The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Chameleon August 13, 2018

big hat 2

I am not a fan of change. Not at all. I pretty much like things the way they are. I like things simple, and I really like routines. I fairly thrive on the predictability in my life. But I’m also big on wild, serendipitous romps, and those who know me well will understand I’m not terribly keen on rule-following, which can make for some fun life adventures. These two approaches to life might seem at odds with each other, but for me they’re not. It’s not terribly hard for me to slip into other people’s worlds, observe, participate as if I belonged there, and then retreat back into my own private universe when the party’s over. I’m pretty good at wearing a bunch of different hats. Seriously. You should see my closet.

Recently, I enjoyed an unexpected foray into the horse racing culture here in my town. I’d had a good look at it from the inside the year before, so this year I had a much better idea of how to dress, what to say, what not to say. I was thankfully in the company of pals from back in my high school days on Chicago’s Northshore, so my edit function was a bit softened. But not so much so that I didn’t ask questions, that I didn’t pull out my small notebook and jot down some observations. And when my friend shouted, “Liz, winner’s circle, now!” after a race, I readily dropped my phone, bag and journal and followed the entourage down the stairs and out onto the side of the racetrack, where we lined up for a group photo of the owners and trainers. My host’s girlfriend refused to join us, maybe because the whole affair was intimidating. I can see how it could be. But me, all I could think as I looked back up at the grandstand was “once in a lifetime”.  And although the cheap fascinator clipped to my head had seemed a weak choice all afternoon, it turned out to be just the ticket for the photo op. I could just imagine my mother saying to me as she had all throughout my youth and young adult life: “Kid, you live right”. Yup, I admit it. Sometimes I’m lucky.

If it weren’t for the fact that I’ve been raising poultry for almost a decade now, I might still not believe that I myself really am a country girl. It flatters my ego to pass insider small talk at the feed store, and especially at the livestock auction house – where for goodness’ sake the workers always remember me and ask where I’ve been after long absences! – but secretly I almost always feel like I’m pulling one over on everyone. I’m not posing, not at least at this point in the game, but deep down, I always feel as if I kinda am. My muck boots and brown felt farmer’s hat guard against anyone being the wiser, but me, I always know better. Am I a country girl? Yes, and no…

When you play piano for three hours at one sitting in a busy restaurant, you never know who’s listening. Sure you can eye the crowd, get a good feel for the demographic, overhear a conversation or two to help inform your musical choices, but at the end of the day (or the end of the night as it were) you really can’t know. A couple of weeks ago an unassuming middle-aged foursome left the room after tucking a tip in the jar. “I really enjoyed Where Are You? ” one of the men said, smiling and waving as he exited. That was a tune very few would’ve known, and the generation that did was getting a bit too old to be making their way to this downstairs dining room. Musta been a musician, I’d guessed. You just never know the hats that folks are wearing which you just can’t see…

At the age of seventeen I was hospitalized for depression. I guess. Back then folks didn’t know the nuances of mental illness; panic attacks were simply lobbed into the mix with bipolar disorder and anorexia and any other possible affliction of the mind and spirit. We who suffered from any of these ailments were all sent to live with each other in close quarters, and made to push our chairs together in a circle each day to unburden ourselves to the room. It was there that I met a very drugged up man in his late twenties (all ages from teen to elderly shared the unit) whom I’d been quick to dismiss as all but lost. I remember his round, balding head, that he shuffled about, unable to lift his feet individually, and his lips were always shiny due to a constant drool (which I knew he could not control but which did not stop me from passing an unfair judgement of him). He and I were talking once and I had lamented how no one could understand me. How I just plain felt different from everyone (yeah, I know this is the song that every 17-year-old on the planet sings, but please just go with me here). Tom said he knew what the problem was: I was a chameleon. He’d observed how I’d changed my way of speaking to different people based on what I thought would make them comfortable. He said that he’d watched as I’d become someone completely different with each interaction. Immediately, it hit me. Yes, I did that. Yes, he was right. This man, so terrifically slowed by his meds, so dulled by his interminable residency there, he had observed me as no professional had. “You’re a chameleon” I remember him repeating, to make sure I understood. He wasn’t just saying some shit inspired by antidepressants. This guy saw all the hats and knew that none of them were mine – and all of them were, too.

Wearing so many hats can be thrilling, but it can also become a tad burdensome. The hats that I present to the world here in my writings can give some folks the illusion of having a personal relationship with me, when in truth, there is no such relationship. Recently I’ve been getting a little insight into what being familiar to a lot of people might look and feel like in real life (I hesitate to use the world ‘famous’, but well, you know what I mean). Mostly I’m pretty thrilled to get private messages from folks, and I’ve even made a few friendships through this platform, but wearing so many hats – and wearing them so publicly – makes it easy for folks to think they know exactly who I am. As a friend once said so candidly about my writing: my words are ultimately self-selected. One might take this to mean: how would you know if I was making it all up? How would you know when I embellished or when I omitted things to skew the results, to make you like me better or sympathize with my plight?

The answer is: you cannot know. Because I simply have too many hats in my closet, too many dresses in too many colors. I am, after all, a chameleon.

 

 

 

Five Hundred and One October 21, 2014

This is my five hundred and first post. I hadn’t intended to pass up post number 500 on such a mundane subject as Spam, but very anticlimactically, there you have it. It seems the tally of my published posts was one behind, causing me to miss my landmark. But then that’s not so very important as is the fact that I’m still at it, over three years and five hundred posts (and dozens of unpublished posts) later. The result represents several thousand hours of writing, editing and re-writing. And while I don’t yet deign to claim that I’m a professional writer, I do however, with a small amount of confidence, now identify myself to people as a writer. Not a blogger. I’m a writer with a blog, not a blogger who writes just to generate content. (Lord knows generating content has never been my problem. !)

Bloggers enjoy making entire paragraphs out of one single sentence for effect.

Not me. Well at least not yet. Never say never.

That’s precisely what turns me off when I visit other blogs. That silly, truncated format, those tiny look-how-clever-I-am paragraphs, that sing-song, cutesy tone. Just doesn’t do it for me. Kinda like the Dead. You either dig them, or you don’t. The typical blog format either works for you or not. A particular style of music can either fill your heart with joy – or make you want to rip the radio out of the dashboard. Me, I don’t write in order to have a blog; I write because I’d probably go nuts if I didn’t have an outlet. To be entirely honest, I’ve come to rely on you guys. Having an audience – dare I even say a family? – with which to share my ruminations and experiences is what has motivated me to get out of bed on many a morning.

I don’t think my writing is necessarily great stuff (no false modesty here, I really do think it’s improved in some ways), but I believe what gives it integrity is that I actually write down the things that run through my head. I don’t believe that I’m terribly different from most folks – I just think aloud, that’s all. But in that lots of people get a kick out of watching other people’s tiny dramas – or in some cases rubbernecking at their worst train wrecks – I figure at the very least The Hillhouse offers up some form of entertainment, if nothing else.

Elihu and I went to see comedian Steven Wright the other night (first time I’d popped so much money on a ticket in my entire 51 years on the planet. Hope the kid treasures the memory, at least I know that I will…) and in the days that followed I began to think more critically about what made comedy compelling. What made writing compelling for that matter. And while it may seem simplistic, it seems to me it’s mainly about the truth. Why are some things so goddam funny? Why is some writing worth reading? Because either you’ve already thought the same crazy thought yourself (and thought it was just you thinking it) or have never heard a certain situation expressed before in such an obvious, truthful way that it gets your attention. It’s either been your truth at one point too – or at least you can feel the truth in it. You get it. And that’s why I’m here. Because I need to know that you’ve been here too. Or at least that somebody else gets it. I don’t have the immediate feedback of hearing your laughter, but I do feel the presence of somebody else in the room, and it feels nice.

I’m so glad you’ve stopped by here at The Hillhouse to share in a tiny portion of our life. You’ve given me such a gift in your audience, in your emotional support and input. It continually blows my mind that we’ve had visitors from over 170 countries now, many now regular readers (before this experience I wasn’t even aware that there were so many countries in the world!). I still wonder at who many of you are – expats lonely for home, far-flung childhood friends of mine, people who arrived here on a late night Google jag…? Just who, I wonder, are you? I do know one thing: you are my friends, wherever you are, whomever you are, and whatsoever brought you here. And in exchange for your love and support I send you my energetic good wishes for a life as free from emotional stress and strain as possible, and for many wonderful surprises in the future.

My grandma taught me that the best way to accept a gift is with sincere thanks. And so tonight I thank all of you with my very warmest regards, five hundred and one times over.

 

Wonderful Spam October 11, 2014

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Seriously, I don’t get it. What is up with this crazy spam? Who in hell generates these messages? What are they thinking when they write this stuff? What makes them think English readers will understand them, let alone take the bait and respond? I’d like to think I myself would never take the bait, but I guess I finally have.

I remember a time a few decades back when I first became aware of the gorgeously bizarre ways in which English could be used by folks who didn’t know the language… I saw t-shirts, greeting cards and pencil cases from places like Pakistan, Indonesia or China with crazy slogans, sayings and jokes that were nonsensical in ways that could only be achieved by people who had no clear idea what they were saying. Often the intended vibe came across – but there could be no literal understanding made of the near-gibberish. These pieces of writing were both exceedingly creepy and irresistible all at the same time.

In the beginning, when I started to write this blog, they came only occasionally in the comment queue. But before too long the spammers began growing in number until they surpassed the amount of regular subscribers. And in the beginning, I was naive. Some messages were almost coherent; they almost seemed like genuine attempts at communication. I would hesitate for a moment, wondering at the intent of the clumsy messages… But then I’d see a pattern begin to develop… Similar messages came in, differing from each other by only a couple of words. At first I felt duped that I’d even taken the time to read them, but then, the sillier they got, the more entertaining they actually became, until I finally decided that they’d at least earned the honor of being published. They went phishing, but I ended up getting the catch…

Whether your Spam arrives in a tiny tin can from the supermarket or poses as urgent correspondence in your inbox, neither one is particularly good for your health, yet each beckons your indulgence with its own unique form of seduction. I suppose you might say that I’ve succumbed to a guilty pleasure in that I’ve come to enjoy the stuff. Both kinds. Yes, I admit it, I like Spam.

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Tip Off January 26, 2014

The sidebar of my home page shows a tip jar, and if one should click on it, it’s possible to leave a donation. The icon was created and installed as a gift by a woman I’d only ever met online; it was truly a case of the kindness of strangers. (Visit this wonderful blogger, writer and kind stranger here.) I’d long wanted a simple means by which folks could leave the smallest amount in exchange for the enjoyment of reading – the cost of a cup of coffee – something I myself would happily offer to a friend. Something simple, something that wouldn’t be of any great hardship to most folks. My goals were always what I believed to be realistic; I never held out hopes for a great stream of income here – but that I can count on one hand the number of gifts I’ve received through the jar (minus a thumb, that is) during the eight months or so that it’s been up. And that has been surprising. Now you four kind folks who have left something there (and given far more than I ever intended when I had the vehicle installed) know who you are. While simple thanks aren’t really enough, I’ve conveyed my gratitude, and please know that I’m still thankful.

While I have never been so naive as to expect to generate a stream of income from this blog – I do admit that I’d secretly hoped to buy a box of printer paper, pay something towards the month’s electric bill or fill the tank in my car just once with some blog-related proceeds. But aside from the gifts of those four generous and kind friends, not a penny has found its way into the jar. I’d hoped to make it as easy as possible for folks to leave a quick dollar or some pocket change (while keeping in mind that Mr. Paypal still finds his way to 2.9% of the donation plus 30 cents per transaction. Sigh). I’m not good at talking about money, it makes me slightly uncomfortable. My folks came from a culture where it was not spoken of. Maybe it’s helped contribute to the situation I’m in now, I don’t know. What I do know is that I am good at living frugally, but still I’m beginning to wish that my writing might net me something by way of a modest economic return. I write cuz it’s what I do… but still.

I think the expected return on a direct mail campaign is something like 2% – and that might even be ambitious. But the thousand or so subscribers to this blog are not merely random recipients of an ad insert. I know folks aren’t checking in with us here at The Hillhouse the way they are with the trendy Downton Abbey or their beloved Facebook feeds, but the readership does continue to grow – while the pot does not.

The health of my tip jar won’t in any way affect the content of my writing. I’m clearly not motivated by generating income here, but given the hours I have spent at my craft, I sure wouldn’t mind some return on the investment. But, as I said in the very beginning, I’m not here with any expectations. That I have a thousand followers is, in of itself, rather unbelievable to me. Some days it’s what helps motivate me to get out of bed. Other days I think it might be in part responsible for my resurfaced panic attacks. !! Either way, the idea of each visitor leaving a dollar in my virtual jar gives me a tiny thrill… Can you imagine? Wow. That would take care of the electric bill for a couple of months! Lest I appear to be using flagrant passive-aggressive techniques here, let me clearly state my hopes for the future of our tip jar in no uncertain terms:

Dear Readers,

If you’ve enjoyed reading of our adventures here at The Hillhouse, I hope you’ll please consider leaving a donation in the tip jar on a future visit.

My deepest appreciation for your continued friendship and emotional support!

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A Post Script: In an effort to keep this issue living and relevant, I may re-post this or another such reminder from time-to-time. Please do tell me if and when it should become too tedious. Let’s hope it becomes effective long before we reach that point. !!

 

Post 400 December 11, 2013

My first post was written in March of 2011. I have a hard time realizing that it’ll be three years soon. When I started out here, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was intending to do other than to gain a little witness to what I felt to be a pretty unfair situation. While I still feel there’s much about our situation that has been far less than fair (I can hear my mother’s voice in my head ‘who ever told you life was fair?‘) I can now see with much greater clarity – due in great part to this blog and the wonderful correspondence it’s inspired – that what had started out as a personal tragedy in my life began instead to show itself as a rare opportunity. In the beginning, when I began to write, I felt like I was talking to myself, but I always held out hope that there was somebody else in the room with me. After all, I was feeling very alone in the early days of The Hillhouse and this was my only link to the world. Thankfully, it’s a big world, a big room, and as it turns out I haven’t just been talking to myself this whole time. Phew.

There are now over eight hundred of us here, there are four hundred posts in the archives, and The Hillhouse has been visited over thirty thousand times. Wow. ! That’s fun to know. And the world map – man, impressive. I’m waving hello to all of you, wondering as I stare at the list of countries – did you happen upon us by accident? Are you a local or a lonely expat nostalgic for the U.S.? Do you visit because you too have gone through a divorce, because you too can’t make peace with growing older, or because you too have chickens? Or are we a serendipitous, tangential stop on a walkabout thru cyber space? I wish I could meet you in person; I’ve seen and read many of your blogs, and you’ve opened so many windows to other experiences and places which otherwise I’d never have known.

Not meaning to sound dramatic here, but this whole blogging adventure has been life-saving for me. Really. You have all helped to save my life – my hope, more accurately – and for that I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I so appreciate your friendship and emotional support. I send mine back to you. This planet is not for wimps, and it’s not possible to get through the adventure solo. So again, thank you, thank you, thank you.

See you again soon…

 

Opinions, Please… August 26, 2012

Hookay. Calmed down a bit since the last post. Which, by the way, was widely read and responded to quite enthusiastically. (Why should readership have peaked so dramatically? I always notice a direct correlation between the generous use of expletives and increased readership. But since folks don’t know the juicy words will be there until they’re actually reading it – I don’t see how that could factor in. But it seems to. Maybe y’all are just forwarding the ‘good stuff’ to your friends. ?) And thanks, for all the help and ideas. All of it is under consideration and is being thoroughly studied by my R&D department. It’s taking quite a bit of time to review it all, as naturally there’s a lot of material to read and digest. Once again I’m reminded of how big a world this is. Depending on my mood that’s either really bad news (it’s too intimidating) or it’s good news (there’s always room for one more success!). I’m kinda walking the line in between today. I’ll feel a surge of hope, but then doubt hits me and I feel like lying down for a really long time.

For example, here’s something that I just experienced a few minutes ago: I was checking in with one of my favorite writers, columnist for USA Today Craig Wilson (and former resident of Saratoga Springs, New York where I myself now live), catching up on a few of his past articles, and then decided to Google the stats for his daily audience. Daily planet-wide readership for the rag is a little better than 3 million copies a day. ! Seriously?! That’s crazy. And I got all excited the other day because my hits had grown from 1000 to 12,000 in just a few months, and my world map now had over 40 countries. What-ever. ! I must also remind myself that that number reflects only visits – not actual readers. Also, as someone pointed out this summer much to my chagrin, many of those hits – including those from abroad that get my heart beating faster – may well be accidental. Folks who may be searching for one thing and finding me instead. Oh well.

Undaunted, I carry on and make a plan. I will write to those folks whose writing I enjoy, and I will enclose a bit of mine. Maybe even throw in a CD. Or a rock. Something that might make my correspondence stand out. My first thought was to write Craig. His writing is gentle, easy – just cynical enough. No wonder he’s the choice for USA Today. His writing doesn’t offend, and it usually makes you feel good. I read his only book, a collection of essays entitled “It’s the Little Things” and, like many readers do, by the time I’d finished the book I felt like I knew him. It’s so easy to feel like that with the author of a memoir. I remember shortly after discovering Michael Perry last year (he has a new just-released book called “Visiting Tom” – check YouTube for the lovely promo video) I was fairly in love with the poor fellow. He’s a farmer, a writer, a musician, a parent. Hey! So am I!! I laughed out loud more than a few times as I read through his stories – and I guess I can attribute much of my warmth towards him to a deep gratitude for stirring me out of my laughter-free solitude. I’d felt so damn lonely these past few years out here in the country, and Mike made me feel so much less alone. I immediately got online and began to check out his site. His videos, his music, interviews. All of it. I got excited – it seemed like he might be able to offer me some help, some direction, some… something. I don’t know what. But I discovered that even this guy, who really isn’t that well-known, and for whom paying the bills is still a source of stress, he had far too many fans to deal with personally. Crap. My heart sank down to my toes when I saw his pleas: there were too many folks for him to respond to personally, that he felt bad about it, but thanked his readers for their support… That was the general gist of it. So I’m not sure about bugging him anymore. And after seeing that Craig has over three million pairs of eyes reading his daily column, I have doubts about writing him too.

Then I think again. Ok. Mike might be busy right now with his book tour and his new release, but he’ll be back in his little Wisconsin farmhouse by winter, and by then he might just have a little bit of time to consider a letter from me. Hm. And Craig, come on – that guy’s got a comfy day job. He’s got his routine, his nice house in a Virginia suburb… why he might even be getting a tad bored these days with all that routine. Who knows? Maybe he’s got the time to help me out. Maybe he might be happy to read some of my stuff. Give me some ideas, write a letter or two of recommendation…

In the ’90s I worked as an accompanist for a handful of comedy groups in Chicago. After so much time watching the actors doing their thing, I got to thinking that it might be something I could do too. Playing in the band in “Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding” I enjoyed acting in a couple of improvised scenes, and from that I got the idea that I might do more. I’d played keyboards and sung on a handful of commercials and thought that on-camera work wouldn’t be much different. But for me, it was. I was just never good with cameras rolling. And it seemed the more auditions I went on, the more nervous and the worse I got. Looking back on it now I realize that if I’d just done more – rode it out, so to speak – I would have improved. I might have caught on. But I didn’t… and well, I didn’t. I really sucked. And my sucking, combined with my need for everyone to like me, that sucked even more.

This writing thing – the idea of writing other writers for help and guidance – it’s bringing up those queasy feelings I had at commercial auditions all those years ago. It makes me ill, and I just don’t like it. I know it’s different. I’m older, I have nothing to lose, and no matter how things turn out I still have my family, my chickens and my view of the mountains. So I’ll continue. I’ll get a plan, identify some goals, write some letters. But what material to include?

I’ve been going through the 200+ posts of the past year and a half trying to pull out a few favorites. But so far, I just can’t seem to choose. Friends, do you have any favorite posts? Even if you don’t remember the title of it, might you remember the gist of it? Was there a post or two you remember liking more than the others? I could really use some input. As usual, I’m easy to find; my email address is on the ‘about’ page here as many have already discovered, and of course, there’s always Facebook.

So please, if you have any ideas for me – send em! I can’t thank you enough for your help, for your company and your friendship. I really value your opinions, so please be forthcoming with them. I can take it. ! (I think.)

 

A Darkening Upon Me August 25, 2012

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal... — wingmother @ 12:57 am
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Damn it. I’m just not cynical enough, I know it. I should be more ironic too. And slick. Yes, I should be hipper, slicker. Not sure, but I think so. And I’m not really funny. Endearing, yeah, sometimes, and probably amusing too, for a second maybe, but not laugh-out-loud funny. And I haven’t introduced my readers to any quirky, ornery curmudgeons from my rural neighborhood, no insane girlfriends have moved in and talked me into starting a cupcake business for the racing market of Saratoga, I haven’t confessed any radical sexcapades from my years as a rock goddess on the road, I don’t have an exotic pet that I carry around with me (although I did once have a parrot whom I carried to the market in a poodle bag until he chewed up all the woodwork in my kitchen and ended up back with the breeder) and I’m not recovering from an addiction. Well, kind of. I do still kinda want a cigarette every now and then. But naw. No one cares. That’s not a real jones. So. What do I got?

Well, I got a goose named Maximus who tries to hump me when I let him share the kiddie pool with me. He gets pretty excited sometimes, and I have to grab him by the neck and talk him down. So, well, there’s that. It’s funny I guess, but I haven’t been clever enough to weave it into a narrative yet. So it’s a missed opportunity, I suppose. I begin to wonder, are there any opportunities here at all? I mean, real gems, keepers? Is there any one thing in my entire blog worthy of an editorial staff – or more accurately an unpaid intern – anything that shows promise in its infant form? Perhaps I’m too dark; perhaps the gems are simply strewn everywhere and I’m tromping on them, unaware of the beautiful works they may yet come to be…

Here, in the mass of posts I’ve made over the past year and a half – here, amongst the some two hundred and forty thousand or so words I’ve assembled – at the very least, I must have created something useable. Something printable. Something worth a professional binding. Maybe? Oh fuck it. I don’t even know where or how to begin. It’s a self-help, educate-yourself-through-YouTube world and I still don’t know how to do it… Get an agent, I gotta get an agent. I know this. I’ve heard this. But seriously, what, am I high?  It’s a flippin huge world with big expectations and lots of rules. Just getting a friggin agent seems as unattainable as my getting into my beloved 1963 Avanti with the Studebaker engine and driving off. Seriously, even if I might have the gumption, I have no fucking clue how to start. Really.

In isolated moments of inspiration and hope I think ‘it can’t be that hard…‘  Then… Fuck it! I’m not gonna get into this mess. Yeah, just fuck it all. What a stupid idea. I’m not a writer. I have no street cred, no history or experience. Geez. I can’t do this. Really. I’m being naive here. Shit, I don’t know. Maybe I don’t know. Maybe I can do this… I gotta calm down here. This is no good. I’ve lost perspective.  I go upstairs, distract myself with a snack, some mindless tv. Gotta checkout for a minute. Go back downstairs to my desk. Sit there. Breathe in, breathe out. Now. Ok. Where was I? Publishing. Yeah. Just how is that supposed to work?  I still have no inspiration.

Man, I’m tired tonight.  But it is my window to work. Gotta make hay… Without my son here I’m free to think on it for another week yet, to even begin to consider a plan…. but then I realize there’s a huge process and a sophisticated industry that I know nothing about behind it all – and I feel stopped. And that’s frustrating. And exhausting. So for now I’m just gonna put it all down for the night, turn off the lights.

And for the next eight hours at least, things really are gonna get dark.

 

Small World April 25, 2012

Hello to my friends across the globe! May we all find it within our ability to visit each other some day. WordPress tells me I have readers in the following places… wave if I call your country!

United States, Canada, Egypt, United Kingdom, Indonesia, Brazil, Germany, Ecuador, Ukraine, Slovakia, Australia, Mexico, Malaysia, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Argentina, Israel, Latvia and the Republic of Korea.

Wow. Thanks for joining us in our adventure here in rural, upstate New York. Please say hello on your next visit, whether real or virtual…

 

Wannabe December 30, 2011

‘To be or to wannabe’, I think that’s my question today. Am I writer or do I just think I’m a writer? Over the past few weeks I’ve had more ideas for posts than I can deal with. I find I’m getting out of bed every night to jot down ideas. I have more material than time to write it. And I feel it must come out – if I’m to live healthily, that is. I can’t really justify it any more than that. I am followed by a guilty voice that tells me this is pointless and selfish. Every now and again I peruse my old posts and wonder if it doesn’t seem an extended pity-party for the poor, almost divorced (yeah, yeah, get over your drama) newly-impoverished (it’s been three years – not so new) middle aged woman who (boo hoo) is now a single mother in spite of her wishes (join the fucking club) to a simply amazing child (isn’t everybody’s?) and must somehow start over in life, now that her boobs can no longer hold their own without a bra and… well. You know.

Years ago after reading a letter I’d written, a dear friend remarked ‘you’re a good writer. You should be a writer’. That got me angry. ‘I am a writer!’ I screamed at him. ‘What do yo mean I should be?!’ I referred to of course, as this poor guy could hardly have known, my collection of hundreds (ok, maybe dozens) of journals in which I’d written nearly every day of my life for the past decade. For many years of my life friends would see me writing in a tiny notebook, one small enough to fit in a pocket if necessary. I’d assumed he, having seen them himself, knew of their importance. Importance to whom?

The conversation we had on that day began a now decade-old debate inside my head. Just what makes a writer a writer? Is it getting paid to write? Is it simply the quantity of material? The quality or uniqueness of the writing? Getting published perhaps? It seemed, as the anger of my reaction to his one simple statement revealed, that I myself felt being a ‘real’ writer meant being a published one. I think I got angry because I myself felt guilty. I knew I wasn’t a writer. Silly to declare that I was. I’d always wanted to express things; I’d dearly wished to connect with people who might be happy to recognize themselves and their own experiences in my observations, and so I wrote. While I had material, no one had ever read any of it as of that point. To connect with people, this was the germ of my hope, but I hadn’t come close. So my own private sense of failure had bubbled to the surface in anger. I wrote, yes. But was I a writer – yet? I knew I wasn’t. My writing existed for me alone.

So now I have this growing repertoire of posts, and in some way, they are published. Kind of. I’ve had thousands of readers visit, I have hundreds of regular readers. I know I’ve connected with people. Does this now finally make me a writer? I’m still not convinced. I don’t want this post take on a ‘poor-me, won’t you please help me with my lack of self esteem issues and validate me’ sort of tone, I really don’t. I’m just sort of wrangling with this in a public way, as I’ve been doing with all of the mundane events in my life. So on I go…

I’d always thought that being a real writer meant in part that you were paid to write. That was somewhere in the equation. But first, a writer had to be published. No money in this critical step. You know, send your stuff out to underground zines and obscure quarterly literary issues – the kind that I remember looking hand-typed way back in the day. (And honestly, the kind of publication I might pick up casually at a cafe but would find little interest in.) But before the days of the internet I wouldn’t have had a clue how to find, much less court, these publications. Then of course people will want to know how to market you. Who do you read? What authors do you like? What is your writing similar to?…  Shall I mention another guilty issue for me? I read a lot, but I have nothing to show for it. I can never remember the titles or authors once a book is finished. So if someone asks me ‘what have you read lately’, while I can recall all the places I’ve been and all the thinking I’ve done as a result of all the volumes I have indeed read lately, I can’t for the life of me remember who wrote them or what their titles were. And that is inherently disrespectful of the author, to say nothing of what a huge oversight it is in general (plus it just makes me look stupid). While it’s not an excuse, I know I’m not the only one guilty of this. It’s kinda like meeting someone at a party: you have a really interesting conversation with them, maybe even beginning to feel a real kinship with them, but you’ve forgotten their name. Now what do you do? You feel silly; you like them, but you don’t know their stupid name. If you know you’ll never see them again, you don’t really need to know their name. You now know their essence; they’ve shared their story with you – and isn’t that the part you truly take away? And if you do think you might want to see them again, you ask their name. Maybe write it down. Then you can find them again if you like. Kinda like me and a book. If I really like it, I’ll write it down. Or I’ll scribble the author’s name on a post-it (and well, there goes that). So while I read a lot, I don’t have much on paper to show for it. So that might not go over so well in an interview situation. Maybe that’s what an agent is for – to run interference. But an agent? Geez. That’s a whole nother ball of wax.

Singer/Songwriter = Writer/Thinker. That’s occurred to me.  But what good is a singer/songwriter singing alone in her basement? What good is a writer/thinker with a journal in her pocket? I need to make some forward movement here, but I’m feeling stalled. Ladies’ Home Journal is hosting a writing contest. I submitted a piece. Not sure it’s clever enough. One thing I’m realizing in this process is that my writing is done in pretty plain language. Not a lot of color or nuance. Out of the context of my blog – who I am and what I’ve gone through up til now – my writing might not hold its own. I don’t really hope to win; I just don’t feel my writing stands out in terms of craft. I’m more about getting the idea expressed and shared, and I’m not sure my voice would work in a stand-alone essay contest. We’ll see.

Btw – I am printing out my entire blog and having it spiral bound at Kinko’s (parts I and II, thank you very much) as a gift for my internet-challenged parents. So pretty soon, I’ll have something published. Sort of.

I guess I’m a writer. Maybe. I’ll keep working at it, cuz even if I’m not one yet, at least I know that I want to be.