I just discovered this new writer who is making me lose my shit on the subway. Her stories are so outrageous and searingly funny that I can’t stop grinning from ear to ear, shaking my head, and laughing out loud. I clutch my stomach and wipe the happy tears from my eyes. And then, I try to tame myself down. Because that’s what I do.
One of the reasons her writing is so strong is because it’s uninhibited, honest and raw. This chick really puts it all out there. Admittedly, not all of her stuff is up my alley (there’s an entire essay dedicated to the rankness of her farts), but many of her stories had me doubled over in pain from laughing so hard because nothing was off limits–ridiculous sex stories, truly mortifying moments, hysterical family memories. She’s almost painfully self-aware, and ballsy enough to call attention to her baser qualities. She allowed herself to be very vulnerable and writes in a way that shows she’s clearly not afraid of embarrassing herself. But she also seems afraid to write things that have the potential to truly embarrass others, and that’s where I struggle most as someone who writes in the first-person as opposed to fiction.
The best writing, in my opinion, is just like this. You have to pretend there is no one reading your stuff in order to give yourself permission to really let go. You can’t look over your shoulder worrying “Who’s going to read this?”. You can’t pause and say, “But how will this make me look?” or “What will my mother think?”. Writing without those types of restrictions is refreshing and real, and reminds the reader that at the end of the day, we’re all just a bunch of fools fumbling around trying to figure ourselves out.
I really wish I could let myself write this way, but I can’t. Turns out, I am an inhibited person in life and on paper. I have my reasons, and if you’re a blogger who finds herself holding back from writing the whole dirty truth, I bet you do too. My reasons are this: I have a husband, a family, a personal life and a full-time job to consider, and if something I write compromises any of those things, I’d have a really difficult time recovering from that. To me, that risk will never be worth any potential rewards.
So, back to this writer. Her name is Sara Barron, and if you like to laugh you should read her two books because she is truly funny in a way that I will never be. First of all, she ain’t afraid to let her freak flag fly, and will entertain you with many tales of sexual hilarity, including the time she got carpal tunnel syndrome from excessive masturbation and discovered her grandmother’s vibrator in a bedside table drawer. This is a classic distinction of what will always make someone like her funnier than someone like me– had this stuff happened to me, I would carry those tales with me until the day I died. Maybe I would share them at an intimate gathering of my very closest friends, but that’s it. They’d go no further. Two hilarious stories up in smoke, because I couldn’t handle embarrassing myself that way, and my family would (rightly) spear me with a long, pointy dagger if I publicly upset my grandmother. I would never want to bring negative attention to someone I love so much. Plus, I’m still counting on her to direct traffic to my blog.
The truth is, I’m not really at risk for that to happen anyway. I don’t have a ton of wild stories to tell because I’ve never been an incredibly wild person. I have been cautious and relatively conservative my whole life. At slumber parties, the other girls would sneak out the front door and have boys meet them down the street. I’d stay in the house, read magazines in the corner, then put myself to bed at a reasonable hour so I’d wake feeling refreshed in the morning. I usually shared my first few pancakes with the host’s mother; we’d clink juice glasses and swap sections of the newspaper.
I also have a hard time writing openly about my personal feelings. My observations– no problem. But my feelings? That’s very difficult. I’ve got the hang of “show, don’t tell”, particularly when it comes to describing a scene or a setting, but when it comes down to really shooting from the hip and writing from the heart, I struggle. I’m like the Georgia O’Keefe of blogging– all landscapes, no self-portraits.
I am a psychotherapist, and all day long I work within boundaries. Boundaries are huge with dorks like us. I have a job in which I purposely shroud my own background, personal feelings, values, and biases so that I can actively listen, accept and learn about everyone else’s. I have done such a good job at this that it’s now difficult to swing the other way– to let my guard down, to let someone in, to reveal too much. And yes, the idea that my clients would find this blog is something I worry about and tailor my writing around all the time. That’s why I have a different name at work than I do on here, and my Facebook page is named after a movie character. I’m wearing dark sunglasses and a big floppy hat in my Instagram photo. At my day job, my identity is not a secret, but my personal details are to always be sort of vague. This runs exactly counter to the kind of first-person writing I do, and I’m having so much trouble navigating that divide.
Like I said, I’m just another fool fumbling around, trying to figure it all out. With this blog, and the little book of essays I’m stringing together, I continue my quest to determine which stories to tell and how. I’m still trying to get a handle of knowing how far to push and when to pull back. The shape of things is still rather nebulous, with loose shapeless edges that stretch far from center. Nothing is tight; nothing is concrete or secure. It’s a bit of a freefall, frankly.
But there is one thing I do know for sure. My grandmother’s secrets will always be safe with me.