Purity Balls, and All They Represent, Are Absurd.

From Flickr User godfreek56 Hmmm.

First: Some facts about me.

1.  I grew up in a Christian home in rural Pennsylvania.  It’s still Christian there, my siblings and parents are Protestant a la Baptist (some more absolutist than others), and I am solidly agnostic.  Sometimes I attend church when I visit them, I do this because I know it makes them happy and gives them hope, but I find it to be incredibly uncomfortable.    Like how I feel in nursing homes: a little sick inside and powerless to help the people there’s illnesses.

2.  When I was fifteen or sixteen, I was given a “promise ring” by my parents.  It was very expensive and pretty, and it was a symbol of my promise to “remain pure” till marriage.  I was totally on board.  I am, now, a little ashamed by my then-zealotry.

3.  I was a virgin until I was in my 20s.

4.  I have a daughter who is six who does not know her biological father.

5.  I think sex is great.

That’s the stuff I thought about when I first heard of Purity Balls.

My friend who keeps me up-to-speed on absurd pop culture stuff asked me the other week if I’d heard of these things called, “Purity Balls.”

“Ha!” I said. “Sounds Oxymoronic!”

She laughed and said, “Oh my.  It’s horrible.  I’ll send you some links.”

So thanks, Brooke, for the research.

Another Unreasonable Thing from the Christians

Purity Balls are silly and creepy, and–more than anything else–another way for young Christian girls to be tutored in their inequality.  Taking a girl’s power over her own sexuality away is another way of saying “you are not to be trusted with this body, you are not to be trusted with this self. Here, let daddy fix it up for you.”

Having some kind of commitment ceremony, signing some kind of compact on fancy paper with her dad is NOT going to stop a young woman from, eventually, wanting to have sex.  And a person should, absolutely, in her late teens and twenties want to have sex.  It’s a biological imperative.  Plus, it’s fun, good exercise, and important to practice.  It gets to be more fun the more one practices.

Dads’ jobs are to

1) Make sure their daughters are informed.
2) Make sure their daughters feel loved.
3) Answer their daughters’ questions without judgement (which has to be incredibly hard, but can be done b/c I’ve seen it).
4) Acknowledge that children, even girl children, become grownups with all the hangups, pleasures, responsibilities of adulthood, and to prepare them for it.
5)Accept Dad’s own fallibility.

Same goes for moms.  And for moms, I add affirming that a woman’s power is nothing to be feared or abhorred by demonstrating assertive, self-actualized womanhood.

About the promisor.

Asking a girl to make a promise to her father to “be pure” before she’s really able to understand the full implications of such a promise sends the message that her purity, and–by extension–her choices are not her own.  Worse, that they belong to men: first a father, and then a husband.  What?!

Plus, it opens Pandora’s Box of utterly odd expectations for young women (daddies have been cooking a while, they’re typically better at life than fresh-out-of-the-box, young, horny boys), potential family crisis when the promising young person realizes that sex is way more fun than pleasing daddy, and an unnatural amount of authority for daddy over whom daughter will be allowed to date and marry.

I won’t dwell here, but it is not a drastic leap between daddy being surrogate and actual boyfriend.

Daddies, though well-intentioned, and huge assets (if they are good), are not always right.  They need to let their daughters make mistakes.  But if they’ve done their jobs as outlined above, their daughters will make mistakes everybody can live through.

A Journalist from Glamour went to a purity ball, and said that a lot of the young women there are home schooled, and after school, often enter family business.  She said that the girls pledging range in age from 4.  Four! Seriously?!  Some four-year-olds are still in diapers!

And The Promisee.

These moms and dads and daughters think ONLY in the construct of Fundamentalist Christian Philosophy.  Some of them call themselves “thinking people” because they allege to have psychic abilities with “right and wrong” and are able to see the world in “black and white,” thanks to their good buddies the father, son, and holy spirit.

But what they mean is, “I’ve been indoctrinated to believe that my views are marginal and I therefore have to stick up for myself against ‘the world’ which is out to turn me into a ‘pagan/heathen/sinner’ because they don’t know Jesus, which is the only way to a righteous life and/or heaven.”

I’m not going to call this view of the world delusional, but I can’t come up with a better adjective, so this is me not saying that being paranoid about the world around you while talking to Jesus your imaginary friend about how hard your life is, is delusional.

Daddies can’t have too much say.

Picture this: 19-year-old daughter meets a boy wherever, introduces to daddy who’s guardian of daughter’s purity, announces the pending courtship, what does daddy do?

1.  Shoot the bastard.

2.  Tell daughter she is not allowed to date said boy.

3.  Welcome boy with open arms, but menace boy with framed purity contract.

4.  Buy daughter stainless steel locking chastity belt.

5.  Act like a regular person and smile suspiciously and go have “holy cow, my kid’s growing up” moments in private.

Except for in the last option, I can see no potentially positive outcome for any of that.

Look, I’m not saying that parents can’t and shouldn’t weigh in.  I’m just saying the bigger the weigh in, the less likely the teenager/young adult is to listen.  We all remember being there, don’t we?  Hell, my parents were pretty sane and reasonable, and I ran out of their house the earliest moment possible because I felt like they were trying to control me.  I may be particularly willful, but I know plenty of people with similar stories.

And teenagers/young adults who follow all their parents’ advice, allow their parents to pick their spouse, will probably end up one of the following ways:

1. Divorced anyhow (one of the stated benefits of the Purity Ball is that it diminishes the divorce rate, which is bullshit, b/c when people don’t have full access to their frontal lobes–people don’t fully develop this way until into their 20s–they will do something foolhardy like get hitched so they can have sex).

Just a quick little thing from The Dana Foundation: A central tenet of neuroscience, for example, is that the brain continues to develop its “wiring diagram” at least well into a person’s 20s. The frontal lobes, regions critical to high-level cognitive skills such as judgment, executive control, and emotional regulation, are the last to fully develop.

2.  Full of bitterness and regret at like 30.

3.  Parents to 10 children before age 30, and at 50–when said children are reared–lost, alone, confused, stymied, broke, and ill-equipped to handle the world around them.

4.  Going totally wild and wooly but without any smarts about how to do so safely, and winding up a single parent, dead, infected, addicted, or a prostitute.

5.  Sort of normal, but overly devout & dangerously absolutist.  Think Unabomber.

6.  Totally ending their relationship with their parents in order to lead a normal, independent life.

Look, I’m not advocating for total freedom for teenagers.  But I’m advocating for parents–especially Christian parents–to understand that even if God is the way they choose to have impulse control, their teenager may not agree, and their teenager should not be forced to.

I am advocating for parents to respect themselves and their children–who will eventually be adults, and who will need the tools to live their own lives–enough to try to find a place in the middle.  And I’m advocating for people to be real about sex.  There’s no reason to make it taboo or try to control it via indoctrination or fear.

The best way to help your kids about about sex is to give them all the facts, to explain their options to them in clear language, and to encourage them to talk to you about it if they decide to have sex when they’re teenagers.  Which is likely.  The sex part, probably not the talking part.  But I bet if you’re paying attention, you’ll be able to tell.  You’ll have to acknowledge that your kid’s sexy parts have developed though, in order to stave off denial.  I’m not saying this is going to be easy, people.

Also, if you have sons, please–for the love of all that is holy–teach them how to use a condom.  I leave you with this advice: pinch the tip, and use a banana.

And About Marriage?

Really.  Why bother?  All right, all right.  I know.  Pledging in front of god and man, blah blah.  Accountability, snore.  (Sorry, Smellen).

But here’s the thing: aside from that there isn’t a serious economic imperative to have a marriage anymore–sure, it’s easier with two people, but it’s totally not impossible with one–there’s not a social one either.  Marriage–even monogamy–is no longer as much the norm, according to this piece in The Daily Beast.  Read all the linked articles there that provide a less permissive view of monogamy.

For me?  Marriage seems like a pretty crass, complicated bet.  I feel really young.  After all, culturally, 30 is the new 20, according to AARP. I’m growing and changing still.

And if I think of the me at 25, she’s as different from the me at 20 as the me at 30. I’m different now, at 31, than I will be next year this time.  The world is going at warp speed, and it’s unreasonable to expect that there won’t be irreconcilable differences in any relationship I choose for myself at some point along the way.  Why invite the expense and complication of divorce?    Why not just have a messy, sad, difficult, but far cheaper, breakup instead?

So to me, it seems like it’d be a lot more practical for the fundamentalists to invest their time, money, and energy from these Chastity Galas into self-improvement books, college funds, and educational materials about sex, pregnancy, STDs, and monogamy.

And for Christ’s sake, just let your daughter grow up.

eBooks for Free or Sale, Philosophy of Commerce for Artists


I made some eBooks.  And listen, I know that my graphic design skills leave something to be desired.

But each consists of 55ish pages (+/- 10K words) of the best stuff on this blog.  Notes on Life and Love is something of a memoir in essay, fiction, list.  On Writing and Living is all about writing and how to live as a writer, from style and grammar to a version of The Productivity Post.

I selected the content in these two books based on the stuff that gets found the most in searches, and the stuff that people seem to go back to again and again, or the stuff that people were most enthusiastic about in the comments.

Here’s why I did it:

1) I like to try new stuff and see what I can learn.

2) I was curious about trying to adapt content to work off-blog, per the Blogging a Book (or Booking a Blog) Webinar.

3) As a way to entice people to love me more.

4) Because, as much as I am put off by the notion of monetizing and marketing, working for free is stupid.  As an artist, working for free takes money from other artists.  I wrote a post about that before.

5) To see what kind of feedback I get, whether people are more interested in learning about writing from me, or in hearing about my life.

Philosophy of Commerce for Artists

Just because the internet tells us to give our work away for free doesn’t mean that some people aren’t willing to pay for it.  I love Bandcamp because it lets musicians put their work up, and gives consumers of it the option to pay or not to pay.

I know there are consumers of art who want to pay for it.  And there are those who don’t.  And there are those who can’t.  I’ve been all three.

Probably, in another decade, there will be Bandcamp for writers, too.  For now, I’m taking my cues from Bandcamp, because the music industry has been de-centralizing for about a decade now.  I hope the books market will adapt more quickly.  Yes, yes, people can sell their books on Amazon for $0.99 if they want, but that’s not really the same.  Bandcamp gives art consumers the option to pay what they can, what they want, or nothing at all.  It asks, “What is this worth to you?”

But I’m legitimately thrilled that you’re here, so I’m completely happy if you keep hanging out here without paying a red dime.

But if you want to, you can.  If you have the means to, and you’re entertained or educated or edified here, please do.

Sort of like how you buy cookies from the girl scouts or your kids’ or grandkids’ fundraisers so support the work behind those things. Buying my eBook helps me pay my internet bill, put gas in my car, and feed my kid.

And if you’re an artist who agrees, feel free to rob my ideas wholesale.  This was all very easy to set up, and I did it in a matter of hours. I’m happy to help.  Hit me with the Contact form.


You can have either eBook for free here, or by clicking the eBook tab above.  If you know somebody who’d get a kick out of one of them, please share it.  Post a PDF on your own blog if you dig.  I want people to read what I write.

You can pay $5.00 for either eBook on the right-hand menu over there.  You can pay with your PayPal account or via a credit card as facilitated by PayPal.  You don’t have to have a PayPal account to make this work.

If you don’t want the eBook, but you still think that April Line Writing is worth a bit of your hard won cash, you can just click the Tip Jar.  That’ll take you to a “donations” page where you can tip as much or as little as you like.

Stay Tuned

Because the next thing is that I’m going to do a Newsletter.

And with my slower posting schedule, the posts are getting better.  And there will be much to share about grad school, my sister’s wedding, my Freelancer’s Collective for Business project (with my pal Ryan), and the stuff I’m reading over the summer.

I Remembered a Thing: Temporary, Black, Lesbian College Roommates

From Flickr User shlala

My first roommate ever was a boy.

I can’t imagine now what my parents must’ve thought, but I knew what I was doing back then, and wouldn’t be dissuaded.  Plus, I got to move to New England.  HUGE bonus.  It had been a dream since I read Cynthia Voigt (I think it was her, anyway) in grade school.

There was no need for my parents to worry, but now that I’m a parent, I’m sure they did.  Lots.  Probably they lost sleep over my antics.  They don’t read this blog, so they’ll probably never know I’ve acknowledged it.  Ah, well.  Their loss.

I’ve had pretty good taste in some friends along the way (pretty bad taste in others), and my first roommate, Steve, is definitely good people. We were best friends from high school, kindred spirits, and he was a student at Quinnipiac College (now Quinnipiac University) in Hamden, CT.  Quinnipiac is like New Jersey North.  It’s a campus full of high-end SUVs and boys with carefully manicured facial hair.  Or at least it was back in 2001.  Now they’ve probably got Priuses and boys with artfully shaggy bangs.

Here’s what I mean about Steve being good people:

I had a job at The Olive Garden in Orange, CT (incredible money, seriously).  I loved it.  And I worked with some interesting people.  One such interesting person was a black lesbian named Tina.

She had a son who was five at the time, and who wasn’t in her custody.  She was from Reading, PA.

She had a partner, named Donna, who was the daughter of a preacher man.

These two managed to find themselves without a place to stay. Their homelessness had something to do with Donna’s parents catching her and Tina doing it.  So I invited them to stay with us temporarily.  Probably without consulting Steve.  I don’t know that for sure, but I know myself, and I can imagine myself at 20 being more concerned with the well-being of casual acquaintances than peace in my domestic arrangement.

But Steve was on board.  I reckon he’s still about as laid back as they come.

We set Tina & Donna up on the couch cushions in our living room, and I learned some stuff:

1.  What “ashy” means with regard to dry skin.  I used this term once, many years later, about my own skin in front of a black person.  I wasn’t even thinking of it, just that ashy was a precise adjective.  My audience adopted the same air of bemusement my black ex boyfriend did when he discovered that I use a washcloth to clean myself.  Like, “White people aren’t allowed to do that.”  Good times.

2.  Hair Extensions.  This bumpkin had no clue.  I swear to you, I was shocked.  Like I was about plucking eyebrows.  I came home one day and Tina and Donna were sitting there on the floor, half of Donna’s hair was in her lap.  After I realized that it hadn’t fallen out, I was deeply curious.  Both Tina and Donna were amused by and patient about my naivete.

3.  Arbor Mist isn’t really alcohol.  Here’s awesome about Tina.  She was pregnant.  Yup, pregnant.  From cheating on Donna with a boy from high school.  ?!  I know.  She was the cautionary tale for the phrase, “It only takes one.”  Donna wanted to help her raise the baby.  Tina didn’t have too much qualms about imbibing Arbor Mist.  Here’s another awesome thing about Tina: she had just gotten out of jail.  Yes, jail.  For what?  I honestly don’t know.  I don’t know if I ever did.

But I will say this: in New Haven, I don’t think I ever saw a white person being pulled over.  Pretty sure the cops there throw anybody not white into jail indiscriminately.  Sure, Tina was probably doing something she ought not have been doing, but who hasn’t?  Feel free to be all hoity toity in the comments if you’ve never done anything that you would’ve gone to jail for if you got caught.  Some of us are lucky on two counts: being born white, and not getting caught.

And before you freak out because I said it’s lucky to be white: I’m saying that it with a heart-squeezing dose of guilt.  I don’t think it’s right, good, or fair; and it’s insane especially because it’s 2012–it’s supposed to be the future, isn’t it?

I liked Tina.  I still wonder about her.  She was funny and calm and had great teeth and a cool speaking voice.  I never got to know Donna as well, but she was nice, too.

Here are other things that I remember from our brief cohabitation with Donna and Tina:

1.  I had my first experience getting felt up by a dude at a gay bar. I am reasonably sure I was underage.

2.  I came home from work a few times to find Donna, Tina, and Steve on the couch in front of the evening news studying their Powerball tickets with something like reverence and suspended enthusiasm.

3.  Proper dreadlocks are high maintenance and require some pretty unpleasant smelling product.

4.  Tina was the easiest-to-be-around pregnant person I’ve ever met.

5.  I’m pretty sure that I did not tell my parents that I had a pair of temporary roommates who were both black and lesbians.  I don’t know how that would’ve gone.

6.  Looking back, I can’t believe how incredibly cool Steve was about the whole thing.  I think if the shoe were on the other foot, I would’ve been hopping mad.  Maybe not, though.  I prize privacy and caution a lot more these days than I once did.

Anyway, after they moved out, Tina wasn’t working at the Olive Garden anymore, and I have no clue where the two of them wound up.  But I still wonder about them.  And since the names in this post (except for Steve’s, but I used his proper name with permission) have been changed to protect the innocent, I don’t know if I’ll ever find out what happened to them.

How about you?  What’s your best (or best material) roommate story?

Advice About Love for Artists or Anybody.

From Flickr User qthomasbower.

1.  Always worry about your choices, for your wide mind and readiness for new experience can lead you to crummy places with crummy people.

2.  Choose lovers who are also artists.  If you marry, marry a pragmatist.  If you divorce, remarry an artist.

3.  Avoid the tiger and the rat.

4.  Trust yourself.  Do not take society’s portrayal of you as flaky or too weird to heart.  If it smells like danger, then it is.  If it smells delicious, it might be.

5.  Accept that you look at the world differently than not-artists, this means that you will have to be flexible in arguments.

6.  Some people can’t handle being with an artist.  No matter how nice you are, this will not change.  It will not always be immediately obvious.

7.  Sometimes, even if it makes total sense and seems like it will work, it won’t.  And other times, if it seems like it won’t work, it will.  On this, trust your guts and your heart.

8.  If you share a domicile, keep a place to work that has a door to close.  Unless your partner is also an artist and you are involved in her process, do not involve her in yours.  Do not ask for or trust her opinion of your work.  She can’t be objective, and doing so is a recipe for resentment, and opens the temptation to make the relationship serve your work.

8 a. Keep your work separate from your relationship.  If you create work about your partner, tell her, show her, and give her editorial authority.  If she is uncomfortable, you must not use that material.

9.  If your partner is the rare sort who can be objective about your work, do not ask for her opinion unless it won’t hurt your feelings if she says she does not like it.  You do not get to ask then be hurt when she answers truthfully.

10.  People love to be with artists because artists make stuff for their partners.  Do that.  It is nice and inexpensive.

11.  Make sure your partner is all right with the financial weirdness of making a living as an artist, if that is how you do it.

12.  Artists are especially possessed of a compulsion to introspect and self-criticize.  Make sure your partner does not mistake this for exclusion, conspiracy, or malignant narcissism.  It may help to talk her through your thought process.

13.  It is wonderful to have the artist’s sensibility, to be able to see the world differently.  People who can’t will want you to do it their way.  People are especially prescriptive about love.  Enjoy your artist’s purview for the gift it is, and don’t listen to them.

Webinar on Blogging a Book: Where Do We Rest in Free Content Land?

From Flickr User nowviskie

I listened to a free webinar from Writer’s Digest on How to Blog a Book, which is a book by Nina Amir that came out recently.

The webinar was one week ago today.

Here’s the link to the book.  It came out from Writer’s Digest publishing.

Nina said that we have to blog every day (or on an unrelenting schedule).

She said not to give your content away so quickly, that posts should be 250-500 words, and that you need to lead up to the book for at least 6 months.

She posted images of Julie & Julia, Stuff White People Like, 101 Uses for My Ex-Wife’s Wedding Dress, etc.  These were blogs that became popular and that landed their authors book deals.  She told us that we could do it the other way, too.  That we could actually write our book on a blog.  She said that doing it the other way is called “booking a blog.”  I think she made that up.

She said that 81% of Americans claim to have a book in their heads that they want to write, and that only 2% of people actually do.

She suggested that the medium of blogging could help us to develop the book and the discipline to write at the same time.  She suggested that the reason it works to write a book on your blog is that it’s efficient: you’ll be building your platform while writing your book.  She also said that she heard an editor at some big-name publishing house say that blogs are a great test market for the sale-ability of a book.

She was careful to point out that nonfiction works better on blogs.

And she was sure to remind us that we have to give people a reason to buy the printed version of our book that we’ve (presumably) blogged and sold to a publisher.  That we should leave out chapters of special features or information.  She said that people will buy the book because it’s difficult to read a blog as if it’s a book.

But here’s the thing.  We all know that the ratio of blogs to blog-to-book deals is staggeringly tiny.  Amir suggested that there might be 72 book deals from blogs each year.

How many blogs are there?  I couldn’t even hazard a guess.  Certainly hundreds of thousands.

And how many people are there who believe that they are swell writers, but who are actually quite terrible?

So still, even with the advice, a great idea, and competitive writing chops, it seems that odds are still exceedingly slim, and that people out blogging books are going to add to the excess of free content, thereby making it more difficult still for writers to get paid for writing. And it is already incredibly difficult, even for excellent writers.

And now I find that what I hoped would be illuminating was actually annoying and disillusioning.  And a webinar, which is totally dorky.

And it also made me hate Writer’s Digest a little bit.  I’ve had a minor suspicion that they’re really just a factory for content that’s designed to extract money from a bunch of desperate writer hopefuls.  HOWEVER, I do find their publication to be incredibly helpful, and Writer’s Market is amazing, and I tend to get overly cynical whenever I’m disappointed.  So next week, let’s hope the cynicism wanes.

Till then, what do ya’ll think?  Anybody with plans to blog a book? Anybody tried?

Don’t Tell Me What I Should’ve Done By 30! A Riff on an Early Viral.

By Flicr user Cliff1066 ^tm

I came across this thing (again) recently.  It was emailed to me as some Elanor Roosevelt thing back in the late 90s, long before I was 30, back when “meme” and “viral” weren’t things.  This thing was as viral as a thing could be in the late 90s and early 2000s.

It was written in 1997 by a lady called Pamela Redmond Satran who seems to be pretty young, certainly under 60, probably under 50.  I wanted her to be practically dead, like 95 at least.  I wanted her to be a person who was a serious adult during the 60s, because if she was, more of the following would make sense.

So when I read it the other week, I wanted to scream!  It made me so angry!  It is evidence of we women perpetuating unhelpful gender stereotypes and roles that I’ve squawked so much over lately.

Warning in advance for people who prefer their “inspiration” without snark, stop reading now.

Things Every Woman Should Have and Know By 30

By 30, you should have …

1. One old boyfriend you can imagine going back to and one who reminds you of how far you’ve come.

Right.  Because it’s healthy to let the men in your life define your progress, success, and character.

2. A decent piece of furniture not previously owned by anyone else in your family.

 I have a thousand dollar couch that nobody in my family owned before.  Wanna know what I’m more proud of?  My education and my published writing, my novel draft, and my unflagging ambition and general ability to nose down and trudge on.  I would be as proud of these things if I still lived in an apartment and all my furniture was IKEA.

3. Something perfect to wear if the employer or man of your dreams wants to see you in an hour.

What if it’s the woman of my dreams?  What if I’m my own employer? Why do employers and men get to define a whole set of wardrobe choices?

4. A purse, a suitcase, and an umbrella you’re not ashamed to be seen carrying.

Why would one be ashamed to carry any umbrella if the alternative was soaking?  I ask the same of traveling or general paraphernalia carrying.  I’d much rather have a dumpy bag than no bag.  Shit, I’d be happy with a used grocery bag.

5. A youth you’re content to move beyond.

I don’t really think we have a choice in this.  Contentment doesn’t have much to do with youth in my experience.  Contentment, like productivity and boredom, is a choice.  It’s yours if you want it, youth, weight, culture, job be damned.

6. A past juicy enough that you’re looking forward to retelling it in your old age.

Frankly, any past can be interesting if it’s interestingly told or tastefully embellished.

7. The realization that you are actually going to have an old age — and some money set aside to help fund it.

Who knows?  Anybody, woman or not, age 30 or not, could die tomorrow.

8. An email address, a voice mailbox, and a bank account — all of which nobody has access to but you.

I don’t like what you’re insinuating, lady.  

9. A résumé that is not even the slightest bit padded.

Pretty sure this won’t be a problem if the outfit you’ll wear to see your boss or the man of your dreams in an hour is the same one.

10. One friend who always makes you laugh and one who lets you cry.

Why does this have to be two different people?  Why do you need people when there’s the internet, anyway?

11. A set of screwdrivers, a cordless drill, and a black lace bra.

I find this one to be simply offensive.  It’s like, “be competent, but don’t forget, you’re still sexy enough to seduce some man into doing it for you if you have a black lace bra.”

12. Something ridiculously expensive that you bought for yourself, just because you deserve it.

Why do three decades indicate that a person is worthwhile, that she deserves anything?  There are people who are in their thirties who do not deserve their next breath because they are horrible.  

13. The belief that you deserve it.

The belief that you deserve something does not mean you actually do.  How about self-respect?  I think self-respect is much more productive for a person in her 30s than a sense of entitlement.  

14. A skin-care regimen, an exercise routine, and a plan for dealing with those few other facets of life that don’t get better after 30.

Yes, because we women must stay sexy deep, deep into our old ages.  Men may stop striving for attractiveness any time after age 18.  We must continue to yearn for the admiration of our male peers, and know that we will lose our value to society once we are wrinkled and sagging.

15. A solid start on a satisfying career, a satisfying relationship, and all those other facets of life that do get better.

What if you don’t want to?  What if your relationship or career peaked at 25?  What if you’re a genius?  What if you’re a waste, but you’ll have a come to jesus moment around 45 and find wild and vast success and fulfillment in your 50s?  

By 30, you should know …

1. How to fall in love without losing yourself.

What does that even mean?  Sentimental spew for people with no backbones?  Yup.

2. How you feel about having kids.

Maybe how you feel about birth control. And you should totally have all the facts about how pregnancy happens and STDs. But tomorrow’s never a given.  Also, it’s the future.  You don’t have to know this in your 30s.  You never have to make up your mind if you don’t want to.  

3. How to quit a job, break up with a man, and confront a friend without ruining the friendship.

Frankly, quitting jobs and breaking up with panache is totally overrated.  Save your energy since people are shitty, and breakups and quitting jobs is also shitty, usually.  If not, it’s probably more to do with good luck than good manners.  And confronting a friend who is a true friend will not ruin a friendship.  

4. When to try harder and when to walk away.

On your skin regimen, right?  

5. How to kiss in a way that communicates perfectly what you would and wouldn’t like to happen next.

What’s wrong with using one’s words?

6. The names of the secretary of state, your great-grandmothers, and the best tailor in town.

I see that this list is particularly biased toward upper-middle class people who were not adopted or orphaned at an early age and who live in towns that still have tailors.

7. How to live alone, even if you don’t like to.

This should actually be, “how to give yourself an orgasm,” and it should’ve been #1.  I forgive you for this mistake.

8. Where to go — be it your best friend’s kitchen table or a yoga mat — when your soul needs soothing.

This is terribly new-age for a list that advises us to own sexy stuff and have a plan for when we get wrinkly.  

9. That you can’t change the length of your legs, the width of your hips, or the nature of your parents.

I can’t?  Whoa.  

10. That your childhood may not have been perfect, but it’s over.

Who says?  My childhood isn’t over!  It’s not, it’s not, it’s NOT!  

11. What you would and wouldn’t do for money or love.

Free your mind, and the rest will follow…

12. That nobody gets away with smoking, drinking, doing drugs, or not flossing for very long.

I beg to differ on all.  I got away with some of that stuff (and all of it in moments) for like a decade.  If that’s not long enough for somebody, let them ruin themselves.

13. Who you can trust, who you can’t, and why you shouldn’t take it personally.

All right.  She can have this one.  It’s a solid thing to know.  But you should also know how to deal with it when life forces you to be involved with someone you know you can’t trust.  It will happen.

14. Not to apologize for something that isn’t your fault.

I’m sorry that your list for Glamour Magazine offends my feminist soul.

15. Why they say life begins at 30

Incorrect.  Life begins at birth.  Thirty is nice, but I’ve really enjoyed the hell out of every year since eighteen.  It gets a little better all the time.  I bet 50 is going to rock the box.  

Slow Down the Train! Notes on My Personal Relationship with Blogging.

From Flickr User ErinKphoto

When I first started blogging in Earnest, was it only half a year ago?  Sheesh…  What happened to the first half of 2012?

But that’s how I roll:

If I’m excited and passionate, it’s total immersion with very little space for perspective until I’m a few weeks in.  So with this blog, I was building and researching it at the same time.  That’s a model that works great in book writing, but not so much with business, I’m finding.

And those of you who know me personally know that I get excited and passionate about a lot of things, easily in fact.  I’m not really cool with just, you know, living the life of a mom, doing the bare minimum to get by.  I always need to be thinking about or studying something or working toward my next Big Goal.

So this blog is that: it’s a next Big Thing kind of goal, a “Holy shit, I can be successful at doing something I love and look at these tools to use to get more successful.  Life is awesome!” sort of thing.

And I get so many ideas.  I get more ideas than I can write.  Sometimes, I try to pile them all together into a single post (that’s when you get weird, but sort of popular, ones like the one about New Girl).

And sometimes, rarely, I don’t really want to write.  Usually, that’s if something else is going on, and I need to chill out.

And I do.  Reluctantly.  I’ve got a ticker running in my head at all times of the 80 million things that need to happen.  And I get in kind of a hurry about stuff–I start to worry that time is running out, and if I don’t do all the laundry in the house, write 1700-2400 words, pitch 8 articles, submit 2 stories, and spend some time with my child & fella in the next hour, that I will have failed at life.

But all this aside, there are some things that need to happen in the next month or so, when things get really hairy at the start of grad school, and one of the things I’m doing to prepare my life for it is to slow down on blogging.  I will to continue to write with energy, but instead of posting what I’m thinking about today, I will schedule it for another day.  I’ve been practicing, and I think I can get comfortable with thinking about tomorrow’s audience instead of today’s.

This pace will give me a week and two thirds worth of material from every week on my present schedule.  It will allow me to get ahead, will give me more time for working on other writing, give me some space to watch and participate in Twitter to greater effect, maybe, and getting some projects I’d like to finish before the end of the year in hand, and it will keep me from going insane over the next three years while I’ll be relentlessly busy with life, my writing & editing business, and school.

So here’s the new blogging schedule:  the posts will go up Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings starting Monday.  That’s May 21, 2012.  There may be occasional Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday posts, but these will be the exception instead of the rule.

And thanks for hanging out, subscribing, and for being dang cool.  I hope you’ll continue to enjoy the blog.  I suspect it’ll be better written and polished.

And keep your eye out.  You’ll see some commerce type changes over there in the right menu bar pretty soon.  And I’m also thinking of toying with the color scheme.  Thoughts?

Anxiety about a book about writing? Am I Missing the Point?

From PublicDomainReview.org, this is kind of what it feels like in early workshops: you are clueless and vulnerable and cut wide open.

I have to read books about being a writer before I head off to the residency next month.

I’ve nearly finished Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande.

But it makes me nervous about this program I’m entering, because the book seems to be written for people who’ve never thought about themselves as writers much more than as a passing fancy.  It’s great on teaching people how to train their minds for obsession, and I’ve been enlightened on a few points.  More on this later.

But Writing Down the Bonesthough also a really swell book, that can be inspirational at any point along the way, is designed for beginning writers, too.

First, I would hope that by the time a person is pursuing an MFA or other advanced degree in writing, she’s got a pretty good idea about herself as a writer, and she’s heading on in school to put the polish on previously discovered habits, skills, and self-awareness.  I think that already knowing oneself as a writer is totally integral to success in a low-residency program, too.

I will also say that I hope a person who intends to procure an MFA is already writing every day, has already figured out her way over the humps of “block,” and inertia, and waning ambition in the face of critique, and rejection, dismissal, scheduling, and all the other things that writers must bear up under.

Now, I will say that I have found the book to be–more than anything–utterly affirmative that I’m on the right path.  At times, I’ve had to put it down to go write.  I love when books do that, when they get me so excited about writing that I can’t put it off.  It’s also given me a vocabulary to discuss things that I knew about myself–Brande calls it the Dual Personality (the way writers have two distinct selves who must cooperate, but who must also know when to butt out: writer and life-liver, essentially)–that I hadn’t really named beyond calling it “Academically Sanctioned Schizophrenia.”  Which, it turns out, E. L. Doctorow said first, or at the least many moons before I did.

I also encountered a new (to me) notion that was then echoed in Cathy Day’s blog, which was something kind of pedagogical (that’s fancy for college teaching theory) that wouldn’t have occurred to me: workshopping ain’t always great.  Or at least, not in the traditional, round-table, everybody involved in the discussion method.

Brande says (in 1934),

Here I should like to add a footnote for other teachers, rather than for students of writing.  I think that holding up the work of each pupil in class for the criticism of the others is a throughly pernicious practice, and it does not become harmless simply by allowing the manuscript to be read without assigning its authorship publicly.  The ordeal is too trying to be taken with equanimity, and a sensitive writer can be thrown out of his stride deplorably by it, whether or not the criticism is favorable.  It is seldom that the criticism is favorable, when a beginner is judged by the jury of his peers.  They seem to need to demonstrate taht, although tthey are not yet writing quite perfectly themselves, they are able to see all the flaws in a story which is read to them, and they fall upon it tooth and fang.

I will say that there were some queer, interpersonal consequences to the workshops I’ve been in, but they have been, largely, very well-controlled and the instructors were totally tuned in & monitoring the conversation.  In grad school effort I, the greatest antipathy was toward the professor.  But I always found  workshops to be helpful, once I figured out who my best readers were, and frankly, I learned some really great lessons about having thick skin and separating my sense of myself from my work–the Dual Personality of critique.  It is simply no good for self and work to be inextricable.  I am not the story.  Still, Brande’s particularly strongly worded passage on the practice got me to thinking.

Then, I encountered the following in Cathy Day’s blog when I was linking her in the blog post I wrote yesterday.   She says (in 2012),

Remember: on the first day of class, I tell my students 1.) to write the book they want to write—no genre or subject matter restrictions, and 2.) they won’t have to show this manuscript to the whole class, just to me and a small group of sympathetic readers.

This upticks + the removal of the “all-class workshop” indicates to me that my students took risks because they felt safe doing so.


Would I have taken more risks if I’d been workshopped by a smaller group?

I don’t know!  For me, a lot of the fun was helping my peers with their drafts, engaging on the sensitive stuff, getting down and dirty with the text.  But I’m a Scorpio, and would be intense regardless of my sign, I imagine; and I’m not sure that so many people find such unilateral thrill in every process and procedure at all connected to writing as I do.  Also, I get a huge kick out of conquering my own less-savory impulses, like those of the desire to hurl pettiness at anybody who’s fool enough not to think I’m awesome.  I also love finding out that I’m not as awesome as I think I am.  I’d be insufferable if  humility & self-doubt were not in the my writer’s psychological/self-awareness tool box.

I also hope that I’m not the only person entering the program who thinks of herself as a writer, has been a practicing writer for years, and is finding this preparatory reading to be–though delightful as all reading is–a touch worrisome.

I was hoping we’d read some delicious, but challenging (narratively) novel like Josh Russell’s Yellow Jack, which, if you haven’t read you should.   And that we’d be asked to analyze it, and write about it, and then when we got to the residency, we’d talk about that book and other great ones, and about how we best use our writer selves.

I was not hoping that we’d talk about how to reach the writing self.  I think we should already know.

I hope I’m getting it wrong.  I hope that these books are meant specifically to resonate and encourage and to give us insight into our selves, not as stepping stones into the writing life.

Am I being ungenerous?  I know some of you subscribers and readers are MFA/advanced writing degree teachers and students.  Am I expecting too much?  Do I want more commitment to this life from adults entering a low-residency MA/MFA than is reasonable?

More Versatile Blogging –or– Great Blogs You Should Read + 7 Facts About Me

Gerry Wilson subscribed to my blog and then like two days later, she gave me this award.  I’m always honored when somebody starts getting an email every time I post.  I post five days a week, and typically my posts are like 1000-1500 words, so that’s kind of a commitment.  It’s also a signal to me to trudge forth.  So thank you, Gerry Wilson, for following and reading my blog, for giving me a reason to blog.  And also, thank you for this award.

What I’m supposed to do next is to list seven random things about myself.

Then I’m supposed to nominate seven other bloggers.

I will try to pick seven different bloggers than last time I received this award (Holy Birds!).

1.  I have two favorite colors, red and green.  It bums me out that these two colors signify my least favorite holiday of the year, because I would really like to wear them together more often.  I wear red glasses, earrings, and shoes as often as possible.  I like green sweaters in particular.

2.  I own a pair of Pajama Jeans.  They were a holiday gift, and they are the best thing I have ever received.  I wear them as often as they are clean.  They are especially nice when I’m crampy and on rainy days.  Today is both.

3.  My undergraduate claim to fame is embarrassing.  It was in Fiction Writing Workshop 3 or 4, so the serious writing people were mostly there.  We read a ZZ Packer story, I don’t remember which one, and I said something like, “At first I thought this was going to be just another one of those bleeding cunt stories…” It was when I was first learning the ways of the feminist Jedi that involve using strong language about sexuality and womanhood in order to take away those words’ power, to stop people from misappropriating words for our parts and processes for abusive purposes. Outside of the context of the Vagina Monologues rehearsals I was attending, the whole thing was a touch hyperbolic. My professor and mentor still, still, seven (or eight or nine?) years later, quotes me on that.  And he reminds me every time I see him that I said it.

4.  I did not know a thing about my ethnic heritage until I moved to New England at age 20 and people kept being unsatisfied when I answered “American” to the question, “What are you?”  I’m mostly German with a touch of Swiss, French, and Scottish.  But I was born in the US.

5.  I know this is irrational, but I am immediately mistrustful of any man who shares the first name of my daughter’s biological father.  This can be troublesome because it’s a fairly common first name.  I knew a spate of men with that first name when I was in college.  I was in love with half of them and abhorred the other half. I’ve never been lukewarm on a single one. No, I’m not going to tell you what the first name is.  I’m working through it.

6.  My very first email address was i.like.taffy@juno.com.  That was in like 1992?  Don’t try to email it, nothing will happen.  I tried logging in years later only to be denied access.  I don’t even know if juno.com still exists.

7.   I found 3 silver hairs at the top of my head since I got my hair cut very short.  I am thrilled.  The late grandmother I’m most like had beautiful, 100% white hair by the time she was fifty.  My hair is very dark brown, and I am looking forward to being able to put streaks of purple in my white, white hair as an old bird.

I offer the following with a caveat:  I know I should be reading more blogs.  But if you read the productivity post, you know I’m pretty strict with myself in terms of reading for leisure, especially right now as I prepare for grad school + do all my regular stuff.

Beth Bates is a writerly woman, a generous spirit, and a great twitter follow: @bethbates.

Marco North’s blog, “Impressions of an Expat” is moving, beautifully written, and actually, if you must know, makes me a touch jealous.  Also a great twitter follow: @marco_north

I promise this is my only duplicate from my last list, but my friend Jamie just got her 100th follower.  That’s an excuse to bestow upon her the label “versatile.”  But more than that, she’s smart on books and a wonderful person. On twitter, she’s @EditorJamieC

Cathy Day’s blog is great.  Her posting schedule is less insane than mine, but her posts are always thoughtful and interesting from the perspective of being a writer and a teacher of writing.  You can follow her on twitter @daycathy.

Laura Kurk is a YA Novelist, and she cares about grammar.  I haven’t read a ton of her blog yet, and she does not appear to post very often, but her posts are eclectic, and you can follow her on twitter @LauraKurk

Darellyn Saloom writes about her farm.  She’s also co-author of the memoir of a woman boxer.  Two huge points in my book: co-authorship & farm life.  Neither are easy, both require character and chops and inner resolve.  She’s followable as @ficwriter.

And the last I’ll offer is not a blog, rather a feature.  It’s On the Ether by Porter Anderson.  It’s a Thursday post at Jane Friedman’s blog, and let me tell you, these are intense.  Incredible, will leave you reeling, will definitely teach you and make you more aware: a better literary and world citizen.  But Anderson himself suggests proceeding with caution: do NOT try to read the whole thing in one sitting (I did, twice, and couldn’t do anything with my brain the rest of the day, no lie).  He’s on twitter, too, as @Porter_Anderson

The moral of my selections:  If you want to be a writer and part of the world of books, publishing, and thinking and writing about books, publishing, and words, YOU NEED TO JOIN TWITTER AND PAY ATTENTION.  

So, nominees,  Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to thank me for nominating you, write seven strange/unfamiliar/quirky/random things about yourself, choose seven other bloggers, and then let them know however you choose: facebook, twitter, commenting on their blogs, etc.   Also, please include the image above.  It’s there by a URL, so clicking it should take you to http://www.versatilebloggeraward.wordpress.com.  Also, I will not be upset with you if you do not (or cannot) do this.

Baggott on Blogging, Asking a Question We Don’t Ask Enough.

This is called Language of the Birds Mural, and the image is from Flickr user jay-galvin

I read a lot about blogging.  There is a lot of advice about it.  Some people say that monetizing your blog is something you can only do if you’re as insanely popular as, for example, Shaq.  (Is Shaq still popular?  I think you know what I mean: household name, superstar status).  Some people say that bloggers who don’t monetize are wasting opportunities, but that you can’t monetize with Adsense or other ad space, so you need to monetize yourself.  I’ve written about that here.  Still others say that blogging is essential for authors–like me, and like people more successful than I am–to blog to “build a platform.”  Which somebody else says is more like being a literary citizen.  (I like that).

People build pipe dreams on blogs.  Bored housewives blog.  Authors blog.  People who are selling something or themselves blog.  People blog to give advice, to build their businesses, for personal fulfillment.

I have been thinking about my own blog a lot lately.  I took a week off so that I could spend some time thinking through some posts, and get a few in the hopper.

And I’ve been really annoyed lately by artists who work for free.  When we work for free, we steal money from ourselves and other artists.

But I work for free all the time, on my blog.  Sort of.  My blog is an investment in my future, it does not bring me money yet.  I’m aiming for 1,000 true fans over the next three years (but certainly by my 35th birthday, my 32nd is right around the corner).

And I do get paid from it.  Here’s what my blog pays me: 1.  Writing practice, 2. blogging discipline/skill set/Wordpress Savvy, 3. great connections with swell people in the writing/book/publishing world, 4. clout and authority in the same world, in which I’m hoping to be entangled professionally for the rest of my life.

Baggott recently asked some important questions

Julianna Baggott is an author I admire particularly because of her refusal to eschew commercial fiction as worthless even though she is also part of the academic literary community, and her ability to have feet in both commercial and literary worlds; and because she writes commercial fiction as it should be written: with respect for the craft, with commitment to language, and with love for her readers.  She also writes under the names Bridget Asher and N.E. Bode.

She has a blog.  I read it sometimes.

She recently posted a piece entitled, “The Death of Blogging and… Blogging”  In the beginning of the post, she said she read an article about how blogging may be dying.  She admitted that it might make her happy if that is true, and she asked some other important questions, too.  Go on, then.  Click & read the whole post.

The question she asked that filled me with the most glee is this:

 I’m worried more broadly about free content in the Information Age and — amid the incredible inundation of things to read — how do writers of books convince the public that some words still need to be paid for? Have I contributed to a cultural message that words are cheap, if not free?

The truth is that good words aren’t cheap.  They are very costly, whether or not the writer is ever paid.  Good writers spend a ton of time writing: writing well can be an incredibly inefficient process.  Trouble is, we writers are more desperate to be read than we are to be paid.  After all, getting a job as a food server is easy enough.  So is getting a job for the state or at a gas station.  There are zillions of ways to get money that have nothing to do with writing.

Conversely, (unless you’re Julianna Baggott), getting articles placed in magazines, newspapers, literary journals–getting manuscripts in front of agents and editors is excruciatingly difficult.  I got a rejection kind of recently, and no matter how many I get, no matter how many times it says essentially the same thing–which is basically, “You know this is a subjective thing, kid.  Stick to your guns.”–it stings.  It sucks.  It envelopes me in self doubt and makes me want to zing back to the editor what a tasteless toad she is to not want my brilliant essays, stories, articles, or ideas.

Of course, I can’t, and I don’t, I ultimately don’t take it personally, and I will try again.  Right after I shake the self doubt.  That part of it does get easier.  At first, I’d lose a day to wallowing.  Now, gimmie four minutes.

Baggott also observed the following:

It’s hard to talk about making money as a writer in our culture, in general. Why?

1. You’re in a career where the most common adjective used to describe your job title is “starving”; Poe died in a gutter. Real artists shouldn’t expect to make money, right? (The Poe reference is an important one — as Poe was a writer who certainly wrote for money to support others.)

2. Many people believe they can write books — unlike, say, perform brain surgery — and so writers aren’t doing anything particularly remarkable.

3. Many people want to write and writers should be thankful to simply get published at all. Who do we think we are, anyway?

Yeah!  Especially that third one. Sometimes the sense is very much, “How dare you care if I screw up your work, how dare you care that we’ve paid you practically nothing for it! You’re lucky we’re taking your work at all!  Hell, you should pay us!”

Most of the magazines and papers I’ve worked with have been lovely, really.  And their editors are skilled, dedicated people who see the injustice, but are powerless, or are doing the best they can.

And I would add to number two that not only do many people believe they can write books, many people who have no business at all writing books do, and get paid–probably not handsomely, but paid–to do it!  I direct your attention to exhibit A: The Boddice Ripper.  I recently edited one that would’ve been particularly shredded in any college-level writing workshop.

So is the problem giving the work away for free, or is the problem that we don’t value good writing culturally because a) not enough people can tell when some writing is better than others and b) we live in the Information Age, as Baggot points out, and so much writing is free on the internet, why would anybody pay anything for any writing at all?

Regardless, writing is a profession.  It takes a long, long time to get good at it, and being a good writer is much rarer than the present cultural mood would indicate.  Baggott references the 10,000 hour rule whenever she talks to and about writer hopefuls.  And she’s right.  It’s not a craft that’s come by easily.  And there are loads of good writers who never make a dime.

So what do you think about free content?  Is it helpful or harmful?  And if it’s harmful, what can we do about it?