Shonda Rhimes Kicked my Ass and Told Me to Get Going
I thought I was through with blogging but I remembered Shonda and here I am again.
I revised this piece from one I wrote a while back and—confession time—nearly forgot about. Shonda’s words meant so much to me at the time, I realize now I should have had her entire book tattooed all over my body. It might have changed everything.
One morning, around 4:30 AM, while I was reading Shonda Rhimes’ terrific book, Year of Yes, it came to me that the reason I was avoiding my two long-time blogs was because they were starting to bore me. They both looked nice. I had decorated them to my own liking and I was comfortable there. I polished every piece, sometimes long after they’d been published. (The thing I love best about blogging is that I don’t have to ask permission to go back in, even years afterward, and edit those little things that threaten to embarrass me to the end of my days.)
But after awhile, because I’d been writing in them for years, I felt I’d said it all. I was beginning to repeat myself.
This was a couple of years ago. I needed a kick in the ass and I found it on a bookstore remainder table, where this gem of a book should never have been, but I admit if it hadn’t been there, discounted to a ridiculous dollar amount, I might never have read it. I wasn’t even sure who Shonda Rhimes was.
Turns out she OWNS Shondaland, producing and writing “Grey’s Anatomy”, “Scandal”, “How to Get Away with Murder”, and a whole slew of others. She’s a force to be reckoned with in TV land.
Shonda’s year of yes came about because she was a perfectionist deep into her job but she found after awhile there was no Shonda there—whoever Shonda was. She decided to do a year of saying “yes” to things that challenged her, including, among other things, public speaking. Also being a mom her kids might like to get to know. She pushed herself to do the things she thought she could never do and found a new kind of happiness.
She didn’t just convince me that I could do the things that challenged me, she demanded it. If anyone can make you feel guilty about how you’ve wasted your writing life, it’s someone like Shonda Rhimes — a human dynamo who, I swear, has figured out how to stretch out a 24 hour day into any length she wants it to be. She does it all, and changing gears didn’t slow her down, not even for a single nanosecond. She just became happier with herself.
So, yes, she spoke to me. I need to forget my fears and push myself. Not for fame or glory. Not any more. That train, if it was waiting for me, has long since left the station. But if I’m a writer–and I think I am–I can’t stop trying to write in a way that will find readers.
All writers write to be read. It’s our passion, our joy, our friggin’ cross to bear.
My political blog, Ramona’s Voices, had a scant following as followings go, but I kept it going for 12 years, from the day of Barack Obama’s first inauguration to the day Joe Biden was sworn in. I might have kept it going even longer if my comment section hadn’t suddenly disappeared, never to be seen again. It was actually a relief when I finally stopped fighting it and realized the time was right to archive it and walk away.
Long before I finally took the leap, I struggled with trying to come up with something new, mainly because anything I have to say about the Dread Trump and his enablers had already been covered ever so much better somewhere else. I had to admit I’d rather read what others have to say than to keep repeating my own narrow mantra, which seems to be one of two thoughts: What the hell is going ON?? and What the hell are we going to do about it?
Anyway…I highly recommend Shonda’s book. She writes–no surprise–like Meredith Grey speaks. (She invented Meredith.) But she’s a real person with real fears, real needs, real observations about how easy it is for an introvert (yes…) to take the easy way out. I could quote from her book all day, but again this is about me, not her.
So just this one thing:
I couldn’t find just this one thing.
Shonda Rhimes writes, as I said, like Meredith Grey talks, in that fluid, lyrical, poetic way where you swear you can hear music in the background; so, as inspired as I find I am, I couldn’t pull out a short quote that wasn’t part of a larger story. I couldn’t. But believe me when I say I was inspired.
I’ve been a feature writer, an essayist, a columnist. I’ve dabbled in fiction and poetry. But when I call myself a blogger, it’s a whole different ball game.
The word “blog” is short for “weblog”, which is itself a corruption of “web log”. A “log” in the real world is a method of keeping track of items or events. Ship’s logs. Aircraft logs. That kind of thing. But when the web opened up to everybody, the weblog craze took off and suddenly everyone saw the chance to tell everyone else about their lives. Every little detail of their lives. In public. There must have been millions of blogs. Maybe there still are. I don’t know. I try not to think about it.
I started the original Constant Commoner to get away from politics and write about everything else going on in my life. I’ve written about my age, about my cancer, about my writing–and every time I write about those things I sort of demand that my readers don’t feel anything.
Damndest thing. I never realized it before, but I do that. I’ve talked about my age, finishing up with something about not giving my age another thought. It’s just a number. (So why did I bring it up?)
I talked about my cancer, demanding not an ounce of pity. None at all. In fact, I seemed to be saying, “Pretend you never read this. No big deal. How was YOUR day?”
What I found is I love blogging but I’m not really comfortable with the whole blogging thing—the meandering, the navel-gazing, the nit-picking, the need to elevate minutiae, just to be writing.
Setting up a blog in order to have your say without anyone telling you you can’t has its drawbacks. At some point you stop trying hard enough. Especially if you have no real audience. Then it’s no more than a self-indulgent journal or a diary. Which is okay if that’s your thing.
But, thanks to Shonda, I tried something new. I moved to Medium, where I wrote fairly often for a couple of years. But after a while I didn’t push myself there, either. Did I grow? I think so. I’m proud of many of the pieces I produced there, so much so that I’ve moved a few of them here and on my sister blog, Constant Commoner.
But in time I saw Medium as a content mill rather than a venue for creative writing, or my other love, political writing. I made some really good friends there, and found some amazing writing, but finding amazing writing at Medium is like sifting through mountains of smelly trash in order to find a bright, shiny jewel.
Is that an insult to Medium? Maybe. But that’s the way I see it and this is my blog, so…
Now I’ve taken my blog voice to Substack. I want my blogs to be uniquely my own. I want to be braver. I want to write with the kind of authority that isn’t show-offy, that isn’t obnoxious, that isn’t academic (not that I could pull that off, anyway), but is entertaining and undeniably me.
I want to do it because I remember now how I felt when Shonda Rhimes kicked my ass. And it all happened because — serendipity! — my ass happened to be in the right place at the right time.
I’d love to hear what you think. Please comment, and turn that little heart red if you like it.