On Aging and Writing – The State of the Blog, Year Five

My friend Mrs. Grizwald mentioned once, “It’s funny how there are billions of the people in the world and only 365 days in a year, yet we are always delighted and amazed when we find out we share a birthday with someone.” It’s true. I recently discovered, while thumbing The Secret Language of Birthdays yet again, that I share a birthday with Myrna Loy. I’ve probably mentioned it to a dozen people since then.

As a great over-thinker, birthdays offer me the guilty pleasure of self-indulgent self-reflection. It’s not just the heat of August that makes me quiet and pensive, but the recognition that my year is about to begin again. I rarely run willy-nilly, but rather pick a careful path and to do so, every now and then, I have to survey the terrain. The funny thing is, the most significant insights seem to find me. It’s remarkable with the amount of information and observation that bombards me daily, that there are some things that hit at just the right time. That stick.

This year, about the time I started to be still and take stock, two men, writers both, stopped in to remark on aging. The first was F. Scott Fitzgerald. In a review of his essays, The Wall Street Journal noted Fitzgerald as saying that old people were incapable of self-improvement, “Almost barbarians.” And by old he meant thirty.

The next was David Foster Wallace in his collection of essays, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, “I’m starting to see how as time gains momentum my choices will narrow and their foreclosures multiply exponentially until I arrive at some point on some branch of all life’s sumptuous branching complexity at which I am finally locked in and stuck on one path and time speeds me through stages of stasis and atrophy and decay until I go down for the third time, all struggle for naught, drowned by time. It is dreadful. But since it’s my own choices that’ll lock me in, it seems unavoidable – if I want to be any kind of grownup, I have to make choices and regret foreclosures and try to live with them.”

Also in the Journal (the Journal offering some sticky stuff that week) was a review of Kurt Vonnegut’s Novels & Stories, 1963 – 1973. It was noted that in response to the question, “When may we expect your next novel?” following the release of Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut reported thinking, “Next novel? That was it. That was my novel.” This notion was very sticky.

About this time, I finished Jonathan Franzen’s second novel, Strong Motion. Franzen is one of my favorite contemporary writers. Strong Motion was like looking through a box of your college boyfriend’s childhood pictures. I recognized him, though he was not so lean. But I didn’t like the book and I couldn’t care for the characters and I know more about seismology than I ever wanted to. I’ve past feeling the need to finish an unenjoyed book, but I needed to know Franzen better. I took the book by spoonfuls and about three-quarters of the way through I realized that what it was showing me, the stickiness of it, was that writers mature.

There are books that I keep holding up to myself as the excuse to not begin, but they are not the beginnings. Like all other things, writing takes practice. At a book signing here in Kansas City someone asked Franzen about his process, and he said, spinning his arm like he was hitting the final chords in an air guitar solo, you just have to keep churning and churning until there is something.

I am insecure, anxious and dismissive of my writing. A middling talent. Something that could have been something, but will not; I’ve started too late. And, if I have a story to tell, I feel that it is one story, only mine, and if that is all there is to offer then it’s not really a talent. It’s dictation.

Still, I am writing in my head all the time. Turning the words for blog post or article or some other as yet undiscovered thing. It tumbles and tumbles and tumbles and then it sort of throws itself out onto the page. I don’t know how to begin if it is not finished yet.

But I believe that American lives can have second acts. Creativity and complexity do not end in one’s thirties. And even though I may be in a sort of active intermission, a vivacious mingling in the lobby rather than a full-on second act, I think it may be richer than if the same sort of momentum had converged for me at twenty-six. Middle age does not encompass only atrophy, decay and regret even among grown-ups.

So I’ve decided to ignore these words of Fitzgerald and Wallace and follow instead the implied message of Vonnegut, whom I care for least of the three. I’m 46 today. I’ve been writing Mrs. Blandings for four years. The exercise of sitting down and writing this blog every day has been remarkable. I don’t intend to quit blogging, but I need to try to write some other things. Some longer things. I’m not quite sure how that will affect what happens here, but I didn’t want you to think I’m losing interest. I’d just like to write something that takes longer to read than a minute-and-a-half .

In addition, I need to get my house in order. Literally. The moving out and the moving in to the house with no name has left everything in a jumble. I am taking a little time off. A week. Maybe two. But I will re-post some of my favorites here just in case you stop by.

You will never know how grateful and flattered I am that you make Mrs. Blandings part of your day.

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44 thoughts on “On Aging and Writing – The State of the Blog, Year Five

  1. What can I say – I understand but beg to differ. I do not find you a middling talent and applaud you for taking the time to explore other writing venues. We will miss your more frequent posts but will look forward to when you do visit. Happy birthday and how fortuitous that you and the original Mrs. Blandings share your special day! I of course vehemently disagree with Fitzgerald. My mother passed away four years ago at 90. She lived by herself in the house I grew up in. She was a vibrant, curious ever-improving person who was thrilled to explore the world around her in many ways. She was a fabulous role model at any age!

  2. Even if the story you tell is your own, writing is hardly dictation…if you are talented. Which you, with whom I would happily mingle in any lobby any day, are.

  3. Happy birthday Mrs. B! Personally I'm a believer in second acts, whatever scale they may be. I look forward to some longer reads.

  4. Q – thank you and I applaud you mother – I should be so lucky.

    And, Todd, you've made me cry twice in seven days, though this time I just welled-up – no full on weep.

  5. I sure do have a way with the ladies. 🙂 Happy birthday, birthday-week-sharer, and remind me, when I need it on Friday, that in good writing, the second act is better than the first!

  6. Just a suggestion from another writer who hits the wall inside his own head: read Stephen Pressfield's book The War of Art.

    And please let me tell you how much I enjoy your writing. I know others tell you this all the time. And yes- I can imagine that part of you doesn't quite see what others see in you. But this makes sense to me as a voice teacher. We don't hear ourselves like others do anymore than we can appreciate our own writing for what it is. And if I have learned anything, each writers process is as distinct as a singer's voice. And it takes time for each to find their voice.

    Love what you do. Please don't think less of yourself because you aren't like the people you admire.

    Simply put: they can never be you.

  7. What is going on here? Another favorite decides to take a sabbatical…like Maxminimus who is now hanging about with the likes of Toad.
    http://to-the-manner-born.blogspot.com/

    All kidding aside, take all the time you need. You're not required to provide any sort of explanation but I'm awfully glad you did. I would have worried when we didn't hear from you. I love it when you write, really write. March 2, 2011 "Undone" was one of your finest pieces yet. I know there's more in you. You simply need time to yourself with an unfettered mind. Thank you for all you give. My best to Rosie and her charge, Dexter. And all your boys.

  8. Patricia, you really do know that it is never too late. I have a few years on you with a birthday later this month, and after all of these years I know a gifted writer when I see and read one, who probably should be writing more.

    Not that you must, you have a lot on your plate, just follow your passion. Thats all.

    xoxo
    Karena

    Art by Karena

  9. I've always thought that out of all the "design" bloggers you were the most talented writer. I would love to read longer articles. Congratulations on reaching year #5. It's been a long, strange trip.

  10. Congratulations upon achieving the middle ground of middle aged (the period between adulthood and old age) and bravo to you and finding a middle ground to share your writing which I find resonant and full of life.
    I quite happily enjoy the minute's you add to my day often with a chuckle or something echoing style with a quip. Grateful are we for your willingness to share and dig a little deeper on verdant soil.
    pve

  11. I will visit here whenever you get the chance to pour words on to this page. But, I understand well your desire to break for a bit to seek your second act. Your writing style captured my attention on my very first visit and I applaud you. Happy Birthday and cheers to taking stock!! ; )

  12. A wonderful reflection. You made me realize how little I stop to reflect on things myself. I just keep going and going…A birthday is a good reason. Remind me in December. Happy birthday! (My father's mother would have been 106 today)

  13. Patricia, I love your blog specifically for your writing — because of your writing. You are exceptional.

    And so, I can't wait to read what you come up with next, whether it is here, or in KC Homes, or elsewhere. Please keep us posted.

    Cheers on experience, and aging and new perspectives.

  14. Mrs B.
    Happy Birth Day!
    I so enjoy your writing! What is it about your writing? Though I do not know you, I wonder if those who do, would say, you write as you think, as you speak. Your writing is personal, not contrived. The reader 'knows you' through your posts…at least this reader does. This is not the usual. You have a great talent and I urge you to " go for it". Try and try, putting to paper those words tumblingly about in your mind.
    Good luck! We will miss you, but know we have not lost you.

  15. Yes, longer articles! Happy birthday too. Now in my forties, I've begun to think of birthdays as a gift with so many of my friends the same age gone.

  16. Happy Birthday! ( You are young! I just turned 50(!) last week).
    Love your writing and yes, life can have second and third acts.
    You clearly are a gifted writer-
    Go for it, Patricia!!!!
    -linda,new york

  17. I have always wondered "how does she do all the things she does?" about you, three young sons, a wonderful husband, moving to a new house, unpacking and stenciling and painting the green study, designing a lattice wainscot for the dining room, dashing out for carpool, feeding everyone, moving furniture around, seeing friends, taking on AD, etc.

    Oddly, even though I'll miss you terribly, it gives me great relief that you discovered some time-needs that beckon louder than blog-needs. You've left us a rich and varied archive to feast upon, thank you for giving so much of yourself for so long. Even if you never return, we understand why, and we support both you and your reasons. Happy birthday, Mrs. Blandings!

    -Flo

  18. Wishing you a Happy Birthday…having many many more than you, I can only say with certainty that birthdays can be powerful in ways we never dreamed of. Your writing is beautiful and thank you for sharing it…so take some "time" to find your inner compass and delights.

  19. please understand that you do have a gift of expression and that to honor that would not be dictation but revelation. You can and should move forward, the path you have chosen is one you soar upon.

  20. WOW! I just read thru all of these comments and they are so touching and from the heart! I especially loved Daniel James Shigo and his comment that they can never be you…Wise words! Thanks for all of the care and thought you put into your posts–you are smart to be doing what is best for you right now. Wishing you a happy birthday and the best of luck!

  21. Happy Birthday Patricia!!! (again, as I without the first cup of coffee this morning, sent greetings by hitting the reply buttom in gmail. I totally understand what you are saying. But I too exspect you will hear from Toad expressing more elequently what I fail this morning to say. ENJOY the journey you choose!

  22. Have a very happy birthday, Mrs B.

    Your post today leaves me feeling there are two things I must tell you:
    I do not spend a minute-and-a-half reading your posts, but often spend far longer as I'm a reader who pauses and savors a well-written piece, a well-turned phrase; and
    I, also, loved "Undone" [your post of March 2 this year] and have thought of it often since. Truly. I had made a note this weekend to go back and read it again because it touched me so.

    So, yes, please write. I look forward to your posts here and whatever else you will make available to us. Thank you.

  23. Yes, the young man who wrote and published Eragon was a mere sprat-but Helen Hooven Santmyer was nearly 90 when she published …and Ladies of the Club. Her book is the much richer and more satisfying read. The right time for you will be the right time, period.

  24. I wish you the best on your birthday, and on your writing journey. I enjoy your blog, find the subject matter unusual and interesting. I also take vicarious pride in having a nationally known blogger from Kansas City!

    As for getting older, I think it's up to us to constantly reinvent ourselves. Biology and culture don't treat women kindly as they age, so we have to work a bit harder to find our own happiness. You're lucky that you have so many people who listen, like and support you. A social network tends to increase longevity and good health. So, good luck in whatever you choose to do. Be true to yourself, and have a wonderful time!

  25. Good Morning!
    In July I celebrated my 59th birthday; I joked that I was waiting to discover what I will be when I grow up.

    But I figured out there is no answer to that, as we never do completely grow up; grown-ups are "finished," and we are all works in progress.

    Certainly Fitzgerald was far too young to know anything about growing older, and I imagine Mr. Wallace will find (found?) life quite different than he predicted as he moved along his personal timeline.

    If one is the type of poor soul who defines oneself in terms of, "Oh no! I could have been a neurosurgeon, or a concert pianist, or the world's foremost spelunker," then I believe that poor soul would not have been happy regardless of chosen path.

    Are there many things I might have accomplished by now, but have not? Of course. But there are things I am proud to have done, and so many more things still to do that sometimes the choices stun me.

    As my father said, at 90, and suffering from Parkinson's, "Life is still sweet."

    Go tackle that Great American Novel or those essays about what is meaningful to you — the best way to strengthen your writing muscle is to use it. Dive in, and best of luck!

    Remember that no matter how old we get on the outside, we are most of us still feeling 17 or 22 on the inside. That is what young people don't know.

    Cass

  26. Happy Birthday Patricia!
    I am so happy you are planning to expand your writing. You lend gravitas and humor to the subject of decorating. I feel better about my interest in interior design when I read your blog.
    I've said this before but it is worth repeating. You are an incredible writer.
    Some writers do seem to have only one great story in them that carries a book but my favorite writers make any story relate to me. You have that talent.
    Susan

  27. Mrs. Blandings, you are the only bookmark I have. You will never know how much joy your blog brings to so many people. I've had a very tough time the last few months and your blog never fails to bring some well needed calm, inspiration and a few laughs! You are a remarkable writer and you need to go wherever it takes you. I'm thinking I will go back and re-read previous posts, from "national disaster dining rooms, Rosie, stair rug, Rosie, Dexter and the boys". I'm glad we still hear from you. Take Care and thank you Mrs. Blandings.
    Gail from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin

  28. First, happy birthday. Second, as long as you write so winningly I'll stop by to read and reflect with you. We are in an age of life-long learning and f.scott's brain may have had a bit too much gin pass through it. champagne is another matter, I find it only makes us more eagerly receptive to the interesting and beautiful.

  29. Hi Patricia, What can I say? Your posts motivate me to keep exploring, questioning, trying the new. Middling talent? I don't think so. But the question seems to be how to keep engaging in the QUEST? Becoming what we are intended to be –never ending journey, which must be taken and lived to the fullest. Have a wonderful 2-week hiatus–remember: these are the dog days of August, just before school starts. Not a great time to make life-changing decisions. Be well and love! Mary

  30. "The nature of this flower is to bloom."
    — Alice Walker

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    A manifesto, by author Terry Tempest Williams in a book on 'Creative Non-Fiction'

    I write to make peace with the things I cannot control.
    I write to create fabric in a world that often appears black and white.
    I write to discover. I write to uncover. I write to meet my ghosts. I write to begin a dialogue.
    I write to imagine things differently and in imagining things
    differently perhaps the world will change.
    I write to honor beauty. I write to correspond with my friends.
    I write as a daily act of improvisation. I write because it creates my composure.
    I write against power and for democracy.
    I write myself out of my nightmares and into my dreams.
    I write in a solitude born out of community.
    I write to the questions that shatter my sleep. I write to the answers that make me complacent.
    I write to remember. I write to forget. I write to the music that opens my heart. I write to quell the pain.
    I write with the patience of melancholy in winter. I write because it allows me to confront that which I do not know.
    I write as an act of faith. I write as an act of slowness.
    I write to record what I love in the face of loss. I write because it makes me less fearful of death. I write as an exercise in pure joy.
    I write as one who walks on the surface of a frozen river beginning to melt.
    I write out of my anger and into my passion.
    I write from the stillness of night anticipating — always anticipating.
    I write to listen. I write out of silence. I write to soothe the voices shouting inside me, outside me, all around me.
    I write because I believe in words.
    I write because it is a dance with paradox.
    I write because you can play on the page like a child left alone in
    sand.
    I write because it is the way I take long walks.
    I write because I believe it can create a path in darkness.
    I write with a knife, carving each word from the generosity of trees.
    I write as ritual.
    I write out of my inconsistencies. I write with the colors of memory.
    I write as a witness to what I have seen. I write as witness to what I imagine.
    I write by grace and grit.
    I write for the love of ideas.
    I write for the surprise of a sentence.
    I write with the belief of alchemists.
    I write knowing I will always fail. I write knowing words always fall short.
    I write knowing I can be killed by own words, stabbed by syntax, crucified by understanding and misunderstanding.
    I write past the embarassment of exposure.
    I trust nothing especially myself and slide head first into the familiar abyss of doubt and humiliation and threaten to push the delete button on my way down, or madly erase each line, pick up the paper and rip it into shreds — and then I realise it doesn't matter, words are always a gamble, words are splinters from cut glass.
    I write because it is dangerous, a bloody risk, like love, to form the words, to say the words, to touch the source, to be touched, to reveal how vulnerable we are, how transient.
    I write as though I am whispering in the ear of the one I love.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    I started writing more with my voice in mind.
    – Lucinda WIlliams

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    "Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It's the one and only thing you have to offer."
    — Barbara Kingsolver

  31. Eudoa Welty was giving a lecture to a college class and opened up for questions when a young girl raised her hand and asked, "Miss Welty should I become a write."

    I would have to have been there. I'm sure the temperature in that room suddenly dipped into the frosty zone when Miss Welty, not missing a beat, replied, "Only if you cannot do something else."

    I remember reading a recent article about a linguist who thought he had cracked the code on Iris Murdock's descent into that great known but forgotten world of Alzeimers. He thought he could discern when her mind began to go wonky by the sudden simplicity of her language. I have always argued rubbish on that point. Age (I turn 62 in October) has a way of winnowing away the unnecessary, the unreliable, the hypocrisy, the wasters of our precious time. I am hopeful enough to think this is wisdom.

    I wish you well upon the paths you take. Never lose your voice.

  32. Happy Birthday to you, and what a lovely way to spend it – reflecting on what has been and what will be. We are all our harshest critics, but you're a much better writer than a majority of people out there currently writing. I consider yours a design blog, but a well-written one. Most are just re-hashes of pretty pictures with a little bit of text. There's a big difference between text and writing. Yours is the latter. Please take all the time you need, but I know whatever you write will be well worth your time and ours (when we are lucky enough to read it).

  33. You have a voice that comes through very strongly in your postings. It is witty, perceptive, questioning and thoughtful. I think your instincts are correct. Follow the Muse. And Happy Birthday!
    Neenul

  34. Youth is wasted on the young, my dear! You have a fantastic gift and I've found most of the writers I enjoy reading don't find their voice until life has broken them in a bit and delivered them of a soul.

    Many happy returns of the day to you and I look forward to the day I get to press "priority shipping" next to your novel on Amazon.

  35. How is it that you have been doing this 4 years? It feels like yesterday when I found you, your son had just broken his arm(?). You inspired me to begin,and inspire me to continue.

    A glorious Happy Birthday. Listen to your dreams they will point your way.

  36. Dearest Blandings,

    You have been a source of inspiration to this fledgling blogger from day one — as an outstanding writer, a tastemaker, a boundless mother, the sort of gal I'd love to date if I were the nattiest of Mad Men.
    And so best of luck with this brave new world.
    May you come face to face with your reflection along the path and may you love everything you see.
    Cheers and best, Alcira

    nerochronicles.com

  37. Happy belated birthday! I'm quite delighted and amazed to find that I share a birth date with you, and apparently Myrna Loy. I'll miss your posts (for hopefully a short time), but look forward to see what you do next! – Elizabeth

  38. Go forth and be happy. And, you are no middling talent, my friend. You are the real deal and your writings will be anticipated in this house with no name.

  39. I can relate to so much here, and appreciate your having written it. I was told by an established writer when I was just 19, "it's time for you to publish." I am now 36, and I have yet to figure out how to go about that. I found a calling in blogging, but blogging can spoil you for writing bigger things. You might like this little mini essay I wrote about that very thing.

    http://clioconfidential.blogspot.com/2010/04/on-blogging.html

    Best of luck to you. I will look forward to reading your longer works!

    Heather

  40. Happy Birthday wishes Mrs.B (and to Myrna also!)! I hope you do realize that you *are* a writer…dictation is transcribibg for another and you certainly don't do that…you have a very clear voice and style, and from the sounds of it, we're going to get to enjoy it in a much longer mode one day which makes me very happy!
    Enjoy your time off…
    xo J~

  41. I am 58; I newly discovered "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron and I've started an artistic business venture as a result. I don't bother to consider my age because I am having too much fun, combining my childhood passions for the first time, realizing what happiness is. Write On!

  42. I don't know what to say. You are such a talented writer and I so enjoy reading your every post. I don't consider you a design blogger. I connect to you as a 40ish Midwestern mom of three who loves art and design. But like all great writers your words resonate far beyond the purported topic of design. I hope I am not seeing the end of the golden age of blogging when incredible writers generously shared their talents on a daily basis simply for my enlightenment and enjoyment. I hate to see you go, hope you will return, and will google you to follow where your talent takes you. Thank you.

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