The Queen of Oversharing

I like describing myself as the Queen of Oversharing. This naming is kind of a lie. I tell a lot of stuff about myself … but not really. When we were crashing and burning for the final time, one of the things The Morphine Man accused me of was talking too much and saying nothing. He said I told a million stories about myself, but they were all surface, I never let people get close to my real self. This is pretty true … but it’s also kind of a lie.

I do tell a lot of stories about myself—practically this whole blog is stories about myself. A lot of my stories are told for entertainment value. My stories about traveling, about my various experiences with hitchhiking, about bad boyfriends (The Morphine Man included, of course), about growing up in a very particular kind of small, insular town—these are the kind of stories that fall into this category. They’re almost like long-form jokes, told to amuse the listener, show you how funny, or silly, or charmingly naïve, or comically vain … or whatever I can be.

Some of my stories are “Learn from my wacky mistakes!” stories, instructive but comical at the same time. When I was teaching, there were a lot of stories about that, and I still tell some of those. I loved teaching, and I learned so much from my students, and so many of my experiences in the classroom make for good stories. Those are generally more heartwarming or educational than comical, but there’s plenty to laugh about in those anecdotes, too.

So The Morphine Man wasn’t wrong. I absolutely do tell a lot of stories. I talk a LOT. And most of that telling doesn’t reveal the deepest, darkest corners of my soul, but I would argue a) that no one wants to have to look at the cluttered back rooms of my soul all the damn time, b) that there’s more to seeing and understanding who a person is than watching them take rib-spreaders to their own chests and dump their heart on the table for you every time they open their mouths, and c) if you actually listen to the stories I choose to tell about myself—even the foolish ones—there’s a lot you can see about who I am and what’s important to me and how I tick.

Do I also keep people at arm’s length? Yes. A lot of the time I do. I’ve had a lot of experience with people showing e how totally they couldn’t be trusted with my confidence, with not feeling safe showing much more than my surface. So I got good at learning to look as if I was sharing while keeping my soft underbelly well protected. So The Morphine Man was right on that score as well. I don’t think this skill, this form of protection, is particularly unusual. Don’t we all hold our vulnerabilities close to our chests? With luck, we meet people we begin to feel close enough to, begin to trust enough that we stare more of the deep-dark-corners stuff. I am glad that I have a strong circle of these kinds of friends now. I wish I’d had them in the past, but the storytelling helped me muddle through.

Which was, in the end, the problem with and for The Morphine Man, wasn’t it? He clearly hadn’t become one of those people for me. Or, he had, during our first go-round … but he proved unworthy, using some of the painful things he learned about me to inflict more pain. So during our last go-round, I withheld myself a little more adeptly, waiting to see if I would feel safe with him again.

But this blog is one place where I truly am Queen of Oversharing. I tell things here that I never say to anyone. Those are the other stories I tell, the “full-disclosure” stories where I share some close-to-the-bone stuff.

Those are the stories I write and, just before I post them, I send my family a heads-up email, cluing them in to this information about me that they didn’t know so they can hear it before I make it insanely public.

So what the hell is that? Why do I feel entirely comfortable telling ugly, painful stories about myself online when I’ve never told my family or closest friends those stories? I mean, sure, there’s the anonymity aspect of “telling it to the internet.” No one is sitting across a table watching and listening. You don’t have to see or hear anyone’s response in real time. You create distance simply by choosing to write rather than tell.

All of that makes sense to me. But, like the things I said at the start of this essay, it’s kind of a lie, isn’t it? It isn’t as though I’m writing anonymously online. My friends and family know where to find me and some of them regularly read what I post. That’s precisely why I send my family those heads-up emails before I publish the worst of my mess. I want them to hear it from me directly rather than stumble across it on FB or during their occasional scan of my blog.

But, if I want them to hear these stories directly from me, why haven’t I told them any of these things directly? Why do I only choose to tell them because I have suddenly decided to share the stories with the world?

Last week I wrote a post about my current experience with apartment hunting. It quickly ballooned into a post about a lot of other things—my infertility, the mass of debt I struggle under, racism, fear of homelessness. A jumbled mix of ways I clearly don’t have my shit together. It was hard to post that because I like looking like a person who most definitely has her shit together. I know that under the surface and behind closed doors, I am an entire mess, but I don’t like showing that off. But that house hunting post pulled back the curtain on my well-crafted façade.

It’s a weird set-up to have created: now, people I don’t know well or at all can do the most basic level of search and learn all kinds of unkempt, ugly things about me. If these were the things I kelp close to my vest in the past, does my sharing them here mean I’m no longer doing that … or that this is just another form of TMI performance and I have an even deeper, darker set of personal truths that I’m holding onto?

Of course, the answer to both questions is yes. And I also suspect I’ll eventually get around to writing those stories here.

I already know there are things I am both itching to write about and desperate to keep buried. These are things I hide because they make me look bad. But hiding them also holds me back, and that’s frustrating.

Yeah. So … stay tuned?

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I am lucky in that my family have never responded badly to anything I’ve shared  or to the fact of my sharing. Their response is always a reaffirmation of how much they love me. (As I said: lucky.) Sometimes my mother worries about what parts of myself I expose because she doesn’t want anyone to use information against me. And I suppose there are ways info I share could be used against me, but I’m pressed to come up with a likely scenario for that.

I’m wondering how other people navigate this king of sharing/not-sharing line-straddling. Do you just dive in and tell all the things? Do you keep your telling strictly surface? How do your families respond when you go deeper, telling your more private-seeming stories in a public forum?


I’m following Vanessa Mártir’s lead, she launched #52essays2017 after writing an essay a week in 2016 … and then deciding to keep going.
I fell months behind on my #GriotGrind, and it seemed highly unlikely that I’d write 52 essays by year’s end. But then I decided to dedicate my NaNoWriMo writing to writing essays, and I’ve been catching up! Whether I reach the goal or not, I’ve written more this year than in the last two combined, and that adds up to a solid WIN in my book! Get ready for #52essays2018!

Open letter to folks who knew me when.

It’s 2014. The last tired days of 2014. I am no longer that soft, biddable girl you knew. I am no longer willing to go along to get along. I will no longer laugh if, when I’m at the water fountain, you tell me I can’t drink there because it’s whites only. I will no longer bite my tongue when you tell me Mick Jagger would be better looking without his nasty nigger lips. I will no longer bow my head at your command as if I owe you the freedom to touch my hair. I will no longer waste my breath educating you when you ask me why, if I wash regularly, my skin is still so dark.

It’s 2014. It’s 2014, and we are all grown up now. And I have grown into a woman who speaks when she has words, who believes in the value of that speech and refuses to clog her throat choking down all the things she’d like to say. I have grown into a woman who won’t let her voice be taken. I will say what is in my mind, what is in my heart, what is burning through the lining of my stomach after so many years of holding my tongue to make nice.

It’s 2014, and I am tired. More tired than 52 years warrants, tired like almost 400 years of rape and murder, like 400 years of holding my tongue, swallowing my truth, waiting my turn, waiting for the society I live in to finally-and-for-all accept that I am here, that I am who this history has made me and who I have made myself, that I am worthy, that I can think, that I have a heart full of love, that I am beautiful, that I’m not going anywhere.

It’s 2014, and I am not going anywhere. I won’t be put down, I won’t be made small. I will take up every inch of the space that I need. And then I will take the inches and feet and miles of space that I want.

Michael Brown is dead, and I can’t change that. Darren Wilson will never have to pay for killing Michael Brown, and I can’t change that. But I can honor Michael Brown, I can honor Tarika Wilson, Eric Garner, Eleanor Bumpurs, Ramarley Graham, John Crawford III, Tamir Rice, Kimani Gray, Oscar Grant, Yvette Smith, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo. I can honor all of those lost by being here, by opening my mouth, by saying their names, by remembering, by taking up space, by being the truth of the Angry Black Woman. Because I am angry, angrier than I am tired, angrier than I am sad. I am angry, and you don’t know me angry. You only know my smile, my shyness, my willingness to let you be right, to let you go first.

It’s 2014, and that girl doesn’t live here anymore.

Ingrained.

Writing about The Language of Flowers last week and thinking about my grandmother’s work as a foster parent brought me to a surprise understanding of something about myself.

All those years of visiting my grandmother, hanging out with the changing roster of foster children, thinking of all of them as family. The regularness of it all settled into me and made me know certain things, know them as things that just were true. And that meant that all the things about all those kids that weren’t “normal” were.  The kids with severe developmental delays, the kids with personality disorders, the feminine boys, the masculine girls, the girl with vitiligo, the girl who was covered — face, chest, arms, hands — in twisted, burn-scarred flesh … everything was normal.*

I think Mom’s house planted and nurtured acceptance in me, the ability to see whatever people were, whatever they couldn’t help being, as normal. I lacked tolerance for things that were choices, things that could be controlled: a bad attitude, prejudice, selfishness, littering. This is the first time I’ve seen a connection, the clear line from Mom’s house of “everybody fits” to my ability to take people as they come.

I’m far (FAR) from perfect — made some serious missteps in high school and didn’t quite correct them until I’d been at college for a while.  I’ve made any number of missteps in all the years since — but I’m not bad.  I’m still pretty intolerant of things that can be controlled (racism, homophobia, fat jokes, littering), but for the most part those lessons learned unconsciously while playing at my grandmother’s house have stayed with me.

I want to be clear, place a solid divider between “acceptance” and “tolerance.” I tolerate a lot of things — (some) conservative political opinions, the weather, reality TV. I may not like or agree with them, but I can put up with them. Acceptance is something else all together. There’s nothing to think about, no judgments to make. What is just is. And it’s fine with you, and it doesn’t threaten you, and you don’t pat yourself on the back for accepting it, and you don’t show it off to your friends because you imagine it gives you some kind of gritty street cred, and your life goes on.  When I can’t accept, I work for tolerance.  But I don’t let myself forget that they aren’t the same thing.

Acceptance doesn’t mean acting as if there is nothing to accept. In other words, I don’t pretend that I can’t see difference. That seems silly at best, and insulting or worse the rest of the time.  It drives me crazy when people are trying to have a conversation about race and someone says, “Oh, I don’t see color.”  Not seeing color is an erasure of me.  Accepting someone shouldn’t mean negating/denying/erasing the things that make them different.  Acceptance means that the things that make someone different might be interesting, but mostly they don’t matter in the slightest.

And that was the never-spoken take away of growing up at Mom’s house, a lesson so deeply rooted, it seems more innate than instructed.

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Check out all the slices at Two Writing Teachers!

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* Okay, not everything was normal.  There was one girl who freaked me out. I don’t remember her name. Or how old either of us was when she came to Mom’s house.  I remember one day a bunch of us were playing on the far side of the flower garden near the garage.  I came around the side of the garage and found her squatting down, eating dirt.  I can still remember the shock of that, how wrong it felt and how I didn’t know how to respond to it.  I remember she was eating the way shame eaters eat — hunched over, hiding it, stuffing it in quickly so no one would see — and her posture alone told me I shouldn’t think what she was doing was normal.  Another time I caught her eating tattered leaves that had been picked off of harvested cabbages and thrown onto the refuse heap.  She swore that Mom had given her the cabbage.  I remember thinking how hungry she must have been to eat those dirty, wilted leaves.  I also wondered how she could be hungry when Mom served food for an army no matter how many kids were under her roof, and her portions were definitely not small.  She was only at Mom’s for a short time, and I don’t remember much else about her.  I have since learned about kids eating things like dirt and ashes because of minerals their bodies are lacking or because of stress.  At the time, it was just strange, she was just strange. Strange, which was troubling, not simply “weird, ” which was endearing.  She was maybe the only child I thought of that way for years.

Increasing the AIR Supply

Okay, I think that really has to be it.  That title might just be as lame as I’m willing to be for the sake of squeezing out an “air” pun.  Yeah.  Believe that when I actually stop, right?

So last week I gave you Episode 3, and now, rushing it in only five days later so I can post it before Black History Month ends … it’s Episode 4!

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I’m still WAY too wordy, and that’s definitely something I will work on as I move forward and when I go back to revise these early episodes … but hey, I’m nothing if not wordy.  It might just be something I have to accept.  We’ll see.  I’d love to know what you think of the comic — this particular episode and of the work so far.  I appreciate all feedback!

(If you’ve missed any of the other episodes, I’m keeping them on their own page for easy catching up.)

And don’t forget: Saturday is the start of the 2014 Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! Start posting on Saturday, and post throughout March … for the sheer satisfaction of posting, and for the chance to win some lovely prizes.  Best bonus of all, you get to read fabulous writing from other slicers.  You’re sure to find some new voices you’ll love.  This is the seventh year of the challenge and it’s grown like crazy.  I think in the first year we were maybe a dozen slicers? Last year, we were somewhere near 200.  Who knows how many there will be this year?  Add your unique voice to the group!

Check out today’s slices!

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Back on AIR

Yes, yes, still can’t resist making foolish, pun-laden titles.

I’ve had the 3rd and 4th episodes of my comic completed for ages, but just haven’t gotten my act together to get them properly scanned and uploaded.  And now it’s Black History Month, and Episode 4 is all about black history … but I haven’t posted Episode 3 yet!  Aaack!

Well, now I will.

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