Old Moon

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why Blog?

Ans. 1: Someone who knows something about marketing and writing told me it was a necessity if I ever expected to sell any books.

Ans. 2: Once I began, I discovered it was more or less equivalent to "journaling," and I know that's a practice reputed to be necessary for a serious writer.

Ans. 3: After someone read one of my posts and saw fit to reply to it, it was like winning a small prize. I got a taste for it and craved more feedback.

Ans. 4: Now that USA Today has printed an article about the possibility of an editor making contact because of reading a blog -- how can I stop?

Given to circular reasoning as I seem to be, I'm about back to the first answer. The problem, however, arises when the blogger has a target audience not only in mind, but probably the only possible one. I'm not a writer who can take advantage of trends or fashions. I have long-established prejudices for and against various kinds of reading, and they color my view of what I want to write and what I'm able to write. Most of my most likely audience would never look at a blog. (This has more to do with non-familiarity with computers than snobbery, I hope.)

No matter how much or how little ego one might possess, the act of writing in any serious way (as opposed to the social network "tweets", et al.) is meant to result in acquiring repeat readers. And, in the immortal words of the Bard, "there's the rub."

How does one get those? Without doubt, wittiness is an advantage; humor is almost essential, even if sometimes it's either too subtle or just a flop. You need a good animal story or cute pets or adorable grandchildren to photograph, and then you're ahead of the game. But here's the thing: most of the time I'm not funny (and if I am, I have to hope it's obviously on purpose); I have a hundred animal stories, but most of them are of interest only to people who are familiar either with the critters themselves or with others of the same kind. My grandchildren are too big to be photogenic as children since they're mostly adults. W. C. Fields said it all about children and animals. If you can't top them, don't go there. You won't be noticed among the fur and feathers anyway.

Have I garnered any notice as a writer from these posts? Very little. Fortunately, I'm enjoying the few readers who bother to let me know they've seen them, and they've become friends. Editors, agents, publishers? Forget it.

But that's the trouble. I can't forget it. If there's no purpose other than to massage my own ego, this is an enormous waste of time. Still, it has done one valuable thing for me: I've discovered that I may have written my last novel. Fiction is just too much work! Diana Athill said something like that in her latest book. Having been reared, as she was, with the notion that one shouldn't be too impressed with oneself, I hesitate to do this blogging bit because it's so self-involved. Just because it interests me while I'm doing it isn't enough excuse to suppose others won't be bored stiff. Yet, now that I've found out how much easier it is to write what we were taught in school to call "personal essays," I've discovered how much fun it can be. [I just wish I could find an agent for the third novel, though!] I wonder if there isn't a book of essays in the offing -- if anyone reads essays any more...

So, if you've read this, watch out. There's apt to be more where this came from.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Synchrony and Argument

Did you ever notice that if you've been involved in a major event, suddenly the newspaper stories, the books recommended to you, the TV shows you watch by chance seem to be related to that recent experience?

I've agreed to review a book by Diana Athill that is a NY Times best seller, and when it arrived, though I was prepared for its subject from its title: Somewhere Towards the End, I didn't think it would be like reading something that would make it almost impossible to keep silent in a room empty of another person. I want to tell the author that I understand exactly what she means some of the time, and the next minute I can't believe she means what I've just read.

I also just finished Christopher Buckley's memoir in last Sunday's New York Times with the same series of reactions. Both memoirs deal with death; both are written by avowed atheists. In both cases, I had to bite my tongue to keep from speaking out loud. You can't just yell, "You must be kidding!" at the cat or the dog -- can you?

It made me think that every writer, no matter the generation or gender, must always have a unique view of his or her experiences, and that's what makes the writing engaging. Maybe that's what is meant by "voice."

That thought leads to my impatience and discouragement when looking at "author's guidelines" for agents and publishers of periodicals and books. Over and over we see the requirement for "fresh" and "new." Many specify that what they want is a new "voice." Nearly all human experience is, after all, old-- it's all been done and endured before. That also makes me rethink the traditional praise for fiction with a "universal" theme. I can't help wondering whether there is such a thing at the personal level, which is the only level for me that's worth the reading time for fiction and poetry. When it comes to biography and the personal essay, it becomes essential that the reader see through that particular writer's eyes, even if the story is about buying a pair of shoes that don't fit. You may nod in agreement, you may laugh out loud, or stifle sobs. You may (if you're lucky) feel as if you've met a friend.

Does anyone else find these disturbing dichotomies upsetting your writing life? Is the implication that one must aspire to be a writer either of fiction (and poetry) or of nonfiction? Most of us wouldn't try for the epic or the mythological, I imagine.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Where Angels Fear to Tread?

Not for the first time, I'm wondering about the proper place of the critic in the scheme of things. This is after an afternoon spent listening to poets reading their poetry.

I used to teach English. I used to think it was an interesting challenge to try to get high school students to consider poetry (as opposed to prose) with the notion that if I could strike the right note, chords might develop so those young people could hear the music and end up even liking what passes for poetry in the common mind. In those days, I thought I could even suggest useful definitions. (I wasn't so foolish as to presume there was only one.)

No one who bothers to read about writing or even about reading won't have missed the bubble of almost universal interest in poetry and the writing thereof. That bubble seems sometimes to be about to act like a hot air balloon and carry us all off under a rainbow envelope that threatens the existence of good old earth-bound prose.

After the reading was over, I made comments to the friend who accompanied me about what we'd heard. We both enjoyed the program more than we expected to, but my friend was reluctant to make comparisons or to evaluate the works. As anyone who knows me will tell you, that isn't true for me. As I made disparaging remarks about one of the putative poets, it occurred to me that I had one heck of a nerve. Who appointed me judge? Sure, I'm entitled to my opinion, but is it fair to air it without authority? Who is authoritative when it comes to saying whether art of any kind is good or bad, other than peers of the artist? At least they know what skills are required, and if they don't know anything else, they recognize the comparative ability of someone who is doing what they know how to do too.

Does criticism as it usually is practiced do any good for anybody other than the critic who may be fortunate enough to be paid for his or her opinion? If you're a writer reading this, you know how difficult it is to find a useful critique -- and there's a difference. For poetry, the search will be even more difficult than for prose.

I'm not a poet. I have written poetry (that I feel comfortable to name as such), but I have no idea whether it's any good. I hope, like all writers, that it wouldn't shame me if anyone were to read it. With so many would-be poets out there, and presumably so many more who are poets, I can't decide whether now is a good time for trying to produce it, or so dangerous only a fool (or an angel) would try.

Two Artists
Inspiration gusting from infinity ignites him into blue flame:
Dionysus and archangels cry in the echoing vaults of his mind,
And he speaks with tongues and sails before those thrilling winds
Fair to fame and the Furies.

He searches blazing beaches for the shards of crystal thoughts,
And drops four chips for each one saved.
Summer’s waning as the stiff mosaic
Forms in curveless patchwork,
and early cold congeals the image—
Angular and gap-toothed, as the mortar freezes.

As I said: fools rush in....

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Are Mindless Tasks a Help?

There are some times in your life when you can't keep track--of time, of tasks, of conversations even. There's a group of landscape maintenance workers buzzing and roaring around the house today. Each of them plods or rides along, heads down, eyes ahead like donkeys intent on getting one foot in front of the other. I wonder if their minds are as blank as their faces. Is there some unacknowledged collateral benefit in mindless activity? I'm reasonably sure the answer to that would be a qualified yes. However, surely it must depend on the mind that's unoccupied during the performance of these repetitive, uninspired and uninspiring jobs. The world is so full of them and the people who perform them, it astounds me to think about it.

Right now, I believe that in some circumstances, this half-unconscious trudging from one end of a day to the other might be a blessing. What I can't believe is that a lifetime spent like that can be anything but a curse.

Do you have an Oriental rug? A handmade basket? Even an Aran Island sweater? I knit (I used to knit a lot), but I can't do anything interesting without extreme concentration, and even then, I find mistakes that have to be corrected. How long does it take to get so skilled that you can stop paying attention? If you reach that stage, can the work become a kind of meditation? Try to imagine the hours and days, even years invested in producing beautiful crafts. Is the guy behind the walking mower making up poetry or a protest essay in the din of his machine?

That's the rub for me. I'm trying to make this little piece of disconnected verbiage fill that need for distance. Somehow, writing doesn't seem to fill that bill. A long time ago, there was a man who invented what he called "automatic writing." The name is self-explanatory. It was supposed to be helpful for the mentally ill. That is not what I want to do, not just out of the fear of embarrassment, but because it would be too self-serving and of no interest to a reader.

Maybe when enough time has passed after the loss of the person who was half me, not just mine, I'll find out how to use this craft of putting words on paper (or into the ether). If some day I think I can, maybe that's how I'll know I'm returning. Maybe what I should do is go and prune the pyracantha. It should take a long time.

Saturday, April 4, 2009


Surprises come along so often, some better than others. As I try to adjust to a single life after over 57 years with an extraordinary friend, companion, and lover, a pleasant surprise was to be nominated for the "Fabulous Blog Award" by Brenda Kaye Ledford.

Thank you, Brenda, for letting me know someone is reading, and for responding to what you read.

As I try to follow the instructions you posted, I see I'm expected to choose five nominees of my own, so here goes:

1. http://www.seniorwomen.com/
2. http://netwestwritersblogspot.com/
3. http://www.southernauthors.blogspot.com/
4. http://coolplums.wordpress.com/
5. http://ncpoetlaureate.blogspot.com/

You'll see by checking them out how varied the reasons are that these top my list. Senior Women have given me a place from which to sound off as a reviewer and a writer, and have surrounded me with like minds to a degree I would never have believed possible; Netwest Writers have taken me in and Glenda Beall treats me as one of them, assisted me in numberless ways, and then introduced me to Senior Women; Cool Plums is one of the best series of lectures on writing (as well as one of the most beautiful sites) I've ever encountered. The bloggers of the others feel like personal friends.

These five blogs are invited to pass along the "Fabulous Blog Award." These rules aren't mine. they came with the award. You must pass it on to five other Fabulous Bloggers in a post. You may find their email addresses on their Profile page or, if not available, post as a "Comment" to their latest post. You must include the person that gave you the award and link it back to them: http://blueridgepoet.blogspot.com/.You must list five of your "Fabulous Addictions" in the post.You must copy and paste these rules in the post.Right click the award icon and save to your computer; then post with your own awards. This is a tribute, and it widens the reading audience.
Five addictions are required (I don't know whether they're fabulous!)

1. Reading.
2. Writing despite its agonies.
3. Nature in all its guises, though I try not to dwell on its cruelties. Animals of almost every sort, but perhaps first of all, horses.
4. The people in my life.
5. Music and art (I know, another cheat, but they should both be there).

Not too imaginative, but there they are.

Now the people in my life include a wonderfully expanding roster of those I've never met except through this truly fabulous medium.