Added Value

Broken Vows

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In the course of the “uproar” about Joyce Carol Oates tome, A Widow’s Story, I pondered yet again my withdrawal from my memoir. I truly believe that most memoirs slog through a marsh of well-trod ground, offering nothing new in terms of insight. They hack up analogies, metaphors and similes like a cat does hairballs. Just so much stinking, steaming emotive glop.

Without anything new to add to the conversation, it’s just another entry in a reality-soaked entertainment genre that’s come to define our society. It’s pretend self-help because no one wants to be helped. Misery loves company, but it craves validation more.

That’s why grief blogs and on-line communities thrive. The hurting arrive looking for hope and answers and stay because being accepted and understood in the darkย  Gollum-like shady places is easier than getting back out into the harsh light and starting over again.

Mostly, I have been John the Baptist in the online grief world. Yelling like a mad-man out in the desert. Chastised and dismissed or ignored entirely.

So I thought, what have I to offer? My clichรฉs and analogies? They are no different from Oates. She wryly observed all the same odd and annoying aspects of losing a loved one that I have read hundreds of times before from better writers possessed with abundantly more self-awareness.

“But what about our story?” Rob asked. “You have our story to tell.”

Yes, but what can I add to that old plotline? Widow finds love again. Widower finds love again.

Finding love again is the basis of every rom-com ever inflicted on the movie-going public.

I think our story is as special as he does, but what makes it worth the time of someone else to read? And doesn’t our contention – that love is possible, attainable and doable after loss –ย  fly in the face of grief’s tenets? The work of sorrow, the long hard hoed row, and the idea that one never heals?

It knocks the stuffing out of the soul mate theory, and the notion that seconds (a charming term I learned recently from the widowed community) should simply be grateful for a spare room in someone’s chapter two because the master bedroom is a memorial shrine as “til death do us part” applies to other people’s lesser romances.

And then I was perusing a couple of the more well-known widowed folk blogs. Reading comments, one where I was kitty-clawed a bit for my insensitivity, and another that dealt with someone discussing the new person in his/her life that was so insulting to this new love that I nearly asked the blogger why he/she was dating in the first place* and it hit me.

What I have to offer is dissent.

I don’t agree. Widowhood is not a life long emotional disability. One can, and most do, move on. MOVE ON. Not “forward”, but “on”.**

We can and many, many of us do love others just as deeply and passionately and with our whole hearts – not some basement room or attic space.

Life does get better and sometimes it even gets awesome. And it’s a choice.

Oh, and our children? Not doomed to be emotional eunuchs. They will be as okay. They are far more resilient than they are painted.

And the vast majority of people whose hearts have been broken – because it’s hardly just a widow thing – don’t snivel, whine or retreat into lives of quiet desperation. At least not at a rate any more significant than the rest of the population, who believe it or not, also don’t enjoy single parenthood, loneliness or having no family or friends who understand them or have their backs when they need help. They too are under-appreciated, overworked and struggle financially, which might have more to do with their lack of interest in your problems than “not getting it”.

We are not special. Charlie Sheen is special.***

*Really, if I read one more person droning on about how their dead spouse in every and any way can’t possibly be replaced and that the new boy/girlfriend should just shut up and be grateful for scraps – I might go on a commenting frenzy.

Seconds? Shudder. It’s like a derogatory term from a bad sci-fi movie about artificial lifeforms.

**Semantics? Yep, telling semantics. And not in a good way because when one needs to parse things so finely, perhaps relationships are part of one’s past, or one is more concerned about what others think of them than in being honest.

*** Rob is fond of a saying of his late, and certainly unsympathetic, father. “Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re special, son,” he would tell Rob. “Because they mean you’re retarded.”

11 responses to “Added Value

  1. Oh and about memoir: I don’t know how you can judge whether your story is strong enough or special enough from where you are. You’re probably an eensy bit close to the story of your life…? Abandoning your book sounds to me like a depressive gesture, or perhaps just a choice to do something different with your time and energy. It seems to me you’re chronically annoyed by folks who have the hubris to try to publish their books, even if people DO want to read them (the market takes care of itself, IMO). If those stories are weak… maybe that’s the only way those writers would have found out.

    Should they be prohibited from self-publishing? Do you disagree with the standards of the publishing houses? Yes, it’s rude of them to promote constantly and use social media to do it, but widowed wannabe gurus and memoirists are far from the only ones doing that.

    I’m not sure what the problem really is, unless perhaps it is that you have lost some faith in the strength of your own voice.

    Which obviously is ridiculous. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • It’s just what they push. Though I suppose I could lump Oprah or someone like that into the same category, eh? Milking the vulnerable while promoting dubious cure-alls.

      I just wish – online probably more than the real world, cuz there it’s about what sells always – that equal time was possible. There is not concrete evidence to support the grief process or the model that dominates and pointing that out isn’t welcome. Why? I have always been irritated by this by the way. Not a new thing.

      But even acknowledging my dissent still doesn’t give me an angle of approach. I’ve tried to write this a dozen different ways but it just doesn’t hit the right notes.

      Self-publishing is dicey but probably the way for most niche to go anymore. Publishing houses? They publish Snooki and Bristol Palin. I think their standards speak for themselves.

      There is no problem. I am just blogging like I always do. Nothing to see here.

  2. I haven’t seen that many people who believe they’ll be crippled forever.. mostly the ones who are doing really badly. Are they the new norm? I understand your criticism but I honestly don’t see this.
    “Seconds” — I think NH would punch me. Bad enough I call him NH and Mr. Fresh! But he’s first in my heart. And he’s, uh, here.
    How else can one live but forward?

  3. Your dissent doesn’t necessarily mean you are offering negativity. Just an alternative view ๐Ÿ™‚ I think dissent is only negative because the recipients of said dissent did not receive validation or approval… even though I’ve always believed that a differing opinion is just that, a DIFFERENT opinion. (Oh how I live for the day when people of western culture can think outside of their own personal boxes…..)

    Have you ever thought of constructing your memoir in a different way? Maybe doing a collection of stories from widows who share in similar opinion with you? But make sure you name it something jazzy if you do! Some title that aims to offer a total reverse opinion of “widowhood”…. “The Road of Grief and Survival: Don’t Believe All the Bullsh**” or “The Culture” (as we discussed before)

    If that book existed today, maybe there would be less widows out there whining and more widows out there offering the same dissent you do ๐Ÿ™‚

    (side note: if you are watching your tracker still, it probably showed I was all over you blog… still getting used to the new lay out…. sorry!)

    • I have thought of a collective effort though I usually think more in terms of online. I’d love to start a group site but wouldn’t want to confine it to widowhood. Middle-aged women have so many “issues” and I don’t think we have an outlet.

      I changed up the blog layout – again. Sorry.

      • I would love to see you start an online group…. it would be highly useful and probably a better resource for many people ๐Ÿ™‚ Good call… I would love to help if you ever need any but I’m 30…. does that qualify me as middle age??? ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Not special, no, but slogging through hard emotions just like many other groups โ€“ gay and lesbians, single moms, obese, over 50, you name it. And so what if blogging away emotions has become a way of working out feelings that, yes most of us wind up feeling at one time or another. Ah, the human condition.

    I think its good that you are the voice of dissent, telling us all that we are a bunch of whiners because god knows, sometimes we are.

    Sometimes its good to know we’re not special, and that we’re just like every body else. It’s nice to realize through another person’s story that we are normal in our messy responses. I guess those are the people who buy widow books and read widow blogs, cliche’s and all. Validation of one’s behavior and feelings is a form of self help that is perfectly natural and understandable. Human kind has a long history of story-telling for just that very purpose.

    As far as your own memoir goes, I guess you write what you know, and what you are passionate about. My rule has been to write what I want to read about. Never a bad way to go I figure.

    • As I struggle to define why I bother – dissent is the only answer I come up with. Now as in the beginning, I believe that the farther along we get in our “experiences” the more we owe it to newbies to really be honest about all aspects and not just play to the crowds. Validation is awesome but if one writes for an audience, it shouldn’t be the only consideration when you know that people are reading looking for guidance.

      But I can’t dissent anywhere really but here. You and I can have discussion via our blogs but we are not the norm among our set. Dissent is viewed as attack and pointing out other sides of any reality threatens some people. It’s the one-note’dness and the fact that only a few of us get to control the telling – which I guess is the perk of fame as opposed to be nobody, eh?

      • I have to say that I love this post and this insight.

        I think you are “The Dissenter”. You’re a counter-culture superhero without a costume. This is the voice your “evil twin” recognized and fell in love with, isn’t it?

        There are few issues you won’t take a stand on, and although you may not deliberately choose the road less travelled in our opinion, you end up there a lot, because you are never afraid to be “The Dissenter”.

        (I’m off to design your costume…)

        ๐Ÿ˜‰

        • If the majority were not so quick to perpetuate stereotypes, I probably wouldn’t comment anywhere at all. Yesterday I ran across someone at Widow’s Voice babbling about those who remarry “quickly” that basically promoted the nonsense that we are just looking for warm bodies to “fill a small gap in a gaping void.”

          But I am not a filling a “void” and neither is Rob. And we certainly take up more space in each other’s lives and hearts than the writer’s implied “stand in” does. It’s insulting and woefully ignorant b/c naturally the writer isn’t remarried and hasn’t any idea what she is talking about. Which is the problem. Blind spouting off for the recently blind. Agh.

          And yeah, I agree that Rob noticed me b/c I stood up and foolishly titled at windmills. Back then I really didn’t have a basis for my feeling that much of what was being handed out to us by those longer widowed was based on nothing but baseless social convention, but I am a bit older and better read now.

          I would like a costume like Michelle Pfieffer’s Catwoman garb, thank you. But perhaps not leather – it doesn’t breath.

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