Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Confessions of a Former Correspondent

When my friend Kate and I both had our second babies, I was often tempted to form this book out of our email correspondence: Dear Exile: The Story of Two Young Mothers, Separated by 16 Miles and a Bedroom Community (for Most of Their Children’s Infancy). The title was inspired by this particular book in my reading travels. Our book would have been comprised of the letters, emails to be precise, that we fashioned for one another on a regular basis. These emails were a lifeline for me, a small fishing wire that connected me to some other brilliant woman and thinker and artist, even though we were both changing diapers, filling juice cups, nursing nonstop and dealing with our own domestic and family crises as they would, inevitably, arise. There was someone, always, on the other end of that wire, who had my back. And I had hers. And while I didn’t ever dream of inserting any of Kate’s sacred personal story into a book, I did start my own archival folder in an email client, (aptly named “Kate”), thinking that someday the narrative of our friendship might be sweetly woven together with tales of parenting woes.

While Kate always had an astounding artistic gift with all things paper/fabric/metal/wood/plant kingdom and found space to create masterpieces during naptime, my artistic gifts came out only in words some years, in emails I hoped would make her LOL or ROFL or at least elicit an amen or a you-tell-it-sister. And sometimes, like the day after my second daughter was born and I wrote her a fully detailed account of my labor and Middle’s at-home birth, I wanted Kate to experience the victory of it vicariously, through all the essential ingredients of storytelling—rising action, climax, denouement.

The content of our emails contained woes of ear infections and sleep deprivation, yes, but it was also full of critical thinking and social commentary--like when the big mega church yonder down Interstate 80 wouldn’t let Kate and her team of children’s pastors bring breastfeeding infants to the conference.

“Well, really they can't ‘accomodate nursing infants’,” I quipped dogmatically. “Of course [the church] should not be expected to provide breasts and chests for all those babies. But they must be forgetting that the mothers bring their own! That's it! Just remind them. If they don't let you, they'll have lactating women with wet circles on their chests walking around and causing a major ruckus, waaay bigger of ruckus than some nursing infants would cause. Yes, that's what you should do--a Drip-In. Lactating mothers unite.”
Our emails were multi-faceted, multi-paragraphed. We were stand up comics, comediennes, Jon Stewart's news team. We were therapists, mothers, sisters, herbalists, seamstresses, writers, chefs, teachers, cheerleaders, fan club, book club. And so I was in the emails I exchanged with other dear friends in those days. I had time to whittle away with words via email and so did they. Through email, for instance, I walked hand in hand with Laura, who moved out of state and was searching for a church community in the Bible Belt. I went on church visits with her (so it seemed), had visceral reactions to the self-proclaimed prophets and preachers who got too much in her face, talked too loud, and emitted too much judgment.

This was correspondence that elicted a worried prayer, a sigh of relief, a joyous laugh or tears. There was so much time for details, where connections ran deep, all because of words passionately and desperately fashioned on a screen, from the discrete, intentioned muscle movement of fingers, originating from brains and hearts that needed to hang on to that fishing wire.

Today, my inbox is stacked with emails from women wanting to connect. I have starred them, making a mental note to myself that these are the emails I need more time for, but where has all the time gone? I’m lucky now to write anything so personal as a frustration, a disappointment, a happy ending. There isn’t much time for details. I have infinintely more responsibility now, and so do many of my friends—in their thirties, with their families almost-maxed- or maxed-out in size.

Maybe when these beloved children of mine are older, the space will emerge again to write letters to friends in the way I did in my twenties, and maybe then we will reclaim the stories that happened in the interim; mine and Kate's new book will be called The Story of Two Friends, Once Separated by Sixteen Miles, a Bedroom Community, Jobs They Love, Children They Love, Husbands They Love and Infinitely More Responsibility Than They Ever Could Have Thought Possible.

Instead of writing this post, I could have been replying to those emails in my inbox. If one of them is yours, you know who you are and I know too. But I really wanted to take a minute to get down the details of this life I'm living and have lived.  It's good writerly advice, getting down details. And you know it's where they say God is, too.

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