A Few Things You Need to Know About Me #MondayBlogs

Hello, dear Reader, and Happy Monday (or whatever day upon which you are reading this).  I thought it would be good to share a few things you should know about me.  Now, if you’ve been following my blog for a long time, maybe these items won’t surprise you.  If you’re new to my blog, these items might make or break whether you ever come back.  Such is life.  I do try.

What you should know:

  1.  I’m in the process of knitting a baby set (sweater, hat, and blanket) for a dear friend’s daughter-in-law.  The baby shower is in a couple of weeks.  I started knitting today so my fingers need to fly on the needles, not the keyboard.
  2. As I’ve closed some social media accounts (Tumblr, LinkedIn, Instagram), my presence on others is rather spotty. You might say random.  I don’t know when I’m going to show up on Facebook or Twitter or even WordPress. So if you see me and think to message me, don’t be surprised if your message seems to fall into a black hole.  I’ll try to get back to you, but lately when I do jump off social media, I don’t return for many hours, sometimes even a whole day … or two.
  3. I’ve been reading more.  I finally finished Kingsolver’s Lacuna and started reading Gulp by Mary Roach.  I’ve been having some intestinal troubles lately and think her book might be as informative (or more) as a visit to my doctor.  I’ve also been reading essays in Harper’s and Poets and Writers and Creative Nonfiction.  When I’m reading this much, I’m writing very little.  And yet I feel like I’m writing because these are essays that make me think about writing.
  4. I’m learning a new web-based reporting system at work which is interesting and actually stimulates my little gray cells enough that I sometimes forget about blogging, checking email and other things.
  5. I will be continuing this blog for the foreseeable future. I have plenty of posts in my head; it’s just finding the time to sit down and write them.  For those who know me very well, I don’t like writing off the cuff, as I’m doing with this post.  So Time is important. I try.

I just need to try a little bit harder.

Memories and Music #MondayBlogs #CannedHeat #TheKinks

Dear Reader (and Listener), I’m getting sloppy!  In my haste to extricate myself from the insanity of social media, I’ve neglected to provide proper care and feeding of my blog.  You know, posting without setting the appropriate categories and tags.   Such is the distracted mind.  Next I’ll be forgetting to cross my t’s and dot my i’s.

Adding to my distraction is this song that I had not heard in decades until last week when it aired on a local radio station.  Definitely a good song to calm my usual commute anxiety.

Interestingly (or not), a few weeks ago my husband purchased a greatest hits CD of The Kinks.  One of the cuts:  Victoria, the opening of which we thought sounded a lot like Canned Heat‘s On the Road Again.  Have a listen, and let me know if our aging brains were just conflating old musical memories.

As always, thank you for reading and listening.  I’m still feeling a bit adrift with my writing, hence all the music.  Recently, I had an odd experience with a short story I wrote about 23 years ago.  It’s one that I’m particularly fond of which I suppose is dangerous.  The experience was this:  I found a scanned copy of the story, printed it out and read with an eye to revising and submitting it to some journal.  With that almost pristine read (it having been 20-some years since I last read it), I found myself moved almost to tears by my own writing.  A few weeks go by and I finally get around to typing up the story so I can revise and polish it.  As I typed, my stomach flipped and my heart sunk further with every paragraph.  “What a piece of sh_t” was the steady refrain in my brain.

Now I know we writers can be our own worst critics.  If I had listened to my inner critic, I would not have this blog, I would not be making any claim to being a writer.  But how disappointing to go from feeling really good about a story written so long ago all the way to feeling disgusted by it.  I wonder if it’s more the intention to publish that makes me so critical.  Meaning, if I had only wanted to keep the story for my own personal reading pleasure, a memento of my floundering graduate student days, then I would continue to love it.

This has nothing to do with Canned Heat or The Kinks, but if you’ve read this far, please share your take on this experience.  Have you gone through the same flip-flop with your own writing?  What did you do, if anything?  I won’t give up on this particular story.  But I’d like to be able to stomach the revision process.

Not too old for this: Musical Monday #MondayBlogs #HarryNilsson

Over the last few weeks as I debated whether and how to simplify my social media presence, this song kept playing through my mind.  It’s a particularly apt song for when I open my Facebook feed.

Keeping with the spirit and intent of my last blog post and new mantra, “I’m too old for this,” I’ve closed my LinkedIn and Tumblr accounts.  I went to Facebook and “unfollowed” a slew of “friends” whose obsession with memes made me feel like I was going through some kind of Clockwork Orange intervention.  Slowly, I feel sanity creeping back into my online life.

It’s all perspective, and your comments on last week’s post were validating for me.  Thank you again to everyone who commented and shared your own stories.

Now for a change of topic:  this weekend I watched a documentary on Harry Nilsson, singer and songwriter and sad soul.

Although I was familiar with much of his work, I was still amazed by how productive he was.  I hadn’t realized how many of the songs my teenaged self sang along with on the radio were written by him, if not always sung by him.  And what a sad story: at the height of his success, he set himself on a self-destructive path that would ultimately kill him.  It’s so easy to judge but that’s not what I want to do.  Enjoying his legacy is the best way to honor him.

My New Mantra: “I’m Too Old For This” #MondayBlogs #2old4this

As too many of you know, I struggle with keeping up with social media.  I often feel overwhelmed with the tsunami of memes, messages, Likes, Invites, and other cacophonous clatter that greets me whenever I go to the feed of my Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Tumblr, Google+ accounts.  (Strangely I don’t feel that way when I go to the Reader on WordPress.)  I often think to myself, “I’m too old for this.”  Now I do have some friends older than me who seem to manage their social media threads with grace.  I don’t care.  I still feel “too old” for this.

In yesterday’s Sunday New York Times, Dominique Browning expressed in the most clear (and enviable) prose what I’ve been feeling and why I should embrace that feeling.  In her essay, I’m Too Old for This, Browning celebrates the psychological benefits of getting older, of being able to let go:

The key to life is resilience, and I’m old enough to make such a bald statement. We will always be knocked down. It’s the getting up that counts. By the time you reach upper middle age, you have started over, and over again.

Browning focuses for a bit on women’s perception of their own beauty (or their perception of their lack of beauty) over time.  Until recently, I hated nearly everything about my body:  I’m overweight.  I have fat ankles.  I want straight hair, not hair that waves with a mind of its own.  My skin still breaks out and I’m two years shy of sixty.  Brown advises that we simply reach for the larger sized pants in the closet, the ones we wisely did not give up to Goodwill, and be thankful that we have healthy bodies.  I do try to be thankful even if some of my body likes to roll over the waistband of my yoga pants.

There is a certain freedom in being able to say, “I’m too old for this.”  At my workplace, the atmosphere can be toxic with everyone overworked and each effort to get work done being second-guessed by the politically motivated.  I feel too old for this.  I’ve seen it and heard it all before.  Sometimes I feel like I’m living Groundhog Day every day, except I get the weekends off.  I’m too old for this.

I’m too old to worry myself about social media. If I close my LinkedIn account, will anyone notice?  If I close my Tumblr account, will anyone notice?  If I close my Google+ account, will anyone notice?  More importantly, will I notice?

Now I can spot trouble 10 feet away (believe me, this is a big improvement), and I can say to myself: Too old for this. I spare myself a great deal of suffering, and as we all know, there is plenty of that to be had without looking for more.

I have unwittingly gotten into “trouble” because I was casting about, trying to be involved in an milieu that is better suited to people with short-term attention spans as well as long-term memory loss.  I’m definitely too old to engage in social media dust-ups, innocently or not.

But I do enjoy my blog, particularly the environment created by my blogging community.  It feels like a safe place.  I can be myself knowing that if people don’t like me they simply won’t follow me and that will be the end of that.  And I feel less fragmented when I’m here.

So when I think I’m too old for this, in the context of my writing and blogging, I know that it’s the fragmentation that I struggle with and that I need to correct.  Let’s see if anyone notices when I do.

By the way, Dominique Browning was wrong about one thing:  being too old to have green hair.  Take it from me.  One is never too old to have green, blue, pink, or purple hair.

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Course Review: Flash Essay on the Edge #MondayBlogs

FlashNonFiction_200

I’ve mentioned that Luanne Castle of A Writer’s Site and I recently participated in an online course for flash nonfiction, offered by Apiary Lit.  Well, we’ve survived finished the course and want to share our experience with all you dear Readers.  We put our heads together and created the following list of Pros and Cons.

First, let me share with you Luanne’s lovely shout-out to our instructor for the course:

The course instructor was talented writer and teacher Chelsea Biondolillo. Her prose has appeared or is forthcoming in Brevity, Passages North, Rappahannock Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Shenandoah, and others. She has an MFA from the University of Wyoming and is a 2014-15 O’Connor Fellow at Colgate University. You can check out Chelsea here http://roamingcowgirl.com/ or do a search for her pieces in online magazines. Her knowledge of the genre and generosity to share that knowledge with her students was outstanding.

PROs

  • The teacher prep was outstanding. She provided a wealth of readings, which were useful in showing me what flash nonfiction can look and sound like.
  • The course was only four weeks, so I found that to be very manageable. If it had been longer, I would have been too stressed during the summer and at this time in my life.
  • The instructor generally gave useful feedback, seemed qualified in the subject, and was very nice. She seemed to love her subject.
  • The instructor was accessible, responding within the same day if there was a question or concern.
  • Other than a problem I will list under CONs, the website was pretty easy to negotiate.
  • The online classroom had various forums that enabled you to share your work with the other students and have discussions.
  • The writing prompts were generally interesting, but I didn’t feel tied to them, which was good.
  • The course was not graded. I could focus on what I wanted to turn in, not what I thought I had to turn in in order to get an A.
  • The course got me writing without adding stress to my life.
  • I got more writing done in this past month than I would have otherwise.
  • I feel that I know where to go with flash nonfiction now. It would be ideal to get more feedback down the road on attempts at Flash Nonfiction, but at least I feel much more comfortable with the genre from taking this course.
  • Above all, I had fun with the readings and the writing.

CONs

  • Although there were forums available, we had no real discussion of any of the readings. We were not strongly encouraged to interact with each other. We had maybe one discussion prompt during the whole course.
  • The readings and essay examples were available through either some kind of Adobe program that took a bit of time to figure out, or through hyperlinks that weren’t always easy to download.
  • We posted our written assignments privately to the instructor so I had no way of learning from what others had turned in or from reading instructor comments on the work of others. I didn’t care for this method as it diminished what I could learn from the course by a hefty percentage. I suppose this is the difference between the workshop method and a traditional style class.
  • We felt isolated in this class and had little interaction with anyone but each other and the instructor.  In the discussion forum, one other student interacted with us, and another made a couple of independent comments.  Other than that, it was a strangely quiet class.
  • Two platforms were used for the course: an online classroom and a blog,so sometimes I had a little trouble negotiating the course. Sometimes I had to login in two places. This inconvenience turned out to be less of a problem than I first anticipated, but it could be streamlined. The blog material could have been included on the classroom platform.
  • Since I don’t know how many people were in the course, I don’t know the instructor’s workload. My belief is that in a course that is short in length, the instructor should return assignments in short order. The lag time between turning in an assignment/beginning reading for a new lesson and getting the instructor’s feedback on my previous assignment was a little too long for my comfort.
  • The price at $199 was a little steep for four weeks and no discussion/no workshopping.

 My personal riff on the course:

Whether fair or unfair, I kept comparing the structure of this course with one I took on poetry a few months ago.  The poetry course was free, but if I fulfilled certain requirements, I could order a certificate of completion.  Those requirements involved participating in discussion forums as well as providing feedback on other students’ assignments.  I learned a lot from the online discussions and from the feedback I got from other students (many of whom were published poets).  It made for a dynamic learning environment, similar to what one would expect in a writing workshop.

What I missed in the poetry course was having a direct relationship with an instructor/mentor whose purpose was to critique and guide my writing.

So when I heard about this course through Luanne and saw that the instructor would provide individualized feedback, I jumped at the opportunity.  And although $199 was a bit steep for just 4 weeks, Chelsea’s feedback alone was worth every penny.  I also happily “discovered” that creative nonfiction is just as boundary-less as poetry.  There are rules and then there are rules to be broken.  You are limited only by your imagination.

But.

I am still looking for that perfect-for-me online writing course.  My biggest challenges, as always, are Time and Organization.  I complain I have little time but that’s in large part because I’m not very organized.  Hence, my need for structure, for someone/something setting deadlines for me.  I learned that through NaNoWriMo:  if I don’t have a deadline, I don’t write.  I know I would be better at this if I were retired from my day job, but until that happens, when I do have time, I tend to procrastinate. (Although my procrastination takes the form of household chores and errands, which, sadly I have no one to do for me.)

I would consider taking another course with Apiary Lit (and definitely with Chelsea), but I want to try another venue if possible.  If any of my dear Readers have taken an online writing course that you truly found beneficial, please let me know in the comments.

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