Vodka Won’t Make You Worldly

staying with a friend
staying with a friend

“Have you been drinking?” he asked. We were sitting on the sofa.

“Vodka,” I said.

He tilted his head slightly and leaned towards me. “Why?”

I couldn’t speak. I wished I knew where in the vodka bottle was drunk but not passed out. Of course, there was no law that said I had to tell him anything, but I didn’t want to be found out.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“I…” My throat constricted. Maybe it would be easier if I didn’t look at him. “You should know…” My voice left me.

“Is it bad?”

I shook my head. “Not exactly.” My voice is hoarse. This wasn’t the first time in life I’d lost the ability to speak, but now I was making everything worse.

“You don’t want to see me any more?”

“I.” I shook my head.

He made a few more guesses. My feelings of idiocy grew and I wished I had gulped down more vodka. “You have AIDS!” he said as if he’d just won a competition.

“No!” At least my voice was back–in part. “That’s impossible.” Then I realized how stupid that sounded. I’d have to tell him now.

“What do you mean impossible?”

By this time my drama was annoying me, but my voiced eeked when I forced out the words. “Because I’ve never…” Those first three words were said carefully. The rest was said like a person wanting to avoid a punch. “Done any of the things you do to get it.” I waited for that to sink in.

And I tried to catch the moment in his expression, hoping that I’d see where his thinking about me was going to go.

A friend of mine gets annoyed with blogs that do nothing but list what the person ate that day or where they went shopping or what TV show they liked best. He gets equally annoyed at people who spill their secrets and their dramas for anyone to read. The blogger is either self-obsessed and boring or self-obsessed and attention-seeking.

I haven’t read Kathryn Harrison’s The Kiss, but I was working in a bookstore when it came out and I remember clearly the reactions of coworkers. Mostly it gravitated along the lines of–do we really need to know? A few others said the subject matter was icky but they really didn’t care.

Most writers admit they need to tell what is true, but when is it necessary? When is a writer sharing something of value (maybe that is not the right word, but midnight is almost upon me–it will have to do) and when is a writer prancing around trilling, “Look at me! See what I can do! Gimme my cover of the National Enquirer now!”

Am I writing something because it needs to be said or for attention? Both? How can you tell the difference? (Number of vodka shots while sitting on the floor in front of the refrigerator are probably not going to help.)

14 thoughts on “Vodka Won’t Make You Worldly

  1. I think that a story sparks my desire to write it because I like the character. Any truths that fall from my fingers are from my subconscious. I really can’t understand writers who believe they plan that sort of great messagery (if that’s a word); but I certainly wouldn’t say that isn’t how it works for them.

    Your little vignettes are evocative and not oversharing–in case you needed to hear it. I’m not even sure you aren’t just posting fiction, as you never say! But because it’s a blog, I presume it to be part of your particular story!

    Have a lovely new year!

  2. Like writtenwyrd I’ve assumed that the stories are from your life but I’m never sure. I’m always intrigued: most of all by the stories themselves rather than by what they have to offer in the way of writing insights.

    So I’ve come out of lurkland to say how much I enjoy your blog and to wish you everything that’s good in the coming year.

    Happy New Year!

  3. I think telling stories is a human need. I think we define ourselves with the stories we tell. Whether we are telling the stories to only ourselves or to intimate friends and family, or strangers on the web or the world at large through published books. We tell stories because we are human.

    Why do we think we shouldn’t? Who gets to say when someone has “overshared?” Who’s the authority on the value of someone’s story? I actually believe that the publishing industry is very angry at the internet. Bloggers have taken away publisher’s power to say who is worthy of being heard. If you have something to say, now, you can say it and find an audience or no. You can print up your own book.

    I’ve known so many people who didn’t have the voice to tell their stories. It is sad when they are so silent. It is wonderful to see them start to speak.

    I think everyone’s story is worth telling. It may not be to everyone’s taste to hear, but it’s worth being told.

  4. It IS hard to strike a balance — or, if you’ve gotta be UNbalanced, to decide which way you’d rather lean. (Not using “you” there to mean you, Marta, obviously — just the generic “you.”)

    I’m with Rowena. I’d rather have a surplus of personal stories to read, than a deficit. There’s no way of knowing, of course, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the people too afraid to post their stories actually have among the more interesting stories to tell.

    At least a lot of True Confessions out there, I can pick and choose which I want to read. If people suddenly started second-guessing themselves, we’d be stuck with the ongoing dramas of the lives of the exhibitionists and celebrities.

  5. I agree with rowena – telling stories is a human need. I don’t really like reading blogs in which the person writes a laundry list of their day, but I think if they want to write it, they should go ahead. Sometimes I do that myself in my personal journal, and I bore myself to death, but at least I got what I wanted to say out.

    I think we all want some attention – that’s a human need too, and there’s nothing wrong with it. I think we all have stories to tell that are engaging too. Stories that connect us. If we sift through more laundry lists, we might just find them.

  6. fiona, don’t be scared. Or be scared but, you know, go forth anyway.

    writtenwyrdd, I admit to needing reassurance about over sharing. So thank you. These are bits of my life as best as I can share them.

    fairyhedgehog, thanks for coming out of lurkland. I’m not entirely sure if the write the stories for the sake of the writing “insights” or if it is the other way around.

    rowena, I’m with you all the way.

    JES, but what makes a person an exhibitionist? This is the line I’m not sure of.

    shelli, just goes to show that you have no control over what detail a reader will take note of!

  7. Much like your friend who gets annoyed with certain blogs, I get annoyed with those that seek to draw attention to the writer for no other reason than that the writer believes he or she deserves the attention. Airing his or her dirty laundry public, calling out others in an effort to hide his or her own insecurities are just a waste of cyber space. Most writers write a blog because they are seeking to better understand something – anything. Maybe it’s about the writer, maybe about life, maybe about writing, maybe about the silly idocyncratic elements of everyday life. Whatever they look for, they look for it and write about it honestly.

    Thanks for being honest.

    Kim J.

  8. Sharing the personal seems valuable to me when the writer takes us beyond the orginal story into some kind of meaning that arises from the story- which you always do. You leave us with something to ponder, not just something to behold. That’s a rare gift.

    Exhibitionistic writing, to me, is writing that has no point to it. So that if I read about addiction or abuse or sexual issues, for instance, (or write about them, either in a personal essay or a story) I’m hoping for the transformative moment, even if all the writer does is admit they don’t know what it all means, but are trying their best to connect. It’s the difference between reality TV (raw but pointless) and art (interactive, meaningful, greater than the sum of its parts).

  9. i’ve come to the conclusion of late that EVERYTHING is a story.

    And I was considering doing a post about losing one’s virginity (mine in particular) yesterday, but this was after some vodka myself…and I didn’t go through with it, by audience is NOT ready for that.

    your story today was amazing, they always are.

  10. Kim, you’re welcome, though I usually feel unsure that I ought to be putting this kind of honesty out there,

    Sarah, I like your take on exhibitionistic writing. When I start writing, however, I have little idea what anyone else might take away from the effort.

    D’Arcy, well, haven’t you made me laugh! I’ve got to tell you that I in no way thought anyone needed to read this story. So don’t underestimate your audience! There is certainly plenty I didn’t write, but really this felt like enough. Thanks for reading.

  11. what makes a person an exhibitionist?

    Well, the year’s still young. But that already is in the running for the most uncomfortable question of 2009.

    Everyone with a blog is an exhibitionist, to some extent (otherwise they’d just fall back on the ol’ hardcopy journal). But if you layer atop that that the blogger is a writer and/or (yikes) an artist, wow, things get messy, don’t they? I mean, if we want an audience we have to exhibit — and doesn’t that make us by definition exhibitionists?

    Literally, yeah. But I don’t think literally really counts in this case. It’s like Sarah says: it’s exhibitionist only if the work’s only clear purpose is to draw attention, to the artist and/or the work. When you exhibit your cut-ups, you’re not — or let’s say not convincingly 🙂 — saying only, “Hey, aren’t I handy with words and scissors and titles and captions?” A discerning audience (and you have to know you’ll attract that kind) will recognize that handiness, that cleverness, but also be able to perceive them as means to a submerged end: not the end itself.

  12. You know, I’ve figured out why I don’t comment here more often — you ask the big questions and it takes too much time for my slow working brain to wrap myself around them!

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