Wanted: thick skin

About a week ago I posted an entry entitled: “Literary blogs be dam^*ed.” It’s pretty clear who I’d targeted….subtlety’s never been my strong point. But with no warning and a few misplaced facts, let’s just say that the subject of my blog was less than thrilled. Words were exchanged. I pulled the whole thing down and skipped town. Or, skipped the computer.

But as they say, time heals all irate email exchanges. So I’m back. As is the post, edited. Perhaps it would be safer to shelf this one and move on, but I can’t be alone here. Someone out there can relate to this.

Update on missing week to follow.

(originally posted March 23, 2009. Note: typos that follow are strictly mine and were not present in emails you see below. don’t worry… this’ll make sense in a minute.)
Sorry readers to detour from the main drag, but it’s time to jerk the wheel and jounce down this bumpy, dirt road. So settle back for today’s diversion. It’s off-topic but is something — or someone — that everyone has, at least some point in life. Guaranteed.

A mother.

But only I have my mother.

I’ll spare you some apple-baking, June Cleaver portrait of perfection, which I’m sure exists, but not in this case (And who would want that? Though Mom does make a mean double chocolate cake.)

This isn’t a testament to domestic skills, but to career. My mom’s an editor with more than 40 year’s experience in news rooms and filing centers. She’s dealt with her share of shoddy writing, tight deadlines, and bosses breathing down her neck, in addition to temperamental, defensive, recalcitrant reporters.

But no one’s as temperamental, or defensive, or recalcitrant as a daughter. Especially when her mom is critiquing her at 10 pm. (Really, is there ever a good time?)

Part of the Art of Editing is telling a writer that his or her writing’s lousy, but in the most tactful way. It took me years to accept that when my Mom said, “Jo, you’ve got a lot of good stuff here…” she really meant, “The content is remotely interesting, but the writing stinks. Start over.”

Over the years Mom’s offered a lot of constructive, pro-bono editing. Now that we’re both older, she still dispenses niceties, but sometimes in an more abbreviated fashion. Here’s her phone call the other night:

Mom: “Hey honey, how are you?”
Me: “Fine.”
Mom: “I hope I didn’t wake you….”
Me: “No, I’m sitting here w/my laptop, working on the blog.”

Mom: “Oh good, because I wanted to talk to you about that. About your blog. I’ve been reading it and it’s okay…. but it needs more. It’s lack substance. It needs to be…. more literary. Like when you wrote about the wind. (the weather’s knocking) I like that. You should write more of those.”

Me: “Mom, when they hit me, they just hit me. I can’t write like that all the time. You want me to wax poetic about our mulch pile? The clouds? How about ‘Ode to horse poop?’ I can’t write that kind of crap.” (pun intended).

Which brings us to Mom’s other editorial soap box: My potty mouth.

Recent Mom email: “….you might consider a way to remain edgy without using profane or crude words…” Which is kind of ironic, because Mom emails me blog links all the time that would be bleeped by censors.

I’ll save you all the life and times of my parents, but here’s what you need to know: Mom grew up in a household where swearing was wash-your-mouth-out worthy. Dad probably had a little more latitude. I doubt he swore in front of his parents, but by the time I arrived on the scene, he was certainly familiar with a few four-lettered favorites.

I don’t remember uttering my first curse but Mom does. I was 4 years old and coerced by my best friend, Judy Miller, who was both 2 years my senior and had two older brothers. Mom doesn’t remember whether I said sh*t or fu*&, but it was first (and last) time she walloped me. She felt awful for hitting me, but it did the trick. I don’t think I swore again til jr high.

But be it Dad’s DNA or society’s love of cursing (notice, I’m blameless), I do sound off here and there. Which is why my kid believes that I sometimes shout what sounds like “fox!” even when the animal is nowhere to be seen. As in “Fox this driver! Move it already!”

But I try to temper myself while speaking freely on this blog. And I thought I was getting better. Until my stinkbug entry. (name that bug)

Another email from Mom: “Just read the bugs piece. great fun. one quibble; piece works fine without using ‘hell’… too strong a world in print for a light piece.”

Seriously? H- E- Double toothpicks is too strong? Is that even swearing anymore?

Mom continues talking on the phone, pitching substance: “….it can be more literary and more lighthearted. Your blog, it’s just kind of dark, the subject matter….it’s not as funny…”

It was about that point that I cupped my hand over the phone and yelled through the rafters, “Martin! Phone’s for you!” There was no chance we’d settle this debate.

Yea, maybe these entries are a bit dark. Not exactly sunshine and skipping through the lilies. But the farm — especially in Feb/March — is gritty and grimy and muddy and mucky. And just plain old dirty. And difficult. Dammit