Sometimes, I want to quit writing. Ok, not actually quit indefinitely (I’ve been scaling trees and scribbling in notebooks for as long as I can remember), but actually quit the public side. Since I’ve written Op-Eds from prepubescence on, I had to learn very swiftly that my chosen profession was one of subjectivity. Part of my job was filtering through the unwarranted, unfounded and often super-super-mean opinions and hate mail- fortunately, always enormously outranked by positives- that became a regular part of the “bearing of my soul and the telling of the most appalling secrets” (no one would get that better than Miss Alcott). No matter how discrete I’ve been throughout the years, the nature of putting forth words and relinquishing control is terrifying, to say the least. On any given week, I find myself stating: “I quit! I’m getting off Facebook, I’m leaving Instagram… I just want to disappear.”
Let’s take the example of photographs. Anyone worth their weight in digitized gold knows that social media is the primary way to promote your work, yourself, and in turn, to make a living off of this very creative, unstructured and often painful profession. Although I could break it down in detail, there are plenty of collegiate courses, international conferences and TED speakers to do the same… so I’ll leave the naysayers to do their homework. However, the unfortunate thing about women in a public or social platform of any kind is that the better we are at our job (or the more open we are as people), obviously the more criticism we will receive from perfect strangers. If I post photos of myself for promotional sake (or heck, just because I felt like it), I will be labeled a narcissist. An attention seeker. A vain, vapid, egoist at best. If I post photos of my beautiful children or a lovely familial memory (instead of another #bathroomselfie), I am a bad mother. I am exploitive. I am a villain.
No matter how often I use this example, most people don’t understand that we simply can’t come to their place of work, and criticize them as easily or ruthlessly. And not just critique relevant things like their work ethic, means or methods (heck, no one knows my horrible misuse of suffixes more than I)… but rather, critique them. Just simply themselves, as people and human beings. Obviously, this is a risk I “signed up for” the moment I published my first column (and the many years as a journalist that have followed), but due to the the initiation of social media within the written world, the problem has exacerbated exponentially.
Frankly, there has always been something about me that seems to warrant personal attacks anyways. Maybe it’s because I actually care what other people think? (It’s a horrible trait, I know.) Affronts of any kind are taken rapidly to heart, even if I don’t respect or trust the speaker. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve documented my fears, worries and words since a young age… and thus it seems fair game? Is it because I simply “don’t care” to waste energy hating on someone I love just because we are different… and that innervates those that are innately incapable of that themselves? Is it because I am a writer, choreographer, advocate, deaf, mother, nerd, sicko, glitter fan… and simply refuse to be pinned down as a singular prototype of femininity as seen online to date? Maybe. Then again, isn’t that ALL of us?
I hate to pull the gender card again (who are we kidding? I love to pull the gender card), but very little of this would ever come in to play were I male. To be both deprecating and insecure, yet confident of my strengths is an asset for a man. Men are revered for displaying a cross-pollination of attributes, while women are somewhat expected to pick one over the other. Why can’t I just be shy, timid and meek? Why can’t I just be a raging “B” (sorry Mom) who is super full of herself? Suffice to say, on almost any given day I am a paradox of extremes, and I’m not really sure how to be any other way.
Cue the Carly Simon (I DO have moves like Mick Jagger)
After becoming a single mother and surviving things very few truly know about, I started to take on an “F” attitude. You know what I’m talking about: the super bad word that I can never use (or my Catholic mother will weep), but that seems extra cool on the tongues of the Irish? As a chronic people pleaser (it’s truly a sickness), I finally decided to live like everyone else and just say “F”. And even though the girl I left behind- someone softer, more naive, less cynical- is no longer, I’m still pretty horrible at pretending I don’t care. Yes, I can say the tough, Sasha Fierce words or ignore you completely… but only after I go cry in a bathroom for 30 minutes because I super, duper want everyone to like me and for all conflict to be avoided indefinitely. Healthy, right?
Unfortunately, since my job has always been socially open and publicly prolific: I’m in an unstoppable conundrum. Regardless of the newfound “F” attitude, I still love pleasing people. I want you to be happy while you’re reading this (yes you)- to relate, to connect, to feel less alone. I want my parents to be proud, my siblings to respect me as I respect them, and my friends to feel supported and encouraged no matter our differences. I am a social person, often to a fault. An extrovert at best, a Type B mess in reality, and an arrogant narcissist to the isolated few who truly don’t know me. Nothing has taught me to stand up for myself more than my past (see also, first sentence of previous paragraph), and that includes seeing my own worth. In the past, I have been told I am too self deprecating, that I undermine myself, or I’m painfully insecure… all the while being full of myself and overly confident (because obviously, that makes perfect sense).
It may be no surprise that a lot of this recent strife connects to my recurrent downslide in somatic aptitude (i.e. health). Recently, I decided to finally be open about my struggles on the website and through social media (which, of course, are often one in the same). Because I could no longer “hide” what was going on (accessed ports and oxygen cannulas can be tricky that way), I really didn’t have a choice. Sure, I could create a falsity akin to The Truman Show… except that my increased need for medical equipment and tubing, or the prevalence of more bad days than good, would pretty much render me obsolete from my own photographs, experiences and history. OR I could embrace what was going on, be open with you guys (as I’ve always tried to be), and take the subsequent “heat”.
Unfortuantely, if there is anything I’ve learned from this experience, it’s that I’m terrible at this process (see this post to understand why). According to popular opinion, I’m either too discreet and post too little detail – likely why most of you reading this now are still thinking, “Ok, so what exactly is going on?”- or not enough. Honestly, the former is more often the complaint than the latter, and my weirdness about having friends visit me at the hospital or over-sharing for extra prayers online has created more animosity than full disclosure. See how there is no “win win” with this situation? I have always said my life is an “open book” (or rather, overly verbose blog), and thus anyone with questions can always privately email or message me, and I will spill beans until the cows come home [for beans?] Still, the people who mean the most to me attend my doctors appointments, hold extra copies of my medical records, and have more gnarly detail than any human being could possibly want. Be happy you are not one of those people (unless mucus is your favorite subject, in which case… SnapChat?)
Do you want to know what really gets my goat? (Other than goat cheese, which is the most perfect creation on earth.) The fact that most of the negative commentators are coming from one singular place: a feeling of discomfort. Seeing someone be “too sick” is not fun: I understand! It makes us all feel uncomfortable with ourselves and in general, and (like a car crash) want to look closer before quickly looking away. I get this. Recently, I had to meet some new people for the first time while I was wearing my oxygen, and I felt like I needed to work twice as hard to ease them in to the process of knowing me, beyond the obvious weirdness. Or even worse, I met with a close family friend suffering from a surplus of cancer, and found myself squirming at their physical decline (by the way, I also have “professional hypocrite” on my resume). To put it bluntly, as a pleaser of people [“I do not think it means what you think it means”]… I hate making others feel uncomfortable to a fault!
Is it getting awkward in here? Or are we just bored?
Never-the-less, since this is how my life is right now (in addition to hopeful fluctuation and improvement along the way): I can’t crawl in to a hole and disappear… even if I would sometimes prefer to do so online. Listen, I’m not perfect and have never claimed to be. I am bad at being sick. I am bad at writing anything described as “short and sweet” (clearly). I can be a little bit vain, a little bit insecure, and a lotta bit more than one thing. And of course, sharing is one of the best privileges that comes with being a writer by trade. Not only the great mascara days, but the horrific hospital moments too. Life is messy… so am I… end of scene.
So in conclusion, should I quit writing and disappear from the world forever? OR should I carry on as is: with what I have, being who I am, and living everyday to the fullest? Yeah, I’ll continue to try to maintain a balance between good social media practice and avid journalism, without sacrificing much coveted privacy (duh). I will create a legacy of words and images for my girls and loved ones, without fearing that I will be “too vain” today, yet “too diffident” the next in another’s eyes. I will be as social, extroverted and outgoing as a man in the business world… and make zero apologies for it along the way. Yet, honestly? This job has always been rather “black and white” for me. Why be an athlete if you’re only going to commit 50%? Why be an artist, if you’re only going to put a slice of yourself in to the work? For me, being a writer means I’m either all in or all out… and, at least for me, it’s kind of that simple (another personality flaw).
It’s hard to be a writer, but it’s even harder to be a woman and a mother in today’s society. To be different… at all. To be comfortable with yourself, to the enragement of others. To be blunt and silly, when you should be serious. To be sarcastic and straight forward, when you should be scared. To be flawed and frizzy, when you should be faultless.
Fortunately, we don’t have to cease, or decline, or apologize, or stand down for any of these accusations as parents or people.
Life is short. Live it. Love it.
And, if you have a sudden loss in sanity… write about it.
Want to rant with me? Share any of these pics on Makeover Momma Pinterest page or just talk amongst yourselves.
Let Me Know: Agree or disagree? Like or dislike? Go!