Blogging continues to be a nebulous concept for me, namely because I don’t like following rules when there are no established rules to break. As a technical writer, I was taught that “you cannot break the rules until you know them.” As a poet, I wasn’t taught anything but to pay attention to rhythms, as if I were holding a stethoscope up to the chest of my verbal acumen.
We’ve all read those endless lists of “blogging tips,” provided by “experts” in “the field.” I’m not sure what that “field” would be, exactly, since, to me, blogging was born with this universal premise that there wasn’t a template for this thing we now call a blog— a hybrid name derived from web log, hence blog.
A personal blog is a bit of a paradox then, isn’t it? The mere fact that we journal online—in this public space where anyone can peruse the archives of our private lives—seems narcissistic and a little unsure of ourselves at the same time, as if we cannot decide if we want to put on makeup and stand on stage under the hot lights or hide in a closet somewhere in a pair of sweatpants.
So why do I continue to blog? I could ask why Steinbeck wrote Grapes of Wrath, or why Ray Bradbury thought it was important to write a critique on censorship with his signature novel about book burning, or why, at 16, John Kennedy Toole wrote his version of To Kill a Mockingbird, but slipped it into a desk drawer to be discovered posthumously by his mother, who was oblivious to the fact that some day it would be the title to a heavily political album. Yes, I could.
But here’s my writerly answer: Because books and letters continue to be the most accurate records of our existence. As humans, there is nothing more or less than poetry, oral history. As poets, there is nothing more or less than music, metaphor, marvel. Nothing more than these commas, and periods I carefully place before you. And as modern humans, nothing more than just another monkey with a blog.
Whether I write about my life or Pablo Neruda’s life, there is nothing more than this blog post, right now. Whether or not I deny the existence of a formatting toolbar, kitchen sink, or co-opted font, I write to make a record, to mark my X on the papyrus, to tell a story. I write because it is all I know how to do, and do very well, apparently.
Recently, various friends and readers have made the following comments about my writing (none of which are in any particular order):
“My god, you can write!!”
“Got a pulse to it”
“So much talent for such a small person”
“You’ve got what it takes…”
In my twenties, I would’ve agreed with all of those blushworthy compliments. Now that I’m older, I feel more like a classy penguin, or a clumsy teenager tanning in the snow. I am not here as a genius or to showcase my talents.
I am here to make history. And perhaps to re-make it. I’m here to write it all down, maybe put some background music to it, as I navigate my way through this thing we have named without knowing what it will name us.
Thursday marked the two-year anniversary of my father’s death. He died under a tree somewhere in northern Alabama, preparing to set up a deer stand. A hunting buddy found him, sitting there, as expressionless as ever, frozen in time.
I remember the call, my mother’s broken voice on the other end, “Ashley, I have some bad news…” She needn’t finish her sentence. I knew. He had been sick since his first heart attack—a major one that required open heart surgery and subsequent years of doctors telling him to take better care of himself.
I was home alone, as I am tonight. Tiffany was three hours away in southern Vermont. It was Tuesday, my day off. I had been listening to one of my favorite self-titled albums, over and over again, gently moving about the house, navigating the cracks and crevices that would become as familiar to me as the chime of the grandfather clock that still marks the time, one quarter-hour after another, in my mother’s great room.
I could hear its half-hour tune in the background when she said, “Your daddy died today.” She had not referred to my father as my “daddy” in years. It was a tender gesture, one that I’m still only beginning to fully recognize for its brevity. I didn’t know what to say.
What could I say? I’m sorry? Sorry that, what? Sorry that he wasn’t the man any of us wanted or needed him to be? Sorry the government drafted him into a war that screwed up every man of his generation? Sorry that he died, alone, under a tree, without saying a word, or any of the words we all wanted to hear from him over a lifetime?
I don’t remember what I said. But it didn’t resemble any sort of apology or regret. I think I asked her if she needed me to come home, which sounds silly to me now. At the time, I suppose I was probably trying to be pragmatic about the whole thing. Or maybe I was just in shock that the inevitable had actually arrived, on a boring Tuesday, under a plain old sycamore, beneath a gray, cloudless sky.
The weekend after I broke my collar bone, Steve came to Burlington for a short visit. We laughed so much that I thought I would re-injure my shoulder. Steve couldn’t stop laughing at my photo essay from the 7th grade, which included the picture of my dad, dressed in his plaid flannel shirt and jeans, pulling my sister and me on a makeshift sled—which he’d apparently pieced together from a cardboard box and some rope.
I suppose seeing a picture of a fully-bearded man dressed as a lumberjack, pulling his two daughters around in two inches of snow in Alabama, would appear to be oddly humorous to an outsider. And I suppose one could argue that I had an epic childhood, filled with the kind of haunting experiences only William Faulkner could write about.
I am not Faulkner, however, and I only write about my childhood in sporadic attempts to reclaim it. But Steve asked me if he could use the image as an impetus for a story loosely based on my relationship with my father, tentatively titled, Bama Sledding.
“Sure, why not?” I said. So Steve wrote a 15-page short story about “Julia,” all of which was derived from that single, blurry image of my father standing next to me piled on top of my sister and a piece of cardboard, flying down the driveway, on our makeshift lives…
(the following is a self-edited excerpt from the final paragraphs of Steve’s original story)
Julia and her father walked as far as they could up the street. Julia noticed a few of the neighbors peering at them from their living room windows. Her father placed the piece of cardboard on the street, covered by two inches of snow, at most. She lay down on top of the cardboard, and her father pushed her. She went nowhere. Her father pushed her again. Again, she went nowhere. She started to cry. “Hold on. Hold on,” her father said, as he moved to the front of the sled and grabbed the rope. Her father wrapped the rope around his hand and held it tight and he started to run. He ran and ran and ran, and Julia slid behind him on her cardboard sled, the fingertips of her mittens holding the edges the entire way. When they got to the end of the street, her father was breathing heavily and Julia was giggling and could not stop. “Let’s do it again, daddy!” Her father leaned over and placed his hands on his knees, still breathing hard, and looked at her with the same serious brown eyes that he had passed down to her. “Julia,” he said, “This is what you call ‘Bama sledding!” and he grabbed the rope and took off running down the street like a quarterback still in his prime, daughter in tow.