Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Writing About Having Nothing To Write About

Lately, I've been going through a dry spell with my writing, which is not uncommon to many writers.  “Writer’s block” is the most often-used term, and I've got it bad.  My two works-in-progress are not inspiring me, and I am struggling to come up with posts to put on this blog.  Then, this morning, it came to me.  Why not write about having nothing to write about?

Contrary to what it may appear, I don’t just dash off whatever is in my head and post it to Wicked Awesomology.  Some bloggers treat their blogs almost like a web-based diary that the public is invited to read.  Not me though.  I treat mine like a regular column that I would contribute to a newspaper or magazine.  As such, I have to strike a balance in my posts between things I want to write about and things viewers will want to read.

That awareness of audience tends to be what stymies me the most.  Back when I was teaching, I constantly stressed to my student the importance of keeping your audience at the forefront when you compose a piece of writing.  I've seen 10 year-old-boys put together ten page stories about Pokemon characters that make complete and perfect sense to them, but without background information would make virtually no sense to most other people, not to mention be of limited interest to anyone but themselves.  When choosing a topic about which to write for this blog, there are certain things I try to avoid.

Complaining:  Writing can be cathartic, and there is a great temptation to sit down and rip something a new one just to get it off my chest.  And while it may feel good to put together a piece like that, I believe that readers will only put up with it from time to time.  After all, with all the whiners in the world as it is, who wants to sit down and read more whining for entertainment?

Repetition: There is such a thing as taking a good idea and beating it to death.  I've seen the statistics on viewership of my various blog posts, and noted what type of articles has garnered the most viewers.  In general, it has been my nostalgia pieces about my childhood and teenage years.  Those posts are fun to write, and serve a personal purpose for me in preserving my memories, but are not the kind of thing I would want to write and readers would want to read every single week.  The same applies to posts about my cats and my hillbilly neighbors.  While they provide ample fodder, you can have too much of a good thing in this format.

Sports: I am a huge sports fan, but only post about them on rare occasion.  Wicked Awesomology is not a sports blog, and many of my readers are not that into sports.  Those who are may not be into the particular teams, events, or athletes that I am.  As such, there is a risk of a sports post being a complete wash for a sizable segment of my readership.  That doesn't mean I won’t write about sports.  It merely means that I am choosy about the topic.   For those readers who do not care for the Boston Red Sox, be thankful for this.

Controversy: Some people write to be provocative.  I am not one of those people.  The purpose of this blog is to entertain and also to give me a forum for flexing my writing muscles.  I stick to that focus for a simple reason: In order to attract and maintain regular readers, I need to be providing a somewhat consistent product.  Going from a gently humorous reflection on an adventure I had with my grandparents as a child in one week’s posting to a screed on the gun control debate in the next is too wild of a swing for most readers, I feel.  Of course I have plenty of personal opinions about politics and current events, and sometimes share them in person and on my Twitter account.  Only rarely will I post about politics or controversial current events on this blog, and then I will choose my words carefully so as to state my case clearly while remaining respectful of those who do not agree.  That, of course, is a lot like work, so I usually avoid those topics.

Forced humor: One thread that runs through almost every post here is humor.  I don’t set out to be humorous when I write here, but my sense of humor permeates almost every interaction I have, so it comes through.  My posts are not too different from my personal conversations in that regard.  That said, there are some times and topics that just do not lend themselves to laugh out loud comments, so I either avoid writing about the subject altogether, or give it a straight treatment.  Trying to be funny when something just isn't a funny concept is a recipe for disaster.  A related issue is sarcasm.  I’ll be the first to admit to being a sarcastic wiseass, but that rarely comes across as I would like in my writing, so I have to put the brakes on sarcasm much of the time.

These self-imposed restrictions sometimes get in the way of finding a topic for a blog post, but they help maintain the quality of my posts, so they are not a bad thing.  I’d rather post nothing than post garbage.  I've had some ideas for posts lately, to be sure, but they've often fallen into the “complaining”, “controversy” or “repetition” categories, so I've nixed putting them on here.  

So there you have it: an entire post wherein I wrote about not knowing about what to write.  I've dealt with writer’s block before, and it never lasts, for me or for anyone.   The idea fairy will come for a visit soon enough and Wicked Awesomology will get back to my version of normal.  If she doesn't come soon though, I may have to resort to a slew of crazy cat stories.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Oh Good Grief, It's Spring Charlie Brown

Charlie Brown, you're the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem.” ~Linus Van Pelt in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

If you take the word “Christmas” out of that quote and replace it with “spring”, then Linus could have been talking about me.  The snow is melting, the sun is warmer feeling, and yet I am in the midst of my annual anxieties about spring. 

My spring uncertainties are not the same as those I usually get around the holidays.  I almost wish they were.  At that time of year, I get caught up in more specific concerns: finding the right Christmas presents, finding the money to afford aforementioned presents, attending parties without making a fool of myself, making time for everyone and everything, and the like.   No, the anxieties that creep into my head around springtime are lower-level and less-pressing, but no less stressful.

Some of them are not highly defined.  When it is 35 degrees, windy, and ice pellets are falling from the sky in April, I admit that at some deep level I begin to doubt that winter is really over.  Given the five months of snow and cold that have just dragged past at the speed of continental drift, one can’t blame one’s psyche for not fully buying into the idea that it really is over.  After all, there was 1816, the “Year Without a Summer”.  Temperatures were well below normal that year all around the world due to a volcanic eruption in Indonesia causing unheard-of weather and crop failures.  There was snow in Albany, New York and Dennysville, Maine on June 6 of 1816.  Even within my lifetime, in 1990, we had more than six inches of snow fall on May 23 here in northern Maine.  Winter in Maine can be like that shark in the Jaws films.  Just when you think it’s safe, the damn thing comes back to bite you.

The general appearance of the outside in early spring is just a mess, which adds to the anxiety.  We have to pile the snow high here after storms, so while most of it has indeed melted, there are still huge dirty snowbanks in nearly every yard, slowly turning to water.  Even in a good year, some of the larger snowbanks can survive into May or early June in this part of Maine.  Trash, sticks, dog droppings and various other surprises lie around on the ground, left behind during the winter and now exposed by the melting snow. 

Where there are no snowbanks, everything is brown.  The grass and leaves have not dared to sprout yet, so the remains of last year’s dominate the view, dead and mired in the mud that is impossible to avoid.  Trees are still bare, and seeds under the ground have only begun to think about getting started.  It seems hard to believe that very soon, with some spring rains and warm sun, the green grass and leaves will soon burst forth, and flowers will be blooming.  At least, that is the plan.

One of my more specific worries this year includes the fate of my old riding lawnmower, which was literally limping toward the end of the mowing season last fall.  It had been giving me trouble all last year, and my only hope at the time was to nurse it along until the end of the season.  The old rustbucket threw a belt during the last mow in October, but it made it to the finish line.  Now I have to consider my options, none of which are good.  I can try to fix it myself, but frankly I am not very good at that kind of thing and will probably make things worse instead of better.  I could take it to get serviced, which is the most likely thing I will do, though that can be expensive, and loading a powerless riding mower onto a truck is a heavy job.  I suppose I can go without and just use my trusty push mower on the whole thing this year.  While the exercise would certainly be good for me, the extra time and work involved would be a real hassle, especially when it gets hot.  Sweating ranks right up there with cholera on my list of things to avoid.  Or, I could buy a new riding mower.  Let me know if you see the money fairy flying near my house, and I’ll flag her down and do just that.

I’m also worried about what I’ll find when I wash my car for the first time this spring.  My beloved chariot, as I refer to it, is caked in at least an inch of dirt and mud.  It has been showered with gravel and sand from driving on the interstate after storms, and was buried under snow several times this past winter.  I am bracing myself for the sight of the new dings and scratches in the paint job that I’ll uncover after that first wash.  Cars, like people, can’t stay new-looking forever, but I am going to do all I can to try to keep this car looking as close to how it did when I drove it off the lot two years ago.  I've got a bottle of touch-up paint on standby, and got a full kit of car cleaning supplies for Christmas just ready to crack open.  That chariot is going to shine, I hope.  Right now, it looks like something salvaged from the bottom of the Mississippi River, so it’s got nowhere to go but up.

My warm-weather wardrobe needs a serious update as well, since most of my best clothes from last year are really only suitable for use as rags when cleaning the aforementioned car or for dressing as a homeless person.  I've been milking them for a few years now, and they just don’t have another season left in them.  That means I need to shop for new clothes, which is easily one of my least favorite things to do.  I just don’t know what a guy my age (43, for those of you just joining us) is supposed to wear.  I do know what I am comfortable wearing however.  The former and the latter don’t always seem to coincide, unfortunately.  Plus, it’s getting harder and harder to find Nirvana tour t-shirts these days.  When I win the lottery, the first thing I am going to do is hire a professional fashion consultant.

In ancient times, the new year started in the spring, not midwinter like it does for us now.  That makes more sense to me, because a lot of what’s nagging at me at this time of year is the result of transitions, the new beginnings that are the hallmark of spring.  The old has passed, and the new lies ahead with all the uncertainty that comes with it.  All the little concerns I've mentioned here either falls under the heading of fear that the old has not really passed, or that there might be complications with the unknown new.

I know on an intellectual level that of course the hard months of winter are over and the beauty of spring is looming, but it still seems impossible at this point.  But it happens every year.  There will be robins.  There will be crocus.  There will be temperatures that allow us to leave our jackets at home.  It’s just a matter of hanging on and letting nature take its own time.