I’d gaze at my navel, but have you seen that thing?

{Back to HELP WANTED.}

A few weeks ago my aunt and uncle unsubscribed from my blog’s email updates. Which is like saying “I think you suck, and your writing does too.” Ouch. But it was fine, because I’m a grown-up. Though I may have yelled at Susan to JUST EAT YOUR DING-DANG MACARONI when she asked why I was hunched over my computer instead of coming to the table.

Self-worth comes from God, after all, not readers or comments.

But I did want to find out why they’d unsubscribed, so I’d know whether to ignore them at family reunions or to start dropping subtle hints about blogging being thicker than water.

That irresistible need to know warred with the ignorance imperative — the only thing worse than unsubscription would be for them to know that I knew about it. Or for them to feel bad that I felt like sticking my head in the oven when I found out. Still, I had to know why.

We don’t keep secrets very well in our family, so I’m not sure why I entrusted this delicate mission to my mom, beyond the fact that she could bring it up casually to my aunt. Just find out why, I said, but don’t let them know that I know. Of course it’s not a big deal, AT ALL, it’s just that I’ve been thinking about it anyway. Trying to figure out how much Spot Can Talk! and how much Equal Parenting: Neither Equal Nor Parenting and how much Molten Lava Cakes my blog should be.

People tell you to find a niche, a voice, a hook, a style, and to stick with it. This is harder than it sounds (at least it is for me — not the voice part, but the niche part). And whatever you write, the more some people like it, the more others won’t. In fact, if no one hates a post, you can probably guarantee that no one loves it either.

The great thing about blogging is that you can write whatever you want. Which is the terrible thing about blogging: you can write whatever you want. If I write a post called Awkward, Like Steve Carrell, Only Not As Funny, Carolina will say “Great post -– it’s like all my life issues intersected in your post!” and Aaron will complain that it’s “all over the place.”

Good writing is like porn. Hard to define, maybe, but you know it when you see it. And it’s like sex. You might be technically competent, or have all the working parts, but if there’s no chemistry, no catalyst to jumpstart a connection between you and your audience, you’re gonna stall.

When I asked my mom to reconnoiter the relatives for me, I was hoping she could get a feel for which sort of writing/blog would appeal to them. Not that I would ever cater to such disloyalty, but in the name of market research, I explained my Unified Theory of the Personal Blog. Which is basically that many good (mommy) blogs fall into one of four categories: Mundane Olympics, Nostalgic/Exotic, Unexpected/Humor, and Sweet Family. Which kind appeals to you?

Mundane Olympics

The original Mundane Olympics blog is Dooce. At the risk of turning into a Dooce-fan site, I am IN. AWE. Yes, I wish she wouldn’t dog on my church and use shocking! language. BUT. Anyone who can complain about a four-year old’s propensity to ask Why? without making me want to reach for a sharp implement for my own frontal lobe should just be enshrined already.

Nostalgic/Exotic

Here we have stories from places appealingly different from our own, like The Pioneer Woman‘s. Her photographs are beautiful, her recipes are mouth-watering, and her middle-child angst is endearing. But would she be taking over the world if she didn’t live on a real-life ranch in the middle of virile cowboys and wild mustangs? I wonder.

Unexpected/Humor

Two of my favorites are Bye Bye Pie and Memarie Lane, who recently warned that, as she gestates, her thoughts are turning mommy-ward. Most of her posts are wonderfully self-contained topical features and they’re often hysterical (and not in a uterus sort of way). June of Bye Bye Pie is not a mommy, except to her cats and dog, and I could read about her trips to the post office and never get bored. June usually makes the Mundane Olympics team too.

Sweet Family

Probably too many personal (mommy) blogs fall into this innocuous-sounding category. Still, blogs like Boo Mama and Big Mama are anything but blah. Instead, reading them is like curling up on the window seat with an L.M. Montgomery book and remembering that life is pretty darn good.

This was all more than Mom cared to know about the blogosphere. She nodded. Well, since we were on the phone, she made appropriate “uh-huh” noises whenever I paused for breath. So, basically, Mom, I said, find out if they’d rather I just wrote about family happenings and posted pretty pictures, or if they’re interested in book reviews and recipes and women’s issues. Please?

Mom, who had listened patiently to all my “it doesn’t matter” and “please interrogate them,” then told me that my aunt and uncle just changed email addresses. She read me their new one so I could check the feedburner email subscription list. And there, right near the top, was my aunt and uncle’s new email address.

Not that I cared, or anything.

In which I meet an icon: Dooce is about what you’d expect, as is her book

Dooce: love her or hate her (or both), you cannot deny that she does indeed live in Utah. On Thursday night, June 5th in the year of our Lord 2008, she had a book signing at a cute university bookstore in a seriously cute part of Salt Lake City. Dick and I went. We were late, just catching her in time to hear Jon ask solicitously, “Are you okay, Heather?” and to hear Heather, depressively writing her 180th inscription, “Yeah, today has been a really long day.”

Perhaps I should have brought her a caffeine-free Mountain Dew, as that is as close as I can come to a beer. Maybe next time.

Heather & Jon Armstrong w/ Dick & Jane

Notice how Dick horned in to be next to (and touching!) Dooce. Notice also how the short, chubby one was pushed to the front and therefore looks more short and chubby than strictly necessary.

I wanted to see Dooce, despite good advice to stop stalking her already. I didn’t want to have to buy her book, though. That’s what libraries are for. But we needed a Father’s Day gift for Dick’s dad anyway.

On Thursday evening I didn’t consider the book for my own dad because I worried that he wouldn’t appreciate the swearing. But the very next day I called someone a f—— a—— in my father’s presence. My brother was horrified, wanting it documented that that was the first defilement of the homestead by the f-bomb.

But Dad actually defended me, saying I was PROBABLY RIGHT. I’m sure he thought better of that later. No matter how much someone deserves to be called a f- a-, it’s just not good precedent to encourage Jane in thinking she’s right. She already knows she is, especially when it comes to derogatory nomenclature.

Things I Learned in Therapy book by Heather B. ArmstrongSpeaking of dads, fatherhood — having a dad, being a dad, being married to a dad — is an unexpected, and possibly inspired, topic for a Mommy Blogger’s first book. Heather’s essays (2 of the 17) are good. A bit disappointing if you are a faithful reader of Dooce.com, as there is very little (no?) new material. A bit impressive too, as her skill in framing a narrative, creating immediacy and urgency then deftly mixing in backstory and exposition, is just breathtaking. BREATHTAKING.

Jon’s essay about his father is troubling. I enjoy Jon’s blog, though I confess I read it rarely, and always as an accompaniment to Dooce. His essay here is a bit strained, a bit contrived, a bit forced. A bit rambling. A bit incoherent. I feel uncomfortable for him.

Being married to Heather B. Armstrong seems like as thankless a task as your basic wind-beneath-my-wings, X-could-never-do-it-without-Y role. It’s nice that the supporting role is played so well by a nice guy in this case (rather than the stereotypical nurturer-woman), but I don’t envy the pressure he must feel to produce writing as clever as hers.

things i learned about my dad (in therapy) and several initial reactions were covered well by Lauriewrites, and if you’re the type who compulsively reads the reviews on Allrecipes.com before cooking, check out the thoughtful Amazon reviews, which leaves me free to reflect on the great mystery that is successful writing.

I’ve been reading Laid-off Dad since just before he announced his divorce. In an era of seemingly-easily-disposed-of marriages, his anguish at succumbing to divorce, as a last resort, is immensely appealing and heart-wrenching. So I want to love his essay, I want to love every word that comes out of his mouth/pen/computer. And yet, his essay? A letter to his sons about the last summer before their family breaks irrevocably? It’s all over the place, with a genealogical section both baffling and distracting. 

It makes me wonder if writers reach a certain point of immunity from narrative flow. And if they do, probably it shouldn’t be before their first solo book is a bestseller.

I do love that LOD is emotionally candid about his divorce. His description of not-fighting in front of the kids as “two people ensnared in a fit of furious quiet,” “screaming in stage whispers,” is fantastic, and his ability to hope, while still in the acrimonious middle, that at some point mom and dad will be more amicable is a triumph of heart over instinct.

Then I read probably the most profane essay in the book, Peas and Domestic Tranquility, and I wanted to sit down Dick and my dad and his dad and Dick’s dad and my brother who will be a dad someday and every other dad and mother I ever knew and read aloud to them every profanity-laced sentence. I want to quote the entire thing here, but that might violate some copyright or other. Greg Knauss posted an excerpt on his own blog, though, so you can read a bit before running out later tonight to get the book for yourself.

His dissection of family dinnertime is so freakin’ spot-on that I will worship at the fount of his RSS feed for the rest of time. His essay is also organized, with what might even be called a thesis or road map: “Here’s what I’ve found that sets me off: disobedience, lying, and rudeness.” How deliciously un-p.c. and old-fashioned. Let’s here it for some basic, unquestioning-for-once-in-your-life obedience! On lying, he says:

If anything crystallizes the Pyrrhic victories of fatherhood, it’s the fact that my fondest wish is for hooligans instead of sociopaths.  . . . the lying bothers me . . . because I see my own weaknesses and failures in it. Lying is about not having the confidence to defend what you’ve done. Lying is about weaseling out of the consequences of your actions. I was a liar because it seemed easier.

I get angry at my kids for lying because now I know it’s not.

It’s a neat trick to inspire me to try to do better as a parent. I can read Love and Logic for Girl Children Aged 1-7, or Dr. Sear’s Discipline Book, but honestly, that kind of measured, well-meant drivel can make me want to match my three-year old tantrum for tantrum. Why do I have to be the adult? Why do I have to take the knees to the head and the screeches to the ear and the food spit out on the floor with a cheerful smile and maybe a lame time-out?

Somehow, Greg Knauss’s essay (and now the posts I have stayed-up-too-late to catch up on) are outrageously entertaining AND instructive. He understands, and informs me: 1) Why I do what I do, 2) Why my kids do what they do, and 3) That I am not alone in wanting my kids to just SIT. DOWN. FOR. DINNER. And (in the case of my girls) SIT UP STRAIGHT SO I CAN’T SEE YOUR PANTIES. DANG IT. 

What’s more, and most incredible, he makes me feel actual desire to be a better parent. I know what I should do. Making me feel inclined to do it is another thing entirely.


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Embrace the Frump, I always say, UPDATED

fightfrumpbutton_2.jpgFun as it is to abbreviate the Fight the Frump carnival as F the F, I can’t in all good conscience aspire to fighting the frump. I’m much more inclined to embrace the frump, and after much soul-searching perusal of others’ F the F posts, I’ve figured out why. Specifically, this post by The Queen Mum, the gist of which is that women who choose to fight the frump should not be dissuaded by bitter jealous frumpies who might think that you think that you’re better than them.

Because they know you are better than them, if you fight the frump. Hey, I resent resemble that.

I love Fussy‘s tagline, “We can’t both look good. It’s me or the house.” Because there’s nothing better than another good reason to ignore the house. But I have to take it a step further and tell you that it’s me (my appearance) or me (my brain), and if you could see the state of my marbles, you’d agree that I should spend 110% of my energy trying to fight that battle. So here’s to embracing the frump, with fond hopes that someday I’ll think straight enough to get to how I look.

Seriously, though (and I can be serious, with all that energy directed mentally), I think the reason I embrace the frump is because I’m afraid not to. If I obviously look like I’m not trying, then who knows? I might be gorgeous. I might look like Liv Tyler on a good day, and the only reason you’ll never know is because I love my flip-flops and exercise pants beyond reason. Better to leave you in suspense than to get myself dolled up and remove all doubt.

And while I’m telling you how much I’m glad to have met Fussy internetally, I have a confession. I’m Jane, and besides all the other great blogs I love, I’m a Dooce-aholic. I love Dooce, who is also loved by Fussy and Bossy. If they (Fussy and Bossy) don’t know I exist, and Dooce doesn’t know that they exist, if a tree falls in the internet, do I exist?

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Update

Ok, I’m a dork. That was probably obvious, but here’s why I’m specifically a dork today. I wrote this for Fight the Frump two weeks ago, but got it done on what might be called “Saturday” instead of “Friday,” but only by those picky enough to think of midnight as the cutoff. This is why (I tell myself) it didn’t get any notice from the other Fussy carnival-ers. I felt so bad, I took it down. I know, Dork. So here it is again. Giving it one last chance. And if nobody still doesn’t like it (?), I’ll somehow think up a real Fight the Frump tip for next week. Even if I have to go get a makeover.