All of the entries on my first blog, Mae Mucho: The Diary of a Myers Park Mom, were penned anonymously. This post originally appeared on that blog on January 6, 2010.
Get in touch with your inner filth
When talking blog with friends, the question inevitably comes: Why are you writing anonymously? A legitimate inquiry, although it feels a little What’s up with the chicken-shit approach to putting your stuff out there? But maybe that’s just me, being defensive. I won’t lie. There is definitely something appealing about having a small veil of secrecy shrouding the fruits of my writing labors.
So I won’t discount the most obvious answer, which is that when writing, there is a greater sense of freedom associated with anonymity. And if it sucks really badly, it doesn’t have my name plastered across the top in a banner headline. So freedom . . . without accountability. On a purely personal level, as someone responsible for the rearing of two “future upstanding citizens” (ha!) –who constantly scrutinize my own example –an enormous amount of repression, self-control, and censorship is required on a daily basis to maintain a family-friendly “G” rating in life. So to say what you think, how you actually think it . . . well, it is not only exhilarating, it’s a relief.
When I was in grad school, I studied blogs and bloggers and personal identity issues, and one dynamic that interested me was the presence of the “anonymous poster” in the comments to narrative-style blogs. Especially if the blogger had put out enormous amounts of personal information about her life and family, and then WHAM! Devastation by drive-by commentary. I researched the damage done to bloggers when the haters appeared with their venom. ‘Cause they can be pretty brutal. So another part of this writing choice for me was leveling the emotional playing field, so to speak.
But the most important, number one reason why my real full name isn’t in 72-pt font across the top of your screen is this: I was “raised right” . . . but I love to cuss.
The being “raised right” part, as all of you southern gals know, is as important to the equation as the compulsion to talk shit. Not to imply that other parts of the country don’t have aspiring “young ladies” and aspiring “gentlemen,” but in the south good manners and decorum are an art form. We’re talking: Yes ma’am, No sir, and Why, thank you, its just the most lovely thus-and-such I have ever smelled/tasted/witnessed in my life. Now wait right here a minute and have some sweet tea while I go write you up a little thank you note . . .
It can be intense. In addition to a suffocating disapproval (especially by folks of a certain age) that may rain down after the use of profanity, there’s practically an entirely different language in the south for just criticizing someone –because you certainly wouldn’t come right out and say something ugly. Forget trying to decipher our, ummm, charming accent . . . even if you get the words as they’re spoken, half the time it still sounds like folks are talking in code. Because they are.
So I have always been instructed that it is extremely poor form to use vulgar language. Lazy. Ignorant. Offensive. To deepen my dilemma is the fact that my husband was also “raised right.” All of our parents are just really respectable, decent folk. (I know, our cross to bear).
So when I decided to write the blog, I struggled with what to do. What it finally came down to was this: If I was going to do it, I was going to really do it – the way I wanted to. This would be one little corner of my life that was all my own where I could express myself like a grown-up if I wanted. (Or a teenager. Hard to say). But I sort of compromised with the name. As I mentioned in my first post, Mae Mucho is a nickname from my childhood that my parents and others who have known me most of my life would easily recognize. So in the end, I think my pen name is less about hiding my identity than allowing my nice family a little distance from my less-than-ladylike rants, when the day comes that they are clued in to the existence of the blog.
When I was in college, I faced the disapproval of someone whom I greatly respected because of an issue with profanity (or maybe what was seen as inappropriate expression). One of my favorite professors was a wonderful man who taught British Literature and was everything you would want in a teacher: smart, funny, interesting. At the beginning of every class he would have us move our desks around in a circle so we could face each other when reading the Romantic poets aloud. He had the coolest professor vibe going on; it was like something out of a movie. Dapper clothes, closely trimmed white beard, genial laugh and this almost quaint way of addressing the students, by our last name. “Miss Mucho,” he would say when passing me in the halls – and, I kid you not, tip his hat.
I was in love with his class and thought he was the greatest. My future-husband was a little concerned with the enthusiasm I had for Dr. Dapper, until he realized that he sort-of resembled Santa Claus (a fact that I tried to impress upon my children when we came across him last weekend during a recent visit to campus. “I don’t know,” I whispered as they rolled around on top of each other while I attempted to introduce them to my former teacher, “But when I was a student here, lots of folks thought that Dr. D might be the real Santa Claus . . . better watch out!” That slowed them down for a couple of minutes as they studied him intently. But then it was back to the old shenanigans; I guess it being January and a full year out from Christmas, they figured they’d take their chances).
So one day my senior year I had a most memorable interaction with Dr. D. I was posting flyers for an upcoming event on campus, excited beyond belief that my favorite poet, Sharon Olds, was coming for a reading. Not only that, her visit was sponsored by the Student Union and the English Department . . . and since I was on the Union Board and a senior English major, I had been asked to introduce her to the college before she read.
The thing about Sharon Olds is that as a writer/poet she is about as raw as they come. And enormously compelling. The words she uses are not always pretty. But her writing is honest and gripping; sometimes tragic, sometimes funny. And there is also a lot about the body (read: sex). But all brilliantly done. In my opinion.
Which apparently was not shared by all. Because as I am posting the flyers, Dr. D. comes through the door. “Miss Mucho,” he says, with the typical head nod and hat tip. I show him what I am doing and ask if he plans to come to the reading later in the week. He shakes his head firmly no.
“I try not to subject myself to filth,” he says.
In my shock I let the words sink in. I am not sure what stunned me more, that the writing I found so magnificent had been described as filth, or that the teacher that I respected so much had such a different take on this work than me.
So I took a deep breath. “Really?” I responded, “Because she is one of my favorite poets. I am introducing her to the college before her reading.” He raised his eyebrows and an interesting look passed over his face. We stood there awkwardly for a moment before he continued on down the hall.
As often happens in college, the most important lessons that you learn are really in the school of life. Through this experience two things stayed with me:
First, I was forced to really think about language, and the use of it; the ways that it connects or divides us. I thought about the things that Olds wrote about and the way she wrote about them, and even as I recognized that there would always be those who would not get it, or who would totally get it but who would completely disapprove, I cemented my connection to my inner filth. I am, as it turns out, just hard-wired that way.
In the end it was ok with me that Dr. D and I disagreed about this poet. And that was the second lesson for me. Olds’ work really spoke to me, exactly as she had written it – that it did not do the same for my professor made him neither better nor worse as a person, or as a lover of words (which he was – his passion for language was undeniable; he made his students love it, too). It just meant that we were different. And I LOVED that. You might think that after our exchange, my admiration for him would have been diminished — but that is not what happened. I liked that I could see all of the things that made us similar, and then some things that made us so very different.
And I cemented my love for the differences among us. Some people are always searching for the people who are just like them; the greatest compliment is that someone is an exact life- match. I think the real richness comes where you find the distinctions, and I admired my professor even as I broke with him intellectually. I cemented my connection to honoring differences in thought and belief. And I am, as it turns out, still very much hard-wired that way.
When I did my introduction some days later, I tried to make it as honest and funny and interesting as Sharon Olds. I remember quoting the title of one of her poems, “The Pope’s Penis” (did I mention she’s a bit controversial?) As the crowd laughed I looked up from the podium and saw Dr. D leaning up against the back wall, listening. As I finished he smiled and clapped – then tipped his hat and slipped out the door.