Category Archives: Writing

Randomicity

Perhaps it’s the laziness borne of summer, or an overload of bad news on the political front, or even my daughter’s invasion of my physical and mental space these past few months.  But whatever the cause, I haven’t been able to string together sufficient cohesive paragraphs to produce a blog post since my last missive (which was a reflexive diatribe brought on by the aforementioned overload of bad news on the political front).  Regretfully, I haven’t been writing much in my journal – in fact, in a highly unusual circumstance for me, I’ve gone days without writing anything at all or, at most, a sentence saying how little I’ve been writing.

But occasionally I will have what I’ve been calling “common sense ideas,” which may ultimately end up turning into blog posts if I’m able to muster the sustained brain power.  For example, I think every publicly held company should include in every employee’s compensation package a share or number of shares of stock in the company, so employees become shareholders and literally have a vested interest in seeing their company succeed.  Those employees would care more about their jobs because the better they do, the better the company does, in a potentially endless cycle of success.

Another thought stream I’ve been entertaining (but I lack the capacity to get deep enough to write 500-1,000 words about it) is how I would fix the health care system in this country.  First, it should be mandated that all hospitals and all doctors have to take all insurances.  Second, all insurances should work the same way – same claims process, same reimbursement process, same referral process, etc.  This will cut down enormously on the administrative burden.  Third, the government should mandate that insurance companies cannot raise their rates every year, or ensure that any increases be linked to something like interest rates or cost-of-living.  Finally, as the process becomes more streamlined and the overhead and premium costs go down, then there would be no reason why larger employers couldn’t afford to insure even part-timers and the 30-hour minimum could be eliminated.

Here’s yet another recurring theme I keep returning to, in my head and my journal:  I don’t understand what the Republicans think will happen to the poor and the sick and the disabled and the elderly if they succeed in making Medicaid go away or cutting welfare and food stamps and school lunches, or when there’s no more funding for Section 8 public housing or public education.  (And of course, no abortions or contraception, so a ton of unwanted children adding to the already overburdened system.)  WHAT DO THEY THINK IS GOING TO HAPPEN TO ALL THESE PEOPLE IF THEIR LIFELINES ARE TAKEN AWAY??  If they thought the “great unwashed” were a burden before, what do they think they’ll be creating if Republicans are able to fulfill their dark and cruel desires?  Do they even care, as long as their own pockets are overflowing and they don’t have to actually SEE homeless or poor people?  It blows my mind.

And one more:  Elected representatives are supposed to do what their VOTERS want, not their DONORS.  Money for campaigns should be taken out of the equation entirely and people should be elected (or, more importantly, RE-elected) based on their record, not on how much money they’ve raised; on what they have DONE over what have they SAID (words are cheap, especially in the age of Trump).

* * *

So, those are some ways my mind has been wandering lately.  Which reminds me of the Beatles song, “I’m Fixing a Hole” (“to stop my mind from wandering / where it will go . . . “), which in turn reminds me of that post that was making its way around Facebook a few months ago about the 10 albums that most influenced you as a teenager.  A high school friend posted his list, and while I liked most of what he had included, my list would be ENTIRELY different even though it was from the same era.  My list of LPs on which I wore out the grooves in high school and early college is as follows (in no particular order):

  1. Bowie, “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars”
  2. T. Rex, “Electric Warrior”
  3. Elton John, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”
  4. Leon Russell, “Carney” (one of the first albums I ever purchased with my own money, Elton John’s “Honky Chateau” being the other)
  5. Led Zeppelin, “Houses of the Holy”
  6. The Beatles, “White Album” (“Sgt. Pepper” was a close second, and I also loved “Rubber Soul”)
  7. “The Ramones”
  8. Jethro Tull, “Aqualung”
  9. Neil Young, “After the Gold Rush”
  10. Pink Floyd, “Wish You Were Here”

Honorable Mention:

Queen, “Night at the Opera” (although my favorite Queen song, and the one that was our “let’s get crazy tonight!” theme, was “Tie Your Mother Down”)

“Foreigner”

Fleetwood Mac, “Rumors”

Rolling Stones, “Hot Rocks”

* * *

Speaking of school, remember how every new unit in English and science and social studies would include a list of vocabulary words that would be featured in the unit, and the first assignment was to look them up and learn to use them?  Well, in all the brilliant political commentary I’ve been reading lately (Washington Post, NYT, New Yorker, The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Esquire [I especially like Charlie Pierce, who seems to come up with all these obscure terms to describe the “vulgar talking yam” and his minions], to name a few), I’ve come across a list of words that were either new to me or I’d seen them before but wasn’t sure what they meant (sometimes I like to guess and then see how close I am to the actual definition).  Some of those words (and their definitions, thanks to the Merriam Webster.com dictionary) are as follows:

sophistry:  subtly deceptive reasoning or argumentation.

mandarins (not the oranges or the Chinese):  a pedantic official; a bureaucrat.

mountebank:  a person who sells quack medicines from a platform;  a boastful unscrupulous pretender.  (See also:  Trump, Donald)

anthropocene:  the period of time during which human activities have had an environmental impact on the Earth regarded as constituting a distinct geological age.  (An aside:  I actually came across the word “anthrocene” in a song by Nick Cave, which may be a made-up word or a bastardization of “anthropocene”.  Actually, the well-read Mr. Cave probably got it from the science writer Andrew Revkin, who used the term “anthrocene” in his book Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast to describe a new geological era dominated by the actions of humans.)

wry:  bent, twisted, or turned, usually abnormally to one side; made by a deliberate distortion of the facial muscles, often to express irony or mockery; wrongheaded; cleverly and often ironically or grimly humorous.

redoubtable:  causing fear or alarm; or, alternatively, worthy of respect.

mondegreen:  a word or phrase that results from a mishearing of something said or sung (e.g., “Hold me closer, Tony Danza”).

shebeen:  an unlicensed or illegally operated drinking establishment.

oleaginous:  I initially thought it meant oily, and I was right, but it also means marked by an offensively ingratiating manner or quality.  (See also:  Trump Cabinet meeting)

opéra bouffe:  satirical comic opera.

numinous:  filled with a sense of the presence of divinity; appealing to the higher emotions or to the aesthetic sense.

imperious:  befitting or characteristic of one of eminent rank or attainments; commanding, dominant, domineering; marked by arrogant assurance.

I now challenge myself to use at least one of my new vocabulary words in my next blog post!

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The Frustration of Making Good Art

I have an extensive and ever-expanding list of books that I want to read, and recently I checked one of them out from the Long Beach Public Library:  A View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins, 2016).  Mr. Gaiman is a writer of some repute, of children’s books (the film adaptation of his book Coraline was nominated for an Oscar a few years ago, and he also won the prestigious Newbery Medal for his children’s novel The Graveyard Book), essays, fiction and graphic novels.  He is the creator of the comic book series The Sandman, which my cousin George (of the George and Tony Entertainment Show) probably knows very well but with which I am not yet familiar.  A View from the Cheap Seats is a way-too-large collection of his essays that I essentially abandoned after the first few, and then just cherry-picked through the remainder.  Mr. Gaiman is clearly a talented writer who ascended to his current stature by freelancing and fibbing his way through the morass of the publishing world, and he had enough raw talent – as well as a deep love and appreciation for literature of all kinds from a very early age – to make a name for himself in a field where that isn’t easy to do, especially in this day and age when so many people don’t read for pleasure anymore or, if they do, it’s fluff and nonsense like the Fifty Shades books or quick-and-dirty formulaic suspense novels.

I got a strong whiff of self-importance throughout Mr. Gaiman’s essays, and the sheer size of the collection is evidence of that; he and his editors might have been better served by culling some of the more redundant pieces (for instance, there were at least three essays about his wife Amanda Palmer and her musical collaborations).  When I envision my own collection of essays, which will happen one day, even if no one reads it (more on that in a moment), I want it to just offer a taste, to make my reader want MORE, to eagerly anticipate the NEXT collection.  And then, after I’m dead, my fans will have a full set of smaller collections by which my writings have been preserved for posterity.

I must confess, I found it a little disappointing last week that no one liked or responded to my blog post (“Some Post-Inauguration Thoughts”, 1/23,17).  I deemed it a decent enough piece that I even posted it on Facebook, and there was nothing offensive or outrageous in it, especially given that most of my Facebook followers are politically aligned with me.  I even thought that maybe some of my new “Organize, Plan, Act” (OPA) friends might enjoy it.  True, I didn’t post it on the OPA page (not entirely sure HOW to, actually), but a number of the OPA folks follow my regular Facebook page.  Evidently it didn’t interest them enough to read (or, even worse, if they read it, they didn’t “like” it).  Yes, I still do write the blog only for myself, but I’ve recently started getting some followers who aren’t friends or family (not many, but a few).  I was especially surprised that I didn’t get a “like” from a fellow WordPress blogger named Rachel Mankowitz, whose blog, The Cricket Pages, I like very much [https://rachelmankowitz.wordpress.com].  We always reciprocally “like” one another’s pieces, and I thought she would appreciate this particular one, knowing that she is also having difficulty getting her mind around a Trump presidency.  Much like I do, she muses in her blog posts about various topics, including politics and her graduate studies in social work, but the constant running theme of her entries are her adorable dogs, Cricket and Butterfly, and she includes photos of them in each essay with “their” thoughts and comments on what she is writing about.  Her blog is quite charming and insightful.  [A postscript:  She finally DID “like” my post the other day, so perhaps she was just busy, but she was the ONLY one to like it thus far.]  But, to reiterate:  I don’t really care, in the grand scheme of things, if anyone reads my blog posts.  I don’t write them for anyone else.  I write them for ME.  (Although – I won’t lie – it would be nice if other people DID read it occasionally!)

One of Mr. Gaiman’s essays was called “Make Good Art”.  It was actually a transcript of the commencement speech he gave at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia in 2012.  (Thanks to Mr. Gaiman’s humble brag, we know that the speech has been “watched many millions of times” online.)  He starts out by saying that he never graduated from “an establishment of higher education,” being essentially a self-taught genius.  The fact that he had been asked to give this commencement address was yet further evidence of his greatness, unlike those less fortunate souls who had to go school to learn how to write well.

(I don’t know why I’m being so harsh in my assessment of Mr. Gaiman.  It’s probably jealousy.  I admire – but also envy –writers who have had success, who have had the cojones to put their work out into the world and have it be well enough received that they have been able to earn a substantial living doing it.  But hey, good for Neil Gaiman that he’s become so successful that he can produce a 500-plus page anthology of just his nonfiction essays!  As he tells us often throughout the compilation, he HAS worked very hard.)

Much of his speech was alternately inspiring and frustrating.  I’m glad Mr. Gaiman has been fortunate to have enough money to live on so that he didn’t have to get a “real job” and could continue “making things up and writing them down, and reading books [he] wanted to read.”  Says Mr. Gaiman:  “Sometimes the way to do what you hope to do will be clear cut, and sometimes it will be almost impossible to decide whether or not you are doing the correct thing, because you’ll have to balance your goals and hopes with feeding yourself, paying debts, finding work, settling for what you can get.”  How did Mr. Gaiman do it?  He imagined that where he wanted to be – in his case, being an author and supporting himself through his words – was a distant mountain, and as long as he kept walking toward the mountain, he would be all right.  Well, I’ve had the mountain in sight for decades but, until I started writing my blog nearly two years ago, I haven’t really done much about making my way toward the mountain.  Maybe I should start.

But according to Mr. Gaiman, success has its own drawbacks (although I would be happy to test out that theory):  “I watched my peers, and my friends, and the ones who were older than me, and watched how miserable some of them were.  I’d listen to them telling me that they couldn’t envisage a world where they did what they had always wanted to do anymore, because now they had to earn a certain amount every month just to keep where they were.  They couldn’t go and do the things that mattered, and that they had really wanted to do, and that seemed as big a tragedy as any problem of failure.”

Even though Mr. Gaiman was discussing the woes of success here, I read them as the same woes I suffer in FAILURE.  How can I do what I love and own a home and put a kid through college and still have something set aside for retirement?  How can I do all those things and still follow my muse?  Why don’t I have enough talent to make a living doing the thing I love?  If I’m being totally honest with myself, it’s probably because I just don’t work hard enough, or feel confident enough in my work to share it more broadly, like on Medium or some other platform.  I certainly don’t market my work; I’ll occasionally put a blog post on my Facebook timeline, but that’s about as far as I’ve gone outside the safe little WordPress bubble.  I’ve written about this before [“An Aspiring Young Author,” 3/25/15; “How I Write,” 9/9/15], but it remains my deepest frustration, despite my dedication to my little blog that nobody reads.

But Mr. Gaiman’s piece did provide one piece of heartening advice that I can perhaps use as inspiration:  “People keep working, in a freelance world, and more and more of today’s world is freelance, because their work is good, and because they are easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time.  And you don’t even need all three.  [emphasis mine]  Two out of three is fine.  People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time.  They’ll forgive the lateness of the work if it’s good, and if they like you.  And you don’t have to be as good as the others if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.”  Maybe I can parlay this into some kind of freelance success, given that I’m a pleasant person to deal with and I am dependable enough to get my work in on time.  And while it may not be as GOOD as some others’, my work is not generally BAD (or at least I like to believe that it’s not).  So according to Neil Gaiman, an author I admire and envy (notwithstanding some of my more catty digs), there may be hope for me yet!

My Life in Journals

I have been maintaining a daily journal continuously since 1978, my sophomore year of college.  And I’ve been schlepping the journals around with me on every move, boxes of them, ever increasing.  I’ve sworn to myself that, someday, I will review and catalog all of them, saving the “nuggets” (as I’ve always called the good or promising stuff) digitally, to be developed into something more substantial, and then, finally, burn the journals.  Sometimes I imagine that this will happen after I die.  Of course, it would help if I were famous and there were some literary historian who had an interest in doing the culling and cataloguing, who marvels at my diligence in saving every word with the exception of some journals in the bottom drawer of a file cabinet that were lost to Superstorm Sandy, which covered various periods of my life – it’s not like I lost the first half of 2003 or something like that, but rather I lost little bits from different years.  I tried to salvage them, sitting on my deck with latex gloves, paging through the moldy, stuck-together pages with ink illegibly bled and trying to find anything worth saving, but I gave up after a fruitless couple of vacation journals from a trip to the Pacific Northwest in 1994.

The content of my journals also varies widely.  Some entries are word sketches for future blog posts or essays or stories or, way back in my history, poetry, but I long ago discovered that poetry is far too esoteric for my talents – or maybe I’m just too wordy.  [An aside:  I read an article today in which a writer said she wanted to teach a college course where each assignment would consist of a three page piece of writing, which would then be edited down to a one-page piece, then to a three-paragraph piece, then to a one-paragraph piece, and then, finally, to a single sentence, developing the vital skill of editing, especially one’s own work.  I wish I could take such a class.  I have a tendency to blather on and I’m never sure how to end my writings.   I liken it to some of the designers on “Project Runway” who Tim Gunn tells to “edit with a critical eye”.]  I’ve got lists, and quotes, and unfamiliar words I need to look up.  My journals are basically a lifelong, ongoing conversation with myself.

Since I’ve started my blog, I’ve noticed that I write in my journal less often.  Maybe it’s because a lot of what I would have written in my journal I type directly into the computer, often because it’s coming up on Tuesday and I need to post SOMETHING.  But not everything in my journal should be posted on my blog.  I’d prefer my journals to be more a place for experimentation and introspection, where I can write words of encouragement to myself.  Unfortunately, though, I must confess that huge swaths of my journals consist of whining, complaining and beating myself up, along remarkably similar lines historically no matter the era it was written.

I am certain that buried in those journals is the fodder for a life’s masterwork:  a collection of essays or short stories that will serve as my breakthrough, the little piece of genius that can be my contribution to the universe, if I could just find it and then hone it – EDIT it – until it glows.

But when will this “someday” be, when I can organize and read through my decades of journals?  Of course it comes down to time.  If I could devote all of my waking hours (and even some sleeping ones, if I happen to be rewarded with a juicy dream I can recall in detail) to reading, researching, writing – and of course editing – if I didn’t have to worry about paying bills and doing work I despise in order to do so, I could have my perfect life and create my art.  Will I have to wait until I retire?  I’m afraid that I’ll still have to do SOME kind of bill-paying work even after I retire, especially considering the damage I’m doing to my already-sparse retirement savings due to the additional work I need to have done on my house and getting my kid through college (although both of those things, if considered in the big picture, are still investments for the future, just in a different form).

That’s why I need to win the lottery – so that money concerns can be removed from the equation and I can just be the writer I was always meant to be.

True, there are people who manage to write even while holding down jobs that require much more devotion than I give to mine.  My cousin George Hanna, on his podcast “The George and Tony Entertainment Show” [http://www.relmnetwork.com/gatent], always seems to find these creative folks who (a) host weekly podcasts (sometimes multiple podcasts), (b) read comics (or watch movies, or play video games – whatever their podcasts are about) voraciously, (c) attend conventions and conferences to network and promote their passions, and (d) still manage to hold down full-time jobs (and some even have kids on top of it all).  HOW DO THEY DO IT?  Have they somehow managed to extend the hours of the day?  Can they somehow survive without sleep?

I confess that I have become very adept at time-wasting in recent years, blaming my job and the need for me to be “available” but really just keeping up with multiple games of Words With Friends and trolling the Internet in the hope that Donald Trump will voluntarily withdraw from the presidential race or some disaster will befall his campaign that will otherwise force him out so Hillary can just skate into the job she has earned and we’ll be done with it.  When hockey season starts, reading hockey articles will occupy big chunks of my time, and next spring, it will be hockey PLUS Game of Thrones – all major time-wasting endeavors that suck hours from my potential writing time.  There’s no excuse.  All the “Seeds 4 Life” and “Daily Thoughts” websites I read (MORE time wasting) say I have to envision the changes I need to make and then make them, and keep moving forward, and all sorts of other words of encouragement and positivity.  Every night I go to sleep optimistic and hopeful that TOMORROW will be the day I can make the changes I need to make in order to take better advantage of my days, to be more productive, to make time to do the things that will give me joy and not just keep me in a holding pattern, waiting.  And every morning, I struggle to get out of bed until mid-morning, and then it’s dog-walking and litter-scooping and pet-feeding – and of course dealing with whatever work disaster has arisen from Asia overnight; the first thing I do, when I turn over in the morning to shut up my stupid robot phone alarm, is check my work emails – and the next thing I know it’s after noon.  I sometimes imagine that I could wake up with the sun, at 6 a.m. or so, and come out to sit at my computer (or on the couch with my journal) and just write, stream-of-consciousness style.  Or tackle the journals themselves, sorting them into piles by year and then just diving in, capturing anything that’s worth saving on the computer and making the little nuggets grow into gold.  See?  I have the project envisioned; now I’ve just got to make it into a reality.

One of my recent “Seeds 4 Life” emails contained a quote by Dr. Wayne Dyer, the late guru of positive thinking and renowned author of such books as Your Erroneous Zones, Wishes Fulfilled, Excuses Begone and The Sky’s the Limit:  “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”  So the key is, according to this post, “If you’re not getting the results you want in ANY area of your life, know that the answer lies in change.  Change in your attitude, your approach, your thoughts, beliefs and perceptions.  Your life will change, when you make a change.” [July 27, 2016, http://www.theseeds4life.com/change-way-look-things-things-look-change-dr-wayne-dyer%5D

My friends from college are coming for a visit tomorrow and I’m very excited.  I haven’t seen them since we were together in Greece a couple of summers ago.  While in Fira, on the island of Santorini, they convinced us to buy these cool string bracelets from a shop called Babylonia.  I chose a bracelet with a purple braid and a silver charm that signifies “optimism”.  I never take it off and I look at it often.  It is my talisman, a symbol of my deepest belief that I CAN change, I CAN have the life I’ve always dreamed of as a reader and writer, surrounding myself with knowledge and interesting thoughts.  (That’s why I love school so much.)

IMG_0668

As with all of these buoyant advice posts, easier said than done!  But I have to begin somewhere.  So . . . I’ll start tomorrow.  Check this space next week to see if I managed to have any success or if I’m continuing to wallow in my (possibly summer induced but definitely there) lethargy.

How I Write

After decades of trying my hand at various types of writing, I’ve come to the realization that I am not a poet, or a short-story writer, or a novelist. I admire lengthy investigative journalism pieces, like the one from GQ that I cited last week in my blog post about football [“Am I Ready for Some Football?”, 9/2/15], but that is yet another type of writing that I lack the skill and diligence to produce. At my core, I’m a lazy person, I’m afraid. I can only do work – any serious, difficult work – in small doses. I do enjoy poking around on the Internet, following trails of interest, but I’m troubled by the susceptibility to viruses (based on past history) and I often can’t tell when I’ve gathered sufficient information to stop.

What I have been successful (or at least consistent) with, for all those decades, is writing journal entries, mini-essays, notes to myself. I seemingly have some talent for this – or at least I take great pleasure in it –probably because it requires a conversational tone, limited words and only as much research as I feel like doing.

I have only recently felt the need to share my thoughts publicly. I’m very much a behind-the-scenes person. The thought of having a spotlight shined on me in any way is mortifying. I think it’s because I get choked up too easily, and the throat tightens and the tears come and the words dry up. I have a very hard time “selling myself” – selling anything, really – if someone didn’t want it in the first place. One of the reasons I’ve had such a hard time moving on from my current employment situation is that I’m petrified by the prospect of introductory cover letters and interviews. One of my associate friends went through a double-digit series of interviews for his current position; I would have thrown in the towel after 2 or 3. So blogging is safer, by far.

My writing style is not fancy or pretentious; I write like “regular people”, but with a slightly larger vocabulary (which I freely admit to boosting using the dictionary and thesaurus!).  I’ve been disturbed by some of the novels that I’ve attempted to read lately. With one such novel (the title of which escapes me) by Will Self, I couldn’t even get past the first few pages because it was written in this kind of double-speak, and some phrases were randomly in capital letters and others in italics, and it was all in a strange old-timey British dialect. It made me feel like I wasn’t a sophisticated enough reader to be able to get beyond the affectation, like the author thought he was so clever that his books will only be accessible to other smarty-pants like him/her (but it’s mostly a “him” thing, I’ve found).  I’ve read articles where the authors criticize the “non-creative class” who presume to foist their “creations” upon the world via Vine or YouTube or Twitter, or the nonsensical genre of TV reality shows about people who do nothing but appear on a TV reality show. While part of me agrees with this disdain (how did the Kardashians become so ubiquitous? Why does anyone care?? That’s a whole other blog post), another part of me says, who are these elitist snobs, who feel they have to put down the great unwashed and call them no-talent delusional losers (which might even include me, as a mere “blogger”, presumably)?

When I was thinking about starting a blog, I considered calling it “The Blog of I” (actually, the first iteration was “The Book of I”, but I am miles away from bookville).  My reasoning was that nearly every sentence I wrote in my journals (and presumably would write in any blog or book of essays) began with the word “I”. Clearly this stems from a self-obsession which doesn’t necessarily derive from self-confidence. I am irredeemably trapped in my own head.

Spending so much time stewing in my own brain accounts for another facet of my personal writing style, which is that I have a tendency to jump right in, as if the reader has been in my head following along with my thoughts the whole time and now I’m just starting to say it out loud (or to send my words out into the universe, as the case may be). I believe this is referred to in drama as in media res, where the story or conversation starts in the middle of the action, as if the listener/reader has been party to the conversation in my head the whole time.

That tendency has manifested itself in my real life as well. On Day 1 of law school orientation, I saw a beautiful boy, and then I continued to see him as the school year progressed. He was in my section, so he was in most of my classes. There were lots of surreptitious glances but no actual contact beyond an occasional smile and nod. However, in my MIND, and in my journals, I had this whole fantasy friendship with him. I visualized how we would meet (multiple alternatives), and I had many imaginary conversations with him. I invented details about him just by virtue of watching his movements around campus and overhearing conversations (being an older law student, I was invisible to a lot of my fellows in that I did not factor into the overlay of flirtation and mate-hunting so prevalent among my twenty-something classmates, so I was able to almost become a fly on the wall sometimes).

Year two began, and he was again in a few of my classes.  One day, for some reason but seemingly without any premeditation on my part (apart from the entire fantasy friendship with him that I had created in my own mind), as we were walking out of the room after class one day, I spoke to him. I complimented him on his shirt, which was a pale purple. I said something like, “That’s one of my favorite colors, but it takes a confident man to wear pale purple.” As if we’d been friends and having conversations all along!!  But it was his reaction that was most surprising of all: Not only did he not cringe away in disgust – “Why is this creepy old lady talking to me?? Do I even KNOW her??” – he actually laughed and said, “Thanks . . . I think!”  And with that small conversation starter, with me stepping out of my black-and-white head and into colorful reality, almost like Dorothy emerging into Munchkinland, we became REAL LIFE friends. We spent the entire graduation ceremony together, thumb wrestling and making each other laugh, and had one glorious bar exam study session at my house in Long Beach. We still correspond occasionally now via Facebook, but I’m always reminded of that story when I think of how I like to just jump right into my writing sometimes – as if you’ve been a party to the conversation in my head all along.

I wanted to start a blog so that I could rant and/or rave about things that interest me, releasing my thoughts from the prison of my brain and offering them to the universe in a way that is familiar and comfortable to me, because I have been writing this way for as long as I can remember. I never want to shy away from naming names, whether it’s hockey players or celebrities or authors or artists or songwriters, although when it comes to naming names of real people in my life, I’m not always sure where to draw the line. I’ve made a sort of self-imposed rule where I won’t publish someone’s first and last names unless I know they’ve got a “public” presence, on Facebook or otherwise. But there are certainly people from my past who I would LOVE to read something I wrote in my blog about them.  If they somehow discovered me via the blog post, and saw what I wrote about them, I would hope that they would be flattered and proud and it would make them feel good. So I will occasionally give a shout-out to people from my past (and present), but most of the time I will keep things anonymous and readers will just have to wonder.

In any event, I would never want to hurt anyone’s feelings or cause them shame.  This blog is meant to be rife with positivity in the hope that it will occasionally inspire people to be nicer to one another. That’s the real purpose for me starting this blog – and maybe my purpose in life.

Random Thoughts about Writers and the Self-Discipline Required to Maintain a Blog

I knew there would be weeks like this, when my idea pool has dried up, but I hereby challenge myself – and you are my witnesses! – to push through it, to come up with a blog even if it’s not the best, just so I can maintain my discipline. I’m writing this blog for no one but myself, after all, despite the fact that now people are actually READING it, and I’ve begun to gain a little bit of confidence so that I’ve actually been telling people about it, thereby putting even more pressure on myself.

But that’s a good thing! That was a key component of starting this blog – that I would force myself to write something “publishable” at least once a week. I must admit that losing the contents of my hard drive set me back a little bit, because I did have some “seeds” of blog posts that I had culled from my journals saved and ready to go for just this circumstance. Cataloguing and categorizing my journals is another one of those projects in my life for which I need TIME that I don’t have – at least not in the requisite chunks – because that would provide fodder for filling in when these writer’s blocks hit, and I could even stockpile valuable nuggets for future posts. Trust me – there is some useful stuff in my journals, but it’s buried within pages and pages of day-to-day drivel. Although frankly, when I looked back at my journal for this week, there wasn’t much in there. My brain has been basically blank for days now. Sunday’s entry was literally a single paragraph complaining that I’d just wasted an hour reading my prior blog posts (for the hundredth time, I might add)!

As I’ve mentioned previously (see “An Aspiring Young Writer”, 3/25/15), I do a lot of negative self-talking when it comes to my writing talent (or perceived lack thereof). A frequent theme of that negative self-talk is that I’ll never be as good as such-and-such author (on the short list, John Irving and David Sedaris), so I shouldn’t even try. And while it’s true that many things I’ve read on the Internet could use some serious editing, there are other bloggers/writers who amaze me, not only with the quality of their product but also by how fast and frequently they are able to produce it.

Grantland [grantland.com] has been a favorite online magazine of mine for a while; I tell everyone to read it and I’m always forwarding articles. It covers sports and entertainment and pop culture, and some of the regular contributors are outstanding. One such writer is Sean McIndoe (also known by his Twitter moniker “@Down Goes Brown”) is the resident hockey pundit, and he’s very clever and funny and I don’t miss a column, but one of my absolute favorite contributors (who also writes quite a bit about hockey on Grantland) is Katie Baker. I actually “recommended” her recent article on the Chicago Blackhawks-Nashville Predators triple-overtime game on my Facebook page (“The Party That Never Ends: That Insane Blackhawks-Predators Game and the Joys of Overtime Playoff Hockey”, Grantland, 4/22/15). Not only was it a fantastic article, but she also published it less than 12 hours after the game ended in the wee hours of the morning (admittedly, she’s on the West Coast, but it was still a pretty impressive turnaround time). She’s the kind of individual who you feel like you know personally just from reading her articles and tweets, but what I love best about her is that she is an extremely talented writer (of whom, it goes without saying, I am very envious). Nice little story about Katie Baker: I first discovered her thanks to the suggestion of a work friend who shares my love of hockey, which used to be her primary area of expertise (although she’s branched out to become more of a “feature” writer and she also writes a regular “Wedded Bliss” column, which analyzes nuptials described in The New York Times in all their over-the-top glory). This friend actually met Katie Baker at the Olympic swim trials in Omaha, Nebraska a few years ago – a meeting I actually helped to arrange using Twitter! – and got me a personalized autograph from her on the event program.

Andy Greenwald is another of my favorites on Grantland. He writes mostly about TV but I especially enjoy his articles about Game of Thrones, which literally come out on Monday morning following the weekly Sunday night episode. Granted, he may have pre-broadcast access to the episodes, but even so, his articles are deep and brilliant in their analysis, especially when you consider that they are prepared in such short order! I am so jealous of that talent: It usually takes me days to come up with a blog post of even middling quality, because I have to re-read and re-write it over and over, especially now that my words are going to be seen by eyes other than my own. (If it was not already apparent, a confession: This particular blog post has NOT been re-read and re-written over and over.)

Another of my favorite Internet writers—who writes for the Puck Daddy blog on Yahoo! Sports – is Greg Wyshynski, who impresses me with his prolificity (if that’s not a word, it should be, just to describe how much exceptional material Wysh puts out on a daily basis). I also love his daily podcast with Jeff Marek of Sportsnet (Canada), Marek vs. Wyshynski, and his mini-videos – still more creative endeavors that Wysh manages to cram into his busy days.

These folks are my inspiration, my touchstones, the bloggers/writers who I aspire to emulate. So you would think the least I could do is come up with one measly 1,000-word post every week, especially when I’ve given myself free rein to cover anything I please! For instance, I could write about how I’m enjoying what I’m hearing from the new Blur album that’s been featured as a “New Dig” on WFUV radio station this week – their first record in over 12 years –or how much I’m looking forward to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, although, truth be known, I would have preferred a Rangers-Islanders series; I’m a little fatigued by Rangers-Caps, as this is their fifth match-up in the past seven years. I guess I can look forward to yet another wager with my Cap-fan friend –we’ve broken even over the years, although I took a double-or-nothing win when the Giants beat the Pats in Super Bowl XLVI (and have yet to see my bottle of Bailey’s, thank you very much!).

Or I could mention something I’ve realized about myself recently: I really hate Broadway musicals, and I hate TV commercials advertising them even more. They actually make me inordinately angry. Like, how would anything I’ve seen in this commercial possibly make me want to see this play? I’ve been to a few Broadway musicals, although they were ruined for me when I saw “The Who’s Tommy” back in the ‘80s from a seat in the 3rd row, thanks to my friend Sue Ober getting me surprise tickets for my birthday. There was more spit flying off that stage than from a bench full of hockey players. It was fantastic! The music, of course, the staging – it was made even more meaningful by the fact that I had recently transcribed a series of interviews with Pete Townshend and the producers and actors for a coffee-table book on the behind-the-scenes making of the show, so I knew a ton of cool tidbits about it. No other Broadway musical could ever compare. But generally speaking, I don’t like the limitations of the proscenium arch; I don’t like the forced projection and the emoting and the artifice – all that singing out into space! Gah! Keep your Lion King and Wicked and Mamma Mia!  Give me hockey, or a concert, for live entertainment any day!

Well, that was random . . . but I’ve made it up to 1,000 words. Next week’s post will be more cohesive, I promise!

An Aspiring Young Author

Mr. Young was our sixth grade teacher at the Seaford Avenue School. He was an older man, bald and very white, with thick glasses. He always made a show of yelling at us for chewing our “cud” (gum) and could be hard, even on his favorite students, but we were devoted to him.  Mr. Young died over Easter break that year, and we came back to Mrs. Cronin as our teacher, who we treated very badly, not because she was nasty or mean but because she wasn’t Mr. Young. It was also the year I competed with my best frenemy — the OTHER smartest girl in the class, Phyllis Leopold, who is currently providing spiritual guidance as a minister in Connecticut; I remember running into her completely randomly in a gym in NYC in the mid-‘80s and we picked up as if more than a decade had not passed since we’d last seen each other – for the lead role in a play called something like “Way, Way Down East”, a damsel-in-distress melodrama (“You must pay the rent!” “I can’t pay the rent!”), which featured Joe Benenati in swirling Snidely Whiplash mustache tying me to the railroad tracks. (Or was Joe the Dudley Do-Right hero doing the saving? I can’t recall the details, just the thrill of the applause. It was my first and only dramatic stage performance.) One of the earliest things I ever did on Facebook was engage with Joe and the rest of the Seaford Avenue School alumni on Facebook after he had posted a photo of the entire sixth-grade graduating class of 1971, and a bunch of us reconnected trying to identify everyone.

Sixth grade was also the year that we met Clifford Lindsey Alderman, an actual writer of young adult historical novels who lived in Seaford and who, very generously and inspirationally, dedicated his novel Rum, Slaves and Molasses: The Story of New England’s Triangular Trade (1972) to me: “For Nancy Lucas, an aspiring young author, with best wishes for her success.”

So I started writing in earnest (“I must live up to Mr. Alderman’s dedication!”). I wrote short stories and even a couple of full-length novels. As I recall, the first novel was called Fun in Florida, and the sequel was called Moving to Montana. (The randomness of the locales mystifies me to this day. I think my ultimate goal was to do a novel set in every state.) Both novels featured a blended family based in no small part on “The Brady Bunch” engaging in antics in the spirit of “The Monkees” and “Love American Style”, including an episode stolen outright where an idiot man/boy gets his mouth stuck on a doorknob.  The writings were passed around so much the paper they were written on was soft as cloth.  Everyone in class was a character in the novels, so of course there were complaints about the inaccuracy of portrayals and the relegation to bit parts, but I tried my best to show everyone in the best possible light.

What I miss from those days is the complete confidence with which I put ideas to paper and then passed them around. I’m not sure when the self-doubt started creeping in, but it was probably as an undergrad at Trinity College, when I decided to become an English/Literary Writing major. I did well enough but was never given the kind of encouragement that my writing professor, who I idolized (the late Hugh Ogden, award-winning poet and founder of the creative writing program at Trinity), gave to other, better writers in my fiction and poetry writing classes (Joanna Scott, Trinity Class of 1983, for one – good for Joanna! Bad for Nan!). I worked for OMNI Magazine after I graduated and wrote some articles, mostly for the magazine’s weird-science/paranormal “Antimatter” section, but they were inevitably re-written, enough so that I wondered why I had even bothered.

So while I’ve always believed myself to be a decent writer, over the years I’ve steadily grown to doubt my abilities, to the point where I sabotage myself at every turn – probably most of all by NOT ACTUALLY WRITING ANYTHING. I believe what I write won’t be “good enough”, so I don’t even try.  This is a problem.

Recently I found myself reading (without consciously choosing to do so) various autobiographies of writers. True writers always seem to have this innate talent, and they write instinctively and compulsively. I see myself in them, but reading about them also reminds me that I lack something they all have: the innate talent. That’s the self-doubt in spades. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll never write the Great American Novel or a prize-winning short story because I lack the tale-telling knack for fiction and the ability to get into the mind of any character that isn’t me.

But of course I do write – voluminously. I’ve diligently kept journals since my sophomore year at Trinity (which was literally decades ago). There are many things I have to overcome in order to fulfill what I believe is my destiny — which is to live the life of an artist, to make a living as a writer and to make some kind of contribution (however minor) to humanity — but the first order of business was to start this blog, which was the closest thing to writing in my journal that I could possibly imagine.

There is another hurdle: Thinking back on my being the best-read sixth grade author at the Seaford Avenue School, even while I felt no compunction about depicting my classmates in a way that sometimes pissed them off, I am reminded of a frequent theme of my “no way you can write a blog” negative self-talk, which is that I am afraid that I cannot be completely frank and transparent in my blog posts because people reading it may be insulted personally or, even more likely, think less of me.  In order to start posting here in my blog, I’ve had to establish a kind of “What would [X] think if they saw this” threshold, because I know that [X] and I have a professional and a personal relationship, but mostly a professional one. I want any writing here on my blog to be as true and authentic as possible, because I strive to be a genuine and honest person (although, as I was intrigued to note, these proclivities did not necessarily serve me well in my legal ethics class or when I took the MPRE [Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam, for all you non-lawyers]). Also in those formative years – around sixth grade and into junior high school – I learned that I was singularly terrible at lying and might as well give it up. So, while I will do my best to be transparent and truthful and open, I can’t be completely uninhibited!

One of the author autobiographies that I read was Fiction Ruined My Family, by Jeanne Darst (2011). She describes the freedom and delight of being a writer thusly:  “Writing is a choice . . . . A lot of days I’ve gotten to eat lunch at home and this is a really big perk in my opinion. When you’re good and ready to take a break, you stroll into your kitchen and open the refrigerator door and poke around leisurely . . . . To have lunch at home is a huge luxury . . . . This is a nice way to live. To hang around bowls of chocolate ice cream and ideas all day can be worth it.”

Yes, indeed it is, Jeanne. I’m finally trying to get there from here . . .