes you just want to run away from home. I haven’t run away and I love her so much. Maybe she will learn something from that…or breathe a sigh of relief because she no longer has to live up to some fantasy standard. Plus, to understand why I made certain decisions or behaved in a certain way…I think that information is incredibly valuable. I would give anything to have access to some of that information about my own parents! Marriage is a lot of work too. I think we often present this façade to our kids that it’s easy all the time. I want her to know that it’s work and can be frustrating, but when you love someone you just work it out. I also want her to know me as a person and not just as a mom because I think when we grow up that’s what we all want, isn’t it? To know our parents as people and not just as a role?

    I see it all as an act of empathy and love. We can empathize with our adult children, even before they are adults, because we are there now trying to understand our parents as people and not just as parents. We can empathize with people going through what we are going through right now too and sharing helps us connect and helps them connect. That’s all about love, isn’t it?

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