“I never know when I sit down, just what I am going to write. I make no plan; it just comes, and I don’t know where it comes from.” ~ D. H. Lawrence

“Double Image,” August Strindberg (1892, oil on canvas) 

 

“The paper I write on or you write on, every word we write, every cross and twirl of the pen, and the curious way we write what we think, yet very faintly . . . In them realities for you and me—in them poems for you and me . . . In them themes, hints, provokers.”  ~ Walt Whitman
"Wonderland" (1894, oil on canvas)

Rarely do I know what I am going to write when I sit down at this keyboard. I may have an idea generated from a dream or something that I have read in the news, but most of the time it’s more a matter of touching the keys and letting the words come out. No great creative genius is involved. Rather, it is more a matter of need: I need to write, to release, to ponder, to construe, to evoke. I need to do this as naturally as I need to breathe. 

That is my reality, and truthfully, it has always been this way. I have been writing about things since I was very young, before I even knew how to string letters together to form words. I would put pencil to whatever scraps of paper I could find in the house, and I would write. Of course what I wrote made no sense to anyone but me, but I knew what I was saying. And I had such a need to share my thoughts that I would take these scraps of paper and slip them under the doors of my parents’ neighbors in the large apartment house in which we resided in London. 

Some of the people knew that these notes were from me, but others were confused by the nonsensical missives that appeared under their doors with no regular schedule. The doorman in our building knew what I was doing, so he ever so kindly explained to the confused tenants that it was the little girl in apartment 13 who had been writing to them. 

Then when I went to school and learned how to form words, I wrote more. I wrote poems, letters, stories. But my dream at that time was not to become a writer. I wanted to be a hairdresser . . . 

“O, how incomprehensible everything was, and actually sad, although it was also beautiful. One knew nothing. And sometimes it seemed that something never seen yet long desired was about to happen, that a veil would drop from it all; but then it passed, nothing happened, the riddle remained unsolved, the secret spell unbroken, and in the end one grew old and looked cunning . . . or wise . . . And still one knew nothing, perhaps, was still waiting and listening.” ~ Hermann Hesse, “Narcissus and Goldmund”
"Baby's First Cradle" (1901, oil on canvas)

In many ways, this blog is like those indecipherable scraps of paper: I know what I’m trying to say, but not everyone who reads my words can discern my meaning. That’s okay, though. The beauty of blogs is that readers can just close the window if they do not find the post interesting, or appealing, or if the subject matter is not something that coincides with their personal beliefs. 

I’m not trying to please anyone but myself. In the beginning of this blogging stuff, I was more self-censoring, not wanting to offend anyone who happened to be reading. I wrote in more general terms, putting less of myself into my posts. Over the months, though, that changed, as I had thought that it might. My persona began to creep into my posts more and more. My life, my family, all of it, became fodder. So much so that now my posts are a virtual doorway into my life. 

Is this a good thing? Perhaps not. Will I change it? Probably not. Do I regret this progression? A bit. 

“The swarm of words,
and little stories
are just to loosen you
from where you are stuck.” ~ Shitou Xiqian
"The Wave VII" (1901, oil on canvas)

When I first heard about blogs—personal online journals that are available to anyone and everyone—I must admit to being personally appalled. What kind of person puts his or her life online for the world to see? It just didn’t seem right to me, someone who had always hidden my journals from other people, seeing them as both highly personal and private. 

Then a few years later I decided to create a MySpace page. I played a bit with the internal blog aspect of the page, which made me realize that the whole social networking thing was really just a collective blog—people visiting each other’s sites, sharing opinions, leaving notes, posting pictures. Then I was given the assignment to create a web page for one of my publishing classes. The site could be about anything; there were no parameters. 

I decided to create a site on which people could create a community poem. I called it The Poem Makers. In concept, it was a pretty creative idea (or so I thought): I would write the first line of the poem, and then anyone who visited could add a line and/or comment on the poem in progress. As part of the site, I wanted to include a blog page on which participants could post ongoing commentary about the project, poetry, whatever. My search for a blog page led me to WordPress. 

Essentially the project was disastrous, mostly because I didn’t know enough HTML to create an interactive site, that and the fact that I knew relatively little about promoting a site.  I eventually abandoned the website, but I took that experience and decided to keep going with the blog. My first post was in February 2008, which means that I’ve been doing this for over two years. 

“Within all of us is a varying amount of space lint and star dust, the residue from our creation. Most are too busy to notice it, and it is stronger in some than others. It is strongest in those of us who fly and is responsible for an unconscious, subtle desire to slip into some wings and try for the elusive boundaries of our origin.” ~ K. O. Eckland, Footprints on Clouds
"Coastal Landscape" (1901, oil on canvas)

In that time I have gone from basic posts about nothing at all to posts that include images and music and cover a range of topics. I like how I have progressed. I know so much more now than I did when I began; in particular, I realize that bloggers tend to congregate in communities and that if you want other people to read and comment on your blog, then you need to read and comment on other people’s blogs—regularly. 

I have also noticed a change in my writing style: Whereas when I was writing for publication, I was much more sparse with my words, never using five words when three will do, always choosing the simpler word over the multisyllabic one. Now that I’m writing without an editor, I tend to be more verbose. I do edit myself, but anyone who writes knows the limitations of such a thing. I do go on and on, and it’s an indulgence that gives me pleasure. I also take more liberties with punctuation than before. Always a stickler for grammar, I am merciless with a red pen when it comes to editing or grading someone else’s work. Too bad I cannot admit to being as rigorous with my own. 

Oh well . . . 

“The process of writing has something infinite about it.  Even though it is interrupted each night, it is one single notation.” ~ Elias Canetti
"Aleja" (1903, oil on canvas)

I remember how excited I was when the number of hits that I had received went past 200. It was a time for great rejoicing. I am now well past 300,000 hits, but I still love to see who is visiting, what they are reading, how they got here. I don’t know that I’ll ever tire of paying attention to my statistics as they serve as my validation, for now. 

I suppose all of this boils down to a few simple facts: I have come to love the freedom of blogging. I sometimes resent feeling as if I have to post until I realize that no one is making me do so. I no longer feel as if blogs are an obscene violation of privacy spurred on by the blogger’s own need for exposure. I take pleasure in reading blogs that are written well, or are visually appealing, or are in line with my own sensitivities. 

For now, this whole thing is an open-ended experiment. Who knows where it will take me, but I’m going to enjoy the ride while I can. 

More later. Peace. 

All images are by Swedish novelist and playwright August Strindberg, who turned to painting during times of crisis in which he felt unable to write. 

Music from Bare Naked Ladies, “Call and Answer”
 
  
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Coming Home Again to Poets & Writers

I just finished writing a paper on Poets & Writers for my journals class, and it’s hard to believe that the magazine has been around for over 20 years now. If you have never picked up this magazine or visited the website (www.pw.org), then please don’t wait too long to do so. Poets & Writers is a nonprofit organization that was started in 1970 as a resource for writers, and it has never swayed from its original mission. Throughout the years P&W has given thousands of dollars to writers to conduct workshops or hold readings through their Readings/Workshops program. They also sponsor the Jackson Poetry Prize, and the Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award. Whether you are just starting out or you have published several books, you can appreciate what this organization and its publication has to offer.

I was introduced to the magazine when it was still in its infancy by none other than my best friend Mari. The format hasn’t changed all that much. It still features a profile on a literary figures as its lead story, and then other stories related to the craft of writing, whether they be interviews, how-tos, or a feature on trends in the industry. You’ll always find lots and lots of information on grants, writing retreats and colonies, MFA programs, calls for papers, manuscripts, submissions, etc., and the classified section is a veritable treasure-trove of information. Published bi-monthly, the subscription is very affordable, even for those on a limited budget, and if you cannot afford to subscribe, you can read the online version, which has its own content.

If it sounds as if I am a big fan, I am. I used to go through with my pink highlighter and carefully circle all of the retreats that I wanted to go to, and all of the deadlines that I wanted to try to get submissions into, and then I would just as carelessly procrastinate until all of the dates passed me by. It was a game that I played with myself, and I played it very well. Some of you may already be familiar with this game. I believe that it even has some sort of name, something like “fear of success/fear of failure.” Anyway, this went on for a number of years, for as long as I taught at ODU, and then when I stopped teaching, I stopped reading Poets & Writers Magazine. I mean, what was the point? I was never going to be published anyway.

Then the really ironic thing was that I began to write in earnest for the museum and to have my articles published in their journal, but it wasn’t my poetry. Life’s funny that way; isn’t it?

A few years ago, I started to read Poets & Writers Magazine again, and it was as if I had become reacquainted with an old friend, only this one had aged very well. Stylistically, the old black and white  newsletter format on white paper had progressed to a nice coated stock, perfect bound. But the content was still there. The prizes were still there, and a few new ones too. It’s nice that you can come home again to some things.

Anyway, as I said, if you’ve never sat down with a copy, go to Barnes & Noble, and buy one this weekend. Make yourself a nice cuppa tea, and peruse the pages. Don’t forget to have a highlighter nearby, just in case. You never know what you might find between the pages . . .

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?