I spent the better part of a day crafting a long piece on 2017 and the joys and challenges that attended it. I scheduled it to be published earlier this week, and then, the night before it was meant to go live, I changed my mind. It was too raw, too unruly — Magpie Unplugged or something. I can usually herd my thoughts and observations into some sort of reasonable order and extract something meaningful from them if I give myself enough time and space — like Joan Didion, “I write to know what I think” — but this was different. I had too much to say, and at the same time, didn’t know what I was saying. I was “a resounding gong, a clanging cymbal” — a lot of noise, but to no effect.
I sat down yesterday to attempt to edit it, but first read through the comments that had accrued on recent posts over the holidays, which is easily — usually — the best part of my day, and came across this:
“So…what I’ve gathered since your move to NYC is that you’re a superficial, privileged, spoiled and judgmental person whose opinions are overlayed with entitlement and misdirect your audience through a poor imitation of being “so thankful”, “so religious.” With all due respect, I sincerely hope that once you’ve lived for some time in this wonderful city you will become respectful of its residents and that you will learn to recognize deeper meanings that are beyond the surface of people and things.”
The comment was arresting for many reasons, and I re-publish it here not to chastise or shame or elicit empathy, but because, after the initial and inevitable couple of moments of frantic soul-searching (“but am I…?” and “but let me re-read that post to figure out what I said that could have been so off-putting…”), I decided not to edit and publish my long post on 2017.
Let me explain.
I agree with exactly two things that the commenter said in his/her post:
- I am privileged, and could stand to remember that more regularly.
- There is always hope for the future.
(The rest I believe to be a misreading of me and my tone, and I think that most of my readers, friends, and family members would back me up on that.)
I went back and forth on whether to publish or delete the comment, and even solicited the advice of my sisters, one of whom said: “Haters gonna hate, Jen.” I love her for offering that shrugging observation; just dust yourself off and keep it moving. It made me realize that — for having written this blog for about seven years — it’s outrageous that I can count on my hand the number of negative comments I’ve received. Non-trivial aside: I do not consider a difference of opinion or polite banter to be “negative commentary”; I welcome debate. I love Claire for calling me out on my flirtation with the idea of a safety pin earring, and Bunny for gently scolding me for disavowing the feminist label, among the many other women of substance who have taken the time to advance their own perspectives tastefully, and with humor. Chief among my father’s many virtues is open-mindedness, and healthy intellectual friction is the key ingredient there; please keep the thoughtful commentary coming. But being spiteful — well, there’s just no place for it in my book.
At any rate, I published the comment — in part because I didn’t feel it was ethical to suppress someone’s opinion, and don’t want anyone to get the impression that I only publish comments which which I agree, and in part because — as a blogger — “if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen,” and in part because it’s an important expedient to the story I’m telling here, which is why I decided not to publish a long-winded post reflecting on 2017.
The tl;dr version (tl;dr = too long; don’t read) of my deleted post is that 2017 was the best of times and the worst of times. The worst because, a few weeks ago, Mr. Magpie and I decided, after much agony and heartache, to dissolve a business we had built together through blood, sweat, and tears, and this — in many ways — feels like the death of a dream. We had customers and a salable product, but our vision for the business as a venture-backable concept that we would scale and then exit proved more challenging than expected. I wrote paragraph after paragraph about the ins and outs of this business, about fundraising in Chicago, about acquiring new customers, about recruiting and managing a team, about experiencing the bumps and thrills and triumphs and devastations of owning a business — at once terrifying and rewarding and grueling — and how it led me to my highest highs and lowest lows (often within hours of each other). How it aged me about 34 years, made me smarter and stronger, afforded me a thicker skin, made me fall even more madly in love with my beloved Mr. Magpie, which is, in its own way, the most painful part of it all, because dissolving this business marks the end of a time where Mr. Magpie and I were compadres, cowboys — just the two of us against the world, building our escape route into a bucolic dream we’d nurtured for the better part of the last few years. (We daydreamed about an early retirement in rural Virginia.) In short, 2017 marks the end of a dream.
But 2017 was also the best. The best because of Emory. There’s little to say about her or the experience of becoming a mother that won’t sound hackneyed, but — Emory is joy. There is no other way to put it. She is easily the best thing about me — the best thing ever to happen to me, the best part of my life. She is joy, deep and resounding.
This commenter unwittingly offered me an opportunity to take a step back from my reflections on the past year and recalibrate. It is true that many of the challenges of the past year bear marks of privilege, but, in the words of a wise friend: pain is pain is pain. It was a year of dislocation, of identity shifts, of impossible decision-making, of intense exertion, regardless of how coddled my life might seem. There was a time not long ago where I was responsible for cold-calling CEOs and convincing them, with fervor, to try our product. I was out there, on the line, selling our wares, hustling to make it happen, and was often met with disdain or, possibly worse, indifference. Your whole heart is on the table as you present something you’ve lovingly built to solve a very real problem, and someone looks at you and says (this actually happened): “Eh. I like the old [manual, inefficient] way.” (And then he looked over my head and signaled to another employee as if to say, “Get this vagabond out of here.”) How many meetings I left with my tail between my legs! (Only, you’d never know it — Mr. Magpie and I were very professional. We’d smile politely, thank them for their time, and leave them with a card.) In short, running this business was tough-going — emotionally, financially, and intellectually — and the exhaustion of direct sales represents but a meager fraction of that stress. And then there’s the transition from a salaried executive to a married co-founder to a mother — there’s a lot of stuff there! Identity shifts! WHO AM I?
But, here I am, running down a tangent again.
The point is this: 2017 — in all its gorgeous, shaggy, cruel, happy glory — is behind us. And what’s left — and here is where I concur with the commenter — is tremendous hope for the future. We left a house we owned and loved and a business we’d built from the ground up in Chicago, and part of my heart is still somewhere in the Midwest with them. But most of it is right here with my family in New York City, eyes and heart wide open to whatever 2018 brings.
Finally, a few of my favorite posts from this year, many of them about language…
+The Space Between. When silence > noise.
+Pipe Dreams. On realizing that my parents were mortal.
+Literary Life Raft. My deep, abiding love of literature.
+I Can Feel It. Coming to terms with my post-baby body.
+The Grand Arrival. On giving birth to and naming our sweet baby girl.
+Real Pipe Dreams. Sharing my innermost aspirations.
+Inside Out. Thoughts on how language can both exclude and include.
+A Toast to My Brother. If you need a good cry.
+Dear Mr. Magpie. If you need an even better cry.
P.S. I got this in my stocking and IT IS AMAZING. A reader had JUST suggested this — I couldn’t believe it when I saw it in my stocking! My ring looks clean for the first time in a long time.
P.P.P.S. Currently in my Amazon cart: these socks, recommended by a reader as EVEN BETTER than my trusty Smartwools for super-cold temps; this shampoo and conditioner, which were written up by a beauty blogger as THE BEST; and these floating wall shelves for mini’s ever-expanding library of books. Also, a few of you have recommended these, and I’m contemplating ditching my current reading list for them.