Archive for the ‘Bloggity’ Category

day four: sidebar and salt

January 4, 2017 @ 3:53 pm | Filed under: ,

jumble of books

1.

In addition to the household Fresh Start cleaning spree, the New Year always means an overhaul of my sidebar here on the blog. It begins with the year’s reading log, which must be transferred from sidebar to its own page. (In 2016 I got smart and started the page early—but then Cybils overtook my reading life and the page remains, as my sidebar note says, about thirty books behind. Perhaps more like 27 today. I’m getting there, book by book.) The empty space under the current year’s heading always drives me crazy until I’ve finished a book. Lots of years, I find time on January 1st to read a short children’s novel—last year it was Miss Happiness and Miss Flower—just so I can remove the placeholder text and enter an actual book title. I roll my eyes at myself while doing it, but I do it all the same.

Except I haven’t done it this year. Too busy sparking joy with every book in the house. I’m reading Cat’s Cradle, because I never have and Scott asked me to. 🙂 We often slide each other reading requests, wanting our frames of reference to be shared as much as possible. When Jane was a newborn, Scott would read aloud to me while I nursed her. We started with some childhood favorites the other had missed—The Great Brain (his); Harriet the Spy (mine). (You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Scott’s Ole Golly, let me tell you.)

Cat’s Cradle isn’t a long book, but this week’s pattern of cleaning frenzy in the morning and brain-work in the afternoon has left me too tired to make it through more than a few pages when I hit the pillow at night. So the gap remains.

2.

The reading log is my sidebar equivalent of Flylady’s shiny sink. Once it’s been updated for the year, I have to start moving other things around. As the year’s book log grows longer, it throws columns off balance. I rearrange things and in January have to arrange them back. Which leads to a reassessment of what else is occupying space there. I’ve nixed some bits this year, tried to make the informational bits up top more compact so you get to the part that contains actual content—the recent comment widget and the “Caught My Eye” links—more quickly. I let the links section slide a bit during Cybils season, but I’m planning to use it more actively now, entering short remarks on the shared links so that section is more like a mini-blog within the blog. I know from your comments in the past that some of you do click through to see if I’ve added new links, which makes me so happy. 🙂 I’m glad you find them useful or interesting.

I’ve found a way to add links to this section directly from Feedly—very convenient! But I have to go in manually to add commentary.

3.

At the bottom of my sidebar you’ll find a new addition: a “Blogging Like It’s 2005” blogroll. Yes, a blogroll—seriously old-school! This is the fruit of a conversation on my Facebook page. I asked my FB friends questions whether they still read blogs, and if so, do they use a feed reader like Feedly or Bloglovin, or do they rely on social media for notifications of new posts. I was surprised to discover that almost everyone who answered said they pretty much just click through on links from Facebook or Twitter.

It gives me the shivers to think of relying on the caprices of Facebook to find out if blogs I love have new content up. I will forever mourn Google Reader, but Feedly does the job pretty well for me—and has some nifty post-sharing functionality that comes in quite handy, as I mentioned above.

But I seem to be in the minority. Now, until this conversation I was posting my own blog links on FB only sporadically, because 1) I hesitate to spam my friends’ feeds with my own content; and 2) Facebook’s tricksy algorithms have a way of downgrading your updates if they too frequently contain links to the same website. Which means there’s no guarantee your friends will see your new post links, even if you do put ’em on FB.

But that’s fine, now that I know people prefer to see blog updates in their newsfeed, I’m happy to comply. And I have to say I’ve been thrilled by all the discussion happening in the comment box this week—thank you all for taking the time! 🙂

Well, as I said, this FB conversation led to a burst of wistful reminiscing about the lively blog community of old. A few of us decided to try to revive the spirit of those days by posting more often, more chattily, and by making an effort to comment on one another’s blogs. Thus the new blogroll. Let me know if you’d like to be included.

4.

Today’s picture book: well, so far we’ve only read Hedgie’s Surprise again. (“Because I love it so much!” Huck pleaded.) But I found Jan Brett’s The Wild Christmas Reindeer mixed in with non-Christmas books (so we missed it), and I think since we’re on a Brett kick, it’s what I’ll read tonight. I did begin The Firelings last night, by the way. Huck had played outside all day and fell asleep two pages in. And today I happened upon The Minstrel in the Tower, which is a nice short readaloud that I haven’t done with this set. I’m contemplating holding off on Firelings for now.

5.

I’d like to start sharing thoughts on some of the Cybils nominees I read this fall. To begin with, here’s the blurb I wrote for one of our finalists, a beautiful historical novel called Salt to the Sea.

As the Nazi Reich collapses and the Soviet army sweeps across the East Prussian countryside in the winter of 1945, three young refugees find themselves thrown together among the crowds of desperate, uprooted travellers. The distinctive voices and histories of Joana (“the nurse”), Florian (“the knight”), and Emilia (“the Polish girl”)—each guarding painful secrets—create a harrowing picture of the lives thrown into tumult by the war. A fourth narrative voice, the self-aggrandizing declarations of a young Nazi soldier named Alfred, adds an unsettling counterpoint to the narrative. The fates of the four narrators will converge at the doomed MV Wilhelm Gustloff, a German ship targeted by Russian submarines. Ruta Sepetys brings authenticity and heart to this moving, gorgeously realized work of historical fiction.

It’s hard to pull off good historical fiction, and even harder (in my opinion) to manage multiple narrative voices gracefully. Sepetys excels at both endeavors. Her characters have lodged in my heart—particularly the old shoemaker, whom you’ll meet on the road. Highly, highly recommended.

6.

I’ve been so busy this week, I haven’t had time to explore the other Cybils categories. We always try to read as many finalists as we can, especially the picture books! Time to fill up my library cart…

Enter Title Here

December 2, 2016 @ 11:45 am | Filed under:

Y’all, I miss posting here SO MUCH! It’s not that I don’t have anything to say. It’s that I’m crunched for time. I keep starting posts that I can’t finish. My drafts folder is comical.

draftslist

That’s right, FOUR HUNDRED AND NINETY-THREE posts in drafts. That’s just silly. I start posts and never get back to finish them. This is when blog becomes more like scratchpad.

That “family album” was a solid idea: I had a plan to collect all my Instagram pics and funny kid comments into one big roundup post each month. Guess I didn’t finish the September roundup and never got back to it.

A lot of drafts languish for want of links and images (like the skincare/sunscreen one in that list, which I do hope to finish soon and will probably publish on Glittersquid). Other, like the Weird School post, are waiting for a reasonable chunk of time so I can put some brain into the writing. (Huck loves those books, is the summary. Subplot: when I asked him what was weird about the school, he said, “Actually, I’m not sure, since I’ve never been to school.” At the time, he had the book open to a page featuring a flying teacher in a superhero cape.)

I know I have a repeated theme here where I talk about how I’m getting hampered by the process of polishing up my posts, adding nice images, etc etc etc. I’ll vow to blog freehand but then when I sit down to write, I’ll think: this would be so much more useful for people if I added links…and that, friends, is how you wind up with a drafts pile nearly 500 posts deep. I mean, I’m even doing it here! Took the extra two minutes to look up and link to that old post—which contains a resolution to “blog lightly, without the sense of pressure and polish that rules the rest of my writing life.” I wrote that in 2014. Some lessons come dropping slow.

Well, I know better than to make resolutions. But I do mean to try to finish up some of those drafts. And the advice I gave myself in 2014—blog first, blog fresh, blog lightly—is really quite sound. One of these days I should start listening to me. 😉

Blog Odds and Ends

September 1, 2016 @ 6:56 pm | Filed under: ,

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Several of you have written to ask how to subscribe to my Paper.li newsletter (my curated links, similar to the ones I share in the “Caught My Eye” part of the sidebar here). I had mentioned you could receive it via email, but it turns out that option is no longer available for free Paper.li accounts like mine. Sorry for the misinformation! Best way to follow it is, I guess, to look for the link on my Twitter each Monday. Or just pop over here to peruse the sidebar.

Also in the sidebar, as you know, is my running booklist. This year I’ve broken it into sections: what I’m reading myself; what I’m reading to the kids (well, sort of—I’m only listing the novels because tracking all the picture book and nonfiction readalouds would be a full-time job); and audiobooks.

Every January, I move all the year’s books out of the sidebar onto their own dedicated Booklog page. This year I’m ahead of the game and have set up the page already. If you prefer a more visual approach to booklists (cover photos), here’s that link.

But it, too, is missing the picture books, comics, folk and fairy tale collections, nonfiction, and poetry that make up such a large segment of our literary diet. I’ve been inconsistent at logging those books in a format that others can view. This fall I’m making another stab at tracking our picture-book readalouds via Goodreads. Takes a lot less time than putting together a post! If I can stick with the practice long enough to make it a habit, I’ll think about adding our nonfiction and poetry picks as well.

random blog topics

May 4, 2016 @ 9:03 am | Filed under:

sketching washi

Guys, I need you to help me get back in the groove. 🙂 Where did my daily blogging mojo go? How about you hit me with some topic suggestions in the comments. Doesn’t have to be kidlit or homeschooling related. Any old thing you’d like to hear me yap about. Sort of like one of those Instagram daily drawing challenges. What’ll it be?

(As I write this, I’m reminded of five or six advice-seeking emails that have been awaiting replies from me for way too long. Embarrassingly long. A lot of the questions in those emails would make good post topics, but a thoughtful response takes time, and time is what I’m short on. But some quick off-the-cuff remarks on subjects you suggest here—surely I can swing that.)

year twelve

February 25, 2016 @ 2:30 pm | Filed under: , ,

san diego blue

My last post was February SECOND? For real? I don’t think I’ve gone three weeks without blogging since the summer of 2005 when Wonderboy had an unexpected surgery. Even when we moved cross-country and I spent weeks on the road alone with four little kids and an infant, I found time to toss up some short updates. It’s not that I’m busier, really—although I am seriously busy. But I was busy then too. It’s about daily rhythm and habit. I used to start the writing part of my day with a 20-minute blog entry. For years and years, that was my transition from homeschooling mom to working writer. It worked beeyootifully for nearly eleven years: spend the day with the kids, then write about the kids for a bit, and I’d be in writing mode and ready to work.

We rearranged our schedule last…summer? spring? Instead of one big six-hour block of work (writing) time, I now have a four-hour block in the afternoon, then an hour or two off for dinner and whatnot, then back at work from 7:30-9:30. When we made this shift, which has worked out well in many respects, I started reserving the evening block for blogging and various busywork tasks—paying bills, updating the website, answering emails, and so forth. I tried to save the last 30 minutes for sketching, and for the most part I’ve been successful with that. But the reality is that I need more than four hours a day for writing-work. So after dinner instead of blogging, I’ve been doing the other kinds of writing and editing that make up my workday. I’ll blog at the end, I think, and then…don’t. I’ve filled up three and a half sketchbooks, though, which feels good. I understand that I needed to take this time, need to keep taking it, to develop a sketchbook practice. I spent way too many years wishing I could draw instead of learning to draw, and I’m glad I’ve put in the effort these past 18 months. A year from now, ten years from now, I know I’ll be grateful I cultivated the habit.

Ah, but I miss Bonny Glen. The chronicle, the discussions, the community. I miss blogging and reading blogs (because that too has slipped to an occasional activity). I miss you guys!

Okay, now I’m laughing because I’m making it sound like I haven’t blogged in YEARS instead of a few weeks. When you’ve done something on a near-daily basis for over a decade, it’s reasonable to take a little vacation. 🙂 It just wasn’t planned, is all. This morning I was thinking about how quickly one habit (blogging daily) can be replaced by another (not blogging). I didn’t even think about writing a post yesterday, and today that fact startled me. My habits have shifted when I wasn’t paying attention. Sneaky little things, habits.

I’ve tried a few strategies for rebuilding the blog habit, this past year, like the weekly roundups of our reading. But those cross over into work territory, and I can’t have that. This blog must be the antithesis of work: no pressure, no obligation, just chronicle and fun. I’m greedy for that chronicle, though! I don’t want three weeks to become three months, three years. In three years, Huck will be ten, Rilla twelve, Wonderboy FIFTEEN, for Pete’s sake. (I just gave myself a heart attack. And holy cats does that boy need a new blog name.)

Well, the timing is good for me to revisit my approach, since I need to dig into my archives here anyway…I’m mining our past for good stuff I did with my older set when they were little. Today was a vintage Bonny Glen morning: first Rilla gave Huck an impromptu piano lesson and played chords to his melody (“I’m learning how to sight-see, Mom”); then a quick Michael’s run for 2-for-1 sketchbooks plus another 20% off—jackpot! Then home where we messed around on Google Maps for a while (they “drove” via street view all the way from our house to piano class); then a geocaching excursion and another two finds logged. Home again, where they made scrambled eggs for lunch. Now she’s reading Warriors and he’s reading Calvin & Hobbes. A lovely low-tide day for my littles. Beanie is off on an all-day field to the Gem Institute in Carlsbad. I have a full deck this afternoon (boy, do I ever) and I ought to get started. But this was good. Let’s do this again.

In which I am interviewed about this here blog

November 6, 2015 @ 2:22 pm | Filed under:

I’m all smiles today because I had the fun of being interviewed about blogging by Lesley Austin. Her questions were wonderfully thought-provoking and set me musing about how to rearrange my days to allow the daily blogging I maintained for so many years. I miss it! Lesley’s questions helped me hone on on what has shifted in my daily rhythm so that I’m blogging less often than I used to.

lesley austin interview

Lesley’s site is so lovely—it was a real treat to see my words on her beautiful page. And I was really moved by the photos she chose from my archives—some of my particular favorites, and some moments I’d already forgotten.

Here’s a tidbit:

How do you think your own way of connecting and being in the world influences your blogging?

I think I was made for sharing neat stuff. 🙂 Scott and I have a joke about my superpower being enthusiasm. For me, full enjoyment of a thing (book, game, app, article, website) comes only when I get to talk about it with other people. I think that’s why I took to blogging so readily, and why I’ve stuck with it for so long—it’s been a place I can always jump to to say “Ooh look at this awesome thing I found.” I’m a magpie, a curator. 🙂 I think all my internet spaces reflect that urge—I share links all over the place.

You can read the rest here. And do visit the other posts in her series of interviews-about-blogging:

a conversation about blogging with Sarah

a conversation about blogging with Jane

Thank you, Lesley!

Throwback Thursday

October 22, 2015 @ 8:42 pm | Filed under: ,

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Today I cleaned my desk. I organized my shelves. I cleaned under my bed. Can you tell I have a revision to finish?

I was reminiscing on Facebook about when we drove cross-country to move here in 2006. Monday was the 9th anniversary of our arrival, which shocks me. We’ve lived here longer than anywhere else in our marriage. I never saw that coming—that my kids would grow up in Southern California.

The FB conversation brought up my old post about our scary encounter with junkyard dogs on that trip—one of the posts that makes me really happy I started blogging. 🙂 I shared the link and was mildly irked to see it come up with one of my sidebar buttons as the giant header image Facebook likes to add now. There were no photos in the original post. Images were optional in 2006. I wound up going back in and adding a picture from the trip. Oh, my younguns were so very YOUNG back then!

I miss blogging like that. So much of that kind of “here’s what happened today” anecdotal posting has shifted to Facebook—it unrolls so naturally on that platform. Blogging seemed to take on a more…hmm, formal, is that the word I’m looking for? Polished?…a more polished tone. I dash off quips and stories on FB, and there’s that happy dopamine burst of reaction. But always, always, I want to pull it all back here to our family archive. We have over ten and a half years of history here. “We,” my family—and we, you and me. Some of you have been with me since the very beginning in 2005. “I remember when you moved,” wrote one FB friend today. “I was reading your blog like a novel, and it was a great upheaval in the plot!”

No great upheavals in the story today. 🙂 Huck lost his other top front tooth. The Tooth Fairy brought him a buck per tooth, which vast fortune he had lost track of by lunchtime. I walked down the hall in time to hear him mutter, “I want my two dollars!” None of the kids knew why this reduced me to giggles.

Yesterday, hustling out the door to piano lessons, I heard Rilla say as I got into the car, “Mom gets a pass. She’s never the rotten egg.” A generous statement, considering I’m always the one hollering, “Is everyone ready?? We’re out the door in two minutes!”—while I’m still half dressed.

Wonderboy (who REALLY needs a more grown-up blog name, but would you allow it?) is giving a speech at school tomorrow about his family. He described me as a “homeschool teacher and an author” and Scott as “an author, a really good cook, and a good shopper.” True on all counts.

He loves his school, but we missed him (and Jane!!) at the park on Monday. Nine years. I still can’t believe it.

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Every Face

June 2, 2015 @ 4:03 pm | Filed under: , , ,

branches in blue

I’m midway through a long rhapsody about pens but I’ve scrapped it for today because of this excellent post by Danny Gregory. Danny, as you probably know, is an artist and writer whose books include Art Before Breakfast (a treasure) and the empowering, inspiring The Creative License. He is also a cofounder of Sketchbook Skool and teaches week-long lessons in most of the SBS courses. (He also interviewed me about keeping kids creative for SBS’s “Q and Art” video series.)

In today’s post, Danny writes candidly about a struggle that is not unfamiliar to many of us who make art for a living.

Inevitably, Sketchbook Skool was morphing from a pure passion project into a demanding business. We had to bring on a raft of advisors to cope with the ever-shifting matrix of requirements for operating a global online business. It became clear that if we didn’t want to raise prices, we had to increase sales — so we added a bunch of marketing consultants. In order to grow, we had to address the emerging limitations of our existing platform which just couldn’t handle so many students so next we brought in a team of developers.   I was working for a company again. How the hell did that happen?

It’s funny—just last night I said to Scott: The thing about drawing is, I will never be good enough at it to do it for money. It will never be my job. That’s what’s so great about it. I think I would go mad without a creative outlet that is utterly unrelated to income—all the strings and catches that income involves.

I love writing so much, and I can’t not write, but it’s my job. And I’m lucky to have it, I wouldn’t change it, but there is no denying it altogether alters the experience of writing. I love making books, I love telling stories. Oh, how I love having written. But writing is what pays my bills. Writing for a living brings many layers to the experience of making up stories and writing them down. Deadlines, of course, but also—the whole business/marketing side of the job.

Nowadays more than ever. You have to promote your work, you have to get the word out. Everyone hates doing it. Every writer I know hates that part of the job. It’s embarrassing. It feels needy. But if you don’t do it, you might have to watch books you spent years laboring over quietly disappear.

I’ve made my peace with the business side of the business by drawing some firm boundaries. I accept and expect that certain administrative and promotional duties go along with publishing books—thus it is, and thus has it ever been. I allowed my career to slow down in order to write only books I’m burning to write, which has meant turning down projects and opportunities now and then. I accept very few speaking engagements that involve travel, because it’s important to me to spend most of my time at home with my family. That, too, is a decision that doesn’t always work to my books’ advantage. I’m okay with that. You have to find your balance.

Of course that means taking on other work in order to pay the bills—I do a lot of freelance work behind the scenes to support my fiction. Again, almost every working writer I know does. They teach, or they have a day job, or they spend a lot of time on the road doing school visits and conferences. For the past six months, I’ve been writing grants (and learning. so. much!—which you know charges my batteries) as well as editing for Damn Interesting and doing website maintenance for a local yoga studio. Oh, and teaching my writing class! Lots of busy, feeding the art.

One of the boundaries I drew eight or nine years ago had to do with blogging. I had the opportunity to take this blog in a direction that would have brought in decent money (for a while, at least; the days of monetized blogs do seem to be waning), but I passed on it. Didn’t feel right; I didn’t like the idea of turning my family life into a business. I know some folks have built beautiful blogs doing exactly that, but the idea has never sat right with me. Even my short stint as a ClubMom Blogger left me feeling uneasy—I was getting paid to blog about a topic (homeschooling) that inevitably crossed over into family stories. I love sharing about our learning experiences here—it’s one of the main reasons I still blog, the joy of sharing the adventure—but I didn’t like the blurring of the boundary I was trying to protect. I was glad to let that gig go, although of course I missed the paycheck. (Boy, don’t we all. They don’t make paychecks like that anymore. Nowadays, people want you to do it for ‘exposure’. Calls to mind the cartoon about the artist who died of exposure—couldn’t pay the rent, you know.)

***

prince

Danny addresses a blogging conundrum in his post, too:

I’ve also been thinking about why I stopped blogging. Busyness isn’t the whole reason. I have written even at the busiest times over the years. I think the issue has been honesty, honestly.

I’ve always tried to be painfully straightforward when I write here. Similarly in my books and when I teach classes. I try to be myself, warts, carbuncles and all. As a writer, an artist and person, I can be flawed and vulnerable. This works less well as an entrepreneur. As person taking credit card payments, I need to project an unimpeachable face.

It’s interesting to hear his take on that. He’s in a different position as the face of Sketchbook Skool, and I think he’s right. If you’re going plunk down your money to take a class, you want to feel confident about the platform and the teacher. I can imagine that he has felt the need to project a positive image in order to reflect positively on the business. I so appreciate his honesty in this post (do read the whole thing, not just these excerpts).

It’s not a face I’m unfamiliar with. I wore it for years, in board meetings, client presentations, job interviews and staff briefings. The authority. The decider. 100% sure. But it’s just not me. And it’s just not my voice, especially not the one I use here, among friends. But increasingly, as the face of Sketchbook Skool, when I came to write here on my blog, I felt I had to be the shill, the Mad Man of Mad Ave, always upbeat, bringing the most awesome! things.

I used to have a thing in my sidebar about how this blog deliberately focused on the positive, the funny, the happy experiences in our family adventure. “The truth, and nothing but the truth—but not the whole truth,” I wrote (and yes, Prairie Thief readers will hear how that idea echoed its way into the novel, whose working title was in fact Not the Whole Truth), “because some parts of the truth are private.” That’s why, I explained, you hear a lot about all the fun we have together—every word of it true—but nothing about, say, tantrums or bad habits. Because ick, how awful must it be to have your mother writing about your worst moments on the internet? In another post, I discussed how I feel free to write about my own flaws and failings (and I do; you know all about my wretched closets and my chai tortilla soup), but I won’t discuss anyone else’s. Okay, maybe the grumpy anti-pinecone guy at the post office that one time. But you know I kind of loved him, too, for the way his grousing brought the rest of us together.

But Danny is talking about something a little different, not about the question of where to draw boundaries in blogging in order to protect other people’s privacy. He’s talking about feeling inhibited about expressing his personal state of mind, his candid take on things, while at the same time representing a business. And there is so much fodder for discussion in that quandary. I’ve thought a lot, these past few years, about the blurring of the boundaries between our public and private worlds. Facebook makes total hash of that boundary, for starters. Sometimes I’m mortified at the awkwardness that arises when one’s professional contacts and one’s most familiar friends co-mingle. Here on the blog, I’ve wondered, from time to time, whether my enthusiastic homeschooling posts might seem offputting to teachers and school parents, and might make them feel like my books aren’t good fits for their kids. I certainly hope not. There are other topics I keep a polite lid on because I find it too great a drain of time and energy to field vituperative comments. I used to get all het up, SOMEONE IS WRONG ON THE INTERNET, and dive into the fray, I’ve mellowed. (“Someone is wrong on the internet—possibly me” is the phrase you come to in your forties.)

And yet I admire it so much when people are fearlessly frank. Sometimes when I’m reading a book that annoys me, I’ll think: imagine if I blogged about things I didn’t like? It’s so much easier to be articulate when critiquing a book’s flaws than to praise it. The only way to praise without sounding saccharine or surface (“It was awesome! I loved it! Two thumbs up!) is to take the time to write thoughtful analysis of what’s working, what’s wonderful. Which takes longer…and can begin to feel perilously like work. Work, I have enough of. And yet I LOVE analysis—reading it and writing it. Some of my best writing on this blog is literary analysis. It just takes time.

Besides, the writer in me—tremblingly placing stories before the public—has too much sympathy for the writers of books I don’t like. They’ve got enough woes to contend with; they don’t need me to point out everything that’s wrong with their last year’s (or years’) labor. And anyway, their book is probably outselling mine. 😉 I always maintain that I’m not a reviewer; I’m a recommender. I want to spend my few snatched moments of blogging time writing about things I love.

***

dowager

And yet, there’s a part of me that would love to tackle fraught topics with gusto. If you know me in person, you know I’m like that; I love discourse; I get fired up; I like to scrutinize ideas and assumptions. My poor husband knows that best of all. I can be pretty snarky in person, too, but I deliberately avoid snark in public writing because I think it shuts down discourse. It’s so easy to crack out a witty one-liner—but it isn’t always respectful. To the topic, or the other voices in the conversation.

As with so much else, the key is balance…being candid without being cruel or glib, being frank without breaching privacy. And when it comes to personal doubts or worries or slumps (to get back to Danny’s topic, from which I’ve meandered far), I wonder if we are all learning how to recalibrate our expectations of writers and artists and actors and others whose work has a public aspect. The internet has decreased our degrees of separation. People want contact with artists they admire. The trouble is, then they want to like them. And let’s face it, we’re not all going to like each other. I’ve felt it myself, now and then—that pang of disappointment when someone whose work you admire has said something truly disheartening on Twitter. Can you keep the work separate? Do your feelings about the book change because you now suspect the writer is kind of a jerk?

I’m a wizard at compartmentalizing, but even so I sometimes have trouble separating the biography from the novel. There’s a thing or two I wish I could un-know. But there are so many books in the world; I don’t need to feel the same degree of rosy about them all as I did when I first read them. As for everyone else—the non-jerks; the anxious, the fumbling, the angry, the laying-it-bare—here again I come back to what I have learned from sketching, from my clumsy and dogged and rewarding attempts to make drawing a daily habit these past eight months (a journey inextricably and profoundly informed by Danny Gregory and Koosje Koene and their Sketchbook Skool adventure)—that line that jumped out at me way back in college when I first read Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. (And why didn’t I listen to Betty and start drawing daily back then?) I’ve written about it here before in other contexts. One of Betty’s students, after spending some time drawing portraits, remarks that now every face she looks at seems beautiful to her.

I think about that all the time. It’s true about drawing; you do start to appreciate all the uniquenesses (advertising would have us believe they are flaws), the bumps, the lines, the crooked features. “Warts, carbuncles, and all” is how Danny put it, speaking of how he used to blog. And oddly, these ten years of immersion in blogs and social media have reinforced the lesson. That devastatingly handsome actor who smolders on my screen is actually kind of a nerd, and it’s endearing. That brilliant writer whose prose leaves me breathless…has a bad back, is inordinately proud of her ill-mannered dog, and her roof needs replacing. She’s a person now, not a name on a spine. And she seems beautiful to me.