I think I might be having an affair.
But maybe I should back up a bit? I started blogging because I wanted to be a writer and as I wrote every day my blog grew. I obsessed about things like posting schedules, commenting, pageviews and eventually advertisers and "community" until I had a tiny business on my hands but I felt a nagging--no, more of a gaping fear really--that things weren't what I wanted them to be, that I was running my little show and doing all the things a successful little momblogger should do but the unique visitors, the blogging events, the swag wasn't enough.
Sure, I'd write real posts here and there, talk about serious stuff when I felt like I could slip it in but you can't write that kind of drivel every day, people need their giveaways you know. But blogging had become dead, after 1500 posts I could pump out lines like a healthy heart pumps blood, circulating words through my home page and keeping the body alive but blogging had changed me, I knew I was a writer and I needed more.
Then life changed too this summer when my husband was fired. He was a corporate attorney--overpaid and underworked--with a job that made his law school friends call and ask, "How can I get me a job like that?" but corporations can be dangerous places and when he discovered some things the president was doing he knew he couldn't morally or legally sit back and say nothing so he filed an ethics complaint. We had worried about what might happen, we'd seen ten or fifteen others in the company lose their jobs over smaller issues, but thought that somehow we'd be immune to disaster. We'd be fine--it would all be okay.
But it wasn't and within a week after filing the complaint he was fired. No apology, no severance and no reason given--there was none needed. The unfairness of the situation was fed by the inability to talk about it with friends, all we could tell people was that he'd lost his job and they had to draw their conclusions that my husband had been downsized or had performed poorly, not that he'd been courageous and honest or that I was so proud of him for doing the right thing I wanted to call my own press conference and proclaim my love across the airwaves.
And I couldn't write it on my blog either because people from the office would read.
"What if they read it?" he said, "It could be bad. There's no telling what this guy might do--I don't want to risk any more retaliation."
So I kept quiet and kept on publishing recipes and giveaways, giveaways and recipes.
Ironically, by this time I'd determined to shut my blog down in September. My advertising obligations would be fulfilled and I could turn off life support and let the old girl slip peacefully away. Blogging had nothing more to offer me, I was as tired of it as it was of me but with a husband suddenly out of work it seemed stupid to throw away the income so I dug in and prepared to keep the life support going.
But then another crazy thing happened--I got the call I didn't know I'd been waiting for. A book. Someone wanted me to write a book and while at first I was skeptical and dismissive the more I thought about it the more I realized that it was everything I wanted. I talked them into moving away from nonfiction, Palin-esque, Alaskan blather and pitched an idea that I didn't realize I'd had in me. A novel that told the story I'd had in me for years, the collection of words that had been lying around, waiting for my brain to wake up and realize what had been hiding in it all the time I'd been posting popsicle crafts and luscious chocolatey desserts.
They liked it and when I sent the first chapter the response was encouraging--"More, please--and the sooner the better!"
And while I sat down every morning to my computer to release my words my husband too had a new project. He'd decided to do what he'd always wanted to and start his own business. The details aren't important, they wouldn't interest you anyway, but he had a good idea with a supporting market and within a week he was set up as his own boss with a corporate contract ready to go. It was as if destiny had sent us engraved invitations and I felt that the success of both our work was somehow intertwined, that we'd both been living for these opportunities and that things would be different from that point.
At night we compared notes about the progress of the day, glowing in how creative and productive we felt, thinking that this was the turning point and that we possibly would mark the future with August 2009 being our own little meridian of time, the months and years to follow being labeled with our own unique version of Anno Domini.
But things never go that smoothly, do they? And I was facing the hard truth that not only did I need to keep blogging for money's sake but if I abandoned it the book deal would disappear--to the publishers I was only as good as my audience and if I threw the blog away I'd have to find another once-in-a-lifetime break. Fine, I could work like that. For such a payoff I was willing to keep things going and I took courage from the fact that at least now I had something I wanted to blog about.
Because with a new business starting up and struggling for every dime I could write at a deeper level, one that would connect more with my readers as I certainly wasn't the only one going through tough times. I'd always thought that the biggest problem with my blog was the superficiality of my subject matter and the false image of perfection and finally I had a chance to surpass that and write more meaningfully, to show how human we were and maybe even help others while I was helping myself.
At least that's how it was at the beginning but once that first post came out there was trouble. While I was free to post household tips or crafts for kids, when I began talking about what was happening to us I wasn't sharing merely my own story any more and my husband didn't like it. It was embarrassing enough that he'd been fired and not able to talk about it with his friends, but to have his wife writing about it and our financial struggles was too much. His manly pride side wouldn't allow it and his overly-cautious attorney side flipped out.
Suddenly he was my editor, wanting to see posts before I published them and pointing out phrases and paragraphs I couldn't use. I cut them out of respect to his feelings and a suspicion that he wasn't entirely wrong but it was never enough to calm him completely and my resentment grew. I began avoiding sensitive topics to appease him but when we had troubles with one of our teenagers and I wrote about that he asked me to take the post down, saying it was overly personal, and again I was irritated at having to bend to his requests. Bloggers are independent creatures and while we naturally rebel at editorial restraints, my marriage was already feeling the stress of economics and I knew that I wasn't willing to sacrifice it, even for the sake of good writing, so I agreed to stop writing about life's darker details.
At which point his client canceled their contract. It was supposed to get us through the end of the year but some V.P. in a downtown office decided that the project could be put on hold for a while and while we'd been paid for half of the work--enough to cover operating expenses and pay back the set up costs--nothing else would come. At least not until maybe after the new year. Then there were the hospital bills from an unexpected emergency. No fancy insurance package through work meant that it was all out of pocket, because we had an extra $5000 sitting around. Suddenly we went from hopeful to scared.
But it was all okay, he had other leads and other companies asking for proposals, all ready to buy his services but as the months stretched out no one seemed ready to commit to a contract and our lunch time phone calls became increasingly dull and repetitive.
"Hi--it's me. Anything exciting happen today?" [translation: did you get any new clients?]
"No, I've had lots of work getting this new program together but nobody's called yet," and then he would admit somewhat guiltily that he was having the most fun he'd ever had at a job, that he was finally doing something he loved and knew it would eventually work out. And then I'd smile and tell him I believed in him.
"Okay. Well I'll see you tonight?"
As for my own productivity, I'd raced my fingers and pulled out a whopping 80,000 words in a couple months, about three-quarters of the book with parts of it actually being quite good, and each morning I couldn't wait to get to my keyboard once the kids were off to school. But when his clients disappeared, time without a paycheck grew, hospital bills began arriving and we got more and more nervous about our abilities to make it through the year. My words evaporated and our hopes sunk.
I'd sit at the computer each morning, head in my hands, picking through jumbled thoughts and anxieties like an archaeologist at a dig, trying to discover from the ruins of my manic writings the right phrase or scene to build on but all it did was leave my fingers cold and stiff. I knew I was experiencing writer's block and began to worry. Why was it happening when I needed the words so badly? Would I ever be able to finish? Would this be the end of things--would I be blocked forever? What if we didn't get any new clients? Could we make it through the year? What would we do for Christmas? How would the kids take it?
I continued blogging, but only in desperation. I hated each post and if I bothered to look back over the week's work I felt nothing but revulsion for what I'd produced. How could anyone read such trash? What a joke. I was no writer after all, I'd been fooling myself and knew it as well as my dwindling audience. This wasn't the first time in our marriage we'd faced tough times, I'd known little bits of depression before and could feel myself slipping into familiar paths as I sent the kids off to school each day then stared at the keyboard while the sweat formed on my forehead.
So that brings me to now and I can finally switch from past to present tense. We've made it through a tough Christmas and my husband is hoping that he's going to be able to make this whole thing work because if he hasn't got it in the air by March he's going to have to abandon his dreams of owning his own business and go back to working at a law firm--assuming he can find one that's hiring. I'm pretty sure he'd rather gnaw off his own leg than do that but I also know he'd do whatever it takes to provide for the family and I admire him.
And it also brings me to my original statement--about the affair. My novel is still sitting there at word 79,990, my cursor blinking lethargically at me, and I'm feeling trapped too (speaking of gnawing off one's own leg). I want to write about what's happening to us, to write about how our marriage is pulling and stretching like taffy until I wonder how long it can reach. I want to write about my struggle to be free from despising the corporate executive who started this through his corruption and greed. I want to write about how my kids aren't getting presents from Santa this year but how they've made me cry through the way they've accepted it and spent all their time making little homemade gifts for each other. I want to write about how I feel completely guilty for being so self-absorbed and pitiful because, after all, there are people in much worse circumstances than we are.
I want to write about how I feel abandoned by my extended family who will ask how we're doing without really wanting to know but how kind random strangers have been. Or how when other friends ask about us my husband will smile and say, "We're fine--the business is going well" and all I can do is grin supportively and pretend it's the truth. During the holidays I wanted to write about how Christmas depresses me anyway, ever since I spent it fighting for my life in a hospital ten years ago next to the body of our daughter who wasn't as lucky as I was--or was luckier, depending on the stage of grief I was in. But none of it can ever be written.
Why? Because my blog isn't really mine any more. It belongs to my husband, my family, my readers, my advertisers but not to me. I was raised by a couple of good and decent, modern Victorians to believe that proper families don't share intimate details, that even though we all must be miserable in our own unique ways and that only tragedy is noteworthy, I have a duty to keep it light, to keep it impersonal, to keep it upbeat, to keep it uncontroversial.
In the great irony of blogging, at the beginning I craved readers and an audience but because I now have an audience and family and friends read me if I wrote what I was really feeling they'd be able to see into my head and home and that they must never do. Proper ladies don't show emotion--it's not dignified.
I've watched the blogging call for a return to authentic writing, to produce real words and not just copy, and I've ached to join in and write what I'm feeling but it's not in my hands anymore. My blog is public and if I want to keep my marriage in tact I'll keep it light and airy and full of good recipes, even if it means that I'm lying awake at night, feeling my head ache as my temporal and frontal lobes fire back and forth with creativity for posts that will never be written.
Maybe he will get more clients in the next month and maybe my depression will lift. I'm sure the new year will be wonderful, life isn't about the stuff you accumulate anyway, and maybe I'll actually be able to finish those last 25,000 words that are still waiting for me. But for now here I am, sneaking out at night with my laptop to spend time with another blog. Having a literary affair where nobody can track me and I can be myself--letting it all hang out because if blogging has taught me nothing else it is that I am a writer and I must write. If not a novel or a recipe at the very least an overly dramatic piece about unemployment and writer's block for some literary trepanation.
And I'm wondering if I will hate myself in the morning.
*Michelle asked that her blog not be linked directly, which you'll understand now that you've read her post. I trust you can figure out how to find her if you would like to explore more of the world of Scribbit. Which I highly recommend. -Megan