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« Notes on What It's Like Being a Boss | Main | Robert Siodmak »

February 09, 2005

Personal Reflections

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Friedrich's musings on being a boss got me thinking about blogs. Great vehicles though they are for blowing off steam about the morning headlines, they're just as fabulous for reflections about personal experience.

I'm generally annoyed by book-length memoirs, on the grounds of "If I know you, sure, maybe I'll be interested. But otherwise your life better make for a mighty good story, otherwise why exactly should you expect me to care?"

These days, though, I often find myself fascinated by bloggers who pause to think out loud about some of what they've lived through. Honesty, the personal touch, modesty -- what's not to enjoy? (And what's not to respect?) The one-of-a-kind OuterLife may be the premier personal-reflections-blogger out there; he's got his own distinctive -- quirky and eccentric -- voice and vision, and he uses blogging like no one else around.

So these days, I find myself thinking that maybe my aversion to book-length memoirs has more to do with their book-length than it does with their being memoirs. Hey, an art-and-culture discovery, at least for me.

I've run across some powerful and very personal blog postings recently that I imagine other blogsurfers would enjoy. Alexandra Ceely writes about what it was like to lose her mom. John Emerson thinks out loud about what it's like to be one of life's marginal people. And Lynn Sislo yaks -- in her sweet and frank way -- about that dicey topic, race.



posted by Michael at February 9, 2005


On blogs as personal reflections:
This is the beginning of a recent post of one of LJ-users,*pepel* (abridged version), in my hasty translation:

"Blogwrighting, with all its convenience, remains a tool for lazy exhibitionists.

Frankly, I’m a very lazy exhibitionist, I’m reluctant even to get out to the park, to whirl my coat around, I prefer comfy chair and a computer. It gives me illusion of private space in a big world, even if everybody sees me. I hide behind the screen glass like behind window pane, and you’ll read about me only what I want to show. On the other hand, I can’t lie, so all you know about me is true; well at least I’m not alone in this vice.

We have numerous other roles in life, besides being bloggers. And our real world flows into our virtual one.
Our parents read our journals in the morning, drinking coffee and than call us protesting loudly our exposing family secrets – or offer some dow till next payday.
Our exes read our blogs in the evenings, sipping whiskey, gloating – wow how bad she looks after all these years and how sorry she is she left me for that jerk. Our lovers’exes read our blogs at lunch, over salad and feel sorry for us, for black-and-blues on our innocent brow left by same rakes we stepped on as did they, in their time. Our children’s fathers read us rarely, to rejoice how nicely everything ended – for them. We read our own blogs to find ourselves. And after our daily fires turn into embers, our children will read us – read and hate us for declaring our love to them publicly but never whispering about it to their ears."

I can continue translating, if you're interested...

Posted by: Tatyana on February 9, 2005 1:01 PM

Tatyana---Interesting, if a bit Saul Bellowish. The line about "...whispering it in their ears" is quite touching.

John Emerson---I don't think he's marginal, or at least not for the reasons he gives! I don't actually know him. He seems to have had good taste. I imagine if he had really wanted to be Paul Wolfowitz, he would have done some things differently. What I'm always amazed by is how many of the ultimately "powerful" crossed paths so early in life---all this networking and signalling and winking. It's like spyware---all this junk going on under the surface that so many of us don't even know about, where the real decisions are made! Who could have known that a summer camp for the gifted in 1963 was where the seeds were planted for Iraq?

Alexandra---my mother also died of cancer, and I agree with her. Nothing romantic there. "Love Story" and "Terms of Endearment" didn't get it right at all.

Posted by: annette on February 9, 2005 3:47 PM

I like book-length memoirs, but I don't much like personal blogs. Hmmm... why? I don't really want to follow the day-to-day happenings in some random stranger's life. Even if they lead a fairly interesting life, there's just no coherence to it. Conversely, with memoir, the author has had a chance to step back and consider the significance of some portion of his/her life, to build a real story out of it.

Of course I may be biased: I've written a memoir (as yet unpublished).

Posted by: dave munger on February 9, 2005 3:47 PM

PS---Read David Niven's "The Moon's A Balloon" if you want a fascinating book-length memoir. But part of it is that Niven really understood what made an interesting story and told it well. He didn't focus on the boring parts...he told the great parts, and the funny parts. Maybe most people are just better at being interesting in shorter prose.

Posted by: annette on February 9, 2005 3:50 PM

Annette - I haven't read Saul Bellow (should I?) and I doubt the author even heard of him - but thanks! [btw, in the part about fathers the ending of the sentence " ...for them; and in search of our children photos" was ommitted by error]
Dave - that's exactly the reason I prefer blogs to memoirs. Author didn't have a chance to do heavy editing yet, only primary selection of daily episodes, and has no idea what the all-encompassing idea should be; it's a raw material for 100 memoirs, if you will, all different.

Posted by: Tatyana on February 9, 2005 4:21 PM

Tatyana -- "Lazy exhibitionism," that's very good. That's by a Russian, no? It's got that Russian mix of woe and melancholy and humor anyway.

Annette -- It is striking how many of Those Who Make It already seem to know each other upon their first arrival in the world, isn't it? Certainly many of today's media elite met up in college, or at least knew others who knew others who ... I wonder if it's as true today as it was a few decades ago. Things do seem a bit more open, but maybe I'm kidding myself...

Dave -- Some of the personal blogs do drivel on, don't they? But a personal posting by someone like Lynn Sislo is something to be treasured. Congrats on your memoir, by the way, and good luck with it. Are book-length memoirs still relatively hot items in the publishing world? I've kinda lost track.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 9, 2005 4:39 PM

Yeah, freemasons are everywhere! And secret handshakes.

Depends what you call Russian, Michael. Pepel writes in Russian and lives in Israel...

Posted by: Tatyana on February 9, 2005 5:12 PM

Sorry, premature clicking syndrome again -

*Pepel got 146 comments on this [extended]post; could it be she hit close to home?
Remarkable, for someone born @1978...

Posted by: Tatyana on February 9, 2005 5:28 PM


I agree that there can be some amazing *individual* personal blog posts, and even some amazing personal blogs (aren't all blogs somewhat personal?). They're just not something I seek out. I suspect you might find the same thing to be true with memoir -- for instance, Jesse Lee Kerchevel's _Space_ covers some of the same issues as Lynn Sislo's blog post, in the context of the rise of the U.S. space program in central Florida.

I don't know that memoirs are as hot as they were a few years ago, with _Angela's Ashes_ and all that excitement, but none of the rejection letters I've gotten so far have given me the "memoirs are so 1997" line.

Posted by: dave munger on February 10, 2005 6:25 AM

John Emerson seems to have made his peace with being marginal. I agree with him that the essence of the marginal type is not caring enough to make the effort to....of course, that may just be a rationalization for laziness. But some people are born indifferent. Interesting that he mentions Bukowski, who wrote a whole poem about not caring enough - "I didn't care" - to pursue a woman or clean his apartment or even change a line in a poem. An aside: I think that Bukowski's not caring is a bit of a pose. The true marginal type doesn't make the sustained effort he made to...make it.

I'm a marginal type. But I haven't made my peace with it. A woman I knew - and desired - once called me marginal. It hurt! But it's true (because it's true). So Emerson's further down the road on this than I am. Shameful exhibitionism (one more aspect of being marginal).

Posted by: ricpic on February 10, 2005 1:29 PM

Should have been -- shameless exhibitionism.

Posted by: ricpic on February 10, 2005 1:32 PM


The ultimate marginal type: Oblomov.

Posted by: ricpic on February 10, 2005 2:12 PM

Oblomov could AFFORD to be a marginal type, which effectively disqualifies him as a genuine representative.

A propos funding - this reminds me (could my strength be in finding associations, too, like Michael's?) of that ijcbrand's phrase:

The best moment of my life was when I decided I didn't want to have a boss, but didn't want to be one either.

Posted by: Tatyana on February 10, 2005 3:16 PM

At peace? No, I get drunk and curse a lot. But not all the time.

Oblomov was not intended as a role madel. Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener or Kafka's Hunger Artist work better. Or various characters from Beckett.

Posted by: John Emerson on February 10, 2005 3:41 PM

Or many of the characters in "Slacker," maybe 10 or 30 years down the line.

Living where the living's relatively cheap sure makes being marginal a lot easier. I don't think there are too many semi-contented, interesting and marginal people in Manhattan any longer, at least who have their own apartments and aren't living on the streets.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 10, 2005 3:51 PM

I'm not big on memoires or biographies at all. I never think I will enjoy reading someone's post about their personal lives, but I often do. I only recently discovered Outer Life and I am continually surprised at how much I enjoy reading it.

For myself, I'm always a little nervous about posting about my life. My first thought is - Who really cares? But then I try to remember that there is always someone out there who will find it interesting. In the case of my mother, it was something I really needed to talk about, and I figured there might be one or two people who would be able to nod knowingly and feel a small sense of connection. It feels good to have that, especially when it's from complete strangers. It means we share something in common.

Posted by: Alexandra on February 10, 2005 3:54 PM

Michael, if I ever have a blog of my own, remind me to write about all very interesting marginal Manhattan residents I personally cross paths with.
I mentioned some of them to the little circle at PF's place:

-Lucia, Brazilian x-balerina at 28, scrambling for cash to open her tiny handbag boutique. (meat-packing district)
-Annette, generously proportioned opera singer of Polish descent, divorcing her Jewish violinist husband over their mutual lover - his female personal secretary (upper east side)
- former UN diplomat from Nigeria, sweeping floors in Kramer flower shop (futons of his friends all over the city)
- from same shop - Arthur, middleage homosexual, person of strict principles: he lost all teeth and didn't want to replace them ("what's gone, gone"), had 7 cats and 5 TV sets, one per room (all found on the street), had same exact breakfast from same exact bodega @ Trinity Place for 15 years - bialy, Coke and stinky brown More cigarette (project around the base of Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan side). Arthur, highlight of my days @Kramer's...

Etc, etc....

Posted by: Tatyana on February 10, 2005 5:25 PM

Thanks for the link and the flattering words.

"lazy exhibitionist" -- That's definitely me. When I started my first blog, way back in the early spring of 2002, having only the vaguest idea of what a blog is. I intended for it to be my soapbox. I would write opinions about current events and preachy little pieces about what I think is wrong in the world. But it has turned out to be much different from what I originally expected. On days when I had nothing to write I would just link to stuff that I found interesting just so people wouldn't be disappointed when they came and found nothing new. That was so easy to do, I started doing it more and more often and now I do more linking than writing. Some days it's almost a burden. I feel driven to post something - anything - even though I feel uninspired. But mostly the blog is fun and I'm glad it's there just in case I do have something to say.

Posted by: Lynn S on February 10, 2005 7:54 PM

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