Friday, October 23, 2009

The new for blogs?

I got this strange email today:

This is Shiela from
We stumbled on your blog while searching for Hp Ink Cartridges related information. We operate the largest hp cartridges website featuring more than 30,000+ blogs. Our site averages 200,000+ uniques visitors per month. As a kind note We have featured your blog at We would be grateful if you could add the following details to your blogs main page.
Looking forward for your confirmation.

I don't remember ever mentioning HP Ink Cartridges on this blog—could they know that I have an HP printer? More likely, they are writing this message to any blog they can find on the Web and the gullible blogger, like me, checks out the site. I had a momentary hope that maybe HP had created a blog awards web site and I had been chosen for it, but a quick look at their ".org" site revealed it to be a commercial enterprise selling ink jet cartridges. Perhaps such gullible optimism accounts for their 200,000+ unique visitors a month.

My blog wasn't actually listed on their site although there were plenty of other blogs there already, from the "DIY Poetry Publishing" blog to the "Drugstore Divas" blog: "Life is expensive; toothpaste shouldnt be." I'm supposing Writing Home won't be among them unless I create a link to the HP ink web site, but that's not going to happen. Here's hoping this post does not give them any additional traffic!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Local is the new word in journalism

This is my first post that is here mostly to offer links to sources on a particular topic. (See previous post for more info).

Although I consider myself a creative writer, I have an ongoing interest in newspapers because I used to (and probably subconsciously still) think of them a backup plan: if I suddenly had to make some money, I could dust off my clips and walk them around to newspaper offices, offering to freelance. You tell me to write about something and I can usually deliver, no matter how little I know about the topic beforehand. It worked twice, in two different states in the 1980s, but I should know better than to think it will work now.

Or maybe there is still work in newspapers—just unpaid or poorly paid, compared to years past. Some recent articles I've run into have discussed the trend toward local news and local blogging.

• Maybe I'm a little behind on this trend, but the first article I saw about the local trend in a major publication (not just as a blogger's fantasy) was the article (Newsweek, Oct. 12, 2009), which discusses how citizen journalists/bloggers are stepping in to cover outburb communities abandoned by big-city newspapers. Some of the ventures have been launched by news companies themselves, like the New York Times. The article uses terms like "hyper-local journalism" and "journo-bloggers"—I'm not sure these are new terms of art, or were just made up by the writer.

• Then a few day's later, on Oct. 19th, the Washington Post rolled out a total redesign, along with a print "Redesign Owner's Manual." Two of the manual's eight pages are devoted to the Post's new Local emphasis: one page is about the Post's new "Local Living" section (which rolls in its former, separate Home and county weekly sections, saving paper and print) and the other about "A new local home page." The new Local web page can be set up to be the user's entry way into the rest of the Post, with zip code set-up for weather and a way to format the page to display headlines from your chosen area and areas of interest (e.g., The District, Maryland, Schools, Crime, Obituaries, Religion).

[The irony here is that I looked at the web page, but then had to go back to the print manual in order to figure out how to format the page. It was a lot easier to figure out using the print write-up vs. the bald site itself.]

• The next day, NPR's Diane Rehm Show discussed New Business Models for Journalism. Forty-one minutes into the show, Rehm asks Arianna Huffington what the Huffington Post is doing to "address the local issues." Huffington says that the H. Post has launched Denver, New York, Chicago sections, to offer aggregate local news by making partnerships with local newspapers (linking to their news sites), and by using local bloggers and citizen journalists. (Sounds like unpaid or low paid work to me.)

BTW, the Huffington Post has been looking at the topic of the evolution/death of newspapers for awhile, but can't seem to make up their minds what to call the trend. They offer these categories (some with only one article each):

- The Reconstruction of American Journalism

- Death of Print

- Death of Newspapers

- Newspaper Decline


Dare I say it? The H. Post needs to hire a librarian to firm up the categories and make the site more searchable. Perhaps that is where my next I'm-really-desperate-for-money news job is.

Collecting a virtual library for my readers and me

I've been collecting links and articles over the last several months on topics that interest me, particularly those that I keep meaning to write about for the blog. But it occurred to me today that I could just post the links with minimal description, and make them findable under particular categories. For instance, I've bookmarked a few articles recently on the fate of newspapers; rather than try to add my own cry to the crescendoing dirge for newspapers, I'll just put them in a post indexed "newspapers."

To be honest, I'm doing this mostly for my own benefit, so that I can find things later, whether to re-read them more intently or to visit them for the first time. And doing this will help plump up my somewhat anemic "Special Features" section under "Writers Resources" and "Musings on Newspapers."

I still intend to write an essay a week, so this will an occasional supplement to my other postings.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

"Lost" in soap operas and snow globes

I used to watch soap operas, mostly because they would be on when I visited my spinster aunts, Maxie and Lola Belle. I loved the juxtaposition of these southern women primly eating at TV trays while the actors on the screen were kissing feverishly and ripping off their clothes. Spouses divorced and remarried repeatedly, children were born and grew up in a week, ex-lovers came back into town looking completely different. None of it seemed implausible if you watched it long enough.

I also, secretly and occasionally, watched the “Young and the Restless” and “As the World Turns” on my own because it gave me something to talk about with my aunts. But I also watched with a writer’s curiosity, wondering how the current story lines were going to evolve, which characters would drop out and which would become primary, and who would be sleeping with whom in the next year.

Yet the thing I hated about the soaps was what I call “deus ex soap opera,” where a character would come back from the dead, or his or her strange behavior could be explained by amnesia or an impersonating, separated-at-birth twin. I just thought it was lazy on the part of the writers and was something that even more forgiving viewers like my aunts disliked.

I don’t watch soap operas these days because I just can’t commit to any television program that regularly, but there are some evening shows that intrigue me in the same way. I’m speaking particularly about the last season of “Lost.” I’ve not been much of a Lost fan until now, but I want to know how they’re going to tie up the multiple and weird story lines in this last season. If they pull a lazy “it was all a dream,” or “we’re all dead and stuck in purgatory” ending I imagine that I will be one of furious millions. Maybe there is a genius deus ex machina out there that will explain the mystery of the island and The Others and the polar bear and the smoke. The problem is that the writers have spent the last four years adding on so many creepy characters and coincidences that I’m not sure they can ever be tied or tidied up.

I watched nearly every episode of Felicity, a show J.J. Abrams created prior to Lost. So I remember the whole last half of the last season, when Felicity went back in time and was able to start her freshman year over again just so she could choose Noel over Ben. On the very last episode of the series, after going back in time has proven to be disastrous, Felicity wakes up from a long and fitful sleep, surrounded by friends at her bedside, like Dorothy back in Kansas. If Jack on Lost wakes up from a bad dream or stares into a snow globe of a tropical scene, a la St. Elsewhere, it will not only make for bad television and an unsatisfied audience, but will be a defeat for writers everywhere. We'd better not see the sudden appearance of his evil twin, back from the dead, either, or we're likely to toss our snow globes at the TV screen.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Do we need to know who they sleep with, and what writers are really like?

A few weeks into my first English literature class in college, I raised my hand one day and naively asked the professor if D.H. Lawrence had been bisexual.

I was totally inexperienced at the time, so who was doing what and how they were doing it was of near-constant concern to me. I also thought that maybe I was the only person in the class who knew this interesting fact about D.H. Lawrence, which I had uncovered in one of my late-night wanderings in the college library. (This was also in North Carolina, at a time when no one at the college was “out.”)

Perhaps the professor had heard this question in previous classes from other equally naive young women, or perhaps I had interrupted a particularly important lecture that day (or, perhaps, he was a closeted gay man, which I would never have thought to imagine). He slammed down his notes.

“OK, Ms. Blevins, let’s just get this out of the way right now. Stand up please.”

He took up his copy of the Norton Anthology and started to thumb through it. “Lord Byron—a homosexual. Oscar Wilde—oh yes, he was homosexual. Walt Whitman—probably a bisexual.”

I started to creep back in my chair, but the professor said, “But we’re not done here. Gertrude Stein—lesbian. Ernest Hemingway—he liked women. Tennessee Williams—definitely and positively a homosexual.”

Red-faced I continued to stand while my classmates gazed at me in amusement. Until that moment, I think I had asked reasonably smart questions and perhaps they were happy to see me cut down to size; I was no longer in contention to be a teacher’s favorite.

“Is that enough? Have I satisfied your curiosity?” he said after he continued through to the end. “Now,” he said, motioning me to sit down, “has this served any real purpose other than to waste class time today?”

“Well...” I started to say that maybe it is important to know a little about the personal lives of writers just so you’ll know why they wrote what they wrote and the way they wrote it, but I stopped myself. “No sir.”

“Good,” he said. “Now let’s get back to what’s really important.”

I’ve been thinking about that embarrassing moment recently as I continue to plough through the Collected Short Stories of John Cheever. How can what’s going on in your life not affect your fiction, or the topics of your fiction?

The more you read a particular writer, the more you can often detect a theme of interest or a subject that’s gone back to again and again, however faint the repetition. With some writers, it’s easy to detect—Jane Austen never married and you can sense that ache for love and partnership in her books, especially in “Persuasion.” Kurt Vonnegut lived through the bombing of Dresden as a POW, and there’s always a sense of the absurdity and horror of life in all his books.

But I wonder about the writers whose personal lives I don’t know that much about. Alice Munro returns to the theme of infidelity over and over in her short stories and I wonder why. Should I wonder why? Will it give me any greater perception of what she is trying to convey if I find out more about why her first marriage broke up? Or does she write about infidelity (versus Austen writing about finding a good marriage) because it’s something contemporary married women have as a possibility now, whether pursued or not?

More troubling for me is the knowledge, revealed after his death, that John Cheever was a bisexual. Is that part of the reason why so many of the married men in his short stories are unhappy and feel trapped? And what about the female character in “Torch Song” who sucks the life out of men? Is that what Cheever subconsciously thought that women do to men in real life, or was it a fictional device in this one story?

I am raising my hand here, already thinking that I should put it right down and stick my nose back in my book.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Talking to myself

I usually write more when I am alone. That's when I need it more.

I crave some kind of a dialogue, no matter what circumstance I am in. And I have those dialogues on a daily basis—with my daughter as she gets ready for school, with my family at the dinner table as we share the events of our days, with my husband whispering at night when we are going to sleep.

But when I lived alone or with housemates in and out, I had only my notebook at night. And so I spoke there. I took time to write down my dreams or to explain my romantic preoccupations, trying to figure out all possible outcomes, even with men who hardly noticed me. I luxuriously wrote friends long letters by hand.

When I was even younger, living at home, I wrote towards my projected future, to my future self. I spoke to myself as my own confidant since no one around me seemed like me. I thought I had deeper thoughts than anyone else because I wrote them down—or that I had to write because my thoughts were so deep they couldn’t stay buried within me. It was a sacred sharing, which also kept me from feeling so alone and scared.

My writing now is less from immediate loneliness. I have the luxury of having a place in the world, even if my belonging is confined to the half-acre of our home. In cities and even out in this neighborhood, I’m not so sure that I really belong there, though it’s not as important to me now as it was when I was young and unanchored.

So, the question emerges, why do I still need to write? Do all writers have a soul loneliness that only writing, for some reason, can appease? Is ego always a factor, as it was when I was a teenager sitting in my room writing crappy poetry I thought the world needed to hear?

Perhaps my writing cannot evolve into fiction or publishable non-fiction until I get over the idea that I am sitting here talking to myself, until I can go beyond recording my immediate preoccupations and actions (she wrote, in her journal, an entry I'm now putting on my blog a day later). I'm not sure when something needs to be shown, when I am writing for something or someone beyond myself past, present, or future.

If I feel pressed to show this here, now, it's only because it's been a week since I've put something on this blog. The difference between a blog post and an entry in my journal, though, is that the journal entry can stop whenever—whenever the tea kettle whistles or the phone rings or someone knocks at the door. [The original journal entry ended with the paragraph above, left on an open laptop when the phone rang.] I need an ending here, and an ending is not making itself apparent. The cat is meowing to be let out and I'm starting to crave breakfast. Is that enough?

(Photograph: Self portrait, Santa Cruz, 1983. Copyright Beth Blevins)