I never thought I'd feel nostalgic for the blogosphere. But in the age of quippy tweets and status updates - what Douglas Coupland so presciently identified in his novel Generation X as our "accelerated culture" - I find myself wistful for the extended cyber-verbiage of yesteryear.
Remember the days when the cutting edge in digital communication involved regular folk ruminating on grimy laptops about social-policy reform or their kid's runny nose? Back in the good old days (I'm talking 2005 to 2007), the Internet seemed a good place for nobodies to emerge fully formed as publishing stars with devoted readerships and six-figure book deals. Whether it was Julie Powell agonizing over stringy beef bourguignon or Jessica Cutler describing the oral sex techniques of an ambitious Washington wonkette, long-form blogging was an entertaining cultural trend while it lasted. These days, though, people think in kitten-video virals and 140-character limits, and thoughtful, well-written blogs are about as trendy as thoughtful, well-written books - which is to say, they're still culturally relevant, but not very trendy at all.
That's why I was so delighted to stumble across Planting Dandelions: Field Notes from a Semi-Domesticated Life, a recently published memoir by Kyran Pittman. A Newfoundland transplant to Little Rock, Ark., the daughter of the late poet Al Pittman and a wild-child-turned-stay-at-home-mother-of-three, Pittman is an anomaly on all sorts of levels - perhaps the least of surprising of which is her literary success. Her book just got a four-star review in People magazine, the publishing equivalent of getting voted into the semifinals on American Idol.
To describe Pittman's tale as a mommy memoir that emerged from the somewhat dubious world of mommy blogging would be technically correct but at the same time not entirely just. Pittman is an excellent writer with a strong narrative voice who writes about her life as if it matters. The fact that she started off as a creatively frustrated housewife stealing time at the computer between feedings is relevant only because it informs so much of her subject matter - the outlandish intricacies of seemingly conventional domestic life.
Her original blog, called Notes to Self, eventually gained a local following and later attracted the attention of the literary editor of Good Housekeeping, who turned it into a series of printed articles. The resulting book is a collection of stories about what it's like to break into - as opposed to out of - the white-picket-fence life. As she explains in her introduction, "Some people come here automatically, to this town called Ordinary. The straight and narrow route will take you right to the middle of it in a hurry. Some people never know anything else. But I hitched in by the back roads, peered over the fence, and chose it."
In a phone interview from her house in suburban Little Rock this week, she told me that her transformation from soccer-mom to author-mom was as much of a surprise to her as anyone else.
"I always knew I was a writer but I really had no idea how to go about it, apart from writing poetry, which I found very taxing when my children were small," she explained. "The blog allowed me to develop a voice and identity as a non-fiction writer and it also allowed me some training wheels when it came to bumps and boundaries and writing about my life. Long before the book, I was able to test what was my domain and at what point it crept over into someone else's life. I was able to learn those lessons without consequences."
Pittman agrees that her book is a kind of response to Elizabeth Gilbert's mega-bestseller Eat, Pray, Love - not so much a refutation of Gilbert's exotic quest, but an exploration of the richness of the road not taken.
Like Gilbert's memoir, I found Planting Dandelions startlingly confessional and, at times, agonizingly honest. This is not a glossed-over situation-comedy-inspired tale of American family life but a story of adultery, accidental pregnancy and near-bankruptcy, in the midst of middle-class domestic bliss.
And how fitting that this book should come to us from the most anonymous and mundane of all contemporary literary forms: the good old, uncensored, long-form amateur blog. Pittman herself admits she broke all the rules when starting out. "I wrote posts longer than 200 words, I gave away my best stuff for free and I just kept on writing, even though I'd read that hoping to build a following out of nothing was like sending out anonymous CVs and hoping to get hired."
Had Pittman decided to Tweet instead, or simply amass a collection of photo albums on Facebook, there would be no blog - and of course, no book. Instead, she opted to put down the sippy cup and act like a poet. "I kept writing because I didn't know what else to do." Lucky for us.