I wanted to sit down and write you a nice thoughtful post summing up carefully what I've learned from three years of playing with this medium. I wanted to write it both to give it to you and to figure out just what those things are, because the way I figure out what I know or what I believe is to write. Words come out and make clear what's gooey and confused inside.
But today was instead spent on other things, things that took longer than I predicted. And I don't want to break more promises to you so instead of a dissertation about the interesting and scary and challenging and liberating possibilities of having a weblog, I'm going to tell you a story about my underpants.
In fifth grade I remember going to some kind of 'enrichment day' where you could choose from a bunch of different little hour long sessions. One of them was about writing stories, taught by a real live writer. The instructor asked all of us, privately, to write down the most excruciating embarrassing thing that had ever happened to us. He assured us we wouldn't have to share it with anybody else if we didn't want to. And so we all wrote for 30 minutes or so, with big pencils in little blue composition books.
At that time, the most excruciatingly embarrassing thing that had ever happened to me was that at summer sailing class, my backpack had been in the corner and it had come open, and a pair of my spare underpants had fallen out onto the floor. And the camp "cool kids" had found my pair of underpants, which were, mortifyingly, yellow underpants, and they threw them around the room at each other, squealing and acting like my cotton yellow underpants were the grossest things in the world, and speculating loudly to one another and to the rest of us about whose underpants they were. I was a surprisingly shy girl in the corner, trying to look nonchalant and invisible at the same time, trying to laugh carelessly along with the cool kids so they wouldn't single me out for not laughing. It was awful, and I sat there in my wet bathing suit hoping I wouldn't be publicly associated with the underpants being thrown around the room, certain that I would be, and knowing I had nothing dry to change into, and I would have to ride my bike six miles home feeling wet and clammy and I would have the double embarrassment of having the wet bathing suit seep through my shorts so those very same mean kids might point at me and say it looked like I had wet my pants. There in that fifth grade enrichment class I wrote about this experience and I was blushing with the hot shame and dread of it all as I wrote it down, even though I was bent over the desk writing in the winter or maybe the spring, and the underpants fiasco had happened to me way back in the summer time. And then we finished and the instructor asked us all to stop and he did what I couldn't believe anyone in the world would ever willingly do: he read his to us, out loud.
He actually read to the class his most embarrassing experience.
And as I listened I squirmed, and I laughed, because his embarrassing experience wasn't so bad. Certainly not as bad as having your yellow underpants thrown around the junior yacht club room by the cool kids. I could relate to his experience, and my heart opened to him a little bit. He didn't seem quite like such a grown up, or rather, he still seemed like a grown-up but he also seemed a lot more like me. Except he was braver than me. He could read out loud, in front of a WHOLE ROOM of fifth graders, a story of the most humiliating excruciating embarrassing moment of his life. And it didn't come out sounding humiliating at all. It made me like him.
I never knew how writing and sharing could transform your life experience until that moment, and to tell you the truth until I sat down to write this I guess I'd forgotten all about it -- I'd forgotten the yellow underpants. I'd forgotten how when the instructor came around to us after he'd read his story out loud I did something I never thought I'd be able to do: I moved my hand to the side of my paper so he could read about how the mean kids threw my underpants around the room while I sat in the corner in my soggy bathing suit. And he said, "This is really great -- this is great stuff, this is exactly the kind of thing that you should write about."
And I think I forgot that important lesson in my life and writing this blog has helped me remember it. People don't care about your shiny strong moments or the ways you're exactly like everybody else. They want to read the yellow underpants story, and there's something magical and mysterious that happens from telling it: you feel wobbly and shaky and like you'll be exposed as the gawky unloveable outsider that you are. You're certain that when you write it down and share it with the world everyone you know will be one of those cool kids who was holding the underpants between their thumb and forefinger, and they'll look at you and say, "Eeeeew, those were yours?" But instead what happens is that you tell the story and everyone else breathes a sigh of relief, because they were sitting there right beside you, in a wet bathing suit, and they're so glad not to be alone with that anymore.
I've learned more than this from the weblog, but you'll have to take me out to lunch someday to hear it, because NBT is about to take me out for a birthday dinner.
(And, as some of you guessed, I'm not able to bow out of blogging entirely. But I'm going to do something different with my new blog. I'm using it to play with my camera, and to give me short writing exercises every day. I don't anticipate as many yellow-underpants moments over there as I've had here. We'll see how it develops... but if you choose to read it, please do so with fresh eyes. I'm ready to do something different over there.)