Monday, December 14, 2009

Blog blues

These days I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to blog. It may have something to do with feeling like my brain is kind of empty, like there is nothing worth pointing out (which is so NOT true because everyone knows that it’s the little things that make the good stories), that I have too many ideas (yes, I realize I just contradicted myself), that no one cares (hear me out—I’ll try to not be too pathetic), and that I’m a bad writer. I know where this last one comes from: my mother.

No, no, no, my mother did not tell me I’m a bad writer; on the contrary, she is quite encouraging. But see, I just wrote an article (two, actually) that I’ve submitted for publication and she edited them for me.

"Edited" is such a mild-sounding word, isn’t it? Kind of neutral, peaceful and unobtrusive?

Well, let me tell you, it’s not any of that. It’s a wickedly violent word, fiercely cutthroat and bloody. It gouges and slashes, seemingly at random, and then as suddenly as it attacks, it spins on its heel and is gone, leaving a royal mess of decapitated ideas and shattered words in its wake.

Okay, so that’s a little bit of an exaggeration (and the analogy is flawed, of course, because violence doesn’t bring about something better, but editing does), but then again, it’s not that much of a stretch because it’s how I feel.

I took a college English course when I was a senior in high school and our professor, Mr. Whitmore, a brilliant man (and also, as it so happens, the English professor of Henry Louis Gates, Jr, the author of Colored People and the man who got arrested and was then invited to drink a beer with Obama a couple months back), got the privilege of drilling us in the art of the three-point essay. We had to churn out a new essay every couple weeks or so, and he was a tough grader, the type of teacher that every nerdy student longed to impress. He probably never had any idea of the suffering his essay assignments wrought in our little West Virginian house.

It would go something like this: I’d work on my essay and then give it to Mom. She’d glance at it briefly before handing it back, saying, “Two of your three points are redundant, and your second point should come first. But your bigger problem is your thesis statement—it’s a bit vague, I think. What’s the point you’re trying to make?”

So I would try again. And again and again and again. I’d yell and cry and slam my bedroom door. Mom would lecture. I’d give her the silent treatment, and she would reciprocate. Yet I persisted in handing over each new version of the essay for her to critique. It was agony, pure and simple. But I got an A in the class.

Now that I’m an adult (and a homeschooling mother of four, at that), I still ask my mother to edit all my writing: speeches, articles, stories, tricky letters, complicated church announcements, my letter to the editor of Newsweek magazine THAT GOT PUBLISHED (it happened about five years ago but I still think about that glorious moment in all caps), but I don’t let her edit this blog. I don’t want to obsess about this space, crafting it into something perfect; it would take too much time and suck all the joy out of it, though I’m sure it would be more enjoyable and meaningful for others to read. This is a space for me to just talk off the top of my head, to edit myself in my own (poor) way, to make me write.

But I’m obsessing anyway, having trouble writing simple blog posts after these recent bouts of editing. I mean, my mother tore apart my article numerous times—too wordy, misspellings galore, unclear ideas, weak sentence structure, yadda-yadda-yadda. Needless to say, I feel a little insecure right now, not quite worthy of perching a laptop on my knee.

(Let me pause here for a moment of clarification: I am not bothered by other writers' mistakes. I may note them, but I don't feel all critical and superior towards those people. [I'm assuming/hoping that others extend the same grace to me.] This is purely an internal battle, one that I'm sharing with the world because...well, I'm not exactly sure why. Maybe just to be honest. Whatever.)

But perch the laptop on my knee I will. Because I can, by gum! Perhaps this crazy desire to write without being edited is my own little way of thumbing my nose at my mother (after all, I never went through the required Age of Rebellion), good English, and my own perfectionist tendencies. Or maybe it’s just the lazy way out. In any case, I’ll keep plugging away in my little unedited corner of bloggyland, and whenever I need to write something professional, I’ll be shooting my mother an email. (Mom, I'm not really thumbing my nose at you. But then, you knew that, right?)


I don't know where this post is going anymore, but one more interesting (to me, anyway) thing about editing before I move on to something edible: a couple weeks ago Mr. Handsome listened to an NPR story on editing. The person was saying that “drafts” have become a thing of the past. No longer are there first, second, and third drafts because people write on the computer, editing as they go. (In that sentence alone, I spell-checked, back-spaced, and deleted more times than I can count, and it's still not how I want it.) It used to be that writers thought long and hard about what they wanted to say, typed everything out, edited excessively, and then retyped the whole thing. I think the NPR speaker was making the point that we lose something (not sure what) when we take the “draft” component out of writing. Or maybe I made that up.

Back to my mother (and I spelled “mother” as “mover,” which she is): she used a manual typewriter till I was in college. You know, the kind that calls all your finger muscles into use, that makes loud plunk-plunk noises, and that hides no mistakes. I remember my mother typing out the final drafts of her articles over and over again—if she made so much as one tiny mistake, she’d groan and sigh heavily, rip the paper off the roller thingy, and start over again. It was painful to watch. (By the way, I'm keeping my eyes open for one of those old clunky machines; I think it would be a great learning tool/play thing for the kids.)

My mother gradually caught up with the times and got a word processor and then a computer (and then a fancier computer and then a laptop as well). Despite the progress, she still looks like this, wild-haired and vacant-eyed, when she writes:


See, she suffers, too (though she has replaced the glass goggles with smaller, stylish frames and combs her hair, most days). I can't resent her too much.



Now. How about we shift gears and talk about scones? The good thing about these beauts is that they are perfection in a biscuit (er, scone), so you can create them as outlined below, no editing necessary, though after you gorge yourself, you might wish you could backspace.


Ginger Cream Scones
Slightly adapted (but not edited) from The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum

12 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes and frozen
3/4 cup heavy cream, whipped and then chilled
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2/3 cup crystallized ginger, chopped fairly small

For the topping:
2 teaspoons cream
2-3 tablespoons demerara sugar

Put the chilled cubes of butter in a food processor along with the flour, sugar, baking powder, ground ginger, salt, and zest. Pulse for 10-15 seconds until there are no longer any large lumps. (Or, if you prefer, simply rub the butter into the flour mixture with your fingers.)

Dump the mixture into a large bowl and add the crystallized ginger. Fold in the whipped cream. Knead the dough lightly, shape it into a ball, and then press it into a disk that is 6 inches in diameter and about 3/4 inches thick. Wrap the disk in plastic wrap and chill it in the refrigerator for about an hour.

After the dough has chilled (do not omit that step as the dough is very tender and will lose its shape if it is not sufficiently firm when it goes into the oven), remove it from the fridge, unwrap it, and cut it into eight wedges. Place the wedges on a lightly greased baking sheet, brush the tops with cream and sprinkle liberally with sugar. Bake the scones at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature. Any leftover scones should be stored in a tightly sealed plastic bag in the freezer; to thaw, remove them from the bag and set on a plate.

Do ahead: Rose suggests flash-freezing the cut, raw scones and then storing them in a plastic bag in the freezer. When ready to bake, simply place them on the baking sheets, brush with cream, sprinkle with sugar, and bake. Add 5-7 minutes to the baking time. I haven’t tried this yet, but I plan to.

About One Year Ago: A poor, little-widdle smashed finger.

14 comments:

  1. Very basically, I think (but what the heck do I know?) blogs are meant to be a place where you can share thoughts, ideas, good things, bad things, feelings, whatever.

    Just write what you feel wants to come out. It'll be good for you. If we don't like it, we don't have to read it. (But I think [along with many people, I'm sure] your posts are ALWAYS interesting and worth reading.)

    Your blog should be a place where you can allow your true self to come out and stretch. (This doesn't mean that particular thing can be easily done! Take it from an expert on avoidance of showing my true self. But I'm trying to get better.)

    I've done a little bit of writing for publication and I still remember what one particular editor continually did to my pieces. It took me a while to understand what she did and why she did it. I often felt like it simply wasn't my article anymore once she finished with her savage blue pencil.

    When you feel the need, have your mom edit what you've written. You respect her ability and know she's good. But for your blog, please just let it burble out and don't be so hard on yourself.

    It's not good to stifle.

    P.S. I'd go back and rewrite this several times until it made more sense but I'm working really hard at being a recovering Type A over-achieving perfectionist so I'll just hit "Post Comment" . . . and be sorry later.

    ReplyDelete
  2. 1.) Maybe you need to join grammer-holics annoymous

    2). Who ARE you?...You are writing articles... to be published? I am beginning to think you are someone famous living as a housewife wearing blue shoes with a very unattractive bow on top in Virginia with 4 wild children and a high maintenance husband...begging someone to ask that question.

    3). When will this self judging pitty party of yours be over because I have a cake in the oven?

    4). If you have a hard time reading YOUR blog for fear of sounding...wait...what did you say...hang on while I scroll up 20 paragraphs...wait ... there... I've got it...

    TOO WORDY (who isn't... and anyway... they are your words...on YOUR blog... you are not being graded here.

    MISSPELLINGS GALORE...(they have a thing called spell check for that)...

    UNCLEAR IDEA'S... stop hanging out at Panera... I think the yeasty dough is causing you brain damage...

    WEAK SENTENCE STRUCTURE... have you read my blog? I cannot even FORM a sentance... I have to use little dot's... like this... because... I don't even know where to put...a comma.

    and last but not least... YADDA YADDA YADDA... who doesn't love a little yadda yadda yadda?

    Geez... I hope your Mother and her red pen don't read my blog... she sounds horrifying...

    Just kidding JJ's Mom... I think you happen to look lovely with an afro and giant glasses that take up 1/2 your face... circa 1980... I hope. Unless of course those were last years glasses... then of course my sincerest appolgies.

    Sincerly, (and I hope that is spelled rong)

    Mavis S. Butterfield
    (the S is for Snarky)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Oh, this is so funny, Mavis and JJ. I was belching with laughter. It was wonderful.

    From The Mom Herself

    ReplyDelete
  4. Watch it, Mavis, unattractive bow? She got those blue shoes from me. Well,the truth is, I gave them to her mother first.

    ReplyDelete
  5. What a picture! And I've been struggling to find a cover photo for her new book?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Dr. Perfection... I'm sure it's hard to see from that brown leather couch of yours...but her mother DID pass the blue shoes on to her... So if YOU didn't want them... and Mom didn't want them...has it ever crossed your mind that JJ doesn't want them either? And she is just wearing them to please you? Hmmm... What do your psychology books say about that one Dr?

    And anyway... this post is suppose to be about JJ and how Boo Hoo she is about not having anything good to blog about... not about the sacred blue shoes that have been passed down from family member to family member...

    And another thing... Do all of you really have the same size shoe? Because I'm a size 8... do you have anything with an unattractive bow for me?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Wow, I can't imagine my mother having cared a pea about my writing when I was younger.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I agree with Mama Pea. At the same time, I'm not sure what it's like to really care about sentence structure, proper punctuation, etc. So maybe for you, it's about finding balance and trusting that we, your readers, are here for your thoughts and ideas, not for perfection.

    If this doesn't make sense, please blame it on the drugs. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thanks, Mama Pea and Thy Hand. I'll do my best to stop fretting and just put it out there.

    Mavis, you SLAY me! I laughed so hard the kids got worried.

    ReplyDelete
  10. If she doesn't like the blue shoes, why are they pictured up there to represent her, huh Mavis??

    ReplyDelete
  11. My Dearest Dr. Perfection... By JJ putting the shoes in her upper right hand corner to represent herself in the blog world she may be doing 1 of 6 things...

    1)She is catching the readers eye... as in "Who on earth buys blue suede shoes...besides Elvis?"

    2) She is desperately hoping people will feel sorry for the hand me down blue suede shoes that she is forced to wear and send her gift certificates to zappos.com so she can pick out her own shoes...that are not blue, or suede and are free of unattractive clip on bows...

    3)She wants to be invited back to your once a year food a thon and free shoe (this year black sandles?) give away in hopes of the off chance you are passing out Jimmy Choo's.

    4)Or, maybe there is a big inheritance coming her way via the good Dr. Perfection... from what I hear Dr.'s sometimes make stipulations in their wills... like... must marry before age 25... or the recipient must finish college... but since JJ is such an overachiever all you could come up with was "If you want my money you must wear my old blue shoes out in public 27 times and showcase them on your blog."

    5) Maybe she is so desperate to attract attention to herself in places like... ummm...I don't know... PANERA... that she in fact uses the shoes as a coversation starter...

    6) Or maybe... in fact... it's true... it really is true that she DOES like the blue suede shoes...and she wears them proudly... without fear of being judged by a complete nut who lives 3,000 miles from her... because after all... it's the little quirks in each and everyone of us that make us unique.

    ~Mavis

    ReplyDelete
  12. Mavis, Just a note of clarification: those are sewed-on POM-POMs, not clip-on bows.

    Dr. P, I think you ought to invite Mavis to the next soiree, don't you? She could be "the entertainment."

    ReplyDelete
  13. Thanks for the Easter brunch inspiration.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I just bought my daughter some blue suede shoes at Old Navy. We both love them 'cause they look just like yours.

    ReplyDelete