Eight Years.

It’s either awesome or pathetic. Let’s go with awesome!

On October 18th, my blog turned eight years old.

Long-time readers will remember the photo above, which emblazoned my right-hand nav for about 5 years before I re-designed the site. She was omnipresent. That photo was taken years ago, but it expresses, for me, how beautiful life can be when you let yourself feel that beauty. Something I still struggle with, and that photo, taken on one of the best days of my life by my boyfriend at the time, reminds me. It’s one of the “reasons” for my blog as well. What do I love? I want to share it. I want to talk with other people who feel passionately about things, whatever they may be.

I started the blog, randomly, on a day when I was home from work for some reason. I was living in this crazy apartment I shared with my good friend Jen in Hoboken, and we had moved into it on September 4, 2001. It was in a slum-like tenement building (seriously, the outside of it looked horrendous), and we were on the 5th floor, a walk-up. When our moving guys moved us in, I thought one of them was going to have a heart attack. I have 4,000 books and as my father always said, “Nothing heavier than a bunch of books.” I remember one heaving sweaty moving guy tromping up the stairs for the 50th time, holding the 25th box of books, saying to me in a warning tone, “There had better be some Stephen King in these boxes!” Best comment of the day. Thankfully, I could reassure him on that score.

The apartment was wall to wall white linoleum, even in our bedrooms. The ceiling looked like that of a grade school, and you could put push-pins into it if you wanted to have a Valentine’s Day party and have dangling red hearts everywhere (which we did). It had a big open living room and kitchen and two bedrooms. We were struggling actresses, with big school loans, so this was the apartment we could afford. Our bedrooms were both on the east side of the building. Jen’s was a better bedroom, with huge windows on two walls, but we were happy enough with our weird linoleum palace. We both could see the World Trade Center out of our bedroom windows, for the brief seven days we lived there before the 11th came. We hadn’t gotten around to getting Internet hook up, TV hookup, or phone hookup in the seven days we lived there. Or, it was in process, but nothing had happened yet. Those were in the days when we still had land-lines. I don’t have one anymore. This would have been merely a minor annoyance, it happens all the time when you move, but because of the timing it had a huge impact on us, and it would be months before the phone company and the electric company could spare anyone from the tragedy in downtown Manhattan to help us get hooked up. I think it was December when we finally got a phone.

Blogging is so much a part of my life now, a ritual, that it is hard to remember a time when I wasn’t doing it. September 11th was intense, and my Middle East interest (which goes way back) suddenly became a passion. I remember going to The Strand and seeing empty shelves, EMPTY, in the Middle East history section in the months after September 11. I had obviously witnessed September 11th with my own eyes, I’ve written about it before (there are a couple of incidents from that day and afterwards related here, in this larger post about crowd behavior), and it changed everything for me. I know it changed everything for a lot of us, but I’m only speaking for myself now. I altered. I was in a manic state for what seems like months, and I can’t really remember it with any clarity now. My heart throbbed up in my throat, and I couldn’t seem to catch my breath. I couldn’t exit that world. Many of us couldn’t. I am not sure what it was like out in the provinces, but here in New York, we talked about it all day, every day. As a matter of fact, when I meet someone new who is also a New Yorker, inevitably in our first conversation, “What happened to you on September 11th” comes up.

In the aftermath, late 2001, and 2002, I discovered “blogs”, and I know that that is true for many people out there. That wasn’t the tipping point moment yet, they were still rather strange and it wasn’t quite clear what they were, but I started reading Andrew Sullivan’s blog (when it used to be the dark midnight-blue page with the white rounded writing), and I would follow his links, and then would find other blogs, and then would read their links, and so on. I think much of the time I was probably confused about where I was on the Internet. Were these people journalists? Authors, like Andrew Sullivan? Or were they just …. regular Joes who now had a microphone? I had no idea. Some were awful, some were hilarious, some were as angry as I was, some were not. Suddenly, in those early months of 2002, life became like being part of a huge ongoing conversation. I could dip into it, and then close the screen – but the conversation went on behind my back as well. My experience of “voices” was like most of us at that time: there were news shows, and anchors, and op-ed columnists I read (when I bought a newspaper, I was still heavily into the Print world at that time) – and I’ve never looked to anchors to tell me what to think or feel. I’ve always been opinionated and follow my own way, in politics/taste/lifestyle … but in general, the voices I heard in my life were my family members, my friends, coworkers, etc. Not, like, EVERYONE AND THEIR MAMA. Life became very LOUD then. It would be like getting into political debates with your bus driver, the dude who sells you coffee, and every single person you rode with in the elevator. Every day was this ongoing Town Hall meeting.

This wore thin pretty damn quick, I have to say, and I got very tired of hearing everyone chattering, but in 2002 it wasn’t only invigorating, it was important to me. I wasn’t ready to “step out” of the September 11th experience. I couldn’t have if I tried. I didn’t read fiction for two years. I stopped being interested in anything that wasn’t “real”. It was quite exhausting, but it was out of that insomniac alert energy that I created my blog.

Well, there were other factors, and what the hell, I will share them here. After all, I’ve shared about the linoleum. Why leave anything else out?

In the midst of the maelstrom of voices, chattering and screaming away at high decibel levels in the late months of 2001 and early months of 2002, I kind of fell madly in love. I say “kind of” because the whole thing was like a fever, or – more appropriately – like a flu bug, or a stomach virus – that took hold of me and shook me until I screamed for mercy and then the whole thing passed, and I looked back on it with baffled fear about what had happened. I had met the guy before at a party a couple years back and it was love at first sight, something I had never believed in until it happened to me.

I do NOT recommend it.

A couple years passed. I happened to run into him again on September 9th, 2001, at a bar. Two days before. I wrote about that here. Months passed after that encounter, in which our entire world as New Yorkers had changed (the point of that post, really). He then reached out in March or April of 2002 and invited me to his birthday party which would be taking place at Bellevue. Not the mental hospital, but the dive biker bar on 9th Avenue. The difference between the two places is minimal. I went. There was alcohol. Lots of alcohol. I don’t get drunk that much, but I was very drunk that night. There was Metallica blasting so loud you had to shout at the person standing right next to you. There was straight-porn from the 1970s playing on televisions above the bar. And there was a meeting-of-the-minds encounter that went on between the two of us at the end of the night, when we both were drunk, and he shook me like a rag doll (literally – he took me by the arms and shook me. I had bruises the next day) telling me that I was the woman for him and how he would do whatever it took for me to get whatever I wanted in life. Nice, right? Not so fast. It was impulsive on his part (and not all that surprising: we had been drawn to one another like magnets the first time we ever said Hello to each other a couple years before) but he recoiled from me in the days following. He apologized, saying he was drunk, he was sorry, he was already dating someone.

Context is important for stories such as this, although I can be a bit, how you say, fragile, when it comes to stuff like this. If you’ve read me for a while, this will not come as a surprise. I take things hard. Always have. His recoiling from me after the bombardment of love he had given me at his birthday party cut me like a knife and sent me into a tailspin. 2002 will go down in the books as one of the worst years of my life. It is difficult to write about such things. You open yourself up for criticism. So be it. If I had to come up with an image for what happened after that birthday party (when, if you think about it, all that happened was that two people who had long-standing crushes on one another declared themselves in a drunken display of impulsive behavior with unintended consequences) it would be: a string or a wire, pulled very very tight and taut – withstanding pressure from both sides for months, maintaining a balance, but not without some sense of strain – and then, finally: Snap. Into a freefall. The depression that took over four or five months of 2002 was a grey fog the likes I had never experienced before and please God will never experience again. I cried for about two weeks, and then … ominously … silence and stillness. Nothingness. That lasted for four months. I don’t want to go on with this section, because, like Carrie Fisher wrote in her book Wishful Drinking, to try to give a name to an experience like this is akin to “summoning” it. Suffice it to say, I got help. I got pills to help me with sleeping. Once I started sleeping again, some of the other things that had been swirling in my head like a swarm of angry bees calmed down.

But those months – April to September, really – were horrifying. By October, I was starting to feel like myself again. Interested in my life and the things around me. The first September 11th anniversary had come and gone. I was interviewed by the New York Times. I started to be able to grieve, I guess. I hadn’t been able to do a thing as long as I was stretched taut as a wire.

And without planning ahead, I sat down one day, home sick from work, and created a blog on Blogspot in about 10 minutes. I hadn’t been thinking for months that I wanted to join my voice to the cacophony. I am not new to writing. I’ve been keeping a journal and writing stories since I was 8, 9 years old. I have always expressed myself well through language, and had many artistic outlets (I always do), so I wasn’t feeling “backed up” or anything like that. But somewhere around that time, late 2001, early 2002, I stopped writing in my journal. I just couldn’t talk to myself anymore. I had nothing to say. At least not to myself. A shift was going on. I was still reading Andrew Sullivan and others like him. My main reading at the time was political. It was feeding something in me that needed to be fed, Seymour. Some of those bloggers that I first encountered in 2001 and 2002 are still going strong, something that amazes me because I burnt out on that aspect of it (the political aspect) pretty fast (much to DBW’s everlasting chagrin. Love you, DBW!! I’ll talk about politics with you in private ANY time). But at the time I set up my site, I had no idea what I wanted it to be. I had no plan. I just started.

That original blog doesn’t exist anymore. Or maybe it does out in the web somewhere, but I kept that Blogspot blog for a year before transitioning to Movable Type. There were no comments on the original blog. I just expressed myself in a strange vacuum, feeling important, of course, but also exhilarated. I put up book excerpts, I wrote about my day, I did bullet-point posts about my life (something I continue to do with Snapshots). I started to get readers. I couldn’t believe it. I mean, I had told my family about the site and my friends. They all read me. But somehow – it all was still a mystery to me – other people started reading me. Strangers. Some of these people have become good good friends in real life. Others have disappeared into the mists of time. It was a new form then. Being “linked to” was a huge deal, and being “on someone’s blog-roll” was very important. I would get emails from people saying, “Hi, I just blog-rolled you – will you blog-roll me?” Like, it was supposed to be quid pro quo. Sheila don’t play the game that way. I believe in meritocracy, baby.

But it was all new then. Traffic was a huge deal. I got a Sitemeter account. I felt very excited. Once I moved to Movable Type in June of 2003, and my blog now had comments, the game changed a bit. At first it’s thrilling to have comments. Actually, it’s still thrilling. I’m serious: any time anyone makes a comment on my site, I get a small buzz of adrenaline. I love conversation. I love hearing from people. I have a great group of people. Some of you have been reading me from the beginning. I am truly grateful. But boy, having comments also lets the FREAKS into your house, and, if you’re not careful, into your mind. It took me some time to get used to it. In many ways, I am still not used to it. It’s hard to get used to some random guy showing up and saying, “You’re a stupid cunt”, which happened once. You know the guy is a loser. Only losers behave that way. But it’s still tough to not take it personally. There were a couple of hairy situations in those early years, 2003-2004, when guys (two in particular) became obsessed with me in a way that eventually freaked me out. I reported one of them to his ISP for stalking and harassment. I still have a couple of enemies out there. One guy was so angry that I “left things out”, like – he wanted a complete picture, and was truly angry about how my “blog was full of red herrings”. He actually wrote that. This was years ago. I took it far more personally then than I would now. My Red-Flag-Detector is always at Defcon One. You have to take care of yourself. You have to set your own boundaries with commenters. If someone gets frustrated because he has some kind of crush on you, and he wants more from you than what you are willing to give in this public forum, then that person is clearly a freak, and the Red Flags need to go off. I can be quick on the trigger now with what I sense to be hostile comments, but that comes from experience. You just get to know the signs. Does this person suddenly show up, out of the blue, and make a derogatory remark? Does that same person then leave a comment on the same day using a different name? But the IP is the same? Freak. End of story. It happens a lot. No second chances with stuff like that, and usually the freaks go away. They get sick of being ignored. There was also, on the flip side, the “TMI brigade” (my name for them). Boy, did they love to leave that acronym in my comments section. I would post about my personal life, and someone inevitably would crow, “TMI!”

I am more confused by these people than annoyed. If you don’t want to know me, then don’t read me. I am not a robot. I am a human woman who puts herself into her words. If I mention something personal, I do it deliberately, because I think it’s interesting, and also, in general, people seem to like personal posts. The good ones do, anyway. I personally like to read writing from people I find interesting. We don’t need to intersect in any way. I read blogs that have nothing to do with my life because I like the writing. I read craft blogs. I read black-women-empowerment (BWE) blogs. I read political blogs. Book blogs. Photo blogs. I am discerning. I like to read engaging writers. You would have to put a gun to my head to have me say to someone, “TMI.” It seems to be a failure to communicate. My blog is eclectic, which is one of the things I (personally) like about it. But there are those who balk and don’t seem to understand how to SCROLL past content you do not find interesting. So I would get people getting offended by me suddenly devoting my blog to Bloomsday. How dare she be interested in something I don’t find interesting? WEIRD. Or, if I wrote about sadness, or grief, or health, I would get the TMI Brigade telling me they didn’t want to know that about me.

My response? I don’t care. Learn how to scroll. It is a very important skill. Use it well.

But that first year was really strange at times, getting used to all of that. I let everyone in. This was even more difficult once I started getting some big people linking to me. The Wall Street Journal chose me as Best of the Web one day. I think I still have readers reading me who came to me from that original link. The traffic spike was so frightening I almost wanted to turn off my computer. But you always wince when the “big” guys link to you. For every good and awesome reader who arrives, there will also be hordes of freaks. You have to be on your guard. Especially as a woman who sometimes writes about her personal life.

My blog is purposefully full of “red herrings”. It is that way by design. Not to be frustrating on purpose, but because I think the writing is more interesting, and I also have a sense of protection over things that truly matter. Last year was terrible for me. I still haven’t written about it. Wait, that’s not true. I wrote about it here, in a context that I felt freed me up. It was the context of writing about Pixar that allowed me to write about last year. But here on my personal site, I can tell, looking back on the posts from June to October, that I was suffering deeply – but I didn’t sit down to “share” what had happened. It’s just not that kind of site. This is fine for the best kind of readers. This is infuriating to the freaks who feel entitled to have it all.

Because I had started out blogging with a political bent, I got those readers who shared my views. This is only natural. At first it was thrilling. I’m not a political junkie. I don’t like to sit around and talk about politics for hours on end. I’d rather talk about books, films, life. But that was why I originally set up the blog: so I wouldn’t have to bore my friends, or my own journal, with my meaningless opinions about politics. Why not just put it up on the Web, add my voice to the clamor, and let off steam that way? It was great. But the landscape soon changed. I didn’t fit in politically, and while that has never been a problem for me before (I am, after all, a private citizen), it was a big problem for some of the people reading me. Many of them lacked irony. Not to mention humor. Many of them sneered about Hollywood and artists, and, yeah, that’s what I’m all about. I’m an artist and a movie-lover before I’m a political junkie, and there was a huge disconnect at times. Not with everyone, but with a few loud hold-outs, and unfortunately, those people can tend to dominate a comments-section. Many of these people “squatted” on my blog. I would post something, and within 30 seconds one of these people would have commented. It was alarming. Do I read anyone that way? I honestly don’t. I browse about, visiting my favorites, but there was a fixation on me – the pesky political girl who wasn’t quite in line with the party goose-step – that made them want to leap on whatever I wrote. Their company soon bored me to tears.

I was having fights on my own blog on a daily basis. It’s hysterical to me now, looking back on it. By “fights”, what do I mean? I would write about the Oscars, and the comments section would fill up with sneering contempt for Hollywood and the “libtards” and the political speeches made by actors. I have little to no interest in talking with people who talk like that. I’m not saying I’m right, but what I am saying is that I am paying for the bandwidth and how on earth have I gotten myself into a situation where the majority of the people reading me have contempt for my interests? Someone send help!! I’m being held captive by my own blog!

Much of this content is gone. I don’t even like looking at it. There were times when I thought, “Oh forget it. I need to scrap this whole thing and start again under an assumed name.”

I would post things about my acting class, and one guy would show up and say, “See this is why people like me hate actors.” (Yes, because he had a vast knowledge of actors and probably knew many of them on a personal basis. Uh-huh.) He would go on, “You think what you’re doing is more important than what other people are doing. Do you honestly believe that actors blah blah blah?” He was one of the “squatters”. I made the mistake of letting that situation go on for far too long before getting him in hand and banning him for good. I do ban people, although it really doesn’t happen often now, but someone like that needed to go. I said to him at one point after one of his condescending comments, “You seem to be confused about where you are on the Internet. I am an actress and a writer. I revere those art-forms. I am here to express me, not you!” It was very strange, and I stopped trying to understand the bizarre mindset of someone who kept visiting a blog he found tremendously irritating. But he was just one of many.

I don’t want to paint this with too broad a brush. For the most part, the commenters were amazing. But comments like that one tend to draw all the conversation towards them, as opposed to what I was originally talking about, and it was very annoying.

I finally made some sort of announcement, like a Queen on her balcony. “No more politics allowed on this blog.”

I meant it. I still mean it. There has got to be a way to talk about politics that doesn’t sound like what it sounds like on political blogs. I basically refuse to participate in that kind of conversation. I have friends who are blazing partisans for both sides. To quote my father, “I see no problem.” I do not demonize one side or the other, although I certainly have my opinions about what “should be done”, and I vote based on that opinion. This is what the partisan bloggers could not stand. I wasn’t writing in the way they were used to. It drove them BATSHIT. Many of those people just got sick of being bludgeoned to death on a daily basis by some redheaded blogger-chick, and they faded away. Many stuck around. Once I stopped writing about politics and devoted myself to writing about actors (Humphrey Bogart was the first actor I explored in an in-depth way on my site), I got a whole new crowd showing up. People who loved movies. Who had seen everything. Who knew how to talk about movies without sneering about Hollywood and the tarpit of liberals who live there. Thank you, Jesus. I certainly think there is a conversation to be had about politics and entertainment, but as long as it was that sneering crowd, I refused to engage. Not because I was annoyed or flustered or afraid of getting into a fight, but because I was bored.

I can tolerate many things but I cannot tolerate boredom, especially not on a site that I have created. Why bother?

Once I put the kibosh on politics, things got so much better. I felt free on my own site again. I didn’t have to worry so much about the nitpicky squatters who were no fun and who seemed irritated that my blog wasn’t, oh, Little Green Footballs, although that just shows you how delusional these people were. What had I written that would make them expect that I would be Little Green Footballs? Just because The Wall Street Journal or Glenn Reynolds links to you doesn’t mean that the content will always be identical. Strange. I guess I read such a variety of sites that I am not surprised and offended when one site isn’t like some other site. An example of the freedom I feel here, and how nice it is when reflected in the comments section, is the tribute I wrote to Charlton Heston when he passed away. I would have felt anxious about posting that in 2004, 2005. I would know what the response would be. “Now that’s a REAL actor,” someone would sneer. (Why? Because he votes the way you do? How boring!) The predictability of it was what tired me out. Can’t we talk about his FILMS, for God’s sake? Can’t we talk about Humphrey Bogart without sneering about the Hollywood Ten and how he supported Democrats for office? Good God. But look at the comments to that Heston post. Just beautiful.

Once I strong-armed my own blog back into my control, I could just follow my obsessions to their fullest potential. Which, yeah, I do. Repeatedly. Not to mention the fact that I felt I could write freely again, without wincing in anticipation for the sneering. I can see why some bloggers have comment moderation. It nips the entire situation in the bud. But I have always liked the free-for-all aspect of my site, and I refused to give it up just because there were a couple of bad apples dominating my comments section. I wrestled to get it back under my control. I am glad I did.

If I have made it sound like I had nothing but sneer-ers in my comments section, I have over-stated the case. I have made really good friends through blogging, people who have been reading me from the start, people I consider to be kindred spirits – even though I haven’t met some of them. But as anyone who has a blog knows, one contemptuous commenter can ruin the feel of a site. Can make others not want to comment. Can also start to dominate your mind, as in: you are writing for them. Even if you are writing just to piss them off, your consciousness is turned towards that one nay-sayer. And this, my friends, is bad writing. It would be like writing a term paper and starting off your thesis statement with,

Moby-Dick is a great book and all you douchebags out there who don’t agree are morons.

Aaaaaand scene. But lots of bloggers write that way, and I was definitely in danger of going down that path. I hated myself when I wrote that way. I didn’t even know who I was TALKING to.

Blogging about film and books became, through trial and error, the main thrust of my site. Because both of those things are endlessly interesting to me, and it’s a challenge to write about them well. It’s a challenge to say, “Now. I just saw/read that. What do I think about it? And why do I think that way? And now … how do I express it?” That kind of challenge is really fun for me.

I am amazed at the people who have shown up over the years. I am high up on Google rankings for the oddest things, and so I get tons of comments and emails from people out of the blue, emails that I cherish. I have struck up correspondences with people from all over the place. Some people reach out to me about my posts about Joyce’s Ulysses. My posts have helped them feel courage to tackle the book. Beauty! Others love it when I write about the Founding Fathers, an eternal passion of mine. Others love it when I write about screwball comedies. Or Iranian film. (I am very proud of the fact – and yet it is pride chastened with chagrin – that my blog has been banned in Iran because of my posts about their vibrant film industry. I hear from film students in Tehran and other places, people who have hacked through firewalls to get to my posts. Dear Iranian regime: You are not enough to combat your wily and intelligent public. Give it up.) There’s an American soldier I correspond with on occasion, he is stationed in Afghanistan, and although I love John Wayne to death and could write about him forever, pretty much every time I put up a post about John Wayne, it is in some way “for” that soldier who is a friend of mine, far from home, a friend I have never met, who loves John Wayne movies, has seen them all, and has something interesting to say about every single one of them. He always notices something I haven’t. “How about the one short look he gives to Ward Bond at such and such a moment …”

With Facebook and Twitter, blogging has gone to a whole other level. Before everyone was online all day on Facebook (well, not everyone, but most everyone), blogs would be daily pit-stops. My traffic definitely decreased when Facebook hit a tipping-point. Everyone was spending their time online looking through their friends’ vacation photos. But things regularized. I now use Facebook and Twitter as another way to promote my stuff, and have gotten so many new awesome readers that way. I STILL get excited when I see someone has commented.

The film-blogging community is wide and deep. I am proud to fit in in a small way with that group, and that I have gotten to write for House Next Door, Noir of the Week, and now Fandor. I’ve even gotten paid for it on occasion. I am so glad that people like my posts about actors. I get emails about them all the time. People coming out of the woodwork to sing the praises of Bruce McGill or Bruce Davison or Brad Davis … people who may not be A-list (or even alive), but who are beloved. I love talking about these people. It enriches my life.

So except for the squatters and the stalkers, I love every single one of you for showing up here on occasion, and giving me things to think about, movies to see, books to read, or just adding to the conversation that is going on here in whatever way. All of your recent comments on my surgery post is a great example. You have no idea how much that stuff can mean. Or who knows, maybe you do.

We’re all just human, after all.

We are more alike than we are different. And I have found that to be true here. I do not know what many of you look like. I have been corresponding with some people for up to 8 years now. I am looking at you, Lisa, and DBW, and Tommy, and De and Tracey, and Cara and Dave E. and Emily. And SarahK and Cullen and Nightfly and Carrie. Ugh. There are many many more, and you should know who you are. Consider yourself included. And now I have the newer batch of readers, just as cherished. George and Bruce Reid and Todd Restler and Jake Cole and Tony Dayoub and Jason Bellamy and the Siren and Kim Morgan, and the whole wide community of film bloggers who come to see what I have written.

But even if you read and don’t comment, I feel you out there and I am grateful that you want to visit my small corner of the web.

My site has gone through many upheavals. When I first started I called it: Sheila A-Stray: Ramblings Of a Redhead. Whatever, I didn’t think it through. I love the story of Mad King Sweeney, and I love Flann O’Brien, and that was where that unwieldy mouthful came from. I had a couple of friends say that they always thought of my blog as “Sheila Ashtray”, which is not quite the effect I was going for. When I switched to Movable Type, I bought my own name as the domain name, and although I have often wished for anonymity, I am glad now that I made that choice. It helps me to not hide, actually. It helps me to write in the way I WANT to write. Of course, what I present here is a half-story. I do not divulge all the details. I am not an open book. I don’t want to be an open book. But I do try to put a little bit of myself into everything that goes up here, and I always have. The political rage-girl of 2002 and 2003 served her purpose. I needed to let her express herself. When it was time to stop, I knew it as clearly as if a stop-watch had wound down.

Time to let that go, and write about things to celebrate them, rather than to criticize them. I like positivity. Not because I am naturally positive. On the contrary. I struggle with negativity. I can be fragile. In many ways, I am broken. But this gives me all the more reason to decide, by force of will, to focus on things I love. The things that I believe make life worth living: books, movies, actors, art, and, hell, pictures of the sunrise.

Funny: It still excites me to “show up” here every day. My father was who I was writing for in the beginning. My breath still catches when I go through the archives and see his comments. My recent posts on Irish poets are really all for him, and I struggle with grief every time I hit Publish, because the one person I want to be reading them will not, cannot. But I continue on. I suppose everything I do is somehow a tribute to him, as horrible as that can sometimes be. There’s a loneliness now that wasn’t there before, but I have gotten into the “habit” of posting here, and I won’t be stopping any time soon.

Thanks, all, for reading.

Eight years. Unbelievable!

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110 Responses to Eight Years.

  1. Tommy says:

    Congratulations on the milestone. Yours was one of the first I linked to, when I figured out how to link to sites, and though I don’t devote as much time to reading sites as I once did, I still find a way to make it over here a couple times a week. I am envious of your ability to put out the engaging work you do on such a consistent basis.

    Many happy returns, and I hope you continue with this venture for many days to come.

  2. Carrie says:

    Happy Birthday, Sheila Astray! I loved this post – it’s been a great 8 years. I love your intellect, your curiosity, your fearlessness and your humor. I always learn something whenever I read your blog, I have too many items in my Amazon basket because your blog has sparked my interest in seeing a movie or reading a book, I am consistently amazed at your staggering and dedicated output, which I am always grateful for when I read, especially those posts where you write so good it moves me, or touches me, makes me laugh or cry (trust me, that whole gamut has been run, in typical Irish fashion!). I constantly recommend you to people, which is a testament to your breadth and depth. Thank you for sharing yourself.


  3. sheila says:

    Tommy – our blogs are the same age. We should set them up on a date!

    • Tommy says:

      I’m trying to imagine how a dinner date between your site and mine would go. It’d probably go well enough, I guess. There are mutual interests: baseball, movies and whatnot. But then, after a couple of beers, my blog starts with the fart jokes…..

      • sheila says:

        Well, let’s not forget my obsession with the Charmin extravaganza.

        Nothing better than a well-played fart joke. That whole PLACE was a fart joke!

  4. sheila says:

    Carrie – Oh, thank you thank you. Who could forget our insanity over the 117D bus? I still laugh out loud when I read that thread. We went insane!!

    You’re one of those friends out there too, from the beginning. And how cool that we actually got to meet? At your home in Belfast, no less. SPECIAL!!!

    Speaking of Belfast, I am now reading your husband’s book and imagine my surprise when I see that he had written about our visit to your home and how you took us to Bobby Sands’ grave! I feel a little bit famous that I am in his book.

    I will never forget that awesome cab driver.

    Thanks for everything, Carrie – you’re the best!!

    • Carrie says:

      One day I hope to go to Charmin with you and Emily. In full costume. With our maps at the ready. (Even just thinking about that conversation about how the 1 North Korean who made it to a Charmin center cracks me up) (I just re-read that 117D entry, oh, man, that was funny. Has anyone since landed on your site searching for the elusive bus?)

      We sure packed a lot in that flying visit – and who could forget Dessie? And all of us piled in his car like clowns, him smoking like a chimney with his corny jokes.

      And of course you’re always welcome when you come back. Which you must!!


      • sheila says:

        Dessie was so awesome. He was omnipresent. I also love the guy who took us on the tour. “My da’s leg was blown off in that pub over dere.” Like, that was the tour. He was awesome. And your kids! Well, I only met your daughter at the time!

        We did pack a lot in. Bobby Sands and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Oh, just another day in Belfast.

        “Take a right when you see the chicks with the guns.”

        That Charmin post was truly insane. The Poop-o-Meter and me wanting to “sign in” as someone from Turkmenistan. WHAT IS MY PROBLEM????

  5. Mark says:

    Funny, my reaction was “ONLY eight years?” It seems like you’ve been around longer than that. You are now officially an institution.

    Also, I still have your original Blogspot site in my bookmarks; shows you how often I clean up my computer. The old site still lives. I’d post the link, but I don’t know if that would embarrass you or not.

  6. sheila says:

    Please don’t post it. It’s like my bastard child from the West Indies, a la my dead boyfriend Alexander Hamilton. I don’t want to see it anymore.

    Although it’s HYSTERICAL that it’s still bookmarked. Like, you live in hope!!

  7. Pingback: Tweets that mention Eight Years. | The Sheila Variations -- Topsy.com

  8. Catherine says:

    This is the best personal blog on the internet, bar none – that’s not hyperbole and I’m confident a sizeable portion of your readership would agree with me. Some days I click over and am delighted by what I see – it’s something I’ve always been interested in, something I’m starting to read about, a personal passion. (Like the day you posted about Carson McCullers and Tennessee William’s friendship, I had just begun “The Member of the Wedding”) Some days I click over and am baffled by what I see; it’s something unknown to me, or something I have no interest in. And either way is fine! And you have this huge archive of stuff that I love to trawl through…it’s a treasure trove, really.

    Congratulations! May you have (at least) eight more.

  9. sheila says:

    Catherine – Thank you, dear! You’re one of those people I always love to hear from. Engaged, engaging, intelligent … I look forward to seeing your name show up.

    Thank you!!

    • Catherine says:

      Hey no probs, whenever I want to come here I usually just hop on the 117D bus and zoom right over…

      (just read that comment thread, am crying)

  10. Lisa says:

    Happy Anniversary! One of these days we’ll meet, and maybe Andrew McCarthy will be there (FINGERS CROSSED) and we’ll drink and tell him how you and I “met” over St. Elmo’s Fire, and that OF COURSE Ally Sheedy belonged with him and not Judd Nelson, god. Who disputes this? NO ONE.

    Love you.

  11. sheila says:

    Lisa – HAHAHAHA I get such a kick out of the fact that St. Elmo’s Fire brought us together. It is good and right.

    And yes. Judd Nelson, god no.

    The end of that movie still makes me mad. “I need to try to be on my own for a while,” she says LIKE A MORON.

    We will meet some day!!!

  12. Stevie says:

    I’m still here, darling Sheila, lurking around whenever I can, but hardly ever able to post. Still, it’s thrilling to know that your blog and I share the same b-day. I love you! xxx Stevie

  13. sheila says:

    Stevie!!!! I love you so much! And miss you tremendously. Let’s connect soon, even if it’s via phone. I miss you! When Alex recently stayed with me, she was sitting on my bed, with her laptop out (of course), Fox News clips blaring, Capri 100 cigarette lit and dangling from her mouth, and she randomly called out to me from the other room, “Hey – whatever happened to Stevie?”

    You are loved!

  14. just1beth says:

    Happy Blog-Birthday, Sheila!!
    And a million thanks for “introducing” me to so, so, so many bloggers that I now think of as friends. I love our conversations (in real life) about the people we have met online, and discussions about what they have written. It has enriched our friendship, and brought US together, across these many miles.
    So, thanks.
    (And hi, Stevie!!! I miss you….)

  15. Jimmy says:

    First off, congratulations on eight years of your *awesome* blog, Sheila! I wish I could remember how I first stumbled upon it a few years back. All I know is from the get-go, I knew that this place was/is something special. Nothing else out there like it.

    And if you don’t mind me sayin’ so…you r wicked pissah cool.

    Continued success, good health, all the best in life.

  16. sheila says:

    Jimmy – thank you!!!!

    And ur a wicked pissah too, and you know that’s high praise.

  17. Charles J. Sperling says:

    So, in a sense, this is the Song of Sheila?

    (A name I should say I love, as it is that of my stepmother.)

    Well, keep on celebrating and singing yourself, because your barbaric yawp is music to many ears.

  18. Doc Horton says:

    “Sheila, your blog is the best,” says this elderly loon who was one year old when Adolf and Eva tied the knot.

  19. sheila says:

    Doc – HAHAHA!!!! “Adolf and Eva”.

    Thanks for your wonderful comments. Always look forward to hearing from you, you loon! I’m a loon, too!

  20. Jason Bellamy says:

    Beautiful. (And hilarious. Laughed out loud at: “The difference between the two places is minimal.”)

    Keep blogging; however you want to…

  21. miker says:

    I may not find my way back here as often as I used to, certainly not as often as I ought to, but it’s a great comfort just to know that you’re here. Your passion for the things and people you love is obvious and fierce; your joy and skill in sharing makes this a really special place. This post is typical: full of grace and insight, not ignoring all the unpleasantness and rancor in the world, simply refusing to provide it unnecessary attention.

    Congrat’s on the anniversary – hopefully there will be many, many more.

  22. sheila says:

    Miker – Yes, why provide nastiness unnecessary attention? I suppose some people feel compelled. I don’t because I am so very very bored by it all.

    Thanks for reading all these years!

  23. Kal says:

    First time here and I am already a fan. Picked the perfect day to jump on board. How coincidental is that? Or was it all meant to be? I was directed here by ‘Byzantium’s Shore’ so I have to go and thank him. Look forward to reading backwards and forwards from now on.

  24. sheila says:

    Kal – I love Jaquandor. He’s almost at nine years blogging! He has a great site, love it. Welcome!

  25. beth says:

    I remember that picture, on the older blog with the darker background. I started reading you because you were on the blogroll of a guy I ‘met’ through Bambino’s Curse.

    Your blogroll in turn was the reason I started reading Chez Miscarriage, and got into infertility blogs, even though I’ve never tried to conceive a child. I know what you mean about reading blogs just because of the writing — for me it was that, and the fact that these were just powerful, un-idealized stories of women’s experiences, with their own bodies and families and lives. I still read bloggers I started reading through CM — Amalah, Cecily, Tertia, all of whom have children now. So their blogs have become parenting blogs. There is the sense of having been along for a journey, even though I don’t really know them.

    So often when I have closed a fictional book I have really loved I have grieved, for the characters I wouldn’t be with anymore. Bloggers you get attached to are like characters that just go on. The story keeps unfolding.

    I haven’t even gotten into the ways your writing has inspired me, or what a dear “character” you are to me, yourself — but I think it pretty much sums up the enormity of this blog’s presence in the “huge ongoing conversation” for me that there’s this whole diaspora from it, all these other people I “met” and began to learn from, through you.

    So thanks. Happy blog-birthday.

    • Lisa says:

      Dear Beth: Are you me?

      I was already reading Chez Miscarriage — started about the time I also found Sheila — but seeing Getupgrrl on Sheila’s blogroll made me think, “Oh, yeah, we like the same blogs!” It’s like meeting a kindred spirit!

      • sheila says:

        I still miss Chez Miscarriage. I hope she is doing well!

      • beth says:

        Ha! No, pretty sure I’m not you :), but I think many of us have also been inspired by getupgrrl (who is still sorely missed as Sheila mentions below).

        However, your use of ‘kindred spirit’, which I also use frequently, is a little spooky…so maybe I’m not you but we seem to be in each other’s heads. :)

  26. scribbler50 says:

    I haven’t been around for the full eight years so I only know this blogger, the one who not only writes about movies, books and life, dazzlingly, but the one who wrote this remarkable essay on blogging. This was terrific, Sheila, and so are you. Your honesty shines through in every post.
    Happy anniversary!

  27. sarahk says:

    Happy blogiversary! So happy we crossed paths on the internets so long ago!

  28. Jill says:

    Thanks so much for your blog. I’ve been reading since you were a guest blogger at Popping Culture blog. I sobbed when Dan died, and I’ve marveled over the years how much I care about you, Tracey, Ricki, and many other bloggers I read. Even though I rarely comment, I’m here cheering you on in the good times and bad.

    Thanks for all of the books and movies I never would have experienced without your recommendation. Who in their right mind would have watched Somthing’s Gotta Give based solely on the promos? Thanks for Stranger Than Fiction, Offside, Geek Love (holy cow!), Lorrie Moore, John Irving and so many others. Thanks for not apologizing for liking the highbrow and lowbrow. I love when smart women aren’t ashamed of their brains, but something is wrong with someone who can’t laugh at Dodgeball (or Charmin potties:P)

    You make blogging look easy. I quit blogging because I’m too critical of my own writing and I never felt comfortable putting myself out there. Thanks for sharing your life and for your inspiring writing. You made me cry with The Total Dark Sublime and your annual back to school post. You made me howl with laughter with Bombs I’ve Been In and your escapades with Alex at the Hubman museums. I both laughed and cried at your description of your breakdown in LA. I really want to show up and hug you and reassure you that you had so many new friends and great times right around the corner in Chicago.

    Never listen to the squatters and stalkers. You’re special. Thanks for all you give.
    Jill (formerly redfish)

    • sheila says:

      Jill – you know, I don’t think I ever put it together that you were “redfish”, although I recognize your email. Dan was so awesome, so wonderful. Just a supportive great guy. He sent me the hard-cover copy of Ron Chernow’s magnificent Alexander Hamilton biography – I had mentioned something on my blog about waiting for it to come out in paperback – and he sent me the hardcover. So thoughtful.

      I do not listen to the squatters/stalkers any more! I have their number!! :)

      Thanks for that really nice comment about my post about my van breaking down in LA. You just never know what someone will remember in all of that stuff that you “put out there” onto the web. I had forgotten about that post until this moment.


  29. nina says:

    Nobody makes me laugh or cry or think quite like you do. There are some of your posts that I will never forget. (When you get lost in Dublin and you meet a guy on the street and it ends up snowing, for example.) Thank you so much for all the beautiful writing that you’ve put here. It has meant a lot to me.

    • sheila says:

      Nina – your comments are always so sweet. Thank you so much for reading over all the years, and your comments.

      God, whatever happened to that Irish boy on that snowy night?? I think about him sometimes.

  30. Dan says:

    Your blog has been on all the variations of my ‘blogroll’ through the years and your RSS feed currently resides in the folder marked ‘Essential.’ Your posts persuaded me to watch a Cary Grant movie for the first time ever, and cause my ‘to be read’ pile to grow continually.

    Eight more years please.

    • beth says:

      I believe Dan here would be the one I met through Bambino’s Curse who first linked me to you. Thanks Dan! ;)

    • sheila says:

      Dan – really? The first time? Do I remember which one it was? (the Cary Grant movie, I mean).

      It’s so cool to have these long-time people showing up from time to time. Makes the web seem actually cozy.

      Thank you!

      • Dan says:

        Really. You kept writing about the guy so I figured I ought to see at least one of his movies. So I netflixed <i.Catch A Thief. Which was my first Grace Kelly as well.

        I’d show up more often if it wasn’t for the firew.all @ work

  31. mutecypher says:

    Sheila –

    God bless you. That seems like the simplest, most direct thing I think when I read you. I still remember your joking response to my nom d’internet when I recommended SnapNDrag to you for capturing DVD stills many years ago.

    May you blog till you’re 400 (and your last comment be mine).


  32. Todd Restler says:

    Wow, what a treat at the end of that long post to get a “shout out” by name! Thanks Sheila, it’s my pleasure to contribute. I love your take on movies and actors; so thoughtful and original. I read Ebert, Jim Emerson’s Scanners, The House Next Door, and many of the other linked blogs, and yours has rapidly become one of my favorites. Keep up the great work!

    • sheila says:

      Thank you, Todd! Without comments like yours and other peoples, it just wouldn’t be as fun for me – writing, blogging, all that. I thank you so much for reading and your comments! (Also for the suggestion to put some content-links on my front page. I’m pretty happy with the result. Thanks again!)

  33. Congratulations Sheila, what a body of work to look back on and feel proud of. Found the whole post utterly fascinating as I’m very new to this whole blogging thing – pretty much just blinking up at the ceiling like a newborn. You’ve only got two years till you’re in double figures! Thanks for putting yourself and your interests out there with brilliance and passion.

  34. Dave E. says:

    Thanks for reading? Well, thanks for your writings all of these years. Your insights on books, film, and poetry, not to mention life in general, have been real gifts. This post brought back a lot of memories, all good. Happy blog birthday. :)

    • sheila says:

      Dave E – Thank you! I’m glad many of the original readers stuck around to see the blog change its form and content … I would have missed you and others.

  35. Desirae says:

    Happy anniversary to my favourite place on the internet!

    • sheila says:

      That’s so nice, Desirae – thanks so much! Anyone whom I can talk freely about my fascination with all things serial killer is okay by me. :)

  36. DBW says:

    Eight years! Boy, that photo brings back a lot of memories. I was fairly new to the Internet, and I read a post about something like “Women of the Blog World,” which had a lot of links to women who were “blogging.” Somewhere in those links was an interesting, attractive, funny, and feisty lady with a couple of intriguing photos of herself on her front page(I remember the one where you are posing with dark tears running down your face). I started to read the first post I saw, which just happened to be your 9/11 post–I was thinking, “The person in these photos wrote THAT??” This was around November of 2003. Little did I know how lucky I was that day. You have been a steady companion since then–I’ve learned, shared, argued, hoped, mourned, …hell, I’ve cried–all while reading you. We’ve never met, but you are a valued friend, and one of the damn brightest, most inspiring people I know.

    As for the lack of political discussion around here, well, I am inarguably more political than you. However, even I have tired of political discourse–at least in it’s prevalent form. I miss your point of view because I think you have a unique perspective–with your incredible historic knowledge, artistic sensibilities, and communication skills. That you chose to distance yourself from the craziness of modern political conversation(and too bad it isn’t really a conversation anymore)didn’t surprise me at all, and you made the right decision. Your views make me think differently about many things, and that’s important. You have the ability to make people think about things, and connect to them emotionally–that’s an amazing skill, and the real reason why so many people come here every day.

    Anyway, thank you, Sheila. The amount of effort and energy you put into this site is remarkable, and it is a gift to all of us who were lucky enough to find you.

  37. Jen W. says:

    I marvel almost every day at the breadth and depth of your knowledge in so many subjects. I have learned how to scroll, but more importantly I have learned about a whole world or films and books that I never would have sought out on my own. If nothing else, the fact that you have opened my eyes to authors like A.S. Byatt and the biography of Alexander Hamilton, is reason enough to cheer. :) Congratulations on eight great years and here’s to many more filled with your amazing writing.

  38. regina Bartkoff says:

    I just love your writing. I found you somehow by your brilliant writing on Tennessee William’s ‘The Two Character Play’, and I’m such a moron about technology that I’m ashamed to admit it took me a long time to realize that that was connected to this whole blog! What a find! Sylvia Plath, Moby Dick, George Washington? This girl’s got some brain! Hope this is not too personnel, but it’s funny you mention your father being the first reason for writing this blog. Someone I feel his presence and I am sorry for your great loss, but know how lucky you are to have such a father. My only connection with my father, (who has also passed on) was watching movies together, otherwise we fought like cat and dogs, and mostly about politics. But the two of us sat together and watched John Wayne, Cagney, Bogart. My friends still don’t understand my love for John Wayne and think I’m nuts. So I just love your pure love for movies, actors, films, etc. It’s also difficult for me to talk about politics anymore, everybody just has there sides and there is no real communication. To mention, well, I hate Sarah Palin’s politics and wouldn’t vote for her but, I find her kind of funny, I’m just killed for that.
    Anyway, thanks for all of it. Keep writing. Reg

  39. Rob says:

    Congrats on 8 years, Sheila, and thanks for putting so much energy and effort into this.

    Thought maybe we lost you this morning, though. :) Glad to see that resolved. :)

  40. Ceci says:

    Well, I don’t remember having written this to you, but for what it’s worth, finding your blog changed my life. Literally. You may find it hard to believe, but it’s true. It was the “Salieri” post. That one clinched it for me. I don’t know how many years it has been since that post and there have been many changes in your blog, but I found I enjoyed seeing what you would come up with next. I am lousy at expressing myself, it’s an ongoing problem that I keep trying to work on, and this blog has been a venue for me to let go about my passion for Marilyn, for photos, for certain movies or books. And my obsessions were always well received and welcomed by you, so I always felt in comfortable and in good company.

    It is a strange thing to read someone who can consistently capture what you think about a lot of things so clearly and express it. And all through the changes, both in your writings and your life, and my life as well, you come up with a paragraph like this:

    “Time to let that go, and write about things to celebrate them, rather than to criticize them. I like positivity. Not because I am naturally positive. On the contrary. I struggle with negativity. I can be fragile. In many ways, I am broken. But this gives me all the more reason to decide, by force of will, to focus on things I love. The things that I believe make life worth living: books, movies, actors, art, and, hell, pictures of the sunrise.”

    You’ve done it again! That’s the place I am in (or trying to be in), and you have expressed it precisely.

    Thank you, my dear Sheila. I am looking forward to reading you for many many years!!

  41. kevin says:

    Jeez I have been a hit or miss reader (though you are saved in my facorites) and very occasional commenter – maybe only a couple of times anyway – your are an entertaining and informative read, I enjoyed the hell out of your friday diaries – as well as your take on movies, actors the founding fathers – such wide and varied interests – anyway continued good fortune

  42. amelie says:


    i love what you’ve done with the place! i love the glimpses, the insights, and — my God! — the writing. i always feel like i’ve learned something new whilst being here, whether it’s a new tidbit about a production, or something about an author and the way they write (i end up reading posts about authors of whom i’ve never heard, and picking up their books — thank you for that!), a new view (i love your pictures, old and new) or a new way to look at things.

    thank you so much for the gift; happy eighth! (and happy eight more?!)

  43. sheila says:

    Okay, it’s going to take me some time to respond to all of you. I have read everything and it has really made my day. I love to hear people remember HOW they originally found me. That is fascinating to me!

    Beth – Ah, Bambino’s Curse. I loved that site. Is it still around??

  44. David says:

    Not sure if it was you or RTG that I found first – but somehow one linked to the other.

    Cheers and congrats!

  45. Happy anniversary, Sheila! You’re an inspiration!!!

  46. Kelly Strang says:

    Sheila, I’m a longtime reader and I’ve never commented, but I felt the occasion called for it. I live in Iowa, of all places, and I love your blog. You make me remember why I am proud to be a reader, a woman, and a Maureen O’Hara fan. Thank you for sharing your voice.

  47. sheila says:

    Kelly! Thank you so much! Thanks for being out there all this time, in Iowa. :)

    And go Maureen O’Hara!

  48. sheila says:

    Jen W – thank you so much! You’ve been around for a long time too and I so appreciate it!

    Speaking of AS Byatt, I just read her latest: a giant novel called The Children’s Book. It’s pretty fantastic – although the size put me off at first. But once I started, I couldn’t stop! Great characters, very interesting story.

    Thanks again!

    • Jen W. says:

      I will definitely check it out. Oh, and East of Eden. Can’t thank you enough for getting me to read that book- it’s one of my all-time favorites now.

  49. sheila says:

    Jason –

    God, I miss Bellevue! (The bar, not the hospital …) It was the craziest place in New York, at least the craziest place I’ve ever been. There was always a hearse parked outside. And the clientele were bikers and poets. One time when I was there, an old documentary about Evil Knievel was playing on all the television screens, and I sat there at the bar talking with Pulitzer Prize winning poets and also gruff tattooed bikers about Evil Knievel. I always had some kind of emotionally inappropriate adventure there that left me bruised (figuratively and, yeah, literally), so perhaps it’s best that it has closed its doors. But still: I miss it!

    Thanks for reading, Jason! I always love it when you comment!

  50. phil says:

    Congrats on 8.
    I think I found you about a year ago from the Charlie Parker Gunslinger site. I probably would’ve found you earlier but I avoided ‘The Sheila Variations’ button thinking maybe your site was about altering ladies clothing.
    But then I got curious.

    I love your literate and original essays. You are the best.

  51. nightfly says:

    Happy Blogiversary! Eight years… fantastic. I don’t think I ever saw your old old blog, but I remember the spam hitting the fan with commenters taking you to task and basically conducting themselves with all the discretion and good taste of drunken soccer hooligans. Has to be five-plus years now, at least. So good to have that over the rear horizon. We all owe you a lot, considering how tirelessly you write here, and how excellent it all is despite the vast output, and especially for not being derailed by pinheads.

    I wish I had a nifty story about how I got here, but there’s no “aha” moment or major event that sticks out… I just liked it, and kept reading and commenting. You’re kind to give me that little shout-out at the end. Be seeing you!

  52. george says:

    It’s difficult to imagine such daily dedication to writing about things that interest you in the arts, entertainment, and your own personal world. It’s even more difficult to imagine that it can be done, in turn, so interestingly, humorously, beautifully, and elegantly. That this has been going on for the greater part of eight years borders on phenomenal. That I hope for, and look forward to at least another eight years is selfish, nevertheless, that’s my wish, that, and the best of luck to you in all your endeavors outside the blog.

  53. amelie says:

    i meant to add,

    i think i first found your blog through justdotchristina’s old blog. some of the first posts i read (and commented on) were your old About Me section and 74 Facts and 1 Lie. i commented on the similarities between our fathers, and on Trixie Belden, and you’ve been a part of nearly every day since.

    stay awesome, and keep using your gift of writing ^_^

  54. sheila says:

    DBW – it’s hard to respond appropriately to you, it’s too emotional. I am probably just as political as you but I have less tolerance for how it is talked about. Not sure about that – you may have more to say about that – I just couldn’t deal with the sneering about art and culture which seems to now go hand in hand with that “side” of the fence. As long as that is the default position for many of them, they will never find a friend in me. Not to mention the homophobia. I remember the first time I posted the back-to-school post about my friend who had a teacher who realized he was gay – and it got ZERO comments. This was in 2003, 2004. Every other post got tons of comments. That one got zero. It was like everyone’s collective sphincter tightened. I could feel it. History will judge such people harshly. But you know me. I’m a fierce nationalistic hawk with the personality and sensibility of a bohemian artist. NOBODY “wants” me. And that’s actually fine by me. I am in good company. (Hitchens, Rebecca West, George Orwell, Arthur Koestler, my intellectual heroes.) Although I was certainly courted at the time by those who wanted to use me. A huge right-wing blogger, still huge, emailed me and said, blatantly (and I paraphrase, I no longer have his email, so you’ll just have to take my word on it): “Our side needs artist-types. It definitely makes us look better.”

    He meant it as a compliment. I saw it for what it was. Opportunism.

    There were MANY incidences such as that one. It saddens me, but doesn’t surprise me.

    You, of everyone, seemed to “get” me – on a truly deep and profound level. We click. I knew that from the get-go. I felt a kindred spirit in you – I remember when there was some election – I think it was when Bush was elected the second time, and instead of writing about the election, I posted an excerpt from Federalist 10. My friend David left a comment, emotional and heartfelt, saying how much he had needed to hear those words (from James Madison of all people!!) on that day – especially since “his man” hadn’t won. I still remember your response to David. Its kindness, its generosity. How much you respected his position – that he also cared about this country – although he may have had a different opinion about how to get there than you did.

    Everyone else on my site would have crowed triumphantly at him, sneered at him. You got it.

    That’s you. That is who you are to me. You were so nice – and so many people that day were truly horrifying, but you saw David’s struggle, and you reached out. He was saying the same thing you would have said in the same position. Do we love our country, or do we love our party?

    I don’t want to get into that discussion here (NATURALLY) – but your grace and elegance in response to SO many things has made a deep and everlasting impression on me. I consider you a friend.

    Thank you so much for always reading me in the spirit in which it was meant. We agree on many many things. I respect your position. I feel you respect mine, since it comes from a well thought out place. Like I said, it saddens me that the discourse has soured to such a degree – I have ZERO interest in arguing with blind partisans. Why bother? It’s like trying to talk to a Scientologist about what is really going on in their organization. It is a cult, make no mistake about it, as all ideologies are. I am proud that I have kept above the fray, and also that I vote my conscience. I cannot be bought. I would read the vicious anti-culture anti-art screeds from that right-wing blogger who was so psyched that I was on his side, because I could be some sort of token or weapon in his fight against the enemy – an enemy made up of my friends and family and dearly beloved colleagues, I might add – and thought: I want no part of this.

    I actually don’t think that people like that guy even have a point anymore. I am just as much of a partisan as that guy is, and he disregards me and my concerns at his peril. I am just as intolerant in my own way, just as angry, just as certain, and I will do whatever is in my power to keep his minions out of the halls of power.

    I never want to post something about my gay friend again and be greeted with sphincter-tighening silence. If I have done so, I have created the wrong type of site. That is not the class of people I choose to associate myself with. The fact that so many people who agreed with me on so many things couldn’t “go there” with me on that issue was a real dividing line for me. I thought: “Okay. I want nothing to do with YOU guys.”

    You’ve always been open and honest. I have loved our email exchanges. One of the best things about creating this blog is that somehow you found me. I hope you know that!

  55. Ken says:

    Happy blogiversary! Here’s to another eight years of nekulturny apparatchiks, insane RUHTs, “Don’t even TRY, CHiPs,” and Hamilton-Burr text wars.

  56. sheila says:

    Ken – your memory continues to astound me, you nekulturny appartchik.

  57. sheila says:

    George – thank you, thank you! And thank you for your amazing contributions here with your comments. Always look forward to them.

  58. sheila says:

    Phil – hahahaha Ladies clothing! And here I thought “The Sheila Variations” was a good title to express the eclectic nature of my site! Well, “altering ladies clothing” is better than “Sheila Ashtray”, right?

    You’re great, love your comments always, thank you so much for visiting here from time to time.

  59. Anne says:

    Happy 10th, Sheila! I still read you most days, although I don’t comment much anymore. I went through something similar to you, I started out reading and writing about politics, and then as I started to sour on that, I found you. And now, years later, after a few different internet incarnations, you’re probably the only online person I still read regularly. There’s something about your passion and insight that just makes me happy every time I call up your site. You aim for grace.

  60. Scotter says:

    Every time I thought about starting a blog, I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t worth doing unless I was dedicated and had something useful to put up every. single. day. I knew my discipline was much too fliberdeejiberty to draw an audience.

    You, my dear, are the benchmark for what a personal blog should be.

  61. sheila says:

    Anne! You’re wonderful. I still miss your writing. You will let me know, won’t you, if you ever start anything up again? Thanks for reading all these years.

  62. Melissa says:

    I’ve been reading for years (came because of the movie quizzes way back, stayed because of the writing.). You are responsible for a whole new slew of books on my bookshelf (I know I would not have read In Cold Blood if not for you, for instance).

    Thank you for writing!

  63. Therese says:

    If I had my own “My Happy Place” page, there’d be a very large place reserved for The Sheila Variations. For years I have enjoyed beautifully detailed journeys through your bookshelves, blow-by-blow recaps of geeky Bloomsday antics, and personal essays that I’ll sit down in front of with a cup of coffee and anticipation like it’s a movie premiere. Asking for directions in Ireland, 74 Facts& 1 Lie, tales of theatrical bombs, New York skylines, “Don’t even try, CHIPS,” Brendan Behan’s typewriter, Robert Mitchum’s knuckles: some of the many things that have been given new light in my life because of your writing. Thank you for what you do and who you are. Congratulations on the milestone.

  64. Kate says:

    Sheila – I’m happy each time I see on Google Reader that you’ve posted. You have a great mind, fabulous interests and you’re a terrific writer. I’m glad I found you. Thank you and happy anniversary.

  65. sheila says:

    Therese, my partner in Colum McCann Bloomsday antics! How fun was that?? I think it should be a yearly occurrence.

    And bless Brendan Behan.

    Thanks for reading all these years. I’m so glad we finally met!

  66. sheila says:

    Melissa – thank you so much! So pleased that someone would read In Cold Blood because of something I wrote!

    Thanks for reading all of these years!

  67. alexandra says:

    It’s so funny, Sheila, as well as I know you, and as much as we’ve been through, when I read your blog I feel like there’s stuff I still get to know.

    You’re a magnificent writer and it’s still something I love about you. It’s a gift that to this day, amazes me and thrills me.

    I think some of my favorite times have been on your site, talking back and forth in the comment section about Hepburn, or Xenu, or New York in general. I used to visit 10 to 20 blogs a day, and now I have it down to 3. Yours is always the first stop.

    This thing can’t ever go away. It inspires me, makes me laugh, brings me to tears, and never fails to educate me.

    You’re a gift and I’m honored to have you in my life, and in my web-life.

    …and LOOK at all the comments! You rule.

  68. Cla says:

    Happy anniversary! I’m reading you in Santiago, Chile, since 6 years ago, every day. Not all the posts, but most. Thank you for your passion, your honesty and for sharing your love for old movies (I don’t know anybody here to whom I can talk about it). I printed the Hollywood Archives to read at the Metro on my way home from work, and they were delightdul. And especially thank you for your 74 Truths and One Lie and the Ben Marley saga. Unforgettable. Please go on writing, your readers come from many places, as you see.

  69. De says:

    I’m so behind on your blog so I’m just now reading this.
    I just want to cry…from happiness or whatever.
    This whole entire world is a better place because you blog.
    Happy Anniversary!

  70. De says:

    I have to come back and say this:
    I never read your comments before I comment. I go straight to the bottom, leave my comment and then I go back up and read what others have written. This way what I have to say is usually my first thoughts on what you’ve written…does that make sense at all?

    Anyway, after reading these beautifully written odes to you, I feel suddenly lacking.
    Can I declare my love for you in a way without looking over my shoulder for the men bringing the restraining order along with the straitjacket?

    So, let me just say two things:
    1. Everyone that knows me in real life (what is that anymore?) gets sick of hearing “My friend Sheila says….”.
    2. I want to be Sheila O’Malley when I finally grow up!

  71. dg says:

    Congrats on the 8 years….awesome for sure and this was a great recapitulation. I’ve been a regular visitor for probably five or six years but have never commented. What does that make me a lurker of some kind? I love what you just said about celebrating and not criticizing…what a welcome respite it is to hear good things instead of how much everything sucks….its probably why I keep coming back…in addition to fact that we seem to have many of the same interests in film, literature and things Irish. It’s funny also we seem to walk the same sidewalks. I laugh at some of your pictures because many I seem to see on a daily basis….I commute into work in Tribeca from Jersey and I know you’ve taken a lot of pictures from both sides of the river. I also vacation up in Narragansett(sp?) every other year or so and try to get out to Block Island whenever I can. Maybe we’ll bump into each other on the sidewalk sometime..don’t be afraid to feel the beauty kid..

  72. sheila says:

    dg – wow, Narragansett, really? We do tread the same patch of grass.

    Thanks for reading all these years. :)

  73. dorkafork says:

    “Sheila Ashtray”… I thought that was the name too, for quite a while.

    I’ve always been a fan of your wonderful obsessiveness, and the sheer output of writing is amazing. In fact, I have to admit there have been a fair number of stretches where I haven’t visited this blog regularly because that sort of thing just snowballs – “I haven’t visited Sheila O’Malley’s in a couple of days, I’m going to be there for hours.” Like a buffet where I’m afraid I’m going to gorge myself, a similar kind of fear people get from TVTropes.

    I’m glad to hear your surgery went well.

  74. sheila says:

    Dorkafork – You have definitely been around from the beginning! The good ol’ Sheila Ashtray days.

    I love the image of the snowballing content – ha!! I know, I just can’t help myself.

    Thanks for visiting me all these years.

  75. Jake Cole says:

    Ugh, can’t believe how swamped I’ve been this week to just now start going through my blogroll to see what I’ve missed. HUGE congrats on 8 years, Sheila. I was one of those squatters and stalkers for a long time, almost embarrassed to comment on such great work with my own uninformed blather (I’ve had similar hangups about commenting on either the Siren or Kim Morgan’s sites). But I’m glad I finally got over it, and our brief chatting these last few months has been wonderful for me.

    Whenever I need a quick pick-me-up, this is one of the first places I head. I don’t know how you can write 3, 4, 10,000-essays and make them so light and flowing. I look forward to whatever you write next.

  76. sheila says:

    Jake – hahaha You were not a squatter or a stalker. A stalker finds out my home address through his own creepy detective work and sends me a book I mentioned I wanted on the blog. That is stalking. Total boundary-breach. A squatter never leaves the blog and no matter what I post, comments within 30 seconds. It’s equivalent to those boneheads who still scream FIRST on huge sites like Perez Hilton. I have never understood that impulse.

    Perhaps you were more of a LURKER. I am more of a lurker than a commenter on most sites … I often just don’t have the time. Or, I have the time to comment myself and then miss the ongoing conversation which is usually the best part. The Siren’s comments threads are so unbelievably awesome and I love it when I participate there. The back-and-forth is one of the best things about the blogging format.

    Thanks for your writing, and thanks for all your great comments!

  77. sheila says:

    Bingley! You’re definitely one of the old-timers. After all, it’s not with every blog-commenter that you can string Jar Jar Binks up over a glass of whiskey.

  78. Mr. Bingley says:

    Although that is something that should be done as often as possible…

    both the stringing and the whiskey.

  79. sheila says:

    I am so glad there is photo evidence of Jar Jar Binks being hung.

  80. Susan Flanagan says:

    I have been your fan since the days of Leggs Urbano!
    Writing about historical figures, films and New York keeps me coming back here. You are such a smart girl. I appreciate the care you take in your writing. I learn stuff here and I am always touched by your sentiments especially concerning family and the Red Sox.
    God bless you and your family and may 2011 bring good things into your life.

  81. I’m still learning from you, but I’m trying to achieve my goals. I absolutely love reading everything that is posted on your site.Keep the tips coming. I loved it!

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