Little writing brain cookers (or, why I got off Facebook)

I looked at the calendar today and realized that if I didn’t sit down and trip to the blog fantastic, I would go all of May without an entry. I know, alert the media. But here in the last days of the month, it finally seemed time to blather on about some sort of writing hoo-ha.

Well, the good news is I am writing. Of the fiction variety. The semester ended in early May, and after a few days of sleeping for 12 hours straight and a marathon binge of movies/TV and mountains of fro yo, I turned my focus to that book thing I’m working on.

Which reminds me: after AWP this year (which I did not attend, somewhat blissfully), my dear friend MG sent me this little number through the ol’ mail (courtesy of those ever hip folks at 826 Valencia):

It is? Hey, thanks, Postcard!

I love a good postcard pep talk. I love postcards, period. I love the mystery of the mailbox. I always sort of hold my breath when I open that sticky metal hinged door: what’s waiting in there for me? I guess email is the fancy, modern-day version of the mailbox: click on your email program, and it beeps at you. Hmm. This reminds me, weirdly, of my years as a bartender, when drunken patrons would wink, leer, whistle, or heaven forbid, snap their fingers to get a drink. Finger-snappers. I don’t know what to say about this, except, OH MY GOD. DON’T.

Which also reminds me: At the end of the semester, I said to Facebook, Hey Facebook, get the beep out of my face. (If anyone’s a finger-snapper, it’s that Facebook. Also, it’s certainly a non-tipper and probably will also ask to speak to your manager at some point).  How weird and complicated it’s become to get unplugged for awhile. Will actual friends think I “defriended” them? Will people be able to find me? And what does it say about me that I want them to? What about those ever-important writing contacts? Do I “announce” this departure, as I announce everything else: in a “status update”? And, oh no, what will happen to my “web presence”?

I finally answered those questions this way: Eff that noise, Chancellor. Sit your buns down and write. TW and I took the plunge together and signed off, which is lovely. We actually sit down in the living room together for long stretches without interruption. No desire to go “check.” Nothing to check. Except email beeps (see: finger-snappers). I also am limiting those checks to twice a day. As a friend says, folks can take an old, cold tater and wait.

Aside from the distraction/time suck of the Intertubes, something else has bothered me about how FB infiltrated my thought process. When something would strike me as funny, or I would observe something noteworthy out there in the world, I would begin to compose an “update.” To announce it on “my” page. Forget for a moment that I would then check repeatedly about who “liked” it or commented about it, neurotic little soul that I am; on its own, that impulse to announce strikes me as detrimental — to my fiction-writing process.

Once upon a time, back when we had this hilarious thing called “privacy,” I would take those bits of humor and observation and write them down in my notebook, or on a scrap of paper, or on my palm. I didn’t tell anyone about them. In other words, I would keep them to myself, and for myself. Those little bits, time and again, would become part of my writing work. By writing them down, I would add them to– for lack of a better description– my little writing brain cooker, and it would clank and hiss and steam for awhile, until voila, those bits would emerge, transformed and glistening, into something I could use in a story. It’s perhaps the closest thing to alchemy that I will ever experience. It’s one of my favorite things ever about being a writer, how my brain, seemingly without any help from me, does this strange, wondrous thing.

So why in the world would I want to mess that up by instead taking those bits and  flinging them like table scraps into a chattering morass (which, coincidentally, is monitoring me for advertising purposes) in the hopes that someone will “like” it? I guess it’s arguable that a status update is a kind of writing it down, thereby igniting the little writing brain cooker, but something about making it public deflates or diffuses the energy of it for me. Counter-intuitively, once it’s visible to everyone, I forget about it. It’s out of my hands.

By the way, I know that it’s terribly ironic that I am writing about being unplugged and keeping to myself while typing on a public blog. For this I offer you Whitman: “Do I contradict myself?/Very well then, I contradict myself,/(I am large, I contain multitudes).” (Also, from the same poem, one of my very favorite lines of all time: “I depart as air,/ I shake my white locks at the runaway sun”). And anyway, hardly anyone reads this so-called blog. I think of this place as me, standing in a near-empty 7-Eleven parking lot and hollering like a madwoman at people as they zip on by. A few folks pull in for a Big Gulp on a whim. To them I say, Thanks. And, do you have some change for bus fare?

Hells bells, Mary, what was the point of all of this? When all else fails, end with a quote. That’s what my freshmen tell me. Well, let’s stick this sucker on then. It’s from Ron Carlson, and it’s an actual snippet, a bit that I clipped and saved years ago, yellowed and stained and taped in my notebook. I give it to you here, dear Big Gulping non-finger-snappers, because by now, I know it by heart.

Poor old Derek.

Happy summer, and happy writing. May all of our little brain cookers fire on all cylinders.

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7 comments

  1. You are so right about status updates draining creative thought. I hadn’t thought about it like that before. It’s almost like coming up with a great screenplay, but settling for a thirty second commercial spot that only gets aired once.
    Now please excuse me. I need my Big Gulp.

  2. So you probably have no idea that Nicole Kidman peed on Zac (sic) Efron. Dude…the chick peed on his leg. For art.

  3. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. (Not Nicole Kidman peeing…that’s a constant. The thinking, not the peeing.) I don’t like how my brain works when it’s around all these instant gratification technological wonders. So I’m trying to amend my ways. Don’t have TV anymore, although I watch stuff online. Maybe I’m more selective? I don’t know. Still get sucked into FB, but I try to only post pictures of things I cook (check out my killer banana pudding) or random songs that I think will make people sad. I think that’s subversive. In my mind it is. When my old flip phone, which used to be so cool, dies, I’ll probably just not have a phone anymore. If I have to have one, it won’t be something that can connect me to clouds or friendsters or groupons or opentables or foursquares or likes/dislikes or mad birds.

    My blog feels ancient but I still like to post things there. I like the 7-11 parking lot theory. I was just thinking, hey, blogging is like driving 40 mph on the highway, oblivious to all the speedy people, maybe toe-tapping to some Journey. I think I’m an internet grandpa. I’m certainly going on and on about this, like grandpas do. The world these days! I tell ya! When I was a kid all we had were paper clips and we pretended those were rocketships and they flew us to Toledo, because back then Toledo was exotic.

    Anyway, good luck with summer writing and non-technological fun. I’m happy to have found this particular little parking lot.

    1. Dear Grandpa Moody,
      Toledo will *always* be exotic.

      We’re off the TV teet, too, and switched to online. You’re right, more selective. I may go back to FB in the fall, with that same policy of limited posting/reading. In the meantime, I enjoy the hell out of your blog. I pull up alongside your slow-moving — I’m going to say Rambler — on the freeway and give a wave. I meant to comment on your wasp entry awhile back to tell you that I cracked up when I saw you tagged it as “Pets.”

      Happy writing to you, too. Keep on truckin’ in the slow lane. I’m right behind you. 🙂
      B

      1. We should have “keep on truckin'” t-shirts made. Except that would just seem like Just Another Ironic T-shirt and limit their effectiveness.

        Karate Wasp is still out there. I think we’ve settled on a truce.

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