Thursday, November 30, 2006

Blog Ethics

I'm sitting on my bed with Raindrop. Lizzie's petting Raindrop. Dave's standing in the doorway with Ishmael. Both the cats are getting stroked.

I'm not getting stroked. Lizzie's not getting stroked. Dave's not getting stroked. He's talking about his X coworker, who used to give him a stroke. "Some things never change," Dave says, beginning a story as he rubs Ishy's neck.

I was going to tell the story, which involves poop, a back room, and emails, but now I can't. Dave announces that "it's rude to share that with the public."

So you'll never know what the story was about, on the very off chance that perhaps X will a) log on to the internet and search out this blog, b) find and read it, and c) recognize himself. Do people ever recognize themselves when cast in that yellowish light of an alternate and not always flattering point of view?


But that hooks into another topic I wanted to discuss. I was going to save the topic for the blogspot venue but, what the hell. I'll unload it here. It has to do with blogging ethics.

I went to a poetry reading tonight. One of the fellow listeners said, as we exchanged blog addresses, that he never put poems he planned to send out for publication on his blog. "It doesn't seem ethically correct," he said. He might put a poem on his blog months, half a year, a year, after it's been published in print. "If someone's going to go to the trouble, these days, of publishing something in print, I think it's only fair," he said, to give them exclusivity.

What is ethical here? If I write in this blog, am I really publishing? And if so, isn't it self publishing? And does self publishing count?

Who's reading this? If I write about D's X coworker, am I being "unfair" to him if I paint him, as a dogowner, with a somewhat naive brush? Is that story about the back room and the bull mastiff his property and have I stolen it if I write about it here?

I began this entry by pointing out that I was not getting stroked. And I certainly don't feel stroked now. In fact, i feel somewhat attacked, or at the very least guilty, as if I've been caught eating someone else's cookies. And because I feel guilty, and low, and thus peevish, I want to take it out on someone, and who better than D?

"Oh," D says, back in the doorway, this time without the cat (they are wrestling and screaming, acting out our hidden aggressions against each other), "now you're going to write about me, aren't you? I'm going to get smeared in the blog."

You better believe it, buddy. Because if I can't write about the bull mastiff, the email and the back room poop, because that story -- which a minute ago you felt no compunction against sharing with me -- belongs to X, is the private property of X, even though you passed it to me and asked me to take a bite, then I'm going to write about you.

But now that you're out of the room, and Lizzie's packed off to bed, and Rain and Ish have bitten each other into a kind of weary truce -- a truce as ragged and balding as Rain's fur is getting -- and you've disappeared into the house somewhere, no doubt to brood over what I might be writing, I can't think of anything to fill that hole. No pithy stories pop into my head.

And it's no fun to wrestle myself.

Monday, November 27, 2006


How much is enough? Should a writer spend most of her time writing, revising, or should she put more of her time into trying to get her work published?

In the academic arena, writing and revising, thinking an idea through, sharing the writing with her students and other writers, that doesn't seem to be enough. "There's not a lot of turnaround here," the evaluators will say.

No, she has to publish her work as much as possible, in a variety of venues that make the powers that be quiver with admiration/envy.

Working at a small liberal arts college, where teaching is the focus, where undergraduates rule, seems to mitigate against publishing widely and often. Why? Because where does a woman get the time, not to mention the contacts? One has to write a slew of cover letters, get the poems (if that's what they are) ready for send out, find the addresses and the proper names, put everything together, mail it off.

(God, I sound like a whiner of the first order. Dave has to get up at 4:15 AM and leave the house by 6:45, in the dark, to drive 45 minutes to his tech writing job. And he has to sit in his cube doing tech writing for 8+ hours before he drives home again, in the dark.)

Poetry seems to be the worst biz for publishing. I've got a manuscript that I've been "shopping" around for years. It's probably no good. Or, not publishable. (Those two qualities might be mutually exclusive.) Try to get a first manuscript, book length, of poetry published these days (I'm not talking chapbook. I'm talking 56+ pages.) The writer, it seems, has to have infinite patience, has to commit hundreds of dollars to first book contests, and, if she has the good fortune to get her work accepted for publication, must then strong-arm all her friends and relatives and passing acquaintances into purchasing a copy of the volume in order for the publisher to give it a go at last.

What's the secret? Should I be spending more time in my office, listing all the great places to be published, and then shopping my pathetic poems to each, waiting for the inevitable rejections, revising them again, slipping them into a new envelope, and then sending them off to the next place on the list? What should my wish list look like? Should it read:

1. Poetry
2. New Yorker
3. Atlantic Monthly
4. Salmagundi
5. Ploughshares
6. ?

Who publishes poetry anymore? Who reads it? Even I don't read all the poems, or even half of the poems, in any given volume that happens to, finally, publish one of mine.

Maybe I should be writing fiction. But I can't seem to a) think of a story that's not ripped from the dull headlines of my life, b) write the story, c) revise the story, and d) send it out.

When I do stir myself, in a fit of action that happens about once a year, to send out 10 or so batches of work, sometimes it doesn't come back to me for over a year. On the other end, I imagine, are 2 or 3 overworked professor types and their minions, and stacks and stacks of unread poems destined for unread journals.

Perhaps they'll make their way to my poem in 8 months, read through it, and object to the title--"Necrophilia." They'll write me an acceptance letter that slams the title. I will respond, suggesting that they can change the title if it's that hideous, but, gently, outlining my reasons for selecting it. In the end, I would rather submit to their editorial will than lose the publication.

I will never hear back from them again. Since this seems to be a metaphor for the publishing game in general, I won't press it.

Should I?

Or should I simultaneously submit, crossing my fingers against the very off chance that a single poem will be accepted, simultaneously, by 2 venues?

It's because of these concerns that I find myself, mostly, writing and writing -- but not doing much revisiting or revising. And, certainly, rarely sending anything out.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Separate Blogs for Separate Lives?

I'm wondering if I should start dividing my time, thoughts, efforts, stories between blog sites.

I got started on Facebook. What happened was this: Megan F bounced into my office and announced that she'd been instrumental at creating a Facebook group devoted to me.

"What's Facebook?" I had to get involved in whatever group was all about me, didn't I?

Twenty minutes later, I had my own Facebook profile, complete with a picture of mac & cheese. Why the favorite boxed meal of generations of kids? Because of a throw-away comment I'd made that generated the Facebook group: "I should be called Easy Mac," I said, referring to the fact that I don't give as many traditional letter grades as some of my peers, preferring written comments as attaboys and attagirls, and to leave punishment to their absence.

Over the months, I created my own groups, began to write Notes, typed things all over peoples' walls, read and responded to their notes, sent them messages, and earned this comment recently: "How many hours a day do you *spend* on Facebook?" This from a freshman in my Intro to Lit course.

I have to admit that I felt shame reading that. My defensive mode kicked in when I wrote back: "Not as much as you think."

But yes, Andrea, I will confess that I've become a Facebookaholic. I check it at least once a day, even on Tuesdays, when I begin teaching at 10 and don't end until 3, when I often have a meeting to attend until 4:30. I check between classes, after classes, during office hours, at home before breakfast, after dinner, before bed. Whenever something happens to me or someone close to me, I envision it as a Facebook opp.

And Facebook is just a gateway blog, you know. Facebook threw me to LiveJournal. LiveJournal hooked me to Deb, whose blog is on blogspot, and when she invited me to read what she'd written here, I created my own account.

What do I love about blogging? I love the illusion of instant connection. I love the fact that it's always on. I like writing something in the morning and then finding a note about it in the afternoon, posted by someone I didn't know (but hoped?) was reading it.

I like "journaling" with a real audience in mind. I like how blogging makes me marshal my thoughts. Blogging performs what writing workshops did for me (and sometimes, many times, not as well) back in undergraduate and then two graduate schools: it gives me the feeling of a deadline, the sense of a willing, compelled audience, and a writing community with promise. I never know who I'll meet through a friend, whose writing I'll stumble across, whose ideas will connect with, even inspire, my own thinking and writing.

But it's getting a little too crazy to have three spots to post the same ideas. That doesn't seem like a good idea. It should be something like 3 courses, 3 different foci. Perhaps I'll use this blog, which few know about yet, to write about writing. To post my drafts and receive some feedback from select readers. (Are you a select reader? Let me know.) Here, perhaps, I'll live again as a writing student, thinking about craft, trying to put my ideas about writing into transmissible form.

And I'll use LiveJournal, as I have been, to record the minutia, the stories of every day, as I have been for weeks now. There, I'll let it all hang out.

And what about Facebook? Sometimes I worry that what I say on LiveJournal is too much for the students who frequent Facebook to handle. Do current students (I'm not talking about ex-students here, who are no longer virtual adults but actual adults living actual lives beyond the College) need to know about my struggles with anti-depressants (and the disease that may require them), or constipation, or (shudder) perimenopause and all of its symptoms and implications? No. No matter what they say, students need the lines, the boundaries, between mentor and mentee to remain intact. I can't be a real friend, after all, no matter how hip and involved I try to pretend to be. Finally, I'm a virtual friend; there's an important time for me to step back, smile, and wave their boat, train, or plane away.

And I will reserve Facebook for teaching. Passing on the good word. Reflecting on literary research and pedagogy. Yes, the stick-to-the-ribs stuff.

At least for this afternoon.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Goofball by the Socks--He's with Me

Dave just got back from a shame trip to the Gap. I say shame, because I guilted him into going on this trip.

How, you may ask, did she do that? (Take notes, married ladies.)

Rewind to April, when it was Dave’s 41st birthday. He’d just, under another cloud of guilt, cleaned out his closet and, in a burst of self sacrifice, decided to get rid of at least 4 pairs of shabby (ragged on the cuffs, stained along the legs) khakis. “I need new khakis,” he’d announced. So I got him a 100.00 gift card to the Gap, instead of buying him the kind of khakis (flat front) that I think he should wear.

Fast-forward to last night. The Gap card, filled with 100.00, is still smoldering in Dave’s wallet. After a delicious dinner at Angelina's, we’re at Ed and Kristy’s house for apple and pumpkin pie, Limoncello, and various art and golf talks.

“Ed,” Dave says, hands on his hips, “Do you know what store is in the same mini mall as Penzeys, in Appleton?”

No real beat. “Golf Galaxy.” Ed bobs his head and grins.

“Yeah, I just had to go in there the other day, when Brad and I went on a spice run. I tried that Sasquatch driver, too. The good news is, I still hit all my shots into the woods and the ones I get really good spin on slice right into the lake. So--“

“It’s not a matter of equipment,” Ed finishes.

They laugh.

“I signed up for their Advantage Club, so I get a free 12 minute lesson,” Dave went on. “I was looking at the coupon this week and it says that it expires on December 24, 2006.”

“I bet you’re going to make sure you run down there and get that lesson,” I said.

Dave grinned. “I got a little worried, so I called up. They said I could ignore that date.”

“They just want to get you into the store,” Ed said. “So you’ll spend money there.” He kept squeezing one of his heavy balls. Ed has a heavy ball, a slightly deflated exercise ball, Everlast finger squeezers, a balance gizmo that had Lizzie going for at least 30 minutes, windmilling her arms at an alarming rate, and a ball with rubber finger holes to stretch the palms and fingers that looks like a cartoon alien without a hand in it. That’s all the stuff that goes on the first floor. The basement, complete with heavy bag and punching bag, is another matter.

I shook my head. This had to be handled delicately. “Interesting,” I said. “You’ll drive all the way to Appleton for a 12 minute free golf lesson, but you won’t spend the Gap gift card I got you in April.”

Sheepish smile. Shrug. Ed smirked. Kristy leaned against her hands on the wall and sent me warm eyes over a Mona Lisa mug. Cheri played therapist: she didn’t say anything. Lizzie kept rolling on the exercise ball.

This morning, Dave announced that he had to go out shopping. “I’ll get the Christmas tree stuff we promised the church,” he said, “and then I’ll head over to the Gap.”

Solid. I swallowed my smirk with a sip of coffee. “Have a good time,” I said.

Back two hours later, he interrupted my blow-drying to make an announcement. “Well, it’s official. I’m really old.”

“Oh? No pleated khakis at the Gap, eh?”

“No.” He grinned. “All flat front, no cuffs. Ugh. And all the jeans are in a style I can definitely live without. Weathered, shaggy. ‘Distressed.’ But that’s not the real kicker.”

He dumped his neon green Gap bag, emblazoned with silver peace signs, on the bed. “It gets worse,” he said. “I was in Target, looking for the T-shirts and socks on the old man’s list”—we took two wish lists off the tree at church: one puzzle for a 6 year old, and T-shirts and ankle socks for a man in a nursing home—“and I was looking at the undershirts when two young women came by. They were looking at things and one said, ‘ I have no idea how to pick these things,’ and the other one said, ‘Why don’t you ask that man over there?’ ‘What, the goofball by the socks?’ the first one said. And I had to be the goofball by the socks, because there wasn’t anyone else around. ‘You’re evil,’ said the second woman. ‘That’s someone’s dad.’”

The goofball by the socks grinned at me, hands on his hips. “The kicker is,” he said, “that I’m someone’s dad. That’s the nail in the coffin.”

I told him that now I had a new subject for my blog—I’m married to the goofball by the socks. “That brings you down another level,” he said. I’m lower than the goofball because I’m married to him. I’m married to someone’s dad. “Because you could have married someone better, but you didn’t.”

At least the goofball dad has a nice new charcoal gray sweater and a pair of flat front khakis from the Gap. That’s got to be worth something, eh?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Day after Turkey Day, and Technology Rules Again

We're about 5 pounds heavier here. Gravity is taking extreme hold.

I'm sitting at the kitchen table, overlooking the backyard. It's sunny, getting to be afternoon, and across the table I'm burning a bunch of CDs for Cheri with her new screaming Toshiba laptop. She's going to learn how to use it herself, she says.

"Let me start the process now," I say.

"I can't learn it now." Cheri's voice takes on a sharp edge. She moves toward the stairs. "I have to go put my face on."

She and my mom have the same response to technology. As I hover over their keyboards, tapping in information, their faces tighten, their hands ball into fists, their jaws jut. If a screen disappears and another flashes up, they flap their hands at the wrists, like baby birds shoved to the lip of the nest. They're fascinated by technology, dependent upon it, and, at the same time, paralyzed in the face of its fickleness. It can save, and it can kill. Too often, they've seen it kill.

In fact, Cheri's job prospects look glum at the moment because of her inability--a physical impediment--to use a computer for any length of time. Her right hand and shoulder were injured in a long ago car accident; she is bound up, too, by a slow-growing bone cancer that ties her muscles into knots at the joints. She is legally disabled, in other words, but the therapy biz (in which she has 25+ years of experience) doesn't care. It's all automated now. A therapist has to fill out reams of paperwork, none of it by hand. In two recent job interviews, when Cheri added, "You do know that I can't use the computer system. I'm disabled," the interviews ended.

And how about that paper we've slaved over, perfected, the best years of our lives put into it, all that brain power--only, because we're moms and grandmoms, and because we don't think about these things, we forget--hell, we don't even know we're supposed to do it!--to save our work whenever we're dithering in the void? We hit a button, accidentally. Ka-ching! The goddamned thing disappears from the screen. From the computer. From the record of our lives. And we have to start over again, sure that we'll never get it back, that brilliance.

Mom's computer shit the bed because of a torrent of viruses she managed to get as she didn't read all her emails.

Cheri's old laptop blew up right after she got fired. Serendipity? Hence, the new one.

I'm wasting hours and hours looking at the different "skins" for this journal, trying to find the magic bullet that will rocket my thoughts into something resembling significance.

Lizzie's composed "My Christmas List," on the computer--"So you can read it," she said--and the top items are all technology:

1. Robopet
2. Gamecube
3. Avatar the last airbender game for gamecube
4. Transiperian (sic) orcestra (sic) on c.d.
5. Pokemn ranger for d.s.
6. Ipod
7. ipod charger (If I get it)
8. D.S. skin
9. Sims pets for D.S.
10. Sims 2 for computer (I think its at take 2)
11. underwear
12. love'n'licks husky
13. colored picks for my D.S.
14. Pokemon dungon blue rescue team for D.S.
15. Tecno robotic dog

I think the underwear is a lovely touch, don't you?

I've got a bunch of pictures from our turkey extravaganza yesterday that I should upload here, more technology, but we're late for our shopping date. As long as Guh's still in residence, I need to get my fanny out there with the credit cards.

Have technology, will travel. And spend, of course.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Guh (Good Half) is in the house!

At least for the moment.

I've just been reading a friend's blog -- it's sweet, thoughtful, lush (with images she takes on her camera), mature, cosmopolitan (she teaches in Pullman, WA, and lives half the year in Chicago, with her husband, and her daughter is in college in Vancouver, so she travels as a matter of course), deep and meaningful. Wow. (You can read it, too: Spots Of Time.)

Reading it, I miss Deb, down to my bones. And I'm a little jealous (that green eyed monster, Buh's friendly familiar) at how textured and rich her life is, at how much she's attempting. She has always been so full of life, so eager to try new things. She's a traveling soul, a winged creature. If I were still a gag-me Jungian, I'd say she's a puer; her feet are not fully connected to the ground.

Deb's learning, right now, to be an emergency rescue ski patrol woman. I'm just trying to make it through 400 lb Tai Chi. And to keep my body at least 75% cleansed after the last ordeal. And to choose what to do, other than to write this, stretched out on my bed, on this glorious first vacation day.

And of course I'm just a little sad that all of Deb's rich life is going on somewhere else, where I am not, in a place filled with faces and lives not my own. I'm no longer part of Deb's inner circle.

Buh wants to make this all about me. Buh wants to bring the conversation home.

No, Buh. Take a hike. Guh is going to confess that she savors the small ache of reading about old friends' adventures on the other side of the country, far from the fly-over state she's in. Guh is going to take the time to read all about Deb's adventures, to look at the pictures, travel with Deb, get into her life. Guh is not going to beat herself up for being a somewhat shallow writer, obsessed with the daily minutia of maintaining an ego. Guh is going to be happy that she has such talented friends, such warm friends, who invite her into their lives and keep inviting her, as the years pass.

Last night, Amy, one of my bestest friends from AZ, called up. She hadn't yet read about herself in the last post, either. She confessed that she'd been reading me, obsessively. I am hugging that to myself and grinning so hard that my cheeks hurt.

Amy and I talked for nearly an hour, I in my kitchen, making and drinking tea, she on her staircase, where the reception for her cheap-o-cheap cordless is best. While we talked, she had to mediate with her two girls, Olivia, 4, and Molly, 2. They tried all their preschool wiles to lure her away from the staircase, everything from owies, to food requests, to video complaints. On my end, I smiled, reliving Lizzie's 4 and 2 year old ploys.

Mommy's talking on the phone, Amy said. Let Mommy have another minute please. Watch Clifford. Oh, Clifford is bumpy? The tape's not working?

I smiled harder, planning my trip out to San Antonio, where the weather is in the 70s.

I guess our adventures are smaller right now, because they have to be. It's just where we are in the stream. Guh has this neat ability to see the silver lining in the shit cloud.

Guh is going to find a good place to eat lunch, take Cheri and Lizzie and Lizzie's friend Renee out. It'll no doubt be some mediocre chain food we'll choke down, maybe Max and Erma's, or Red Robin. We'll eat hamburgers dripping with grease, overfried French fries, or a taco salad, more shredded cheese, chili meat, and iceberg lettuce than any sane woman can eat. Then we're probably going to tour the Target aisles, leave with a bag of chips (not on the cleansing list), some allergy pills for Cheri.

Maybe later we'll eat ice cream out of the carton, drink a bottle of cheap wine.

Life is good.