Who Are You People?

In the past ten days, my blog has seen more traffic than it did in its first and most publicized week. Some of you Facebookers have even sent me e-love letters, and the mother of a friend has become both a dedicated reader and Joyful Things one-woman-publicist. For three days in a row, my views have broken 40! I haven’t felt this popular since my husband asked me out on our first real date.

Which brings to mind the whole concept of popularity. Popularity is tricky. It can be insidious, wonderful and distracting; empowering and crippling; fondly or bitterly remembered. It is, worst of all and no matter what, longed for (at one time or another) and painfully fleeting.

Popularity is not guaranteed, and no one seems to have a formula for it – to become a popular writer, one needs to catch the wave of a trend (and only sometimes write well); to be a popular teenager, one needs either to buck a system or buy into it – no one’s ever sure which method will work at any given moment. Popularity might be seen as shallow, but the road to greatness is unknown and unpredictable. How strange for a simple thing to be so heavily weighted.

If it had to declare citizenship, I’m sure popularity would be American. Why? Because we care. We are hurt that the United States has such a poor public image; we wonder, quietly, while reading The Economist, what might be done to increase our popularity: Leave Iraq? Save the planet? Elect Obama? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. But the world is more complex than popularity allows, and sometimes, as my mother always said, the most popular thing is not always the right thing.

But still – we covet it. I love my 40 viewers per day. I write this not even knowing if 40 viewers a day equals, in the greater blogosphere, popularity. But who cares? I am popular in my own right! My many viewers make me want to dance around the room with Claire to make her giggle, toss Ivy lots of dog treats (despite the diet she is supposed to be on), and smooch my handsome husband. We popular people, if good, always share the affection – even if our popularity is only in our own minds.

So, the next time you, whoever you are, flip from CNN.com or Facebook or The New York Times to Joyful Things, imagine me floating around my house with a giggling Claire in my arms and Ivy wagging along beside. How bizarre the life of a hopeful writer! We need so little to keep us in the keys.

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Cashing In or Selling Out?

So, I have a job interview on Friday.

As a writer, I wouldn’t normally be so jazzed about having a real job – we creative types thrive on the freedom to do whatever we like, whenever we like – but recently I’ve been seeking a little more structure.

I’ve had to ask myself how much it really matters if I write and publish my first book right now, and if it might not be better to make a little real money to slip into the gigantic tu-tu clad piggy bank in Claire’s nursery (her college fund). I’ve had to consider what it might be like to lose my writing to motherhood, versus what it might be like to lose my writing to said “real job.” I’ve had to ask myself if losing my writing is really an option at all.

As I’ve pondered these things, I’ve found I am also increasingly open to surprising alternatives: that I might become a more productive, motivated writer in the snatches of time that may still exist; that I might mother more joyfully and revel in Claire’s day-to-days more fully; that it may actually be possible to be a creative writer while living a structured life. None of these scenarios allows me to lose writing, but gives it a fuller experience in which to soak.

For these reasons, I think it wise not to slam the door on this opportunity.  One never knows what might be at hand.

The job is at a Presbyterian Seminary.  For twenty hours a week, I would be a writing instructor for Master’s degree candidates, evaluating their papers, sermons, theses, etc.  I am of the faith but I’ve never really weighed that heavily into theology.  My belief, though sound, is, like the rest of me, creatively processed and expressed.  I’m a feeler.

But what I really like about the job is that it would give me the opportunity to keep learning – something I love – and that it might open a new window in my soul. More than that, this job would put me in the middle of a place that (I think) needs someone like me.  The Christian faith badly needs clear, compassionate communicators.  And then, there is the tugging at my sleeve: I’ve been entrusted with this writing gift; in order to be a good steward of it, I am less compelled to hunker down within myself and more compelled to share what I’ve learned for the benefit of others.

There is a good possibility the Seminary will not want me, and I say that not as a means of defense or false humility but because it’s true.  In that case,  I’ll take it as a sign and get to work on a new book project. There is a YES in every NO.

Wish me luck!

My Stroke of Insight – A Book Review

My family and I are learning a lot these days, and it all seems to come back to patience. Peter is back in Atlanta now, getting stronger, but still has a journey of rehabilitation ahead of him. In the midst of this new reality, a family friend recommended Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s book My Stroke of Insight.

Insight is a memoir of sorts, but it is also a story of encouragement and enlightenment for stroke sufferers and their families. Taylor, a Harvard brain scientist who suffered a cerebral hemmorhage (much like Peter’s) when she was just 38 years old, tells the story of her stroke and recovery with odd clarity. Her recollections are, in many ways, comforting; they serve as a guide for those of us in the midst of caring for a family member who has suddenly lost skills that once required little effort. Taylor writes with an authoritative voice, not simply because she knows from experience what it is like to lose the ability to read, speak and walk, but because she is a neuroanatomist. With affectionate voice, she explains the power, plasticity and intricacy of the brain. I have never been more in awe of gray matter.

My Stroke of Insight is a reminder to everyone who interacts with stroke patients that the person they love is still in there, but maybe a little quieter, or a little more confused than usual. Taylor tells her readers how to interact with friends and loved ones recovering from a stroke, encouraging them to be positive, speak quietly and slowly, and to remember that they are interacting with someone who has been wounded but is by no means stupid or hard of hearing. Taylor’s book reminds us that life in the “real world” – or at least the world that we with normally functioning brains perceive as real – is terribly harsh; using her own experience as a backdrop, she urges us to be gentler, kinder, more humane. I can think of no better service for a book to provide.

A Bump in the Road

On Sunday afternoon, my beloved father-in-law, Peter, suffered a major stroke. I have neither the poetics nor the mental capacity to write about this right now, but if I did, I would begin by using his dog, Charlotte, as an example – she is holding steady by the door, waiting for his return – and end with a word or two about who Pete is (an artist, a philosopher, a storyteller whose wit knows no equal) and why it is essential that he get better.

Peter is one of the most consistently faithful people I know. If you are the praying sort, please shout a word or two to God for him. My 8 year old cousin, Hardin, asked God to “fix him real good.” In other words, we seek complete restoration, will power, peace, progress, and a good night’s sleep for his loved ones.

For more information on Peter’s condition, go to www.caringbridge.org/visit/peterkintz

Thank you.

Happy Birthday, Blog!

One year ago today, I sat, Indian-style, on the yellow couch in the old catch-all office with Ivy beside me, and launched this blog. A lot has changed since then. A year ago, I was still working four days a week in accounts payable, and I was just two months shy of an MFA in creative nonfiction writing. I was pregnant, but didn’t know it yet. I was worried that, after graduating from Goucher, I would have nothing to write about, and that my stuff would never get read.

I launched Words, Wanderings and Other Joyful things more for myself than anyone else. I thought a blog would help me keep writing, that it could serve as an idea-container, where I would shelve essay ideas until I had time to refine them. I didn’t suppose anyone (other than my mother and husband) would be interested in reading my random thoughts, happinesses and provocations. But a few of you were interested, and then a few more.

Now, 49 posts later, thirty good souls even get my newest posts in their email inboxes. Sometimes people search for me on WordPress – using my name or the name of the blog. Let me tell you – there’s really nothing more thrilling for a no-name writer than to see that her very strange name has been entered as a search term. Finally, according to WordPress stats, my blog has been viewed five thousand two hundred and fifty-two times. I don’t know if that is a lot or not, but it sounds pretty good for starters.

In celebration of the little blog’s birthday, I’d love to hear your thoughts on ways in which I might improve. What sort of posts do you gravitate toward? Which ones bored you? Would a more structured blog be better? (See Seymour Cornelius for an example of a structured blog.)

Now that I have such a limited time to write, I do have to be careful that the Blog doesn’t become my only literary outlet. But since it’s been so fun, I’ve got plans to keep on chugging along for another year – or more! Thanks for reading. I’ll look forward to hearing your thoughts.