Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Belated Humility

I rarely go back and read my previous blog material, mainly because I have to resist the urge to edit or rewrite the stuff, or I find it unreadable. Today I checked back to see how long ago I did my first post and I was reviewing some of the first postings in December 2004.

On Christmas Eve that year, I quoted from a story called “Jacob the Baker” by Noah BenShea. A friend had shared this rather famous story, and it was my first exposure to BenShea and his series. I was very touched by the story, and I quoted extensively from it. At the bottom of the post, however, I discovered something new:

Noah BenShea had left a comment on my blog.

It took me three years to read it. Today, my blog will notify me if I get comments. But back then, I was a neophyte on my first journey into blogdom, and unless I deliberately went back to re-read a post, I didn’t read comments left on my blog.

Noah said he was honored by my quote. Three years later, I am flattered and humbled that he would read my material. And rather nonplussed that I am only now acknowledging it!

Thanks, Noah.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A building falls in the neighborhood


You leave town for a few months, and things change. The neighborhood doesn’t look the same. Some of the buildings have fallen down. A few of the houses have a faded look to them. People have drifted away. Stray papers blow in the wind, down empty streets.

But that is the ephemeral nature of the internet. I discovered this when I revisited the Poetry Thursday site today.

I used to contribute to the website called Poetry Thursday. I had read about it over a year ago, in a column by a Philadelphia newspaper quoted in the poetry page on Two women, Liz and Dana, had begun a blog about poetry, and were soliciting contributors to write a poem every Thursday. You would post a poem on your own blog and link it to their site. The two bloggers would even suggest a subject for the weekly submission, and encourage – but not require – that the poems relate to that subject. It was a fun way to publish a poem in a quiet little corner of the world, get some feedback, and converse with a few other authors.

Because I have been AWOL from my own digital publication since July, I haven’t checked back with Poetry Thursday in a few months. Today I clicked to the site and discovered that the two women had closed up shop after 18 months. Each of them is moving on to other outlets and new educational adventures. They had solicited their last poems at the end of August, and promised to keep the site up as an archived web site into 2008.

Liz and Dana are two more people that I met electronically through these new communications and communities, but will probably never meet in person. For all I know, they could be two guys named Gus and Bill, but I doubt it. I do know that they provided a nice little service to a bunch of disparate (desperate?) poets around the world. Go read some of the creativity that they fostered, before it disappears.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Norman Mailer

Norman Mailer died yesterday.

Mailer spoke at the New York State Writer’s Institute this past May. He was physically rather weak; he used a cane in each hand as he gingerly approached a table on stage and sat behind it. But his voice was still strong, deep and resonant, as if it was coming from the deepest part of the bass clef. There were a few hints of the old braggadacio in his presentation, and I remember him challenging some of the questioners from the audience.

As is usually the case at these author forums, someone asked Mailer what advice he would give an aspiring writer. He responded by saying that there had to be some mental element that would punish an author who did not write. Every evening, an author has to schedule a certain number of hours that he or she will write the next day. You need to end the day by saying, I will write for three hours, or five hours, or some rational target, the next day. If that schedule is not kept, you will fail – you will never develop the necessary discipline to succeed at the craft, no matter how skilled you are at using the language. To Mailer, writing was a discipline triggered by guilt. You need the internal nag.

I have someone who acts as my nag. She consistently reminds me of the gaps in my writing. She recently pointed out that I might be writing, but if I’m not posting it, she can’t read what I am writing.

We all need champions, someone who identifies our particular skill and encourages us to use them. We need an angel to bring the message. The true incentive, however, has to come from our own mind, our own soul, our own hearts. It has to be an internal need – an itch to be scratched, an ache to be soothed, a craving that requires fulfillment.

From there, comes the discipline to succeed. The angel can remind and push us, but the true desire comes from inside.

Norman Mailer may not be the best of models. Much of his life was loud, impetuous, audacious, and deliberately confrontational. He was much older before he confronted his own stability and the satisfaction he gained solely from his written creations.

But his writing will certainly outlive him. His admonition – to listen to our internal nag -- is one for all writers to heed.