Not an apology
I was reading an amazing blog post today by someone who’s dealing with anxiety. The post discusses the role of honesty in helping her to surmount her difficulties. She says that in the end, she has always been rewarded for her honesty, and then she writes:
Honesty is not some muttering of sins in dark corners, harshly demanded penit[e]nce or guilt-extracted confessions. It’s being clear as still water, so all the stones are visible and loved despite their stoniness, or maybe for it. Being gentle with one another, accepting one another, these things clamber like vines over a foundation of honesty.
If we make it about appearances, about trying to be a certain way for each other, never showing what’s going on inside, we are in terrible danger. This is how deep deception comes about, how leaders crash into the rocks, how whole ships sink. And it’s no fun at all.
I remember a dear friend of mine asking me about [her book]. “It’s obvious in your book that you write about anxiety from a place of really knowing it personally,” he said. “Are you ever afraid of people knowing that about you?”
I stared at him. What I wanted to say (I can’t remember what I did say) is that if I don’t tell the story, it will kill me. Anxiety loses its power in the light, because there is love in light and softness, and things can grow other than the mold and fungus that will eat away at your insides. … But love is bigger, love is stronger. Love covers a multitude of sins, covers it like a blanket of flowers.
Don’t ever let anybody tell you anything different.
When I write here, it’s not the desire for you to know me that motivates me, so much as the fear of what will happen, what I will do to myself, if I don’t let you see what is going on. I would never say there’s no “appearance” here — that’s an inevitable consequence of writing. But at the same time, I try to point out to you when I notice one.
I am as honest as I can be when I blog, now, ahead of the coming storm, so that if you think of me as your voice, you can never say I lied to you about what I was, inside, all the conflicted, frustrated, dirty, nasty, joyful, euphoric, confused, diverse pieces. Because you know all that stuff, I can never disappoint you. I will never be worse than what you already think of me.
But the reality is: I can’t be your voice, either as a fan of Richard Armitage, or as a human. I can only be mine, as I even figure out what that is. And only you can be yours.
For some reason, the blogger’s account above calls to mind a story that a friend of mine from graduate school, a Mennonite, tells about his father, who was a Mennonite conscientious objector during World War II, and who was imprisoned for his beliefs. My friend told me that his father, whenever he was questioned about his convictions by prosecutors, said simply, “My G-d says: thou shalt not kill.”
I think about this story a lot because of all of the qualifications we make about violence or really about any moral stance. Just vs. unjust wars; destroying a village to save it; and so on. Wouldn’t you kill Nazis? What if your partner were about to be raped? Stalin? Wouldn’t you, shouldn’t you, kill to prevent killing?
And I wonder about its discursive applications. Shouldn’t we speak to prevent objectionable speech?
What I want to say on this blog, akin to the statements of this Mennonite conscientious objector, though much more trivial: this is what I am learning, this is what I know. What you do with that — what the world does with that — needs to be immaterial to my writing. Otherwise, what I share is no kind of knowledge.
What I often think about honesty, and why it’s difficult: because being honest in front of you forces me to lose control. And when I lose control, I don’t get to decide. I don’t get to decide what it would be better or worse for people to know about the unsavory moments of my inner life. When I signal, with my writing, “I firmly believe these two things that are not rationally consistent,” or “I have this very inconvenient feeling,” or “In these words I’m giving up control of a desire I can no longer hold hostage,” I cede the control provided by silence, which I often experience as a kind of dishonesty.
And when I write, I put my reputation in the hands of people who may not be especially charitable. I don’t get to decide how you feel about me. That’s one outcome of honesty.
But there are other outcomes.
Armitagemania involved a fundamental loss of control for me. It was apparently the only thing that could reach a level of tempestuousness to get through to a woman leading a life that was shipwrecking because of the iron control she insisted on maintaining. I was killing myself, slowly, with my own need for control.
Before Armitagemania, a series of things were eating me up inside. They had made both my career and personal life untenable. They were eroding my personality so badly that they had paralyzed all expression. And they were all things that could not be spoken of, that one should not talk about. Because they were shameful. Because I should have figured out a way to control them. Because I failed.
That is my failure; I own it. I should have figured out how to control those things. I should have figured out how to be a professor, a lover, a daughter, a human. You would think I would have, but I didn’t.
Armitagemania for me meant, in at least one corner of my life, rejecting silence; it meant ceasing to self-censor in ways that gouged at my soul. It meant acknowledging shame; it meant admitting all the ways that I have failed, that I fail, every single day. It’s been a gradual process, as learning how to give up one piece of control led to learning how to give up another.
Do you think I would be doing this if I thought there were an alternative?
This chose me. But I am learning to choose it. I will not look away.
For a different approach, hear the words of Elizabeth Bishop, regarding losing:
One ArtThe art of losing isn't hard to master; so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster. Lose something every day. Accept the fluster of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. The art of losing isn't hard to master. Then practice losing farther, losing faster: places, and names, and where it was you meant to travel. None of these will bring disaster. I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or next-to-last, of three loved houses went. The art of losing isn't hard to master. I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster, some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent. I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster. --Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident the art of losing's not too hard to master though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
To be said about this: Bishop was not a confessional poet. I fear that I am.
Also to be said about this: what looks like disaster is a letting go that one grows to accept as one grows older. In this blog, I try to let go. Maybe you cannot bear to witness the things I let go of. But that will not prevent me from letting go of them.
Practice losing farther, losing faster.
You may read this blog and not accept me. But if I lied to you about who I was, about what I feel, would you really be accepting me? As the blogger above states, acceptance is a vine that grows over honesty. I believe that goes both ways. Only by acknowledging what I am and all the “stoniness” in my personality can I start to try to love you. I can only do that through honesty.
May I suggest, gently, that if you desperately hate or even just mildly despise or quietly regret what this blog does, that the best way to erase its reputation is probably not to revile it? That your spite actually increases people’s interest?
May I suggest, gently, that if you revile it, that your attitude is as much about your needs as it as it is about my failures to live up to them?
May I suggest, gently, that if you think this is the wrong way to write about “me + richard armitage,” that you provide the growing audiences for news and commentary about Mr. Armitage with an alternative? That you find your own original, affirmative voice?
And finally, may I suggest, gently, that in six months, all of us will be so drowning in media, pictures, impressions, and fans, that none of this will matter in the least?
That in six months, all of us will have lost control?
That in six months, honesty will be the only thing left? For any of us?
To return to the beginning of this post: I am a very “stony” person. There’s a lot not to like about me, a lot of pieces that from the perspective of others shouldn’t or don’t fit.
But in the end, this is a blog about self-respect. If I tell the story, it will no longer have the power to kill me. If I shine the light on all the pieces, I hope, it will be acceptable for them to be visible, finally. The light will take away the shame. It’s the only thing I’ve thought of, in all these months of blogging, that does any good.