Love/Hate

I have a love/hate relationship with the “publish” button. For years, I never let anyone other than my professors and occasionally my mom read my writing. I spent eleven months dodging my best friend’s attempts to read my undergraduate thesis, until she texted, “SARAH. SEND ME YOUR THESIS ALREADY!”

I wrote essays in word documents buried in random desktop folders. I wrote in moleskin journals tucked between books and in the corners of my nightstand. I wrote the aforementioned lengthy thesis on Victorian literature. I wrote another independent work on the spiritual dimensions of poetry. I wrote on airplanes and in coffee shops, after breakups and snowy walks.

My work was burrowed away from critical eyes, not for anyone’s eyes other than mine. It was a comfortable artistic process. I wrote either for academic accolade – in which I wrote directly within the known boundaries of humanities academia – or when inspiration struck – when I could let my sentences run wild without fear of criticism or the need to edit.

When I left the comfortable fold of the academy, post-college, I began to think more seriously about what I wanted my life to be like, not just within the next decade, but also on a daily basis. I felt as though I was out at sea on a boat that was taking on water. My idealism, political and personal, was being shaken and shaped in unexpected ways. I was growing and learning too fast to fully process it all. I did not feel seen at work, but seen for what? I could not fully find the edges of my identity. I could not say, “World, this is who I am. This is who I will be. This is what I will focus on.” The answers I had prepared to those questions the year before blew out of my hands and drifted away.

I missed the structure college provided for philosophical inquiry and creative exploration, so I wrote on my own more personally, more regularly. Much to my surprise, I began to feel ambivalent about my creative work living in scraps in the dark. Facing the chaos of Manhattan, contending with the brokenness of political system, approaching divinity school, navigating the liminal space of post-grad life, living with anxiety all felt significant, like thoughts that needed to live in the world. Could my scrappy work be of service to others? I wondered, but I wasn’t sure. I concluded, for the time being, that thoughts stuck in a drawer that never see the light of day cannot be of service to anyone. Expression for expression’s sake does not build community or spark empathy from within a drawer, I decided.

I suppose there is pride embedded in the notion that one’s art can do something good in the world, if it is seen. I was afraid of seeming prideful, or worse, prideful with terrible art, but the pain of creating something and watching it collect dust in a tiny apartment, is somehow worse and somehow feels complacent after a while. So I started this site, in part, to develop my voice and in part, to craft something of beauty to stand – to merely exist – in opposition to the violence of the world.

The flip side of this exercise is the fact that I often want to hide. I often do not want to be seen. I want to stand on the edge of a room and observe, then figure out what it means by myself, in my own head, at my desk, writing alone. I bounce consistently between wanting my writing to have some effect, for it to reach  two people and bring them comfort or inspiration, and wanting it to stay under wraps, hidden away, so that I, too, can blend in and watch.

A few months after I began work on this site, Jack started to tell people about it. “Sarah started a blog recently,” he would say as he’d gesture toward me. I gave him icicle eyes, my can-you- for-Christ’s-sake-stop-talking-about-this-now-please eyes. “Well, it’s not really a blog. It’s a place. Where I write about things, like faith and poetry and doubt and indignation. You know, a place on the internet. Not a blog.” I was really selling it well, I’m sure. “Then why did you put it on the internet?” he asked every time, seemingly genuinely confused. The next time he brought it up at a dinner with friends, he called it a place.

My maid of honor sent my aunt a few words to read in a toast at my bridal shower this past spring, in which she told the whole room of women, over fifty people about my writing and my putting it online. Don’t tell people about it! 

We all, especially those of us who are sensitive, have things within us that are beautiful, that have been crafted, that have made meaning out of experience. Some of us do want to express those things, what poets and theologians would call truth, to other people. We want to build connections through wires of kindness, creativity, inspiration, vulnerability. For me, truth is expressed through writing. I cannot, however, see (nor do I even want to judge) whether or not it is good. From my understanding of the world we live in, however, art that attempts to build belonging along the lines of lived experience could help soften the edges of despair, our own despair and the despair of others.

Every time I hit that “publish” button, worry sets in. What if people think I am self-absorbed? Or entitled? What if what I just wrote and poured hours of work into makes no sense? Or what if readers think my prose is laughable? What if no one sees it? What if 200 people see it?

I do not press “publish” to be seen or to stalk the number of views per day, for those numbers of often in the single digits anyway. I press “publish” in spite of myself and my ego and my fear. I press “publish” to put something in the world that does not have a hidden agenda, that is not selling anything, that is aiming toward beauty and justice. When I hate that little blue button, posts live in the drafts folder and I edit and edit and edit and edit until I decide it is a completely worthless topic. When I start to love that little blue button, I press it before I feel I am ready as an exercise in experiencing courage and vulnerability at the same time. Making sense of the tensions between expression and service, between wanting to be seen and wanting to burrow away, is a part of my exploration.

Other things I have a love/hate relationship with…? New York City, french fries, core exercises, cooking, and my cell phone.