On Men and Women and Words; Storytelling, Journaling, and Re-Entering Singledom

“Sorry, I’ve used up all my words for the day.”

It was edging on one in the morning, and a couple of women in my teaching group and I were in bunk beds, holding a fiery debate over categories of creative nonfiction. (“It’s the difference between Eula Biss and Jo Ann Beard.” “I just feel really defiant about genre labels right now.”) No matter that they had to get up in not that many hours to teach. And, at the sight of the lone male colleague with us for the weekend, getting ready for bed, we invited him in. To talk.

“No thanks,” he said, holding up his palm — no more words.

Bless him, he’d held his own for the four hours prior, as the group of us sat on stools in the downstairs kitchen with pretzels and hummus and beer and wine, talking about teaching and writing and attitudes on communal living. But by this point, he had little interest in matching the extreme level of chattiness the rest of us couldn’t resist keeping up.

I try to avoid generalizations, and I know there are men out there who really love to talk and plenty of women who really don’t. But, in my experience, the reverse tends to be true: that men are more often the ones who run out of words.

It isn’t only, or necessarily, that women talk more. It’s that, often, we are fundamentally more interested in sharing. Reporting. Telling tales about our days. Our ideas. Our families. Our relationships. You know. The mundane shit of our lives.

*

“The problem is that it’s really easy for me to be single.”

I was sitting with a friend who also recently left a relationship. And he was telling me why it isn’t difficult for him to end up alone for long stretches of time.

I agreed. (Sidenote: I worry the whole dating blog thing gives me a rep as someone who’s always in, or always wants to be in, a relationship. Untrue.) I like spending time alone. I like being independent and having control over my travel and my time. I like meeting new people as a single person, not having to worry about developing relationships in couple form.

But here’s the part about being coupled that I miss: the part at the end of the day, when there is someone to hold you in their arms and say, “Tell me everything.”

I still don’t have a solid list of qualities I require in a partner. But if I did, Good Listener would be at the top. And I’ve been lucky to find men who have been. Who have indulged my desire to lie down and share all: about the phone conversation I had with my brother or the walk I took with a friend, the yoga teacher whose style I loved or the interview with a nurse who made me cry or the bearded guy at the grocery store who gave everyone the creeps.

All that banal stuff that, I suspect, men don’t always feel as inclined to share. And, perhaps, a lot of women don’t either. Maybe it’s the Writer Brain combined with the Female Brain combined with the Journalist Background, or maybe it’s just my DNA: I’ve always, automatically chronicled the moments of my day. It’s a running narrative in my head, and one that I’ve never been particularly interested in recording as a journal, or for myself. Instead, it’s always one I want to share. Either as art, or as conversation with those I love.

And now that I am re-entering the single life, I am looking for new ways to satisfy that need.

The blog, obviously, helps. (Thanks, team!) And time on the phone with girlfriends. And, lately, writing hopelessly lame poems about rainbows over Minnesota lakes and pairs of brightly colored underwear.

I’ve even begun to open up the occasional  Word document and write out my “reports” in the form of a letter — to a partner who doesn’t exist. I’m thinking of it as a transition to the genre of journaling, toward which I have long had a mysteriously epic aversion.

And I’m thinking of it, too, as another way I can practice self-care. I don’t know that there’s anything wrong with wanting to share thoughts and stories with others, but there has got to be something worthwhile, too, in holding, even crafting that stuff just for myself.

 

On Journaling, Audience, and Babies in Orange County

Last week I spent a few days visiting a grad school friend, V, who recently (seven months ago, to be precise) had a kid.

As offspring are wont to do, this (uncommonly cute, alarmingly active) baby has provoked infinite changes: at this point V can hardly recall what things were like before–but knows enough to say they were entirely different.

Taking a drive one afternoon to address a medley of urgent needs (baby: sleep; adults: frozen yogurt, hats), V brought up one, relatively insignificant transformation prompted by motherhood: starting to keep a journal.

We discussed the fact that, at this point in our lives and careers, we find ourselves less and less plagued by the “imposter syndrome” with which many (all?) writers continually struggle. (Grad degrees help.)

“I know I’m a writer,” V explained. “But journalling is the thing I’ve always felt insecure I didn’t do.”

Not being a journaler myself, I dismissed her insecurity (read: mine) right away: “It’s about audience,” I said. “I’m not interested in writing just for me. What’s the point?”

“I know,” V agreed. “But with the baby, I want her to know…and, you know, even aside from her, it is kind of useful as a writer to record what happened when.”

“Right,” I nodded, flashing back to the hours spent searching gmail for chats and messages, desperate to decipher the chronology of (embarassingly recent) personal events. Again, flip: “Thank god for the internet!”

A few hours later, I leaned on a rock a few yards from the Pacific, tearful. (That word is coming up a lot lately–Saturn Return, much?). I’d been traveling solo nearly a week, I’d yet to have a conversation with my mother, I was anxious to report what I’d been through–and  our first catch-up attempt, moments earlier, had been thwarted by geography. (Bad reception (me) + noisy midtown streets (mom).)

I love traveling alone. I love driving alone. I love going off and having adventures and thinking, mostly, about how I will share them later. That running interior monologue: it’s what enables personal writing to come out so quick.

We’ve been over the chronic, massive downside to this: inability to ever feel, fully, present.

The other side of it is that I long to share all that with another person. As V was quick to remind me later, my mother will always, to some degree, fill that role. But she’s always, also, my mother: thus wanting to give me a measure of space that neither of us will ever mutually, simultaneously, recognize as enough.

And without a partner, I’m inclined to fantasize about how that invisible, idealized person will arrive immune to those complicating issues: how they will listen, always, patient, receptive to the words and stories I can’t help but constantly prepare.

In the meantime, I seek substitutes: even on this trip, I’ve been checking in periodically with a guy back home, one who can’t possibly yet be invested enough to care particularly about the ins and outs of my (gripping!) travails.

Check-ins are harder with a three-hour time difference, and the other night, too late to call East, I jotted a list of things I wanted to share next time we spoke. They read like cryptic notes for someone funnier’s stand-up comedy routine: “military families,” “Orange County bookstores,” “Pacific surfers,” “Caitlin Moran.”

As I set them aside, I thought, sleepily, that I wasn’t totally sure I’d talk to this guy again, or how soon. I couldn’t be certain I’d even see him again, ever. Why was I so desperate to share my observations with someone who had so recently, and perhaps so ephemerally, come into my life?

It wasn’t that I needed to share with him, I thought. It was the urge to share with someone. And for the first time in a while, keeping a journal made sense: the impulse to chronicle my adventures shouldn’t come from a guy I hardly know. Between he and I, there’s only one of us I can be sure will still be around in a few decades or months or years.

And, only one of us I can be sure will, even then, be interested in what I’m up to now.