What Now, My Blog?
Miss O’ has been looking at her blogspot stats lately (a feature on Blogger, telling you which pages have been opened, and when and how often), to see which blog posts have had the most hits. (While the posts may have been opened, she knows full well that they may not have been read past the first few sentences.) The most popular posts have titles that imply that the reader would learn something about the life of the writer herself (“Two Questions: Miss O’ Responds” and “From Where I’m Sitting, New York City” are the top two), a kind of cock-tease in each head, as it were, though Miss O’, more often than not, is given no clue as to whether what the reader found there was interesting or useful or cool or stupid or what. Such is the nature of this weekly beast—one posts on faith.
The most commented-upon blogs were the early ones, where Miss O’ tended to swear a lot and heave political asides onto the page along with the education commentary. Education was everywhere in the news, and that may have accounted for it. The rest is silence, in that of the nearly 50 posts to date, only a handful of posts have elicited real commentary (and very sweet concern, as with the “From Where I’m Sitting” post, where Miss O’ discussed her problems with depression).
My friend Hugh asked me recently, “Who is your intended audience?”
And I answered: “I don’t have one. I write for myself.” I admit it. (My friend Jean, a poet, said, “I write because the poem has to be written.” Yes. That, too.) When other people read a post of mine, I’m just astonished. To tell you the truth, if I thought about an “intended audience,” I don’t think I’d create anything.
The aforementioned friend, Hugh, writes a gorgeous, thoughtful blog called …The Vivid Ellipsis…, and he told me that starting his blog was inspired in part by my blog, The Miss O’ Show, just as my blog was inspired by BoyMommy, started by my friend Jen, who is the stay-at-home mother of three boys. We three have very specific lenses that we train on the world, because of our lives, history, humor, and writing styles, but there is common ground in our inherent decency and thoughtfulness. And we use humor, again in our very particular styles, to broach our subjects: Jen a new century Erma Bombeck; Hugh an intelligently wry observer in the way of a friendly philosopher; and I tend to a female Lewis Black via Virginia Woolf, Miss Manners, and Miss Teacher-You-Had-in-Fourth-Grade.
Lately Hugh and I have had a lively email correspondence about just what a blog should do, because, when I asked his opinion of mine, he queried the writing persona I have assumed as Miss O’. “Are you Bill Maher or Jon Stewart?” he asked, comparing the popular comedians, one snarky and condescending, the other thoughtful and playful. I considered. “I am Stephen Colbert,” I replied, "at least in my mind."
I AM A BLOGGER, AND SO CAN YOU
And this leads us, well, me, to the question: What is a “blog”? The follow-ups, then, include: Why write one? Who is the writer? Who is the audience?
I am late to the blog game. When I announced on Facebook in March of 2011 that I was starting one, my old student Brittany wrote, “YE-ESSSSS!” and led the followers. It made me wonder what on earth people thought I was going to write about. I am afraid I may have let a lot of people down. I do fear that folks may think I will be more than I am, somehow—funnier, smarter, more astonishing—and why I do not know; yet even if I lack the ability to dazzle, still I must write.
My writing takes place in near-total isolation. I live alone, as my readers know, and no one reads my posts before I publish them. By contrast, many of my writer friends live with someone who reads behind him or her, one who comments, guides the writer to improve the post, article, or poem before it’s published.
Writing for me, by contrast, is no different from either letter-writing or rehearsal for a show. I think of publishing posts the same way I think of mailing first-draft letters (I always wrote fluent letters, with rarely a cross-out, and never revised), or as performing previews of coming attractions: I put my posts up and edit them for a week after, the way you work on a show in front of the audience. This may not sit well with my professional writer friends, for obvious reasons. So am I a writer or am I not? I would say, I write this blog.
My writer friends, on the whole, are superior craftsmen, and real artists. My art form of choice is not actually writing, but, rather, theatrical performance. As a result, I have no expectation that the writing in my blog is art. Should I then not publish a blog?
TO BLOG OR NOT TO BLOG
There is a lot of shit out there, in the blog world, just really awful stuff. Two marvelous actor-writers and a great troupe have been performing a show called Blogologues here in New York, doing blog posts as monologues (edited, directed, and performed with the permission of the bloggers), and they are just terrific shows centered on themes (Autumn or Valentine’s Day, for example). The group’s greatest difficulty is finding the right source material. There’s PLENTY of potential source material, but most of the sources aren’t good, not even “so bad they’re funny”-good, but merely BAD.
I frankly live in terror that I am bad. And yet I must write and publish this stuff, at this time in my life. Why publish a blog? I can think of two reasons, interrelated, which came out of my correspondence with Hugh.
1. I miss writing letters. By way of explanation for this, two quotes come to mind: Twyla Tharp: “Art is the only way to run away without leaving home”; and Lord Byron: “Letter writing is the only device for combining solitude with good company.” Most every weekend of my adult life, from the age of 23 to the age of 39—the year I moved to New York (by which time the world was fully electronic)—I wrote (inked, typed, or word-processed), single-spaced, 2- to 6- page letters to at least two different recipients, often four. No two letters were the same. The fun of writing them was in my communion with the recipient. I relished solitude even as I deeply loved the many dear friends with whom I corresponded regularly.
I have, in a closet, boxes that contain every letter I have ever received. ALL OF THEM. From birth. (I presume all or most all of my letters are lost to the ages—I’ve often thought how interesting it would be to publish the collected letters written to me, and the reader would have to use the clues to figure out the character of the recipient.) I’ve kept samples of every kind of stationery I have used. All of it. This practice of letter writing—from paper to stamps to fonts and formats—formed me, and made me, for good or ill, into Miss O’. And then the letters stopped. No one writes them anymore, and truth to tell, I’m no longer interested in receiving them. I have become forever e-changed, drive-hardened, like everyone else. The trouble is, it’s shattered me, too. And this leads me to the next reason for writing in public.
2. I must connect, and talking is how I do that, and if there’s no one to talk to, I must write. “How do I know what I think till I see what I say?” as one of E.M. Forster’s characters says. I am by nature solitary, as I said, and always have been (my brother Pat used to tell me I was a freak, the amount of time I spent shut up in my tiny bedroom); I always spent a lot of time in my own head. Still, I must TALK, and talk out loud. The results of this habit were played out in teaching, oddly enough, because it was through imaginative exercises alone in my room, in part, that I found my voice as a teacher, as an actress, and even, however uneven the results, as a writer. As I have grown older, this solitude has gradually, and really without any warning, transmuted into acute loneliness. Looking at the age of 50 staring me rather squarely in the face (or in the periphery, at any rate), it was time to acknowledge that my solitude is most probably a life sentence. Such is the way of choices. What I had to decide was what to do about it. I do go out with friends, on occasion; I pay visits to friends and family from time to time; I drink, but that only gets you so far. I used to smoke a pipe for companionship, but I am very vain about my teeth and staining was moving beyond the two cleanings a year on the dental plan, so that had to go. I write for my play lab, but the truth is I seem to lack the ego to pursue playwriting as fully as I might (though ambition seems to be growing). What I do know is that I need deep connection, the one I found writing and receiving letters.
And, so, The Blog was born.
And, so, The Blog was born.
The Blogging and Its Dangers
First of all, a blog can be, excruciatingly, flinchingly (you only ever see that adverb with the un- in front) used in a way that a person with more self-possession would use a diary or journal.
Fortunately, I have a journal for the really personal junk. I handwrite about three pages a day in it, every morning, and get all the insecurities and last night’s dreams and gossipy tidbits out of my system. I tape into the endpapers of these bound volumes all my theater and movie ticket stubs; scraps of paper and post-it notes with stuff written on them; little clippings; swatches of wrapping paper from gifts; used condoms. (Ha, ha! They are unused, obviously.) (Hugh just shook his head and sighed. Did you hear him? Sorry, man.)
In other words, I would never place such personal stuff in a blog (or tape condoms onto my journal endpapers, please GOD tell me you know I'm kidding) (at least I think I'm kidding—I'll have to check), and yet personal things do creep into the published posts. The problem with being a lifelong writer is that one develops a point of view, and when one is nearly 50, one has amassed loads of life experience (if not wisdom) to inform one’s point of view to the point of dogma. And the results can go unfiltered, especially when one has lived a long time alone. This can be off-putting, it can be unattractive, it can be annoying. (My parents wrote me an email not long ago: “Honey, a foul-mouthed woman is a real turn-off.” Fuck yes. Can’t argue with that.)
WHY MISS O’?
Miss O’ is my alter-ego, my evil twin, my lesser being, my angry asshole, my Madonna/Whore. She gets to say shit. A girl can get so fucking sick of being so fucking even-handed and nice all the goddamned time, and Miss O’ couldn’t give two shits about politesse. I like that about her.
Actually, maybe that was Lisa talking. Possibly Miss O’ is in point of fact my better angel, the person I tried to be as a teacher, though she comes across as Miss Manners on meth here in the posts. She—or is it I?—can hector, harangue, and lecture you. She can make you want to click delete. Something in her likes to press the buttons and take it that far. It’s words after all, and you can choose to not read them. Miss O’, though, thinks she can lure you to the next paragraph. She may well be wrong about that.
But I use Miss O’ as a tool, I think, to help me get at things, to not shy away from subjects that cause anger and feelings of disgust; and she can also forge ahead and teach a curriculum that maybe two or three readers will find remotely interesting. Miss O’ does not judge the writer—she WRITES. She gets ME to write. She is the voice in my head that says, “Well, DO something.”
And so I decided to do this blog.
NOW THE FUCK WHAT?
If I had to articulate why in the hell I'm writing this blog, I'd say I'm getting at three things:
1. Reformation: I want to teach people what it’s like to be a teacher, why teaching matters, and offer whatever tools I can that might help make teachers better at their jobs.
2. Information: I want to publish my full Theater Production Curriculum and Drama Club Memoirs for would-be drama coaches to use. I’d hoped to do it as book, but I can’t see that happening because holding a full-time editing job while living in New York City is intense and means I will never have the energy to get an actual book put together to shop around, and I could die tomorrow, and it’s more important to me that I make public something people might be able to use than to make money off of it. I believe in theater arts education THAT much; and theater is collaborative, after all, and most of us work most of the time for free anyway.
3. How-the-Hell-Should-I-Know Participation: Just to see what I say, because I’m funny that way.
Ultimately, as I mentioned, I’d like to know I’m connecting to other people. I cannot force a connection, and it’s a big universe out there and all that, and still I’d like to try. That said, most people don’t engage with the blog in a way I hear about, but if you write, I always write back. (NOTE: The only guy I almost married once told me that, among my many failings, I "wrote back" but did not "respond" to his letters. It is a failing, and I've worked on it. His way of responding to my letters was to quote lines of mine and include the editorial note [sic], meaning "your error, not mine." Nice, huh?)
So, to my angel friend Hugh, this is my blog-letter to you. Without our neighbors to challenge us and ask the bold questions, we would never know what we think or how we feel about anything. What’s left to me in this time on Earth is the possibility of a deeper knowing worth sharing. And maybe getting tickets to The Book of Mormon. (Oh, wait, I DID. And it was AWESOME.)
And to love YOU, dear reader, and hope I am of use.
(But not for Broadway tickets. I don't know ANYONE.) (I DON'T.)
Until next time!