You Heard Wrong – I am Not an Exhibitionist

I am changing the signature line on my email to include the word (new to me until today) escribitionist.  According to Wikipedia, an escribitionist is a person who keeps a diary or journal by electronic means, instead of in pen and ink.  I fall into both categories–I have kept holographic diaries since I was 10½, and I first picked up the blog habit about eight years ago.

Apparently, this word is a melding of the word exhibitionist and the Spanish word escribir, which means “to write.”  I know that when you hear the word “exhibitionist,” the first image that comes to mind is the flasher in the dirty raincoat.

I remember in the fifth grade, whenever I mentioned the little blue book with the lock on its cover that my parents gave me for Christmas, I had to force myself to use the word journal, although I much preferred the word diary, and still do.  There were two reasons: The word “diary” sounded too close to the word “diarrhea,” and the other was because many of my peers associated them with girls.  In fifth grade, girls were still icky to many of us.

So many this portmanteau isn’t so far off the mark.  If any writer is honest, he/she has to be every bit an exhibitionist.  I do not mean someone who exposes genitals to women at bus stops or to children on playgrounds.  What is the most popular euphemism for genitalia?  “Private parts,” or “privates.”  A writer must be willing to expose the most private part–not genitalia, but the psyche, the mind.

For this, I have tried to take a cue from Robert Lowry.  Anyone who has spent any time with me, or has pored through years of entries in this blog in its various incarnations, should be familiar with the name.  He was a Cincinnati-born author who enjoyed some prominence in the post-World War II literary world.  His career crashed and burned permanently when his mental illness (which manifested itself at its most violent in anti-Semitism) and alcoholism interfered with his ability to write.  His career in ruins, he moved back to Cincinnati in 1962 and lived with his mother until she died in 1987.  He spent the next several years bouncing from one flophouse to another in downtown Cincinnati, and he was living in a tiny room at the Fort Washington Hotel when I met him in 1990.

In his entry in Who’s Who in America, he explained his technique:

A bullish, pound-it-out-and-let-the-pages-fall-where-they-may attitude at the typewriter has made me, starting at the age of seven, a successful writer.  You’ve got to wipe clean the entire slate of your mind in order to be able to tap your subconscious and your unconscious and let the dynamically important things in your life surface and take over.  There is no other way to write compelling, gripping, irresistible literature, be it novels, short stories, poems, book reviews, or essays.

Just as the Internet made it easier and much more cost-effective to display private parts (as in genitalia) all over the world, available at the click of a mouse, so has it been able to spread the display of once-private thoughts all over the world, readily available to anyone with a modem.  I am forever beating myself up when I am not sitting down with a pen and the latest thick volume of my diary, although, in my own defense, entries there have been more regular than on this blog–although, as you may have noticed, I have been writing here much more frequently than I have in months, if not years.

Pre-Internet, if you had a spouse or parents who respected your privacy, the diary was as secure as a bank vault to keep a record of what went on in both your head and in your day-to-day life.  Sometimes, it was the only place where a person (of any age) could vent.

When Susie was still in grade school, a young friend of hers, who was quite intelligent, always seemed to have a lot on her mind, and had a variety of problems at home, at school, and with her peers.  She was a frequent guest at our house, and during one visit, I remembered a scene in Henry Fool (1997).  Henry Fool is an untalented novelist, drifter, and criminal who befriends a socially retarded Queens sanitation worker, Simon Grim, when he moves into the Grims’ basement.

She had wandered into my study, and I was sitting at the desk, with the laptop in front of me.  She said she would like to write some day, so I rooted around in the desk drawer and found a blank composition book, and gave it and a ballpoint pen to her.

This is an excerpt from Hal Hartley’s script, when Henry Fool performs his biggest (if not only) mitzvah in the story:

Henry stands and grabs a notebook from off the mantelpiece. He tears out a few pages and shoves them in his pocket. He hands the now fresh writing tablet to Simon.

HENRY: Here. Take this. And…

He searches his pockets and finds a pencil.

HENRY: …this. Keep them with you at all times. You ever feel like you got something to say and you can’t get it out, stop and write it down. OK?

Simon hesitates, then accepts the gifts. Henry goes for another beer while his new friend studies the dozens of notebooks on the mantelpiece.

This must have had some effect.  This young woman is 21 years old now (four years older than Susie), and I see her on the bus periodically, and she always has her leather-bound journal with her.

The big difference between the handwritten diaries and the ones kept here online, is the intended audience.  always comes first in “diary.”  That was a popular mnemonic to prevent people from incorrectly writing the word “dairy.”  We bloggers know we are writing for an audience.  All of us love to think that our words are spreading worldwide and enthralling readers as fast as we can click the mouse, but most of us are realistic enough to know that is quite unlikely.

The diarist, on the other hand, wants what is written to remain private.  The typical picture of the girl’s diary is a book stashed underneath the mattress or the pillow in her bedroom.  Elsewhere in this blog, I have written about the immense feeling of betrayal I felt when I saw my mother reading my diary.  (I am pretty sure my father never did.  Beginning when I was 16, I was quite frank when I wrote about drinking, dabbling with drugs, and early sexual experiences, and he never took me to task about them.)

Some of the smaller, pocket-sized books that can be quite effective diaries, especially if you want to have the ability to write down your fleeting thoughts on the spot

Some of the smaller, pocket-sized books that can be quite effective diaries, especially if you want to have the ability to write down your fleeting thoughts on the spot.

If we are to use the word escribitionist to describe someone who keeps a diary by other means than paper and ink, I suppose that would include someone who types entries.  FBI agent Dale Cooper, the lead character in the ABC serial mystery Twin Peaks, introduced me to a new method of journal-keeping, the voice-recorded entry.  His microcassette recorder was practically an appendage, as he dutifully dictated his thoughts and his investigative findings to his unseen aide Diane.

Tonight, at least, I come to this topic with clean hands.  I managed to write in the longhand diary this afternoon, and, fueled by the open-faced meatloaf cooked so wonderfully by the Blue Danube Restaurant, I have been able to produce a blog entry.

Unwinding Pre-Church

Steph is too tired, and the bug that made Susie feel crummy came back for an encore this morning, so I’m at Panera across from Our Lady of Peace Church, eating a bagel, drinking a small river of Diet Pepsi, and blogging before I head over to First UU for church.  I’m here alone today.

I barely left the house yesterday because Steph and I gave the living and dining rooms a long overdue cleaning and rehab.  One of the benefits was that we found Clara, the smallest of the nested wooden Russian dolls a friend of mine sent Susie from Moscow several years ago.  (Susie named the outermost one Mrs. Doll, and, in descending order, the smaller ones are Sarah, Mara, Cara, and Clara).  Clara had rolled under the couch while Susie and her friends were playing with the dolls, and she had been MIA ever since.  (I had been afraid she’d rolled down the furnace register, so I was relieved that she was safe and sound, albeit a little dusty.)

I left the house yesterday to go to the post office (I bought stamps and post cards) and to Family Dollar, and in the evening to take Susie to her friend Rosemary’s for a birthday party.  (It was at Skate America, and all the kids were meeting at Rosemary’s house beforehand.)  Steph and I ate some leftover spaghetti and watched Fay Grim, which I liked much better this second time around.  Steph had started to watch it under protest, mainly because she couldn’t stand its predecessor, Henry Fool, but she ended up thinking it was fantastic.  Susie came back, far overstimulated, from Skate America shortly before 10:30.  As soon as Fay Grim ended, I walked over to Rosemary’s house and got there just as the kids were returning.  (Seeing James Urbaniak, who played Simon in both films, on the season premiere of Without a Trace whetted my interest.)

My office is the next big cleaning project I want to tackle.  I’m sorry to report it no longer looks like the pictures I posted here last June.  I won’t post pictures of how it looks now, but I want to have it cleared before NaNoWriMo begins in November, so it won’t become a dawdling tactic.  ("I’ll get to work on the novel, but first I want to clean this shithole up!" has become a familiar stalling tactic.  "As soon as I get organized" is another one I use quite often–and waiting for me to get organized is as realistic as leaving the porch light on for Jimmy Hoffa.)

I was quite disappointed that McCain decided to debate Obama after all.  It would have been such a wonderful visual showing Obama, Jim Lehrer, and an empty podium.  As for the bailout, these bankers should be left to stew in their own juices–you made your bed, now sleep in it.  I feel like batching up all our bills and outstanding debts (and they are legion!) and mailing them to Congress and the White House to apply for a no-strings-attached bailout.

P.S.–I accidentally erased Without a Trace before I had watched half of it.  Any of you beloved readers still have a tape of it?

Susie’s Adjusted Bedtime and Rising Time

Earlier in this blog, I lamented at length that Susie’s homework consumed so much of her after-school time that she was unable to have any playtime between coming home from school and going to bed.  After much thought, Steph has finally suggested–and we put into practice for the first time this morning–that Susie go to bed at 7:30 p.m. (it had been 8 p.m. in her room, and lights out at 8:30) and wake up at 5:30 a.m. to do her homework.  Steph is usually up at that hour anyway, regardless of when she sets the alarm, so she’s on hand to go over Susie’s homework with her and help with any questions.

Even when I go to bed at a decent hour, I’m never feeling refreshed.  Throughout most of my life, I’ve been able to survive on 4-5 hours of sleep a night.  I wouldn’t mind continuing that… if the 4-5 hours could be in a row.  I wake up on and off throughout the night, often without any stimuli to cause it.  (Charles M. Schulz once wrote that “Happiness is waking up, looking at the clock, and seeing you still have two hours left to sleep.”  It’s a mixed bag.)

Tomorrow morning, I’ll go to an orientation for Columbus Reads, a volunteer tutoring program to help elementary-school kids with reading.  We’re leaving the Industrial Commission about 9:45 and going to the school (Highland Elementary) by bus, and will be back around 11:30.  Once Susie started reading, there was no stopping her, so I hope I can help another young kid discover it as well.

My parents were too self-involved to ever really teach me how to read.  My dad would work at his typewriter on the kitchen table during the afternoon when I was 2-3 years old, and when he was done I’d get on the table and pound away at the keys at random.  One day, my mother went to take the typewriter off so she could set the table.  She looked on the page and saw I had typed “GULF,” “STOP,” “WOOSTER ST”, etc.  That’s when she realized that I could read.

My love of words stemmed from something totally different.  When I was in kindergarten or first grade, there was a massive mine explosion and cave-in somewhere in West Virginia or Kentucky.  I had never paid attention to the news before, but I turned up the radio whenever they mentioned this disaster, and followed it closely on TV (I’m old enough to remember The Huntley-Brinkley Report, believe it or not).  One night, I woke up from a nightmare saying, “I don’t want to be trapped in the ground!”

My parents were totally baffled by this.  Finally, my dad came up with the cause of all this.  “I think I know where this started,” he said.  “Last month, Paul and I went to a restaurant, and he wanted to work the cigarette machine for me, and I told him he couldn’t because he was a minor.”  This was the start of how words can sound alike, but be spelled differently and have totally different meanings.

The title character in the movie Henry Fool did it very well, too:

You see, Simon,
there are three kinds of “there.”
There’s there…
“There are the doughnuts.”
Then there’s their.
Which is the possessive.
“It is their doughnut.”
Then, finally… 
there’s they’re.
T-H-E-Y, apostrophe, R-E.
A contraction.
Meaning they’re.  
“They’re the doughnut people.”
Got it?

Early to Bed…

I think one of the first signs of maturity is when getting to sleep an extra hour sounds more appealing than getting to stay up an extra hour.  Stephanie called me at work and let me know that Susie had been invited to spend the night at her friend Monica’s house.  Steph eagerly accepted the invitation, and Susie was psyched about it as well.  (She had been disappointed because Steph and I had planned to go to dinner and a movie–a tossup between Hollywoodland and The Black Dahlia–but our babysitter thought we were scheduling her for tonight, not Friday night.)

Once we got Susie packed up and on her way to Monica’s house, we decided that we would order in from Grandma’s Pizza (we tried their chili and cheese pizza, which I highly recommend if you ever come Columbus way) and then watch a DVD of Million Dollar Baby.  But, both of us were so wiped out–Steph had been running hither and yon doing all kinds of errands, and I had my hands full at work most of yesterday–that after the pizza arrived, we ate it and then sacked out around 8:30 p.m.  I sat up and watched Dateline NBC (about “info”mercials and how deceptive many of them are, especially about weight loss), while Steph conked out almost right away.  We slept until around 7 this morning.  I finally hauled myself out of bed and into the shower, then walked about 3/4 of a mile to Tim Horton’s to pick up bagels and breakfast sandwiches.  Now, Steph is shopping at Wal-Mart, Susie is here at the library with me talking with her friends, and I’m typing this blog entry.

I ordered a DVD of the movie Henry Fool, which I already have on VHS.  It’s very crude and rough around the edges, but the story is close to my heart.  A Queens sanitation worker who lives a very dull existence with his nymphomaniac sister and clinically depressed mother is inspired to write an epical poem by a pseudo-intellectual drifter and criminal who rents their basement apartment.  Simon Grim, the sanitation worker, receives instant fame and recognition, while the poseur (Henry Fool) is on the run from his probation officer.

Speaking of DVDs, I received a five-disk set of 9/11 coverage from a woman in Owings Mills, MD.  (I traded her 15 blank DVDs for this set.)  I haven’t watched much of it yet–still on the first disk, which shows NY 1’s coverage from pre-second jet until about 10:45.  I always like collecting broadcasts of historic events; when WCET, the Cincinnati PBS station, ran uninterrupted the NBC coverage of John Kennedy’s assassination, I was sure to record it all.

Crisis Averted

Since the title of this blog is “Diary of a Clerk,” I guess it’s only right that occasionally I describe something that happened on the job.  My major task, for which the State of Ohio (under) pays me, is to transcribe the dictation of doctors who examine injured workers applying for permanent total disability.  Usually, it goes without any calamity–except that I go to any length to avoid transcribing the reports of a physiatrist from Cleveland.  Two-thirds of his dictation is “And, uh…”, and he often corrects himself and asks me to insert a sentence that he’s forgotten.  How transcriptionists managed in the pre-word processing days, I will never understand!

Anyhow, yesterday an occupational medicine physician dictated his report.  He and I get along fine, and his dictations are a pleasure to transcribe, usually.  He has interesting under-his-breath asides (which I don’t add to the report), and he’s clear and spells anything I might not know.  Tuesday, I downloaded his dictation and listened to about four minutes of it.  It was so damn distorted that I couldn’t understand any of it.  After several attempts, I gave up and phoned his office.  Luckily, he was in Dayton, so I only had to talk to his receptionist.  With a heavy heart, I asked her to tell him that he needed to redictate the whole thing.

Well, he took it in stride.  The new (old) report was in the queue when I logged on this morning, and I sailed through transcribing it.  No harm done.

The guy who lives a few doors north of me just got out of prison.  He had served a two-year sentence for torching the adult bookstore/nightclub where he used to work.  We’ve been writing intermittently, but I was still surprised when I came back from Family Dollar (buying cat litter) and saw him and a friend sitting on the porch.  He’s lost a lot of weight since I saw him last, and he was walking like an invalid, but it was good to see him.  He’s angry because the people who were housesitting his house (which is one of the nicest on our block, if not in all of Franklinton) let it go to wreck and ruin.  The place hasn’t been totalled, but the biggest problem has been fleas.  Apparently, these people let their dogs and cats run wild in the place.

There was a house like that in Marietta.  I heard this second hand when I was in high school, so I take it with a grain of salt.  A kid told me that his neighbors were thinking of buying a new house, but gave up the idea when they saw how much the previous owners had left the dog to its own devices.  “I mean,” the kid said, “this dog pisses on the walls, and shits down the furnace registers, and loves to eat my jacket and my leg!”

I’m a little selfish when I say I hope the house can be restored to its former glory.  My neighbor was famous for his pull-out-the-stops Christmas buffet parties, and the food went on for miles, and there was always good entertainment and lots of good people there.  (On her bedroom wall, Susie hung up a picture of her dancing with her host.)  One year, when my neighbor (he wasn’t my neighbor then, but I knew him through the Democratic Party and the Unitarian Church) was off his meds for bipolar disorder, he decorated his bathroom floor to ceiling with gay pornography.  Susie was about three at the time, and was not quite comfortable with using a strange bathroom on her own.  She was fascinated by the pictures.  “What’s that man doing, Daddy?”  (I quickly changed the subject, although I was thinking, “Uh, he fell down and his friend is pushing him to the doctor.”)

And I knew it wasn’t my place to ask him to take all that down just because my daughter would be there one night.  When I was at Ohio U., I didn’t take down the poster of Karl Marx that hung over my bed when friends of mine who loved Ayn Rand came to visit.

Tomorrow is payday, which means I’ll buy a money order for my shrink appointment on the 20th.  I’m splurging and getting a DVD of Henry Fool and a secondhand copy of William Peter Blatty’s Legion.  (I already have Henry Fool on VHS, but I get such a kick out of that movie–at least the literary and pseudo-intellectual sections) that I knew I have to have it on DVD.