House Debate

There is an ongoing debate in my house between my husband and me; actually, I think that we have reached the stage of a cold war. Let me back up and give you some background: When I went out on disability, one of the things that Corey and I both agreed on was that I would try very hard to get back into writing mode; hence, we invested in a very nice computer system for me, one with an obscenely large screen with an ultra-high definition so that I could work on my photography and design hobbies as well. (My daughter Alexis is sooo jealous of my screen because she claims that it is larger than her television to which I can only reply that I have worked long and hard for many years to have such a decadent item.) Anyway, I have been using this blog as an exercise to keep my brain active, and I am happy to say that it has been working.

What started out as a way for me to comment here and there on whatever popped into my head has become more and more focused, and I have found myself getting back to a more tightly-written style, reminiscent of how I wrote when I was writing articles for the museum. I pay more attention to structure and development, and I do more background reading now before I write some of my entries. I am thoroughly enjoying myself—the research, the reading, the perusing of other blogs—it is all engaging, and I am spending more time on the computer, and less time in bed reading my mysteries. I also find that I am going back to previous blogs and fine-tuning them, honing them, editing them, which I know is counter intuitive to the whole blogging exercise; i.e., It should be more of a freestyle, journal-entry format, less concerned with grammar and structure; however, I just cannot do that.

And so, this brings me to my main point: These entries are becoming more and more like little pieces of something bigger for me. Although it did not begin that way, I foresee it moving in that direction, and as a result, I find that I am investing more and more of my creative self in them. Hence, I want them to be read. So, would it not therefore make complete sense that I would want them to be read by the very person who has been pressing me, nay nagging me these past years to get back to my writing and stop claiming to be a writer and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT? One would think so . . .

So where is my reader, my great audience? He is playing Grand Theft Auto until the wee hours of the morning. Now let me pause and give him a little of the credit that he is due: The shipping industry has been as hard hit as everyone else, and he has yet to find a new company to take him on. This lack of gainful employment even after completing his latest training has been a big blow to our finances, but more importantly to his sense of self worth, hence, his addiction to video games and inability to sleep at night. But I have assured him that perusing my blogs might help him with his inability to sleep (half-heartedly, of course).

In fairness, my increased prolificacy and his increased gaming addiction may both spring from the same source: our household was affected by the economic downturn well before the NYSE, and the mortgage company is none too happy with us. We are in the mode of what is known as “creative bookkeeping” (in use by probably more than a few households in the country right now). That being said, I have tried to rein in my tendencies towards being a shrew when feeling that my artistic side is being underappreciated; however, I cannot help but feel that there is a black squishy leather bag out there calling my name and that I am much deserving of it. But yes, I know, it would be the whole nose to spite my face thing, blah, blah, blah, and it really wouldn’t solve the problem of going unread and unappreciated. Alas, alack . . .

And so, I will just have to muddle on with my daily doses of “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” (truly great great Special Comment on October 13 http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/27188346/) and “The Rachel Maddow Show” to keep me sane and to keep me inspired, and once Corey gets a job, I’ll buy new ink cartridges and print out all of the blogs he hasn’t read, put them in a binder, and pack them in his bag so that he can read them when he goes to sea. See, even I, the worst person in the household, can come up with something approaching compromise (sometimes).

And on that note, back to politics after the real great(?) debate tonight. More later . . .

How honest can I be

I must confess that I really don’t like yesterday’s entry very much. I was seriously contemplating deleting it. In fact, while we were out and about yesterday, I told my husband (let me pause here, instead of this irritating ongoing labeling of “my husband,” which I find sexist, I would much prefer to use his name, and since I plan to write many more blogs in which I will probably reference him, why don’t we dispense with his namelessness and facelessness, but until I ask him what he prefers, I will use the noun in at least one more blog since I should ask the man if he likes being anonymous . . .), back to the subject, I told my husband that I was going to delete the entry since I thought that it really didn’t “do very much.”

I waited until this morning, and then I realized that I couldn’t delete it. After all, this is a site about writing, or at least, that is what I purported it to be. Are we 100 percent all of the time when we write? I know that I’m not. Hardly. Yesterday’s entry was cannon fodder. My best friend Mari will appreciate that term. I had nothing much to say but felt compelled to say something, so I wrote about the first thing that came to mind. It was very much like the kind of writing exercise I used to use in my composition classes at the beginning of class as a writing prompt. This was the assignment: Students had to write, pen to paper, for ten minutes without stopping, which is very hard to do if you have nothing to say. If you had nothing to say, you had to write, “I have nothing to say” over and over again until you thought of something to say, which usually led to the student saying something about how stupid the assignment was, which usually led them to some other train of thought, which usually led them to something that they could write about for the remainder of the time. By the middle of the term, there were far fewer “I have nothing to say” comments and far more entries about roommates or life or whatever vexes a freshman. I really didn’t care what they were writing about; I only cared that they were writing. That was the point. I didn’t care about punctuation, structure, spelling, anything that remotely resembled rules, and they knew that, so they felt free to write. Once I had them writing, we began to step back into structure, punctuation, and all of the other things that resembled rules. No one had ever come at them completely backwards before and told them that they could play in the sandbox without rules, that they could throw sand around and not bother to build anything with it, and in so doing, I allowed them to build the kind of castles they had never considered.

I’m not claiming to be any kind of miracle worker. They didn’t turn into a class full of F. Scott Fitzgeralds or Virginia Woolf’s. But occasionally, I’d come across a glimpse of wit or promise that made it all worthwhile, or I’d make a friend who would go on to take my upper level classes or stop by and keep me abreast on his or her progress until graduation. I’d even get cards, letters, wedding announcements post graduation. I never really hated teaching composition the way that some people did for just that reason–it was an opportunity not an onus.

So back to yesterday’s entry: it was more of an exercise than an experience. I didn’t feel very attached to it, so I suppose that’s why I thought I should exorcise it from this site. After all, shouln’t my entries be witty or thoughtful or insightful or at least passionate about something? Shouldn’t I be contributing something about how I feel about writing poetry or prose? Well, not necessarily, I realized. Maybe, I can just be writing to be writing because if I am to be truly honest, the reason I developed the site in the first place,  was to make myself get back to writing on a more regular basis because anyone who writes knows that to be a writer, you have to write regularly, and to be published, you have to write. No one just knocks on your door and says, ‘hey, come and write for us.’ Being back in graduate school has made me write more, but not regularly, as in daily. With this blog, I am trying to write daily, trying to make my mind think about writing daily, trying to make my creative self engage in the process at least once daily so that perhaps a wisp of a poem, a fragment of thought might lead somewhere, and I can begin to compose again. Who knows if it will be in that fiercely manic way in which I was writing during my last creative phase, but at this point, I will settle for steady. So, if I write a post that is not what I consider to be terribly engaging and I delete it, am I censoring myself or editing myself for the good of the blog or because I am vain? Do you edit your journal? Is a blog a journal? I suppose I need to determine the answers to these questions before I delete entries.

Any thoughts on this from other blog writers?

The Insidiousness of Guilt

I have already written about my fascination with Catholicism, and one of the aspects of the religion that I have always found terribly unfair to those of us who are non-Catholics is the whole rite of confession and absolution. Now, I don’t claim to know all of the details about this pipeline to god, but from what I can discern, you tell a priest about everything you have done wrong during the past week, ten days, month, year, whatever period of time you are covering; your receive your penance, and then whoosh, you are absolved of your sins, clean slate. Now this seems like a pretty infallible system to me.

I remember reading about the whole system of pardons back in the middle ages in which people could buy their way into heaven, supposedly, until the pardoners were revealed to be less than holy men themselves, which meant that the money spent hadn’t actually bought anyone a seat on the other side of the pearly gates after all, and no one was  guaranteed anything any more than the rest of the peons. Of course, this was just one flim flam in one particular religion, and we know that the world is full of lots of different religions, and I’m not about to go into all of the different methods for gaining access into heaven and who is right and who is wrong, or we’d be here all day, and quite frankly, I find the whole debate too taxing.

Let’s get back to absolution and getting rid of your sins in one fell swoop. What no one bothers to mention is whether or not you get rid of the guilt as well. You see, this is where the Jewish side of me takes over–the whole idea of guilt. Don’t be offended. I am no more Jewish than I am Catholic, but I have an ample sense of guilt that I believe must mean that I was Jewish in one of my previous lives just as my love of the Catholic rituals must mean that I was Catholic in another life, and my deep respect of the Buddha and pantheism probably means that I was a grasshopper in another life . . . you get the picture. Back to guilt. I just don’t think that having someone absolve you of your sins can make the guilt go away. I carry guilt around like a talisman in a velvet bag next to my heart. It is omnipresent.

Some of my best poems have sprung from guilt. I still feel guilty about the Slinky that I stole when I was ten years old (but that’s another story). More importantly, I feel tremendous guilt over the ways in which I am certain that I disappointed my father who died of pancreatic cancer in 2001. I feel guilty that my first marriage ended in divorce simply because I never envisioned divorcing my best friend even though we had grown apart. I feel guilty that I have never gotten my PhD in English because it has always been a lifetime goal of mine. But the real truth of the matter is that I feel guilty right now because I am skirting the whole issue of what guilt really means to me because I’m not sure that I can face it.

You see, I will always carry around this pocket of guilt in my heart no matter how long I live, no matter how much I write about it, because there are some things that simply do not go away. My youngest daughter died as a result of complications from a brain tumor. It was many years ago. But as her mother, I should have been able to save her. That is just the way that it is. That is ingrained in your DNA and programmed into every fiber of your being, no matter what the doctors tell you or logic dictates. When she suckled at my breast, I should have been able to transfer that inviolate shield that protects your young from harm, but it did not work.

And so, for years, I have carried guilt with me like an extra appendage, and I probably always will. And any guilt that anyone else might try to impose upon me for whatever reason will never come close to the guilt that is with me constantly–whether it is my mother, who likes to point out the added poundage around my middle as if my sight is failing and I hadn’t noticed that my body is not what it was when I was 20, or it is someone else close to me who, in a vexing mood may feel a need to state an obvious shortcoming so as to try to fight my ingrained passive/aggressive defense strategies. And now that I am experiencing my own physical limitations, it only makes my self-imposed guilt more pronounced, not less, which, I know, is not logical. I have less tolerance for myself, especially when reliving the past.

Her name was Caitlin, and her short life and excruciating death propelled me to write lines upon lines of verse, most of it bad, but necessary to my healing process. But the ensuing guilt has led me to write and write and write all kinds of things: some of it sarcastic, some of it sad, but all of it cathartic in some way. So while guilt is insidious and it can take over your life, I wouldn’t hand it over in a confessional box because it has made me who I am: melancholy, curmudgeonly, creative, spontaneous, cautious, aggravating, and bitchy. I have never pretended to be anything other than what I am, and I wouldn’t pay a pardoner a penny to be rid of that which makes me who and what I am.