Saturday, April 28, 2012

Bird by Bird

I tried to start a blog once before and failed. Like my flirtation with hot yoga and cigarettes, blogging seemed like a good thing to try, but not worthy of commitment. Why would anyone really want to read about what was on my mind, I asked myself. I've kept a journal pretty consistently since the late 1990s, and I feel sorry for my children whenever some one other than me comes across those ramblings. While I enjoy the act of keeping a private journal, I'd like to develop as a writer whose work, if I am lucky, is read by other people. I hope that this blog will be a place to practice writing short interesting pieces on history, popular culture, politics, art, books, news, my always entertaining children, and life in twenty-first century America.

I've always wanted to be a writer. I have even published a few articles in anthologies on Civil Rights and Black Power Movement history, and, if all goes well, I will have a book on Brooklyn, New York's Civil Rights Movement coming out in 2013. But other than colleagues and maybe a handful of college students and other academics, I am not sure if many people read those pieces. I don't think my mother has even reads my academic work. My wife read my dissertation, but that was before we were married and parents. She probably pitied me and wanted to do everything possible to help me get out of graduate school, which would certainly make me more marriageable. Nowadays, I'd rather we spent time laughing about our kids, or at each other, than picking apart my writing. My longest friend read my book manuscript. We've known each other for almost twenty years, and if he wasn't such a history buff, I'd say he read it out of obligation: we've now been friends through girlfriend break ups, our children's births, his divorce and deployments to war zones, my movement to Maine. Reading my book was just another way he's supported me in good times and bad. While it would be nice for others to read what I write, the act of writing consistently and clearly is something I want more than fans and critics.

Which brings me to the subject of this first post. Anne Lamott's fantastic book, Bird by Bird is one of the funniest, most moving, and inspirational books on writing and writers, and who we are that I've ever ready. Did I say, we? I guess I did, because unlike other style guides and writing primers that I've consulted over the years, Lamott's book convinces me, with humor and compassion, that its the consistent decision to write that makes a person a writer. Whether or not a writer's work is published, or even read, is not the point. The point is that we write, every day, just for the sake of writing, because we have something to say, because if we don't, we get cranky and irritable, and even when we do, we can be cranky and irritable, but when we write and the writing goes well its better than any high.  Of course, I want recognition, "whatever that mudder-fuckin word means," as Piri Thomas wrote. But more than recognition, I want to work to write something beautiful or powerful, or sometimes I'll just settle for coherent. Anne Lamott reminds me that this pursuit is not only good, but necessary.

So I will try to blog every day. I will still keep a journal, because that is a place where I can write in private. And I will still work to write academic articles and books. But this blog will be a place to write thought pieces on everything and anything with a general audience in mind. No one may read these blog posts, and if someone happens to have started this, and made it to the end, thanks. You may really like Lamott's excellent book. And I also hope you will read another post on this blog.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a Lamott fan too. My favorite piece of advice from Bird by Bird is not to be afraid to write shitty first drafts. I admire your pledge to write. Since I started my blog, I've been worse about writing in my personal journal. Unless I'm under a close deadline, blogging has actually helped my book writing, like a warm up exercise.