How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blog

A few months into any Golden Age comic book archive, you’ll come across the origin story of the title’s featured character.  Blogging, really, should be no different.  Comics emerged from the frenetic, sensationalist media of the early 1900s, and blogs emerged from the frenetic, media-saturated lives of people living on the other side of a century that saw the best and worst communications innovations in human history.

Lazily.

Chriscocca.com started as christophercocca.wordpress.com in January of 2007.  I used the Hemingway theme, and the goal was very simple: I wanted a place to share my publishing news.  I was submitting to online and print journals for the first time and had some very early success at those venues (Geez, Brevity, and elimae being the most notable). Eventually I started blogging about craft, which really means I blogged about instinct.  One thing I knew for certain was that there were still way too many people using way too many adverbs.  To wit, a post from November, 2007, currently in the classified archives:

I hate adverbs. I loved them as a clever little kid, but that was before (insert your own defining literary experience here). Except joyfully, and only when used in reference to the way Uncle Feather flew around Fudge’s house and pissed off Fudge’s family.

That Pessimist hates stupid phrases and words. Some phrases to avoid, courtesy of That Pessimist.

And scene.

Cover of "Superfudge"
Lighten up, Pee-tah.

I should say about word here about Uncle Feather.  When I was 10 or so, my dad helped me write a book report about Superfudge, and we had a good laugh describing UF’s manic flight around the Hatcher kitchen with the world joyfully.  First of all, joyfully is a pretty funny word, not because joy is funny, but because it’s kind of one of those words you save for big, important experiences.  The thought that a myna bird would do anything joyfully cracked me up.  Also, visualizing a myna bird joyfully flying around a room while exasperated keepers try in vain to bring him down, well, I don’t care how old you are, that’s a) hilarious and b) extremely gratifying.

I was writing a lot of terse, evocative microfiction in 2007, and my blogging style from those days reflects that.  Eventually, I developed a fuller style, but it was still a very at-arm’s length approach.  I don’t think I blogged for fun, even when I was blogging a lot about things that were important to me.  But I suppose I thought writing wasn’t supposed to be much fun, either. I mean, this is serious business, after all, and I didn’t want people thinking I was some lamebrain goofball blogging about episodes of LOST and He-Man.  My, how things have changed.

My love/hate relationship with blogging in this space went on and on and on. Last year I took a big long break to focus solely on my fiction, and I think was a good move for a few reasons: 1) It gave me time for fiction  and 2) it separated me from the constant head-checking I was doing before every click of the WordPress publish button. I needed to get out of my head and into my gut, and I needed to say what I needed to say in ways that weren’t so tied up in my own personal narrative.  There were great discussions happening on the blog by then, but all of the sudden I knew that if I was going to dedicate the kind of time and mental energy that a book would require, I was no longer going to be blogging about the ontological grounding of being (okay, okay, it’s God) for a while.

Maybe the Desk Inspector should mind his own damn business.

This year, I lightened up.  I don’t know exactly why or how, but I have a few guesses.  One thing I know for sure is that I started blogging more as soon as I finally designed a banner I really, really liked.  When I started playing with the images and thinking of what to call this new welling up of whimsy, The Daily Cocca popped up from the suppressed creative places I’d been trying to cram other projects into.  Simple as it sounds, a new banner and new layout energized me to have fun with content, to get out on the WordPress ecosystem and to make connections.   Specifically, the picture of me as kid really makes me happy.  Look at that smile.  That kid is happy, fun-loving, and full of a million crazy ideas.  That’s the kid who had the messiest effing desk you’ve ever seen, sloppy handwriting, poor time-management and every other awesome thing no one should really have to worry about as long as they’re young enough to wear a clip-on tie.  Seriously, what was the deal with the clean desk obsession? If my desk could close, it’s none of your business. If it can’t close, give me a minute.  No, no, I left that book at home.  You should be happy…it’s not cluttering up my desk.

Where were you when I needed you, Lego Charles Dickens?

Side note:  One time in elementary school the teacher was going on and on about something, and I started drawing awesome totem-pole-like doodles up and down the margins of my notebook.  This was in a pretty early grade.  We passed the books in and I didn’t think anything of it.  A few days later, the teacher called me in from recess to talk to me about my doodles.  I thought she was going to say how cool they were.  Instead, she made me stay inside and erase every single one.  I didn’t realize then what I stifling act of idiocy this was.  I knew she was being stupid, but I didn’t relate it to this whole idea of feeling like you have to parse your creative side and intellectual side until recently.  So let the 31 year-old speak now for the 8-year old who only wanted to draw comic books or play baseball for a living:  hey, any grown-up who cares more about order than innovation, more about clean lines and desks than creativity, compassion, nurturing, sustainability and raising up kids into whole people: not cool.

Yeah, so the messy desk thing is sort of mantra for me in this sense: it means be who you are in each of the ways that matter.  Write your fiction and your poetry as starkly (adverb!) or as richly (stop it!) as you want, and do your blog whichever way feels right.  People are complicated, people have different interests, different modes, different ways of communicating in different circumstances and for different reasons.  Why should you or I be any different?

Yesterday, I linked to a post on BookMunch about Stuart Murdoch’s new book of blogs.  Will Fitzpatrick says that while Murdoch’s art is “existentialism through fiction, allowing his characters to project his worries and fears that maybe this life isn’t all we want it to be…. his blogs, on the other hand, are much more confident. Murdoch still tells stories, of course, varying from taking pictures for Belle & Sebastian album sleeves to his opinions on the Olympics. But this time, he’s the focal point. And he turns out to be much funnier and more confident than you might have imagined. That’s not to say that he’s arrogant; he’s still self-deprecating at times, but it comes from a man much more comfortable with his own sense of self than his lyrics would suggest.”  Despite being a big fan of Stuart’s music, I’ve never read his blog.  But it sounds perfect, doesn’t it?  Since about the beginning of the year I have had this new, strange confidence in my voice as a blogger, separate and distinguishable from my voice as a writer of fiction or literary nonfiction.  The realization that we’re allowed to speak in many voices compels us, I think, to start.

I’ve never had this much fun blogging, and I’ve never been this productive at it.  I owe much of this to my teachers and peers in my MFA program, to the kid in the picture, to my messy desk, and to everyone who reads The Daily Cocca, everyone who comments, Jay and future guest posters/contributors, and all of you folks on WordPress I continue to connect with.  Thank you!

Lego Charles Dickens via Dunechaser on Flickr.

Brother, Where Art Thou on Craigslist? (A Post About Word Processors)

One day, you'll stop running. One day, you'll come back to us.
One day, you’ll stop running. One day, you’ll come back to us.

A few days ago, I wrote:

“If you’re roughly my age, we may share some of these academic distinctions:

  • last or close-to-last class of students to attend various Cold War or pre-war era schools before their 90s and 2000s-riffic renovations. (Elementary school, high school, college)
  • last or close-to-last class to take a typing elective where actual typewriters were used. (9th grade, but I didn’t really learn to type until I started using AIM the next year.) Possibly the last class to even be offered a typing elective.
  • last class to run DOS in a computer applications class. (10th grade)
  • last class to run DOS-based email and instant messaging on campus servers. (college)”
He ain’t heavy.

What I didn’t mention was that before I learned to type (and before my family got our first home PC) we had a Brother word processor, a fantastic 80’s device that combined the functionality of a computer with none of the fun. Still, as a budding writer, I was mystified by the green and black interface and by the mechanical goodness of the printing process, which pounded out every word and punctuation mark with austere, efficient resolve.  If you love the visceral feel of typewriter mechanics and, for whatever reason, the ability to edit typos before they actually print, brother, these things were for you.

I saw a featured post on the WordPress homepage today that took me back to the days of digital input and ribbon printing.  Dr. J asks, and thankfully answers, the defining question of word processing’s transitional age: “Mr. Owl, how many spaces really DO go after the period?”  One, he says.  Just one.

Sir, I think I must respectfully disagree.  See what I mean? Too close. Too close for comfort. My sentences need room to breathe, friend.  Like this.  And this.   Maybe not this, though I was first taught to do three spaces. This just feels wrong.  This is the good stuff.

Because I wanted to include a picture of a Brother word processor in this post, I found this excellent Craigslisting:

Brother Portable Daisy Wheel Word Processor – $35

Brother Word Processor WP- 2600 able to save document on discs, print, & see other worksheets, etc on the screen. Great for someone beginning to learn keyboard typing & doesn’t have access to computer. Prints & saves documents.

WP-2600Q

Whisper Print ultra quiet daisy wheel system
Standard 3.5″ 720KB disk drive for MS-DOS file compatibility with PC’s
Allows transfer to ASCII files
Allows conversion of spreadsheets to LOTUS 1-2-3 WK1 files
Double column printing
Icon main menu
Dual screen capability
Allows you to view two files simultaneously and exchange information between them
Easy to read 5″x9″ (15 lines by 91 character) CRT display with contrast adjustment
Special features
GrammarCheck I with “word-spell” 70,000 word dictionary and 204 programmable user words
Punctuation alert
Redundancy check
Word count
45,000 word thesaurus
Easy access pull down menus
On screen help function
Spreadsheet software
Framing
Uses Model 1030 correctable ribbon and Model 3010 correction tape
Bold and expanded print
Block copy/move/delete
Auto save
Automatic “Word-Out” and “Line-Out” correction system erases a single word or a complete line
Automatic relocation after correction
Direct and line-by-line typing to handle labels and envelopes
Full line lift-off correction memory
Disk copy allows you to copy text from one disk to another
$35 Cash

—-

I’m not too enthused about the ultra quiet daisy wheel print system, but this post does a great job of showing us all the features that made these things practical for people who didn’t want or need a personal computer back in the day.  What a fantastic hybrid of nineteenth and twentieth century innovations, you are, Word Processor.  Even if you have no place in the 21st century market place, you’ll always have one in my heart.  Shine on, you crazy diamond!

In honor of you, and of the icy, wintry mix outside, I offer proof of how badly we needed you:

Life before Brother.
The minimalist artistry and pristine presentation of life with you, old friend.