CASH GIFTING AND BARBECUE SAUCE: On becoming a “real” writer

A wise friend once told me that I can discover what I want in life by paying attention to what I envy in others. So, when I ordered the Great American Poetry 2005 anthology from Amazon and felt a pang of resentment upon reading what I considered to be an inferior poem, I realized an important truth about myself: I secretly wanted to write and publish. Perhaps I wouldn’t be so jealous of these supposedly paltry poets if I were sharing my own writing with people.

getting paid to writeMy first attempt at becoming a “real writer” was clumsy and misdirected. I responded to a Craigslist ad offering money for SEO (search engine optimization) Internet articles, which needed to conform to strict guidelines (2% keyword enriched, 400 to 600 words long, and 60% original with the keyword in the title). I treated the articles as writing exercises and made each 100% original. I googled statistics and vetted sources. Although I relished my newfound status as a “professional” writer, the novelty of the articles quickly wore off, and churning out 20 pieces on a single keyword became tedious at best. After being assigned the keyword “barbecue sauce,” and then later “cash gifting,” I decided that perhaps I needed to expand my horizons. (The prospect of writing ten articles about a popular condiment and a notorious scam can do that to a person.)  Continue reading


Why I Write About My Mother Dying (and Other Imponderables)

Someone once remarked to me that my topics here on the Naked Notebook could be considered “depressing.”  Frankly, this observation surprised me.  Exploring themes of grief and loss, as I have been doing lately since the death of my mother, has never seemed depressing to me at all.

But the comment got me wondering: why do I write on these topics?  What compels me, Where earth meets sky and in betweenwhen I take pen in hand, to tell of my mother’s death?  To write of how, in dying, she was somehow larger than when she was living?

Then I remembered.  I don’t really write my posts at all.  They write themselves.  That’s how I know the notebook is truly “naked.”  My posts are the truth.  Maybe not the whole truth, but nothing but the truth, all the same.  It’s like I’m a windchime, and words are the wind.  I make a pretty sound from time to time, but it’s really the wind that’s doing it.  I’m just hanging there, waiting.

Maybe I’m reading too much into the whole “depressing” thing, anyway.  It’s entirely likely that my subject matter is not responsible for that perception at all.  The Naked Notebook’s monochromatic color scheme alone could be to blame.  I didn’t choose it to be funereal and macabre.  It’s just that I’ve always been drawn to darkness.  When I was 5, black was my favorite color.  I even insisted on black gravel in my fish bowl.   A photo in black and white, to me, instantly looks at least 20 percent more artistic than its color counterpart.  That’s just how I am.

Blacks, grays, they’re edgy.  I’ve always loved edginess.  In music, in art, and in people.  Things that walk the line between dark and light.  Because that’s what we’re all doing, every day.

Anyway, enough of this pseudo-philosophical crap.  I’m talking about my blog.  Specifically, whether the Dead Mother Posts, as I so irreverently refer to them, are depressing.  I certainly don’t think so.  I’m not feeling depressed when I write them.  I may be feeling acute, maybe even melancholy at times.  But that’s the richness of life, isn’t it?  Deep feelings, both good and bad.  It’s not all sunshine and roses, in case you hadn’t noticed.  Yeah.  I figured you had.

I would never have believed I’d be quoting reality TV’s Dr. Drew Pinsky, but he said something on an episode of Celebrity Rehab (everyone needs a guilty pleasure, right?) that stuck with me.  He said that he’d always considered people who were capable of deep emotion to be strong, not weak.  (He was talking to Heidi Fleiss at the time, so he was, no doubt, really reaching deep into his proverbial bag of tricks.)

Never mind the source; I love the sentiment.  I, too, admire people who do not shy away from the difficult, the poignant, the acute.  I don’t mean wallowing…I mean possessing a willingness to go there, to learn the lessons, to be with the experience.  Whatever that experience may be.  It’s not negative – that’s a value judgment.  It just is.

So here I am, mining the depths, holding my breath, diving down.  Coming back up to the surface, humbled but stronger.

My readers, you get it.  You have been supportive, receptive, empathetic.  You don’t flinch in the face of deep emotion.  You, too, are strong in all the ways that matter.  And I appreciate you more than you know.

My husband, who does not consider himself a writer, said it better than anyone:  A death is as astonishing as a birth, he said.  How very, very true that is.  Astonishing.  I’ve witnessed an astonishing experience.  And I’m writing about it.

My mom herself explored these ideas.  She devoted much of her adult life to the study of grief and loss.  As a Marriage and Family Therapist, her emphasis was complicated grief.  I feel I am honoring her by learning all I can from her illness and death.  My grief isn’t complicated – at least I don’t think it is – but it’s mine.

That I ruminate on those experiences isn’t an expression of sadness…it’s an appreciation for the complexity of being human.  It’s not about having a happy life or a sad life.  It’s about having a full life.

So if there is a reason for the Dead Mother Posts, I suppose it is one of self-discovery, of honoring the moment.  I haven’t written these posts to depress my readers or to marinate in misery and self-pity.  An eternal optimist, I’ve never been good at any of those things.  But I am a contemplative person, and I want to give this time in my life its due.

After years of rejecting the idea, lately I’ve come to embrace the fact that I am, at least in part, my mother’s daughter.  She would be pleased that I’m taking the time – and making the space, here in the Naked Notebook – to work through things in my own way.  She’d like the Dead Mother Posts.  I’m just sure of it.

Staying on Target

The blog is becoming self-aware.  The other day, as I opened my notebook to write, there is was: the thought that I was writing for an audience.  “Many readers liked ‘Being Staying On TargetMindful,’ I thought to myself.  “I should write more Zen-like blog entries.”  Or, the “Dead Mother Posts,” as I so irreverently refer to them, “have really sparked a connection in people.  I should write more of them.”

The truth is, of course, that deliberately writing any kind of post is counter to the intent of the Naked Notebook.  This online notebook is promised to contain honest writing: raw, spontaneous, minimally edited.  How can it be any of those things when I’m thinking about writing posts on a given topic, trying to write posts people will like?

When I find myself sitting down to “write a post about” anything, I must be immediately skeptical of my motives.  I must remember the reason why I started the blog: to share my honest writing, to connect.  How can I accomplish my goal if I’m trying to be anything except me?

Any condition, any topic, filters that inner consciousness, the part of me that knows what I want to say, the part that doesn’t need to raise its voice to be heard.  The truth is a straight arrow.

THIS IS NOT A BLOG… is not a blog.  It may be in the format of a blog, and it may be published on a blog platform, but do not be fooled.  It isn’t a blog.

The reason why this is not a blog is because I don’t like blogs.  Actually, it’s not that I don’t like them.  It’s the word I don’t like.  Blog.  It sounds moronic, like something a troll would do beneath a bridge.  The townsfolk could hear him down there blogging all day long.  Blog, blog, blog.   It also sounds sophomoric.  Omigod, Becky.  Did you see her?  She is SUCH a blogger.  It’s just a bad word for a rather cool thing.  Whatever is, then, a blog is what it isn’t.

I think it’s okay to define a thing by what it isn’t.  It has long been my opinion that we find ourselves this way.  We stumble through life, encountering individuals and situations that just don’t fit.  We look at them and say, “I may not know who I am, but I’m NOT that.”  After 50 or 60 years of this, we might have a pretty good idea who we are.  If we’re lucky.

This haphazard process of elimination enabled me to discover that I am a writer.  My whole life I’ve loved reading, writing, and words in general.  My skills in this area were celebrated at an early age and all through school.  But I didn’t consider writing my “calling” until recently.  I’m lucky enough to be self-employed as a medical transcriptionist, and my day job is filled with words, grammar, sentence structure, and the like.  But the words aren’t mine, and although I find small business ownership rewarding, it isn’t my life’s work.

That would be my writing, and the fact that writing is my life’s work is a relatively new concept to me.  In college I studied to be a lot of things and changed my major many, many times, the process of elimination at work.  I discovered I’m NOT a guitar teacher, pharmacist, physical therapist, or nurse.  What I didn’t notice was that the thread running through all my studies was my writing:  it was the reason I got such good grades; it was the thing I both put off until the last minute and looked forward to the most.  In short, I took my writing for granted.

What got me focused on writing was The Best American Poetry 2005.  I sent for the book from because I needed one more item to attain Super Saver Shipping status.  If you shop Amazon, you know how important this is.  They cleverly price their items so that your total is always $0.49 short of the amount needed for free shipping.  So you add one more item.  A CD that has been on your wish list, perhaps.  Or a poetry anthology, added on a whim.  When I put the latter into my virtual shopping cart, I thought I’d enjoy reading some fresh, new stuff.

I didn’t.  There was some decent poetry, but the majority of the poems weren’t to my liking.  They weren’t remarkably well crafted or inspiring, in my not-so-humble opinion.  I caught myself thinking that I could write poetry as good, or better, than these “best American poets.”  Envy crept in…why did they deserve to be published, and not I?  The answer was simple.  They write, and I don’t.  They submit, and I don’t.  If I want to publish poetry, I need to do more than scoff at poets.  I need to write some damn poetry, send it to some damn literary magazines, and see how it measures up.

That is what I have done, and I’m pleased to say that some of the wiser poetry editors out there don’t think I suck.  They have even honored me by choosing my poems for their publications.  From my disdain for some subjectively lackluster poetry began my journey as a publishing poet.

My journey as a blogger (ugh – online journalist?) was even more organic in its beginnings.  All my life, I have written these things I call “snippets.”  I don’t know what they are.  They aren’t essays.  They aren’t stories.  They aren’t poems.  Sometimes I really like them; sometimes I think they say something that matters.  I took a few of them to my critique group to share.  “They would make good blog entries,” someone observed.  No, no, no.  I fought the truth, even as it lay there plain before me in my own deplorable handwriting, scrawled on the pages of my ratty-tatty spiral notebook.  I hate blogging, I thought.  Then the epiphany: maybe I like the concept.  I like writing, I like sharing my writing, and I want to build an online presence.  Maybe I just don’t like the word.

So is not a blog.  I call it an “online notebook.” You can call it what you want.  It doesn’t have a “focused topic” like the “most successful” blogs have (according to the blogging authorities).  Sometimes I write about a funny experience I’ve had.  Sometimes I write about where I’m sitting right at that moment.  Sometimes I write about my pseudophilosophical thoughts on life.  Sometimes I write about writing.

Regardless of the topic, though, there will be a format.  This is sort of a pledge from me to you, the reader, so here goes.  I promise that [most of the time] entries will be:

  • Regular (weekly or every two weeks at maximum if I get a nasty virus or a close relative contracts something incurable).
  • Relatively short (usually no more than 2 handwritten wide rule spiral notebook pages – and yes, I recognize this first entry is longer than that).
  • Handwritten in abovementioned notebook.
  • Minimally edited.  This is why the notebook is “naked,” and there is a reason for it.  I have limited time and am an incurable multitasker.  These entries will not only fulfill my commitment to my “online notebook”; they will serve as a writing exercise for me, an opportunity to [hopefully] hone my skills of being concise and staying on a chosen topic. entries will be, in essence, free writes, a concept I am totally enamored of because it does two fabulous things for a writer: it excuses shitty writing, and it allows for some unexpected (and at times refreshingly non-shitty) results.

So there you have it: my writing, my life’s work, naked, posted on the Internet for any and all to, er, admire.  Or to criticize.  Or to read and enjoy, thinking, “Hey, here’s someone as kooky and messed up and human as me.  Only she’s crazy enough to write about it…and let other people read her writing.”

I’m optimistic.  I hope people read my thoughts and recognize some common ground, some shared humanness.  But I’m also realistic.  Some will “get me,” and some won’t.  It’s okay, because as long as I’m writing, I’m successful.  After all, only people who write poems can get in the poem books.  And only people who write at all can call themselves writers.  I’m a writer, and as long as I’m writing, I’m doing the work.  My work.  And that’s really all that matters.