On Sunday, which happened to be Mother’s Day, I woke up to the sounds of my baby girl giggling in her pack-n-play. My mom and mother-in-law had spent the night, and we made breakfast while waiting for Husband and my father-in-law to come back from Austin where they had seen a musical. Mom and I had gone to a wedding the previous night, and my head still felt groggy from staying up past my bedtime. When Husband and his dad arrived, we ate and exchanged gifts, and then played with Lydia until they needed to go home. It was shaping up to be a lovely day.
Around 5 pm, Husband left the room to place a phone call. When he didn’t come back, I left Lydia in her swing to look for him. He was crumpled in a chair, wearing a face that can only mean one thing. I thought of all the elderly people in our lives, until he shook his head and said one word: “Mike.”
Our dear friend, Michael DuBose, was found in his truck on May 11. He was a month shy of his 31st birthday. We later found out he had suffered an aortic aneurism, but had gone quickly and without pain. Mike, as we affectionately called him (he always introduced himself by his full name), was Husband’s best friend. We were all three in band together—Mike was to be my section leader, before I became sick and couldn’t try out that year—and it is in no small way due to his friendship that Husband and I met and fell in love.
Mike was the only person among our circle of friends who shared my passion for literature. I could talk about Hemingway with him without feeling guilty for loving a writer whose work is too often simplistically dismissed among my colleagues as anti-feminist. He received his PhD from PennState just last Spring, and held a lectureship at the University of South Carolina Beaufort. He was looking forward to interviews at a number of campuses, and while I started to sink into an alt-ac alternate reality, his academic star was slowly rising.
It’s really quite difficult to put into words how much a person means to you, especially when they are no longer here to tell them. After the initial shock, Husband and I sunk into a seemingly endless lethargy. The funeral has yet to be scheduled due to difficulties with bringing him home to Texas, so we are stuck in a state of limbo. In an effort to stay distracted, I have thrown myself into my writing, work, and crafts, but haven’t yet been able to bring myself to open my dissertation draft. I should be able to draw from my research on sentimentalism and sympathy for comfort, but what is more silent than death? I try to stay hidden, fearing that at any moment a word or phrase will stick out and stab me in the stomach again.
Mike enjoyed sending letters (old-fashioned letters, with good paper, ink, and sealed with wax), and I never knew him to be speechless or unable to express himself. So I will do my best to articulate why I feel this way: Mike was my friend. And I miss him.
From the frequency (or lack thereof) of blog posts I publish, you may think that I’ve forgotten about the blog or that my heart really isn’t in it or I’m too lazy to make time to write.
This isn’t true. I think about my blog all the time.
I compose entire posts in my head on my way to campus. When something interesting or poignant or hilarious happens, I think that would make a great blog post. Sometimes I even write entire posts, only to save them in draft form to be published at some magical future date. And that time never comes.
Why is this? How did I go from I Am Writer, Read My Words to, well, silence?
In Tillie Olsen’s book, Silences, she describes lots of different types of silence. One: the absence of books written by women in the canon (keep in mind Silences was originally published in 1978). Another: long gaps in a single writer’s literary production. Olsen examines the conditions for these gaps: fear of criticism, inability to make time to write, political silencing.
How, then, can I account for my own silences, at least on the blog?
The biggest factor, I think, is that I don’t have a job. To be more accurate, I currently have four jobs (student, writer, editor, and administrative junkie), but none of them pay very well (or at all) and none are sustainable. In a few months/years, I will have to go out on the job market and find a career, something with maybe a retirement plan and insurance. No matter what type of job I find, I’m terrified that the blog will become a liability, not an asset, despite reassurances to the contrary.
You can’t measure, rank, or quantify the usefulness of a blog. You can’t measure, rank, or quantify any of the things I do, really, but somehow the blog has come to stand as that thing that makes me feel like a round peg trying to fit into a square hole. Nobody else I know IRL who isn’t already established has a blog, so there’s no one I can really talk to who can say how a blog fits into their larger professional vision, if there is such a thing. There’s also no one to tell me to relax and do what I want, because the only information I hear are the horror stories of trying to find a job.
And so, I’ve become the ultimate censor of my work. Is this interesting? What am I trying to say, exactly? Do I really want to publish this? How will this read if someone finds it in five years?
In addition, the readership of my blog has increased in an inverse relationship to the number of posts I write. People are coming up to me at events and saying, “I read your blog!” This produces all sorts of weird associations in my head. For the past few years, I’ve joked to Husband that I want to be famous. Except I’m only half-joking. I really do want to be famous, not necessarily in a Bloggess sort of way, but famous in a way that people will want to read my work and take me sort of seriously.
But now that people are finally reading my work, instead of rejoicing (“Yay I’m famous!”), I’m terrified. Who are these people and why do they care what I say? Don’t they know I’m making most of this up as I go along?
And aside from the usual Impostor Syndrome symptoms, there’s also the fear that Someone Important will read my work, become offended, and I will get in very real trouble. You see, in March I was elected to be the Graduate Student Association president at Rice. It’s a very cool title with very annoying responsibilities. For the past six months, I have been working on planning and executing events for Rice’s Centennial celebration. Most of it has been fun, if working 12 hour days every day for four months can be fun. It has also put me into contact with a lot of 1%-ers in ways that make me feel like I need a shower afterwards. I have seen the underbelly of higher education, and I don’t like it.
I have a lot of opinions about these sort of things. But I don’t want to write about that because I can’t. I benefit from a lot of the things I don’t like. And I like working in administration, and you don’t get a job in administration by biting the hand that feeds you. Still, in this political climate, it has put me in the odd position of smiling-and-nodding when I really want to be shoving a picket sign in someone’s face.
I am silent because there are things that can’t be said, at least by me. I’m silent because I’m scared. I’m silent because I’m tired, to be frank. I can’t be silent anymore—but I don’t know how I’m going to fix it, at least not right away.
I’m here. I’m still reading your blogs. I’m always on Twitter. If I haven’t written in a while, it’s only because I can’t figure out how to say what I want to say yet. In the meantime, keep writing, my friends. Always keep writing.