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Saturday
Mar012008

It's Okay

A visit to my alma mater was relatively pleasant, but not spectacular. The bottomless affirmation hole that is me, therefore, categorizes this as "Utter Failure, Category 2." When I don't care about something, the half-assery of it all is discernable from distant galaxies. Countless lumpy art projects, frustrated former bosses, and barely-completed Spanish 101 worksheets shout the testimony. But if it matters, and if there is PowerPoint, I chase standing ovations and fireworks and conversions to Jesus on the spot, and if none of this happens...oh. There's that loser sound effect from The Price Is Right, followed by a five-hour, one-woman power lunch of further PowerPoint, mental PowerPoint, with all the obnoxious zoomy sounds and spinning pie charts I deserve, dissecting What Went Wrong.

Given that I had no earthly clue how to talk to high school-aged people when I was in high school, I might have cut myself a break, given that the girls were plopped before me directly after lunch and directly before a detention session. I had no right to present them with the check from a lifetime of an achievement-based self esteem. Still, I was paralyzed regarding the next night's appearance at the College of Mount St. Joseph. There had been actual preparation regarding the high school speech-- twenty! slides!--but this next one was utterly projector-free.

"What are you going to talk about?" Josh The Pilot asked, two hours before I went on.

"I'm thinking about it," I said, unable to let him in on the fact that "thinking about it" consisted of staging a cage match between a dragon puppet and a horse puppet for the amusement of Jim The Small Child Nephew.

What I was thinking about was pain, and how writing, even humor writing, especially humor writing, stems directly from it. I thought we non-fictionistas had the pain market cornered, but a fiction writer in my MFA program once attested that novels and short stories, too, consist of disemboweling oneself directly onto the keyboard. Messy, yes. Interesting, also yes.

I think it's because we're literally born of pain. We might not feel it--we're too busy being slimy and cold-- but Mommy sure does. It's the very first sensation we're aware that other people experience.

My godchild, who normally leaps from juice box to little brother patrol to living room recreation of Radiator Springs-- he knows it too. Usually he doesn't notice me much except when I appear bearing His Majesty's Happy Meal, and that's all right. That's his job. He's not the Department of Health and Human Services; he is, instead, three. He does not exist for my self-affirmation. That's Bridezillas' job. But last week, Jim pointed at a wound on my finger.

"What happened?" he said.

"Aunt Beth is hurt," I told him, because "Aunt Beth suffers from a mild form of onychophagia, which is rooted in her ridiculously high expectations of herself and her total inability to self-regulate during stressful episodes" was not covered on Sesame Street last week. This satisfied him for the moment, as Uncle Josh came by with a lion puppet, which meant that another round of cage matches was in order.

But Jim returned to the offending thumb later in the afternoon. "What happened?"

I repeated my answer, but there was no lion to save me now. He pondered this for a moment, then said, "It's okay?"

"Yes," I told him, "it's okay."

"I make it better?"

I assured him that with the possible exception of a trip to an R-rated movie, he makes everything better, including (and I'm making, I'm aware, a wild assumption here) childbirth. Because writing from pain wouldn't be any fun at all if there weren't literary Tylenol in the form of-- well, you.

Thank you, Tylenol.

yay The Readers at: mbe@drinktothelasses.com

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Reader Comments (10)

You're welcome.

(I had to look up "onychophagia." Dangit, MB, you made me go and learn something today.)

I had to look it up too. Would you believe I've bitten my nails my entire life, and didn't know that was a name for it. Hmph! Learn something new every day. :-)

March 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterShannon

Today my ankle hurt and Emmy wanted me to play tea party in her room. When I told her that Aunt Kelly can't climb the stairs she replied with 'I'll hold your hand and help you up." Suddenly, my ankle hurt no more. It is amazing the healing powers "my babies" have. I am glad you found the healing powers of your nephews too. It is the best healing in the world.

March 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKell Belle

Kell (and MB) - everything's better if we hold hands :)

March 3, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterstarnarcosis

onychophagia!!!

I am TOTALLY stealing this!!!

I am a sister sufferer. In my case it is subconscious (sp?), until the blood begins to flow. Unfortch, my disease is not limited to just the nails but also the skin surrounding them. :(

P.S. I just finished Medical Terminology in Dec., so I actually knew what you were talking about! Yay me!

March 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTamar

quote: What I was thinking about was pain, and how writing, even humor writing, especially humor writing, stems directly from it. I thought we non-fictionistas had the pain market cornered, but a fiction writer in my MFA program once attested that novels and short stories, too, consist of disemboweling oneself directly onto the keyboard. Messy, yes. Interesting, also yes.

I think it’s because we’re literally born of pain. We might not feel it–we’re too busy being slimy and cold– but Mommy sure does. It’s the very first sensation we’re aware that other people experience. unquote.

This is quite possibly one of the most profound things I've heard in a very. long. time.

In the fiction class I'm working on this semester, I noticed very quickly that the writing exercises we were assigned asked us to write about our personal experiences. So I was a bit confused - was I in a fiction writing class, or a non-fiction writing class?

When asking the instructor about this, he just smiled at me and said something to the effect of "well, how else are you going to come up with your stuff?"

As a result, my fiction has been a bit tortured - not as in the "put 'er on the rack!" sort of torture, but from an angst that can only stem from life with three sons (one of whom suffers from clinical depression) and a husband who is still, like me, learning how to deal with it.

Anyway, fabulous post. You may be insecure about some things, dear MB, but don't ever doubt whether or not you can write. ;-)

March 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJules

All true artists are sublimated neurotics, of course.

They have the ability to make use of the pain of their everyday lives, and make something creative and beautiful out of it.

March 3, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterred pill junkie

Thanks, all... Jules, you hang in there... it's hard enough to be a parent, let alone one of a child in pain. But my parents have somehow managed with me, and the payoff is when the meds are balanced and the light dawns. It will come.

March 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMB

Jules: In the fiction class I’m working on this semester, I noticed very quickly that the writing exercises we were assigned asked us to write about our personal experiences. So I was a bit confused - was I in a fiction writing class, or a non-fiction writing class?

When asking the instructor about this, he just smiled at me and said something to the effect of “well, how else are you going to come up with your stuff?”

I have never ever written anything purely fictional. Even my fiction is about 95% nonfiction.

[...] by MB Thanks to Holy Week and the publication of this, I’m continuing to reflect on pain, the first emotion we are aware that another human being experiences (bong hit). I’m settling with the notion that as a writer, I sell my pain–wrap it up in [...]

March 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPain Don’t Hurt «
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