Only trouble is interesting*.
Not because humans are macabre ghouls, but because we need to know how to navigate the obstacles that life consistently throws at us. Art of all kinds, but especially literature, helps us to do just that.
In my two decades as a writer, and in my more recent experience creating jewelry, I’ve seen evidence of this over and over again. When I’ve written about my personal challenges, and have felt naked and exposed, I’ve been encouraged by kind feedback from readers about how my dispatches from a particularly shitty road I’ve endured have helped them endure on theirs. And what else could possibly explain the continuing demand for Alison Wonderland Jewelry’s signature “Fuck This Shit” products?
(In fact, the title of this essay, curiosity delay, is a more polite term for rubbernecking that I’ve heard on traffic reports on occasion. There are hard wired reasons why we can’t help but slow down to look at accidents on the highway, one of which is urgent: we need to be able to avoid our own.)
So lately, you may have noticed, I haven’t been publishing that much. I’ve found myself stuck in a kind of writer’s resin created by the truth that only trouble is interesting.
The good news for me as a person is that I have significant joy in my life. It’s been absorbing, and pleasurable, but not much good for the writing. For one thing, I am certain it will yield writing no more interesting or useful than any Facebook status riddled with exclamation marks. No one rubbernecks a vehicle just zipping happily down the highway. Also my partner in this joy is an intensely private person.
The bad news for me as a person is I also have had plenty of trouble. However, the dark side of my life is also one I have not been exploring in my published writing recently.
This is not to say I haven’t been writing — I have, every single day. But I have felt constrained in publishing this writing in a way that I have never felt before.
When I teach, I often share Ernest Hemingway’s advice to “write hard and clear about what hurts,” and have added that it is almost impossible to avoid writing about those things anyway. But for the first time I’ve realized that being constrained in publishing writing in one area of a life can have a deleterious effect on writing on all subjects. (Understand, of course, I’m not speaking here of producing writing on non-personal subjects — that writing is more like journalism, and I’ve been able to still turn that out when required.) But my personal writing, my essays, much of what I share here — that’s been jammed stuck.
Finally I realized I could get totally meta and write about that trouble, the writer’s resin, and what led me into it, and how I might find my way out of it. And maybe you’d find that useful, since I know many of my readers are also writers. And so here we are.
I am still not prepared to give a complete field report on My Troubles, but I do want to make a brief explanation now, which will hopefully serve as an apology for the continuing delay, and, to use the technical term, unjam my works.
So here’s what’s been happening.
For the past 21 months, I’ve been the target of a legal bullying campaign by a person that I’ll here call Mr X. You can read some more of how he lost the dignity of name and title — at this point, he neither deserves the possessive “my,” or the word “husband,” even with “ex” attached. In an apparent attempt to score a perfect record of violating every agreement he’s ever made with me, his aim has been to overturn the settlement that ended our marriage — a contract he’s decided simply doesn’t exist.
It is amazing to realize how much of the world runs on mutual consent: that truth exists and is knowable, that laws and contracts and signatures matter. It is sobering to realize how long rich white men can get away with violating these norms — which are after all what keep us from chaos — before they face real consequences. (In roughly the same time period, I have watched the tactics of the Donald Trump campaign unfold, in an almost perfect echo of my private world; the two men could be advising one another.)
Mr X has waged his particular war in several court houses. He’s been losing, badly, having neither facts nor law on his side. And while my victories so far have been gratifying — hearing him described as a “marital scofflaw” by a federal judge was a good moment — the battle has come with personal, physical and psychological costs.
It is these costs that are the source of the writing which will eventually emerge from this hot mess. And it is precisely these costs I do not want to detail at this moment.
I’d like to be clear that at this point, I’m not waiting for the legal hostilities to cease to emerge from my silence. Although I’m aware that Mr X hungrily combs my various publications for word on himself, I don’t believe that writing hard and clear about my experience will hurt me. I do believe that personal writing on my experience will be helpful to others who are similarly victimized, but who don’t have my resources, which include, among other things, strong family support, undergraduate pre-law studies which render me somewhat more comfortable with legal language, and an ability to do my own research.
But I am still waiting for a certain clarity to emerge from this experience. There’s some information I lack — what he’s actually after in these increasingly futile attacks, for example, when he will tire of fixating on me.
I realize I may never have those answers, so I guess, more accurately I’m waiting for some meaning I can put to the particulars of my experience, some insight that will move it beyond just a mere recounting of what I’ve endured . Until then, on this topic, I will remain in the writer’s resin, on a curiosity delay.
And — I hope — I will soon write of other things.
*Janet Burroway, Writing Fiction, although it applies to many other forms of literature and art.