Blank Slate

You may think that the title of this post refers to the sprawling unwritten year of 2011. Actually, it refers to my brain.

Every so often, I fear that my next column is going to be like a Seinfeld episode – essentially, about nothing, because that’s what comes to my mind. Occasionally I’ll get inspired, whether by celebrities passing or memories popping, but sometimes – like now – my mind is a holiday-deadened ball of mush. Imagine the gelatinous gunk a CSI coroner pulls out of a just-discovered, long-dead corpse, and you’ll get the idea.

What a lovely holiday image.

Traditionally, as the year begins, columnists write about their new-year resolutions. I don’t make new-year resolutions. I figure, as a Boomer, this is as fully baked as I’m going to get. If I want to resolve to do something new – which I don’t – I would first have to remember if I already made that resolution, what the outcome was, and whether I really want to try it again. That process lasts until February, by which time it’s too late for a new-year resolution, because the year is one-twelfth over.

What’s worse about having a blank brain is that, gratifyingly, I’m beginning to see signs of total strangers reading my blog. It’s nice that my immediate family members, people from church, and former colleagues have asked to be on my mailing list. But I’m starting to see little notes from WordPress that people whose e-mail addresses I don’t recognize are subscribing. I’m getting comments from people I don’t know. I’m glad you’re all here, but  the pressure to be funny/insightful/philosophical just builds until I enter the stage known in the business world as “paralysis by analysis.”

I stare at the monitor and wonder: Is this funny? Will this resonate? Is it too soon to get more coffee?

There’s a columnist in the San Francisco Chronicle named Jon Carroll who does what I do, only better. I’ve always been jealous of Carroll because he got to edit my dream magazine in the ’70s, a super-regional publication called New West. I’m not so jealous of him now – I’m just in awe. Five days a week, he writes a personal column, talking about everything from San Francisco politics to his cats Pancho and Bucket to bizarre newspaper stories. Granted, as a high-profile columnist, people frequently send him stories, and that helps him fill space. Still – I’m amazed that his brain hasn’t exploded.

I would love it if my brain were that creative, or at least that facile. On the other hand, I retain the vivid memory of the time, when I was freshman in college, one of my classmates repeated what our English professor had said to her about me. “Howard’s a very slick writer,” she quoted him as saying. “It isn’t until you get to the end of one of his essays that you realize he hasn’t said anything.”

Clearly, I haven’t lost my touch.

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About middleagecranky

The Middle-Age Cranky blog is written by baby boomer Howard Baldwin, who finds the world, while occasionally wondrous, increasingly aggravating.
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6 Responses to Blank Slate

  1. Thoroughly Entertained in Midwest says:

    I’ve been reading your column every Monday morning for so long now I no longer remember how I initially stumbled across it. I LOVE IT! As a fellow boomer, albeit midwestern, a lot of your comments resonate with me. I laughed out loud at this week’s (1/17/2011) entry as it is the single reason I have not started my own blog, fear of the lack of consistent ideas (not to mention lack of readers – not sure even my family would bother). PLEASE keep writing.
    Respectfully Yours,
    Thoroughly entertained in the Midwest!

    • Thanks for the kind words, TEIM. Here are some suggestions about starting a blog.

      It’s best to have a theme, because it gives you a consistent starting point. If you’re unsure of a theme, just start jotting down ideas. I’ll bet a theme begins to emerge. (Be sure to also give yourself permission to occasionally diverge from the theme, just to give yourself a little vacation; case in point, I blogged a few months ago about how one of our cats wormed his way into our hearts — definitely not within the cranky realm.)

      Give yourself flexibility in regard to length. You don’t have to write a tome. Professionals believe that blog entries should range from 300 to 750 words; I try to never do less than 500 or more than 1,000. Give yourself permission to post a 250-word anecdote if you want (appox. 3 paragraphs). Do, however, be consistent about posting, because readers expect that from columnists and other periodicials. And if you find yourself not enjoying it, give yourself permission to stop. I speak from experience — writing is hard enough when you’re being paid for it; if you’re doing it for free and not getting anything out of it, stop hitting yourself over the head (it will feel better).

      Finally, spread the word. Put your blog URL in your e-mail signature, and post links to your blog on Facebook or LinkedIn. Good luck!

  2. SR Newman says:

    He’s admitted reading to the end of your essays, so it’s not true that you didn’t write anything! If you’ve engaged a professional writer from start to finish, then you’ve done your job. And if you pull a Seinfeld every now and then….with the same rewards… that would be okay, too!

  3. Faith R says:

    I disagree with that professor, Howard. Your posts are frequently (OK, not always) thought provoking. Keep it up, please.

  4. Judit Sarossy says:

    Are you telling us that you are human too? I think that is awesome. I like your style.

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