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January 19, 2019

It has been nearly two years since I’ve written here. After 7+ years of writing nearly daily across a couple of different platforms, I fizzled, succumbed to an ever-expanding day job, family life, my guitar, a million distractions of the big city. The blog community was breaking up anyhow. The demise of google reader with no viable replacement was the last straw, I think, but Facebook and twitter had already drawn us away.

But for a million reasons, I’m feeling dissatisfied. I’ve Konmaried my drawers. Now I need to spark some joy in my own head. I miss writing longer strings of sentences. I’m sticking my toe back in the water. I make no promises.

I started my first blog back when AJ was 2 and just starting preschool. So there’s some poetic balance in considering beginning again, now that he’s about to graduate from high school and head to college. I’m starting to feel some space in my head again, but — or maybe because — the ground is shifting. More unrest. I have been just over seven years at the Toy Factory and am starting to understand why the concept of sabbatical exists. A major project is almost complete. I am trying to relearn my job as I used to do it and am finding I am a little burnt out, a little dissatisfied, unreasonably irked by petty things. I am trying to get my groove back, trying to figure out my next act. The blog has helped me navigate uncharted waters before. Perhaps it will again. Still, I make no promises, neither to myself (yet), nor to anyone else.

What drove me here today, though, was not nostalgia for this space per se, but by an assignment I had 35 years ago in my HS sophomore year English class.

I think about this assignment surprisingly often. I probably think about this class once a week how it changed my life in many ways, opening my world in a way that has not happened on that scale before or since. We’d been reading short stories. Richard Brautigan. Robert Coover. John Cheever. Donald Barthelme. I don’t remember which story it was that led us to this assignment exactly, maybe Barthelme’s “The Glass Mountain,” maybe something I can’t recall. But the assignment was to write a short story where the narrative was told with a mix of encyclopedic facts and narrative. My kind of story. There was research involved. I still have the result, a story of a girl choosing artistic ambition over love. It was terrible. Well, maybe not terrible — I got an A+ — but, well, sophomoric. It’s painful to read in much the same way that my 7th grade journal, the blue one with the silver unicorn on the cover, is painful to read. It will always have a metastory about a nerdy suburban high school sophomore who wants to be a sophisticated writer-musician in the city.

This time, I was thinking about this assignment because I am reading Susan Orlean’s The Library Book (which is wonderful and you should all read it too). Mr. Spy gave it to me for Christmas. It is the kind of writing I wanted to do when I was that sophomore in high school and that I find I still want to do today. It tells the story of the 1986 fire that gutted the Los Angeles Central Library and in so telling reveals what matters to us about libraries. It is impeccably researched with archival work and secondary sources but also first person accounts from a million different perspectives. It is full of small details that another writer might not think to mention but which are like bolts to the reader’s heart, drawing you in to find out about that handbag left behind, the temperature of the ceiling, the way the glossy pages of art books dissolve in a flood, the Dewey decimal numbers for any number of books. I am only a third of the way through and I am already reading slower and slower, not wanting it to end.

There were many assignments I loved in that English class. I wrote better papers that year, but this is the one I come back to again and again and I realized while reading The Library Book (I take pleasure in the fact that it is not, in fact A library book), it’s because that’s the moment where the pleasure of research and the pleasure of telling a story could come together. It was the beginning of the work that’s followed me ever since that I’ve never quite managed to put together.

Still no promises, but food for thought. It’s time to start writing again. This book is maybe showing me a way forward.

Just before Christmas, I encountered my sophomore English teacher in the comments on a high school friend’s Facebook post. The friend was the inspiration for the main character in my story. She is an actress now and was writing about seaweed. We met in that English class. I took the opportunity to tell my teacher how much that class meant to me. I don’t know if he remembers me. But I will always remember him. He was clearly pleased. “That course was where I first understood how amazing kids were, and how interestingly they could think.”

This year, finally, in his last year of high school, AJ seems to have found a teacher like this. He can definitely think interestingly and seems to be turning into a writer himself. I make no promises about him either, though. His world should be wide open right now. Wide open with a spark.

As for my friend, she did choose ambition over love, but in the end she found both. Sometimes there are happy endings. And sometimes there are conflagrations and new things built from the ashes, a mosaic of tiny facts reassembled, stitched together. But still no promises of what next.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. January 19, 2019 12:19 pm

    Welcome back to the word universe.

  2. January 19, 2019 12:34 pm

    Thank you. Your return was part of the inspiration!

  3. eleanorio permalink
    January 19, 2019 1:22 pm

    It’s good to see you back here. I missed you. When Google Reader booted me, I started using Vienna. It’s (or was) free and it does what I need it to do. I hope we see you posting more often.

  4. January 19, 2019 1:30 pm

    Thanks, that’s good to know. At this point, I think everyone I read is on WordPress, so I think I can use the internal reader for the moment. But it’s nice to know there’s another option.

  5. January 19, 2019 7:18 pm


  6. January 20, 2019 6:58 pm

    I’m also reading The Library Book, as you know, and that it has spurred your return to writing here makes me like it even better.
    The actress was “writing seaweed”???

  7. January 20, 2019 7:02 pm

    *about* seaweed. Fixed!

  8. January 25, 2019 11:18 am

    Wow, I used to read you back at Diaryland. I couldn’t believe it when I saw your name pop up again after all this time. Great entry – good to see you haven’t lost it 🙂

    (Although it’s not fact based, I bet you’d like the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde, which begins with “The Eyre Affair”. Anyone I’ve talked to who has a literary bent and has read it has expressed joy at its wit and inventive style. Just thought I’d throw that out there….)

  9. January 26, 2019 5:43 pm

    Thinking about this post, I wonder if you were similarly inspired by John Berendt (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), Erik Larson (The Devil in the White City) and if you’ve read Shelby Foote’s History of the Civil War. They all have things in common with the Orleans book.

  10. January 26, 2019 6:07 pm

    Interesting. I liked but didn’t love both the Barendt and the Larson. It’s been a long time since I’ve read either one, so I’m not sure I could dig up the differences, if there even are any — it might be more that this is the right moment in my life to read this sort of thing — but my sense is that the journalism, the research, in The Library Book is better, or at least, more at the foreground. The narrative seems less trustworthy to me in Barendt and Larson. I haven’t read Foote, but we have it around here somewhere, thanks to the Walker Percy fan who lives in my house. I’ll give it a look.

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