Deep Winter Friday Round-Up

I can’t be in a clinical trial because I have a magnet in my head. I wrote about this a few days ago – being offered the opportunity to be in a research project testing the efficacy of an Alzheimer’s prevention drug. But regular MRI’s are part of the research design and because there is a magnet in my head that attaches to the magnet on my cochlear implant receiver, my head would blow up. So that’s the end of my lab rat career.

I decided not to find out if I have the dreaded Alzheimer’s gene. It’s knowable without much effort but it seems ill-advised to me, like buying a cemetery plot and having picnics there all the time, afraid to wander too far from the plot, you know, lest I get lost and can’t find my way back to my final resting place. Too bleak, in other words.

It is a terrible thing that it’s possible to continue a conversation while the TV news is talking about another mass shooting. How is it possible that we could become so inured to violence that the murder of five people becomes background noise? I feel it a moral duty to be outraged each time and not let such horror become pedestrian but I know I am failing. It’s sickening.

Ernest Hemingway’s advice to “write one true sentence” is the best writer’s advice ever given. Just say the first absolutely true thing and go from there. Don’t equivocate, preface, or hedge. Or apologize. Don’t hide your light under a bushel basket, my mother would say, oh, no, put your sentence on a platter like a fine smoked salmon that you bought against your better judgment.

Yearnings are just that. Sometimes they aren’t meant to become reality because if they became reality they would become pedestrian, common, and without the glow of the possible. It’s what’s possible that keeps us alive.

About Generosity in Blogging

Underwood Typewriter

I’m working on being a more generous blogger. This means reading, liking and promoting the work of other writers.

Why is this so hard for me?

My first answer is that I’m a competitive person. That’s an easy answer. It’s like answering “I work too hard” when asked by a prospective employer to name your biggest fault.

Being competitive is a good thing if you claim to be a feminist because, at first swipe, it lays claim to what is traditionally seen as a male characteristic. So, being described as competitive brings the same old school feminism self-congratulation as being told one “drives like a man.” But even updating my linguistic consciousness so that competitiveness becomes gender-neutral, it’s still a cop-out.

It’s not about competition. Not really. Although everything about blogging fosters competition. The WordPress metrics are all about competition, with oneself a year ago, with more popular bloggers, with new people starting out, views on this post versus that one, topics that always draw, ones that never do. It isn’t long into blogging that a writer ditches the notion of writing for its own sake.

Still, there’s writing to maximize readership, hopefully, by doing the things that also make one a better writer like writing often, tackling new subjects and new forms and participating in writing challenges. Consistent effort yields improvement in any endeavor although I’m hoping 10,000 blog posts won’t be necessary for me to be established as accomplished. The metrics are motivating; only the writing monks don’t care about the stats.

Because other bloggers are kind to me in terms of reading, liking and commenting, I try to do the same. I’m not very good at commenting, my skills at literary analysis are childlike, words like ‘great’ and “I loved this’ are as complex as I get and I admire people who can explain exactly what it was they liked about a piece. I am similarly inept at responding to comments made on my blog. Sometimes the comments are so insightful and acute that I think the commenter must have misplaced their words, hit my blog instead of one more deserving. I respond with ‘thank you’ said in various sophmoric ways. I can’t ever trade insight for insight so some higher level discourse can occur. I’m working on it, though, becoming ‘more better’ as my third grade self would say, going from a C+ to a B-.

Where I am really challenged, however, is in promoting other bloggers’ work. Why is this important? Well, first, there’s the matter of reciprocity. Others have shared my work, re-blogged my posts, shared my writing on Facebook. Sometimes I’m surprised by this, sometimes a little embarrassed since I still try to keep a little moat between my day to day me and my blogging self, but I’m always flattered and grateful. So there’s that. One good turn deserves another.

But over and above that, to me, the promotion of other people’s work tells me that I’m not competing with anyone. I don’t need to compete. My voice is unique, my stories my own; for better or worse, I am my own little weird hybrid. I’m not diminished by recognizing other unique voices with their own stories. It makes me unselfish, generous to promote others, share their work. It adds to the sense of community that I appreciate so much in the blogging world.

I say that but it sticks, the keys get gummy. I am still competitive. I compare myself to other writers constantly. I read terrific pieces and wish I’d written them. Sometimes when a writer writes about their terrible disease or some awful event, I momentarily bemoan my pedestrian history. It is a sorry thing to have catastrophe envy but I sometimes do. If I had more material, I think, I’d really be an amazing writer.

These are the thoughts of a small person and an often jealous writer. Oh well.

Perfection. I’m working on it.

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Here is the gripping story that inspired this bit of self-examination. Written by Elaine Maly, The Incident. And, yes, I did share it. And I aim to do more of that, appreciate what’s around me and pay my respects to great writing.

Ancient Sayings

One of the  great things about blogging is that while people sometimes criticize the ideas in a post, they never criticize the writing. As in, ‘this is really poorly written.’

This is good for me since I have almost no tolerance for criticism about my writing unless it’s the tiniest little pebble wrapped in oceans of velvet hidden behind a heavy drape of compliments. And even then I can’t fathom it, sitting calmly and reading criticism of something I so painstakingly crafted in the thirty minutes between finishing a project and dinner being ready. If a comment ever gave off even the smallest puffs of negativity, I’d obliterate it without even reading the whole thing. I’ve been told I’m overly sensitive to criticism.

I’ve published a couple of pieces that have brought some really vitriolic responses. I was once raw meat for a bunch of adoptees in Australia who hated me for being an adoptive mother who complained about her adoptive kids. Too bad my kids had all left home before the Aussies set out to rescue them from me. Still, as mad as they got and as lengthy, they left my writing alone. There was no ‘you’re a terrible writer’ to go along with ‘you’re a criminal for snatching those poor children from their true parents.’ No advice to go easy on the adverbs or tighten up the character descriptions. They were mum on that front. I could have written the whole piece in crayon as far as they were concerned.

It’s freeing. That idea. Very freeing. Crayons.

A long time ago, a man told me that no smart person would ever tell a woman she wasn’t a good lay, a good cook, or a good mother.

Yes, I lived in the Stone Age. It was pretty there. The caves were beautifully appointed and everyone wore furs.

Anyway, before my misogynist-hating friends and relatives get fired up about the aforementioned nugget from my friend, let me just say that I would add this: don’t ever tell a woman she isn’t a good writer.

No, wait, let me be more specific. Don’t ever tell this woman she isn’t a good writer. She would dissolve into nothingness like the Wicked Witch, leaving only empty jeans and hiking boots in a puddle of writer tears.

It’s a good thing that nobody criticizes the writing on blogs. This protects my giant but fragile ego. But it also creates an unreal world where we, the blogging nation, seem to overlook the 400-line paragraphs, the misspelled words, the strained comparisons, the precious, breathless confessions, and the never-ending self-absorption because, after all, we all write ‘what we know’ and what we know is us, right?

Don’t mistake this for a faux plea for criticism. I am only observing, not issuing a request for critical attention.

I’m way too tender for that. Weak. Vulnerable. Like a blade of grass. Don’t mow me.

 

Bend in New Places

If you are a crooked tree, you are crooked but you are still a tree.

That you are anomalous is clear. No other tree looks like you and you could not be mistaken for any one of the other thousands of trees in the forest. You occupy your own ground. But when the wind hails ferocious through the woods, you need to bend along with the others or you won’t last. Your uniqueness won’t save you.

Allan Ginsberg once said, “Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.” It was an exhortation to writers that is presented more fully here. Ginsberg went on to say this, “You say what you want to say when you don’t care who’s listening. If you’re grasping to get your own voice, you’re making a strained attempt to talk, so it’s a matter of just listening to yourself as you sound when you’re talking about something that’s intensely important to you.”

In my own writing, I aim for the things that are difficult. I started my blog, Red’s Wrap, for the single purpose of telling adoption stories. Convinced that the adoption mural was too taken up by cute babies in the arms of overjoyed parents, I set about telling my tales of complexity and nuance. My adopted children were adults by the time I started so I had their whole lives to use as material. Until, of course, I realized that their lives belonged to them. If they were crooked trees (or not), they had their own roots and branches and were no longer mine to claim.

Understanding that I had to let go of their lives, both emotionally and from a writing point of view, I turned to other difficult issues, things that were more immediate and pressing for me. Like dealing with aging and trying to overcome or at least live with my hearing loss. So I took those roads for a while until they got rutted and worn. Oh God, I thought, would I read this if I wasn’t writing it?

It is possible to talk about something that is “intensely important to you” and bore yourself at the same time.

Alright, I say to myself, so you are getting older and you have a disability, what else have you got? Is your crookedness all you are?

I gravitate to people and writers who consider themselves or whom others consider to be damaged in some way. I find angst attractive but only if the angst colors but doesn’t define the whole picture. A man missing a leg isn’t just a legless man, a mother of an autistic child still argues with friends and has sex with her husband. The one thing that seems at the center of everything can’t be the only thing because, over time, it becomes too small and redundant. Angst is best when it is new, right off the shelf and still in its original wrapping.

Writers whose writing uses the same five words of their troubles over and over in new configurations exhaust me and I let them go. It seems as if by the act of writing, they have accentuated their crookedness, made it more extreme and deified it. Every word and every thought is in service to what is wrong. It’s predictable and untalented.

Instead, use the missing leg to give me a different way to see the world. Do what Ginsberg says, “don’t hide the madness” but don’t live in your madness so long you convince yourself that it will continue to be beautiful and entrancing to friends and readers who aren’t mad. There is a limit to curiosity.

It’s rare that I would give advice to other writers. I plug along with my 600 word pieces here, then there. But maybe my advice is to writers and people in general. You are more than your madness.

Use your madness to see the world and then tell us about it.

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Written in response to a prompt from The Daily Post entitled ‘Howl at the Moon.’ Thank you, Daily Post, this was a good one!

Keep It Moving

Why do people blog? I don’t know why people blog. I know why I blog.

I want people to read what I write and have a reaction. The audience is fundamental to me. If there is no audience, I am just keeping a journal. And the purpose of the journal would be what? I have no idea. For my children to read while they’re finishing the tuna casserole the neighbor lady brought over after my funeral?

They can read the comics or the steady stream of heartfelt Facebook sympathy posts. They sure won’t have to scrounge around to find my journal because it’s right here online, available to them and anyone else who cares to read it in real time. You want? You got.

I can’t grow much, says the person who has managed to kill one adorable little orchid and is on the path of exterminating its big sister within the space of the last two weeks, both gifts from very nice people with green thumbs who expected more from me and whom I will never tell. I will do what Lucy would do and buy a new goldfish to replace the one I killed by washing its bowl with dish soap. No one will ever be the wiser. If I have enough notice, there will be gorgeous orchids in my house. Just call first.

So in my mind, if a blog isn’t growing, if there aren’t new followers and new likes pretty steadily, then you’re just dealing the same tired deck of cards to the same yawning readers post after post after post. If you can’t break out of friends and family as your only audience, you are pretty much writing an online Christmas letter. That’s okay if that’s why you’re blogging – as a way to stay in contact with friends and family. But if you’re blogging to be a writer and to say something interesting or important, you need to engage strangers.

That’s the astonishing thing about blogging and its great reward — the reactions of strangers, people whom I’ve never met and never will. When someone in another city or another country connects with me just on the basis of words, my words, words I wrote on this page. My, my, that is very fine.

So I’m happy with the growth of my blog. It certainly outstrips my orchids and then some. But it has taken work. A lot of writing which has been good for engaging readers and really good for pushing myself to think about things in a different way, try new techniques, take chances. Not everything has been a work of art but I’m pretty proud of a couple of pieces that came about because of regular, pretty much daily blogging. Getting exposure from Freshly Pressed was a huge boost but the growth has really come in small daily doses. More followers generate more followers. That’s how it seems to work.

I’ll never have thousands and thousands of followers but I do have a thousand. That’s astonishing to me as a blogger who puddled around with fewer than 50 followers for a couple of years.

But now it’s time for the next big step in the playing with strangers game. Speaking to them. Yes, actually wearing a cute outfit, standing on a stage, and reading an essay to a live, breathing, probably coffee-drinking, looking at their phones, eying the line for the restroom room full of people. It’s happening. I got an email this morning, telling me that one of my pieces is a finalist for the We Still Blog Award from the Type A Parent folks and that I’m invited to come read the piece at their September conference in Atlanta in a couple of weeks.

I played around with the idea of not going. It’s nice to be nominated as they say, no reason to spend all that money just to travel to Atlanta and hang around with hundreds of other bloggers except it occurred to me that #1: I might learn something; and #2: It’s scary which means I need to do it.

Besides, like my dad would always say about his Ben Franklin store, “if it’s not growing, it’s dying.” Got to do new, bigger, harder, scarier.

That’s the name of the blogging game, I think – never standing still.

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#73/100: 73rd in a series of 100 in 100

 

Stop Whining

Writer’s block is a place where people who like sitting around in their Target bathrobes and fuzzy Hello Kitty slippers live while they talk about being bloggers or writers or whatever. It’s an excuse for not delivering the goods, for being so beside oneself that nothing can be set down on paper.

Writer’s block makes me think of the old truism: ‘can’t means you don’t want to.’

The distance between can’t and don’t want to is measured in baby bunny hairs. If I sit down at 11:30 after everyone else is in bed and I can hear them sleeping, so much so that my heartbeat slows down to match theirs, but I’m looking at a blinking cursor that is out of sync with my beating heart, I am drawn, magnetized into quitting before I start. Who could blame me?

No one can blame me. For I would have writer’s block, the malady of the famous and renowned, the reason Hemingway went fishing for days on end and Fitzgerald draped himself on one bar stool after another. Writer’s block, don’t you know. The curse of the brilliant, the sensitive, the would be writer so busy putting a fine point on it that it can never be expressed.

I think writer’s block is a cop-out. Big time. And self-indulgent and too, too precious. It reminds me of my friend in college who was forever putting the back of her hand to her forehead and insisting she needed to lie down that very second lest she pass right out from the stress of being a college sophomore and having more than one boyfriend. Oh! Deliver me from this angst!

Whatever, sugar. You go lie down. I’m going to write this motherfucker.

I have advice for people who have convinced themselves that writer’s block is a legitimate malady and they have it. You won’t like it but here it is.

Write every day.

Don’t tell me you don’t have time to write every day. We’re not talking about War and Peace. We’re talking, at least for the moment, about a blog post. You have time for a blog post. If it takes you all day to write a blog post, that’s absolute evidence that you need more practice and should be writing every day. Either you’ve got actual writing (constructing an idea well) problems or you have a level of perfectionism that requires professional care.

If you’re a blogger, find something about your day, your life, what you read in the newspaper, and write a slice about it. Don’t write your life story. Write a slice.

Make it a fine slice. Make it true and make it ring true. But keep it at a slice.

Use a photo or a prompt. And do what Hemingway said, write the first true thing. I take this to mean write the first electric thing in my head. Last night, for example, I wrote a 33-word piece which was basically about an antique hairbrush, comb and mirror sitting on a dressing table in a restored lighthouse in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. At first, it occurred to me that the daughters in the family could be fighting over the hairbrush, then I thought about having the voice be a woman who had decided to maroon herself in her bedroom, and then, boom, it hit me, so to speak, and I talked about the hairbrush having left a dent in the baby’s head. Once I got there, the rest of the 33 words was easy.

I’m a bit past the middle of writing 100 pieces in 100 days (this one will be #59). Every night I think I should take a night off. I have nothing to say. Nothing occurs to me. I have what might be called writer’s block.

And then I have what might be called writer’s will. God damn it, I think, I am going to write something. And I do. Some of the essays in this series of 100 have been pretty decent. If I’d quit when I wanted to, they would not have been written. I would have watched 30 more episodes of SVU and had a lot less in my writer’s repertoire.

There is something to be said for mind over matter. And I intend to say it.

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#59/100: 59th in a series of 100 in 100
Inspired by a prompt from The Daily Post.