When he is not inhabiting a courtroom in his job as a public defender, Neil McDevitt is inhabiting Open Salon, on his personal blog, NeilPaul. Neil is kind of like the BMOC of Open Salon. He is a prolific blogger–so prolific, in fact, that I sometimes wonder if this “public defender” bit is a sham–whose metier runs from screenplay-like form, to memoir, to social commentary, to the occasional grumbling. He is also an avid reader and commenter of other bloggers’ pieces, and won’t hesitate to straighten you out, if he thinks straightening out is warranted. Neil straightens me out all the time, but regardless, we’re still friends. Check out his Blogger Space, and his blogging process, below.
There are a few different places I could designate as my blogger space. I have an office at work, and, unsurprisingly, there is a computer there. Since I work for myself I can and do spend time there, once in a while, either drafting posts, or logging on to check my blog and comment or rate up posts of other bloggers on the platform, a place called Open Salon.
And now that I have a better phone, I can blog pretty much anywhere, though composing posts on a three inch by one inch keyboard is arduous and annoying and makes me wish for pointier fingers.
But I mostly blog from home, the place I am most often when inspired by a clever idea or insomnia to type out a quick essay or a short memoir piece and throw it against the wall, hoping it will stick for a moment or two in the minds of my readers.
Here is a picture of the actual desk I type at, i.e., where the magic happens.
After breakfast, Luca wanted to watch Planet of the Apes on TV, so we went back to my hotel room. He kicked off his Vans and crawled in bed, under the covers. I crawled in next to him, and we watched the rather dopey remake of the classic film, in which scientist James Franco brings a lab ape back to live with him. For awhile, the ape is happy hanging out with James and his doddering dad in their glorious Craftsman house in Berkeley.
But the ape, being an ape, is too wild to live in the suburbs, and winds up caged in an animal control center. Franco goes to visit him, and the ape is furious at his “father,” refusing to communicate with him. Eventually, the ape commandeers an ape mutiny, and legions of apes storm the Golden Gate Bridge, waging war with SWAT teams. Franco and the ape survive the massacre, and Franco takes his “son” into the forest, where he sets him free.
I looked over at Luca, who was clearly enraptured by the film. I wondered if he was wrestling with the irony of watching a primate being freed from captivity, when he was headed back into it. He didn’t seem to be.
But I was.
I liked his boarding school. I liked his therapist and the staff, all of whom seemed like members of that proverbial village, the village that it takes to raise kids. Especially kids who are challenging to raise. Kids who can’t be raised in a regular home, or learn in a regular school.
Before Luca went to boarding school, when he was living with me the majority of the time, and the house was a battle ground, I used to fantasize about having a grandma, or an aunt and uncle, who lived on a farm. I’d heard stories, generally from bygone eras, about parents who sent their unruly kids to live with a relative on a wide open space, where they had to rise when it’s still dark and milk cows, or muck barns, or do whatever you do on a farm at dawn.
Ever since he was a toddler, Luca’s outsize energy has seemed almost to burst through his skin. He was not a kid who could tolerate any down time, ever. The last two turbulent years before he went away, Luca chafed inside my house, and his dad’s house, pacing frenetically, calmed momentarily when presented with an activity he enjoyed — paintball, riding those stomach-curdling flippy rides at carnivals — only to plunge into a dark, restless funk when the bells and whistles went away. The park-your-butt-in-a-chair demands of homework and tutoring invariably crescendoed in screaming fits and head-banging. Luca took to bolting out of the house, sometimes shoeless, roaming the streets, for hours at a time.
These were the moments I longed for an Uncle Fred who would offer to take in my too-big-for-city-life kid and plunk him down on a ranch where he was free to roam. In my fantasy, Uncle Fred, with his Alpha-male calm and his calloused hands and pot belly, would intuitively know how to settle down Luca, because he’d had years of practice settling down wild animals. After a summer of non-stop physical labor, but labor that translated into tangible results — eggs, milk, corn — Luca would emerge with a sense of self-agency, and the ability to regulate himself, something no traditional therapy, or social skills group, might ever succeed in teaching him.
Isn’t this what ADHD meds aim to do? Create enough stimulation that kids thirsting for high-octane action calm down and focus on school work? What would happen if “hyperactive” kids were sent to farms instead of loaded with stimulants? Would it be easier for them to learn?
My hunch is that the equine therapy utilized at Luca’s boarding school is modeled on the “send ’em to the farm” theory. Paired with horses, the kids quickly learn how their energy affects the animals. If they want the horses to move a certain way, they need to focus intently, calming themselves in order to gain their horses’ trust so they can work together.
By “magic,” I of course mean short non-fiction works in the genres of memoir, apology, elucidation, analogy, and my most favorite, free advice. I also comment on social issues sometimes, usually from a leftist-libertarian view. I generally hold that people are good, to a point, and we should try to provide a sensible material floor to our fellow citizens and then leave them alone and hope for good things to follow. So my ideas are, I hope, always humane, and, I fear, probably unrealistic at times. And this attitude pervades my apology, elucidation, analogy and free advice pieces as well as my social commentary.
My memoir pieces are different. Half of them are an effort to turn my life into an amusing joke and share a laugh at my expense, or, more often, at the expense of the army of fools I’ve spent my life with. The other half of my memoirs are essentially hit-pieces in which I exact my puny blogging revenge on those who wronged me. I’ve been victimized by everyone from my own mother to the kid behind the counter at Starbucks who messed up my coffee order (isn’t it their job to figure out what I’m trying to say?). In my memoirs I tear up at these people in an effort to gin up my opprobrium against them in my readership.
Like I said, my revenge is rather puny.
Of course all memoirs are infused with a sense of regret. I regret that I so often made a fool of myself and that others did too. I regret the wrongs I suffered and those that I may have, purely accidentally and innocently, perpetrated too. And I regret that my revenge entails the use of a blog, not an aluminum baseball bat. My blog is where I process my regrets, so I don’t have to spend my day crying like a four-year-old and having those uncomfortable “I’m sorry” conversations with real-life people.
Here is a view from my desk. The bed is supposed to belong to the dog.
But most of my blogging, the composition of the work, doesn’t happen in front of the computer. Usually I spend less than 20 minutes actually pounding out and editing a post once I begin the actual typing. This is because I’ve spent an hour or two, or sometimes a day or two, pulling it together in my head. This could happen anywhere, but most often I am pacing my driveway when my best thinking happens.
Here are some views from the driveway, taken in fall, the prettiest season here in Boston.
Looking toward the street:
The raised garden bed in the back yard:
And back the other way:
Sometimes I’m joined by my cat, Pencil, and his wildcat companion, Mr. Tangles. Here they are after their morning repast. Pencil is wearing all black and Mr. Tangles in the extra-furry one:
So this is how I spend my blogging time, wandering around the driveway and side-yard, thinking of clever ways to compare child-rearing to animal control, relating the dumb ideas I had about women and sex, at age fifteen, bemoaning the state of our democracy, and imagining short snippets of conversation that are equivocal, but telling.
Sometimes joined by cats, sometimes not.
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