The Authenticity Experiment, the collage edition. I have so many half-finished posts. So many. Because I’m researching and writing essays again in earnest, I can’t seem to get a post finished. Then a few weeks ago, I got this idea to give you some select paragraphs from the rough starts of Authenticity Experiments—to let you in on what I’m thinking about. It’s random, I’ll admit that, and maybe it won’t work and I’ll get a bunch of unsubscribes. But I’ve been taking artistic risks lately, so why not here, too. None of these transitions are manipulated. I’ve just chosen the paragraphs to fit together like a puzzle.
I’ve been thinking about grief. I know, surprise, but hear me out. Grief comes in so many forms—from the drop to your knees and weep grief of a betrayal, to the doubled-in-half head resting on the end of the bed grief of losing a loved one, to the grief of the collective over being unheard, unseen, dismissed.
It’s this last one that I think we’ve all been recently engaged with. We all saw her, right hand raised, swearing to tell the truth. We all saw him—or at least heard him—spitting rage and disrespecting the female Democratic Senators, shouting questions at them. And something about this—as if this wasn’t enough on its own—escalated our grief and an already simmering-on-the-back burner rage to a full wail and a rolling boil of hot anger.
Suddenly, the slightest misstep fires up me and my friends. Did you just smirk when I asked a question? Did you walk out that door and not hold it for me even though you saw me carrying a tray of coffee? Did you just cut in front of me? Did you just try to shame me for acting like myself because it makes you uncomfortable? Did you just tell me to lighten up? Is “A Star Is Born” really about a woman not being able to make it without a man’s help, and then the man’s ensuing agony because she eclipses him and that’s not supposed to happen?
Why am I telling you all this? Because the North Dakota Music Teacher asked me to write a post about how I am an author known for truth-telling who suddenly feels like she must now carefully guard her privacy, who feels like she cannot be completely vulnerable. She asked me to tell you about what it’s truly like traveling all over the US hawking art. You saw image of me in front of the bow tie building last May. It was genuine. We came upon the building, took a picture, and I uploaded it. But, in a way, it was curated, right?
That’s why the North Dakota Music Teacher thinks you should also see the behind the scenes image of the author alone, in a t-shirt and boxers, with her bronze IPPY medal around her neck, and a baseball cap on her head that she’d bought earlier in the Chelsea Market. The author grateful to be alone even as she felt a little lonesome and wished—at that moment—for a partner. The author entertaining herself in Portland East (read: Brooklyn), sending a late night, post-award (I accidentally typed post-awkward) pic to her chosen family, with the caption: The award-winning author admires her medal and packs for a 7:00 a.m. flight.
But I’ll tell you this, Dad—and I hope you can hear me—I understand now that in many ways—besides business—you were a good role model. I see it now, how you kept getting back on the horse. Trite phrase, I know, but we all understand its meaning. You kept trying with not drinking, with weight loss, with exercise. You modeled emotional and physical persistence to me in a way mom never did. To be clear, I understand that this did not occur because you did your work. No, this was because you survived your childhood and then you survived SpecialOps in the Navy. You knew how to set aside and compartmentalize and try again—failure not an option in either location.
I see you so clearly in myself now. I could not admit that before you died. The other day, the Women Who Offers Me Stories In Lieu of Advice said to me about a dream we were working, “Did you really think your book of alcohol would have just one chapter?”
I stared at her because I knew that this was one of those trick therapy questions.
You know what I mean. When you step on home ground, that almost overwhelming feeling vibrates up through your legs and makes your body start to hum, to resonate like two guitar strings do when the string between them is plucked. For me it happens in the morning, about 9:00 a.m. after I’ve landed and retrieved my luggage from the Southwest carousel at Oakland International Airport. Inevitably, the fog lies low on San Francisco bay, thick like a snowbank you think you might step onto; waiting patiently, the fog, for the eleven o’clock hour when the heat begins to force it to burn off. The tide might be in or it might be out. It doesn’t matter because the airport is surrounded by water on two sides, so you smell the brine of the Bay, the fecund scent of the fog and the wetlands, the punky terpines of eucalyptus trees.
If you lift your head—instead of staring down at your phone—the Oakland hills rise directly across from the airport. The hills that were destroyed by what, at the time, we believed the worst wild fire California could weather. How wrong we were. How much worse it was to become. How much more grieving we would do.