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You're Not the Boss of Me

A writer gets her priorities straight.

William triumphant after his granmother's failed Catch & Tickle attempt
photo by Bleu McAuley

That’s my grandson there, swaggering away from a merciless bout of Catch and Tickle. I mean. Thanks to my cardiac fitness, I did catch him. And, once I had him, I did tickle the bejesus out of him. But he is wily and slippery and has the astonishing strength of a giggling five-year-old, so eventually I couldn’t hold on anymore, and had to surrender to the ground’s hard arms.

It was the most fun I’d had all day, maybe all year. The best exercise. Plus, it provided the healthiest recalibrations for my brain.

In view of this, do you want to hear about the social media pickle I’m in with my books, and what my stats are? How many likes, how many followers? How many paid subscribers?

I don’t.

But I’m a writer, and if I’m going to do anything serious in terms of the outer world and my writing, I will have to — I will absolutely have to — face this issue.

This year I turn seventy. I could achieve millions of paid subscribers and I’d still be three thousand miles from the beloved five-year-old in that picture — the one who’d just left me there to die after my Catch&Tickle defeat. This is not okay. There are important things he needs to learn, things he can only learn from me.

He needs to know that house fairies can prank (shortsheeting beds for instance), and that if you leave the right stuff on your window sill, they won’t. (A couple drops of whiskey in a half walnut shell and a few little tinkly bells have always worked for me).

He needs to feel how good it feels to give away one of best toys — to a kid who could never dream of having something that fine.

He needs someone there who can soften his mother’s fatigue at the end of her workday, who can distract her son while she puts her feet up. Or who can take him outside for a walk so his frazzled father can have an uninterrupted business conversation on the phone.

I need to be cooked into his days often enough so that if he gets into bigger trouble later on, he will come to me and we can talk through how to deal with it. And I can tell him, This is gonna be hard, but just tell the baldfaced truth. Blow the doors down with it, and don’t hold back. It’ll make you sick to your stomach if you don’t. I know this better than you think.

I need to be able to say things like, back when I was little, and describe the world of waiting and waiting and waiting till your favorite song came on the radio, after requesting it from them three times that same day.

Or back when I was little, the whole family had to share one phone. And if you had two phones, it was only because one was in the kitchen and the other was in our parents’ room. But that just meant they could pick up and listen to your conversation…or, you could pick up and listen in on them.

I want to regale him with my old timey TV stories. Like when All in the Family was on, it only played on Monday nights, and the whole country huddled around their TVs at that time on that day. In those days, we just took our phones off the hook during that half hour. Nobody interrupted us.

And later, much later, after I’m gone, I want him to look back from his middle age, and remember how I came to get him from school for his ‘doctor’s appointment’ and it magically turned out, instead, that we went to the beach and played in the sand and had ice cream and no one was the wiser.

I want to help him discover the palpable delight of kindnesses performed in secret, and of kindnesses performed for absolutely no reason.

If I’m always looking at my social media ‘watch,’ checking my stats…that’s all he’ll learn from me. And that’s all I’ll get from him.

If you’ve made it this far, then you know why I’m letting go of a heavy social media writing schedule. Not gonna follow the schematics of online marketing success in the 21st century. I am going to keep to one email list (and if you want to be on it, just sign up for it here) — and this email will go out whenever. Could be every two weeks, or every month, or not ever regulated in any way.

We live in a culture where if you’re good at something, you are told to create a brand, then engage with the world on all the platforms compatible with that brand, making sure to keep cranking out the content that got you there in the first place, regularly.

But writing (and publishing) is no longer my intent, my mission, my destination. I know I’m gifted at this. And I know I have relatively useful things to share.

But none of that is the boss of me anymore.

Learning to love my family more than my ‘followers.’That’s the boss of me now.

Checking on a random friend I haven’t spoken to in years, for no reason, instead of my wringing my hands over my stats.That’s a good one to work for.

Learning go completely off brand, because maybe someone close to me needs that awkward moment of empathy, where all you can do is shake your head and sigh — doing that, instead of coming up with the well-wrought, wise words. Learning to be present for that moment. Best boss ever.

It’s hard. There are all kinds of rules and guidelines for the other way, the culturally sanctioned way. You can find yourself on that map. You can measure progress, determine success.

But where I’m going, there’s no map. There’s no real You Are Here, because ‘Here’ is undefined, limitless. There’s only a sense of me as an infinitesimal molecule in the body of life.

I don’t matter. I don’t.

And in another sense, I am all that matters. To the people who love me, my wife, my children, their children, friends, dogs, plants.

As I shift into this new gear, I feel lighter. Less important. More valuable.I practice holding all of it, letting it all sit in my heart.

I am nothing.

I am everything.

It all flows somewhere, anywhere, in a strong, new current.

So none of this matters.

And all of it counts.

Everything is holy.


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