Someone asked me recently if I’ve been writing. He asked me why when I told him no and I said, “Because I’m happy.” Saying that was equal parts true, false, and made me feel like a phony. It’s true because I’m pleased to share that for the most part, I am happy. It’s also false because I simply can be too lazy to write sometimes. And it made me feel like a phony because what kind of writer only writes when she’s not happy? That’s not how this works. Anne Lamott would be disappointed.
I’ve felt busier than normal the past couple months (summers are typically that way), so I’ve been winding down my days with Netflix instead of with a book or writing. Not that Netflix doesn’t have its place, but if I recall, I dubbed 2019 “The Year of Tessa.” Watching Netflix every night doesn’t do much for Tessa. Reading does. Writing does. And now that I’m sitting down to write, it’s very clear to me that the reason I haven’t been is because I’ve been avoiding things.
I’m in a book club with my two roommates and a handful of other friends. One of my roommates chose the last book: Ohio by Stephen Markley. I was excited to read it because I’d admittedly only read one of the four other books that had been selected for book club so far this year. My other roommate came home a few days after the book was selected, excited that he was almost finished with it. He has a gnarly commute and listens to books on tape, so he whizzes through them. He told me that it was sad and I said, “Like a good sad?” He cocked his head a bit and said, “I guess? Not really. I think just sad,” at which point my subconscious perked up and said, “Mmk, I’ll pass.” According to my Kindle, I read 10% of it before I let the digital library loan expire.
I started to think about why I kept putting the book down every time I picked it up. I had the time to read – I just wasn’t reading. Generally as a rule of thumb, I avoid really sad movies or shows, attributing it to everyday life being sad enough all by itself without some dumb show also bumming me out, and suddenly I found myself doing it with a book. Avoiding sad things doesn’t keep sad things from happening, though. Sad things happen. All the time. I know this. Just a couple months ago, both of my grandpas died within 18 hours of each other. My breath shortens slightly when I think too much about that. And I think I wasn’t reading Ohio because I wanted to avoid any additional sadness, and that’s honestly the lamest shit I’ve ever let myself do. A few months after John died, I went to see The Big Sick, in which there’s an aerial shot of the main character’s love interest lying in a hospital bed with the exact same breathing apparatus that John had while he was dying. I handled that. Why can’t I handle a sad book, two and a half years later, because my grandpas died?
I started writing this to say that I’m happy and suddenly I’m writing about sadness. Funny how that happens. I am happy though. To quote myself, “Happiness and grief are not mutually exclusive; I can feel both pure joy and grief at the same time.” (Once in college, I wrote an essay about Edgar Allan Poe’s fascination with phrenology and my professor for the class gave me an article that he wrote about EAP for the Harvard Review to reference in my essay, and I imagine the way people feel when I quote myself is kind of like how I felt when he did that. But alas, here we are.) Anyway. Avoiding is for the birds. Reading and writing and feeling things is for everyone else. Sorry, birds.