Sunday, April 09, 2006
Fred is a bona-fide, word-splitting, bowtie-wearing, British-loving English professor.
My email to Fred announcing the creation of this blog provoked a swift response comprising two single-spaced pages of corrections -- pretty impressive, considering my blog at that point consisted of one page. These corrections came with a personal note, "I will never stop being a g. d. teacher!"
The speed of his response imparted an urgency that I be spared any further embarrassment. I must have sensed this because I dropped what I was doing to make changes.
My subsequent posts evoked a similar flurry of corrections and suggestions. Again, each of these missives bore signs of having been hastily written -- densely-packed paragraphs in lower case with numerous misspellings. Again, I dropped everything to make changes.
Now, these are corrections from a man who has spent most of his life studying, teaching, and writing about the written word at one of the country's most prestigious colleges. He packed classrooms with thousands of appreciative students over the years and gave many of them, including me, their love of Shakespeare, Yeats, and e e cummings.
The corrections on average have exceeded the length of my posts by a factor of two. In the face of such compelling evidence of my inadequacy, I should probably throw in the towel and give the dog a badly needed bath.
But, as I have only four readers -- each of whom are intimately aware of my inadequacies -- the risk of public humiliation is not all that great. Besides, I have already learned a lot from his corrections.
I guess I'll never stop being a g.d. student.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
If there is going to be a blog on any particular day, it begins in the early hours of the morning with a recurring dream in which I am trying to find a toilet. Usually I am in a public place like a hotel or a college dormitory, or in a large rambling house with seemingly hundreds of rooms and lots of guests. Bathroom after bathroom is out of order, closed, crowded, or exposed to the view of remarkably rude people. Eventually, I wake up around 4:00 AM with an urgent need.
With any luck I will make it to the toilet in time, relieve myself, return to bed, and fall back to sleep within a couple minutes. But if an idea for a post forms in my mind during those crucial two minutes, I'm screwed. It will start writing itself in my mind, over and over and over. There is nothing for it then but to rise and attempt a stealthy transit downstairs to my home office.
That's not as easy as it sounds. For one thing, my wife Jena is an incredibly light sleeper. If I wake her up -- and I always do -- she will try to engage me in conversation. It's an instinct. But I have learned that if I do not respond she will give up, fall back to sleep, and forget about the whole thing. My 10-year-old twin boys, on the other hand, have an unshakable belief that if they wake up in the middle of the night they will never be able to get back to sleep, and they must instantly inform their mother about their predicament.
Second, and notwithstanding numerous handyman ministrations, there isn't a door, floorboard, or stair in the entire house that will perform its function without a emitting an emphatic CRACK. The only way to get downstairs to my home office without rousing the entire household is to step, CRACK, wait..., step, CRACK, wait..., all the way down the hallway and the stairs. Alternately, immediately after exiting our bedroom, I can climb onto the handrail -- which fortunately is rather broad and solidly constructed -- crawl down the length of it for about 15 feet, then slip over the side midway onto the stairs for a final step, CRACK, wait... down the remaining stairs to my office.
It usually works. And as a result I am fully awake and ready to blog by the time I get to my office by 4:15 AM.
On a successful morning, I will have a post published by the time my wife IM's me up to breakfast. (IM is geek-speak for Instant Messenger, a technology for sending messages instantly from one computer to another. Teenagers have been doing it all their lives. Others of us are starting to catch on.)
The rest of the process is straightforward, unless I screw up. On the grounds that nobody is going to read it besides Jena and my friends Larry and Fred, I rashly publish the post, ask my wife to read it, and send an email to Fred asking for his edits. Fred usually responds within the hour and I make the edits, so that by the time Larry gets around to seeing it in his blog-reader, it is ready for reading.
That wasn't always my process. Last Friday, I learned that Jena's reading and Fred's comments are essential steps in my editorial process. If she laughs, it is good to go. If she says, "I don't get it," then it's in the trash. Fred is my failsafe. He protects me from lapses in Jena's judgment and more subtle forms of embarrassment.
I learned this hard way on Friday when I published a post spoofing the idea that I was a serious author who had just finished my masterpiece, The Ginger Trilogy, then lapsed into serious depression and drank my way out of it, all in my Walter Mitty-ish imagination. I had a grand time writing it. But when Jena read it, instead of bursting into the expected peals of laughter, she said simply, "I don't get it."
I should have listened. But I was so convinced it was good stuff that I went ahead and published it anyway, and to further exacerbate matters, I emailed lots of other friends about it, which I had never done before. I worked happily the rest of the day, immensely pleased with my latest creation and awaiting emails of appreciation from a new host of readers. There were none.
Late that afternoon, Wilbur weighed in with WHY LOSE YOUR MEMORY? and STAY MENTALLY SHARP. Rattled, I sent a query to Larry. "I don't get it either," came the reply. Desperate, I made a final appeal to Fred who, as an English professor, was sure to get it. Then came his reply: "I will answer right away, although I have not finished sending my edits to your previous posts. My immediate reaction was this is a considerable let-down..."
The beauty of blogging relative to other forms of publication is that you can obliterate your embarrassments in a matter of seconds. As far as I know, there is no permanent record of it anywhere.
So, if you were to say I wrote a terrible post last Friday, I would say you must have imagined it. After all, my word is as good as yours.