Friday, November 19, 2010

Blog is a Four Letter Word


When I don’t have a pretty good handle on what I’m going to say here and maybe 500 words written by mid-morning Thursday I get anxious. I’ve been at this “Friday thing” for over four years. I avoid the word “blog” because my kids say it with such lacerating scorn, perhaps even more embarrassed by this than my AOL e-mail account. I make no plans for Fridays and leave the office only after I have posted an essay and subsequently look forward to going home, and having accomplished something, feel deserving of Shabbat chill. When I turn down an offer, usually to go out to lunch with a girlfriend, on Friday I never say that it’s because I’m writing my blog because it sounds stupid. While the Friday posting is mandatory, I make no conditions as to word count, but, with few exceptions, pieces end up in the area of 2000 words.

I run my own business and make my own hours. There is no one in my household, although they claim otherwise, who would perish if bereft of my ministrations. There are no more mandatory errands to run on my mother’s behalf. Very little is required of me. While I spend a lot of time in front of the television and working crosswords and bemoan my own sloth and lack of self discipline in a number of other areas of my life, I manage to write a letter each week to each of my three penpals in prison and post an essay here pretty much without fail.

I have spurts of reworking some of these essays and submitting them for readings or publication but I don’t stick with it. I threaten to enroll in an MFA program for creative writing ostensibly so I can teach college level writing but also because perhaps that would help me get unstuck from this rut. But then maybe I don’t want to be unstuck. My readership creeps up a tiny bit each month and I do watch numbers but am more gratified by the amount of time the average reader spends here than the little uptick in actual hits. I mostly believe this. Eventually another form of writing may provide the same satisfaction as publishing here Friday evening and then walking out the door does. For now though I’ll keep at it here. I work hard, which you’re not supposed to notice, and, at least by my own criteria, my writing gets better, which you are.

This is a slow week in getting this thing started. It is 11:27 Thursday and the word counter says 300 words so I am behind schedule. Plus a lot of times in response to the scourge of the blank page I’ve started carrying on about my magical blogging process and then the next day cringe and in revulsion delete the self serving blather. Once in a while I face Friday morning with nothing at all written and I almost always am able to cobble something out by the end of the day but I get agitated by the possibility that I may not pull it off. Once in a while things get bollixed up and I don’t publish until Saturday but when this is the case, I am grumpy and distracted until the piece is complete. I like it best when I arrive on Friday morning to about 1500 words I feel are solid and I have time to tweak and polish and relax into an ending but this only happens a couple times a year.

I write last week about my boys’ great experiences with the children’s theatre. I lay it on pretty thick about the kids but as it turns out, after two additional performances of Virginia Woolf, unprecedented honorifics at the cast party, and a screening of the LACHSA winning film I spend a whole second week focused mainly on being soppy with pride in my boys. But I hate it when parents go on about their kids so I suffer a shortage of appropriate material.

I will note a non-offspring related milestone of this particular theatre season. Parent participation is mandatory but because Virginia Woolf has such a small cast, we are short of help for concessions and in desperation I conscript Himself. He sees I am wearing myself out and truly wants to help but selling cupcakes to a crowd heavy with teenage girls of the shrill and theatrical persuasion is a bit outside his comfort zone. Buyers’ enthusiasm and indecisiveness discombobulate him. He keeps cheerful for the customers but glowers at me, wild with panic, as he struggles to make change from the cash box. A twenty dollar bill towards a $3.50 tab nearly puts him over the edge. He opens a roll of quarters and they explode all over the floor. He flails on all fours scooping up coins and I wonder if preparing his own dinner on the nights I sell concessions is perhaps the best sacrifice he can make on behalf of the theatre group. Later though, he is sent to sweep the dark empty theatre and the house manager notes that he sweeps like a Buddhist monk. He also helps break down our truck load of concessions gear and spares me the lifting of pallets of soda. I presume there will be a better selection of parent volunteers for the spring extravaganza, and as sweet as it is that my beloved lends a hand, I hope next season I’m able to leave him home to struggle with the microwave.

10:18 Friday. I call it a day yesterday with 1000 words and arrive today to a hectic office. Some technical problems complicate a decent and much needed order from one of the most popular shows on television, one that I have written about derisively here. I have also put off all week reading a stab of writing sent by one of my pen pals. It is either fiction or memoir, although the distinction is sort of irrelevant because I suspect that he is a pathological liar. I devote half an hour of what should be writing time to the story, which is about polio. I write back to him about some of my memories of seeing kids a few years older than me in leg braces and standing in a long line with my mother for a big public vaccination event. I encourage him to keep writing but will also enclose crossword and Sudoku puzzles to distract him.

It is almost time for Rover’s 10:30 walk and I have only written one paragraph. I have delegated one employee to have tires (much cheaper via internet than Costco) installed on my car and another will be making photocopies of my penpal’s polio story which he has asked for and also print 14 L.A. Times crosswords for him. The crossword puzzle site was down all last week, so I owe him seven and to feed my own jones I waste a number of NY Times puzzles from my hoard. The dog is starting to whine and even though I have shirked chores that I would have performed myself were it any day but Friday, unless I want to have a real rocky afternoon, I’m going to have to go with the” I blog therefore I am” material I started in on yesterday. This is about as naked as it gets. I am embarrassed at how important to me these weekly musings are. For as long as I’ve been at it and as entrenched this writing is in my routine I am still pretty mystified myself by the process of how it comes together.

Back from Rover’s walk and I write a paragraph I suspect I will delete. There are business matters to attend to and if I am to savor my lunch and leave at five I have four hours and 1300 words to work with. I am about to reread what I wrote yesterday and earlier this morning and then I will check back in here as to my level of exasperation. I will make a note to myself here, per revelation while walking, that even though I’ve said it before, and it will take a deft hand to make it not syrupy, as Thanksgiving approaches I have a lot to be thankful for. So, if I’m lucky and can tie the giving thanks stuff into the first paragraphs all I have to do is think of a title and find a piece of art and there might even have time to do a few crossword puzzles and end the week smug and satisfied.

1589 words at 11:49. I go back to yesterday’s writing and spruce and trim a bit but evidently this week’s piece is to be about the creation of this week’s piece and as noon approaches there is no turning back. During my first reread I rework the part about Himself helping with concessions. It was sort of mean, even though watching him sell cookies during intermission is pretty hilarious. But he really isn’t an asshole. He has an introverted personality and will post a link to the explanatory article inevitably with his commentary on this piece. The concessionaire gig is tortuous for him. I tweak toward sounding a little less hard edged and mocking and a little more grateful that he loves me enough to sacrifice himself to children’s theatre concessions duty.

Also, there are some disjointed ramblings with more gushing about my kids, stuff that I excise alot of, because I really do hate it when people go on about their kids. I have reached 1700 words which is the lower limit of publishable but will need at least three hundred more words here to tie things up. I am going to read again and polish what I have so far. I will make consistent my habitual use of the present tense to describe things that happen in the recent past and the past tense for memories older than a year or two. I’ll fix up some punctuation and break down some long sentences. I suspect I’ve got some transitions to refine although I have once or twice, come back from lunch, decided that everything I’d written sucks and started from scratch so until what I’ve written already inspires a worthy conclusion, I’m not out of the woods.

It is nearing lunch time and while I cut out quite a bit there are still two paragraphs about the kid’s theatrical triumph and the effect this has had on the college application process that are problematic and I either need to effectively integrate them into rest of the piece or delete all together. I guess I can sort of tie it together by getting at how the kids and I all work really hard at something we love and are subsequently blown away by the results. The logical thing would be to pat us all on the back for perseverance but I hate to mess with the illusion I like to give that I just toss these essays off in a couple of minutes and they’re really just a lark.

I am returning now after lunch. Juevos ala Mexicana and corn tortillas. I could probably have made the perseverance thing work but even though I’ve already blown my cover and revealed that these writings are not casual to me, I dislike the two paragraphs pertaining to college applications and bad charter schools and even though it is late in the day to diminish my word count so substantially, I did say I wasn’t going to go on too much about the kids and it feels better not to. I delete two additional paragraphs. It is 2:10. The word count is 1826. I am still feeling sort of cheap for resorting to the blog deconstruction exercise and I have to read again to make sure it’s not self indulgent and/or boring and towards gleaning a fitting end.

Note to Himself about usage of word deconstruction: the narrow definition, ascribed to Derrida and referring to a purely post modern pursuit of meaning, has broadened now and it is acceptable (but maybe pretentious?) to use in the much broader context of “picking something apart.”

The summation should note that my beloved is leaving for Ireland and this, except for when the kitchen was being remodeled and we took my mother for Chinese, will be the first year in decades that I haven’t cooked a Thanksgiving meal. The sprats and I are joining the lovely Wayne/Wirtz family in their gracious home and my anticipation of the holiday is for once not marred by panic at how cluttered my house is. I will miss my beloved but he will be celebrating the holiday at an ex-pat celebration near Dublin. This is where I should lay it all out that while I will miss my husband it is nice to think of him back on the old sod. He always returns better for having been there and better for arriving home. While I finally do chop the paragraphs about the kids, I grow more thankful for them as more and more they reveal who they are going to become.

Last year I stopped by and brought my mother some desserts for Thanksgiving but she didn’t know I was there. For five years I have been buying Depends and filling prescriptions for what had become of my mother. That mother died a month ago and I am glad to be rid of her. What’s left is the mother that was before, funny, grudging, vain beautiful and complicated. It is a lot to process but with her death, once again, my mother is a real human being. The day is growing late as I sit here and list the things I’m thankful for and I worry some that somehow taking note will jinx it all. Still, I risk tempting fate and note that I am grateful for this period of abundance, the anticipation of Shabbat and an essay of 2347 words.

Happy Thanksgiving and Shabbat Shalom.

1 comment:

Fionnchú said...

I think watching "Adaptation" about adapting a book into movie as a movie made you write an entry about writing an entry. Not sure if this signals creative dead-ends or intertextual inspiration, but you made your word count. I feel as if I am watching a student type an assignment for me, albeit a particularly gifted one who verily I say unto thee far too rarely if ever graces my florescently lit and plastic-chaired classroom. Maybe when you teach creative writing your students will be young, gifted, and wittier. I'm content to be your foil, as long as I get to give constructive and not deconstructive criticism. That term gets misused in "Adaptation" too for the sake of a silly pun.

Derrida and colleagues meant it to mean the absence of a fixed meaning in a text. The author's intention, the original context, the reader's reception, the reader's perception: all come into play, and none take priority to center a text and fix it for all time and place and space.

I agree, as the inclusion of it in a somewhat mass appeal film indicates, that "deconstruction" now gets used to express a backwards disassembly. This is related to the concept, but it's a simplification and slippier idea. Still, the broadening of the idea does illustrate how that very word now lacks firm, fixed definition!

Here's the "astonishingly popular," as the Atlantic puts it, article on introverts by Jonathan Rauch.

Alas, I will not be anywhere for Thanksgiving day but a hotel room in Dublin. The celebration by the ex-pats is Sunday following, when I will be in transit, and praying for such Delta-piloted motion via the enormous Atlanta hub. No more non-stop flights, this recession. I read weather's predicted to cause havoc beyond pat-downs and body-scans the holiday week. Sigh.

So, while I will miss the descent from above of next week's post, being in a florescent classroom in a plastic chair in Dublin's north dreary precinct, I will think of you all on these tofurky days, which is my favorite holiday as long I eat cranberries. Since you don't like mince pie. xxx me