The Long Morning After

I have a splitting headache. I admit to having had one glass of wine too many last night and allowing my husband to talk me into watching early results of the election. Which meant that I also got very little sleep, despite his assurances that all would be well in the morning.

Now I’m trying to figure out how to live, how to get from one day to the next day. Do I encase myself in a darkly tinted bubble and pretend that nothing outside of that bubble matters? I think that would work only if I become a hermit and completely disengage myself from the rest of the world.

Some of you may think I’m being overly sensitive, that I’m taking these election results a little too seriously, that I’m missing the point. I know people–otherwise intelligent, educated, moral people–who voted for Trump mainly because they hated Clinton. They willingly voted for a man who exemplifies every possible ugliness of  human nature. You can hate Clinton all you want, but don’t try and tell me that Trump is someone for our children to aspire to. Unless, of course, you admire people who objectify women, mock the disabled, engage in cyberbullying, and promote xenophobia.

I can only hope that our system of checks and balances will keep the Trump presidency from undoing the progress (both economic and social) that our country has gained over the last few decades. I can hope, but hope hasn’t been very effective lately.

Comments are closed for obvious reasons, and because I have a splitting headache.

 

Now Open For Business!

He is a very talented artist!

The Reality of Being You

“Depression, truth be told, is both boring and threatening as a subject of conversation.”  So writes Daphne Merkin in her essay on depression in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine.  As someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety off and on (and, lately, fortunately, it’s been mostly off), Merkin’s essay resonated with me in a far deeper way than any essay I had read before.  Perhaps it’s the cold truth of her insights:  “Surely this is the worst part of being at the mercy of your own mind, . . .:  the fact that there is no way out of the reality of being you, . . ..”

For most of my life, I found the reality of “being me” often hard to bear.  Like Merkin, “I was fascinated by people who had the temerity to bring down the curtain on their own suffering,” people like Virginia Woolf, Anne Sexton, and Sylvia Plath, who also just happened to be writers.

Merkin takes us on a journey from her most recent bout of deep depression, through her attempts at recovery in a clinic, and, finally, to a seemingly spontaneous resolution.  Granted, this is her own personal story, and others who suffer from chronic depression might have very different experiences.  As with so many other ailments, both physical and psychological, one size does not fit all.  But I finished Merkin’s article feeling heartened, at the least because the fog lifts just enough for her to imagine a life without it.

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The Tragedy of Depression

It is difficult not to make conjectures about Nicholas Hughes’s death, given the history of his famous parents.  As they–Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes–were “called” to writing, Nicholas Hughes was called to studying fish, something he did with zeal for at least two decades.  In this NY Times article, we learn that while any child can grow up to be greater than the sum of his parents, he may yet fall victim to the insidious dark weight of depression.  For me, this article is less about the “Plath-Hughes Legacy” than about the tragedy of depression.

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Writing Programs and Workshops, yet again

In the March/April 2009 issue of the Writer’s Chronicle, Renée Olander interviews poet Baron Wormser, who says of writing programs, “[w]hat a writing program shows you is what’s involved with trying to be a good writer. I don’t think that’s the same thing as pumping out writers. Writing is a daunting task; one thing you learn is that it’s daunting.” One caveat: Wormser does teach in a writing program, specifically the Stonecoast MFA Program in Maine. But what he says is so simple, so “of course, that’s the reason anyone should enroll in a writing program.” But how many writing programs sell themselves by implying (or downright claiming) that, if you become their student, you too will become a published author? What I like about Wormser’s comment is that it is focused on writing, on learning the craft. Here’s what he says about writing workshops: “The workshop as a forum where people deliver ad hoc judgments isn’t a lot of help, obviously, because–unless you have some notions of what a good piece of writing is, can point to good writing, have a sense of what inspires you as a good piece of writing, what’s the point?” Indeed, what is the point? I’ve been to good writing workshops, and I’ve been to some truly awful ones.

The best writing workshop was taught by the late Wendy Bishop. It was an article and essay workshop, and I was a master’s level student. The workshop was configured into small groups and the class at large. We worked out the drafts of our essays in small groups and presented the final to the class. I was fortunate to have doctoral students who were also teaching assistants in my small group. They taught me that, yes, writing is daunting, but you must be true to yourself. I had written an essay in the typical academic third-person voice, and I was actually a bit proud of it. I thought I had managed to make myself sound like I knew more than I really did (I was a coward and words were my shield). [The essay was a book review of Lyndall Gordon’s biography of Virginia Woolf. No wonder I felt intimidated.) Fortunately, the members of my small group had no interest in revealing me for the fraud I was. Rather, they hesitated and avoided my eyes until they were able to tell me, in as gentle a manner as possible, that my essay was … boring. Boring, boring, boring. Can a writer be told worse? I was devastated and had to struggle to keep my composure. But, they wanted me to rewrite the essay. Don’t give up, they said. It’s the voice that boring, not the content. We want to know what YOU think, they said. And I naturally wondered, “Why would anyone want to know what I think?” That is probably my greatest barrier to becoming a successful (i.e., paid) writer: even today, I still wonder why anyone would want to read what I think.

But in the case of this pitiful essay, after a night or more of crying and feeling sorry for myself, I trashed the whole essay and began anew. I told them exactly what I thought about Gordon’s book. Not only was this new version of my essay widely acclaimed by the class when it came for final review, but a year later, it was published, with virtually no edits, in a small literary journal. Yes, seeing my writing in print was wonderful, even though I was paid only in copies. It was like icing because the real value from that workshop was learning to write in my own true voice.

Favorite Writing Instruments

I’ve been musing a bit about writing instruments.  In pre-personal computer days (which I’m old enough to remember well and with nostalgia), I fancied pencils, usually the hard #5 which left such a spidery script that the lead faded in time.  When pens came in more varied constructions from the usual ballpoint, I was in bliss.  So many pens to choose from!  But as soon as I found a “favorite” rollerball or gel ink, I could rarely find the pen again and would buy so many others, trying to find one that would give me the same pleasure in writing.  Even when I had my first typewriter (an electric Smith Corona), the pen was my constant.  The typewriter was for the final drafts of my work:  the loud clacking of the keys and my poor typing skills did not provide for a productive stream-of-consciousness rump on the SC.  

Then came the PC and my writing life was changed forever and, generally, for the better.  Now my typing can keep up with my thinking and I can crank out reams of nonsense if I want (like I did for the National Novel Writing Month 2007).  But I do need to use a pen or pencil much of the time still, and, believe it or not, I still struggle to find the perfect writing implement.  

I’ve been a fan of Levenger for a long  time.  I love their Circa notebooks and all the Circa accessories.  Their pens are beautiful works of art.  I love the True Writer Demonstrator series, even though the pens are a bit large for my small hands.  But the quality of the ink–well, I’ve bought cheaper pens that had better ink flow and quality.  

I have tried fountain pens, both Waterman and Levenger, but again, I have serious issues with bleed-throughs, skips, and blots.  I have a Waterman fountain pen that I still use occasionally, but not for every day writing.

I have extra fine point Sharpies in every color imaginable.  They’re great for labeling packages and signing handmade greeting cards.  But for note-taking during a business meeting?  Well, there I prefer the standard black ink.  So, I suppose I could use a black extra fine point Sharpie, but then I would not be “going green.”  I had hoped, with my relatively new purchase of True Writer Demonstrator Pen (in “Always Greener”) that I would be minimizing my impact on the environment by using refillable pens.  Well, I guess I will, for as long as I use it.  And when I’ve used up all the ink refills, maybe I’ll just hang my True Writers on my wall as a kind homage to the writing life and buy a big box of extra fine point Sharpies!

Elderbloggers

Here’s a new term that I came across in a Wall Street Journal essay published in the June 14-15, 2008 edition: elderbloggers. In her essay, “Put It in Writing,” Ronni Bennett writes about the growing population of elderbloggers, the thousands of bloggers who are older than 50. At the time that Ms. Bennet started blogging in 2003, when she was about 62, an internet search for older bloggers might have netted only a dozen or so. Now, like the US elder population in general, their numbers have dramatically increased. According to Ms. Bennett, “Isolation and loneliness are well known to impair health and mental fitness. Blogging is a powerful antidote.” She discusses the general differences between elderbloggers and our young counterparts (no surprise that we tend, initially anyway, to be shyer about writing about ourselves), and she offers brief intros to some of the friends that she’s made through blogging, people whose paths she would never have crossed, had she not been blogging. You can read the full text of her essay by clicking here.

For more on elderblogging or for blogs by elderbloggers, try these links:

Time Goes By — What it’s really like to get older (this is Ms. Bennett’s blog)

Our Bodies Our Blogs: Elderbloggers Shift the Universe

Blogging in Paris

Octogenarian (blog by Mort Reichek)

CJOnline Blogs

The strangely insular world of blogging

This Sunday, The New York Times published an article by Emily Gould, once-upon-a-time blog editor for Gawker Media. Emily is a woman in her late twenties who has had the great fortune to work in the field of publishing. After reading her article, however, I have had the great temptation to look down upon her as a naïve, narcissistic juvenile. (Disclosure: I am old enough to be her mother.) But for one thing.

A few days ago, I happened to catch “The Devil Wears Prada” on cable. In both Emily’s article and the movie, we get an opportunity to see how a young mind is manipulated into becoming her own worst enemy. In the movie, Andrea doesn’t even know what the magazine Runway is all about, although she has applied for a job there. She is eventually shocked and disillusioned by the cutthroat machinations of her boss. She does truly seem like a sacrificial virgin in contrast to Emily’s claim of the same when she started her career at Gawker.

But Emily was not “virginal.” She admits that her preferred mode of self-expression has deep roots, starting in her high school days when she and her friends circulated a notebook in which they shared “candid thoughts” about their teachers. When they got caught, she claimed First Amendment rights. Perhaps more telling is the comic book she created, presenting herself as a superhero (“SuperEmily”) who “battled thinly veiled versions” of the mean girls in her grade. And when it came to Gawker Media, unlike Andrea and Runway, she was an expert: “For a young blogger in New York in 2006, becoming an editor at Gawker was an achievement so lofty that I had never even imagined it could happen to me.”

Despite their obvious differences, my takeaway message from watching the movie and then reading Emily’s article was that both these women were very impressionable. They may be hard-working women who have survived the wilds of New York City, but they still are not savvy enough to navigate without leaving some wreckage in their path. But here their similarities end.

Andrea is blindsided in her transformation from a size 6 duckling to a size 4 princess. Becoming “one of them” was not her goal when she went to interview at Runway. In contrast, Emily saw her job at Gawker as “somehow inevitable. Maybe my whole life — all the trivia I’d collected, the knack for funny meanness I’d been honing since middle school — had been leading up to this moment.”

Unlike my generation, Emily grew up with perpetual access to immediate gratification. And she grew up with feeling that the world, limited only by bandwidth, could be her friend, or at least her audience. Yet, she does capture a universal drive toward blogging: “I think most people who maintain blogs are doing it for some of the same reasons I do: they like the idea that there’s a place where a record of their existence is kept . . ..”

Her comment reminds of my embrace of the phrase, “I am therefore I write.” Blogging is a way for me to record my existence, although I try to restrict to my posts to a general theme, that of writing. For Emily, the purpose of blogging is to expose every aspect of one’s life. The irony is that so many people who criticize her type of blogging feel compelled to leave comments on her blog. By their very act of commenting, they are legitimating Emily’s blog, whether they like it or not. By the time I grabbed the permalink for Emily’s article, comments about the article numbered in the thousands. Most comments suggested at least one of the following: that Emily should grow up; that Emily should get a real job; that the article was boring (usually expressed as “ZZZZZZZZ”); that The New York Times should not have given Emily so much space to write in. There is a bit of irony here: Is what drives a commentator to leave a badly written and/or insulting post any different from what drives Emily to blog?

(For a different perspective on her NYT article, check on the comments on Emily Magazine.)

When I come across a blog or post that I find offensive or boring, I don’t bother to comment. In much the same way that personalized rejection letters can give the writer some solace that at least her story was read, comments provide the blogger some satisfaction of being heard. Comments provide some form of legitimacy, although most often in their quantity.

So, I would suggest to those who are unhappy with the nature of Emily’s blogs: Just don’t comment on them. Let her comment count dwindle. Let her audience retract to only the closest of her friends. If what she is doing is so awful, then don’t encourage her. Like any other writer, Emily has more to gain from constructive criticism and encouragement than from the banality of “ZZZZZZZ.”


Face lift and added functionality among other things

I decided I needed a little more color in my life so I changed “themes” yesterday. I hope to add some “texture” eventually as I learn how to edit CSS so I can add background images. Although I really liked my previous theme, this one feels more cheery yet appropriately subdued for the introvert that I am. I’ve also added some RSS widgets (scroll down the sidebar) for my most favorite websites & blogs, a few of which I’ve discussed in earlier posts. So now you’ll have three ways to connect with the sites that I talk about: link directly through my posts, links saved on my sidebar, or the RSS widgets through my sidebar.

Did you know that you can get a feed to The New Yorker’s fiction and poetry? Now with my aircard and laptap, I never have to worry about missing an issue! See for yourself–click here.

New Home

I know I already published a post about moving my blog to WordPress.com, but it seems to have disappear! Well, let’s see if I can make this one stick. Working on the web is always an adventure.

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