Well, I’m back.
I guess you’ve all been wondering where I’ve been and why there hasn’t been a new installment of Outta My Yard since the start of August. I imagine you’ve spent the interim gazing longingly into that gaping hole that usually holds my fresh new column, casting back to happier days when you could count on my witty prose and searing insights to carry you through these troubled times. I’m sure you’ve all missed me terribly and have probably been worried sick.
What’s that you say? I can’t hear you. Maybe I should lean in a little closer. No, no need to. I know that sound. It’s the plangent toll of nothing reverberating in utter nothingness, the clapperless dinner bell calling me to an empty table for a big nada sandwich, served with a steaming helping of futility on the side. Oh yes, and a nice slice of pickled zilch for garnish.
As you might gather from my tone, there’s a reason you haven’t seen me malingering around the halls of cyberspace lately. Well, the truth is that Herself had a hissy fit at the end of summer. After watching Web sites pop up like fungal matter with their scores of sporelike – I’m sorry, I have to brace myself before I can actually bring myself to type this word – bloggers, I decided to quit writing my column for The Bollard. “Enough,” I cried. “Enough blather and bloviation by TV stars and grocery clerks and va-jay-jay watchdogs and suburban housewives who insist their voices must be heard.” (Oh, wait a minute. I am a suburban housewife.) I was sick of the noise, sick of a world in which suddenly everyone had become a first-person, look-at-me columnist. I decided it was time to remove at least one voice from the din. Mine.
Of course, I did it in my own inimitable fashion. I started by quitting to Al Diamon, my former editor at Casco Bay Weekly, who – as it happens – has no professional affiliation with The Bollard. (It’s strictly a drinking relationship.) I thought I just maybe needed to quit something, the way I used to pick fights with boyfriends to test how important I was or was not to them. (Life lesson number 417: Do not ask a question you do not want to hear the answer to.)
So, on August 16, I sent Diamon an e-mail: “Been having a bad week as a professional writer… Every person and his brother does what I do now. Why should I bother? To tell you the truth, I haven’t come up with an answer.” The next day I wrote: “I just decided at the gym this morning my next Bollard column will be my last.”
Now, Diamon and I have been friends and associates for well past a decade. He’s accustomed (and largely impervious) to my histrionics, but I thought I might get a small rise out of him. Instead, there was a brief response: “Why are you quittingThe Bollard? Seems like the perfect spot for you.” This was the equivalent of me saying to a guy, “I think we need to take a break from each other,” and getting a “Did you just say something?” back.
I decided I needed to move up the food chain.
So, at the end of August, instead of sending a column, I announced to Bollardeditor Chris Busby that I was done with the online world. I explained how I felt like I was writing into a void, that I missed good old newsprint, that I had no relationship with my readers – that is, if I had any readers – and since the Web was rife with bloggers (writing about the ‘shrooms and veggies you can get atThe Whole Paycheck – should I go on with terms that annoy me?), there was no reason for me to continue.
Busby thought it might be helpful to find out how many hits my column received each month. After doing something that I am sure involved a joy stick, Mr. Potato Head and a nuclear reaction, he told me he couldn’t give me an exact count. [Editor’s note: Fearing that any number short of five figures would lose me my prized columnist that day, I bluffed a bit. – C.B.] He suggested I call for reader responses – a sort of Is-anyone-out-there?, Please-write-back-if-you-like-me APB – which, considering my frame of mind at the time, would’ve been the equivalent of posting a “Kick me” sign on my cyber-butt.
Instead, we both agreed I would take a sabbatical to mull things over. Or in my case, brood.
This was not the first time I faced the prospect of being column-free. After six years of Outta My Way at CBW, I was without a column for two years prior to starting this one. Three months was nothing. But what did these lapses both show me?
First, there is an awful lot of baggage associated with defining yourself by what you do, especially when it involves the public’s eyeballs. In the many, many years before anything I wrote ever hit print or was read by anyone who did not love me, I wrote because I had to. I wrote because if I did not write, my head would blow up. And that’s what I tell my students: Write because you have to. Worry about the business of writing after the writing is done. When you’re paying too much attention to who’s paying attention to you, then you’ve lost your funk, and you might as well quit.
That’s the growed-up part of what I learned.
The real lesson, though, came when I realized that if I quit doing everything that had some facet that bugged me, I’d basically have to stay in bed all day and never interact with the world again. Because everything bugs me – not just people who say ‘shrooms or write blogs or park their frigging Escalades up on the sidewalk so they don’t have to take an extra step to get their Dunkin’ latte, or people who don’t hold the door or cover their mouth when they sneeze or keep their dogs on a leash on public trails, or who have only vanilla-mango hand soap in their bathrooms. That’s part of what makes me a columnist. Whining and complaining is just what I do – the online or in-print part is inconsequential.
So, yes, I am back, rising out of the ashes of my own personal/professional conflagration.
Elizabeth Peavey actually couldn’t care less if you like her or not. But if you do, clap your hands – or at least buy her a beer.