Draft No. 13: Opening Gambit or Death Knell?

A pocket watch laying near pile of autumn leaves.

In January this blog will be entering its 11th year. Blog. I can’t even say the word without chagrin. Substack is laughing off-stage, with Twitter and Instagram spewing out witty one-liners and memes and giggling about that old broad over there getting ready to write a blog post. Snort.

This is a special place to me and I feel ashamed of its neglect. Over there in the corner, covered in cobwebs, are the 12 drafts I wrote and never posted. Up in the attic of this blog, there are dusty WordPress Freshly Pressed awards, stats that used to seem impressive, and a couple of dick comments that got deleted. That is the old world. I pull up my reader. Who’s still around? I see old friends with whom I’d exchange comments. We’ve all aged, our blogs looking worse for the wear, the graying Classic editor, the temperamental and annoying Block Editor who won’t shut up while you’re trying to write.

This is where I learned to write in public. I made friends as real and as important to me as in-person. It’s where I met friends who will likely be lifelong (it might be because I’m old and lifelong is not really that long). This is where I learned that a friend I’d been communicating with died from lung cancer. Where I manned holiday comment boards in a group effort to provide company to those who needed it. This is where I met the lovely people now in my writing workshop. This is where I wrote curmudgeonly posts about the holidays and my first (and only) tattoo. This is where I grieved the death of my grandfather, several pets, and tragic world events.

Ten years and all this blog gets from me is an occasional perusal, as I go to Twitter to get my adrenaline hit of rage and to send profane memes to politicians. This disloyalty has been rewarded with a tinny voice in the back of my head that says, each and every day, I should write a blog post. Off and on over the years, I’ve had to review my reasons for maintaining a blog. These days, mired in an MFA program, writing groups, and writing-heavy volunteer work means that the writing habit is there. The blog no longer serves that need. So what am I doing here?

Cartoon drawing of man with chaos in his head.

The bumptious hamster wheel of modern life means that my attentions are fleeting. I jump from app to app to app. Screens light my face more than the sun does. I task switch 460 times in a single hour. And complete sentences are…what was I talking about? I can analyze the underlying metaphors of a narrative, but don’t ask me how I’m feeling today. I will stutter. I will struggle to form a coherent thought. Perhaps that is what this space should be for me now – being forced to form coherent thoughts around the life that I seem to only be tangentially living.

The last few years have been hard. From my daughter’s medical crisis, the loss of my mother-in-law, both my cats, and of course, the things that are wearing all of us down – politics and the pandemic (and fuck the opportunists who have conflated the two and killed so many of us), I’m just soul-tired. The most exhausting process is recognizing the tiredness, standing back up, and saying, how can I make things better? Rinse and repeat ad nauseam. Perhaps the reason I’m soul-tired is that I haven’t been writing the muddle in my head out enough. Or at all, really.

Perhaps it is because I have never communicated so much with so many in such a variety of ways. Many of us are struggling. When I get the texts, e-mails, phone calls, and Zoom requests, it is my nature to want to be present. It feels the least thing to do for someone, a simple message of: you are not alone. But I’ve begun to recognize my limitations and started disconnecting a couple of days a week in the hopes of finding what, in my own brain and body, needs attention. And then I remember this blog. This dusty, stale little blog that has seen shinier, more social days.

Autumn Leaf

As I write this, it feels like an alien experience – putting what’s in my head into words. Not saying it out loud, not chopping it into a tiny Tweet, not saying oh shit after I send out an irretrievable email with typos. I will write it and then I will go outside on this windy, autumn day and feel the sun on my face. Then I will read it again, trying to fix inevitable typos and muddied thoughts. And then I will send it into the chorus of voices that is the internet.

It is, perhaps, a start to remembering my own writing voice again.

Who is out there still? How have you been? Are you still blogging?

The Necessity of Silence

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written here. I have to believe it is because I had nothing to say. It’s a novel concept these days – keeping one’s trap shut when one has nothing to say. We’re encouraged to engage, to talk our ruddy heads off, to comment on every news story, to chatter on about celebrity mishaps and political misdeeds. We get attention for jumping into the latest outrage. We link and like and re-whatever. The nonsensical cacaphony pummels us, creating mental calluses until one death, one wrongdoing, one injustice is the equivalent of a new gadget or somebody’s after-baby body or the on-the-rocks marriage of strangers.

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To allow ourselves to grow tender again is a daring thing these days. We might not be seen. We might not have presence. The last year of personal and family mishaps, the last few years of vitriolic public discourse, the constant stream of news about violence happening in real time, every minute of every day, have hardened me in unflattering ways. Inevitably there is no physical armor or fortress that can protect a person from the bruising of being a human in this world. We only get to select our weapon/defense of choice: love or hate.

There is a silence that matches our best possibilities when we have learned to listen to others. We can master the art of being quiet in order to be able to hear clearly what others are saying…We need to cut off the garbled static of our own preoccupations to give to people who want our quiet attention.

Eugene Kennedy, American Philosopher

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I’ve made mistakes over the last couple of years. I’ve dotted some comment forums with spicy, sharp words refuting ignorance or hatred. Words were, as they are for many people, my weapon of choice. There is approximately 2.5 seconds of satisfaction before the shame sets in. This is not the person I set out to be. The extremes have come to dominate our civil conversations – normalizing behaviors that one wouldn’t accept from a toddler. Not just the tantrum in the White House, but a lot of us are slowly giving up bits of ourselves to anger and propaganda.

The argument for speaking up is so that one is not complacent or complicit or condoning something despicable. Many of us want to be part of the solution in a world where only the loudest voices are heard. Some of us just like to hear the sound of our own voice. I’ve started to ask myself who is listening, does my opinion carry any weight or make any difference, and do I have anything of value to add? The answers follow: a handful of people, no, and usually not.

There are 7.7 billion people on this planet, with 3.5 billion able to access the internet. A lot of people are speaking up. And many of them are the people who should – erudite, witty, sharp observers. Some are compassionate and welcoming and have ideas to move forward. Some speak out of lived experiences. Others of us are just meme repeaters. Somebody has already posted our thought times a thousand and added a picture. You could argue in the power of boosting a hashtag – a lot of social movements have them as their rallying cry. Maybe I’ve become a little too precious – refusing to become an indistinguishable part of a mob. Or what we sometimes call humanity.

I’m reading Paul Kingsnorth’s Savage Gods and it’s hitting me right in the solar plexus.

We are building a world in which silence is a crime: a waste of something. An empty thing which must be filled. Ours is a world of metaphors and sentences, unpunctuated, flowing on faster and faster, building in rhythm and urgency until they crash, fatally, into the last page of the book.

Savage Gods, Paul Kingsnorth, 2019

For the last couple of days, I’ve been unscheduled. The family has been off to work and school. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt myself. Solitude and silence allow me to sink inward, to reconnect with the person I am, not one buffeted about by external voices and news and appointments and crises. I have devolved into a tender little meat sack, all vulnerability and 70s ballads. I’ve been calling it a need for decompression, which suggests a forthcoming outward expansion. Instead, my inner tension releases. I have tears. I do little ridiculous dances about the house. I meditate, imagining that I am physically putting aside one anxiety after another.

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Without those moments, those protected snippets of time, I forget who I am. I forget that it is better to remain silent than to lash out in frenzied anger. I forget that I can be circumspect and reasoned in the face of someone else’s frenzied anger. I forget that I don’t need to have an opinion on everything. I don’t have to weigh and judge every byte of information that comes my way. There are many people who are much better at responding in the moment. I am not that person and never have been, and I have to believe there is still room in this world for slow reaction times and thoughtfulness.

Sometimes I think my silence comes from paralysis. If you practice seeing any issue from multiple angles, you learn that no one is ever truly right. My passion has never been dogma. It has always been the pursuit of knowledge in hopes of finding wisdom. That’s a soft sell in a world that is full of know-it-alls. Truth is now treated as a perspective, not something in accordance with fact or reality. People seem to require very little of either to draw their own conclusions.

canstockphoto29460775Silence is not, in and of itself, an indicator of virtue or vice. It is what happens in that space that makes it valuable. Like sleep, it gives our brain time to integrate information, instead of speeding onto to the next shiny thing. It gives us space to remember who we are – and in a world that insists on talking increasingly louder and faster, who we are is all we really have to hold onto.

Cold Open

Hello, Internet. I am an average person who writes about average things. I write about head colds and depression and failed writing attempts. Sometimes I dig deep and write about parenting or the military or I really reach and write about how much I hate social media (yes, Alanis, that is irony). I hear Charlton Heston in my head yelling Internet is people!, but I’ve been disconnected of late, so rather removed from the humanity that apparently resides in my computer. I’m also old-ish, so I can only make obsolete references to old songs and actors that you will have to Ggoogle (thanks to Dreyer’s English, I’ve been sorted on the whether or not to capitalize neologisms).

canstockphoto14303156It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve written. Anything. I have a lot of excuses – I was sick, my daughter’s orchestral season has kept me on the run, I’ve had to make some lifestyle changes to counter encroaching health issues. They’re solid excuses, except that they’re not the reason I haven’t been writing. I simply didn’t want to. I got tired of the sound of my own voice. It turns out that my introversion extends to even myself. Shut up already, self.

I’ve spent a lot of time saying nothing and even more time reading, walking, and doing chores. I’m psyching myself up to get ready for a more dedicated strength training program, as well as pushing through novel edits. And as soon as the #@$% snow melts from our April blizzard, I’ll be getting back to work in my garden. So I return here, to warm up my writing skills and re-connect with the many lovely people who apparently live inside my computer. Nano-people.

41048099I’m in the middle of reading Matt Haig’s Notes on a Nervous Planet. It’s one of those books that tells you what you likely already know, but feels reassuring when someone else says it. After a long winter of anxiety, depression, and sadness, I have found my way out of its shroud. I disconnected from those places on the internet that fueled either depression or rage. I’m limiting my intake of news. I’m focusing on the things that feed me – reading, exercise, being outside, staying in the moment. Listening. Not talking. I still have work to do. Even now, as I write this, I feel a modicum of anxiety. It seems that periods of silence sometimes reset my discomfort in engaging publicly.

I’ve given this blog some thought – the why, when, how of it. It remains, after deleting Twitter and just using Facebook to manage a nonprofit page, my only public voice. Who do I want to be on the internet? How do I add or detract from this space? There is nothing in particular I will change here, except to clarify to myself what I want it to be – a slow, calm place with gentle conversation, some humor, and a chance to counter toxicity with thoughtfulness. It’s not faddish or viral or cutting edge. As much as being a replicated contagion seems to be desirable, I am too much of a tortoise. Slow, steady, unwilling to give much shrift to my knee-jerk reactions.

canstockphoto50415411It takes some will and personal stamina to downshift one’s life in a rapidly accelerating world. I resent being hurried. I resent being cajoled or berated by advertising. I’m tired of the perpetual dissatisfaction that saturates a capitalist society. I’m tired of self-criticism. Of criticism in general. I’m tired of being bludgeoned by breaking news and shitty Twitter journalism. I’m tired of reviews and stars and thumbs and smiley faces. It’s a system designed to feed insecurities and fears. It’s fantastic if you’re immune, but most of us, I believe, are not.

One must make a deliberate choice to go slow in this world. And it’s not even really that slow. I’m the driver who stays within five miles of the speed limit while I’m being tailgated by the impatient, the entitled, and the dangerous. I must resist the pressure, drive safely, stay as far away as possible from other drivers, and ignore the rude hand gestures. That seems like a pretty decent metaphor for my life at the moment.

Getting Warmer

This little writing session was all it took. I now have a few post drafts for the next week. It’s a reminder that always surprises me. When you’re stuck or silent or uninspired, all you have to do is start. It might be the shittiest start ever, but giving yourself permission to start where you are can be the beginning of something amazing. Not this post, of course. But something.

Digging Out

Unintentionally, I stopped writing. Like the earth under layers of snow, I felt weighted down by the auspices of winter and the world at large. The news of the day is unrelenting, painful, infuriating. To make the choice to ignore it, means choosing to exercise privilege – a momentary state that many of us are in – aware, but untouched as of yet. Indulging ourselves with entertainment and distraction, because we know not exactly what to do. We send money or protest out into the world and then turn inward, safe once again, comforted by the knowledge that we did something.

canstockphoto14933208I’ve been feeling a lot of discomfort about that and my forays into social media are coming to an end. There are always those who go on about its usefulness and of staying “in the know” and the value of connection. I suspect that they have great mental filters, that their skin is thick – that they don’t internalize things. They are able to take away more from it than what is taken. It’s funny how physically tough I can be, but will lay awake at night because some rando on the internet insulted me.

When I was a child, I was frequently told I was too sensitive. It took a long time out in the world to build an armor of sarcasm, a facial expression to scare off men, women, children, and pets. I focused on being physically adept and stronger, because that was another kind of toughness. I developed a dark sense of humor, learned to laugh harshly when I was frightened or despairing. But the tender part is necessary to who I am. It is not going away. And it feels battered.

canstockphoto28476729FOMO (fear of missing out) is an easy disease to catch. I love learning – reading about all kinds of things and people. The information age is a heady, addictive time – to have access to anything I’d like to learn. The learning is a shell game though. What one gains in quantity, one loses in quality. The faster and easier information is acquired, the less permanence it has. My brain is cycling shorter and shorter. In essence, I feel less capable of the nuanced thinking that produces meaningful discourse and art. I’m spending far too much time arguing in my head with bytes of pithiness.

I’ve deactivated Twitter, cancelled Amazon Prime, locked down Facebook (I have to maintain it for a volunteer organization I work for), and am returning to the simple life of a writer/blogger/reader. I miss my brain before Twitter and Facebook. I miss being able to sit with stillness. Some people are able to do it all, but I am not one of them. An introvert in the world is an introvert online. There is only so much time and energy. And I want to reclaim mine.

The Ballad of the Unhappy Tweeter

It sits like lead in the belly – the impotence of social media.

Write a thoughtful response. Delete with frustration.

Write an angry response. Delete with embarrassment.

Witness the stupid, the self-important, the self-righteous.

Performative -isms.

Bragging about their gods and guns and wokeness.

Flippant. Send brightly-colored hearts and smiley faces and special punctuation.

Passive-aggressive positivity.

Faux patriotism.

Pledge your fealty to the troops who suck sand for suited men.

Chuckling on the golf course about loopholes.

Copy, paste, copy, paste.

Meme, meme, meme.

Faux intellectualism.

Self-identifying conspiracy theorists, Christian, libertarian, bro, coward, crypto-fan, cultist, racist, misogynist

who want to be inside the bodies they deride or subjugate them to the state.

Fondling their threats of violence in the shape of guns.

1A is for thee, but not for those others.

2A as self-esteem.canstockphoto10130744

Copy, paste, copy, paste.

Meme, meme, meme.

To leave the platform is heresy.

You will be unfollowed.

You will be untethered, unpublished, unimportant.

As you were before the crowd entered your brain.

Deactivate

The room empties.

You plant your feet on terra firma.

Rendered invisible, but able to see once again.

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My Year in Writing

This is the time of year when everything comes under scrutiny. Too much chocolate. Check. Not enough exercise. Check. Too many episodes of The Office. Check. Writing? Another slow year, but some progress all the same. I look at the past writing year as the Year of Scaring Myself or perhaps the Year When It Finally Made Sense to Scare Myself.

As ever, I write this more for me than anyone else. But I put it on the blog, because somebody always has a good idea, some good news about their own writing, or they’re of the misery-loves-company ilk and we can just nod our heads knowingly before we get back to work.

Blogging & Social Media

In a few weeks, I’ll have been blogging for seven years. Normally, I’d do the will-I-or-canstockphoto14933208won’t-I-continue-blogging evaluation, but I’m skipping it this year. Each time an anniversary rolls around, I look at the blog’s stats, think about engagement, and all the other metrics that I’m supposed to care about. Then I willfully ignore it, because it’s highly unlikely I’ll change anything. It’s just an exercise in self-flagellation.

Blogging is an odd little art form. It’s like that middle-aged person who keeps showing up at college parties, head bobbing, trying to look cool and fit in, but everyone else gives side-eyes and smirks. Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, and WhatsApp stand around exchanging witty zingers and astronomical stats while the Blog laughs in the background like it actually gets the jokes.

Twitter and I will never be friends. In the last couple of months, I’ve developed an impressively long block list as a way of curating out people who don’t understand word definitions or whose profiles are either bragging, threatening, or so loaded with hashtags and emoticons as to be eyesores. Nor am I going to look up the pretentious Latin to find out if you’re a complete wanker in more than one language.

I am not well-suited to the medium, but it’s useful for keeping up on the dismantling of democratic norms. Last week I again reported the President of the United States for targeted harassment against news reporters. Happy times.

Facebook is such rubbish aesthetically that I don’t have the patience to read feeds for long. I use it because an organization that I volunteer for needed a page. And I can now answer in the affirmative when people ask if I’m on the damned thing. I keep getting friend requests from people I’ve never heard of and I wonder at the pathology of it all.

I haven’t yet bothered with LinkedIn or Instagram or tumblr (for the lack of capitalization and shitty spelling) and it’s unlikely I’ll ramble any further afield in social media unless I hit it big and can pay someone else to do it.

So I continue to write blog posts, mostly because I don’t fit in with the cool kids. I’m not capable of snappy one-liners and photo editing on the fly. Blogging is just the right speed for me and there are still a lot of people sharing my lane.

Shifting from Playacting to Action

If there were ever a case of How To Be a Writer By Doing Everything But Writing, I’d been that for years. I’ve done workshops, conferences, read how-to books, designed business cards, etc. I was doing more peripheral activities than actually writing. On the plus side, I am a fount of writing knowledge, have great editing skills, and recognize good writing when I see it. On the down side, I’m in ongoing recovery from the imposter syndrome.

canstockphoto35901016The last couple of years have been about putting meat on the bone. Writing more, playacting less. This has also meant getting a painful reality check. Recognizing the gap between my skill set and what kind of writer I envisioned myself being. It meant cutting the daydreaming and fantasies out and looking at what I was actually capable of – my bucket of cold water moment as a writer. Awareness is the first step apparently.

The shivering, stripped-of-delusions writer arrives at the crossroads. Give it all up, contemptuously shoving drafts away and picking up watercolors or stamp collecting. Awareness is giving way to courage or perhaps simply bullheadedness. I don’t know anything else I’d rather do. I don’t know if I’ll ever “make it” as a writer, but I am still breathing, so I will continue.

I am easily discouraged in one moment, but barrelling forward in the next. I’m in my fifties, I don’t have an MFA, I don’t have connections, I don’t have a platform that anyone cares about in particular. I haven’t been published. Every morning I get up and I still write. I wasn’t doing that ten years ago.

I submitted work this year, even though each time I hit the “Submit” button, I wanted to vomit. My work was rejected. It didn’t bother me (I really thought it should). So I have learned what I have control over as a writer and what I don’t. I read work out loud on a weekly basis in front of people, through heart-pounding anxiety. I wasn’t doing any of these things a year ago. It makes me look forward to wherever writing takes me next year.

canstockphoto293181In talking with other writers and doing some mentoring, I’ve discovered a passion beyond just spitting out my own words. I love working to help people improve their writing and I know a lot about how to do that. It’s also forced me to review grammar, sentence structure, and the rhythm of language (why one phrase or paragraph reads better than another). Editing has become a discovery process and it is pushing me to be more experimental with my own writing.

The Year Ahead

I don’t have concrete goals at the moment. Those are in development. I have nebulous intentions: be more brave, work harder at writing. These things go hand in hand. It takes a certain kind of bravery (or obliviousness) each day to wake up and do a thing you love, that may never be anything more than what it is.

How was your year? What do you look forward to in the upcoming year?

I Need a Decon Shower: A Week on Twitter

I set up the account, started poking around, did some following, did some unfollowing, and spent most of my time on Twitter using the Block function. I didn’t Tweet a single thing, because I don’t trust myself. There are a lot of reasons for this, but mostly because I’m having a long run of insomnia. My judgment is impaired and my defenses against bullshit are weakened. If I ended up dealing with some numbnut on Twitter, I would really screw my chances to be President. Hahahaha…cough, cough.

As a member of my own passive-aggressive anger management program, there is something so damned delightful about Blocking people. These are people who would likely never show up on my feed, who don’t follow me, who I’ve never interacted with. My sponsor tells me to take it one Tweet at a time. I’m pretty sure I’m getting a “You Could Be Worse” coin next week.

canstockphoto3368485There isn’t much to learn about human nature on Twitter, except that self-definition ofttimes has a high degree of self-delusion. I respect a person’s right to believe whatever they want, but if you want to be public about it, you may want to check your values alignment. I’ve never seen so many Christians who hate so many people. Or Constitutionalist libertarians who, by their own comments, have never actually read the document they ascribe to. Or patriots who slap a flag on everything and think their guns are more important than the rights of other citizens to, you know, be alive. It is clear that words have no real meaning on this venue.

I’m currently reading Rebecca Solnit’s Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays). I think a lot about language and how it is used these days – so often as a weapon and insult and much less to convey true meaning. Words that used to have real, concrete meanings, take on an amorphous cloud of denigration and implied values.

Once we call it by name, we can start having a real conversation about our priorities and values. Because the revolt against brutality begins with a revolt against the language that hides brutality.

Rebecca Solnit, Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays)

As a writer, I can spend hours thinking about word choices, seeking the words that best convey an emotion or character’s intent or, as in the case of blogging, my intent. I understand why many writers avoid social media. It dumbs down language. We write as we read, which is why I am constantly forcing myself to read up. Twitter is about reading down. Of making the complex seem simple. Of rendering points moot and words meaningless.

canstockphoto27625102Some would ascribe this to its limitations of characters, but the narrative distance of typing on a computer to strangers adds another facet, as well as the speed of response. Many people feel that they are not accountable for putting bullshit out into the world. For lies. For ignorance. For made-up meanings to words that already have well-established meanings. Thus far, my experience on Twitter has simply reinforced the idea that its usefulness is limited.

There are many things of which a wise man might wish to be ignorant.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

There were people who I followed who were very funny. Levity is good. We need some of it to balance out the doom and gloom. But inevitably, their Tweets had heavy political components, which led to me Blocking a whole slew of commenting knuckleheads – people I hope to never hear from again. By the end of the week, I carefully curated my Follow list down to literary journals and fellow writers, determining that my feed will only be about literature and writing and working as a writer.

canstockphoto11497160This isn’t to say that I didn’t spend the week thinking up quippy bon mots that I could Tweet. But I have a feeling I’ll be managing my social media communications like angry letters to an ex-boyfriend – holding onto them until the morning, by which time they don’t seem as well-reasoned or worth sending. And then I’ll send nothing. I have to work on that and learn not to be terrified that I’ll send something out with a typo. Because you can’t put “Writer” in your profile and then barf out mangled Tweets. Although a curiously large amount of people do that.

I haven’t even tackled the Facebook chaos yet. I’m still trying to understand who sees what and what I’m going to get stuck with seeing. I would like to believe that eventually this aesthetically ugly platform will die out and be replaced with something better. I will have finally gotten through all the Terms of Service by then. My brief forays in Facebook remind me of the days when I would get urban legend emails about needles in theater seats and Budweiser frogs. It all seems just a bit spammy and fictionalized.

canstockphoto10130733This week, I’m committing to sending out my first Tweet, in addition to my blog posts being pushed out. I’m sure it will only take 3 or 4 days to compose and a night to sleep on it. If you choose to follow me on Twitter, you have my apologies in advance. But at least I won’t clutter your feed.