Message in a Blog-Bottle

 

Mothers can be difficult to impress, even among the literati.  In an April, 1959 letter written to author Cecil Dawkins, Flannery O’Connor wryly remarks the wonderful news that Cecil has been paid $1,000 for a story.  Noting  her own top payment of $425, Flannery goes on to say,

Your sale to the Post ought to impress your mother greatly.  It sure has impressed my mother, who brought the post card home.  The other day she asked me why I didn’t try to write something that people liked instead of the kind of thing I do write.  Do you think, she said, that you are really using the talent God gave you when you don’t write something that a lot, A LOT of people like?  This always leaves me shaking and speechless, raises my blood pressure 140 degrees, etc.  All I can ever say is, if you have to ask, you’ll never know.

I’m no Flannery O’Connor, but I’ve been rendered equally speechless by my own mother.  When she found my first computer happily ensconced on its desk, Mom nosed around it like a wary dog circling a snake.   “What are you going to do with it?” she asked.   I didn’t know, and said so.   “Well, how much did it cost?”  I did know that, and despite reservations born of experience I told her.  The disapproving silence thickened until she could stand it no longer.  “You spent all that money for something and don’t even know how you’re going to use it?”  Her perspective on the situation was clear. My computer was the latest version of  hula-hoops or Mr. Potato Head and I was her idiot child, consumed with a child’s breathless longing to possess the same toys as her friends.

As the months passed, my mysterious toy began to demand ever more time as I moved from email to eBay to blogs.  Email was practical and eBay profitable, but blogs?  They confounded Mama.  “Why are you still on that machine?”, she’d prod, peeking over the top of her knitting.  “Who reads those things, anyway?  Why do you keep re-writing?  Why not do something productive?”  As the hours spent reading, researching and writing added up, I thought perhaps the blog postings themselves would best answer her questions.  I printed out an entry which had made me particularly proud.  She read it, twice, before looking up and asking The Question that would have made Flannery O’Connor’s mother proud:  ” When is somebody going to pay you for all this? ”   

That’s when my blood pressure began to rise, just as it did when I read this bit of advice in a newsletter from a local writers’ group.

“Never give your writing away. If you don’t receive payment, your writing is worthless.”

Even though I support the right of all artists to seek and receive compensation for their work, I’ve always believed that equating dollars with quality is wrong.  For months I fussed over the issue, unable to refute either the logic or the assumptions of those who kept asking  “When are you going to start doing some real writing?”   The question of worth was everywhere, in a multitude of formsFor weeks I pondered the dilemma raised by Becca at her Write on Wednesday site:

 I find it all too easy to sink into pessimism about my own writing.   What’s the point? I sometimes find myself thinking.   Who cares what I have to say?  Why bother struggling to find just the right word, to come up with the perfect idea, to create an evocative image?  What difference can it possibly make to the world?

Bloglily recently voiced the same concern in a slightly different way:

Back in the olden days, when this blog was new, I would, without any hesitation, write an entire blog post about why this morning at 10:43 a.m. (which is the time as I write this) I found myself so incredibly happy. But something happened, maybe a year or so ago, and I began to be afraid of my blog, afraid that what I was writing was ridiculous, or not worth anyone’s time, and who was I to give nothing of value to the people who come over here other than a few words about my own personal happiness?

Reading their words, I knew their effort was justified, as was mine.  I also knew beyond any doubt my writing was worth the hours stolen from sleep, the decisions to forego evenings out, the end of television and Starbucks socializing.  I simply didn’t know why.

Eventually, I found the beginning of an answer in an off-handed remark made by a woman with years of experience in the classroom.  “Teaching,” she said, “is like throwing out words in a bottle .  Sometimes you’re lucky, and the bottle reaches shore.

Her words are a perfect metaphor for blogging.   Like a message in a bottle, each post is tossed into the currents of the great cyber-sea to bob and tumble and drift about until plucked off the shore by a curious hand or broken and destroyed on the rocks.  For a blog-bottle thrower, letting go is everything.  Whatever the content of the bottle’s note, its words will have no opportunity to touch people, to clear their vision, to bring comfort, to elicit a wry smile or a sigh of satisfaction until the bottle is set free.

It takes time, of course, for bottles to bob their way to the beaches of the world.  It takes even more time for someone to find them, and sometimes it requires pure luck for the message to be plucked out and read.   Today, looking back over  my first hundred posts, I’m amazed how many have been pulled from the surf and preserved in one way or another. 

A woman who’d put her own writing on hold felt an implicit challenge in one essay, and began again.  A business woman found a lesson for the workplace in Godette’s choice of inspiration over competition.  Roger Stolle at Cat Head in Clarksdale, Mississippi reprinted Blues Traveling in the e-newsletter he sends to customers.  A reader in The Netherlands sought assistance for the man who introduced Leonard Cohen to Suzanne Verdal  in Montreal.  An astronomer who understands his discipline as both art and science added Comet Lulin and Solstice Silence to his links.

Each of these connections is wonderful, but nothing sums up the amazements of blog-bottle tossing as well as my experience with Search Pattern, a poem written in response to the death of Roger Stone and posted here last June, only two months after I  began blogging.  Safety Officer aboard the sailing vessel Cynthia Woods during last year’s Regata de Amigos race from Galveston to Veracruz, Mexico, Roger lost his life while saving five crewmates from death after the capsize of their boat.  He was well known in the local sailing community, and while I’d never met him, I was deeply affected by his death.  There was little I could do, of course, and so I wrote my poem, shed a tear, and moved on.

Imagine, then, my amazement when this comment was added to my poem nine months later.

Hi,
I am Roger Stone’s widow. I ran across this poem just now, and I want to thank you so much for it.  The introduction was so touching, too.  If I would have seen this before his service, I would have loved for you to have read it. 
I miss Roger every day, and seeing this at this time touched my soul. Thank you again.
Linda Stone

I was completely astonished: that she had found the poem at all, that she had been kind enough to comment, and that the one person in the world I wished could read the poem, had in fact done so. In the brief correspondence that followed, I gave Linda permission to use the poem in any way she saw fit.  She mentioned she did intend to enlarge and frame it, and then to hang it in Roger’s office in their new home – the office he never got to use.

Last Monday, on the Mitchell Campus of Texas A&M University at Galveston, Linda Stone once again described events of that tragic day as she accepted the Coast Guard’s Gold Lifesaving Medal on behalf of her husband. The medal, established by Congress in 1874, is awarded by the Commandant of the Coast Guard to any person who rescues or endeavors to rescue any other person from drowning, shipwreck, or other peril of the sea.

Watching Linda  receive the  award on behalf of her dead husband, envisioning my poem gracing the wall of the office Roger never used and stunned again by her improbable discovery of my blog months after the loss of the Cynthia Woods, all I can think is, “Some worth can’t be calculated.”   Not every cause has an immediate effect, and not every hour invested brings immediate return. Only a willingness to take the longer, less calculating view of things allows any writer to keep tossing bottles into the sea ~ bottles filled with a treasure of words that one day, some day, will wash onto a shore.

 

Nothing could be more appropriate than honoring Laura Ragland (SunsetSailor) with my Team Muse Award for this 100th post.  A fine photographer, Laura is the teacher who made the original comment about the tossing of bottles, and she provided the perfect photo for my earlier blog entry, Derelict Boats, Derelict Hearts.  Click here for more about Team Muse, including a list of other recipients.
Comments are welcome.  To leave a comment or respond, please click below.

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25 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thank you for your visit, oh fellow bottle thrower…it’s nice to think of us on our metaphorical shores, trusting to the waves…

    india,

    It is a nice thought, isn’t it? From the very beginning my mantra has been “Write, and let go”. It means several things to me, but it certainly points to trust. I’m absolutely responsible for every word that goes on the page, but after that? The waves do their work, while I turn back to mine. It’s a good arrangement.

    Thanks for stopping by, and thanks especially for the lovely image.

    Linda

  2. Linda,

    This is so moving! Your post resonates with me in many points. I’ve heard that little writing advice you read in the newsletter before, but in another context: a babysitting course for young teens. They were taught to never offer their service for free.

    What a shame that our society tends to measure everything of value with monetary gains. It’s disheartening that our younger generation is being taught that as a principle to live by. There are many things that have intrinsic value… writing being one of them. And your post has so powerfully shown, the healing of the heart is priceless.

    Congratulations on your 100th post!

    Arti,

    You know if we keep pressing this issue – if we become more insistent that money alone serves as an indicator of value – we risk turning art into a commodity. At that point, the relationship between the artist and his or her public becomes that of producer and consumer, and the experience of writing/reading becomes a transaction rather than a vibrant and reciprocal relationship.

    On the other hand, we may be moving from a time where literary “transactions” are the norm into something quite new. A writer’s ability to put his or her words directly before the public may re-shape our understanding of literary endeavors in the same way that indie music has been re-shaped by new technologies and direct access.

    In any event, we’ve had fun with this, haven’t we? To paraphrase that silly old advertising slogan, we’ve come a long way from Freecell!

    You know how much I appreciate your congratulations.

    Linda

  3. My heart-felt congratulations on your 100th post.

    I have read every one, but maybe commented on no more than 10%. Why? I often couldn’t add anything worth writing, and after reading your words, felt a second-rate offering would detract from your wonderful rendition.

    I recognise Laura’s “Team Muse” remark, and wish I had thought of it. It is similar to a phrase my first head teacher colleague used to say.
    “Teaching is like pouring water into a vessel. If the vessel has its lid on, it can be difficult. It is a teachers’ first job to undo the lid.”
    I raise my glass of red to you and your next 100!!

    Sandi

    PS – I am so glad you are a determined child and didn’t let your Mother’s reservations hold you back!

    Sandi,

    And those poor teachers have quite a chore of it when someone keeps sneaking in behind them to re-tighten the lid!

    As for being a determined child – that part of my life began to develop when I was well over 40. :-) Writing takes confidence, and allowing others to read your writing takes more confidence, and I simply wouldn’t have been capable of writing as I do now even ten years ago.

    I don’t believe any of that business about “second-rate offerings”, by the way. I know you better than that. It may be you’re just feeling something I feel now and then. I’ll fiddle a bit with many posts after they’ve been published, changing a word here or there, eliminating a sentence. But sometimes everything is just as it should be, and the post feels perfect in the same way a daisy is perfect – it doesn’t need a single word added or omitted to be what it is. It’s a perfection that doesn’t mean flawlessness as much as completion.

    In any event, there have been a hundred of these things now, and to quote someone near and dear – “And they said it wouldn’t last!” ;-)

    Let me refill that glass for you!

    Linda

  4. … my blood pressure began to rise, just as it did when I read this bit of advice in a newsletter from a local writers’ group.

    Never give your writing away. If you don’t receive payment, your writing is worthless.

    It’s disturbing to see the idea, “A short term cash return is the only valid reward” has infiltrated the literary world too. Hmm… I wonder how many authors of the great literary classics were financially comfortable from compensation for their writing. I wonder how much the writer of that advice in the local newsletter was paid for that column.

    I find that dispensing a small dose of snark does wonders for my blood pressure.

    Thank you for expanding the analogy of “message in a bottle” so poignantly. The rewards are always unexpected and sometimes greater than we might imagine. How apt for your 100th entry!

    LowerCal,

    The sad fact is that many folks who believe cash equals value spend inordinate amounts of time figuring out how to get published, rather than learning how to write. And, since marketing abhors a vacuum, there’s no shortage of books, workshops, online courses and publication “specialists” just waiting to teach us all how to land in those magazines, e-books, vanity press monographs and hardcovers. I have a pretty good idea who’s pulling in the big money in the writing market right now, and it isn’t the first-time authors ;-)

    The good news is I’ve had enough experience with “free” writing, and enough experience with cashing checks for my work that I can make some informed decisions about what’s next without a compulsive need to “prove” I can be published.

    As for snarkitude ~ always a helpful indulgence!

    It’s an astonishment to me that the elements of this piece were so widely separated in time, yet came together so beautifully. As I told SunsetSailor, “Nothing’s ever lost”. That in itself is a great reward.

    Many thanks….

    Linda

  5. Linda,
    You hit so many chords in each piece you write. I often believe I know exactly what my comment will be after the first or second paragraph. Then you go deeper and further.

    I often delay my visits to your blog and my chance to read your most recent bottle message. I know it will be a treat. Like a child hiding their Halloween candy, I save it for later. I wait till no one is around, and when I’m fairly certain I will not be interrupted. (Dad and H are napping now.)

    Life around here is a bit solitary, and it’s all about routine. I savor that which will take me away for a few minutes. You’ve done that, and it has been of immeasurable value to me. I only hope you receive as much from your words as they give to others.

    Bella,

    I had to smile at our shared experience. I often believe I know exactly where a given piece is going after the first or second paragraph. Then, the piece itself makes a ninety-degree turn and heads off in a different direction. All I can do is follow along, puffing and panting to see where we’re going to end up!

    Sometimes there’s no evidence on the surface of the experiences that provide the grounding for these pieces. Sometimes there is. But in either case, all of them are so firmly rooted in my life and thought I’ve received an unexpected side benefit. When I go back to re-read, I not only have the words, I have access to what I was thinking, feeling and responding to at the time. I wouldn’t have thought absolutely personal and completely public could co-exist so easily, but they seem to.

    It makes me happy you appreciate the words, too.

    Linda

  6. Sandi said just what I often feel when reading your blogs — “I often couldn’t add anything worth writing, and after reading your words, felt a second-rate offering would detract from your wonderful rendition.”

    I, too, have read every one of your blogs, and I usually read each one several times. You always have ideas that interest me and provide food for thought. Often I find myself quoting you or reading a blog aloud to someone, for it seems that someone always needs a particular piece of wisdom that you have offered. My mother still asks, “Is this a problem? or just a fact of life?”

    NumberWise,

    Well, there it is – and I hadn’t even thought of it! Writing for free: problem, or fact of life? For Mom, and for a few writers I know, it’s obviously a problem. For me, it’s just a fact of life, a part of a larger set of decisions I’ve made to guide my work right now.

    As for that business about comments not adding anything – it simply isn’t true. I remember comments the way some people seem to remember some of my posts. The perfect example is the back-and-forth we had at WU about writing on one winter night. Remember? You had the music on, and it was snowing, and you had that wonderful pork loin with the apricots and balsemic reduction in the oven, and we chatted about how these essays emerge. I don’t have to go back into my files to remember that – it’s as vivid as if it happened yesterday. What’s even funnier is that I not only remember that conversation, I remember what other people said about the conversation.

    Sometimes I envision my brain as a giant, walk-in closet. You’d be surprised what’s stashed in there! Our conversations are over there on the left, just above the really good recipes and next to the outline for that short story I’ve sworn I’ll never write ;-) I take them out and look at them more often than you might imagine.

    Linda

  7. Linda, it’s a bit like photography – people are always making comments about me making money with it. They don’t seem to understand that for me my photos bring me such joy that making money at it might spoil it for me.

    When I go out and shoot, I don’t think about whether the shot is a money-maker or not. I’m in the moment with a thousand thoughts buzzing thru my head about composition, light and camera settings. If a scene really strikes – I set my camera down and just sit back and enjoy it – I surely don’t want to spoil it with thoughts of the almightly dollar.

    Of course, that’s not to say when someone wants to buy I pic I give it to them for free!

    Wanda,

    This discussion keeps coming up, doesn’t it?

    One of the other bits of advice that used to be repeated ad nauseum at the writing group I attended was to “write for the market”. The premise was that the first step in any writing project was to figure out what was selling, and then write that. No matter how I thought about that it seemed wrong-headed. Far better to write (or photograph) what one loves and then, if it seems the thing to do, seek publication. As a friend with a lovely collection of rejection letters says, “At least if I write what makes me happy, I still can enjoy my writing even if no one wants to publish it.”

    One thing I decided early on is that I want to write for pleasure, not profit. If my writing brings in a little money, that’s lagniappe. If it ever brings in a lot of money, well – I’ll buy some of your photos!

    Linda

  8. OK – I read too many entries already that align with my thinking – like me leaving a less than adequate post (I’ve gotten past that thanks to you), taking notes about what I want to respond to only to have the story make a 180º turn!

    So – the first note – when we all got computers my mom didn’t see the sense in them. About 10 years later she finally broke down and got one…then a couple of years later she complained when all her friends didn’t have email! LOL

    Second point – it is too bad that everything has to be equated to money these days. Yes we need money to live, but it sure isn’t everything. I’ve volunteered so much over my years and it’s something that I just do. To me, some of the best organizations out there are run by volunteers….and where would we be without them? I was the proud recipient of an HSA Award back in 1993 from my school’s PTA. HSA stands for Honorary Service Award and it’s given to people who volunteer to youth. I’m happy to report I stand in great ranks with folks who have received the award over the years. I know this doesn’t really equate with getting paid for writing, but it’s time….and time is time! I guess…..

    In our local high school, and I’m sure many others, students are required to complete 100 community service hours to graduate. I think that is a good thing!

    Sorry for getting a little off track with that – but it was the only thing I could relate to when you talked about monetary compensation.

    And last but not least, I have often thought of writing a note in a bottle and setting it free. Problem is, if I throw it off the beach, it would probably return to shore with the next tide. I’d have to do it on a boat! I know people who have attached notes to helium balloons with messages…that would be fun too!

    Well, just your blogs on WU and here have kept me entertained all evening!

    Karen,

    I think you’re exactly on point. The giving and receiving that’s at the heart of volunteer work is so important for everyone involved. We’re selfish little creatures as children, and we need to learn to give. That’s one reason I think community service hours for students are valuable. They get to enter worlds they might not see otherwise, they often have contact with people quite different from themselves, and they learn some important lessons about teamwork that shouldn’t be reserved for the sports world.

    And of course, volunteers like yourself make it possible for those “extras” in education to be available to the kids. Between the financial constraints faced by school districts and the devaluing of the arts by school boards, sometimes the only way to expose kids to music, drama and art is through the work of volunteers.

    As for those bottles – there was one that washed up at Galveston a few years ago. I can’t quite remember now where it came from, but it was distant enough that everyone was astonished. It had the name, address and phone number of the tosser, and eventually he and the “tossee” made contact. And there was a grade school class here that released a bundle of balloons, just to see what would happen. One of them made it all the way to Oklahoma. You should give it a try!

    Linda

  9. You know what, Linda, you are wonderful. Just take today and spend it wallowing in your wonderfulness.

    Jeannine,

    You know what else is wonderful? You just made me laugh heartily and for the first time in a week my pulled rib muscle didn’t hurt.

    I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out what else to say, but I’m so touched by your comment I’m speechless. So I’ll just wander off, grinning like a fool while I try to figure out what wallowing in wondefulness would look like ;-)

    Linda

  10. I am so moved by Roger’s widow and your poem. I have so much to say on the value and worth of a person’s writing and the opportunity to reach people outside of a tightly squeezed publishing world that misses so much – hello, worthy Blogworld. I mean it.

    And I have to dry my hair and get to work (how mundane) because all of this is so good and we must continue to push our envelopes, to reach and reach out and not get lost in the concern of where it’s going. Because it does “go” out there and opens a door somewhere for someone, maybe.
    You (your writing) are proof.

    So many are.

    Yes, I could go on and on here in a merry positive vein. but darnit, the clock calls!
    more later–

    oh,

    The more I ponder the scope and range of events that form the background of this entry and the writing that came from them, the more I’ve been thinking about that little conversation between Horatio and Hamlet. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our understanding of how things work in this world, and sometimes we just need to get out of our own way and let events unfold.

    The whole experience is proof positive that we never, ever really know what’s happening “out there”, and that my little motto is an even better one than I realized: “Write, and let go.”

    Linda

  11. BTW, I loved this entry. Flannery O’Connor makes me laugh. I think she’d be OK with that.

    Hope there’s a gentle breeze off the Gulf today and you have time to write some more, too!

    oh,

    I think she’d be OK with that, too. Anyone who can produce this has to have a sense of humor:

    “I come from a family where the only emotion respectable to show is irritation.
    In some this tendency produces hives, in others literature, in me both.”

    Linda

  12. A beautifully expressed answer to the frequently asked question, “Why do I blog?”.

    We never know when something we say or present will be just what another person needs for comfort, for inspiration, for motivation. Something we showcase on a blog may turn out to be just that thing that inspires another to exercise their creativity. Or perhaps a word or phrase will touch someone deeply emotionally or spiritually. And even if all a blog post does is provide a moment’s entertainment for someone reading it, that moment is truly priceless.

    Thank you for so artfully putting what a blogger does in perspective.

    Carl,

    I’m honored by your comments, simply because I’ve been watching you do all of those things in your blog. The irony is that “Stainless Steel Droppings”, which might fairly be expected to be cold and hard, is one of the kindest and most inviting blogs I’ve come across.

    I really do believe that blogs are a new kind of literature – or can be, at least. The open-endedness, the collaboration between writer and reader, the importance of visual elements in the experience, unique to the medium – all are worthy of exploration.

    Thanks, as always, for dropping by and for your kind words. Quite unexpectedly, your own blog has nearly nudged me over the edge into a Japanese literature challenge!

    Linda

  13. Oh, Linda!

    Flannery O’Connor never missed, did she? She knew exactly where–and how–to strike. The remark you quoted reminds me of Mark Twain: “write without pay until someone offers you pay.” And then, I believe he went on to the effect that if no one offers you pay, write anyway. Less about “the market” (whatever that is) than perseverance. Throwing those beautiful bottles that you find and pack with lovely, apt messages back into the sea.

    The poem is beautiful, and the story of Roger Stone’s widow both heartrending and uplifting. Thank you for sharing that story, and for all one hundred of the wonderful stories that you have shared thus far. May there be hundreds and hundreds more.

    Congratulations.

    Do, please, join the Japanese literature challenge; you’d have such fun with it!

    ds,

    Any woman who can teach a chicken to walk backwards (Flannery did) and then dare to write about it is ok in my book. Beneath all that gosh-shucks-I’m-just-an-old-country-gal exterior beat the heart of woman who would understand one of my favorite sayings: “I’ve got a vocabulary, and I know how to use it”.

    I happened by Andilit’s blog tonight and was astonished. She recently posted her 500th blog. Can you imagine? Actually, I can imagine it, and appreciate in a new way the effort and thought behind such an accomplishment.

    And to think – when I started all this, I was afraid I’d run out of things to write about after a month or two. Now, my only problem is finding time to flesh out the skeletons of ideas that are rattling around in my mental closet!

    Linda

  14. This is a good one for me today, coming back after more than a week away. I’ve never missed posting every third day or so. Now, with all the memories, work and exhaustion of the weekend, my head is full of cobwebs. So coming back to blogworld is a stretch, and my muscles are tight and sore.

    The question for me has often been about getting published or not, not the money per se. I’ve gotten past it and recognize that I do not feel whole without writing and taking pictures. These get me through all kinds of days, and it is a terrific bonus having others find interest in what I post. You’ve expressed similar feelings here in the past. And yes, there are those times when someone really got something important, or there is synchronicity, as with my friend in Australia, over and over.

    Your photos (and framing) again are gorgeous and perfect. A joy always to read and relish here.

    Ruth,

    A tiny story, re: getting published. I used to attend a writers’ group. At each meeting, people would share their stories of progress and success or failure. One night, a fellow told this story: he wrote a novel. He worked on it for five years, and then spent one more editing. After another year, he found a publisher, and the book was accepted. After another year, it was published and became a real book. That was two years ago, and by the time he told us the story, 250 copies had sold.

    That’s eight years at minimum, focused on a single project which reached very few folks. He was pleased, which is good. As he put it, his goal was to be published, and he reached that goal. I’m not quite sure how I would condense my goal into just a few words, but I know my goal isn’t publication. I’m happy for him, but not so willing to sequester myself for so many years to construct an imaginary world, The real world fascinates me so much more.

    Speaking of which – welcome back. I saw that Ginnie has surfaced again, too. It will be delightful to read your reflections on the wedding, and delightful to see you start to stretch those muscles again.

    Linda

  15. Linda, if it helps nudge you any more please remember that I had no desire to do this the first time, feeling (and quite honestly so) that I had way too many English books to read and would not necessarily benefit by setting them aside for Japanese literature. I was of course being ignorant, a fact that slapped me upside the head when I feel so deeply in love with Murakami’s short stories and later novels.

    And thanks for the wonderful comments. While Stainless Steel Droppings could indeed be a cold-sounding blog, the name origins are steeped in a comical, adventurous science fiction series combined with the fact that I don’t see myself as the second coming of anything, just an average joe trying to enjoy this new(er) medium of communication.

    Carl,

    Actually, it was a little pondering of the “hundred best / most worthwhile” books that startled me enough to send me back to the Japanese challenge blogs, including yours. Despite years’ worth of emphasis on inclusion and diversity, there are places where it just isn’t evident. My experience in Africa opened my eyes to a rich and diverse literature from that continent, which I rarely see mentioned. When someone like me knows more about anime and manga than Japanese and Chinese literature, something’s “off”!

    I know this – I need to clean out my life like you did your garage. I need more time for book and blog-reading, commenting and writing!

    Linda

  16. And of course, volunteers like yourself make it possible for those “extras” in education to be available to the kids. Between the financial constraints faced by school districts and the devaluing of the arts by school boards, sometimes the only way to expose kids to music, drama and art is through the work of volunteers.

    Our district, fortunately, still believes in the arts and still offers music in grades K-12. Bands begin in middle school and while all elementary schools offer some kind of art curriculum, we have a credentialed art teacher. That’s pretty rare. But our Pageant of the Arts wouldn’t happen without her. It seems like every elementary in our district has a different strength – art, technology, science, etc. Ours has the arts strength – and I’m working on the technology strength. My daughter is the media teacher at the elementary with the technology strength – but she went to school at the school where I work. As long as the parents continue to support the arts at our school, we’ll have an art teacher. But the Pageant is put together entirely by volunteers who see the value in it. It’s hard to call it work when it’s so much fun!

    Karen,

    “It’s hard to call it work when it’s so much fun!”

    There it is – the reason so many of us do what we do. Why do I sit at my “infernal persnickety time-sucker” as I do? Because it’s fun – not carnival-thrill fun, not party hat and noisemakers fun, but the kind of deep, satisfying enjoyment that makes it possible for hours to pass before I realize it’s time to go to work, go to Mom’s, go to bed or – what? The dishes are still in the sink?!

    As someone mentioned to me recently, the reason the German Shepherds make such wonderful service dogs is that they haven’t a clue they’re working. To them, it’s all a wonderful, challenging game ;-)

    Linda

  17. Why write? Why take the trouble to pay attention, focus, understand, communicate? Why breathe? Why smile? It’s all because we know there’s something more than putting the bacon (or the tofu) on the table. The point of making money is so that we CAN celebrate and serve the world, serve what is beautiful and true and worth our love. What the growing blogging world allows is for more of us to do it more directly, in the company of more of us. Hoorah for that!

    Mary Ellen,

    Well, exactly. And whether we write, or paint, or coach Little League, or garden or simply help someone get through the demands of the day, to the extent that we do those things as both celebration and service, we’re enriched.

    The fact that we can do it together, in all of the variety that blogging is, does make it even more a delight. I know exactly which of my life experiences best captures the reality of blogging for me. I was perhaps five or six years old, busily painting limestone gravel with water colors out in the driveway. When I got done, I went running into the house to my mother, carrying some of my precious red, yellow and blue rocks. “Look!”, I exclaimed. “Aren’t they beautiful?!”

    That’s what blogging is to me – taking a bit of reality, dressing it up just a bit, and then showing it off just for the pure pleasure of it. Hoorah, indeed!

    Linda

  18. That cleaning out of life can be a hard but rewarding thing. In our quest to rid ourselves of debt we made some budget decisions, including eliminating our satellite tv connection. I’ve not had it for a month now and still haven’t gone out and purchased a converter box to watch ‘normal’ tv. We just don’t miss it. We watch so many more dvds anyway that most of our tv watching is the various British mysteries and dramas we enjoy.

    Not having tv around to distract me, including my beloved HGTV, has opened up more time to do other things that I want to do, like reading, blogging, spending time with family and friends. I’m looking to do even more of that kind of cleaning out so that I have more time to do the things I enjoy and ultimately have a more peaceful and fulfilling life.

    Carl,

    Isn’t it amazing how fresh the advice still is? “Simplify, simplify…” It fits for possessions, routines – even for writing. One of my earliest blogs was titled “Purity of Prose is to Write One Thing”. When I try to cram too much into one essay, it’s no easier to move around in my blog than in my walk-in closet!

    It’s time for the annual Pre-Hurricane Rearrangement of Stuff, and you can bet that simplification’s going to be at the top of the priorities! In the meantime, I keep asking myself two questions: do I need this? do I need to do this? A little editing helps life, too!

    Linda

  19. Did you happen to hear the NPR piece yesterday about two writers who have published a book or two (if I remember right), but who could not make a living at it? The man was like your fellow who just published once. Both these writers are doing ghost writing and getting paid. I wonder if that is satisfying to them. I mean, on the level of making a living it must be. But I think they would need to creatively express themselves to be really satisfied. Maybe they have blogs. (smile)

    Ruth,

    I missed the piece, but I’m sure those two are representative of a lot of folks. I have a hard time imagining writing all day on behalf of someone else and then coming home to write for myself. I enjoy the balance between physical labor and intellectual/creative endeavors – and I’m not sure I’ve got the creative energy to do nothing but write.

    Of course, my views are shaped by my age. If I’d discovered a talent for words in my 30s or 40s, I might have been willing to spend five years on a novel or expend a good bit of time and energy toward getting published. But, assuming roughly 20 good years left to me, I’m not certain I want to do that. I’m beginning to discover that things look different in the light of sunrise and the light of sunset ;-)

    Linda

  20. Lovely post. Born writers can’t not write and like everything in life, some do it better than others, so we write on, regardless. Sometimes if we don’t find an audience immediately, our audience finds us over time and when they find us one by one, as Linda Stone found you, it can be more rewarding than money or record-setting stats.

    And in many ways writing is like sex: some do it for love, some for money depending on the circumstances and goals.

    ella,

    How nice to start the day with a chuckle. Once stated, the parallel with sex is obvious, and the theme could be developed in some intriguing ways ;-)

    I’m finding my experience now very much like Ruth’s. If circumstances prevent any writing for a day or two, or three, I find myself getting restless. All of those ideas stirring around in my mind seem eager to live on paper. I’m beginning to appreciate in a new way the importance of discipline, of having a time every day to write, even if it’s only a regular half-hour.

    And speaking of writers – I happened to see Nora Ephron interviewed this a.m. on MSNBC re: Julie & Julia. It’s been a long time since I’ve wanted to see a new release as much as I want to see this one. I bumped into Ephron’s essay on The Food Establishment recently, and thoroughly enjoyed a peek into that somewhat (?) rarified world.

    Thanks for being part of my little audience – it’s always a pleasure to have you stop by.

    Linda

  21. Ruth and I have indeed both resurfaced after many days of hard but joyful work, Linda!

    You and Ruth are way ahead of me…or maybe not so much ahead as on a different road…when it comes to writing. Writing is only one form of communication for me, ruled as I am by Mercury! I wonder if any one form will ever be more fine-tuned than another before I die? And will it ever bring in cash while on a Social-Security pittance? Maybe my photos while in the Netherlands can be made into posh greeting cards. Astrid says they just don’t have nice cards like we do here in the States.

    I ponder such things in my heart…but most of the time I work on my photography like you do your writing, for the sheer joy of it, delighted if/whenever a particular image touches someone deeply.

    Ginnie,

    You sound very much like my friend Wanda, above. The push to make money with our art – whatever it might be – is always well-intentioned, but not necessarily welcome or necessary.

    It may sound silly to some, but one of the greatest delights of the writing I’ve done here is when a phrase that I’m especially pleased with is picked up on and responded to by someone else. I can’t think of one just now, but there have been some – little plays on words, unusual metaphors, just a nice turn of phrase. I’ll bet you have photos you respond to in the same way – going back in the private glow of your computer, looking at the image and thinking, “Darn. That’s GOOD!” It’s a very private, but very real joy. When someone else sees it and responds, it’s just perfect.

    You recently posted the perfect visual metaphor for the experience – Bishop, with the green eyes. That’s what my little bits of verbal joy are. Green eyes, tucked into the middle of the picture ;-)

    Linda

  22. Greatly enjoyed reading this blog post. It is so well-composed. Thank you!

    mummyjaan,

    Thanks so much for stopping by, and especially for your comment. It’s always a pleasure to have someone new stop by, and you’re welcome any time.

    Linda

  23. One of the more painful yet ultimately rewarding ways I have been simplifying, that ties into the way I am trying to reduce debt, is selling books on ebay and half.com. As an avid collector it was initially hard to consider selling anything, but when I got down to asking myself if I would ever read various things again, and also evaluating my treasures vs. books I just purchased to have, it became much easier.

    It has been a very freeing thing in addition to providing a good amount of money to pay down debt with. And as my bookshelves are becoming more bare I am left with very cherished books and space to fill with other treasures that come my way in the future. I am very excited with this simplification and new focus on what is important and new contentment with all the blessings that I already possess.

    Carl,

    When I say I understand this part of your experience completely, I mean I understand it – completely. For years I’ve collected antique pottery and porcelain from the Ohio Valley – Wheeling, Warwick, Laughlin and others. Two hurricane evacuations and the pains of protecting the collection during hurricane season brought me to the point of considering some serious downsizing. I’ve been at it for a year now, and it’s been a bit like selling off the children.

    Eventually I developed a guideline – if I don’t display it, I don’t need it. It hasn’t worked perfectly, but there’s just no reason to have something that lives its life in a box when it could be displayed and appreciated by someone else. Now it’s time to pack up for hurricanes again, so I hope to do a bit more culling and make a bit more room. We can take a tip from the painters, here. Space is important, too, and beauty always is more striking with a little space around it!

    Linda

  24. Every once in a great while that argument gets to me – that I shouldn’t be giving my writing “away” – but let’s be honest – no one is currently paying me to do it, and I love it, and I’m not going to stop doing something I love so very, very much. Additionally, I have come across so many GREAT writers, like yourself, that I find blogging incredibly valuable – reading blogs has really replaced magazine reading in my life.

    Courtney,

    Interesting, the point you make about magazines. I hadn’t thought about it, but I used to have a pile of magazines I read regularly. Harper’s, The Atlantic, Smithsonian… The only one I’m still subscribed to is The New Yorker. They tend to stack up in corners, but I like having them around to tote to doctors offices and so on – any place where waiting’s assured.

    One thing I especially like about the blogs is the wide range of perspective and style. If you pick up a New Yorker, it’s a fact that you know what the “tone” is going to be, and no matter how divergent the writers, it can feel a little predictable. There’s nothing predictable about the blogs! There are so many people thinking and writing about such interesting things – and the trash is so easy to get rid of!

    Thanks so much for stopping by. It’s always a pleasure.

    Linda

  25. Dear Linda, Happy 100th! This was a lovely read. I think writing a blog is as much about writing as it is about being part of a community. There are a lot of different blogging voices — what amazes me is how like-minded people DO manage to find each other, as though they can hear the voices that speak to them from so far away. xoxox

    lily ~

    How kind of you to stop by, and how true your observation. We do find one another, sometimes in amazingly serendipitous ways. And I’ve always thought that old saying particularly appropriate for bloggers: not all who wander are lost!

    Linda


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