The last thing I expected to report from the Writing Today conference was that I was lured into a public SMACKDOWN over the value of blogs and blogging by Richard Schickel, film critic for Time magazine and author of many movie-related books.
Mr. Schickel gave the keynote speech during Friday’s lunch. There was a moment of silence during the invocation before his speech, and I prayed the words I customarily pray before I give a presentation because I was scheduled to talk in the afternoon session. I asked God to guide me in my choice of words, for wisdom and self-restraint, and then I prayed that God provide anything else I needed that I’d forgotten to specifically request. That’s my spiritual-legal catchall phrase I tack on just before the Amen which provides an extra dollop of comfort.
Thus armed with the Holy Spirit, I sat back as Mr. Schickel was introduced.
I was gobbling up both my rice pilaf and his words because I’ve been reading and enjoying his movie reviews since grade school. It’s embarrassing to admit it, but when we were growing up Aunt Su and I occasionally resorted to slaps and hair-pulling in our zeal to seize the Time magazine from each other on Tuesday afternoons. We didn’t grow up to be nearly as geeky as you might think given that anecdote.
Richard Schickel began by emphasizing the importance of writing every day, without compromising yourself, and trusting your instincts when you write. This is all extremely valuable advice, and it’s a poor reflection on me that I regularly ignore all of it. I didn’t write yesterday, for example, because Porter threw up on the good sofa and the cleaning cut into my computer time.
Upon reflection, I may have sacrificed my values when I cooked a batch of pancakes and used one to illustrate a story about my tiny bosoms.
If I’d trusted my instincts, I never would have published the story about the time Drew got caught cheating at school, because so many readers wrote in criticizing the way Bill and I had handled it. While I’m usually tough, it was hard not to be affected by such strong words. (That post was published on iVillage, which kept the comments, but feel free to review the column and condemn us. My skin is thicker now.)
I agreed with everything Mr. Schickel was saying although blood, vomit and my exhibitionist tendencies sometimes prevent me from following his good example.
Schickel mentioned that his daughter has published a book, which he described as a “momoir.”
And then suddenly, he veered off course and said that blogging is for idiots. That no one reads a blog except your mother and maybe your cousin, and that it’s stupid to write without getting paid for it. If I heard him correctly, he described blogs as the “near beer” of the writing world.
At first I thought I had misheard him, but then I noticed everyone looking at me. I was already well-known as “the blogger.”
Mr. Schickel finished speaking, asked for questions, and I waved my hand wildly and stood. I was damn glad I had already prayed for wisdom, as I certainly had not prepared to speak to two hundred people in a serious manner.
I addressed Mr. Schickel, but my remarks were primarily directed at the audience, which included bloggers and the conference organizers, who had determined that blogging was important enough to warrant a session during a writing conference. I could tell that Schickel wasn’t the sort of man who was going to be swayed by anything I had to say.
I said that I agreed with most of what he had said, but that he was mistaken in his belief that there are no talented, serious writers on the internet. There are thousands of blogs, but those that succeed do so based on content– the writing. He cut me off by saying that a critic’s job is to criticize, and then announced that he doesn’t read blogs.
A critic may be allowed to criticize, but I’d be compromising myself if I panned books in my Book Reviews without reading them first.
Apparently my remarks garnered applause, but I was so upset by the attitude of a man I’ve revered for so long that I didn’t hear it. I was listening to the Bangles sing “Hero Takes A Fall” in my head.
My session went well, although my audience was made up of people who blog and people who, like Mr. Schickel, have never read a blog, and unlike Mr. Schickel, want to learn about a new form of expression. It was difficult to tailor a class to such varying degrees of expertise, rather like holding a golf clinic and having Tiger Woods and me as your two students.
Later that night I met the charming Gay Talese, who had obviously spoken to Mr. Schickel, as they have been friends for years. We shook hands, and he said slyly, “I understand that you are trouble.”
We briefly bonded over a love of gin and happily, he didn’t challenge me to a smackdown or even a game of tiddlywinks, so I was able to admire his smartly tailored suit, his unexpected yet perfect tie, and his two-toned shoes which would have looked pimpish on anyone with less panache.
The rest of the weekend I was bombarded with supportive comments about the brouhaha. No one seemed to know why Mr. Schickel had made the remark, as there was no reason for him to speak of blogging at all. Perhaps he was busy and hadn’t read the program in advance of his speech. Maybe he was tired. Things could be going on at home. Everyone has off days.
I did a little research today on the book Mr. Schickel’s daughter has published. You’re Not The Boss Of Me: Adventures Of A Modern Mom by Erika Schickel just came out, and ironically, it’s going on a blog tour this week. I thought it worth my time to read several reviews and it looks fun and racy, the sort of book that many of my readers might enjoy.
I encourage you to check it out. I’m a firm believer that the sins of the father should not detrimentally affect his offspring. I’m not always able to prevent that from happening.
Overall my first writing conference was a marvelous experience. Next time, though, when I pack my legal pad and pen, I’ll throw my boxing gloves in my bag, too.
(Here’s one account of the story, and evidence that the story is making its way around the blogosphere. Mr. Schickel was NOT wearing the unusual hat depicted in the second link, by the way.)