Just the Facts

As the cop says to the old lady, “Just the facts, ma’am.”

Number of months blogging: 8.

Number of posts: 65. Ones I particularly like:  21.  Website tune-ups: 3. Improvements in the works: 3.

Posts pulled from an inventory of ideas: 15.  Freshly conceived, more contemporaneously inspired posts: 50.  Rate of new pieces generated as compared to inventory:  3:10.

Number of free photo sources: 3. Countries represented in my stable of photographers: dozens. Number of photographers I called upon repeatedly: 2.

Number of permissions sought: 11. Most required for a single piece: 7. I didn’t run it, even though it sported two from the CIA, one of them a spy, a famous cartoonist, an accomplished painter, the king of Bhutan, a parrot, and a man who knew how to cure prosciutto in the attic. . . .

Dumb decisions to which I nonetheless adhere: 1 (The issue: SEO versus what one would really like to say.)

Publication: twice weekly. Number of Tuesday pieces that spiked: a lot, randomly. Number of Friday pieces that spiked: same. Biggest spikes:  unrelated to day of the week.

Most popular post:  How is Information Acquired.  (Note: Topic had sex appeal.) 22 others also particularly popular, including: What’s in a Name?, Three Writing Principles a Long Way Downstream, Trash and the Written Word, Flamingo A-go-go, Choosing to Write, Owning a Word, and The Clause for Immortality.

Number of planning hours per week:  2.  Number of writing hours:  never enough, and they fly by.

Number of pieces that just did not work:  7. Number of times I tend to go at a piece, over and over, until at last I come to my senses and trash it: 4.

Typical posting hour: 6:30 a. m. Latest posting hour: 3:30 p.mTwice.

Number of languages in which spam arrives: 5. Most popular, of late: Russian. Rate of real comment (best as I can tell) to spam: 1:15.

Most fun in the working day:  selecting the photography, which is refreshing after the labor of writing.

Number of changes as promised in my last blog, which addressed a refocusing initiative: 1. The change: This blog is now a weekly, with Friday posts.

See you next week.

Photo credit: ralphsmyth.me.uk

How to Refocus

Feeling busy, harried, distractible? In need of a change?

It’s simple, says a friend, and any encouragement a person might need to pursue a new order of the day is instantly mustered by such assuring words.

Step out of one’s routines and take a big breath of different air. Suspend normal activities. Suspend normal in general. Read what you want. Eat what you please. Set aside assumptions and see where it takes you. And upon return to regular days, make a change.

I will follow this advice.  Next post: I will let you know what changed.

Photo credit: Crystal Leigh Shearin, sxc

The Iconic Image

We don’t pick the images in our lives that stand out. These things just happen.

Take pancakes, for example. Twice, the image of a pancake has come to stand for something much more.

The first time was when a law partner called me into his office, closed the door. I was expecting a boatload of work. But, instead, he just wanted to congratulate me on a fellowship I had received to attend graduate law school in New York.

He, too, had studied in New York. Now, he was in a Detroit practice, buried with responsibility, and a family man, besides. But back then, anything was possible, he said. No limit on one’s career, and as for one’s life? Why, he and this girl would dance all night and end up in some pancake place at 5:00 in the morning . . .

The other time pancakes reappeared as a sign of something essential was in Amsterdam. It was early, and looking for breakfast, my family and I happened on a place just opened. The owner moved comfortably at his duties, brewing coffee, pressing the juice. He cracked eggs, stirred the batter. No rush. The shop was new, he said. He used to do something else, something financial, but this was much more civilized. No better way to greet the day’s possibilities, he said, than a hot crepe and the leisure to eat it in peace.

Photo credit: Loleia, sxc.

Working Papers

Something finished comes from something unfinished.

Sketches for the painting. Drafts for the writer.

Once in a while, these things are available for public scrutiny. One writer tells me of his time in the British Museum studying edited manuscripts, Charles Dickens, for example, splayed right before him. It was access to the writer’s thinking—his cross outs, his additions—and in his own hand, which in itself can be revealing.

How’d the master do it? Take a look.

But absent the ability to peruse working papers, a student can still copy as a means of learning.

Some choose Hemingway to better understand the power of a simple sentence. Joan Didion tells of her husband, John Gregory Dunne’s copying out portions of William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice to see how the author “worked it out.”

When you stop to look—clinically, curiously—it’s remarkable what you can learn.

Photo credit: Ms page – Beinecke Flickr Laboratory; paparazzi – blog-blond.blogsppot.com.

Living Out Loud

Not long ago, in a café where my husband’s photos hung, I had breakfast with Pamela, the co-founder and editor of Seven Days. Her newspaper is the indispensable press in these parts, with print and digital editions.

Pamela’s hair—short, standing, certainly red—might be first thing anyone notices about her. But there’s also her wardrobe, a cool-retro-Jetson-rocker-chick-gallery-chic kind of look. And up close like this, over a marble-topped café table, her brilliant blue eyes are what hold me.

We got to talking about blogs.

“It’s like living out loud,” I volunteered, seven months into the game and not completely comfortable with the demands of the form.

She looked up from her eggs, her expression pert.

“Living out loud?” she said, ever thoughtful, this titan of the ceaseless weekly news. “I do that every day.”

It was a relief to hear, her hand tossed in a mock queen mum’s dismissive wave, which I found comforting, confirming.  She got me thinking. Indeed, the demands of the news, delivered right to the reader in any format that pleases him, is a constant rush of production, blogs included.

But even when a writer takes years to complete something, living out loud is what writers do. Either we get comfortable with it, assume the authority it requires, or we find another occupation.

Photo Credits: Open mouth – Laura Tulaite, sxc; Queen – Nicholas Raymond, sxc.

Choosing a Name

1918 Poster

I know people who have used aliases, and changed a name, and changed a pronunciation, and buried the old in favor of the partner’s surname, and taken on a nickname. But I have only come across two people who went by a first name only.

In one case, it was a vanity thing, or at least that’s how it looked to me. It was a writer, our paths crossed briefly but at close range, and I got a good look: noisy fellow, insecure, the use of the single name as if his fist pounded on a puffed up chest. I Tarzan.

The other case was entirely different, a middle-aged woman, her aspect pained, her eyes hard to look at, and her voice a little freighted. You could


see she wanted to be free of something, and I wished for her sake that the name change did it, but it didn’t.

A name has to work—in life and in a piece of writing—or it lacks authenticity, which in turn introduces an irritant into the scene, and before long, nothing is working. What kind of authority is held by our selection? What kind of history? What fate, what trajectory have we foisted on our character? A Theodore is not a James or an Ari. An Adolf is an unfortunate choice.

I’m capable of running through a host of names before I find the right one. I won’t go so far as to say that this decision is an all or nothing proposition—well, on second thought, yes I would.

Photo credits: poster, public domain, Google Images; Albatross, stormpetrel1