Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Challenged

I've always been a sucker for the year-end wrap up.

Hopelessly sentimental, there's nothing I like more than those end-of-the-year issues of magazines, with their tidy accounting of the annual best and the worst, all that assigning of highs and lows. I love seeing the pictures of the year. The stories of the year. The songs of the year.

With 2009 drawing to a close, I'm being asked to participate in my own wrap up, of sorts.

Just about a year ago, I was asked to be part of a challenge to do something extraordinary in 2009. Something bigger than a typical New Year's resolution, but smaller than a midlife crisis stunt.
"Somewhere between losing that extra five pounds, and winning a Best Director Oscar," read the invitation.

Sure, I thought. I can do this. The person whose aspiration was deemed the coolest (and who actually achieved it) wins a $50 bottle of booze, not to mention the satisfaction of a job well done. I put forth three proposals. And now it's time to submit my essay explaining why I should win.

So let's have a look at how I did, shall we?

1. To play the cello in public again

Can I just write a big fat FAIL and be done with it? As I write this, I see my cello sitting forlornly in the corner, bathed in dust. The cello that was once so central to who I was.
The cello I played for hours each day for years and years, and lugged with me on planes and trains and subways. The cello whose physical presence -- the literal feeling of the calloused flesh of my fingers on its strings and wood -- was what I missed most desperately at first, like a phantom limb. In 2009, I didn't even get as far as opening the case. Play in public? Uhhhhhh.....no. Ain't gonna happen. Next?

2.
To have a byline in the New York Times

See, this one is interesting.

I've never written for the Times and still fervently hope to. For years now I've had a vague idea that I could write a piece for "Modern Love," the wonderful column in the Sunday Styles section. It's where my friend Ayelet Waldman secured a berth on Oprah by declaring -- PC parenting police be damned -- that she loved her husband more than her children. It's where writer Amy Sutherland placed her now-famous "Shamu" piece. And it's also the place where one of the most devastatingly moving personal essays I've ever read, Ann Hood's "Now I Need a Place to Hide Away" appeared. (Warning, not for the faint of heart.)

Lifetimes ago, I had a rather colossal romantic disaster of my own, one with all sorts of nuances I suspected would make for perfect Modern Love copy. I've long wanted to take ownership of that experience and write about it. I've had a number of false starts over the years, but, spurred on by the idea that I might actually meet my 2009 goal and place it in the Times, I finally got to work on it in earnest. I spent a long time painstakingly crafting that column.
I became a little obsessed, to be honest, revisiting what was undoubtedly the most wrenching time of my life, re-reading exceedingly painful journal entries from that period and dredging up some very unpleasant -- and surprisingly unresolved -- feelings. I found myself writing and re-writing the piece in my head at all hours, to the point where I could quote it almost from memory. And I finally came up with something I really thought captured precisely what I wanted to say.

I let a select few people read the piece, and the response was overwhelmingly favorable. My agent said simply, "Wow."

Would the Times have accepted it? I don't know. And may never. Because ultimately, I decided not to submit it. Perhaps one day I'll feel differently, but for now, I've come to the conclusion that it's a pot best left unstirred, an intensely personal story better left untold.

Case closed, right? I'm 0 for two? On to number three?

Not so fast.

Because a funny thing happened in the wake of writing my erstwhile Modern Love piece. Literally the moment I got the column into its final form, and then made the decision to hold onto it, a calm came over me. Through the very process of writing, of forging the jumbled soup of my inner life into a stream of words that could stand on their own and tell a meaningful story,
I made my peace with whatever vestigial ghost of that experience was still haunting me. Any residual hurt I may have held onto was entirely exorcised by the writing process. Vanished. Gone. Poof. Done. It's like it never happened.

I know how therapeutic and empowering the writing process can be. But I had never seen it work quite so transparently before. All that writing and re-writing? Duh! I was...working it out. Literally.

So the New York Times isn't going to happen for me this year. But I'm calling this one a victory nonetheless. It's just not the one I was aiming for.

3.
To build a loyal following for this blog that actually includes people I don't already know.

OK. So here we go.

I know there have to be people reading this blog that I didn't know on January 3, 2009, when I posted those words. Because I simply didn't know enough people to match the numbers of hits I'm getting, even if some of them do get here by googling odd things like "diaper love story." (Don't do it. Please. Just trust me.) Besides, my mother doesn't know how to use a computer. My post about experts was recently quoted in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, by a reporter I a) swear is not my mother and b)
swear I did not know at all on January 3, 2009 and c) swear I did not pay or sleep with. My "Showtime" post got named one of the best of the week by the Five Star Friday blog. (See aforementioned a, b, and c.)

So yes, I did manage to accomplish this goal, technically speaking. I'm not sure how stickler-ish the judges will be when it comes to proving my readers are loyal, or when it comes to what constitutes a "following" per se. So let's have some fun, shall we?


At the risk of totally humiliating myself by what could be deafening silence, I'll ask: Are you a regular reader of these pages? Did you know me prior to January 3, 2009? Can you attest to your loyalty to Clever Title TK in a comment here, or, if you prefer, an email to blogmail@jenmen.com?

Perhaps you've got the blog name tattooed across your chest? Have a photo of yourself wearing a CTTK logo t-shirt at the top of Mt. Everest or Machu Picchu? Named your baby "CleverTitleTK?" (BTW, a Twitter friend just told me about a kid on the playground named "Treblinka." If that doesn't win every bad name anecdote contest from here to eternity, I quit.) Perhaps you suggested that NASA put one of my cogent analyses of American Idol in a Mars probe, just in case there's intelligent life out there? Didjya? Didjya?

OK, I'm kidding. I'll take anything you've got, even if it's just a simple declaration that you've been here,
(Just write, "Present!") only because you were searching for diaper fetish photos. (See? I told you you didn't want to know.)

C'mon. There's booze at stake! Not to mention my honor. So help a girl out, won't you?

Update: December 30. I've just been named to a list of the 50 best mommybloggers who didn't make the real list of 50 best mommybloggers. Granted, all I did was reply to a tweet asking if any moms who blogged had special talents, (mine is that I can always tell how something's going to taste just by looking at it) but I'm taking it. Followers? I got followers. Yay!

17 comments:

  1. While I did know you on Jan. 3, 2009 (so perhaps this precludes me from counting toward your goal?) I have certainly become a loyal reader of Clever Title TK. Which for me says a lot, because this is basically the one and only blog in my Google Reader that's not directly related to what brought me to blogging in the first place--infertility and child loss. You, my friend, are the one and only fertile mama with no dead babies among my list of regularly-read writers! Surely that alone deserves some booze. At the very least, a toast.

    I'm impressed by the accomplishments you achieved last year, even if they weren't exactly what you expected they're certainly noteworthy and I enjoyed hearing about them and being reminded of why I started writing again in 2008. It IS amazing therapy, and a heck of a lot less expensive than involving analysts and docs!

    I hope you hear from some of your lurkers so that you can claim that well-earned bottle of booze.

    Sending hugs to you and yours this holiday season~
    Brenna

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  2. Let me be the first... wait I'm not the first. Anyway, let me proclaim to all that I am addicted to this blog. I was not offered money or fancy drinks to give this testimony. I only "met" Jennifer a few weeks ago. She is very deserving of all praise. What else am I supposed to say? Something about Queen of ALL the land? I don't know, just give her the booze already.

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  3. I did not know you on January 3rd! And yet here I am, a newish (but devoted) reader. Loyal as an old dog, judges, and I haven't been coerced into saying so by a promised portion of the liquid winnings. Not that I would turn away such a portion. Waste not, want not.

    Anyhow, I am glad you commented on my website and led me here. You have been awfully kind to me the last few months, and a girl can never have too many online friends. TK, by the way is one of my very favorite phrases.

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  4. I'm fairly sure that meeting you in 5th (or was it 6th?) grade excludes me from the "new to you" criteria, but to put it succinctly, your writing and your blog rocks! Okay, i've been hanging with my 13 year old a bit much lately, but in all seriousness, to your veiled "how my doing?" question i say, you're doing amazing. Please keep writing so we can keep reading!

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  5. I did not know Jennifer on January 3 2009, though there were rumors of her existence. I found her and her blog only recently, via Twitter. I think it's a terrific, funny thoughtful blog and I very much enjoy visiting it and reading of her adventures. I think she not only deserves booze, but also chocolate cake. Also a massage and hot towels delivered to her home before every meal.

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  6. I knew of Jennifer before 1/3/09 via her brother Matt, but I had no idea she had a blog until a few weeks ago and I've been a dedicated reader since.

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  7. I only met Jennifer about 10 years ago. It was on a date. We then kept dating and got married. Then we bought and house and made two small humans. So I guess I don't count as "new," but I like the blog. Nice work Jennifer.

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  8. I came to your blog a few months back on the recommendation of a friend of yours, who I work with. I follow in that I check regularly for updates and have added your blog to my blog reader, which lets me know when you've updated.

    And wow -- I read that Ann Hood essay, and you weren't kidding. It literally took my breath away (more than once) and I had to force myself not to cry here at work.

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  9. I'm still trying to recover from the person who named his/her child "Treblinka", while just proves that I read your whole blog post, as I do for all of them. Your writing is most excellent, my friend. But I guess I don't count toward this goal. . .

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  10. Present. :)

    I met you a year ago online - I'm pretty sure it was about Emilie that we started talking, and then you were inspired to start this blog. Am I right? I've stuck with ya.

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  11. Hi! You don't know me yet, but I'm hoping that we'll be getting acquainted soon. I found you through @bsain on Twitter. As proof of my loyalty, I just added your blog to my Google reader. I was already following you on Twitter. I will also include you in my "amazingauthorsandartists" list there. Really hope you win the booze. Either way, I'm happy to have found your blog. Dani {ddh77}

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  12. Jen:

    As I type this, I am sitting atop the summit of Mt. Everest, under a flag of the United States of America that is stuck in the ice. A smaller banner sits to my left. It reads simply, "Clever Title TK Rules the World." It was my idea to bring this second flag, and even though we lost two members of the expedition because of it (the heavy quilting material proved to be a drag), I am still proud to see it fly here atop the world's highest peak.

    I'm running out of oxygen, so can't write much longer. Congrats on your blog efforts this year!

    Steve "Tip" Tipperson, Clever Ttitle TK Everest 2009 Team Captain

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  13. Just "discovered" you via Matt's blog. Love your writing. I'm hooked.

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  14. Okay, I can definitely say I did not know you January 3rd, 2009, but I have to admit that I only just now visited your blog. I think it should count, though, that the whole time I was reading this, I was thinking... how could I not have been reading this blog?

    So I'm loyal now. How's that?

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  15. You've got my vote as the 2009 Challenge Winner! I didn't know you on Jan 3rd 2009 and found your blog from Dave's. Your writing is great...witty and honest. I hope you do get to play your cello publicly in 2010. I just saw The Soloist. If you haven't seen it, do. It's lovely!

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  16. Found you through a link in HerBadMother actually and thought your blog deserved a read. How ironic that you got your wish to be in the NYT only to have it be so controversial! Even if we don't agree on some things I understand that you had a job to do and your opinion (and blog) is important! And an enjoyable read! Best of luck and I wish you lots more success!

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