Ten-Minute Answers

I do not know if “1874: First Impressionist Exhibition” is the all-time greatest name for a blog or the 75th greatest name, but it attracted my attention when it appeared in the blogging world a month or so ago.


Donald Barthelme

The creator usually illustrates her posts with works of art, paintings mostly, from the entire history of art, and is thus compiling a personal version of “The Story of Art.” This caught my eye, as it reminded me a bit of Donald Barthelme, and I think it also raised the bar for my website. (From the start, almost a year ago, I have included music and photos in here; an example: “Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty.”)


For the third time this week, The Gad About Town has been noticed and given an award, the Liebster award, given by one blogger to another. It is the second Liebster this year and I am very thankful to “1874: First Impressionist Exhibition” for the attention.

In the blogging world, there are some rules of etiquette in the form of paying forward the “Liebster” attention. Here are the rules:

1. Thank the person who nominated you for the award.
2. Display the award on your blog—by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a “widget.”
3. Share 11 facts or things about yourself.

In no order: A. I spend too much time thinking about me. B. Strawberries are my favorite food, and I wish they had protein so they could be a complete meal for carnivorous me. C. Being in recovery makes every day feel like an awards ceremony. D. My love of the number 4. E. Yankees, Giants, Knicks, Rangers. F. When it is fall I think that spring is the best season, and in spring I think that fall is. G. Independent bookstores. H. “Too skinny” my entire life. I. Nascar fan, which no one expects. J. Have not yet owned an mp3 player. K. I want to see Mt. Everest but only see it.

4. Nominate bloggers you admire whose sites have fewer than 200 followers and inform nominees by commenting on their blog.

I am going to repeat something I wrote earlier this week. I have been participating for the last 10 weeks in responding to our WordPress service’s Daily Prompt, which has helped spur my most prolific period of writing since graduate school. (This prolific-ness is a good thing, too, because I am working on a terrific project, due out soon, with another blogger.) Most of the writers with whom I have been communicating regularly, several of whom ask me questions and give me applause every single day, I met via that service. My subscribers have doubled and so has the number of blogs that I subscribe to. Go to the Daily Prompt any day and you will see the several dozen blogs that I read and often like every day.

“1874: First Impressionist Exhibition” is one of the blogs to which I would have given a Liebster Award. A couple others: Joatmon14, A Body of Hope. The under-200 stipulation really is a great and understandable limit, but it truly is limiting.

But, you all get an award! Check under your seats and pass it forward if you would like to.

5. Answer 11 questions posted by the presenter and ask your nominees 11 questions. These are the questions I was given. (This is like being interviewed and this is the part I am only spending 10 minutes on.)

1. What’s the best piece of advice on writing you’ve received?
My first version of any piece of writing is usually an example of over-writing, a case of stating things in a complicated fashion; this is almost always done for comic effect, and then I read it and realize that I am the only audience for the complicated version of the joke. Keep it simple.

2. How often do you write or work on writing (e.g. researching)?
Lately, every day. I was silent for a decade, so perhaps I am catching up on lost time. As I am working on a book, I know that these muscles need exercise.

3. Are you an atheist, agnostic, a believer or something else?
I believe that life is a force that goes on. I do not believe that there is a Big Boss in charge, or that my particular consciousness was around before me or will continue beyond me. But life, whatever that energy is, will. I have a higher power in my life, in that I believe that neither you nor I are figments of my imagination.

4. Do you think this affects your writing?
It has an effect on my outlook on life, so I think that it has an effect on my writing, certainly any personal memoir writing.

5. What’s your favorite book?
“The Secret Parts of Fortune” by Ron Rosenbaum.

6. Who is your favorite author?
James Joyce. Sometimes I think that I like Richard Ellmann’s “James Joyce” more than Joyce, but then I look at “Ulysses” again. Nabokov. I am reading Martin Amis’s newest, out last week, “The Zone of Interest.” Nonfiction: John McPhee.

7. What’s your favorite movie?
“The Maltese Falcon.”

8. Who is the awesomest person you know (or know of), dead or alive?
I am proudest of my sister, for reasons she knows. I can not take my eyes off my girlfriend.

9. How would you define creativity?
Making 2 + 1 = G. But not every time.

10. How long have you been on WordPress?
According to WordPress, since May 2013, but this blog went live in December after starting it on Blogger.

11. Do you write for a living?
Not at the moment …

The WordPress Daily Prompt for October 9 asks, “10 minutes. You and your keyboard (or smartphone. Or tablet. Or pen and paper). No pauses, no edits, no looking back: it’s free-write time!” And that is why my answers are what they are.

An Award-Winning Blog

liebster2A nomination for a “Liebster Award” is something of a blogger’s—or at least a WordPress blogger’s—rite of passage. In German, the word “liebster” means “dearest” or “beloved,” so sharing a nomination for the award and asking the nominee to pass it on (which is one of the stipulations of the award) is a way to make the world a little more dear. Billie nominated me this week, so I am a dear in her headlights. Please visit her website—it is worth your time, and her design and approach have given some direction to my plans for this website.

As I have detailed elsewhere, my column won a prize from the New York Press Asssociation some years ago, but most of my pride that day was for the writers I edited who won awards for their work, themselves. Those were some of the best phone calls I have ever been asked to make. This is the first time work of mine has been nominated by someone other than my employer. A Liebster Award nomination is the same thing as winning—as long as I pass it on and nominate several blogs that have fewer than 1000 followers each and give them some props and ask them to take part. (This award is kind of a pyramid scheme, minus the con. It’s actually just a cool way to build readership and showcase some blogs that are worth getting to know.)

Besides “Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me,” my nominated blogs are “Mywordsontheline,” “Words, Words, Words,” “Read. Write. Teach,” “Writing with Purpose,” and “black is white.”

If I have nominated you, and you choose to accept my nomination of your blog and continue with the Liebster award process, here are the rules:

1. Thank the person who nominated you, and post a link to their blog on your blog.

2. Display the award on your blog—by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a “widget” or a “gadget.” (Note that the best way to do this is to save the image to your own computer and then upload it to your blog post.)

3. Answer eleven (11) questions about yourself, which will be provided to you by the person who nominated you.

4. Provide eleven (11) random facts about yourself.

5. Nominate five to 11 blogs that you feel deserve the award, blogs that have less than 1000 followers each. (Note: you can always ask the blog owner for this information since not all blogs display a widget that lets the readers know how many followers they have.)

6. Create a new list of questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer.

7. List these rules in your post (You can copy and paste from here.) Once you have written and published it, you then have to then:

8. Inform the people/blogs that you nominated that they have been nominated for the Liebster Award and provide a link for them to your post so that they can learn about it (they might not have ever heard of this prestigious honor).

Here are the questions that were sent to me and that I now send on with my replies: (in the case of the first question, change “Ireland” to “upstate New York”)

What do you think of when you think of Ireland?
The Hollywood version, probably: “The Quiet Man,” etc. I studied James Joyce in graduate school and have ambitions to reread “Ulysses” this year. I also have ambitions to see Ireland in person someday …

What food is too much work for you to eat?
Anything too hands-intensive. Lobster. I can still work chopsticks.

Did you ever have a tree fort growing up? How about a secret club?
My dad laid some planks in a tree in our backyard, and I remember some steps nailed to a tree. I never liked climbing trees or even jungle gyms. I seem to have developed my healthy fear of falling from the start, before ataxia.

What technology (if any) in today’s world are you suspicious of?
Anything controlled remotely or automatically—drones, online bots.

What is the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do at night?
Start boiling water for coffee (I love my coffee press). Fall asleep watching Netflix.

What (if anything) would you absolutely refuse to do under any circumstances? Why?
Physically injure an animal.
Hum. I don’t hum.

If you could ask one person one question and get a completely honest answer, who would it be and what would you ask?
Maybe my great-grandparents (great-grandfather, I suppose) on my mother’s side about what made them leave Russia and move to America.

What is the first thing you learned to cook? Did you enjoy the experience?
The first thing I actually remember cooking for myself (or knew that I knew how to) is french toast.

What thing sucks most of your free time away? Do you enjoy it?
Online social media. Yes, I enjoy being in touch and expanding my circle of friends.
When my health insurance starts up again, I will be spending a lot of time in doctors’ offices. Because of my ataxia, I have a neurologist and a cardiologist.

Describe a time when a small decision by you brought big consequences (good or bad).
If I knew that the night I drank my last drink was going to be the night I had my last drink … it was not a decision, not one made by me, at least, and it was small in the scheme of things. The universe did not change when I stopped, but when I stopped, my universe changed.

What major historical thing(s) happened in your lifetime? Has it changed your life?
In my lifetime, there have been many major news stories. There were two presidential impeachment cases, one of which provides me my earliest memory of a news story, and the later one I wrote about in a newspaper. Space exploration accidents. The realization that climate change is happening and more man-made than not.
The social neuroses caused by the Cold War. I probably still have those echoing in my psyche.
September 11.
The announcement last year that Voyager 1 had left the solar system affected me deeply; the “pale blue dot” photo.

Eleven random facts about me:

1. The number four is my lifelong “secret lucky number.” (Anyone who has gambled with me knows about this. Read: The Gad About Town: Against NYS Proposition 1.) Now, I know that in most of the world’s luck traditions, if one declares out loud that something is secret and lucky, one has immediately kiboshed all secrecy and luck out of that thing’s existence, but that is the beautiful thing about my “secret lucky number 4”: It remains lucky and maybe even grows in power every time I speak of my special relationship with it.

2. I left New Paltz in 1995 to work in Narrowsburg, NY, and moved back to New Paltz in 1997. I left New Paltz again in 2000 to work in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and returned to New Paltz in 2006. (There are legends about New Paltz and eternal return and gazing upon the nearby Wallkill River—I am legend, I suppose.)

3. Depending on my relative levels of optimism or pessimism, I may refer to my spinocerebellar ataxia as an “illness” versus a “condition.” The latest feature of this condition that I have been noticing of late (first noticed last year) is that when I can not see my feet, I lose track of which is which. I may think I’m tapping my right, but it’s my left that’s annoying people around me. After going to bed, I may think my left leg itches, only to scratch it and find it was my right, or worse, that I am scratching the mattress.

4. I pretended to write before I knew how to write. There may even now be pieces of furniture at my family’s house with my crayon scribblings on and in them—I did not draw, I wrote, wavy lines that I would then interpret to my parents as a story. I’ll guess I was about three or … four. See? It must have been a lucky number.

5. I am one of the least ambidextrous humans on earth. When I sprained my right side a few years ago (falling asleep in an office chair), I learned that I could not write my name left-handed. This was a severe disappointment, as I spent many hours as a child trying to become ambidextrous and had trained myself to write at least my name with my left hand. The skill has left me.

6. I am very audiologically sensitive (I do not know if that is even a term). I can identify voiceover actors, even when famous ones are used anonymously. The downside of this is a sensitivity to certain noises … if the faucet in your kitchen sink is dripping, I will excuse myself from your living room to see if the tap can be tightened or if the faucet swung away from any container under it. Sadly, this sensitivity does not translate to any musical ability. I have none, just an appreciation for music and performance.

7. I see words as I speak them.

8. If you have a trivia team, I am an asset. My areas are American political history, baseball, English literature, broadcasting history.

9. My favorite animals growing up were dinosaurs. My favorite dinosaur was the triceratops. In the children’s books about dinosaurs, the triceratops always seemed to get into a tangle with the T-Rex and walk away.

10. I remember most people’s names after one hearing, especially if I also saw it written down. I can not, however, remember jokes or poems.

11. Formal logic is a weakness. In Geometry class, it once took me eight steps in a proof to establish one leg of a triangle equal to itself. It amazes me that I can design this webpage.