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January 23, 2011

About this Website, and its Authors

This website is under my name, but it is as much Pete’s creation as it is mine. We’re joined at the hips. We only run into problems when we attempt to move in opposite directions. So we generally work together, him doing the left brain thing, and me doing the right brain thing.

I began mulling over the idea of my having a website in spring, 2010 when I was in the middle revisionary stages of working on Raudi’s Story. I had my reservations. I’m a print person and ascribe greater validity to having one’s work appear on paper. At the same time, the more ephemeral nature of the web makes me nervous. One electrical surge can wipe out half a lifetime’s work. If I was in my twenties, I could begin anew. But now that I’m in my fifties, I cannot. I don’t want my tombstone to read “Perished, didn’t Publish.”

I finally conceded to myself that having a website would be more advantageous than not. My readership has slowly been dwindling, and I figured that perhaps doing some social networking would give it a boost. At the same time, I realized that something I greatly value, my creative process, would not be significantly altered by my posting my work. When I write, I, in a manner of speaking, come clean. I’m an essayist, and I attempt to get at certain truths by rehearsing, drafting, revising—and not necessarily in that order. I could continue to do as I’d done in the past, and write first drafts in my daybook. This way, Christopher Benson (my biographer) would have them on hand if my soul was suddenly lost in cyberspace.

I also had a lot of unpublished stuff lying around. I’m both prolific and compulsive. If a better idea emerges in the drafting process, I’ll abandon an earlier one. I have left several near-finished books in my wake. I’m too busy writing to think much about marketing my work. Nevertheless, approximately five percent of what I’ve written has appeared in print, which is pretty good, given the changing state of the publications market.

And too, there’s this business of blogs. Some are adept at getting a fleeting thought on paper, but that’s all it is. Much is merely fast food writing, and the audience is often voracious family members and friends. I didn’t want to go there.

The positives finally outweighed the negatives, which was why I finally decided that I should have a website. My initial thought was that I should have an on-line version of the stuff that I’d discarded in the process of writing Raudi’s Story. I got out a sheet of paper, and made a list of what I might include on my site. I began going through my print and computer files. Stories that I’d forgotten I’d written surfaced. For example, it had seemed a shame to take out the chapter about our deceased dog Bootleg, but I knew that my readers would want me to cut to the chase fairly quickly and start talking about my relationship with Raudi.

Other, unrelated writings also surfaced. Philip Lopate once said that all writers should file away all they write, and in five years come back to it. His premise was that if the writing is good, that it will survive the personal test of time. I was actually surprised by the high quality of some of the things that materialized; for example, my poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Parasite” was both funny and well-crafted. I categorized this, and works that fit into other categories. And I discarded stuff that either had not been completed, or would need extensive revision in order to be considered publishable.

I also gave further thought to the subject of blogs. This seemed like a good way to get information out there about our upcoming trip. A bit of genre bending was in order. I could call such work Dispatches. These were originally messages which were written by a war correspondent and “dispatched” to distant audiences. For this reason, the term denotes an element of hardship. Neither Pete nor I like hardship, but as he says, this is what sells. I decided to tweak the term dispatch in order to include writings in which the author seeks creative ways of getting around potential travel-related problems. A dispatch is also more lengthy and substantial than blogs. And even though some are revised, they convey a much-welcomed sense of immediacy.

I spent three months organizing five year’s worth of material. After, I, all in one breath, mentioned to Pete that I was thinking about my having a website and would he be so kind as to construct it for me because I could not do this myself and I really did like the other site he designed, the Alaska Icelandic Horse Association website.

I kept talking because I really didn’t think he’d be able to do this. He’s capable enough. Pete’s both constructed and taught courses in web design. It’s just that he’s a very busy guy. I knew that my reasoning would have to be pretty sound, or else he’d tell me to take a number and wait in line. So I says to him that my site would be would be fodder for additional readers and potential publishers. He readily agreed, perhaps because he foresaw that this (for me) would be a good career move.

Pete took on this project two days after Thanksgiving Break. His thinking (and I did not tell him to think otherwise) was that he’d be able to construct a website in two weeks. I showed him a few files, and then he went at it. He sat at the kitchen table, by the woodstove, working away at his computer. He did stop in order to put a new roof on the woodshed. (It blew off during one of our infamous windstorms.) On Christmas day, he looked up as me as I was coming down the stairs and said, “I had no idea you had so much stuff here.” The unspoken message was that this project was taking longer than he’d expected. Pete had hoped, over break, to reconstruct the kitchen stairs, build shelves underneath, and put in a new tile floor. He didn’t have to say it—but none of this had gotten done because he’d been working on my website.

My rather flippant response was that what he had in hand was just material from the past five years—the rest was on disks which my old computer, the one missing the O letter key, could not open. “If you want more stuff, I have it,” I added. Pete didn’t say anything; instead, he just went back to work. I began tiptoeing around him when he was working, for fear that my yammering might prompt him to change course.

Pete designed the site and then put the materials and photos in the requested categories. Once in a while I looked over his shoulder and told him what a good job he was doing. He also edited everything I’d given him. Pete figures heavily in my essays, and for this reason, I presumed that he’d call me on salient details. But he instead let things be because a long time ago he figured out that his job as a character is to show readers the path of Alys’s thinking.

The other night I decided to show how I appreciative I was of his efforts by sitting next to him and watching him work. Everything looked good, better than good. But my eyes glazed over when he began explaining HTML to me. There, before me, was coding of some kind. Coding looked to me to be a very exacting process. After a few minutes of this, my eyes glazed over. Web design, like gardening, isn’t something that I’m interested in doing. For reasons unbeknownst to me, I just don’t have the patience. I most enjoy being in the thick of attempting to solve a writing-related problem.

The site is done for now, although I’ll keep adding things to it. A few years back, I experienced the supreme irony, when Pete handed me a New Yorker article that had been written by Malcolm Gladwell. In “Outliers,” Gladwell posits that there are some who work inductively, figuring out things as they go along. Furthermore, these individual’s work materializes in their later years. Malcolm further suggests that these artists have patrons who provide them with moral and economic support. I’m one such person, and as such, I have often had to remind myself that one should never take their patron’s patronage for granted. Patrons have no guarantee that there will be any return on the investment. The belief that artist’s work will someday speak for itself is what sustains them in times of artistic duress.

In the meantime, papers litter the desk and floor, banana peels hang onto the edge of the waste basket, and books pile up on the windowsill. As I look around, I am keenly aware that once this site is up, everyone in the world is going to know that Pete’s the one who does most of the cleaning around here.