Writing: A Hermit’s Journey

If my life in books counted off the page, I could boast quite a social life. My diverse bibliodiet of fiction and fact includes Pulitzers I study, tracing the contours of the words for clues to their savoir-faire. Best thing is when I fall in, pestled upon a page of genius. I feel ridiculous. Don’t try to fool me into thinking it’s doable. High art is not five feet three. Art at its best shows me the by-ways behind the crags. It cuts and bruises. In The Art of Memoir, Mary Karr shares some questions she asks to “help students diagnose their own blind spots” ~

1. What do people usually like and dislike about you? You should reflect both aspects in your pages.
2. How do you want to be perceived, and in what ways have you ever been false or posed as other than who you are?

[Her answers]
1. My friends usually like me because I’m tenderhearted, blunt, salty, and curious. I’m super loyal, and I laugh loud.
2. People don’t like me because I’m emotionally intense and often cross boundaries….Small talk at parties bores me senseless…I’m a little bit of a misanthrope. I cancel lunch dates because I’m working.

She believes we are to bring to the page the best and worst of ourself, that is, our full and authentic self. Yes, I think you see me in clear color and dimensions, in fact more than the people in my life, at least those outside my family, do. One tempers into social roles and expectations, especially by middle age. These socks have to match. I also feel muted in the rituals we call socializing, not able to talk books or art in the circles that motherhood have circumscribed for me. I’m happier in company with the immortal dead and fellow hermits in the cave of their mind. When the tea party is over, I invite a wordsmith over for some wine – and days I need it, the scotch. Ah, the way good prose jolts, even in its beautiful ache. I want to drive under the influence – and once I’ve stepped out into fresh air, start climbing.

 

The Best Things About Blogging

1. Individuality and community.
Blogging gives us the best of both, lets us develop our self in the nest of “the collective heartbeat”. (Anne Lamott)

2. The freedom.
Anything goes: some days this is my own TED stage or talk show. On others, my stand-up. Sometimes it’s my notebook.

3. The empowering.
You can take yourself as seriously as you want to and ask others to.

4. The humbling.
You remember you’re just a leaf in the forest. Let’s keep it real.

5. The immediacy, the organic exchange.

6. The traffic.
The comment board is the interface of lives and a place where people can lend their perspective to expand yours.

7. The pay-out.
It’s the immigrant ethos. You sight unchartered space in blogosphere, nothing in your pocket. You stake your ground, work hard, and can build something of worth.

8. The low maintenance.
Comb my hair? Figure out which top to wear?  I can blog in my bathrobe behind my smiling avatar, ever presentable.

Forbes.com

Forbes.com

9. The low cost.
I got the premium plan to keep the ads away, for your sake and mine. I felt vandalized when they started popping up. There is no motive for my writing other than the joy and I’m not here to mark out a trail to a pretty place that empties your wallet. Anyway, at 27 cents a day it beats spending on gas and an overrated drink at Starbucks to enjoy friends.

10. The Efficiency.
I’m all set. Honey, no need to write anything for my funeral. Just pull up the comments for the eulogies!

This Blog Is On Life Support

It’s not been looking good. The blog collapsed shortly after the last post and a series of labs unearthed a remarkable viral strain otherwise known as Hyberpola Polynucleosis.

AHJ’s tested positive for the H1-OMG genetic marker which predisposes it not only to swelling of the T3 and T4 nodes but incapacitating fatigue and threat of CPU failure. HW’s been working ’round the clock in collaboration with doctors in an integrative treatment plan that leaves them hopeful. The family’s been holding a vigil and will appreciate your prayers. HW is heartbroken over her beloved blog and misses everyone terribly. Comments are closed in keeping with doctors’ orders; please take the noise outside. Sshhh.

The Real Reasons I Blog

1. To ward off dementia.

2. Stay in touch with my roots. No such thing as overworking with Koreans. Rest? Psh. That’s what the grave is for.

3. You’ve saved me money on therapy. I didn’t have to go this year.

4. I don’t want to clean. Who in their right mind would choose mopping and dusting over THIS?

5. It’s my one rightful obsession. I don’t drink, smoke, go on shopping sprees, or get pedicures. You gotta give me sOmething.

6. I can be as anal as I want and people like me for it. Go figure.

7. I’m repressed. Parents didn’t let me stay out at night. I get to party ’round the clock as the comments roll in.

8. I hand out advice on stuff: blogging, life, men and women. And all these people think I’m for real.

9. It’s my only chance at keeping up with technology. I’m terrified to tweet, annoyed with Facebook, have yet to go near an iPod, hate texting.

10. I haven’t had this much fun since…since…
*Slump* Pathetic. (Time for my next pick-me-up post.)

I Should Start Charging

So you say you get a lot out of my posts. I think I’m done writing for free. See the picture? It’s at least 55 years old. My inflation calculator says that’ll be 40 cents for the counseling services on A Holistic Journey. Except you have no idea how messed up I am. (People forget Frankenstein was the name of the doctor, not the monster. Wa HA HA HA HA.) Keep reading at your own risk. I am not responsible for migraines, indigestion, schizophrenia, divorce. But wait: likers will get 5 cents off, commenters 8 cents, liking commenters 10 per post. A bargain if I ever saw one. At least stay through the new series. We have a lineup of writers who’ll be sharing moments where they didn’t feel seen. I’m sure you’ll be touched, if not enlightened. And they won’t charge.

Lucy-van-pelt-1

Why Are You Looking At Me?

Yana’s hard to miss. She was born with achondroplasia. In her late twenties, she’s four foot six inches tall, and she’s undergone ten operations to lengthen her arm and leg bones.

“Everybody always looks at me,” she mused. “But never for the reasons I want.”

“Everybody I know,” I said, “especially the performers, has such a complicated relationship with being looked at. But seriously, I cannot imagine what yours is like.”

“It’s hard,” said Yana.

I’d spent time with her, but I’d never walked around with her in public, where people stared. I noticed the way people looked at her as she moved through the world. I wondered what it must feel like to have the gaze of the world fixated on you because of the shape of your body. Inescapable…It was the story of her life…the festival of people who stared at her body and then quickly glanced away. Who gawked at her, but never said anything. She’d lived her whole life having to cope with people looking at her the wrong way, but never addressing it…They were looking at her. But they weren’t seeing her. ~ Amanda Palmer in The Art of Asking

Courtesy of Yahoo

Courtesy of Yahoo

To make ends meet while she wrote songs in pursuit of her dream as a rock star, Amanda hired herself as a statue. She painted herself white and stood frozen in a wedding dress in the middle of Harvard Square. (Sounds cool. You know I would do this?)

As they dropped money in my hat, I would lock my eyes onto theirs, and think:
Thank you.
*blink*
Here. Take a flower.
*blink*
And if I was in a particularly good mood:
I love you.
*blink*

What I hadn’t anticipated was the sudden, powerful encounters with people – especially lonely people who looked like they hadn’t connected with anyone in ages. I was amazed by the intimate moments of prolonged eye contact happening on the busy city sidewalk as traffic whizzed by, as sirens blared…

Perhaps even more than being seen, what she really loved about being the Bride was “sharing the gaze.” Feeling connected. which is why stripping, which she’d tried earlier for a season was as disappointing as the money was good. I was being looked at. But I never felt seen. The strip joint was like Teflon to real emotional connection…Sometimes I would get home and have a nice little breakdown, having no idea what to do with all the loneliness I’d collected. People looked at her naked body but no one looked her in the eye.

Isn’t it interesting that a stripper and a dwarf could bear the same heartache? People stared at Yana but didn’t care to connect with her. Apparently, they’d rather do this with a statue. It humanized the Bride to be able to invite “them into [her] face like a host invites a guest into a kitchen” and be invited to look back into theirs. Yana wasn’t invited back. They looked away. Jonathan Novick’s documentary Don’t Look Down on Me, a day in the life of a dwarf in New York City, gives us a similar glimpse into the human heart. The video is a retelling of a hidden camera Jonathan wore as he made his way through what was for him a typically savage emotional minefield as he caught people in their most candid response to his appearance. They not only gawked but snapped shots of him on their phone. One guy actually said, “What is that?” To remain alone, that is, unseen – is to stay incomplete. This is so whether we are married or single because our self-perception, while it should be loud and assured, is not only limited but often distorted. As social creatures we need feedback about ourselves – explicit and implicit – to fill in the spaces and expand us toward our potential. Most of us don’t carry the cross of ostracization and cruelty on a daily basis but it would wear on even those with the strongest sense of self. Because we were made for connection that nurtures. Isn’t this why we crave love and isn’t this where sex, its physical consummation, finds its meaning? That we hope to find embrace and acceptance when we bare ourselves body and soul? When we’re in love, we endow our beloved with generous perceptions of attractiveness. We reinforce his, her dignity. We dignify one another when we look at the other not as eye candy or a specimen but as a human being in process with the same hopes and fears in our own heart.

This longing for relationship is why bloggers value comments so much. A thoughtful word is evidence that we were seen. Every time I publish a post, I am asking for your time. Your eyes. On me. And one reason it is so satisfying when you answer is that bloggers can’t make anyone lean in, let alone return – not to mention how easy it is to unfollow. Amanda’s story is really about the relationship with her fans on social media. Her success as a rock star and the first indie musician to raise $1 million on Kickstarter is, to her, a mere and natural result of real community. While I don’t think of my readers as fans and my name isn’t so big, I can relate to Amanda’s relationship with her blog readers and music supporters. And many of you can, too.

She writes, “I was punch-drunk from the instant gratification of sharing life in real time, the random closeness, the feeling that I wasn’t going through my struggles alone.”

It is astonishing to be seen.

My First Time

Go on. Pinch me. You are so kidding me. The house is still but for the clicking of the keyboard. The men are on their first father-and-son overnighter in the mountains.

I am home alone tonight.

do-not-disturbIn case you don’t quite see it: over three years as a human milk bottle, I’ve also served up 11,984 meals for the Little Person. Eight years of service and I’ve earned 24 hours of heartbreakingly gratifying, suspiciously sweet time to myself. I think I’ll cry. Make that 16 hours, as I need my sleep. (Dang it. I will cry.) My men have freed me up in the past but this will be the first time T’s bed will be empty. Even as I sign my declaration of independence, relishing in my SELFHOOD, my WOMANHOOD, my WRITERHOOD…I miss my boy. No matter how deep in the mountains he goes or how long he stays away, I am a mother. His mother, the one he’ll come home to as long as she’s breathing. I blink back tears.

So. In the meantime, what shall I do with myself??

– Hit the salon & spa. (Nah. I’ll tense on the table over how long it’s keeping me from the blog.)

– Do the dishes. (LAUGH. Laaauuggh.)

– Clean and mop. (And watch Dirt Vader come undo it tomorrow.)

– Organize all these papers. (Tempting.)

– Write my next post.

I can’t type fast enough. (Don’t bother commenting. Let me write.)

When My Blog Died

EKGgreenI want to file an official complaint as a subscriber to the Holistic Wayfarer for going MIA on us. (Completely forgetting she’s been out week after week with his son while keeping the lessons going.) You need to blog again, be reminded there are good people all over the world. They want to hear from you. When you don’t blog for a while, you crawl into yourself and scowl about the people who are !@#!. You become deeper, happier, and look out when you engage your readers. You should take a few days off school, give T a break, and just BLOG.

~ Mr. Wayfarer last night

Tenny_studio2015C(Gasp. Break??)

Where I’ve been is a good question. The kitchen, trying to keep up with You-Know-Who’s sumo appetite. Foodie is growing before my eyes. We’ve been at the annual appointments I saved for the summer (photo shoot, physical, dental), and there are his classes. I’ve had all four hands in homeschool business – convention and conferences to boot. Also got off to a running start in preparing for the Fall cycle we’ll be entering with our group, working on a music project and gathering material. I remind myself I signed up for this. I’d rather choose my own curriculum than have the schools do it for me.

I believe that child rearing must come with an imperative, must be driven by a sense of longing and even destiny…I’ve witnessed this longing in other people…but I never felt it in myself. Moreover, as I aged, I discovered that I loved my work as a writer more and more, and I didn’t want to give up even an hour of that communion. Like Jinny in Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, I felt at times “a thousand capacities” spring up in me, and I wanted to chase them all down and make every last one of them manifest…Katherine Mansfield wrote in one of her youthful diaries, “I want to work!”

I, too, wanted to work. Uninterruptedly. Joyfully.”  ~ E. Gilbert in Committed

So what do you do when you can barely get your hands around both desires? When your whole wonderful life feels like an interruption of the work you want to do and your burden is heavier for the guilt of one who should be more grateful? As long as your child is young (or as long as you homeschool), you let go the notebook with your thousand capacities spilling over its pages and as it falls watch the rain bleed the ink into the ground. You take the hand you’ve emptied and close it over his. And you die just a little. Writing, after all, is only your oxygen.

At the conference last week, we were presented a chart that helped us sort our priorities. At the top was a section for

VITALS, what our life is about. This will depend on your worldview but most of us will fill this box in with relationships (with family, friends, self, God). Below that we had

NECESSITIES, where our time and money go. The things we need to sustain our life and our vitals. Food, shelter, health, education, transportation. They are not what life is about but postmoderners forget this in the grand Pursuit of Things. Below this box were the

ACCESSORIES, our happy upgrades. We need to eat but not at high-end restaurants. We need a car but not a Bentley. We need to work but don’t need to hanker after the position that will take us away from family. Last came the

DISPOSABLES. TV, Facebook, iGadgets. Many of us, especially in America, have turned our priorities over on their heads.

I appreciated the list but am still struggling with a part of it. Where does my writing go? The question at least explains the frustration that’s shadowed me this summer. While I live and work within the relationships that are important to me, writing fulfills me as nothing else can. It balances me, as I feel incomplete apart from it. It is a necessity because it feeds my relationship with my self – not to mention friends around the world. I feel at my best, approaching the summit of who I was meant to be almost like Gilbert’s Alma Whittaker who sets out to put a lifetime’s scientific study on paper, “not merely alive, but outfitted with a mind that was functioning at the uppermost limits of its capacity –  a mind that was seeing everything, and understanding everything, as though watching it all from the highest imaginable ridge. She would awaken, catch her breath, and immediately begin writing again.” ~ The Signature of All Things

But my words have been excised from my list of priorities this season as though they were disposable. (What do you do with that?? You eventually risk sabotaging your delicate sleep and write at two in the morning.) No wonder I’ve felt amputated.

I grew by an average of 1000 followers a month last year. But blog growth right now is a luxury of a thought. All these piles and piles of notes and drafts for posts, the books I’ve wanted to share with you, the personal challenges I’ve needed to process in print. Here I’ve sat before a keyboard that might as well have been calling from across the ocean. My Stats have read like an EKG of someone lost to us forever. Oh, my heart. But we can administer shock to resuscitate hearts, can’t we? When Opinionated Man asked for my keys and offered to run my site if I had to stay away any longer, the thought was enough to zap me out of the grave. statsNEW

 

The Art of Blogging

We have some great blogs that teach us about SEO, tags, back-links, Google encryption. I will never outgrow them because I believe in the science of all things. You have to learn, at least be introduced to, the Rules. Know the proper form of a Lindy or a lay-up. Unlock the mechanics, drill, know what accuracy means in your field. The thing is, machines are built for precision. In fact, we can program synthesizers to make music on their own.

But art is more than accuracy.

When my son and I run our eyes over the drum solo for the week, it reads a little like a foreign language. It is hard at first because each one he masters earns him pieces that are incrementally more challenging. My goal isn’t for him just to play the notes right for his instructor in seven days. Once he’s figured them out, I want him to get the piece under his skin, hear and then answer what the composer is asking of him. Translate it as he (not his classmates, mom, or dad) can with his hands. His whole body moves differently when he gets there. If he were graduated to the next solo just for having learned to mimic the notes, he wouldn’t be participating in the art. And that is the point of the music. We don’t watch Josh Groban for his technique. He’s got that. We want to hear what he does with it. We want to be touched by beauty. It is not for the intelligence of the chords that we close our eyes to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake with reverence. It is for the pathos and longing they resound.

So is art something you can learn? How about the art of blogging?

In his book Fresh Off the Boat, Eddie Huang remembers 7th grade football when he was a social runt desperate to fit in. Listen to what he says about the kid he was pitted against:

For the next three weeks, literally every day, Coach Rock named me player of the practice. I was an animal. Other people couldn’t compete. They were playing a game but I treated it like life and death. The zenith was about six weeks into the season. We always played simulated games on Wednesdays, Offense vs. Defense, and that day I was lined up against this new kid, Jason…He was at least five inches taller than me, with long arms, but he didn’t know how to use them.

Know what you’ve got and know how to use it.

What does this mean for me as a blogger?

Waitress: So what can I get for you today?
Yours Truly: I’ll take Combo Number 6. But hold the sugar and MSG. Very easy on the sauce, please. Can I have some more greens? No, not broccoli. Not bell pepper. More collard, if you have. And no ice in the water. Is your water filtered? Never mind, then.

Yes! You thought you liked me. Duped you. Just be glad you don’t own the shops I frequent. Or homeschool in my house. But wait. You read this blog. You (actually…and really?) want to hang out with me. See, the flip side of my particular palate is the particular palate I blog with. This – my superhero ability to be a pain in the rear – is what I use in my favor as a blogger. I don’t want cafeteria food and I figure that though you may be easy enough, you wouldn’t mind something better either. I order it for you just so before you sit down with me. It’s my exacting nature behind the topics and every word I choose, and the goals I set, that have built this blog. Some of you have a profound gift of encouragement that shines brilliantly in the comments. Now that will get you far in the blogging. Are you a social butterfly? Or is it your insight, storytelling, wit, sarcasm, passion, empathy, knowledge, creativity, or personality that you have going for you? Whatever it is, you make me so happy when you finish your plate.

Ode To My Blog

How do I miss thee? Gasp! Let me count the ways.
I miss thee to the deep, the space, and skies
My soul can reach as I strain for my prize,
For the ends of thought and ideal phrasings.
I love thee with the ease of every day’s vernacular
In most quiet need to velvet utterance on devilish wings.
I love thee unreservedly, be thy taskmaster or a friend avuncular
Through the days thou art my handmaiden of laughter.
I love thee like my child; I feed thee tenderly
And when I can’t I begin to starve; breath labors.
Oh, if time were more giving, more patient
I might dance another dance and sing what hides latent.
I miss thee that loss fills my well of joy with gravel
A week feels like two, two fortnights like four.
Parched, I am run aground on a lone shore
‘Til time should stall and bid the ink on my paper travel.

May Elizabeth Barrett Browning forgive me in her grave.