October 26, 2017
1) I have an idea.
2) It’s called The Blogger’s Wife.
3) I’m not sure if it’s a story or an essay.
4) It’s about a woman who’s married to a blogger and if someone leaves a shitty comment on one of his posts she tracks down their IP address and shows up at their house and duct-tapes them to a chair and gives an inspirational yet scathing monologue about what it means to be a decent human being.
5) Naturally, there’s an orchestra playing in the background.
6) It’s probably a story.
7) I haven’t worked out the dialogue yet.
8) I haven’t worked out the duct-tape thing, either.
9) What if she drugs him? Dares him? Hypnotizes him? Challenges him to an arm-wrestling competition and if she wins, he tapes himself to the chair and if he wins—forget it, he can’t win. I’ll make her super-strong. She’s an Ultimate Fighter. She’s Ronda Rousey. She has a 170 IQ like Judit Polgar and dazzles him with logic. She shows him a power-point presentation with visual data about the long-term effects of cyberbullying and/or bullet points on how to remain civil during internet discourse. She plays the episode from This American Life where Lindy West interviews one of her online harassers. She reads aloud from The End of Empathy by Stephanie Wittels Wachs: “We’re never going to get anywhere if we continue to treat each other like garbage.” She reads poetry, like this from Mary Jo Bang: “We pretend we forgot that we said we’d be kind.”
10) Whatever she does, for sure it won’t be a gun.
11) Enough with the guns.
12) A year or so ago, my son told me he didn’t want to see anymore kid’s movies where the parents, be they human or animated Pachycephalosaurs, died in the first ten minutes. Finding Nemo. The Lion King. How to Train Your Dragon. Tarzan. He wasn’t traumatized. He was bored. “Don’t they have other ideas?” he asked.
13) That’s how I feel about guns.
14) (maybe I’m a little traumatized)
15) (maybe we’re all traumatized)
16) I want to imagine other solutions.
17) I want to imagine other possibilities.
18) I believe our capacity for imagination is stronger than our capacity for fear.
19) Fire, spoken language, the domestication of plants, the wheel, the alphabet, the pill, paper, electricity, anesthesia, engines, telegraphs, telephones, democracy, penicillin, the airplane, DNA, the Internet, refrigeration, period-proof underwear, rocketry, self-driving cars, man on the fucking moon.
20) We can do better. We can.
21) When I’m feeling optimistic, I think of the common-sense stuff: universal background checks, tighter enforcement of existing laws, smart gun technology to reduce accidental shootings by children, outright ban on assault weapons, demilitarize the police, greater investment in mental health care and education and our poverty-stricken communities.
22) When I’m feeling cynical, I think we’ve proven time and time again that we’re not responsible enough to handle guns and we should repeal the Second Amendment in its entirety.
23) Regardless, we need more discussion about anger management.
24) Domestic violence.
25) Toxic masculinity and how we raise our sons.
26) I think this is an essay.
27) I’m afraid to write this essay.
28) I’m afraid that I won’t say it right.
29) I’m also afraid that what I say will make weirdos threaten me on the Internet.
30) Sometimes weirdos on the internet say they want to rap you and it takes a second to realize they forgot the e.
31) Sometimes weirdos on the Internet write very long letters which they send to the email addresses on your personal website and the college where you teach and the college where you used to teach and the theatre company where you work and your various social media accounts including Google+ which you hadn’t checked in years and you’re like Holy shit, dude, how do you have time to go through all of those directories? I didn’t have five minutes this morning to finish a bagel.
32) Sometimes weirdos on the Internet show up at the UPS store around the corner which your husband listed as the mailing address for his art blog back when he ran it out of your apartment. They sit there, on the curb, waiting. They want to show him their work. They want him to write about their work. They want him to sell their work, and you wonder, what if they knew where you lived?
33) What if is a dangerous game.
34) To be clear: the vitriol I receive is a fraction compared to that of others, mostly women, people of color, and queer and trans writers whose work challenges me and moves me.
35) Still. Bullshit is bullshit.
36) Here’s a story:
37) A few years ago, my building caught on fire, those precious few moments in the chaos to get your family out alive.
38) I wrote about it for the New York Times, my first publication on so wide a platform.
39) After I filed the rewrite, my editor asked if I had any thoughts about Chicago’s upcoming mayoral election.
40) My first reaction?
42) Not excitement that he wanted my work.
43) Not gratitude for the opportunity to serve my city.
44) Not relief at the paycheck because hi, we needed it.
46) I tried to talk myself out of it.
47) I write stories, not essays.
48) I write personal essays, not political commentary.
49) I write political commentary to perform, not publish.
50) While I engaged in this self-sabotage, my fire essay went live, both print and online. Within hours, there were hundreds of comments and messages and e-mails.
51) How I was stupid.
52) How I was fat.
53) How I’d put my child in danger.
54) My favorite: THAT’S THE WRONG WAY TO SAVE YOUR LIFE!!!
55) Three exclamation points.
56) There were supportive responses, too.
57) Thank you for those.
58) note to self: lift up the good stuff.
59) I called my mother and made her promise not to read the comments.
60) (Idea: “The Blogger’s Mother-in-Law.” It’s about the mother of a woman who’s married to a blogger and if someone leaves a shitty comment on one of his posts she somehow finds their mother and sets up a parent-teacher conference and the three of them talk about how to say and do kind things)
61) There is a liquor store across the street from my apartment. I bought a bottle of Maker’s Mark. I bought fancy bitters and sugar cubes and an orange. I called my friend Amanda and she talked me through making old fashioneds the way that she makes old fashioneds.
62) She makes the best old fashioneds.
63) I drank one very fast and a second one very slow.
64) Then I had—
65) Let’s call it an epiphany.
66) It doesn’t matter if the work is personal or political.
67) It doesn’t matter if it’s a story or essay.
68) Some people will come after us no matter what we say.
69) We might as well say things that matter.
70) Audre Lord: “We can learn to work and speak when we are afraid.”
71) I wrote my editor at the Times and said Yes, I do have thoughts about my city’s mayoral election. The next day I chose a thousand careful words to say that Rahm Emanuel is dangerous and why are we voting for him, Chicago?
72) We still voted for him, Chicago.
73) We can do better, Chicago.
74) We can imagine the city we want to live in.
75) We can imagine this whole goddamn world.
76) Recently I was on a panel at a writing conference about the essay in the age of the internet. In the Q & A that followed, a woman asked me and the other two female-identified panelists if we feared for our lives. She mentioned a local public radio host, also female, who took a leave of absence because of ongoing threats of violence.
77) Another conference, another panel, this time about writing essays in the hopes of changing the world. A woman from the audience came up to me afterwards and asked how I protect my child. She has children, too, she told me. She was afraid that publishing her work would put them at risk.
78) I am asked these questions all of the time.
79) Like it’s normal.
80) How do you take your coffee?
81) White wine or red?
82) Are you afraid?
83) If you find that surprising, I invite you to sit very quiet and still and ask yourself why that is.
84) Every day I see women pushing back, in stories and movies and real life, online and off, on the news, in the streets, boardrooms, and pages against words, fists and Photoshop, in public and private forums from school girls to legislators to performers. I’m not talking about criticism or disagreement or intellectual debate, all of which I think is good; I’m talking harassment: bitch and cunt and threats of violence, threats against our children, our bodies, our livelihoods.
85) Yes, I am afraid.
86) The truth of that makes me want to set the walls on fire.
87) Let’s set the walls on fire.
88) In 2015, the music critic Jessica Hopper asked women and people from other marginalized communities to share their “first brush with the idea that they didn’t count.” There were thousands of replies, throwing a bright light on sexism in music including people who’d left the industry altogether for their own physical or emotional safety. “What songs or albums could we hear if people weren’t being told they aren’t supposed to be here?” Hopper told The Guardian.
89) What songs or albums—
90) What technological innovations or scientific discoveries—
91) What policy advancements or philanthropic endeavors—
92) What artistic or athletic achievements—
93) What stories or essays—
94) Is this a story or an essay?
95) It doesn’t matter. Here’s what I want it to say:
96) You are supposed to be here.
97) You are needed.
98) We need you.
99) We’re imagining the world.
100) What if you’re the one who saves us? The one who finds the cure? Deactivates the bomb or gets us to Mars or unites us one? You’re an Ultimate Fighter. You’re Ronda Rousey and Judit Polgar and your genius is off the charts. You design the tech to protect us from bullshit and the drugs for pediatric cancer and a moon-sized magnet that sucks all the guns away into space. You play Symphony No. 9 in D Minor. You read aloud from The Girl in the Cabinet by Melissa Chadburn: “ …there is a child somewhere — a girl — and maybe she will pick up a book or peruse the internet and she will find your words. And in your words she will discover a world of the possible and she will climb out of the cabinet and she will put down the razor.” You read poetry, like this from Joy Harjo: “But come here, fear / I am alive and you are so afraid / of dying.”
MEGAN STIELSTRA is the author of three collections, most recently The Wrong Way to Save Your Life from Harper Perennial. Her work appears in Best American Essays, the New York Times, Guernica, Catapult, Tin House, the Rumpus, and on National Public Radio.
“The Blogger’s Wife” is reprinted by permission from The Wrong Way to Save Your Life (Harper Perennial 2017). Copyright 2017 by Megan Stielstra.