Today is a milestone for me: this is my 100th column.
The only reason I know that it’s my centennial column is that I started putting my columns into a scrapbook. I was motivated by the Mae West quote: “Keep a diary and one day it’ll keep you.” I hope that, in the future, my children may know me as more than just their mother. Once I got to the last clipping in my unruly pile of papers, there were only four blank pages left in my 100-page scrapbook.
Flipping through the articles, it shocked me to see that it has been almost four years since ‘THE INK” began (say it 10 times quickly and you’ll know why I picked that name for my column). In that time you’ve seen glimpses of me at my worst and at my best — such as when I wrote about my son’s febrile seizure and thought he was dead in my arms, to a more recent column celebrating his fifth birthday with love, hope, and optimism.
I’ve discussed my struggles and triumphs with work/life balance, noting ways to stop rushing to relax, proposing how to come to terms with our to-do lists, and suggesting we prioritize the big rocks first. I offered my thoughts of living life to the fullest; finding wonder, joy, and passion, following dreams, giving, not living in fear, and remembering to be thankful. I suggested a new sport “sofa diving,” recommended that we should all come with disclaimers, and coined new terms like “plastipanic” relating to BPA in plastic and “the Lucy effect” where hairdressers charge women more for haircuts because they offer lemonade-stand psychiatric help.
I’ve shared my likes, dislikes and habits, listing my favourite foods, covering my disdain for mosquitoes and my penchant for coupon clipping. I’ve ranted about commercialism and the myth of progress, truth in advertising, safety risks for our children, politics/elections, fast food, hockey violence, cigarette butt-chucking, handshakes, the environment, and the fallacy of fairy tales.
Some have asked me if there is any topic that is off limits, since I’ve talked about my postpartum mood disorder and even told you about finding a lump in my breast. The question reminded me of what a syndicated sportswriter, Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith, once said: “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” If I’m troubled and there is some good that could come out of exposing myself on paper, I’ll do it. Writing helps me to know what I am thinking and feeling. It also gives me a chance to stop and reflect on life; something few of us have the time (or inclination) to do.
To answer the question though, there are private topics; I’ve actually bled out more columns than those that have graced this page. American Author E.L. Doctorow said: “Writers are not just people who sit down and write. They hazard themselves.” I haven’t dragged my divorce through the pages of the paper, and I do my best to keep my love life off limits … because although I may be willing to be vulnerable to your criticism and laughter (and hopefully your validation and acknowledgement), I have no right to make that decision for my partner. I will continue to hazard myself, but not those around me.
In times of sorrow, disgust, or confusion, poring over my keyboard helps me to get “it” off my chest. (I’ve never stopped to think about that expression until just now.) When I sit down to write, I often feel like there is a weight on me: a constricting feeling that comes from something that I’m carrying around unnecessarily. My head becomes a dice tumbler, thoughts bounce around loudly and violently. Dumping the words onto a page releases me — I feel purged and renewed after writing, as though the paper has taken on the weight for me. I’m not alone in that sentiment, as Lord Byron, the British poet, was quoted as saying, “If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.”
It is anticlimactic when I send my words on to my editor, as they have already served their purpose for me. They’ve helped me understand myself and my world a little bit better — and they are no longer under my control. I send them off, like children, into the world. I hope they’ll come back and visit.
Like a proud parent, I’m so happy when someone genuinely connects with my babies and speaks highly of them. I appreciate that feedback a lot, but even if the feedback doesn’t come, I will still write, hopefully hundreds more columns. As novelist and playwright Sinclair Lewis said, “It is impossible to discourage the real writers — they don’t give a damn what you say, they’re going to write.”
Thank you for allowing me to ink outside the box.