The Company You Keep

There’s a curator at a museum here who cuts a certain figure in this town. Smart and smartly dressed, sweet and hard-hitting, he’s built a reputation for cutting right through the rhetoric to get to the point.

I was sad to learn that he was leaving for another job, a bigger one waiting for him in Hawaii; he, his partner, and their brand new baby girl would soon be gone.

Until his last day here though, he was working. And there he was on a panel as well. The topic that packed the auditorium? How to get a curator’s attention. He said it straight, as always and maybe especially so, for he had nothing to lose.

Do this, this, this, and this, he said, ticking off the basics, and a roomful of artists scribbled down every word.

And then he added one more thing: Think about the friends you keep and make sure you hang out with other really good artists.

What? Pick my friends according to talent? Rather cold, isn’t it? But he had his reasons.  

He said that if he sees an artist who’s connected to someone he already knows or admires, it tells him certain things:

  • that the artist in question is serious about his work, serious enough to want to learn, to want to take a risk and jump into the conversation;
  • that the studio visit will be interesting;
  • that the conversation will be substantive; and
  • that any business that might ensue between them will go smoothly.

Does it mean that he will like the artist’s work? Not necessarily, but with his curiosity sharpened, he will look.

So, what’s this mean to a writer? Two things. The first is that you must continually seek out and learn from your betters, that to do so will not just improve your work but mark you as someone to take seriously. Second, if you are still debating whether to attend that class, that conference, that lunch, that gathering, that lecture, that forum—put on your smiley face and just go.

Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo credits: three women “Grandpa’s friends” – freeparking; two boys – Stu Seeger.

A Last Look at the Numbers


There are still 2 weeks before New Year’s, still time to sweep out the old, prepare for the new, our writing house included.

The past  2 posts looked at what went wrong and what went right.  Today, for the 3rd and last time this year, I look at my numbers. People who favor words don’t always see the value of numbers, which is unfortunate, for a look at even loosely gathered facts can lead to very useful changes.

This blog is number 80. To date, I’ve written roughly 32,000 blog words. (By comparison, my novel has roughly 110,000 words. My most recent nonfiction book has roughly 90,000. A new essay, forthcoming, has 3,000.)

Highest number of rewrites on a single post: 7. The 2 biggest reasons a post didn’t work: a failure of heart and/or a muddled mind. Posts, on the other hand, that went like silk through the hand: 3. I am grateful.

0 posts abandoned of late, which is an improvement. The last time I looked, it was several .

Once only, and with careful deliberation, I used the blog to speak to a particular person.

Once only, and purely by chance, the photo came first, then the text.

15 times, I hit a spike of pronounced reader interest that created a stir for this modest life. My all time high this year remains 655 viewers on a single day. The least is still 1, but you can’t get much lower than that.

9 posts prompted lively conversation. Youngest reader weighing in: 17. Oldest: 82.

I’ve tested 3 things this past year: the comment feature, a series, and sidebar format.

I spent roughly 50 hours on education, studying a half-dozen blogs, culled from 5 times that. The best of these will be listed here, next week.

Number of times I’ve adjusted a title or a first line with SEO in mind: 0. Number of times I’ve reflected on how this is not smart: many.

Days I had no interest in writing: a few, here and there. Days it went particularly well: some. The rest of the time, it’s the usual ebb and flow of a writing life. Along the way, many things have happened in real life and you have read 0 about it here. This is a blog for writers, not a diary, though real life is certainly a feature.

Daily, I call upon 2 resources for sustenance and inspiration: the newspapers and public radio.

Number of times I’ve read this year that there aren’t any readers left in this world, just techno-consumers, just browsers: 58.

Number of times I’ve ignored this reality to pay attention to my writing: 58.

Photo credit: Ralph Aichinger, sxc

A Small Shift Forward

There’s this diner I’ve been frequenting for years, a brisk, tidy little place on the west side of Manhattan, run by a Polish family. Not long ago, I stopped in for breakfast and found it as always: the same man who greeted, saw us to a table, the same waitresses, the bus boys. The menu was unvaried. The food was just the same.

But this time, something had changed, something new added: the lady who came around now and checked on every table.

I saw her from afar: a vision in yellow, smiling, asking, Everything okay? She had her system—musical voice, eye contact, first with the woman, then the man, keep it short, move on.

When she got to us, she sparkled—the gold sequins on her sweater doubling her sunshine. When she made eye contact, I saw that hers were impossible to miss, dark and flashing and outlined in a brightly painted aqua like coral from the sea. Red lipstick: she beamed. You enjoying? she asked.

Yes, indeed, we answered as she must have heard over and over, and by the time she finished her route, a new set of patrons had arrived.

From our end, the restaurant-goers, we appreciated her attention: not too much, not too little. And from the restaurant’s end of things, there she was, a sunny ambassador spreading cheer while double checking patron satisfaction.

It was a great improvement and such a little thing. I sipped my juice and pondered the mechanics of this transformation: just a small shift forward, and look now how the restaurant shines.

Photo credits: eggs – Ilco, sxc; juice – Ivan Freaner, sxc