Saturday, February 6, 2010

Thank You

Four or five years ago, when Bogie and I were still volunteering at a home for women who had been in mental hospitals, I went to a weekend workshop with the house coordinator. And heard someone talk about the rope network (that's not the term she used) that a mountain climber needs and that we, mere grounded mortals, need. The people holding onto your rope to keep you safe might be from the past, valued figures from history, friends, family, I suppose. I thought that was a good concept though my rope group felt fairly fragile at that point, my having just been ousted by my ex who had been waiting for his chance. 

It's odd for me to think that a blog serves something of that purpose, but I have been touched by the kindly responses from strangers. Now, don't get me wrong, I'll hardly notice if there are unpleasant comments since I'm steeled against them, as anyone with  my background, in particular, and experience as an (artist...I hate that word, but I'm going to use it now since I've branched out from still photography to video and writing, poems and memoir, and what could I call that? generalized commenter on what I see around me? Yes, that's better...)... my experience as a generalized commenter has, naturally, led to lots of rejections. I don't mind them at all since that's in the scheme of things. 

When I was just starting out, taking photographs around to various editors in New York, and staggered out from a meeting with an art director who hardly liked my low-key, let's-have-lots-of-distractions-in-here-because-otherwise-the-photograph-would-be-boringly-specific-like-those-we're-trained-to-think-are-significant-in-magazines-and-newspapers images, I called a friend of mine, the man who taught the only course I ever took, "The Photography of Human Behavior, at Columbia, and he said, "You wouldn't take your penis to a nun and expect her to admire it." 

I thought that was great advice, a quick way of teaching me that there are some people who will respond to my style and many who won't. (He, Paul Byers, was finishing his PdD in anthropology and cared only for the information in photographs, not for the aesthetics. I happen to care, to some degree, for both, though I'm more interested in information.)

Aside from that neat bit of advice, I have been isolated from the need for response because it's been such a hard road to find my own voice. After my mother died when I was twelve, and I lost almost all memory of those years, all sense of who she had been, what it had been like living within a family, the chaos of my teenage years made defining myself even more complicated. My goal was to know what I felt, other than by the evidence of ulcerative colitis, all that blood in the toilet bowl. And it's taken years ....   

And, with the loss of that important relationship, five years ago, at the beginning of this blog, I became more inward. I'd been quite sure of what I felt with him, the long years of being thrilled and embroiled, the pleasure and insecurity of knowing and loving his sons, the fast way he could silence me with a barb since I was a fish in a barrel, pseudo-waspy-weakling, the way I could get angry and want to straighten things out, (oh, by talking, what a bad choice).

So, for these past few years, I've put my head down, talked through writing, and tried to get a sense of my self back. It's always been easier for me to write than to talk, but that was a particularly silencing experience since he and I were comically tuned to different stations. And I took the loss to heart, as is my want.

So, this is a thank you to my blogging community. I hope I'm as useful to you as you are to me.


  1. Hi Melissa. I met you at UMB at the coffee bar in the library, last December. I no longer am at WUMB, but I still enjoy your blog and your artistic ways of writing and your photography.

    Please feel free to get back to me too. I'd enjoy a coffee and talk time, sometime.
    All the best, Bruce
    (Bruce Meyer, best found through facebook)

  2. And this is my 'you're welcome'. :-)

    I enjoy reading your blog a lot because it's a mix of no-nosense approach and a sensitive undercurrent. Love the advice from your friend. But that's the nun's loss. :-)

    Greetings from London.

  3. Well Melissa, that's some piece of advice. As Cuban says, it's the nun's loss, not yours.

    I daren't try to analyse it too much though.

    If you reverse the gender you would say: it's like showing your breasts (or vagina) to a priest. It just doesn't work, does it?

    Still I take your friend's point.

    I think that is part of the joy of the blogosphere. Don't get me wrong, you can see from my posts, I too agonise over responsiveness or otherwise from others. But at least in the blogosphere, you hope that if people do not take an interest in what you have to say, they stay away.

    Only those interested in your art take the time to read, look and/or comment.

    I've said it before, I'll say it again, Melissa. Your writing is powerful, full of energy, articulate and endlessly fascinating.

    You have a clear and distinct voice. You are a joy to read, however occasionally painful or poignant your content might be. That to me is art: the transformation of the ordinary and/or the emotionally unbearable into a thing of beauty.

    Thank you.

  4. Ditto! The voice of your posts is strong and vulnerable.

    Some nuns would like seeing a penis but would not admit it.



  5. Melissa-

    I, too, am glad to have found your blog and I enjoy seeing the world through your eyes. You are deeply engaged in the business of life, and that to me seems to be the whole point of the endeavor.

    Thank you!


  6. So interesting which points commenters fasten on.

    I've fastened onto your idea of the rope network. We left ours behind to come up here to the Kimberley, and at the moment we have a great need for it. We left behind everyone who cares for us and respects us, and we're finding out how hard that is.

    Like you, we are using an electronic rope at the moment - email, facebook, and I could use my blog, if I felt I could explain what's happening openly. But that's the drawback - the public nature of blogging, which leaves you exposed even more. Unlike you, at the moment I don't feel strong enough to withstand unpleasant comments, or more importantly, to reveal myself too much to the cruel world!

    I'm sounding a bit dramatic - it's not life or death, but self-esteem and pride that is damaged, as with you.

    Thanks for your relevant post. :-)

  7. You are most welcome and I thank you in turn. The honest, non-sugar-coated feedback you give is invaluable to me.