To Hold Lightning

Once upon a time (late 2009, to be precise), I started this blog. It began under a different name on Livejournal as a light-hearted way to keep in touch with family and friends while John and I were living in the distant heathen wasteland (kidding) of Massachusetts. My first post was about the absolute nightmare which is moving into Boston on September 1st (dear lord, DON’T) and was followed soon after by a haiku about the stupidity of walking barefoot onto a fire escape. Much more about the adventure of living than about anything of particular import.

My blog took a turn of sorts in 2010, when I moved the site to WordPress and changed the name to reflect my writing aspirations instead of our location, since we were getting ready to move in the not too distant future. My first post there is now HILARIOUS to me, since I have gone from being a rank n00b in WordPress to someone who is paid to shepherd other n00bs around their shiny new WordPress sites. The renaming of my blog has always worried me a little bit (is it too pretentious? I mean, it’s stuffy, which is okay because I’m stuffy, but is it off-puttingly snooty?), but I think now that the name “Between the Lightning Bug and the Lightning” has turned out to be very reflective of the struggle I’ve been going through in terms of what and what not to say online.

I have been too silent. I’ve been writing, mind you. I have a dozen drafts that have never made it into the public eye because after writing them with great passion, great anger, I calmed down and was afraid. Who am I to talk about the role of shared transgression in humor? Do I know enough about cultural appropriation to speak up in public about such a tricky issue? Does my role as a writer give me enough of a stake in what happened at Charlie Hebdo to speak to extremism and art as a weapon? Have I read enough modern philosophy to talk about the death of the author and the controversy with the Hugos? Is it okay for me to be publicly angry at the way that jackasses on the internet target opinionated women? Where’s the line between a productive expression of that anger and a non-productive joining of the troll hordes?

I’ve been stepping away from the lightning bugs, the funny little life stories, and stepping towards the lightning, the arena of Topics That Matter. But I’ve been afraid to hold the lightning and own it, so I’ve been too silent.

Recently, just to test the positioning of a reading lamp I had installed, I picked up a volume of essays by Emerson that was close by and ended up skimming “Self-Reliance” and I stayed put, captivated by this essay which I somehow had missed in my education (or forgotten), because of this piece in the first paragraph:

A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.

I had been talking with a friend not long ago about the challenge of being opinionated online as a woman. We were in agreement that it’s not the safest choice. It only takes one troll to decide you’re worth targeting to rain fire and frustration into your life. Anonymity is safer…but anonymity also reduces the impact of what you say. We went back and forth quite a bit, but ultimately, I walked away from the conversation feeling like I was doing myself a disservice in remaining quiet.

I wrote the bulk of this essay after that conversation a while ago, but I still held off on publishing it. It takes a lot of guts and a little stupidity to wield lightning, and I’m not convinced my balance of the two isn’t reversed. So I waffled and added this piece to the unpublished pile until earlier this week, when the remembrance of Martin Luther King Jr. brought some of his more famous masterly good sense to my attention: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Here’s to reaching for the gleam of lightning and surviving the inevitable burns.

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