Wednesday, July 09, 2008


In Which I Fulfill Some Obligations...

I'm having a strange week. Her Lovely Self and the kids are off to the in-laws, leaving the two neutered males at home. No sooner were they out the door than Blaze went into a seriously depressive state. He began laying on the kitchen floor, his nose resting on the foot of the high chair, as if wishing for a baby to appear and drop food on him. Every day when I come home, he's at the front door. He comes running to greet me, barking his head off, but the moment he sees I'm alone, he gives me a look I should sell to Disney: all mingled cuteness and dashed hopes and forlorn despair. Then he goes off and vomits large tracts of bile on my rug. The vet prescribed an antidepressant.

Now me, I positively rejoiced at the idea of having the house to myself. As I've bitched before, I miss my alone time and was glad to have some. Do you know how long it's been? Two years and...wait a minute (consults blog), THREE years, almost to the very week.

Hmm, but even then I see from that post that my tolerance for alone time was on the wane. And so it proved this time. My family has been gone over a week now and I'm just about ready to start laying on the floor myself, moping and full of bile.

But I can't! I have work to do. First, I gave myself a project: A while back, Thomas and I came up with a story that he liked a lot, enough that he asked me to write it down, and so I said I would. And then I didn't. But now I am. I've set myself a goal of 1,000-1,500 words a day. I'll clear 15,000 words on the manuscript tonight.

I hesitate to tell you any of this because I've been very superstitious about this story and worried that talking about it would jinx it, but 15,000 words is far enough along that I can at least reveal its existence.

More than that, I didn't want to say anything because there is no way in hell I'm going to post any of it here.

And no, this is not some cheap tease to get you all to beg me to post a chapter. I'm only telling you that I'm writing at all so you'll understand why I haven't been posting. This thing is a long way from being read by anyone except me (and even I am not going back and reading what I just wrote). My goal right now is to just get the throughline of the story down, the basic this-is-what-happened of it. Which means this thing does not scan, not in the least. It's barely a step above notes. I've been trying to buoy myself up all week by reminding myself of the great piece of writing advice from Anne Lamott: Give yourself permission to write a shitty first draft. But then I look at it, and I think Surely she didn't mean THIS shitty? So I try not to look at it at all. I just open the document up everyday and deposit my 1,500 words.

When I'm not doing that, I have a list of things I'm long overdue in finishing. Most of these are household tasks, but one of them is a blogging obligation. Not a chore, let me hasten to add. This is something I feel obliged to do, but also only too happy to do, as I will explain momentito.

Some while back my fellow blogger, friend, writer, and all around wicked good human being, Suldog, bestowed upon me a Thinking Blogger Award, which is both an award and one of them thar pass-along meme things that's popular with all the kids today.

It's actually mighty cool (you'll find it in the sidebar below), and originated here. The original 5 Thinking Bloggers were given the award because the nominator felt their work was a cut above the run-of-the-mill journaling of a typical blog (and of course, "run-of-the-mill" does not apply to anyone reading). Their work, in short, made ya think. Those first 5 were supposed to pass on the award to another 5, and so on and so on, until, presumably, there was no one interesting left to tag in the blogosphere.

Jim tagged me, said some embarrassing-yet-secretly-pleasing things about me, and moved on, secure in the knowledge that I would hold up my end and pass this award along. And I totally let him down.

Granted, right after Jim gave me the award, my blog-reading went way down. It was for some pretty pedestrian reasons--baby born, parents killed, you know, the usual--but a year and change later, I'm STILL not caught up on all the blog-reading I used to do, which is embarrassing to me--especially when online friends write and refer to things going on in their blog and I have no idea what they're talking about--and unfair to them. And if you're not one of the 5 listed here, I'm probably going to seem even more unfair, but please don't feel bad. If it's any consolation, the blogs I'm listing here are ones I don't read every single day (whereas I might check others--possibly even yours--two or three times in a morning), which is, I think, wholly appropriate. I don't know about you, but I can't read blogs that make me think on a regular, daily basis (thinking is hard!).

So with that said, here are my picks. If you are one of my 5 and you're actually reading this, be sure to go here to get yourself a label, assuming you crave such things; you deserve it. You should also do your best to nominate another 5. And try not to wait more than a year to do it, hmm?

So, to the list. Hopefully, you'll find it full of fun and interest and surprises for all. Or not. What am I, the barometer of cool?

Beth Cherry is Not Dead Yet: So I lied: I DO read Beth Cherry everyday. She holds a special place on my blog and, I must say, in my heart. I discovered her on Day 2 of Seeing What This Blog Thing Is All About, when she was mentioned on Dooce, so I clicked on over to her blog, and was immediately enthralled by her short, evocative posts. In just a couple of paragraphs she could convey beautiful thoughts, startling ideas, and slices of life that were of unfailing depth and sweetness. I couldn't help but read, and be smitten. She and the Brownie have become special online pals--my daughter refers to her as "My Cherry Godmother," and it is no easy thing to be held in my daughter's esteem, let me tell you.

Beth's life, and therefore her blog, has undergone many changes over the years. When I started reading, she was working for a bank in North Carolina. Then she moved to New York and went to design school. Then she stopped blogging and I thought my heart would break. But then she came back, with a new blog, one that features only one post at a time, no archives, each new post wiping out the last, which has the effect of making her work that much more special and rare (and which is also why I read her everyday. I couldn't bear to miss one of her posts). Right now, she's in a new job that apparently takes her everywhere: she was in India some months ago and now she's moved to Germany. And with each sentence she writes, she manages to take me along with her. If I were the editor of an anthology of best blog writing, she'd be in there. And probably more than once.

Jon's Jail Journal: In the late 1990s Shaun Attwood was a stockbroker by day and a prince of Phoenix's rave scene by night (a rather breathless, perhaps overexaggerated account of his exploits is recounted here). That's because he dealt massive amounts of drugs via a massive criminal syndicate, or so said the law, which finally caught up with Shaun and charged him and his associates with more than 150 felony violations. Shaun went to jail, which pretty much put an end to his hedonistic lifestyle.

And it's there that his story gets interesting.

While awaiting sentencing (he would ultimately sign a plea bargain that would get him a sentence of just under 10 years in jail), Shaun spent two years in the infamous Maricopa County Jail, a cockroach-ridden sweatbox run by local Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a man as notorious as his jail. Shaun, under the pseudonym "Jon," started writing about the inhumane conditions in the jail and smuggled the passages out to his parents, who published them on this blog.

I followed Jon's travails over the years, as he left Maricopa, went to another prison, and began serving his time in earnest. His description of prison life is pretty stark and eye-opening, although not exactly groundbreaking as these things go. What is interesting is watching Jon/Shaun's evolution as both a writer and a human being who comes to terms with what he's done. Prison life is the stone on which he sharpens himself, and we get to read about it as it happens (well, with a lag of a couple of weeks, the time it takes for him to smuggle out new posts). In time he takes up yoga, becomes a vegetarian, studies philosophy and solidifies his writing skills by interviewing other inmates and recounting his daily life in a way that becomes extraordinary. Shaun is out now--out of jail and out of the country--and struggles to make his way in his new life back in England. But that doesn't make his experience--or his archives--any less interesting to peruse. But don't eat while reading. There's some pretty graphic, gross stuff in here.

Hoarded Ordinaries: Well, here's one of the dangers of not reading a blog everyday. When I checked on Lorianne DiSabato's blog once after a time away from her site, it was gone. Just a blank space, like someone had tipped my computer and all the words slid off the screen. I eventually found her again, and I'm glad I did, because her posts, especially her words and images celebrating nature, are precious to me. The fact that she spends a lot of time in New Hampshire, my home state, is just icing.

Lorianne--or perhaps I should call her Dr. DiSabato--also teaches English and writing, which makes her insights and ideas especially compelling to me, who is thinking that in all likelihood teaching will be the Next Thing. Somehow, though, I don't think I could ever be as good as her. I mean, as she (for some reason, being around English profs--even virtually--makes me want to self-correct my grammar, when I otherwise wouldn't a shit), but that doesn't stop me from being inspired by her. In all kinds of ways.

I catch myself wanting to say that Forehead Meets Keyboard is new to the 'sphere, but the truth is, I'm new to it. Its writer, the lovely Suzanne, has been posting, so say her archives, since 2006. And yet in all that time, she seems to have attracted very little in the way of comments or attention. And for all I know, that could be by design. Maybe she's a shy person hoping to quietly speak her truths and be lost in the crowd. If so, I guess I'm kind of blowing that desire out of the water. But it seems a shame to me that such a warm and funny (and occasionally profane and gross) writer should go unnoticed. So, I noticed. You should too.

Last but not least, I feel compelled to include The Caustic Bunny as perhaps the ultimate blogger who makes me think, although I'm conflicted about that for a couple of reasons. The first reason is, of course, that his blogroll link to me doesn't work and wouldn't you think he'd have fixed that by now?

The second reason is, he's the only person on this list--and almost the only person on my entire blogroll--who I know in real life, and that feels like it's a little bit against the rules, like I'm showing favoritism to a friend. Except--and here's the point--it's because I knew the Bunny in real life that his blog made me think. Because if you were to meet the Bunny in real life, your first impression would be that he was the most humorless sourpuss you'd ever met.

This is not just me saying this: I checked around with others and this is a pretty consistent opinion. In fact, I know someone who almost didn't recommend him for a job because she thought he was utterly devoid of a sense of humor. But spend any time with the Bunny and eventually--not on your second go-round or even your third, but eventually--it might begin to dawn on you that, in fact, you're in the presence of one of the funniest people you've ever met.

Of course, on his blog, it's mostly the funny that stands out, so you just have to take my word on the sourpuss part, I guess, but I heartily recommend the blog, not just because it is great, and hilarious (ropes-of-snot-depending-from-your-nose-and-into-your-helplessly-open-laughing-mouth hilarious), and deserving of a wider audience, but also because, in the spirit of this award, it reminds me of the many and varied ways which people can surprise you.

Can, in short, make you think.

And with that, I must leave you. I have some work to finish, then I have a dog to walk, and then I owe myself another 1,500 words. And if I'm gone for a few more days working on this shittiest of first drafts, I assuage my guilt by knowing that now you have something else to read.

Go. Think. Enjoy.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Bunny's gonna get all big-headed; I gave him one of these awards a while back.

Absolutely deserved.
Ha, I'm not that shy - just uneducated in the ways of blogging so that people come and read it.

Thank for you both for the mention and the introduction to some excellent writers. I read Hoarded Ordinaries but the others are new to me.

And, it's awesome that you are writing the bones of a story Thomas told you to write. What a cool thing to do with your dad.
"The two neutered males" crack me up :D
What a coincidence. Yours and Jon's Jail Journal are the only two blogs I read on a weekly basis. I'll have to check out some of the others!
All excellent choices I'm sure and better late then never :)

I love to read but as of late, not much time for that. I'm doing well just to visit the few special folks I have on my blog roll, you included. I feel guilty about it, but I gotta make hay while the sun shines (: iffen you know what I mean :).
My favorite blogger has listed his favorite blogs - this will be a treat.
"... my fellow blogger, friend, writer, and all around wicked good human being, Suldog ..."

I take back the award. Any blog that would praise me isn't worthy.

Just joshifying you! Thanks, MM. That made my day.
ditto to what Kimberlydi said - I'm adding all those bloggers...

I'm looking forward to checking these others out. I read Hoarded Ordinaries regularly, but wasn't familiar with the others. A great post! Good luck with the projects.
One danger in not reading your entire blogroll regularly is that a blog might move when you weren't looking. Another danger in not reading your entire blogroll regularly is that a blog might say something nice about you (like bestow a Thinking Blogger award upon you) and you'd be the last to know. :-) So thanks for the mention, etc. I'm just glad you're back to blogging semi-regularly again, other off-line writing projects notwithstanding.

In other news...I do think Anne Lamott really did mean THAT shitty. As a writing prof who sees lots of shitty first drafts, I'm going to guess your pile o' shit isn't any worse than some of the stinkers I've encountered (and only some of those have been by my students: the rest are my own!) One writing teacher (I can't remember who) calls these "zero drafts": pre-drafts that you'd have to revise before dignifying them with the name "first" or "rough draft." Myself, I call them Really Rotten rough drafts...and yes, we all write them!
Geez that came out of the blue but is much appreciated. I've slathered Crisco on the door jambs of Paramour so I can get my head through.

Of course the bad news is I now have to rise to your occasion.

In some ways, channeling my inner sourpuss is easier.

Be well MM, keep blogging. Since I'm about to inherit my own family, I'm sort of looking at back copies of Masthead in a "how to" spirit.

I missed this one...maybe because I was moving. Anyway, thank you and backatcha. :)
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