Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Café Tor almost never got started because of the well-intentioned advice of a friend and my own neurotic tendencies.

Over coffee one afternoon, my friend went on at great length about how I should totally have a blog, and how I could write about our group of college chums and our various made-up adventures and how she would totally read it and tell all her friends about it so they would read it, too.

I sat and thought, “I’ll be damned if I sit here and let you tell me what I should write. Get your own blog. You have no idea who I am.”

Clearly this response was out of line. She was, after all, only being nice and saying that in the past she enjoyed reading email I sent. Thank heavens I kept my big mouth shut. Yet I could not deny that her suggestion made me angry. Where was my stridency coming from?

I decided to think about that with a year of blogging, a meditation in motion, but I would do it quietly, unglamorously, under an unassuming assumed name. No instant readership in the form of family and friends, just a quiet corner to… well, breathe, imagine myself with my favorite libation, and hopefully, write some bits that would make people see things a little differently, perhaps even laugh. If I wanted to write about my friends and family, I would. My choice for anonymity gave them their privacy, too.

My inspiration was “Ms. Schnozz” and her blog, Schnozzfest. Another friend sent a link to her blog with the note, “This reminds me of your writing.” The only reason I didn’t create a script to block this friend’s email from EVER SHOWING UP IN MY INBOX AGAIN (God Bless all my friends who withstand my knee-jerk tendencies to be a… um, “jerk”) was because Schnozzfest cracked me up. Schnozz challenged herself to become a more adventurous person by joining the roller derby, and I loved reading about her experiences. Her triumphs, her frustrations, her dissention into total roller derby geekdom – this girl had some serious moxie and a really great turn of phrase. She could poke fun at others without being snarky and never ever hesitated to poke fun at herself. She blogged about Mr. S., her bunnies, the things that she liked and the things that annoyed her. I write in my underwear as a salute to her and all she believed in. (If you’d read the blog, that wouldn’t sound so odd. Honest.)

Then her voice changed. She wasn’t… having fun? Her scope narrowed. And then she just said, “That’s it; I’m not doing this anymore.”

I wish I had saved that last post, because she talked about some of the very same things I’m dealing with now: privacy, to use or not use your real identity, and the expectation of others. When she stopped using an assumed name and everyone in the audience knew who she was, she had to ask herself, “Is it really appropriate for me to write X, knowing my parents / boss / former best friend from high school / coworkers are reading this?” The need to edit herself lead to flattening her writing into a mono-dimensional, one size fits all online persona. But she understood that’s not how we live our real lives; we have one face we show our family, one for our friends, another for our co-workers… It’s not that we’re lying, we’re just painfully aware that what’s appropriate for one group may not be appropriate for another. Ms. Schnozz decided she wasn’t going to edit herself anymore, and between that and time constraints, she bowed out of blogging.

This made me sad, but I understood. Family and friends assume that they know you – but they what they really know is only the voice they hear in their relationship with you – the one that they’re comfortable with. They’ve never seen that creative voice before. How could they? You’re only just trying to figure it out yourself. Believe me, your deeply Catholic mother may say she would be thrilled to read your first book, but she most emphatically does not want to read that passionate love scene you wrote. She still has your first communion pictures up on the wall and she is very happy with that image, thank you. She does not want to know where you got the idea for the bullwhip / bundt cake / salad shooter scenario. Trust me on this.

I haven’t had much luck trying to discuss my writing with others (salad shooter ideas aside). People who have never looked at the publishing industry are quick to tell me what I should do to get published – find an agent, forget about agents and go straight to a publisher, go to a writer’s conference, join a writer’s group, write for a newspaper, write for a magazine, write children’s books, illustrate children’s books or my personal favorite from my father, “write like Erma Bombeck” – rather than listen to the fact that I’m desperately afraid I’m not as talented as I hope I am. Explaining that I have a file folder full of 30 + rejections from agents who have never read my manuscript, just a cover letter, or that I have no interest whatsoever in illustration makes me feel slightly pathetic. I don’t need to learn how to deal with the publishing industry; I need to learn how to deal with creative fear and frustration. (The once piece of practical advice I think I do need to consider is to accept that the first manuscript isn’t going anywhere right now and move on to the next thing, but strangely enough, no one has suggested that yet.)

Gently refusing their suggestions with a “thanks, but no thanks” makes people wonder why I’m so “touchy.” After all, they’re only “showing interest in my hobby” or “trying to be helpful.” Then their feelings get hurt, which is the last thing I wanted, so I spend the rest of the time trying to make them feel better when I’m the one who’s so frustrated I could bite straight through my damn manuscript.

My decision to blog under a pseudonym and not reveal my online activities to anyone I know in the Real World, as paranoidly private as it sounds, is absolutely the best decision I could have made. Artists need to protect themselves. They need room to experiment with ideas, deciding for themselves what works and what doesn’t work. Nothing kills creativity faster than the expectations of those closest to you and your own fear of somehow “disappointing” them. Depending on your personality type, you may be able to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune without ever noticing, or you may find yourself neurotically reading hidden meanings into every comment your friends and family make. Without apology or explanation I honestly say that I am the latter. But once you acknowledge your neurotic tendencies, you can deal with them in a sane fashion.

I can have the freedom to explore ideas and voices, privately, on my own terms, or I can seek the admiration of people I know, but be ultimately aware of and shackled by their opinions. I choose privacy. Privacy does not mean lack of responsibility – I guard the integrity of this name as much as I guard my own – but it does mean that everyone I know can sleep a little easier at night, secure in the knowledge that nothing I blog about will be traced back to them.

Not immediately, anyway…

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