Note: Last week I took a webinar course on “How to Write About Your Life” with Penelope Trunk, a wildly successful blogger, author and entrepreneur. She also has quite a wild history and an edgy present. I learned a lot but came away questioning whether I had the chops to successfully write about my own life without boring my readers to tears or at the other end of the spectrum, trying to get sued. I wrote this post for Penelope after she critiqued our writing the night before.
I woke up with a pit in my stomach and that slight twinge of acid tickling the back of my throat. You’d think I had stumbled home after a late night, taken a face-plant in bed for a couple hours and was now debating how to hit “stop” on the salad spinner that had become my bedroom. But no. I’m simply waking up after spending last night on a webinar with the masterful Penelope Trunk. She devoted an hour and a half to us, her eager pupils, giving us her secrets on how to make money by writing about ourselves. Then she proceeded to trash all of the bits and pieces of our lives that we so tentatively offered.
I can’t say I was surprised by her reaction to my blog post about my father. She’s right. It’s a eulogy of a great, happy-go-lucky guy whom I loved very much and miss even more. And though I am compelled to pick at scabs in real life, I was adeptly circling the pus-infested wound of my father’s death. How his life-is-good-and-I’m-the-life-of-the-party philosophy was mostly fueled by alcohol and the perks of his profession, and that in the end, when the rug was pulled out from under him and he faced a life with neither of these essential elements, he gave up.
I’m mad as hell at him for this.
He always joked that he’d die early, and if not, then he asked if we would please kill him before sentencing him to life in a nursing home or hospital. We laughed it off each time, not imagining we’d ever have to adhere to his wishes a mere two months after his 66th birthday.
But back to my post-Penelope hangover. The sour pit in my stomach is a festering nugget of fear. Fear that I am too normal (i.e., boring) to be a good writer.
I’m a good girl with a generally happy, healthy life. I don’t have cancer. I’m not depressed. I’ve never been in debt or addicted to prescription drugs. I’m married to my college sweetheart, have a wonderful daughter and son, and I grew up in a Happy Days/Griswold-mashup household. I am as hum-drum as Richie Cunningham.
But I’ve watched both my father-in-law and my father die. I’ve seen the life rush out of these cornerstones of our family. The last halting breath. Skin going blue and seeming to shrink into itself. That eerie out-of-body feeling like you’re watching an overly dramatic Lifetime movie (is that redundant?) through a long dark tunnel.
Is grief enough to make me worthy of a reader’s attention? To get them past being pissed off at my Leave it to Beaver life? I might argue that it’s precisely the carefree nature of my first forty years that left me so utterly unprepared for the full-force smackdown of death. I was knocked to the mat, and I’m just trying to figure out how to pull myself up. I’m grabbing at the shaky ropes now like everyone else, just hoping I’m better prepared for the next right hook.