Deep Thoughts,  Glamorous Escapades

Schickel Insults Blogs; Melee Ensues

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.)


  • boomama

    So I’ve wondered for the last couple of days how you fared at the Writing Extravaganza, and from what I’ve read here, you fared SPECTACULARLY.

    Well done.

    Now I’m off to check out Mr. Schickel’s daughter’s book, because unlike Mr. Schickel and blogs, I’d like to actually, you know, READ THE BOOK before I make up my mind.

    Also: Gay Talese?!?! Really? Here? In our fair city? I’ll be doggone.

  • Kathy

    Thanks for the link, Anne. I’m very glad to confirm that Mr. Schickel was not wearing that little hat during his speech.

    You did indeed garner applause with your challenge to Mr. Schickel. I know because I was leading it.

  • charro

    Well, I am not your mother , nor your cousin, and I don’t even like beer, but I do love reading your blog despite what what’s his name says. He is the idiot, obviously, critizing something he knows nothing about. He needs to get off his high horse and smell the sun drenched grass. I , for one, am very proud of you..not only for being a wonderful wife, a very involved mother, but a women who has substance and opinions and can express herself in such a humorous way.

  • maryann

    I’m a student at the school where the conference was held, and I’m so sorry Mr. Schickel had such poor manners. I was unable to attend the conference, class got in the way of most of the parts I was interested in. I’ve been reading your blog since it was featured in the local paper a while back and, as I am also from the Tiny Kingdom, have found it to be quite on-point and hilarious. I’m glad to know there are other ‘normal’ people in the Kingdom aside from my family 🙂

  • Karin B

    It makes me wonder WHY this well established writer felt a need to criticize something he knew nothing about. It is upsetting that there are always ignorant critics putting down those who are beginning to succeed in something new and different.

  • YellowMom

    I love reading your blog and the adventures of your family. I consider this real writing, more real than a lot of the news out there. I am glad you defended yourself.

    Also, I loved reading the post about when Drew cheated on a test, because it was a glimpse into the future of what I might have to deal with. I had no idea so many people wrote in to judge you, and I feel bad, even though I was not one of them.

    I feel like we get the privilege to enjoy your blog and in exchange, I would never write in and judge you and Bill. It breaks my heart that people feel the need to do that. I am sure those same people would not want be judged on their parenting decisions. I know I wouldn’t.

    Thank you for sharing, and keep up the good work. You make me spit water at my computer screen on a daily basis, because I am laughing so hard.

  • Leeny

    How disappointing that someone of his stature would stoop so low as to criticize something he admittedly knows nothing about! Excuse me, he called bloggers idiots? His arrogance and rudeness makes HIM the idiot! Rock on, Anne! You are a terrific writer, mother and all-around gal!

  • Shell

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t it Time magazine that featured “You” as their Person of the Year – tipping a hat to the huge phenomenon of user-created content that proliferates the Web? Um, such as blogs?

    Just because the MEDIUM is not on a piece of wood does not mean the MESSAGE is any less relevant or thought-provoking. Words are words, and they have the power to move us to action (such as me writing these very words), tears, laughter, and open entirely new worlds, like The Tiny Kingdom. Write on, Anne, write on.

  • Katrina

    From one idiot to another: Brava! I have to tell you again, since it’s been awhile, how much I absolutely adore your writing. I could spend all day in your archives, but then my family might not be able to pick their way around all the piled up laundry and dirty dishes around the place, so I’ll have to take my doses of TK when I can get them. 🙂

  • heather

    I love reading your blog! I don’t think I’ve ever “come out” and commented before, but I just had to on this one. But then reading through the other comments, I am at a loss for words because charro’s comment above took the words right out of my mouth.

    I also wanted to let you know that the post about Drew’s “cheating”? That was the one that got me hooked on your Tiny Kingdom. I admired the way you handled the whole situation -although I guess that is not unusual; I truly respect your parenting and your realness about your family as well as this crazy world we live in. Thanks for sharing it with all of us!

  • mom2ameliaB

    I have to say I really enjoyed your presentation at the conference. It was so nice to meet you and learn from you. And, I must say, your hair looks so good. If you hadn’t told on yourself, I would have NEVER guessed it’s a home job. I, like many others, was so shocked by Richard Schickel’s comment. When he said it, I immediately jerked my head in your direction to see your reaction. I thought you handled yourself wonderfully. I especially loved when you raised your hand to him and said “Stop.” I could really see then that you are both a seasoned lawyer and momma. Mr. Schickel may not read blogs, but for stay-at-home moms with no “live” friends like me they are a godsend. I have learned so much online from other moms and discovered that I am actually doing a better job than I give myself credit for. I love your blog because it gives me a peek into a world I imagined is very different from my own. I am a country girl who has always wondered how the wealthy set lives in The Tiny Kingdom. Thanks to your words I now know that despite economics we’re really not that different. I am grateful for you and hope you keep up the good work.

  • Melissa R. Garrett

    Woo-hoo! I’ve never visited your site before but I have to say, I’m hooked and will be back!

    While most of what I write about on my blog would be considered pure drivel by many, there are those rare occasions when what I do post is of value to my readers and theraputic for me. I don’t know what I would do without my site, and the many, many friends I have gained because of it. Long live the blog!

  • Lily

    Hiii! I am a 21 year old from Australia. Have no idea where your Tiny Kingdom is and have absolutely no experience or desire to experience motherhood at this stage, and yet I STILL read every post and have been ever since the start, and STILL laugh at every joke. You’re a great writer that can appeal to all ages and experience. Thanks a lot and keep it up!

  • Ann Kroeker

    I just stopped by to tell you that I wrote a short post today and highlighted you at the end of it, pinging back to your post announcing that you were going to speak at the conference.

    Then I saw this post. What a story! I have to admit that even some friends and relatives of mine question my time investment in the blog. “How can you write all of that for free?” Sometimes I’m not sure how to answer. It’s true that I don’t gain financially from it at all. But, well, my post today explains some of my motivation. I’m rambling, but just know that as a blogger, I thank you for standing up for us. Many bloggers have greater readership than some small magazines, and they’re writing very well.

    I wish I’d been there to witness the whole interaction. But you told the story so well, I feel like I was.

  • Daneen

    Fantastic response to an unfortunate, uneducated comment. I would have been glued to my chair in shock!
    As for writing and blogs go, I began reading your blog several months ago. I haven’t missed a post since, and was even inspired to start my own.
    Good luck to you, and on behalf of bloggers everywhere, THANK YOU!

  • Erika Schickel

    Hello, it’s me, Erika Schickel, daughter of that bete noir of the blogosphere, Richard Schickel. I’ve been following the brouhaha, and feel compelled after reading your post, to respond.
    First of all, thank you for being so positive and open-minded in regards to my book, “You’re Not the Boss of Me,” which is indeed, ironically, on a blog tour this week. In the past few days I have gotten some of the most insightful, intelligent and generous reviews so far from bloggers. I owe a huge debt of gratitude you and your ilk.

    I first became a stuck-at-home mom eleven and a half years ago, long before blogs were in vogue. All us moms had then was Annie Lamott to ease our boredom and reassure us that we were not alone in the fine madness that is motherhood. I could have really used a lifeline like “My Tiny Kingdom,” “Leery Polyp” or any of the dozens of other top-notch mommy blogs that are out there today. Not only because many of them reflect my experience, but also because they give me glimpses into different variations on the theme of motherhood, and the closely-examined lives of others.

    Now, because I was raised in the shadow of Mr. Schickel, I avoided writing until I finally broke down under my own creative pressure and spewed a bunch of mothering essays, which I published (for teeny-tiny amounts of money) in our local newspapers and also, for free, on the internet. While it was delightful and validating to be paid 10 cents a word writing for alternative weeklies, it was my unpaid writing for that got me noticed by a NYC literary agent and resulted in my book deal. So to you and your readers, here I stand, a living rebuttal to my own father’s half-baked theory.

    Now, I know my Pop can be (as a less fair-minded blogger dubbed him) a “doody-head”, but he’s MY doody-head and I love him. He is a brilliant critic, an inspired writer, and encyclopedic in his subject, which is film history. He is also a tireless supporter and champion of my work, as his mention of my “momoir” at the conference proves. But like many of our parents’ generation, he’s coming from another mind set. At 73 he’s enjoyed a lifetime of success and validation working in the traditional world of letters, and has no reason to adapt to the new world order. His place is assured in journalism, but for most of our generation of writers, traditional, pulp-based freelance outlets and opportunities are disappearing, and it is clear that the real action is on the web. (Incidentally, review space has shrunk to nothing in Time, and my Dad is writing a lot for its dotcom these days.)

    So, like most seniors, the old man has little use and limited understanding of our generation’s newfangled ways – it’s just a variation on the classic “Rock n’ Roll is noise!” argument. But unlike most people’s parents, my dad gets a platform. True, he should know his audience before he blows hard, but also, whoever booked that panel and put him in a roomful of bloggers was simply out of their gourd. I’m not trying to excuse, only to explain. My Pop is indeed an opinionated, curmudgeonly, coot — and nothing delights him more than pissing people off. He’s loving this inasmuch as he’s following it.

    Of course, I wasn’t at the conference, but believe me, I’ve heard his rap before. Take what you can from it: we should all try to write every day about the things we care about, whether it’s D.W. Griffith or our own pancake-like breasts. It’s all valid and we should value our work and try to get paid for it whenever we can. But we should also go where its warm, where our readers can find us and where we can build a community of shared thought and experience and just do the thing we love: write. Having said that, let’s also make room for the dissenters, the doubters, the naysayers and all of those who swim against the current. Crowning Schickel with a coil of turd as Zaius Nation did merely validates his assumption that the internet is populated by childish, mean-spirited, navel-gazers. So again, thank you for taking a higher road at MTK. You may not like what Dick Schickel had to say – but at least you were fair, and look, it led to some interesting posts!

  • Lin Haraway

    Dang! Sorry I missed that! After the morning sessions I blew off lunch and went to smell books at Barnes & Noble. But I came back for the blogging sessions!