Sunday, December 23, 2012

In Praise of Corny Blogs

Some of you might have noticed a tiny hiatus between my last blog post and this one. (And if not, humor me and pretend that you did.) After I started this blog nearly two weeks ago, I cranked out something like 13 posts in 12 days -- a baker's dozen blog posts. A good chunk of them were written to report some sort of positive action I'd just taken: signing up with a new temp agency that's geared toward creative folks; dumping out my trunk booze; joining a short-fiction writing group and workshop; running four miles. I was on a roll -- I was en fuego! And then you got three days of crickets.

For me, three days without writing is a big deal. Well OK, during that time I was working on non-blog writing, mostly editing older stories and posting them with photos on my creative-writing site. The day I go more than three days without writing or working on something word-related will probably be the day my vital organs cease to function. But I digress. (Often.)

There's nothing more boring than a blog post about how you didn't write a blog post. It's the blog equivalent of talking about the weather. (Unless you're a meteorologist or a seasonal-ode-writing poet and the weather is your favorite thing to talk about. In which case, I apologize for the clich√©.) Blogging about not blogging is blogging about a non-topic. It's like a sign on an elevator saying "Closed for repairs" that gets taken down as soon as the sucker's working again -- there's no need to have a sign saying "Elevator was closed for repairs, but we fixed it." Usually. But bear with me; I have a point to make here, I assure you.

You know that old aphorism "Silence speaks volumes"? Well, in my case, as far as this blog is concerned, that was true. My three-day silence on here was a noisy silence, fraught with self-doubt and inner turmoil. You see... I had started to hate this blog. Just a tiny bit. (Is it blasphemy to say that on here? Did I just poke a hole in the fabric of the universe?)

At some point after the last long, rambling post I took a step back. I thought, "What am I doing here? No, what am I really freaking doing with this thing? And does the world even need it?"

I have long disdained the sort of preachy, smug, self-help-book tone that a blog like this could easily start to take, especially if I begin to actually reach my stated goal of "digging out of [my] hole." I didn't want this to be... pedestrian. There have been quirky, goal-oriented blogs that became books and even movies. There was "Julie and Julia," which I'm told was not bad (both the book and the movie; my boyfriend watched it on a plane once), about a woman working her way through Julia Child's seminal tome on French cooking while also becoming more of an executive chef in the kitchen of her own life. I didn't want this to be an "Eat Pray Love" thing, in which I roam around all filled with First World angst and find fulfillment, then present my life to you as a sort of inspirational guidebook for fixing yours. Those lessons in our cultural textbook -- even the good ones -- are a goddamn dime a dozen.

I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was about this blog that was getting on my nerves. And then I happened to read a New York Times review of a book of essays called "In Praise of Messy Lives" by Katie Roiphe. Well, I got linked to the review from a mean write-up about the author and her work on Gawker (man, they hate her over there!), but this particular episode of Internet serendipity led me to some quotes from the book that seemed to capture part of what I was feeling. From the review:

"[Roiphe asserts] that we’ve grown pretty dull and conservative, more interested in being parents than in being adults. She detects a wearisome 'cultural preoccupation with healthiness above all else.'
We swoon to 'Mad Men,' she suggests, because of the 'spectacle of people who drank too much, smoked too much, and fell into bed with people they weren’t married to.' Ms. Roiphe carefully — and necessarily — isolates 'messiness as a value, a good thing, a lost and interesting way of life.'
Along these lines she makes arguments that will clank on bourgeois ears. She spies, for example, a benefit to divorce: 'There are consolations to this kind of unhappiness; there are strange, felicitous side effects. This is one of the very few times in adult life when you get a chance to reinvent yourself.'
She skewers smug, food-centered lives. What a disaster, she writes, when you find your 'bohemianism and rebellion against conventional mores basically confined to shopping at Whole Foods.' "

After I read the review, I realized that the fear I was having such trouble articulating had been expressed in what Roiphe finds to be a turnoff about the lives of many modern folks. The wearisome preoccupation with being healthy (physically, psychologically, and emotionally) above all else. The notion that eliminating all vices from one's life is the correct and admirable thing to do. The single-dimensional idea that we must always pursue happiness and avoid unhappiness -- that a life that's more happy than sad is better than a life that's the other way around, no argument, simple as a math equation. The sense that it's enough to "shop responsibly," to drive a hybrid car and eat organic food and buy coffee that says "fair trade" on the package -- that in doing these little things, we're doing our part to save the world... that all of that is "enough."

I haven't read her book -- I tried; I drove out to the closest Barnes & Noble the day after reading the NYT review, but in the Christmas crush the harried customer-service girl told me simply, "We're sold out" and I didn't want to hold her up further by putting in an order -- but I get the feeling that the bottom line is something along the lines of: Unmessy lives are boring. And isn't the whole grand goal of this blog to make my life less messy -- less troubled, less conflicted, less stagnant in the mire of mediocrity, less unhappy? To eliminate the laziness and giving in to temptation that has defined the last five or so of my adult years? Yeah, it kinda is.

I started to wonder if doing all of this, ticking off my little actions, dutifully reporting them on this blog, giving myself a mental Scooby snack for each one -- was putting myself on a road to becoming fucking boring. Aren't conflicts a necessary element in any story -- what kind of writer would I be without one (or ten)?

If my life is all Martha-Stewart-perfect and my psyche is Dr.-Phil-okiedokied, and the enlightened purity of my soul is the envy of the Dalai Lama... if all of that happened, how could I write with any soul or authenticity? How could I produce art that resonates with people who aren't totally content with their lives -- which is pretty much everyone?

OK, picture it: Christie digs out of her hole. She's got an awesome job, or has at least cobbled together enough freelance projects to total roughly 40 working hours each week and enough money for essential things (rent, health and car insurance, gas for my car) and non-essential things (travel, socking some savings away). She's gotten some short stories published in some cool places, and/or won a respectable prize in a writing contest or two. Trunk booze is a distant memory -- she now enters social situations with the greatest of ease, conversing freely and intelligently with strangers and friends alike. She's eating healthy and working out regularly again; her body is slimmer and fitter than ever before, with rockin' abs and the most adorable li'l biceps, and she can actually do a pull-up now, and fit into her skinny clothes of yore -- yet she has somehow magically retained her new-ish weight-gain-enhanced boobs.

Would I want to read something -- a blog, a short story -- written by someone like that?


Here is where I'm supposed to do the "but" thing and turn this all around. Here is where I'm supposed to tell you that my fear is a moot point -- that no way could anyone ever possibly be "too happy," "too healthy," and that I invite you to prove me wrong. "Find someone who is 'too happy' or 'too healthy' and I'll give you a million dollars!" Here is where I'm supposed to say, "It's all about balance! Have some self-discipline -- but also have some fun!" Yin and yang and all that.

Here's the dorky truth: I have to do all these corny little checklist things. I have to force myself to take concrete actions -- register for something work-related, sign up for a workshop, contact people and arrange to get something on my calendar and then actually go to it. I have to hustle and push myself to do all the things that for years now I've been putting off until some mythical "tomorrow" that winds up being never. I have to go all self-help-book and Martha-Stewart-calendar or it will not get done.

I don't have the luxury of living a gloriously messy life that gives me character and lends my stories an edge right now. I've been doing that, and only that, for far too long.

I have to arrange hours of my day like puzzle pieces and make time for the things I want to do in my life: write, both professionally and creatively; eat healthy and get back in shape; become more comfortable talking to people in outside-the-house social situations; read, both fiction and non-fiction, and do an adequate job of keeping up with both contemporary fiction as well as the news -- not just on a surface level but in depth. I have to make a nerdy hour-by-hour schedule if that's what works. However un-bohemian and un-cool it might be.

I'm not doing all of that right now. I'm doing some of these inching-towards-progress things, but it feels spotty and unfocused. I complete freelance-writing assignments because my work ethic is ironclad (it has to be if I want future assignments). I write fiction because my soul would shrivel up and die if I didn't. But lately I've slacked off on keeping up with the news, unless you count the four minutes of NPR I hear on my drive to Starbucks in the morning. My diet is terrible. You know that four-mile run I keep talking about and linking to on here? Yeah, that was an isolated incident, and a day or two after that I found myself at a mall eating a cinnabon. Not one of the mini ones either -- the classic giant-sized bun. I wasted full hours of this laid-back Sunday indulging in daydreams so fluffy and trivial that I'm ashamed to write about them on my own blog -- hours I could have spent making my freelance website spiffy, or applying for jobs, or working out. Or even just cleaning my home office or doing laundry. I didn't do any of that.

Which wouldn't be so bad if I didn't too often succumb to the allure of putting things in the "I'll do it tomorrow" basket. I have to change my thinking so that tomorrow equals never. (I mean, you know, within reason; e.g. I'm not going to sit here and tell myself today that Christmas will come never, so I better rush out and give my family presents right this second.)

See, I am someone whose self-discipline is so bad that I've often fantasized about joining the military just to go through the boot-camp part, just to see if it would do for me what it did to some of the kids I knew in high school -- took a bunch of long-haired flunkies and turned them into self-starting, crew-cutted, dawn-jogging paragons of action with rippling musculatures and good posture. 
I have to be my own drill sergeant, and I have a long history of sucking at that.

This blog is my sorry attempt to buck that tradition. This blog is my substitute for someone telling me to drop and give them one hundred push-ups because I feebly hollered out a sub-par answer to a screamed-out question. This blog is my stand-in for having someone bounce a quarter on my sheets to see if I made the bed sloppily. ... OK, so maybe all my notions of boot camp come from the movies.

My point is this: This blog will sometimes be corny. It will sometimes be smug. It will sometimes -- OK, it will right now -- come off as amateur self-help treacle. I mean, even as I'm typing this I'm wondering whether to give this post the traditional "resolution" sort of ending or just let it trail off, leaving you in an ambiguous fog, if only to avoid being corny. "It's ambiguous just like real life, man!"

It will be corny, but I need to do something. If I stop showing up here to turn in my imaginary extra credit, I'm afraid that I just won't do anything. I'm afraid that I'll sit here eating a cinnabon and daydreaming about living a different life, with a different job in a different city, and maybe a different hair color, and thinking about what sort of wardrobe I would wear in that different life. I mean, I think about dumb stuff like that sometimes.

I will keep this blog going. Last night at a club, a friend said to me: "Your blog has helped me so freakin' much." I was shocked, and deeply gratified. I knew that one friend of mine had been reading it -- and has even been leaving comments, to which I have shamefully not responded yet. But I really didn't think anyone else was paying attention. In these days of the "TL; DR" ("too long; didn't read") mentality, I had assumed that people were taking one look at the screen full of text and clicking back over to Twitter or Tumblr or pictures of the Grumpy Cat on Facebook.

But if any of this helps even one person, it's worth doing. I'll keep my little candle lit here in the confusing darkness of life, or something Hallmark-card like that. I will keep it going, for her and for me and maybe for you.

1 comment:

  1. It's helping me too. :)

    I almost never respond to comments on my blogs. I should, but it's not a habit I ever got into.

    I'm rooting for the boring blog because then I will think "if you can do this, I can too." I *want* stability. It's not boring the way you write about it. But I'mma check out that book because I too have been annoyed with my own blog & writing lately.