A Review and Resolutions

When I was preparing my best books of 2008 list, I did something I’d never done before, which was to read back over the entire year’s blog posts. It’s one of the (many) advantages of blogging that you get an actual account of the year, not one transformed by the distorting mirrors of memory. And it seemed to me that the year was split into two parts; January to June was a time of creativity, expansion, exciting change, June to December a time of retrenchment, reflection, uncertainty and, in all honesty, a little disillusionment. The year began so well for me, writing-wise, in both academic and freelance arenas, but from summer onwards that spark fizzled out after my health scare knocked me for six. Every magazine article I’ve ever read suggests that a brush with mortality results in a renewed taste for life and a fiercer gratitude for its sweetness, but all I felt was that the things that mattered to me suddenly seemed tremendously fragile and fraught with unreliability. I struggled to find excitement for my goals and just felt perverse as well as deflated.

And what did I learn from all this? That what doesn’t kill you doesn’t always make you stronger, and that my creativity is bound up completely, entirely, with my emotional frame of mind. What a bummer. Still, knowledge and insight are always useful, even if they tell you things you didn’t particularly want to know. What interests me for 2009 is finding ways to allow the routine banality of life to carry me through difficult moments. When I was feeling all rubbed up the wrong way existentially, there was indeed something soothing about what good old Camus termed ‘the tender indifference’ of the world. As I get older, I find myself increasingly intrigued by the mundane, the quiet, the unobtrusive and their variety of subtle nuances.

So much for the year. As for the blog, I felt that it suffered a bit from heading into its third year of existence. Blogs are glorious love affairs to begin with, all heady excitement and obsession with statistics, but once the infatuation wears off, it’s the usual problem of how to make a life together that remains. I rather think we took one another for granted, made a bit less effort than was necessary, stopped having special occasions together and made do with hastily snatched moments. When I looked back over the posts I was surprised a) how long they had become and b) how much personal stuff got put into them. So much for this being a book blog site! Every third post was some sort of state of the union chez Litlove. I was also given some eye-opening perspective on my writing voice. One site that linked to one of my motherhood chapters did so by calling it ‘brain-grinding stuff’, which gave me pause for thought. For some unknown reason, about that time a link I’d never seen before, although it dated from the previous year, popped up on my dashboard from a reader who had written a really lovely and laudatory account of the blog but said she couldn’t visit often as it was too ‘overwhelming’ intellectually. Aw shucks, and here was me thinking I churned out the same old nonsense time and again. But it’s good to have clear directions for next year. In 2009 I want to make a big effort to wrestle my posts back to a more reasonable length, concision is a virtue after all, and to make my style clearer and less intellectual. I’ve always maintained that anyone can understand any idea if it’s presented with sufficient clarity, and the fault of incomprehension always lies with the writer.

But most of all I want to make good use of this site. It began as a training ground for writing and has always been just fabulous for that purpose, when I’ve remembered to bear it in mind. I don’t expect ever again in my life to be fortunate enough to have such a clever, respectful, engaged and just plain lovely audience at my disposal, and that means ensuring enough nurturing goes on here to make it worth your while to keep turning up. If I’m going to make a go of non-fiction writing, then I need to practice all kinds of things: entertainment, lucidity of ideas, good anecdotes and examples, concise but interesting overviews.

Oh and I really need to practice shorter paragraphs. That’s long overdue.

Where this blog has been the greatest boon, in 2008 as in previous years, is in the community I’ve found here, the friendships I’ve made and the feedback I’ve received. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to you all for your continued support and attention. Your voices have sustained me through the darkest points in the year and given me so much to laugh about and marvel at on all the other days. I’ve found so much sympathy and recognition and encouragement in your comments, as well as so many enlivening ideas and insights and possibilities. You deserve in return the very best blog posts I can give you; that’s kind of a work in progress. In the meantime, I suggest a group hug and warmest, heartfelt wishes for a peaceful, productive and joyous virtual 2009.

Matrimony giveaway to take place later on today!

16 thoughts on “A Review and Resolutions

  1. Golly Litlove, I want to say don’t ever change because I really enjoy every post you write, but I understand what you mean. Don’t let the brain-grinding and intellectually overwhelming comments put you too far off though. I’ve had links and comments from people worried that because I read Emerson I’m too snobby or intellectual. A few were surprised that it wasn’t the case, others I am sure were turned off. I worried about it a little but then I decided not to because everyone has an audience and I can’t please all the people all the time so the only one I needed to truly please was myself.

    Hugs to you and best wishes for a 2009 filled with good health, creativity, and excellent reading!

  2. Happy New Year from Sydney, darling. Remember, one person’s overwhelming brain-grind is another’s light mental snack. You are never less than comprehensible, comprehensive and comprehending. And the only resolution 2009 demands is an answerphone festooned with garlic😎

  3. I have thoroughly enjoyed the past year, getting to know you Litlove. I understand what you mean, about starting out a book review blog and ending up being very personal at times. I think that is the beauty of blogging. You could write reviews for a newspaper or mag, and never have any interaction with your readers. Blogging is such a safe way to have relationships (we have all discussed our lack of interest in social obligations) and it is such an interesting way to have discourse with people you otherwise would never speak with. I am often astonished when I see a picture of a blogging pal – I think: ‘I would never stop to talk to that person in the grocery store, because…….’

    As far as clarity, length, and brain-grinding….. definitely no “same old nonsense” here. There was some brain-grinding, for me, however!

    So here is wishing you a Happy New Year, Litlove. I hope in this year your muse is inspired, you enjoy contentment, good health, and felicity (and concision!).

  4. Well, I second Stefanie’s comment – it’s your intellectual bite that makes your blog so appealing! What I love (as one who shares many of your thoughts on motherhood, school-gate mentality, etc) is that very combination of everywoman concerns with the life of the mind. It’s harder to find outside a circle of close old friends than many might imagine, especially if you’re not part of a university community or great literary community.

    Thank you for all your insight, for renewing my faith that there are exacting readers who see further than the same old hype in the literary review sections, and your fantastic recommendations. I loved the subtlety and elegance of William Maxwell’s The Chateau, as did my husband, a confirmed Francophile. Drusilla Modjeska’s The Orchard was also a lovely, thought-provoking discovery from here. And I’ve just enjoyed Rosy Thornton’s Hearts and Minds too – how do you both manage all that college work and write too??!

    A Happy – and healthy – New Year to you.

  5. Stephanie is quite right of course, as usual.

    You’re not alone in finding creativity contingent upon emotional well-being. It’s all about space, as you know better than I.

    Don’t lose sight of one important fact in amongst those inevitable highs and lows of optimism and inspiration. When reading all those posts you were in the company of a remarkable writer.

    Best wishes for a very happy and inspiring New Year.

  6. I second the comments about not changing because of one or two comments from those not so able or eager to keep up. Let the B students find some other blog to read. Just be yourself, Litlove; that’s who I’ve come to know, and want to read. I also like long paragraphs. Of course, you know best what you’d like to do with your blog, and I’ll be happily reading you however it looks. Best, JB.

  7. Happy New Year Litlove!

    Personally I don’t find your blog brain-grinding or intellectually overwhelming and always enjoy your posts. Striving for clarity is a commendable aim though, and reminded me of Orwell’s Politics and the English Language. His five rules might help:

    ” i. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
    ii. Never use a long word where a short word will do.
    iii. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
    iv. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
    v. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
    vi. Break any of those rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”

  8. Litlove–
    Please keep writing whatever is on your mind. I actually come to visit mostly for what you share about your personal life (and how these interweave with your reading/thinking.)

    I too feel more fragile after a brush with morality. I used to think that I could control and pretty much shape my life given my own good will, good thinking, good heart. Now I know that these are actually my tools and consolations in a world full of change and some jeopardy.

    I visit often, and am gladdened to find you here.
    –op

  9. Well, I love your blog exactly as it is! I agree with the others that the intellectually-minded writing here is a pleasure to read. It may not be for everybody, but that’s fine. And I love the personal posts too. But basically wherever you want to take the blog will be great, and I’ll enjoy reading it no matter what. I’m so glad you’re blogging.

  10. Litlove, whatever direction you take your blog in, I will gladly follow along. Yours is one of a handful of blogs that I continued to visit faithfully over the past year, when I had otherwise almost entirely dropped out of the blogging universe. With respect to my own blog, I’ve only got as far as resolving to post more often in 2009. But reading your post has prompted me to think a bit more deeply about where I am in my blog evolution, why I’m doing it now, what I want it to be or to do. Grappling a bit with those questions is likely the only way I’ll regain some consistency in the endeavour.

  11. This falls into the ‘what they said’ category of feedback, I’m afraid, but Litlove, I too believe the truest voice you can write is your own. Like you, I took up blogging as a discipline of production, and one of the things I find so liberating about this form is that it allows a writer’s voice such free reign. If readers don’t like a particular blog, they won’t return, and the blogger is largely none the wiser. I have very little idea who reads my blog, only that some people do and seem prepared to continue, and that’s encouragement enough to keep writing the way I happen to. You can only be the writer you are – I hope you find that notion as freeing as I do – but your voice gets clearer all the time.

    Happy New Year! Here’s to so much more great reading and writing in 2009. x

  12. Litlove – my blog will be three in the Spring and when I look back I am amazedthat I have kept it going. Sometimes I also read back at what I posted months/years ago and find it really funny and amusing to see what I was doing/thinking at that time. It is the best way of keeping a daily journal that I can think of. I try and throw all sorts of things into Random, not only books but my trips to the opera and theatre, disasters at home, the joys of commuting and anything else I can think of. In fact, random is a real indulgance. Where else can you write down what you want and think without some body marking your essay or arguing with you? It is sheer bliss and the friends I have made and the comments recieved are simply wonderful.

    Happy blogging to you and all other fellow bloggers for 2009

  13. Litlove, I always feel enriched by your writing about books and life, and the meeting of the two within your own personal spehere. I also enjoy the intersection of life and art as it pertains to the reader and whatever’s being read. I think it adds freshness to the reader’s perspective, as it does to the writer’s during the actual writing of a piece.

    I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on words and the world in 2009! May your new year be filled with all things bright and beautiful🙂

  14. Stefanie – you are such a wise person, and such an experienced blogger. I can imagine those Emerson comments and I can also imagine what I would say to you if you’d posted about having received them. And it bears a distinct resemblance to your own encouragement! I do want to please my audience, very much so, but I agree that I’ll only do that if I’ve pleased myself first. And big hugs back with thanks for your lovely wishes. I’m storing them up for the year. Dear Fugitive – a very, very happy and healthy 2009 to you, too. You do make me laugh so much with your comments. I am shopping for garlic right away🙂 Qugrainne – it’s been wonderful getting to know you, too. I agree that the breadth of relationships one makes blogging is amazing, but I always think that the impetus is some little moment of solidarity – shared work backgrounds (as in our case), even shared opinions on a book. It’s that beautiful mix of similarity and difference that I enjoy so much. So many people have said just this past week that they read the blog for the personal posts – and I think I have such a quiet life! But it’s getting to know other people that forges the connection, as you say. Here’s wishing you a contented, productive 2009 too! Deborah – a very, very happy 2009 to you and I’m so glad you commented. And thank you for such a lovely comment, one I’m cherishing. I remember my first job out of university and being terrified my brain would atrophy – at which point I headed straight back to graduate life! And I clung to my PhD in motherhood as the place where I felt most like me, still, all of which is to say I am so familiar with the longing to mix some sort of thought into the daily grind that I’m not surprised if it surfaces here. I’m also delighted if you’ve been enjoying some of the books I’ve written about; it makes it all worthwhile. To be honest, writing has definitely suffered a bit these past few months due to college work, but blogging is where I find the motivation to write in the first place, thanks to meeting people like yourself. Lokesh – what a lovely comment – really, thank you so much. It does mean a lot to me. And I do agree – Stefanie is always right! Here’s to finding plenty of space in 2009. JB – now, whenever you come across a really long paragraph, you must say to yourself, ah Litlove wrote that specially for me. Thank you for such wonderful words of encouragement. Devoted Reader – thank you so much for the Orwell quotation! That’s just perfect and such good advice. You remind me that Orwell was a particularly gifted non-fiction writer and that I should dig out something by him. And thank you also for the vote of encouragement – I do worry about being too intellectual so it helps a lot to know you don’t find it so. A very, very happy 2009 to you, too!

  15. Lisa – thank you so much! And a very happy 2009 to you as well! Openpalm – I am always so happy to have you comment. Several people have said this week, by coincidence, that they read for the personal posts, which is interesting for me as I tend to think of them as the fillers. But it is getting to know people in the blogworld that makes all the difference, isn’t it? I like what you say about tools and consolation as you remind me that even without control, there is management, and if we’re obliged to abandon hope of the first, we can still take some comfort from the other. Here’s wishing you a gentle year, one of serenity and contentment. Dorothy – oh bless you, my friend, for such a lovely comment. I always think about the way we started blogging within a few weeks of each other and how we have had very similar experiences in universities. It’s been meeting people like you that has made blogging so very valuable to me. Kate – I really treasure your words, thank you. And I had indeed noticed that you hadn’t been around lately. I really do hope you’ll be back and blogging more in 2009 as I miss you. I’m thinking a lot at the moment about what to actually do to make sure I have the time and space I need for the things I want to achieve, and it is by no means easy. But there has to be a solution, right? And where there’s a will, there is always a way. Doctordi – I am so happy to have found your blog, as I love your voice in it. Blogs are such great ways of exploring a voice and seeing what you can do with it, and generally I love their unobtrusiveness. No one’s obliged to be here, so being here is worth a great deal. I’m looking forward to getting to know you better in 2009! Elaine – no really, three years old too? My goodness how the time flies. I really enjoy the eclectic mix of topics over at Random Jottings, and have a particular fondness for your posts that mention the horrors of the A12, as they are near to my heart. Oh and the ones where you take on grumpy neighbours! Here’s to another year’s lovely blogging! Becca – you really do write the most graceful of comments – thank you for those lovely words. I’m rereading what you said about intersections because I can feel what interests me so much clearer when other people say it! And thank you for the new years wishes – I’m saving them up like gifts from a fairy godmother🙂

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