Pause

April has 58 days after which it can’t go on. And so on.

There’s a Pandemic sentiment if ever I heard one.

This essay was the first thing I ever read by Mary Ruefle. It led me to fall instantly and completely in love with her writing. I looked it up today for the umpteenth time because today was a crying day and I needed the comfort of looking at her April Cryalog from 1998.

A page from Mary Ruefle's diary with April's Cryalog written across the top. All the days of the week are listed with various numbers of Cs next to them to indicate the number of times she did or didn't cry on any given day in the month.

I think about these pages constantly. They’re perfect. Absurd and reassuring and daunting and mundane all at once. A record of the the lunar cycles of emotion that govern how we intersect with friends, lovers, parents, strangers. I gave up trying to blog every time I got in the sea or the river and now I just make a little notation on my calendar—a tiny wave. Maybe that’s a Cryalog too.

Anyway, remember:

Happy old age is coming on bare feet, bringing with it grace and gentle words, and ways which grim youth have never known.

Dove in sobbing—came out laughing

My friend Chloe threw up a Twitter thread this morning about trying to learn to dive as an 8-year-old (something I also spent many early years terrified of doing).

I’ve never forgotten the professor on my orals board who listened to all the questions and considerations I’d thrown into coming up with my thesis concept before asking

“Do you really have to go through this orgy of anxiety before you’re able to begin any creative project?”

GOD, IT MADE ME MAD.

Of course I worry about this all the time. WE ALL WORRY ABOUT THIS ALL THE TIME. But if I’m worrying at something, claws sunk into a paradox that feels irresolvable and keeps me up at night and makes me hold up the line time and time again, tears streaming down my face because I want to do it and I know I can and I want to and I can if I just stand there a little longer I’ll get there I know it—

That’s how I know I’m on the right track.

“Dove in, sobbing. Came out laughing.”

It’s hard right up until the moment it becomes simple. I don’t think anyone’s ever done a better job articulating how I get things done.

[Just realized I wrote what amounts to another version of the same blog post two years ago, except it’s got more Ghost Rider in it. Go figure.]

The Best at What We Do

When we meet network news producer Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) at the start of James L. Brooks’s Broadcast News, she’s sharing her hotel bed with a chunky phone and a Filofax. Her body is alive with all the energy of a teenager calling her girlfriends after school, but instead she’s rallying her reporting team room by room, chivvying them to meet her in the lobby in a half hour, joking around and providing details about the availability of breakfast (or lack thereof). Seeing her reminds me of days when I’ve been up at dawn to tackle a project I can’t wait to get into alongside people I feel lucky to work with. She radiates anticipation and competence and I fall for her immediately.

The credits are still rolling as she finishes her last call.

Smiling, she unplugs the line from the back of the phone, nestles it under the handset, and places the whole unit carefully on the bedside table. A dance ensues: she drops her hands to her lap, eyes cast down, checks her watch, shifts her gaze, sits with all the poise of a penitent. The moment stretches—no score, just the distant traffic outside. It’s long enough to make you wonder. Five seconds. Ten. Fifteen.

And then, out of nowhere, she’s sobbing.

It’s a bark of grief. A hiccuping thing that almost seems to take her by surprise.

It would be funny if I hadn’t experienced it myself.

Actually, it is still funny. And you can see the moment where even Jane finds it so. For a few seconds after pausing to catch her breath she’s almost laughing, shoulders shaking, but then her mouth twists again and she’s back in the realm of tragic disbelief. It’s absurd.

No, no, not absurd. I look up the definition and it turns out to be “wildly unreasonable, illogical, or inappropriate.” This doesn’t feel that way at all. It is deeply logical; the clear and necessary underpinning of anyone who runs on that kind of energy, who can muster that degree of charm.

In 2018 I spent 268 days away from home, traveling to promote my book, 100 Demon Dialogues. It’s a vulnerable collection about Imposter Syndrome and trying to treat yourself with compassion. I knew I wanted (needed?) to go meet the people reading it in person. To try and connect, on some tangible level, with the countless voices online who claimed to see themselves in my work.

I went out looking for something. Always a dangerous move.

I thought a great deal about authenticity and performance while I was on that tour; questioned the validity of my words as I spoke to people night after night, city after city. The cadence of “Thank you, that really means so much to me” drummed into my brain. I did mean it every time, but I also said it so often that it became more music than language. My body memorized a momentary curve of the shoulders that accompanied a hand to the chest, shorthand for “Your words touched me”. Sign language for “authentic emotional experience”. A fixed action pattern of connection.

I call myself a Fake Extrovert. I am energized by contact, driven to engage and delight in others, but it comes at a price. In almost every city I visited on tour, the ritual was the same: I’d arrive home at whatever place I was crashing that night, shut the door to my room and exhale. The moment would stretch. Five seconds. Ten. Fifteen. And then I’d crack open and sob.

It generally didn’t last a long time. Just enough to let out some of the irresolvable tension. The fact that I both got what I wanted and absolutely did not get what I wanted.

There were so many things that I loved about Broadcast News, but Jane’s outbursts of tears are what I keep coming back to—the thing that’s still under my skin the following morning, wondering if it would be insanity to just rewatch the whole film again.