My Ethics, My Blog

Traveling Marla
Traveling Marla

I’ve never NOT been a dork. I used to hate it. Now I embrace it. Life’s too short to try to meet the expectations of everyone else.

I will pick up again tomorrow with the travel posts.

In the meantime, I made a fairly significant overhaul on the “About” page, to the extent I felt it was worth posting as a blog. Sometimes I think there is an idea that I write in positive terms about places because I get things for free in exchange for doing so. This is not true. I’ve been offered freebies but I have not accepted any. It goes against the purpose of my blog and the character of my upbringing. I’ve watched blogs I loved go this route and I no longer find them engaging. They turn into tourism brochures. I often click *Like* because I still love the blogger, but I no longer read the blog.

Blogging, for me, is simply a way to connect with readers and other writers. Following is my revised “About Me” page, which explains my stance fully. If you’re a “paid” blogger, we don’t have to part ways over this. To each her own. And this blog is always and only my own.

 

MY ETHICS, MY BLOG:

First, about my ethics in blogging: I don’t believe in getting free tours, free products, free stays or anything like it. I’ve been offered these things, but to me a writer pays her way to explore her surroundings. Some people think of the blue-collar class as a lot of ignorant people taking hand-outs, but in my upbringing, it was the blue-collar workers who refused to accept freebies, who were too proud to ask for help, and who were unwilling to be in debt or obligation to another person in exchange for something free. I can’t speak for anyone or anywhere else but my childhood, but I’m proud to have been raised in this manner.

Traveling Marla hugging Joshua Tree

Hugging a Joshua Tree in Death Valley National Park

It wasn’t until I became a white-collar worker that I learned there is actually value in networked exchange of goods and services, free dinners, corporate giveaways, discounts and vacations. These things do have their place, but for me they don’t belong in ethical travel writing.

I will be happy to accept help to arrange a meeting or tour, and I love networking to get to know people in a new community and learn about things to do and places to visit, but I want to pay my own way. It’s how I feel I can more accurately honor the readers and the writing, without the hindrance of obligation. It’s how (I hope) my writing is more honest than advertisement.

But most importantly, paying for things is how I honor the local communities I visit. Becoming part of a local community means becoming part of the economy and its tourism.

That said, my personality is one of optimism and light, and it’s rare when I write blatantly negative posts. I’m not some snarky papparaza, and I’m not a reporter. I’m just a writer who tries to give you a slice of the life I’m living, the way I perceive and interact with it, and let you walk away with a smile, a laugh or maybe a moment of reflection. In that vein, not every piece is a how-to, must-see, must-do or come-visit. It’s a moment of what I’m living, expanded to include you. Nothing more. Nothing less.

 

WHO I AM:

I like to say I’m the punchline of a joke…

Traveling Marla air guitar corn

Air-guitaring with corn on the cob and a beer at a family gathering.

What do you get when you cross a banjo-picking, coal-mining Appalachian family with an ancestry of ruminative, classically trained educators?

In other words, I’m just another product of rural western Pennsylvania.

I come from a long line of writers in our families of Robinson, Work, Dewey and Sink: some famous, most not, all nominally published but ever-hopeful. So…no pressure here.

I follow my husband on his assignments around the country.  I gave up my full-time position in logistics, and am now lucky enough to live and write about these places I stalk.

My own wanderlust began in summers with my dad in the southwest, still one of my favorite regions of the country. In addition to my own writing travels in England and Việt Nam, Kurt and I have lived throughout the United States, from the small midwest town of Hastings, Nebraska to the surreal and sometimes overwhelming Los Angeles.

I like to say that my L.A. friends call me “Traveling Marla.”  This is a true-ish-ism.  My 92-year-old friend Ida (do you know Ida?) gave me that nickname.  I pretend everybody else uses it too.  It’s nice; feels like I’m “Flat Stanley” or something.  I am not flat.

Jeff Wendy Marla Sink

My brother, my sister and I (I’m the little one at the far end of the piano) playing pick-up music together at our house in Goheenville in the early 70s. I have no idea how to do this anymore. This is the biggest regret of my bluegrass heritage.

I do things, live places, ruminate and write about it.

I call what I write “Prosetry.”  I like this word.  A word I don’t like is “Prosody.”  I don’t think it is an attractive word. I was once told that “English is a living, breathing organism and it must always be changing to survive.” I like this. I think it’s the natural evolution of any language. And I love making up new words. But I think doing so without understanding the words you’re letting go, or why, is the devolution of language.

As far as what I write, I create it, revise it to death, sit on it for a year and then send it out anyway. Sometimes editors think it doesn’t entirely suck. I withhold some of the better pieces from the blog, because once it’s published online I can’t submit it elsewhere. My blog is a vehicle for connecting to the people in the places we live, but my passion lies with essay and poetry.

My blog and my website are moody.  Maybe I will make a picture book next time or a long nature reflection.  I’m a fluid person.  It’s a fluid site.

 

MY CREDENTIALS:

While I believe (like a lot of writers) creativity comes from within, I honed my craft and learned to discipline myself through education. I don’t believe every writer *must* have an MFA in writing or an undergraduate degree in writing. Long before institutions of higher education, individuals taught themselves ALL craft by aligning themselves in apprenticeship to another and by reading books and working, working, WORKING at what they wanted to do. This applied to every profession, including our now 8+ year uber-achievers of doctors and lawyers.

Traveling Marla with Buddhist Monks

Just finished weeping with happiness at spending lunch with these Buddhist monks on Marble Mountain in Viet Nam.

On that note, when I hear someone who hasn’t actually studied the craft of writing (either on their own or through education) tell me they’ve been thinking of taking the summer to write a book, I just want to tell them I think I’ll take the summer to learn whatever it is they do for a living. Anybody can write. But good writing is difficult and requires learning, skill and practice just like anything else. And writers who are considered the best in their fields often still consider themselves a work in progress.

So, on the one hand…I think the danger of so many MFA programs is a cookie-cutter mentality of writers churning out the same styles in the same high-brow content, for the same literary audience.

And on the other…the danger of not educating yourself if you want to be a writer is that it takes time and practice to understand heavy-handedness, cliche and how to craft your talent to have the most resonance and be larger than your “self.” You also may need to remove that uneducated chip from your shoulder. More often than not, if you don’t bring attention to your anti-education snobbery, I usually don’t notice you’re uneducated.

Hmmm – see? Occasionally I have a little sass. 😉

I’ve met amazing writers who were able to teach themselves with books, conferences and workshops by other writers. But I knew this wasn’t the route for me. I’m someone who needed to learn the discipline of finishing a full-length book under the constant guidance of someone I respected (thank you, thank you, thank you Peter Oresick!). I needed to learn more mechanics of craft by writing repeatedly within an institution. I’m just one of those people who did not honestly feel strong enough to learn independently.

My master’s degree is in Creative Nonfiction from Chatham University in Pittsburgh, where I also have a concentration in Travel Writing. Through Chatham I had Travel Writing field seminars in England and Viet Nam. I was able to publish a chapbook by Luis Alberto Urrea and organize an anthology (now in its homestretch) for the 50th Anniversary of Silent Spring.

My undergraduate degree is in English from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where I was so very, very lucky to have mentors Barbara Kraszewski and Rosaly Roffman, and advisor Gay Chow. I believe all the credit is due to them that I took awards in Expository Writing and Short Story and published poetry while under their tutelage. The twisted storylines and warped sense of reality that constitute my creativity is thanks to my family.

Traveling Marla St. Paul's London

At the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

I attend at least two conferences or workshops per year. I try to make sure one is more academic (such as the Association of Writing Professionals) and one is focused on commercial publishing and platform (such as the Southern California Writers’ Conference). In the meantime I read like crazy. All genres. All the time. Any writer who isn’t reading is probably NOT a very good writer, in my not-so-humble opinion.

That’s who I am and how I feel today, one day after my 42nd birthday. This year I plan to celebrate the number of the universe with some pretty amazing adventures, and I hope you’ll read along.

Love, Marla

4 Comments on “My Ethics, My Blog

  1. I think we were most likely playing ‘O Suzanna’, the only song I could ‘Chord’ to Dad style on the piano… I miss that too, but Dad was phenominal, having taught himself the technique of cording along with mandolin playing and banjo picking… You are far more like him than I… always teaching yourself new and different things.

    Did I tell you I am taking Dad’s mandolin to Bob – he said he’d try to fix it if he can… if he does, I’m gonna take up the Mandolin!

    • I would have guessed My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean, because it’s the only one I can still remember the chords to now. But your memory’s probably better than mine on that.

      The piano still has the permanent marker dots from when he marked chords for me and mom almost killed him, hahaha.

      That sounds great on the Mandolin. Good luck learning to play!

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