blogging, social media

A special sentence structure

July 17, 2017 | 11 Comments

Writer, know thy own demon

July 27, 2016 | 12 Comments

Writing takes energy. The hot weather system lying across America has sapped mine. Or maybe it’s allergies—an early ragweed bloom. Like an old timer of yore, I find my body casts its own vote via joints and sinuses. My former doctor, a great technician, used to scoff about complaints regarding intangibles like atmospheric pressure—he’d actually laugh in my face—but I knew what I felt. Writing this took two medicinal pots of coffee.

When my book appeared two years ago, my blog took a hit—all circuits were busy. Maybe that’s just focus—but focus is, or bespeaks, a form of energy. The other thing I know for sure is a writer embeds energy in prose or poetry. I’ve always said readers go to writing to experience another’s emotional reality, but if they don’t find energy there, they leave. You can feel it, the energy in words and sentences.

Major illness is one thing, but how annoying when something like pollen pulls your plug. E.B. White wrote about the debilitating effect of allergies. The malaise they cause. Periodically, and when ragweed blooms in late summer, sometimes I exist in a stupor, dosing myself with Claratin, Alka-Seltzer, chocolate, caffeine.

However bad I feel, I’m always grateful when I realize the cause is physical. Because lack of energy mimics depression. The body is literally depressed, when flooded with histamines. So that’s the feeling the mind experiences. Regardless of cause, it’s hard enough to exist in peace, let alone to run a startup donut chain or write a novel when you lack physical or psychic energy. Dorothea Brande’s classic Becoming a Writer is really about how to nurture yourself as a person and writer so you can steadily work.

Of course, Brande’s advice concerns not illness but mental or emotional blockages. In that realm, what roils my moods is fear. Where it comes from, I don’t know. But when the writing is especially hard and discouraging, I’ve learned to suspect that old foe.

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My dog tale published

July 6, 2016 | 26 Comments

At last I’ve documented our family dog’s epic weirdness—and, well, mine. My essay “Why I Hate My Dog” explains on Longreads. Bottom line and fair warning to the rescue-minded: every adult pound dog I’ve known or heard about has suffered from scorching separation anxiety. Belle’s is far from the worst—at least she doesn’t tear apart the house—but plenty bad. Her suffering, plus some truly odd behavior, affects her humans.

Briefly this essay has made me more tolerant of others’ bad dogs. This morning, Kathy and I passed a man on our walk being dragged along by a snarling dog. We sometimes see him, and I dread it. Though I hold that dog against him, Kathy greeted him. His response was slow and a tad sullen—we’d disturbed his peace, too, even though his dog was the one wanting to kill Belle and maybe us. Then we ran into him again on our loop. He was friendlier, saying by way of possibly ironic apology for his dog, “He loves everybody.”

“I guess he’s trying to be funny,” I said when he was out of earshot.

“I don’t think so.”

“Maybe that dog was his kid’s, who died,” I offered.

“Maybe it’s a rescue he got to keep himself company in his old age,” Kathy said.

By definition, almost everyone is doing his best, right? Sometimes that’s pretty pathetic. But it goes for me and my dog, too.

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What has gone missing?

May 25, 2016 | 14 Comments

Serendipity occasionally tosses books together on a reader’s platter, thus multiplying the impact they might have had if encountered separately. If you like to chew on ideas, consuming books in combo can become an art as subtle as the pairing of food and wine.

Two titles from the year past are polar opposites in many ways, yet explore the same underlying idea: What have we jettisoned in our transition to the electronic era? One publication is a collection by an established older essayist on the East Coast and the other is a debut novel by a young emerging writer in the Rockies. Both authors edit literary journals. Each book in its own way addresses the digital conversion of our lives and the consequences of that progress. In their explorations of the Internet Age, both authors establish what has disappeared and then illuminate the ramifications.

Sven Birkerts, editor of AGNI, turns a searchlight on technology’s threat to creativity in his collection of seventeen essays (all previously published individually in a variety of journals). The titles in Changing the Subject: Art and Attention in the Internet Age are intriguing. A sample: “You Are What You Click,” “The Hive Life,” “The Room and the Elephant,” “Notebook: Reading in a Digital Age,” “Idleness,” “Bolaño Summer: A Reading Journal,” and “The Still Point.”

Birkerts examines what has occurred in the twenty-two years since he wrote The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age.

He pitches questions and then marshals quotes from well-known writers to augment his answers, sometimes agreeing with their points of view and sometimes not. As Birkerts converses with their ideas, he presents his own stance while at the same time enlisting the reader’s attention to consider the situation along with him.

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6 years of unused blog posts

July 23, 2014 | 2 Comments

After six years of blogging, I count 66 items in my “To Be Posted” folder. Duds. Unused quotes, started essays, finished posts. Stuff I forgot or abandoned. Yet I’ve run with many a notion and hated it. Or uploaded flops.

No need to pick scabs here. Well, maybe one—my February 2014 post “Art and Suffering,” in part concerning Philip Seymour Hoffman, which helped me decide I disagree with its implication. I doubt his tough roles contributed to his emotional burden and thus his death from a heroin overdose. Writing can be clarifying if only in that way. State something and see if you agree with it.

Yet I can’t abandon completely the sense that there’s often some relationship between troubles and talent. (What about the sensitivity that made Hoffman an actor in the first place? What about all his money and his acres of down time?) All the same, I heard a writer say this recently about a poet who took her own life:

“Writers don’t kill themselves. People kill themselves. Writing is what kept her from killing herself for years.”

My conflict about this old issue, explored at book-length in Edmund “Bunny” Wilson’s classic The Wound and the Bow—the title refers to the gifted Greek archer Philoctetes, who suffered from an unhealed wound—caused me to abort a similar effort after the Hoffman post because it depressed me too much. And I figured readers would hate it.

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My blog turns six today!

July 17, 2014 | 14 Comments

After my previous post, about quirky personal posts I recall fondly, my blogger friend Shirley Showalter asked me to discuss the benefits and difficulties of blogging in my life. In the past year I’ve struggled for the first time to post—the long energy-producing effort of drafting my memoir over. Plus having to face the What’s next? question. For most people, probably me too, blogging is a phase. For all I know, this is my last post.

So that’s the difficulty part. But the blog has helped me as a writer—kept my prose and my persona down to earth, underscored obsessions, given instant gratification. It has forced me to create something on the fly that turned out to please me and has inspired me to laboriously craft a post that has likewise surprised me. Sometimes I’ve thought, I should have done that for a real publication. But the truth is, without an existing affiliation, like this blog, I wouldn’t have.

The blog made me do it. Paul Thorne, the Mississippi blues-soul-rock musician says it best: “Whatever expression you have in you, instead of thinking about it all the time, do it. Make it tangible, you know? That’s what art is, it’s creativity made tangible.”

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Six quirky posts

July 9, 2014 | 9 Comments

Of course it was summer, my favorite season, when I started this blog almost six years ago. I was working on the third version of my memoir. As if the world needed another blog about writing—but that’s what excited me. It was July. Within summer, July is my favorite month—the lawns under control, the daylilies in bloom, the gin and tonic flowing. So it wasn’t too surprising that when I picked six favorite posts, to be discussed on the blog’s birthday next Thursday, that two of them were uploaded in July.

What was surprising was how many of my pets were posted in December or January. Two of my top posts were uploaded in January; four of my six finalists, below, were written in December. I guess December makes me reflective. And January seems the July of winter—the leaf collection over, the Thanksgiving and Christmas frenzies past, the slower winter season still stretching out forever but not yet unpleasantly.

My 12 favorites are just the ones that swam to the surface of my mind, ones I wrote with great pleasure or maybe were about a subject I’ve continued to worry. Frequent themes that have developed include the aesthetics of nonfiction, the use of self in nonfiction, and storytelling structure.

But of the six runners-up, not one is about writing per se.

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