You might have noticed the name of this blog. It’s a phrase I thought of back in 2006, when Amber shared an embarrassing incident and I said something like, “At least blogging means no humiliation is wasted.” That’s been my approach to writing in general for at least the last decade – that whenever something stupid or cringeworthy or life-changingly horrendous happens, at least I can write about it.
I’m not one of those people who writes to know how I feel about things: my feelings are always riiiiiiiiiight there. It’s more to help me cope with things, to keep things in perspective, to feel less alone about things. (Oh, things. Why must there always be things?)
And I know it’s not an original insight (Nora Ephron probably said it best) but if you can find the humour in what happens to you, it does feel like taking back control.
I also think the more honest you can be, the better. Not that I see my writing as some kind of gift to the world (I just typed “writhing” there, and DITTO) but when I read memoirs and essays and blog posts that are a bit more exposing, I’m grateful. Brevity recently reported on an event called Full Disclosure: How to spill your guts without making a mess, and the panellists said some of the truest things I’ve ever read about first-person writing.
Author Marion Winik said, “Memoir is an underground railroad of information about what people really do,” which is perfect. The post goes on:
For those who won’t be able to relate to certain extreme aspects of our story, it might feel like we’re sharing too much information. But for others, it might be exactly what they need to hear. There’s no “objective TMI,” Winik said. “It’s all who’s hearing it.”
I think there’s been some real sharing-shaming in the last few years. Sure, it’s worth weighing up what’s appropriate in different contexts, but the idea that spilling your guts is undignified has always rankled. Maybe it’s because I work from home and don’t get out much, but I DO want to know. (And if I can find out without the complications and obligations of building IRL relationships, so much the better.)
The more I’m able to share the ways I’m a complete mess without the sky crashing down, the more of a thrill I feel. Because it’s liberating, and because I know there’s someone who will read it and understand. Maybe multiple someones.
In one of Susan Shapiro’s books her psychiatrist tells her to “lead the least secretive life you can”. The “you can” is probs important – there are stories that affect me but aren’t my business. There are stories I’m not ready to tell but might be one day. Then there are stories that I can tell, and don’t. And that’s a bummer.
When I was writing my blog post about periods, I cut out a few things – some of them because they were repetitive or irrelevant, but some of them to be safe. The end result was bold-ish and honest-ish, but not quite what I wanted it to be: No wimping out. No Humiliation Wasted.
Of course, this is just a preamble for me to share one of the grossest things I’ve ever done. The longer I take to say it, the fewer people will read to the end of the page, right?
OK, fine. Here are some of the most humiliating things that have happened to me, most of which I brought on myself. They’re all true. They’re all TMI, or they aren’t.
1. Soon after we moved to a new village when I was 7, I went to church for the first time, on a school trip. We’d been told to bring some money for the collection, so my mum put 1ps, 2ps, 5s, 10s, 20s, and I think even a 50p in one of those little bank bags with the fold-over flap. When the plate got to me, I got out the bag, struggled with the flap, and triumphantly tipped out all the change onto the plate while people turned to look and my friend’s mum, who was a chaperone, tsk-ed in disgust. It turned out my mum had given me a selection of money because she trusted me to use my own initiative. I didn’t have any.
2. In infant school, a boy I thought was a friend, or at least not an enemy, beckoned me over and I went, flattered at whatever I was about to be included in. Then he and his friend grabbed me and dragged me to the sand pit, where a boy in the year above was sitting. Doing what he told them, they pushed me to the ground, held me down, and lifted up my skirt so the older boy could look at my knickers. I get that it wasn’t a major thing, and a lot of children have obviously been through a lot worse. But it taught me that I could be violated, and made me feel ashamed.
3. In my mid-twenties, I wanted to get into journalism and had a disabling illness (still do), so I wrote a few articles for charity magazines. Also, my mum and I also sometimes use “lamb” as a term of endearment. One day my mum sent me something, and I responded “Thanks, lamb!” I have no idea how, because my mum’s name starts with M and this editor’s name started with T, but I sent it to the wrong person and she teasingly called me on it and I blushed for the rest of the day.
4. When I was 29, I was on a bus that had changed route. Concerned that I was going to miss my stop, I got up way too soon, which you might think is understandable. Except that we were pulling into the terminus, so clearly we weren’t going anywhere else and I’d have plenty of time to get off. Suddenly, the bus lurched forward and I went flying down the aisle. I landed on twin boys who looked about five years old, one of my hands pressed into each of their chests. They were sitting with their grandma, who glared at me as centrifugal force kept me pinned in place and I whispered “Sorry,” over and over.
5. Not long after my mum and I moved into this flat, two men from the council came round to look at the kitchen and bathroom in preparation for some renovations. I had my period and was using the bathroom in a hurry before they arrived. I use pads, even though we’re all supposed to have moved on to biodegradable tampons or moon cups. (I’m prone to thrush and find it more comfortable, and I’ll do what I want, shut up.) So the men came and stood in the bathroom doorway talking while I was in the hallway with my mum. Then one of them turned to us and said, super hesitantly, “Is it all right for us to go in here now?” And I was like, “Yes,” thinking DUH.
Then I went to my room and he and the other man went into the bathroom and took measurements, talked to my mum for a while, and left. Only later did I realise that his polite question was a warning, a chance for me to recover the situation, because the next time I went into the bathroom, I saw it on the cistern: my most recently used pad, covered in blood. I know. It’s revolting. I shrivel up inside when I think about them going about their business with my period blood staring them in the face, perhaps thinking that we think that’s normal. And then I want to laugh hysterically because I will never get over how awful it is.
If you wanted to lead the least secretive life you can in the comments section, no obligation, but you know, you could.