Friday, August 16, 2013

Why do I Blog? Or Tweet?

Why We Tweet.

That title on the cover of an old Atlantic (October 2012) was enough to make me read the article. Frank Rose based his conclusions on a report published by a couple of neuroscience researchers at Harvard who suggested that humans may get a neurochemical reward from sharing information, and a significantly bigger reward from disclosing their own thoughts and feelings more than reporting someone else’s.


Sometimes the why’s of my whole puzzling existence can be explained in one sentence from an old magazine. Why did my four-year-old Will have a melt-down/come-apart (alternately referred to according to one’s age) on Sunday at a birthday celebration here for my older sister? Let’s start with the fact that he’d already been to one birthday party and arrived at his usual naptime, sugared up. Given that, and the fact that the older folks at our party had not seen him or each other in a while, there was a lot of talking to be done all around.

I heard this loud wail from Will. He had pulled out the wooden blocks and was surrounded by various groupings of stacked blocks. When I inquired what was wrong, he wailed again, by now in the arms of his grandfather: “Nobody listens to me!” More crying and wailing. The entire party was alerted and gathering. His dad advised in a stern voice, “Will, 99% of the population has felt that same way at some point in their lives.” I pleaded, “Will, come and tell your gran what’s wrong. “No,” he said, emphatically. “I want Papa.” So it was not just anyone he wanted to listen, but very specifically his grandfather who, by the way, never says no to him.

Why have I decided to write a memoir? I’ve written enough unpublished work to completely wallpaper a few large homes, maybe even a small town. After first writing a ton of poems and personal essays, after three published poetry books, a first novel that hadn’t fit anyone’s list, a collection of short stories with only a few published, and upon completion of the MFA, I returned to the second novel started in the 90s, and its 200 completed pages. Simultaneously, I began writing a few stories, since shorter pieces are much easier for me. I had read Olive Kitteridge. I would write a linked series in the manner of Elizabeth Strout. So, I charged back to the short stories with renewed vigor. My character was already named in two Christmas stories that had been published. Clyde. One of those stories was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Still after writing a couple more stories now and then, I decided I must get back to that second novel and finish it. I’m not one to leave things unfinished.

When I finally stamped the novel done, again, for maybe the 998th time, I started a round of queries. While some NY editors found parts of it they really liked, my agent was unable to sell it. I grew sick of the sight of its sheer bulk; I chunked it behind the doors of a bookcase already bulging with aging manuscripts until...

... along came WELD and its founding editor, Glenny Brock, a fellow alum from Spalding University. WELD would publish a hard copy weekly newspaper with an online edition all the time. Truly ambitious. I submitted an essay for the first issue on the potential demise of cursive writing and Glenny used it as the whole inside back page. That started a marathon of writing essays/blogs that were published by WELD, and I was right back where I was in the pre-fiction days when I was interviewing folks, writing essays, and pairing the essays with poetry. Happy as a mudlark!

How I jumped from that to writing a memoir is not totally clear. Reading Nabokov’s Speak, Memory may have contributed to this latest folly. I knew that I wanted to take a workshop in Creative Nonfiction, so I signed on for Paris with Spalding, 2012. Still wary of my reason, my submission to workshop included a piece in which I ruminated about whether or not I really wanted to write a memoir. During that time in Paris, the decision was clinched. Nicholas, my oldest grandson, and I stood in the Musee D’orsay and could see Sacre Coeur on its distant hill through the hands of a wall-sized clock. Looking through time. This metaphor I couldn’t shake. I would write the memoir looking back through time in small chunks of writing. In essays—the form I was so happily producing regularly.

A year later, this memoir is still on going.  Last spring at Spalding’s homecoming, I found myself sidetracked and pulled back into the novel after being asked about my writing by a new (and very kind) faculty member who suggested a literary agency that I might try for the novel. Hope welled up and pooled in my throat, and I could hardly express my gratitude to D.M. for his interest.

Why has the need to get the novel out there returned? Well, for one thing, I have a renewed passion for the novel as I’ve discovered new things about my protagonist Libby during this revision. Not long ago in reading the introduction to a collection of poetry of  Yeats, it occurred to me that Libby is part Irish—a thing I’d all but overlooked—so she blames everything on the moon. 

Truth to tell, both my novels have dealt with loss and women and their need to be heard within a friendship. The first novel had to do with the friendship of two sisters and the death of their mother. The second has a lifelong friendship threatened by a deathbed confession regarding an illegal abortion. This “neurochemical reward” we humans get from sharing information must truly be greater for the female gender. My girlfriends along the way have been so important to me that Libby, is an amalgam of all my best girlfriends. She and her lifelong friend, Clara, have begun to reveal their truest nature in this 999th revision.

Rose makes a good point. All of us—writers and their literary creations, Will, et moi—would be heard. In the Atlantic article he offers, “by telling stories effectively, we gain status, obtain social feedback, and strengthen our bonds with other people.” And aren’t all writers happy to hear this?

Rose continues, “And on the flip side of all this nattering—or tweeting—by our fellow humans ensures that we don’t have to discover everything on our own. We have no end of people telling us what’s what. Hence the real paradox of sharing: what feels good for me probably ends up benefitting us all.”

That’s what I’m counting on. It feels really good to get this written down. 

And, by the way, my MFA graduation lecture was “Death as a Fictive Technique.” I may write a similar lecture based on this blog. The epilogue of my novel indicates that Libby had been telling her stories through journals, and now that I’ve just revised the prologue, it heralds, as it should, that journal keeping.

My next lecture?  “Tweeting as a Fictive Technique: What Feels Good for Me.” What do you think?

Message in a Blog

  About twenty Birmingham language arts teachers endured my holding forth yesterday in my current gig as a Road Scholar ...