Thursday, August 2, 2012

Bright Lights, Backyards and Blogher12

The train to NYC is clacking along, and I press my forehead to the window to watch the scenery fly by.

I'm on my way to BlogHer12, in New York City.  I love traveling by train.  

In an airplane, from the sky, the world below seems too organized, parceled out in neat sections of houses, roads, buildings.  You can't see any of the nitty gritty of life; from the air the world looks scrubbed clean.

Not so on a train.  On a train you see the back sides of things; backyards, junkyards, objects and people who live outside the scrutiny of the public eye.

We travel so close to some houses that I feel I could reach out  and touch their back porches.  I see a tired looking mother, hair disheveled, smoking a cigarette on her back porch while her toddler screams in fear as the train rushes by.  

Two homeless women pass a bottle back and forth behind an auto-parts store, and I take a moment to give thanks and remember: there but for the Grace of God go I.

Amazingly, there is a dirty tent pitched in some scrub bushes between the rushing highway and the train tracks; it couldn't be more than 15 feet from either one.  A threadbare American flag flies from a stick in the ground outside the tent.  This is somebody's home.

As we pass through a residential district, I watch, enthralled, as on the far side of the street we pass neat row houses: hedges trimmed, lawns mowed, toys put neatly away.  But on the near side of the street the passengers on the train are privy to the backside of these houses: backyards piled with rotting junk, moldy old toys, dogs chained to posts, looking despondent.  A mother pushes her kid on an ancient metal swing set, looking bored.  The child wears a beaming smile.  Next to her is a rotting picnic table and a rusted out car.  The detritus of life we don't want people to see.

Someone posted this on their Facebook page this week, and I loved it:

On this blog I'm all about behind-the-scenes.  I have no patience or inclination to talk about highlight reels (not that they are numerous).  I don't share everything here, of course I don't, but I love to write about the tucked-away places, the backyards and hidden closets of the mind.  The things most of us don't want to talk about, because we're too busy trying to people-please or impress.

As a recovering people-pleaser, I know how hard it is to resist these comparisons.  Every time I get my college alumni magazine (I went to an ivy league school - see? that's a highlight reel, I've never mentioned it here before) and reading about all the impressive things my fellow alumni are doing I want to curl up into the fetal position, or start brainstorming about what it is exactly I'm going to do to take over the world.

The people, and the writing, I'm drawn to are all about the vulnerable places, the tender spots, the thoughts we tuck away because we wonder if we're the only ones who think them.

I'm contemplating all this as I head to my third BlogHer conference.  The first one, three years ago, was also in New York, and I spent the whole time comparing my behind the scenes to everyone else's highlight reel.  

I don't do that anymore.

It helps that I have an incredible group of very real, very back-yardish friends with whom I feel as safe as I do anywhere in the world.  Some of them have impressive highlight reels, too, and I love to bask in their light, cheer them on, knowing that if they can do it, I can do it, too, someday.

If I decide that's what I want to do, that is.  I used to want to shine my light brightly from center stage.

Now I'm happier sitting in the backyard, soaking up the sun, sipping coffee and exploring the tender places of the mind.

It's pleasant back here.  Come on in. 


  1. I love that quote. I guess also that one person's 'highlight reel' would be another person's nightmare movie; just because it is a highlight reel doesn't mean we have to automatically want it for ourselves!

    And as I'm coming over to your backyard, I guess I'll bring a pitcher of lemonade. Who's bringing a pile of strawberries and cream?

    PS, I love train journies, too. Best way to travel, in my opinion.

  2. Wow - I love this post. Thank you.

  3. Wow. Did I ever SO need to read this today ... and see that poster. I need to put that saying somewhere permanent to remind me that everybody has behind-the-scenes - even the ones that only appear to have highlight reels. And that I do have highlight reels tucked away somewhere ... but I tend to live in the backyard and see all the piles of junk that need to be sorted (otherwise someone's going to trip!)

    That said, I wish I could join the backyard party; I'd love to bring strawberries and (whipped) cream. ;) But I'm a little too far to reach across the fence from my backyard.

    Oh well. "Virtual" will have to do. :D

    1. Well, the lemonade is going to be virtual, as I am in the UK, so the strawberries and cream might as well be :-)

  4. Wonderfully written

  5. Love you. Not enough time together.

  6. "I used to want to shine my light brightly from center stage. Now I'm happier sitting in the backyard, soaking up the sun, sipping coffee and exploring the tender places of the mind." Yes! That's it. Beautifully written.