Saturday, January 2, 2010

Blogging about blogging

My friend Susan suggested I write a blog about how to write a blog. Me! The lady “of a certain age” who in the past has either had to ask her children how to get to her own blog or get there through a link on her ancestor’s Web site!!! Therefore, assuming that my friend was more interested in content than technology, let me see what comes to mind.

Actually, isn’t that the answer? A blog is supposed to be a record of our thoughts—written down and published for all the world to see. (Does that make anyone else just a wee bit uncomfortable?)

Maybe it was the process of coming up with a thought to begin with which Susan was requesting. And there I have to stop and ponder.

I am apparently at least the third generation of aspiring writers. One of the earlier memories I can dredge up is having to tone down children noises because Daddy was writing. And indeed, we could hear the old manual typewriter clacking away behind the closed door.

And then my father’s mother wrote in her history that Grandpa Indermuehle (which he later changed to Indermill) also tried his hand at writing: "He liked to write. I have several short stories that he wrote and tried to get published but had no luck at that." (8 Feb 1970)

But since neither Indermill nor Indermuehle is remembered along with Steinbach and Salinger (their contemporaries in their respective generations), I think we can safely assume that their dreams of literary success were never realized. I’m not even sure if any of their writings survived them. (And suddenly I’m extremely curious about the subjects these two progenitors might have chosen—better start asking!)

Having recently had my first “creative” manuscript returned, I guess I now join the ranks of struggling artists. The prospect of multiple rejections may be more than I am willing to suffer. And I understand that experience is not unusual for the novice.

So fame and fortune may elude this generation of Indermills as well. Does that mean we [see Note 1] stop writing? Absolutely not! I sometimes feel like if I don’t get the ideas down on paper, they’ll eventually accumulate to the point of spontaneous combustion.

For those not quite that driven, the process may begin on a more mechanical level. How does one go about “trapping” a subject? I think the key is simply to 1) increase our powers of focused observation, and then (2) become more aware of our mental meanderings.

Let’s see how that plays out in reality. As I write, I am sitting in a relatively new church building early (way too early) on a Sunday morning. Looking around, I see the results of a long construction campaign, the details of which will hopefully be recorded for those who come after. The sun is starting to come up on a cold (almost to the point of freezing) rainy (thus almost to the point of icy) day.

Because I belong to an organization directed by a lay ministry, the leaders of the two congregations who meet here have been arriving steadily. Only one out of the dozen who passed by my chair failed to look at, smile toward, or cheerily (way too cheerily) wish me a good morning.

Since we’ve recently had snow, there is both a snow shovel and a broom standing against the wall in the vestibule. (Ah, the same “non-greeter” just exited and entered again—still no response, even though I intentionally watched him the entirety of his route.)

If I were to write a blog (only a small degree of irony intended!), I have several subjects available from my upholstered perch in the foyer:

1) A history of how this building came to be, including the fact that 33 years ago when I first moved here, there was only one congregation in town. Now there are four, and those four are large enough to divide into at least five if not six.

2) The miracle of similar voluntary service that is occurring at this very moment all over the world. In fact, my husband’s second oldest son is probably directing a leadership meeting in western Pennsylvania as I write—no doubt a much colder (maybe even completely past the frozen level) morning. And I’ll bet the grand majority are ultimately happy to be there.

3) Why the one dropout on the cheerfulness team? What hidden burdens are some of our fellow travelers carrying?

[Now fully light...the no-response count is up to three. But one was a wife on her way to a meeting talking to her husband on a cell phone and telling him that she loved him—excused!]

4) The faithful member (a convert of relatively few years) who arrives consistently each Sabbath morning, sets up the chairs (usually all by himself and, operating with a prosthetic leg) when the easiest way to unfold the new style of folding chair is to kick the seat outward. I’m not sure, now that I think about it, how he manages. But the process is remarkably quiet! Then he stands at the door and hands out the programs before sitting down for the meeting, a contrasting punctuation in a sea of mostly pale faces.

5) The woman who just passed by with a huge pair of loppers to finalize her floral arrangement. A highly trained professional, she voluntarily provides artistic creations that would undoubtedly fetch a handsome sum were she to be doing it commercially.

6) Here comes the group providing this morning’s special musical number—three teenagers: one of a family newly moved in, the son of a split family, and the daughter of a whole family baptized about three years ago. At least two known stories; one, as yet unclear, indubitably exists.

All these things have passed through my mind this morning. But the place where my mind stopped to graze a while was with the shovel and the broom. Let’s try that one.

* * *

The broom and the snow shovel were standing side by side in the church vestibule. Two very different tools, despite their shared handledness.

The shovel—rigid, powerful, capable of pushing and lifting; the broom—flexible, spreadable, capable of coaxing and gathering [see Note 2].

Both helpful in the appropriate circumstances, they would be totally useless in the opposite conditions. Can we imagine attacking a huge snowdrift with a broom? Or how about pursuing a dust bunny hiding under the bed with a snow shovel? Rather amusing scenarios, right?

[And here we can go whichever way we want in developing our “parable.” We will choose a genealogical application since that is the milieu in which we find ourselves.]

But don’t we sometimes find ourselves in similar situations as we search for clues about our ancestors? So often we assume that we can wade in and clear away huge piles of mystery in a series of quick blows—scoop, scoop, scoop. When the first shovelful releases relatively quickly, we think to ourselves, “Ah, this is going to be a piece of cake! No problem! Wonder why so many people exclaim over the difficulties they encounter.”

And then we hit the hard-packed bank. If it’s ice, there is nothing much to do besides leave and wait for it to thaw. We go back every once in a while to see if anything has loosened up that can be pulled away from the main body. If not, we wait a while longer.

Then as the months (maybe years) go by, we find that we’re gathering little tiny pieces of information—one detail here and another one there. A shovel would serve absolutely no purpose now. But a broom would help...each straw potentially grabbing one of those minuscule facts, drawing it closer so we can see where it might fit into the whole picture.

Two tools; multiple processes; all melded together in a flowing stream of discovery. Whenever we get discouraged and feel like we’re getting nowhere in our efforts, may we keep in mind the massive glaciers that remolded the earth’s surface as they lumbered over the landscape, the melted water that carves countless ditches (including the Grand Canyon), and the wind-blown sand which has created unbelievable shapes out of solid rock.

Whatever the stage at which we find ourselves, let’s keep our tools available and use them in the most appropriate manner. Rejoice in the big finds, persistently pursue the small ones, and be patient while the huge barriers melt. They really will if we’re determined to work away at them.


1. My sister has written poetry in the past, receiving some recognition. Recently, I was also privileged to read a cousin’s life reflections which were very interesting. (Same generation, parents from the same family, but quite a different growing up.) There may be others in the family about whom I know nothing, and that ignorance is kind of sad.

2. In fact, every time I sweep with a broom, I remember an excerpt from one of my favorite books of all time, The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew. A kindly neighbor lady is explaining to her exuberant guest, “‘Goodness, child! what a dust you’ve kicked up! that ain’t the way to sweep,’ and she took the broom out of Polly’s hand, who stood stock still in mortification. ‘There,’ she said, drawing it mildly over the few bits she could scrape together, and gently coaxing them into a little heap; ‘that’s the way; and then they don’t go all over the room.’” [p. 31 in the 1909 edition I have]

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