Yesterday’s Blog

Already I’ve fallen off the wagon on my 30-day blog-a-thon. I’m going to try to double up today, but it’ll be difficult. We’ve got a road trip planned. Perhaps I can allow room for one day away from the blog each week. During grad school I always gave myself a day off.

That’s not true, actually. When I realized, suddenly in November, that I only had six months left to write the thesis, I panicked. It sounds utterly ridiculous, doesn’t it? Six months and you panicked? You freak of nature. I know. And I am a freak of nature. But recall, if you’ll permit me some slack, that I have OCD (without the C) and an anxiety disorder, and those voices are far louder than those of reason.

But at the same time, I don’t think I can possibly be the only thesis-writer to have sat up on Thankgiving night and said, “Holy shit, I have to turn this thing in six months from now! I’ll never get it done.” When I started the thesis in early August on my own, before the semester had started, I felt like I had plenty of time. The better part of a year. And it was only required to be 125 pages, and I had one solid essay written and chunks of others that would eventually morph into thesis components. But once I started assembling these bits, and writing more bits, word by agonizing word, I realized why it takes people years to write a book.

Writing is hard. It’s tedious. And there are many, many days when the words just aren’t coming. Now, in “real” life, when you’re writing a book on your own terms, you can say, “Eh, today’s not my day,” and piddle around or just abandon the effort altogether. It doesn’t make for writerly discipline, of course. It’s frowned upon by uber-hard workers and the super prolific. And I can make the argument that even if you’re writing garbage, at least you’re writing, and that from the pile of crap you produce you may just dig up a diamond. (By that I mean a single decent sentence out of 4 shitty pages, or a salient idea worth pursuing.) In school, however, there’s a deadline. You’ve got to write. If you write crap today, you damn well better not write crap tomorrow, because there are only so many tomorrows in a semester. The point is to get it done, and to do so largely on your own. Nobody pushes you in grad school; they just expect results on the appointed date.

One of the most valuable things I learned about myself in the last two years is that I function really well with a deadline. I’d never have thought that about myself, but it turns out that when I have no expectations placed upon me, I just fart around and dally in the daffodils and dream half-assed writer dreams that never come to fruition. This is possibly the most important thing I could have learned about myself with regards to a future career. I will never get anything done unless someone is expecting work by a certain date. Doesn’t matter who. I just need a date by which a piece of writing must be ready, and then I’ll be efficient and studious and hard-working. I need a second entity in my writing life, someone who’s waiting for me to write. I alone am not enough to push myself to success.

That seems kind of wimpy, kind of weak. Perhaps, but it’s what I know to be true. It’s how and who I am. And I’m so glad I learned it.

When I realized I only had six months, I panicked. And I think plenty of thesis students have done this. Writing a book-length work in under a year is impossible, really. No thesis is book-ready. I could edit and rewrite mine for another year, and I fully expect to, for more than a year. And sadly, the manuscript will no longer be the laser focus of my existence. (Damn kids, always needing food.) It’ll be a side project, one that gets my attention when I have time, when the stars align properly. That’s a huge bummer, and a huge relief. The thesis and I need some time away from each other. I’m happy to devote myself to the pieces individually, but as a whole, it’s starting to feel like a houseguest that won’t leave and has been feeding my dogs table scraps and teaching my kids obscene gestures.

With that said, I’ll cut this blog shorter than I’d like to (I can do that because nobody is reading it or checking it or expecting it) and go rouse my menfolk. We have moutains to find today!

Don’t Feed the Humorist

Another blog on writing thoughts.

I know, you all groan inwardly. Here again we must listen to the obsessive-compulsive, Type A, neurotic mess of a writer talk about her own insecurities and do a little whining, followed by a predictable conclusion. We just came to see the duck fucking she promised us a month and a half ago.

Well, first of all, I keep wanting to write about the randy mallards but then I realize it might go into my thesis, so I’m hesitant to blog about it.

Wednesday was my birthday. It actually sucked royally because I was recovering from an obscene migraine, and four days later I’m still so darn fatigued and headachey that I’m wondering if maybe I contracted Lyme Disease while romping around in the wilderness of Belmont County for the last few months. Oh yes, I’m a horrible hypochondriac. Just a mess of a hypochondriac. All winter I had a twitchy eye (or was it a twitchy finger?) and I was sure that there was a growth on one of my lobes. And then I switched to the far more realistic fear of an impending-anaphalactic reaction. Every time I took any sort of pill I was certain my throat was going to close up. I’m absolutely off my rocker, I know. I never did continue with the medication that was prescribed to me, because it clouded my head. And now that the stress of school is over, the anxiety has largely melted away. I even managed to ride in the passenger seat with Shawn driving and not brace my feet against the dashboard in crash position. That’s progress.

What does this have to do with my birthday? Not a damn thing. I had a migraine; it makes you stupid for a few days. It was a tangent. Anyway, the Lyme Disease thing…I’m calm about it, for once, and curious, and cautious. It’s something I’m keeping an eye on. Stiff neck, headaches, fatigue, confusion, joint pain…those little bastards are out there. There’s nothing so creepy as a parasite. Anyway.

As I lay there miserably on my birthday reading my plethora of Facebook birthday greetings, a theme emerged: You’re the funniest person I know. You’re so hilarious. You make me laugh.

Holy shit, Batman. Don’t tell an obsessive-compulsive that she’s funny. It’s too much.

I know I’m funny. God didn’t give me the gift of beauty, or a quick wit, and he didn’t make me much of a public speaker. (In fact, I think I’m far more likely to pass a thesis defense if I just sit there and shut up for an hour. Opening my mouth can only screw it up.) The one thing He gave me was a sense of humor. A very specific, sarcastic, biting one. I’ve learned to be careful; last year I almost ended a friendship when I made what I thought was an innocent crack about a friend’s pants. Not everybody appreciates it. But, it seems that many of my Facebook friends and my writer friends do. Write more funny, they say. Where’s the funny, my local writing group asks when I show up without something to read.

Do you know how hard it is to write “funny” on command? In fact, out of every ten essays I write, only one is funny. That blog early in the semester that everybody loved about my encounter with a rabid squirrel and walking into a log? That was me being “on.” Most of the time I’m not “on.” And as for the Facebook folk, they only see me when I’m “on.” Funny people shut the hell up when they’re not feeling funny, lest they be discovered as an ordinary, not-so-entertaining human being. When I’m not funny, I’m not talking, or writing.

Also, I’ve discovered in my MFA program that there’s a huge difference between a funny quip and a funny essay. Quips are easy. They’re like the whoopee cushion of writing. Writing a humorous essay, or story, requires the literary equivalent of a room full of fart gags, and chances are that after a few air biscuits the reader is going to be bored. That’s a lot of pressure (pun not intended but I’ll go with it), and what’s more, humor doesn’t sit in a jar waiting for the lid to be lifted so it can burst forth. Imagine the circumstances that came together that day last winter for me to write that humorous blog: the dog had diarrhea, the trapped squirrel, the log in my face, the fricking flat tire…that morning was a gift from the universe.f

(I think I just stated that walking face-first into a fallen tree was a blessing.)

Therein lies the part where “writer” comes in. I don’t get those sort of funny days very often, so this means I’m going to have to rely on my skills. (Ugh.) And in turn, that’s where the insecurity comes in. I’m not sure I can force funny on any given day. Rather than a steady stream of comedy, it seems to come in wee bursts, all-or-nothing funny flash-floods.

I read 300 pages of Freudian humor analysis this past semester. Freud taught me how to craft his version of a joke. But even if I had any respect for Siggy himself, I couldn’t agree less with the way he deconstructs humor. Sure, somebody has to do it. It’s interesting to note why things are funny to the joke-teller and the joke-receiver. But I think analysis falls apart in my hands when I’m writing something funny. Sometimes a joke is just a joke. I don’t give a shit why you laugh at what I say, as long as you laugh. Any press is good press.

Moreover, when I went to a one-day conference at school last fall, I sat in on a humor lecture. And there was no comedy in that room. That is to say, it was dark humor. Sad, ironic, look-what-the-characters-have-come-to humor. The essays didn’t make me smile. Sigh. I hate that kind of irony.

Okay, I love irony. Writers feed on irony the way my kids live on cereal. In high school we were force-fed irony until we puked up Sophocles. Our discussions were led while the word “Irony” was written on the chalk board in huge letters, as though irony were the orgasm of our literary roll in the hay. And, I suppose it is. But dark, ironic humor isn’t particularly funny to me. If you don’t smile when you read what I write, it’s not humor. It’s not comedy. It’s not fucking funny.

That’s not particularly scholarly of me, is it? I just want to make you people laugh. Life is serious enough, and nature writing has the potential to be a serious downer due to the fact that we’re all in a sorry-ass situation of our own making. (Irony! God, yes! Right there!) But dammit, if you keep telling me how funny I am and how I should do stand-up in my kitchen and write a Sedaris-esque book, I haven’t a chance in hell. Lower your expectations. Then, maybe I’ll come up with something cleverly humorous just to stick it to you.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go check my scalp for a bullseye rash.