Making Changes (Promisses No. 9)

Why can I only find time to write here on Fridays?

Anyway, if you’re here, and you’ve been here before, you might notice that it looks a bit different allasudden. The old theme had one thing going for it: I tend to write a lot of words, and occasionally tend toward long paragraphs, and that theme let the text take up a lot of horizontal space (it’s even called “Widely”), so it made my long posts and long paragraphs look not quite so long. But it was boring as hell.

This isn’t much better, but it’ll do for now. There are navigation/subscription links over there <<<, if you want ’em (they were at the bottom of the page before). The background picture is actually a kind of stunning shot (by total-amateur-pointing-and-clicking-an-iPhone standards) that I took of a Revolution-era house somewhere in northern Virginia a couple years ago (embiggening, would be the purpose of your clicking below):

IMG_0190 …but the way it comes out here — depending on your screen size and resolution, maybe — really only adds a nice little splash of color and a couple clouds. Oh well.

So anyway, there’s that, but there’s more. When I started this blog, I thought: I’m going to write a lot about things that make me angry, and most of those things have a left-leaning political tinge to them.

Those thoughts proved largely correct, as you probably know. But that’s certainly not what I want this to be about. I’ve also written about writing and social media and all kinds of things on which all (reasonable) people can agree, or at least can amicably agree to disagree, and I didn’t want this to be the kind of place where the name and general tone of the whole thing drove certain (reasonable) people away. I have conservative friends (a couple) and moderate friends. I’m a Christian, I’m a midwesterner who’s lived on both coasts, I don’t want to alienate anybody (who is reasonable). And you know, I can be awfully cranky sometimes, but I don’t think that’s a defining characteristic. I don’t want it to be a defining characteristic of this blog, at any rate.

So, no more “The Cranky Lefty.” Now, it’s just me. I made a few corresponding changes to the About page. The tag under the blog’s title on the left there will probably change quite often: the current one (“What you’ll need is a jackhammer”) is a snippet of a thing I wrote in my novel (or whatever) project, and it relates to writer’s block. The protagonist hits a wall because he’s afraid of the relative permanence of the words he’s about to put on the page; odds are the next line that comes out won’t be the perfect line, and neither will the next one, and the killer is that after hundreds or thousands of not quite perfect lines stacked on top of one another, editing (yours or someone else’s) can’t save you: editing is a chisel, when what you’ll need is a jackhammer. So he just freezes up straightaway. A bit depressing, maybe? But I choose not to hear it that way, I choose to hear it as kind of a call to be fearless and change-embracing in the first instance, and at any rate it can’t be any more depressing than this place used to be.

So the content won’t likely change much — alternating light/funny/musing and serious/political stuff, the occasional casual cursing just to keep you on your toes — but the look has, and I’m hoping the tone will too. Just a bit. And I’m hoping to write more often. Maybe Wednesdays, to go with Fridays? We’ll see.

Change

Promisses No. 8: Your Own Worst Critic

I’ve been writing, and it’s scary.

I mean, I’m always writing, of course, but I’ve been writing in a way that I really hadn’t been for several years. It’s fiction, this thing I’m doing. The kind that’s pompously, idiotically dubbed “literary fiction,” I guess you’d call it (it’s all “literary,” in my opinion, any given piece of writing, if there’s any shred of creativity or artistic expression in it at all), which just means it doesn’t have a plot that moves enough to apply any other genre to it, unless and until it takes one on as it goes along.

I have my doubts as to whether it’ll ever be publishable (or whether I’ll want it to be), but it’s a thing that’s important to me to write, personally, about some stuff I’ve been through. It’s therapeutic. And, who knows? Maybe it will be A Thing, someday. It could happen. The point is that I’m doing it because I want to and feel like I need to, and (for now) I’m committed to it. I’ve set, and so far (four or five days in) kept, a relatively modest goal of 500 words a day. (And I’m sure that I’ll be flexible on that, in the future, as I inevitably need it.)

And each night, at about 300 words in (and often several other times before and after), I come to the fully supportable and almost certainly correct conclusion that this thing I am writing is The Worst Thing That Has Ever Been Written. I still occasionally get that with my other writing, too; it’s just a part of the process. That feeling nearly convinced me not to publish last Friday’s post on women and tattoos, which, whether it’s a good post or a bad one, ended up being the most-viewed post in this blog’s short history nearly twice over (if you’re curious, and you’re not, the previous leader was my inaugural “Beauty of a Woman” post). I’ll often have to find a way to trick myself into sending a baseball article, which I’ve fussed over for hours already and which is the kind of thing I’ve written hundreds of times before, finally hitting that “send” button to my editors so abruptly and almost impulsively that I sometimes won’t even realize that I’ve actually finally forced myself to stop fretting and send it. I’ll probably edit this ten times before morning, and who cares about this? It’s just part of being a writer. Or at least, it’s a part of being me, writing.

That, the nagging worry, is a pretty significant impediment to my progress on this…novel or whatever it is, but I push through it. Eventually, that is — maybe after playing five games of Bejeweled Blitz and opening up four new Gchat windows and trying with limited success to start some big dumb conversation/fight on Twitter and watching an episode of Dr. Who — I do finally push through it. And I get to the end of my planned 500 words (or 600 or 1000 of them) and glance back over what I’ve done, and you know what? Well, it might not be good, per se, I’ll never be convinced it’s ever going to be anything good, but it won’t be nearly as awful as I thought it might be while I was in the middle of it. Never once has been.

Promisses missed you terribly last week, and today reminds you (me) to turn off that nagging dread and worry in your (my) already overcrowded, tiny little brain.

Own Worst Critic

Fist-bump to my lovely wife for the initial suggestion on this one.

Loveliest of Fridays and weekends.

Thoughts on Celebrating an Age that Isn’t Anything

290_559677120416_9770_n (2)For a while, every birthday really feels like it means something. It’s not just the ones that mark a new decade or phase, or the ones on the fives, or the ones that make some adult activity legal (though there are so many of those for a while there): I’d say 14 feels markedly different than 13, for instance, and 17 a weirdly big step up from 16 (plus, R-rated movies!). When you turn 23, you’re out of college, or no longer college-aged. At 26, you’re entering your “late twenties,” so that’s something.

I’d respect an argument that 27 is the first age that just isn’t really anything, though it’s debatable (baseball nerds know that that’s the accepted “peak age” for your average ballplayer, so it’s a bit of an interesting reflection point for us definitively-not-athletes). Thirty-one certainly isn’t much. At 32, you’re no longer thirty-ish, so that feels like something. Thirty-three…I don’t know, there’s something cool about 33. I guess it’s the symmetry. It’s also the age at which Jesus is believed to have been martyred, so there’s that.

My point is this: 34, which is the age I am for the first time today, just isn’t a thing. It’s definitively, inarguably not anything, as a human age. Now: it’s the uniform number of my childhood hero. It’s the atomic number of selenium, which is used primarily to produce glass. As an age, though, what’s 34? Nothing happens at 34. It’s one of the first ages one becomes without really feeling anything’s changed. You can say you’ve made it longer than Jesus, I suppose, but he redeemed mankind and healed lepers and everything and what have you done, really, up against all that?

So without any milestones to lean on, you’ve kind of just got to look at your actual life, without the crutches of those artificial filters and measuring sticks and what-have-you. And that can be pretty scary. Or just pretty boring. Or both, or (a) because (b), or…it can be lots of things.

But, I mean: there’s a lot of good coming. Thirty-four is the year during which my first-born starts kindergarten and my second gets out of diapers. It’s the year of a new, probably more or less permanent home and the first full year of a much healthier lifestyle than the one I’d become accustomed to, and early indications suggest it might be the year in which I start to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

The nice thing is that all those false milestones and artificial measuring sticks and whatever else are, you know, false — our bodies and lives don’t operate in sets of 365 days, or in groups of five or ten or 21 or 30 or 50 of them. Every year is worth reflecting on and celebrating, just because 365 days is a fucking lot of days, and every now and then, after a fucking lot of days have passed, it’s nice to kind of stop and take a look back and forward; given that, absent any more logical or less arbitrary option, you might as well do it on the day you were born.

With that bit of rousing inspiration in mind, here are, let’s say, the five most important things I’ve learned during the year that’s passed since my 33rd birthday:

  1. Complacency is for the dead and dying. There should always be a Next Thing, or a Plan B. Always. If nothing else, even if you think life is perfect and secure forever, a little daydreaming can’t hurt.
  2. My wife can do anything. Seriously. She’s amazing, and can adapt to any awful situation. I think it’s a thing women have, but she’s clearly the best in the world at it. Sorry, quite literally everyone else on the planet.
  3. The universe can survive my “coming out” as a lefty to my wonderful but quite conservative dad. It happened by accident right at the height of election season. There were some arguments. Now we mostly talk about basketball instead.
  4. Rest makes a difference, now and then. I’ve learned that three baseball deadlines a week that keep me up until 1 a.m. and a day job that gets me up at 5ish make for a not entirely productive and often a very cranky lefty. It’s tempting to chalk it up to age and not being in college anymore and all that, but no, I’m pretty sure that that sort of thing never worked, and that the difference is never having the option anymore to just sleep ’til like noon or so.
  5. Not much beats having a friend who listens to all your shit and more or less “gets it.” I knew that once before, but I’d kind of forgotten it until recently, and that was dumb of me.

And with that, as I write this, it’s almost actually my birthday, and I’ll be finishing my glass of wine and heeding Thing Number Four. Cheers, Internet.