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Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

tumblr_mzita5pAb01sn7wjto1_1280Last night iDaddy and I watched “20 Feet From Stardom,” a wonderful documentary about backup singers (or, as they called themselves, background singers) for pop stars like Sting, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, and the Rolling Stones. The women in the film were amazing singers, and a couple of them wanted to break out from the background and become solo successes. They made some recordings, gave some concerts, appeared on some TV shows — and then, almost to a woman, they flamed out. (The exception was Darlene Love, who, after a series of bad breaks and setbacks in her youth, finally made it big, and a couple of years ago even entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.)

Why weren’t these background singers bigger successes? They had the voices, and the yearning, and the willingness to put in the time and to work hard. The film suggested some explanations for why some made it while others didn’t: Luck. Pluck. Looking right. Sounding right. Hitting the right market niche. Getting the right record producer, the right manager, the right moment in the sun. Following up a first success with a second one; following up quickly enough.

It all sounded painfully familiar to me, a perenially midlist author forever striving for the bestseller list. Is this what happens to writers, too? Does success in publishing also depend on a series of incalculable lucky breaks? Are talent and desire never enough?

And is it time for me, at the fading end of my professional life, to start redefining what success even means?

The film was great fun to watch, especially the concert scenes, but in the end it was quite sad. It was all about fame and not-fame, about making it just when you wanted it most, and especially about deciding whether the goal is to become famous or simply to become as good as you can be. The women who tried and failed to go solo seemed happy, because they said that when it came down to it, all they really wanted to do was sing.

Now that I’m 60 — an age that, frankly, I still can’t wrap my mind around — I’m starting to think that it might be time for me to gradually, and graciously, begin handing the reins of success over to the next generation. In my case, my professional next generation includes my own literal next generation, my two daughters. In a way this complicates things; in a way it makes things easier.

I was glad that I was, by coincidence, watching the film on the very day I had gone back to posting on this blog. If the background singers can decide that all they really want to do is sing, no matter who’s listening, maybe through this revitalized blog I can see whether, in the end, all I really want to do is write, even if there’s no one there.

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Nearly three months have passed since my last post, in which I mused about whether my daughters really minded having me write about them, even on a barely-noticed, anonymous blog.  A couple of Momma Loshen’s few readers wrote to ask whether I had decided to stop the blog altogether.  In a way, I had.  If it came down to a choice between my daughters and my little blog, or even my career as a writer, there was no contest, the girls would win.

But is that really what it comes down to?  Have Meta and Nutmeg even noticed that I’m not writing here anymore?  For that matter, had they noticed that I was writing here in the first place?  Meta had, I think, since she postsed comments occasionally, but Nutmeg seemed basically uninterested in the whole enterprise.  Now, however, Nutmeg and I are thinking of entering into a joint book-writing project (Meta wanted no part of it, though I would have loved to have her help).   If the stars align — if the publishing gods come through with a decent advance — Nutmeg and I are going to have to figure out how to mix personal revelations with plain old-fashioned journalism.  So maybe I should go back to practicing some of that here.

I’ve also wondered, on and off over these past three months, whether my ideas about privacy and decorum are positively archaic.  Has the notion of self-scrutiny and confessional totally changed in the Wide World of Web 2.0.?  When I see what people, including Meta and Nutmeg, are willing to reveal about themselves online, I realize how outmoded my thinking seems to be.   Maybe I don’t really want to be left out of all the chatter — I had been having a good time nurturing this blog, and I’ve missed it.

I realize that, in some ways, blogging is so last-year, almost as out of date as the legacy-media magazines I ordinarily write for.  If I want to really understand how people are using the Web, what I have to figure out isn’t blogging, it’s microblogging.  Eh.  Maybe later; at the moment Twitter is beyond me. But I’m going to take another stab at Momma Loshen.  In doing so, I hope I can stake out a balance between being honest about myself and my relationship with my grown daughters, and being sensitive to my daughters’ right to their own stories, without my intrusive filter.  I’m going to walk this tightrope one more time, because it was kind of fun while it lasted, and we three are all adults now.  We should be able to figure out how to make this work.

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It’s been a while since I’ve posted here — I look at my blog stats and see that I had only one post in June, and before that only one post in May.  Part of this is because I’ve been working on a long magazine article that was due in mid-July, and that I’m still working on because there are (as there always are) editors’ revisions to address.  But part of this, I think, is because I’ve been a little uncertain about this whole project.   I worry that my original plan to write about mothering grown-ups, first in blog form and maybe eventually in book form, might be something that endangers my relationship with my daughters, and that I refuse to do, even for — especially for? — the sake of my career.  So that’s tempered my enthusiasm somewhat about posting on Momma Loshen.

I always knew that Meta didn’t want me to write about her anymore.  I got her permission to write this blog, not using my real name and giving her a pseudonym, before I began.  And when I thought that maybe a book about this topic would include some personal memoir-type stuff about mothering adults (and that time it WOULD be using my real name), she said only “I don’t love that.”  (“Said” is a relative term here — this conversation took place, as many of ours do, on g-chat.)  But I didn’t recognize the true feelings behind “I don’t love that” — didn’t recognize, maybe, because it was convenient for me not to — as that old bad feeling Meta used to get whenever I wrote about her, even in what I thought to be a loving way, that had led to her original prohibition.  That old bad feeling was still there.  “Don’t love” was her mature version of “hate.”  It took an in-person conversation with Nutmeg, in which I asked her directly how Meta felt about me writing a parenting book that mentioned her, to realize how angry she is at me for even considering it, after she had repeatedly made her preferences very very clear.

Nutmeg, too, it turns out, isn’t so wild about me writing about her — so there goes my Plan B, which had been to write in the preface of whatever  book I might end up writing, “I have two daughters, but the older one has prohibited me from writing about her, so in this book I’m only going to write about the younger one.”  The younger one doesn’t really like that idea, either.  And if there’s to be a memoir-ish element to a book about parenting grown-ups, I can’t fail to write about at least one of them!

I just spent a long beautiful summer morning sitting on the back deck of our house (yes, iDaddy and I just bought a second home in a sweet little beach town in Delaware) erasing traceable evidence on this blog of Nutmeg’s true identity.   I had originally chosen a different pseudonym for Nutmeg, a nickname she used to use — but I recently realized that she’s using that nickname now on her Twitter account, and her ID could easily be traced back to this blog for anyone who cared.  (Meta had pointed this out to me when I first chose the pseudonym, but Nutmeg said she didn’t care — and the original pseudonym was a better name for her than Nutmeg is.  Nutmeg is the name of her pet hamster when she was 8 years old.)  When I suggested to Nutmeg that I’d try to expunge all use of that first pseudonym on this blog, since she’s using it for Twitter, she said that would be good.  She didn’t ask me to do it directly, but I did anyway.  It took two fucking hours, but I consider it two hours well spent if it protects her from whatever scary internet privacy invasion she might have suffered because of something I’d done.

All this is a long way around today’s topic — writing about our children.

A couple of months ago, the wonderful monologuist Julia Sweeney — who’s made a career telling touching and hilarious tales about her mother, brother, daughter, priest, and anyone else in her orbit — said she wasn’t going to talk about her daughter Mulan anymore.  Mulan is now 10 years old, old enough to read or hear her mother’s stuff and to be embarrassed by it.  Sweeney figures there will only be more of that ahead, so she’s calling it quits, at least that part of her storytelling.  As she put it in her blog, “I plan to hang up my mouth.”  (I was alerted to Julia Sweeney’s blog by another wonderful blogger, Melinda Blau, a writer who, for all I know, is thinking about writing a book exactly like the one I’d like to write.  Melinda’s blog, MotherU, is a collaboration with her grown-up daughter Jennifer.  More on MotherU in another post.)

Here’s what Julia Sweeney wrote in her farewell post (it was posted in March, but I just discovered it today) that hammered it home for me:

I began to look at the darker side of telling stories about my personal life.  The guilt, the anguish, the desire to emphasize this over that, the slant, the small or large exaggeration, the worry that someone I’m talking about will see or hear me.   Then I suppose you could say the tipping point was Mulan.

Also, she expressed a concern quite apart from hurting people’s feelings, and this I found interesting, too (though less discomfiting) —  a concern about sapping your energies by writing about or pursuing the wrong things.  As Sweeney put it:

Sometimes I feel that my creativity, (and not just mine, but everyone’s creativity) is like the snow on a mountaintop melting a little at a time.  All my various outlets – performing and writing in all its manifestations — create little rivers through which the snow can melt.  I always liked having so many things going at once.  I always felt that in show business, you had to have five pots on the stove just to get one of them to boil.  I benefited from being so multi-able.  I could do voice over and then perform at a club, I could write a monologue and then write a pilot for a TV show.

But lately it feels that I have fragmented my focus with this policy.  I want the snow to melt into a couple of larger rivers, not into several smaller streams.

The idea that by blogging and journal-writing and whatever else I do, either to make a living or to procrastinate, I’m diverting my creativity that should be going to whatever the hell else it is that’s my real goal — well, that gives me pause.

Does this mean that I’m giving up ever writing again about Meta and Nutmeg, except anonymously?  I don’t know.  Does it mean I’m even giving up on writing about them anonymously, as in this little, nearly-invisible blog?  I don’t know that, either, but I don’t think so.  But like Sweeney, I’m mulling.  I’m spending the next month at our new house at the beach, here with iDaddy and occasionally with family and a couple of dear friends, and I’m mulling.

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