Ramble On

The only part of the squash my kids seem to like.This is the third blog post I’ve started tonight. I had one about how I seem to have dropped out of NaNoWriMo this year. I had one rambling one about the homeschool co-op we visited today. And now I have this one. I don’t know what this one’s about yet.

I think it’s about how I should go to bed rather than post to my blog but that I feel compelled to post something, probably because the idea of quitting both NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo is just too much for me to handle. “Believe in something,” I tell myself.

Or maybe it’s about how I feel nervous that my daughter is behind now with making lasting friendships. Back in Utah, she had friends she’d known since she was three. Many of these friends had friends they’d had for longer (from birth, essentially), and while my daughter was late to the party, she was pretty close to getting in on the ground floor. With the move, she’s starting from scratch again, but now these girls are five and six and seven and have had friends they’ve known since they were born. My daughter just can’t seem to find her place amid these types of friendships. I’m pretty much reconciled to the fact that my nomadic lifestyle has made it so I’m essentially locked out of those super-close friendships because I have neither a friend I’ve known since kindergarten nor a twin. But it’s a little harder to let go of the hope that my daughter might have a close, close friendship. She’s starting over late in the game, but she’s still not even seven. You’d think this wouldn’t be a huge setback, but I worry it might be.

Or maybe this post is just about how I keep baking squash even though it’s clear my family doesn’t really like it. I keep thinking, “It’s high in beta-carotene!” I keep thinking, “We can put maple syrup on it!” I keep thinking, “We can toast the seeds!” All of these things are true, but they don’t make my kids (or me) like squash any more than we already do. Unless it’s in pie. And while I’m fairly comfortable flouting convention, pie for dinner is where I draw the line.

Mice in the Basement

NaNoWriMo Day 9 Word Count: 15,712

The prompt from NaBloPoMo today is about the time you realized your home was different from other people’s homes.

I think I might have come to this realization rather late. Until I was in ninth grade, we lived in military housing. Our houses were essentially identical to everyone else’s except for the current resident’s decorating preferences. Donna who lived next door in San Diego, her favorite color was red. Her house reflected this year-round, but at Christmas time, it was very apparent. Her tree was covered in nothing but red lights, red garland, red tinsel, red glass balls, and a red star on top. My friend Lisa’s mom made those plastic canvas yarn art things and displayed them in every room. I remember one on a table in the living room that looked like a series of geometric shapes but when you looked at it the right way, it said, “Jesus.” An early version of a Magic Eye poster. My friend Precious’s mom was from China, and because I was only there during birthdays and other celebrations, I got the idea that there was always a bowl of red hardboiled eggs on her table.

These were differences, but they all seemed rather minor. They were, after all, things that we could have at our house (in fact, I spent years trying to get my mom to let me dye a dozen eggs red and put them in a bowl on the table).

When I was in ninth grade, we moved to northern Virginia where the military housing was limited. We rented a house in a subdivision in suburban DC. There wasn’t an enormous amount of variety between the homes (I recall four different models, 2 colonials, a cape, and a split-level ranch), but there was more variety than on base.

It was while we were living here that my mom started work at a pet shop and began to bring her work home with her. She bred mice in the basement. I’ve blogged about this before. Fancies, not feeders, although I’d bet that many of them got fed to snakes and monitor lizards anyway.

At first, I enjoyed showing people the mice in our basement. I thought they were cool, and I felt rather proud of them. I brought one of the neighbor girls with whom I waited at the bus stop to my house one afternoon. We’d just come in the kitchen door and set down our bookbags. I was getting ready to take her downstairs to show her the mice when I noticed that she was looking around at our house.

“Well, you did just move in, right?” she said, a justification in response to a query that hadn’t been spoken.

“Right,” I agreed, even though we’d been there since May and it was almost December now. She caused me to look at my house with new eyes. I saw the clutter. I saw the dirt. I saw the baby gates set up at every doorway to keep our elderly and mostly incontinent dog off the white carpeting (although if you put white carpeting in a rental, I think you’re just asking for trouble). I noticed the smell of mice wafting up the basement steps.

I was incredibly embarrassed.

I still invited friends over, but I knew enough after this to feel ashamed of my home.

As an adult, I have a fear that I might have a genetic predisposition for hoarding behaviors (my mom got rid of the mice a long time ago; now she has cats), so I try to stay on top of the clutter and not have too many pets/kids/collections/decorations. I do okay most of the time, but I still have this lingering anxiety that someone will visit my home and find that the nicest thing they can say is to offer a justification for why my house is “like that.”

Injustice and Inaction: A Blog Post Disguised as a Book Review of The Buddha in the Attic

The Buddha in the Attic
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a quick, powerful read.

Written in the first-person plural, the story is at once personal and essentially anonymous. It is not the story of just one person, but of a people. The use of the “we” brings attention to the “us” vs “them” nature of racism and prejudice, and in the last chapter when the “we” changes, it raises the question, “Who are ‘we’ anyway?”

Otsuka takes us through the lives of picture brides from Japan, from their nervous but hopeful journey across the ocean to the harsh realities of their lives in America to their internment—along with their husbands and children and grandchildren—because they are deemed a threat to national security after Pearl Harbor.

In the group at which we discussed this book, the conversation turned to why it is that we, even today, avoid seeing violations of civil rights and prejudicial treatment going on around us. Why, we asked ourselves, do we as a culture turn away rather than acting when we see injustice?

We talked about the recession and how we’ve got our own stuff to worry about. We talked about how busy people are and how uninformed. We talked about the consolidation of media power and the resulting shallowness and one-sidedness of the news we consume. We talked about the compartmentalization that happens in social media and web searches and online bookstores that are designed to show us more of what already interests us. We talked about the lack of community.

This was a comfortable, philosophical approach to our inaction. What was less comfortable was when I turned the question on myself.

When I see an injustice, why don’t I act? I used to act. I used to get up in arms and demonstrate and write legislators and help set up panel discussions. Why don’t I any more?

It’s not that I’m uninformed. If anything, I think I’m better informed about issues than I was in my twenties during my activism heyday.

It’s not that I don’t care. Discussions at church about how the Ecuadorean population of a nearby town are being mistreated in the wake of a recent tragedy leave me in tears. I feel compelled to do something and yet when it comes time, I balk.

Why is this?

The only reason I can figure is fear. Fear of taking a stand, fear of arguing, fear of being yelled at. I have an introvert’s trepidation about meeting new people and talking in front of groups that’s just compounded by the fact that the “new people” are part of a foreign culture and many of them don’t speak my first (and pretty much only) language.

I realize, too, that I’m afraid of intensity of emotion.

I watch activists speaking and they can hardly talk, the words are all fighting to get out of their mouths at the same time. They cry frequently. Their passion is evident.

I used to share that passion. In my twenties and early thirties, if someone mentioned birth, I had that same flood of words that crowded in my mouth. I could—and would—argue hammer and tongs about the evils of episiotomies and the importance of teaching doctors how to deliver breech babies vaginally rather than relying on surgery.

But in the years since my son was born, my passion has cooled. And I do not miss it.

I’ve made peace with many of my feelings about birth, and I don’t want to go back to that out-of-control, all-consuming obsession with something I had little ability to change or even affect.

I’m enjoying the calm, and I’m afraid of getting pulled back into the intensity.

While I don’t think the out-of-control type of passion is necessary for activism, I don’t know how to be an activist without it. I want to be an equanimous activist. I want to stand in the river and let the current rush by me. But I’ve yet to figure out how to get into the river without the struggle, so I continue to stand on shore.

With all of the things I fear, the biggest is that if I were put to a moral test like those that so many faced during World War II, I would fail.

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NaNoWriMo Day 8 Word Count: 14,124

Parental Preferences

NaNoWriMo Day 7 Word Count:12,052

“Let’s finish breakfast so we can do our history lesson!” I said to the kids this morning. “We’re going to read about mummies today!”

“No, not mommies,” my two-year-old said. “Read book about daddies!”

This isn’t the only time my son has expressed a preference for his father (and fathers in general) in recent weeks. Last week, he fell down and hurt his bottom and cried. I picked him and cuddled him and he shouted, “I want Daddy!”

I remember this stage with my daughter. And I also know that most of the time, the kids are shouting for me and leaving my husband out of the equation. A couple of requests don’t nearly give him equal time. It’s still strange the first couple of times it happens, especially when it happens while I’m trying to comfort my crying child with cuddles and Mommy-love, which, up to now, have been all he’s needed in any situation.

I try not to feel rejected because it’s not a rejection. I know my husband and I offer different things to our children. My son is figuring that out now, and that he has some choice in which person he gets.

I’m glad that he sees both of his parents as people who can offer him comfort.

And that he’s occasionally really funny when he expresses his preference.

Ambiguous Morality in Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

Everything Is Illuminated
Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s not a coincidence that I started reading this book during a days-long power outage. By candlelight, of course.

Actually, that’s a lie. It was a coincidence. I’d gotten it from the library weeks before and I just didn’t get to it until the power went out. But it did give me a sense of satisfaction to see the book sitting in the small pool of light cast by the candle flame.

After finishing the book, I find this image apt as I don’t know that anything was really illuminated. Just more questions and mysteries about the relative nature of right and wrong and good and evil when every choice is at least a little bit wrong, a little bit evil.

In college, I took a couple of classes in Process Theology. I really felt a connection to it, which makes me suspect I didn’t understand it properly because everyone says it’s practically impenetrable by the rational thoughts of an average person. That’s fine with me; I still like the way I understand it, even if it’s totally off.

One of the things I remember about Process Theology is that, rather than acting directly on the world, God is like a magnetic force, drawing us towards the most God-like action in each moment. As my professor explained, in this theology, “God” is essentially synonymous with “love,” so that in each moment we are drawn to the action that is most loving. We can choose to follow this pull or ignore it. If we follow it, we’re closer to God. If we don’t, we’re further from God. Because the decisions in each moment are determined by what happened in the last, that often leaves us in an individual moment with unclear choices, none of which is clearly the one that is closer to God. The professor used the example of Sophie’s Choice, but a less emotionally fraught one could be whether to stay up and blog or to go to bed early and blog in the morning. One choice is difficult because it’s so important, the other because it’s so trivial, but theoretically, the same principle applies. There is no right answer in either situation, but from a Process Theology standpoint, there is an answer that is less wrong and more in the direction of love.

I feel comforted by this idea because it’s ambiguous and because there is no prescribed course of action that is deemed “right”. I also feel a little terrified of this idea for the same reasons. It feels like a pretty loose framework, but it also feels accurate to me.

At any rate, this is about all I’m going to say about this book because I don’t want to spoil the plot.

Okay, one more thing: I thought the structure of the book was ingenious and Foer handled it with skill. I loved how Sasha and Jonathan mirrored one another until it felt almost like a conversation between the author and himself. Which, I suppose, all fiction is to one degree or another.

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UPDATE! NaNoWriMo Day 6 Word Count: 10,107

Rhetorical Questions About Bold Ideas

NaNoWriMo Day 5 Word Count: 8,750

This morning, my family took a walk on an old farm trail near our house. We’ve taken this walk before, a couple of weeks ago, before the snowstorm and before most of the leaves had changed and before the corn field had been mowed or plowed or whatever they did to it to eliminate the golden stalks and leave only black soil that my son called, “horse dirt.”

“Do you mean horse poop?” I asked.

“No,” he replied looking me directly in the eye do I wouldn’t misunderstand again. “Horse dirt.” He started walking away saying, “And mud and stalks and pillows…”

If I were two years old it would probably make sense.

On our way back to the trailhead, the kids and I each picked up a large stick. Mine was nearly large enough to be a walking stick. As I walked along pretending that’s what it was, I thought about the first time I saw someone using one of those walking pole things. We were hiking a portion of the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina. Around a curve, a couple came towards us down the hill. We exchanged brief greetings and smiles, and as they passed, I snuck looks at their aluminum hiking poles. What benefit did they serve besides looking serious and kind of cool?

Remembering this reminded me of my husband’s and my plan before we had kids. After he was done with grad school, we’d take the summer off before he started his postdoc and we’d hike the entire Appalachian Trail. I read backpacking books and learned about the trail and the occasional violence long-range hikers met with at the hands of ne’er-do-wells on the well-traveled trail. We began considering the Pacific Crest Trail instead. It was more rugged and more remote and less well traveled. We heard of many fewer people who’d hiked from Canada to Mexico along the PCT than we had people who’d hiked from Maine to Georgia on the Appalachian Trail. When my husband got a postdoc in the San Francisco Bay Area, we tabled the idea of the Appalachian Trail and made noises like we might try the PCT, but we both knew we never would. The time for bold ideas had passed. We were well on our way to becoming responsible adults, and there was no turning back.

Hiking today, with my fake hiking stick and the sun filtering down through the few remaining leaves and the wind chilling our noses and the children talking about birds and mud and how deep the creek was, I wondered why it was we thought there was no turning back from adulthood, or why being adults meant no longer pursuing bold ideas. I suspect it was an excuse to avoid either the fear that accompanies any bold idea or the work that would be necessary to execute it.

We could still do it, I thought in the forest today. The kids enjoy hiking. We could wait until they’re a little older and then maybe take some time off to do some family thru-hiking.

When we were visiting Davis, California, we read about a couple that biked across the United States with their two young sons. I read an interview with the couple, Nancy Sathre-Vogel and John Vogel, on The Fearful Adventurer a couple of months ago, and one of the things Nancy said struck me:

When the boys were seven John suggested we quit our jobs and take off on our bikes. I was horrified. Speechless. Mortified. I mean – we were parents. With childrenParents with children don’t quit their jobs and ride bikes around the world. Right? That’s not what we’re supposed to do.

Once we made the decision to go for it, however, I realized how wrong I had been. Children are great travelers and are a delight to be around. I’ve loved my years on the road with the boys and can’t imagine it any other way.

So, I got to thinking: Why would it be irresponsible to give our children a unique view of their country and of the world? What does it mean to be responsible parents? Couldn’t it be seen as irresponsible not to encourage our children to pursue adventures and primary experiences that give them a sense of accomplishment and knowledge of their power as individuals?

Is it our dwelling that makes us good parents? Is it the airbag-equipped minivan and the music lessons and dance classes that make our children into happy adults? What if we left all of this behind in order to have a Big Adventure? What would that mean about us? What kind of people would our children become after an experience like a 4- to 6-month hike across the U.S.? What kind of people would we become?

What kind of people would we be if we chucked it all for our Big Adventure and then something bad did happen, like illness or injury or worse?

What kind of people would we be if we took the risk and we failed?

What kind of people would we be if we never took the risk at all?

Power of the Pen

NaNoWriMo Day 4 Word Count: 6,907

When the power was still out on November 1st, I was a little nervous that I’d get behind on NaNoWriMo. I’m not sure how long my laptop would hold its remaining charge, and typing is difficult with frosty fingers (and near impossible in mittens). And the thought of returning home along dark streets with downed branches and powerlines kept me from going out after dark to a public place that might have plugs I could use. Also, I was afraid I might not want to leave a warm coffee shop for my chilly home, and I didn’t want to leave my children with life-long negative opinions about coffee shops (“Mommy left one night to get some coffee, and she never came home…”).

I decided that I would start my novel the old-fashioned way: with pen and paper.

It’s been a long time since I just let the pages fill under my pen and felt the satisfying weight of a notebook filled with my thoughts. I felt somewhat enthusiastic about the possibility of having this experience again. The idea of writing by candlelight in a chill, dark New England dwelling felt deliciously Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Then when the power came back on Tuesday night, my idea to write a novel longhand once again seemed like an unnecessary duplication of effort, and I scrapped the idea, leaving my brand-new notebooks and pens to gather dust on my desk as I typed away on my laptop.

I still write with a pen in my paper journal, and when I’m keeping up with my Morning Pages, I write those by hand (Julie Cameron pretty much insists upon that). Writing by hand feels more intimate than typing words onto a screen, and it inspires a different thought process for me than typing a first draft does. Writing by hand feels at the same time more permanent (I can just CTRL-A and delete everything if I’m typing, if I choose to) and less serious than typing. I use it when I don’t know what to say and I just need to think something out. I rarely write a full first draft by hand anymore. It’s just thoughts and notes.

I don’t think I could write a serious poem on the computer. Poetry is the kind of thing that demands that tactile connection between fingers and pen (or pencil) and paper. Also, I like to cross out and go back and rearrange things in a way that’s easier on paper.

Not that I’ve written much poetry in the past fifteen years or so. Just the silly verses I put in our holiday newsletters. I had one when I was pregnant with my first child that began, “Here I sit in early labor/I hope my moans don’t wake the neighbors.” I don’t remember the rest of it. It’s probably on some sheet of paper around here somewhere.

The other thing I write by hand are those thoughts that would look too stark in Times New Roman up on my computer screen. The secret, forbidden thoughts: the harsh judgments, the whining self-pity, and the strange inclinations upon which I never act. These are thoughts that are immediately followed with, “Oh, my! What would people think if they knew I’d thought something like that?”

My RV kick was this kind of thought for a long time. Until I had friends who sold everything and moved aboard their boat with their two kids, my desire to live in an RV seemed completely crazy. Now it just seems a little silly and kind of quirky, which makes it just the right kind of topic for a blog.

I let my fictional characters think the really strange things. They’re still technically my thoughts, but it helps if I can put the blame on someone I’ve made up.

Which seems really strange when I read it on the screen.

Silence! Writer at Work!

NaNoWriMo Day 3 Word Count: 5,130

Some people like to write with music on. Some people, I’m told, even need music to write.

I am not one of these people.

Although I’ve been known to write with a Curious George audio book playing in the background, I mostly require silence when I write. Especially when I’m just starting a writing session, I’m easily distracted. Music without words is less distracting, but any sound can give me an excuse to stop writing. And really, I don’t need any more excuses to stop writing.

But if I’m really in the zone, anything can be happening and I won’t notice it. Loud music, a radio news report, television shows, children asking me to wipe their butts: all go unnoticed if I’m in the zone.

Luckily for my children, I do most of my writing while they’re asleep.

Now the one exception to the “silence while writing” rule (aside from the “in the zone” exception. Yes, you caught me; there are two exceptions) is if I’m really stuck. Sometimes listening to a particular piece of music can get me from stuck to unstuck on something I’m writing. When it happens, which isn’t often, it’s like I can ride the music into the writing. I have to be careful writing this way, though, because the music will give my writing a distinct flavor. In college, I wrote a personal essay while listening to Ministry’s album Psalm 69. “Jesus Built My Hotrod” had a great influence on the style of that piece.

I’m one of those annoying people who picks up the accent of the person with whom I’m speaking. I think the music-to-writing transfer is a similar phenomenon. Sometimes I think this works. Other times, it clearly doesn’t. But as an unpublished writer with an underlying fear of publishing, anything that helps me have fun with my writing is probably a good thing.

Which is part of why I decided to do NaBloPoMo. I’d not heard of it until my friend Zoie over at TouchstoneZ tweeted me about it. Basically, you’re supposed to post every day for the month of November. Seeing as how I’m already doing Postaday 2011 and mostly posting every day anyway, it seemed like cheating to sign up for another “post-a-day” event. Plus, I’m jumping on the boat three days into the month, but who’s counting?

But I dig the NaBloPoMo prompts, and with NaNoWriMo going, I could use an excuse for a little more writing play. If it’s just me and my novel for too long, I start to get nervous that it’s not going anywhere/isn’t any good. Or I start to live in a strange world somewhere between fiction and reality as my thoughts of my characters bleed into my daily life. Or I just get punchy.

Blogging helps alleviate all of these symptoms.

For the “it’s no good” symptom, a blog post is much shorter than a novel (hopefully), so it’s possible to finish a post without waking my critic. It’s not even possible to write one day’s word count on the novel without waking my critic.

For the “altered state” symptom, blogging about an unrelated topic can help me get my bearings, whether in reality or in fiction. It just helps me see the border better so I’m less worried about crossing over it unwittingly.

And for the “punchy” symptom, blogging lets me get my sillies out. I do better in all aspects of my life when I have an outlet for my sillies.

But then, don’t we all?

Type A Parenting: Not as Fun as it Sounds

“Why does one great day always have to be followed by one crappy day?” I posted on my Facebook Page this afternoon.

Almost as soon as I posted it, I started wondering what exactly made yesterday “great” and today “crappy.”

It took me a few hours of mulling and whinging, but I finally figured it out.

Incidentally, I’ve decided to make the switch to the term “whinge” instead of “whine.” Whinge sounds like “cringe,” which is appropriate because that’s what I do when my kids whine. “Whine,” on the other hand, sounds like “wine,” which is what I want to drink when my kids whinge. Either works, but I’m not sure I want to think about wine as often as I do. So, whinge it is!

I determined that I was whinging today because the day didn’t go precisely as I’d planned it. Yesterday did. Well, to within a half-hour of how I’d planned it. It took fifteen minutes longer each for our math lesson and our history lesson, which put our exercise time at 2:30 instead of 2, which pushed our reading hour from 2:30 to 3:00, so we had to start dinner instead of spending an extra 30 minutes playing. But aside from that, things just went smoothly. The kids even helped clean up the toy room and went to bed without complaint.

Silly me, I expected today to go as well. I should have realized it wouldn’t go that way when I couldn’t even get through my Morning Pages without someone sitting on me, grabbing my writing arm, asking me to help them with puzzles, or hitting each other with plastic mail trucks and fire engines.

I should have just chalked it up to “that kind of day” and surrendered to the chaos then. Instead, I fought through it. And for much of the morning, I did so in the presence of three other moms in someone else’s kitchen, where my son broke a coffee mug, my daughter refused to talk to the other little girl there, and I snapped at my daughter for being indecisive about tasting the butter we’d made. Which, of course, made me even more self-conscious than usual and contributed greatly to my crappy mood in the afternoon and led to the whiney Facebook post. Er, whingey Facebook post.

But I rallied during dinner prep. I changed plans mid-course and made a homemade curry paste to season (along with some cashew butter) the swiss chard I was cooking, then I put batter into a squeeze bottle and wowed the kids, my husband, and myself with whimsically shaped pancakes.

Things got back on track after that, with a brief detour for an impromptu pre-bed Chutes and Ladders game with my daughter.

And here I am writing, which is my stated goal for my me-time in the evening this week! I feel like writing fiction, but I’ve settled on my topic/story idea for NaNoWriMo, and I’m afraid that if I write fiction, I’ll start working on that and then have to either not report the word count I get for these last couple of weeks of October or lie about when I wrote it. Or come up with a different story idea (and since the supply of those is, of course, finite, this is the most scary possibility). I’m not up for that level of ethical problem-solving, so here I am blogging. But that’s writing. It counts. So would journaling, writing a letter to my aunt, or reviewing a book. But commenting on blog posts or streaming episodes of The Office wouldn’t.

So, score!

Oh, and my new, custom-made-for-me handbag I bought off etsy arrived.

Double-score! Even my husband made “swanky-swanky” noises when he saw it, and he doesn’t care about handbags at all.

And tomorrow we’re going to a homeschool program about turtles. And then I might indulge in a glass of wine before dinner. If I keep my focus on those two things and avoid scheduling our time to the half-hour, I think I can handle whatever whinging, whining, or pouting the day might hold for us.

On second thought, I fear I might be tempting fate with overly confident statements like that. How about, if I focus on turtles and wine, I might be able to let myself have fun with my kids, even if we get a little off schedule.

A Vow to Write Poorly

Having read The Help recently and about one-third so far of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, I’ve been thinking about books on the bestsellers list. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the poor quality of the writing in books on the bestsellers list.

Or perhaps that’s too harsh. At the very least, it requires some clarification.

Both of these bestsellers deal with really great subjects. They give voice to those who are underrepresented in literature and in history. But they’re not great works of literature. The language isn’t lyrical, the characters not deep or nuanced. I don’t miss the fictional world the author has created when I close the book. I just want to get through it because I’ve got Book Club and want to be able to discuss the book.

These books are first novels, through and through. They’re clumsy and amateurish. They have internal inconsistencies. But clearly, since they’re bestsellers, the public aren’t looking for lyrical, polished prose. They’re looking for a story.

This isn’t really a surprise to me. Until I got to college-level courses, the focus was always on reading comprehension rather than on enjoying a book or critiquing the methods the author used or exploring the book’s historical and cultural context. People (Americans at least) aren’t being taught to enjoy books. They’re being taught to get information out of books.

This might also be why those who want to appear more erudite get their panties all in a bunch about a split infinitive or use of the wrong “there” or “it’s”. What did we see most of on our school papers? Was it a back-and-forth discussion about the thoughts we had about a novel, story, or poem? Sometimes. But usually it was copy editing marks in red pen and a grade at the end. If our teachers cared mostly about grammatical errors, it makes sense that we, trying to emulate them and appear learned (or at least superior) ourselves, would focus our attention and scrutiny on such mundanities as well.

(I don’t want to give the impression that I’m lambasting teachers. Most teachers I know are bored to tears with this focus on petty details, too. They would love to discuss books with their students. But with their workload and the focus on grades and test scores, when are they supposed to do that?)

Aside from creating a bunch of pedants, the other problem I see with this focus on grammar over content is that it really squelches creativity.

I find it a bit surprising that I’m not 100% on the side of grammar. I have been for many years a pedant myself. I was one of those jerks who’d copy edit a menu and stop someone mid-thought to correct them. I love grammar. I love rules. I believe that you must learn the rules so you know the “proper” way to communicate, as written language is ultimately a way of communicating ideas from one person to the next.

But.

I’ve found that I’ve internalized the rules to such an extent and become so afraid of breaking one of them, I can’t even get words on the paper without criticizing my grammar at every turn. How can a person be creative with that constant internal chatter about punctuation and whether it ought to be “lie” or “lay” in this context?

Recent research (as heard on some NPR show I can’t find now) suggests that when we read a piece of writing, our brain function mirrors that of the author as she was writing it. We essentially get inside the writer’s mind when we read. This explains why some novels transport me, put me into an altered state, and others that just leave me walking along at the periphery. If an author isn’t transported by her writing, her readers can’t be, either. And if the author is distracted by her inner critic, she’s not being transported.

This is one of the things I like about frequent blogging and one of the things I like about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). It encourages me to write too fast for my critic to keep up. It encourages me to let my passion take the driver’s seat and turn off the GPS.

Yes, this means I write a lot of rambling crap. But crappy writing and blogging are practically synonymous. If I were writing an informative, journalistic blog, I might worry more. But really, am I going to alienate my 42 subscribers if I write something idiotic? The fact that I haven’t lost them yet would suggest that they are inalienable because I know at least 72% of my posts are completely stupid, and the rest are just boring.

Geoff Colvin in Talent is Overrated talks about the idea that every great achievement follows at least 10 years of deliberate practice. From Mozart to Michael Jordan, you don’t become great without years of slogging through, composing something no one wants to listen to or missing innumerable baskets, always trying to perform just beyond your present skill level. You can’t skip ahead. You have to practice if you’re going to be great.

And that practice is not pretty.

I’m going to be doing NaNoWriMo again this year. It will be more difficult because we still haven’t found a sitter here, which means I’ll have to write in the evenings and when I can steal time from my kids during the day. But I’m going to do it. I need the practice. I may never be a great writer (or even a published writer, which is not the same thing), but if I don’t write, I won’t even be a writer.

And no, you don’t get to read my novel. Until it becomes a bestseller.

This post was inspired by NaBloWriYe by Daryl L. L. Houston at WordPress’s The Daily Post.