50-for-50 interview: Marilyn Maciel, curator

marilyn maciel

Spend any amount of time on the Internet and if you don’t hear someone talk about the growing need for curation, you’ll experience the phenomenon on your own. Which is why I consider Marilyn Maciel my semi-secret weapon. While she has blogged on and off since we both started—way, way back in the Gold Rush days of aught-four—what she has never flagged in is her formidable consumption and filtration of things cultural and current. I gave up reading the news long ago, trusting her to point me toward the stories that mattered, and the best coverage of those stories, to boot. She has also provided me with an exceptional ongoing reading list of books and, now that the world has moved to streaming Netflix, an equally rich “to watch” pile. There’s simply no way I’d be able to cover the amount of digital ground I do without Marilyn, not to mention have such a good time doing it: she is the consummate cultural critic with heart. Start with her Twitter feed, then work your way back into her vast archive of content, including an outstanding series of interviews she did with writers and artists on her own most recent blog project. And then, if you’re very, very lucky, maybe she’ll friend you on Facebook.

When did you decide to become a writer?

I had the desire to write when I was in my teens, but a bad experience with a high school English teacher soured me on the whole endeavor. When I was about 30, I finally thought, “Screw her.” I’d seen an essay contest in the San Francisco Chronicle and wrote a short one called, “I Coulda Been Vanna.” It was about my favorite childhood after-school activity, which was to practice hand-waving next to each piece of living room furniture in the manner of one of my idols, Carol Merrill on “Let’s Make a Deal.” They published it. I wish I still had a copy.

Who was your favorite teacher?

I didn’t have one. People don’t believe me when I say that, typically responding, “But surely there must have been someone…” No, there wasn’t. I went to a tiny, very strict Catholic elementary school where I was taught by nuns who weren’t exactly the warm, fuzzy, encouraging types. My father was a teacher at my high school, so I was surrounded by a lot of teachers who were family friends, but a well-meaning guidance counselor steered me toward mostly business electives which was the last subject I wanted to be studying. As a result, school—the academic side, at least—was not a pleasant experience for me. (I did have a ball on the social side though.) That said, my divorced dad dated an English teacher for awhile and I adored her. She had a red MG convertible and let me drive it. It’s probably why I still have a soft spot for English teachers, aside from the one who killed my teenage writing dream.  ;)

What do you love to write about?

Memories, travel, family, creativity, the inner landscape. I’m particularly drawn to things that evoke a sense of place.

What has writing taught you?

To answer this question, I have to preface it with what sobriety taught me. Sobriety taught me to get the f*ck out of my own way. To learn to set aside my ego and speak from a place of truth. That the only truth that matters is my own. I’ve learned that publishing one’s writing doesn’t lend it more truth. Writing has taught me that it’s about the work, not the audience.

How has writing made you stronger? 

It’s taught me to edit…in life. Although I’ve rarely edited a blog post, I do love the editing process for other projects. I consider it a valuable skill in just about every area of life. By editing I don’t mean holding back. What I’m referring to is actions grounded in intention. Lorrie Moore recently wrote an essay about the television series “Friday Night Lights” for The New York Review of Books that included this nugget: “Kyle Chandler, script in hand, is said to have once phoned the director to insist, ‘I don’t need to make this speech. I can do it with a look.’” That’s what I’m talking about. We can often get very verbose about something, when a look or gesture will suffice. I think it’s because we Americans love to hear ourselves talk. Sometimes we just need to shut the hell up and pay attention and listen. As I’ve learned over the years to edit my written words, it’s helped me to learn how to edit my actions.

If you could go back in time and tell 10-year-old you anything, what would it be?

Ignore anyone who feels compelled to tell you what you should do with your life. They’re not going to live it–you are. The things you’re drawn to at 10 are going to turn out to be the same kinds of things you’ll find appealing at 50, which means you already know who you are even though some adults might try to convince you otherwise. If you feel out of place–at home or at school or around your friends–don’t fret. You’ll find your tribe eventually.

What are your five favorite books, blogs or things to read?

I’m really bad at choosing favorites, so I’ll just offer five things I enjoy (in no particular order).

You know I love my San Francisco Giants and my favorite beat reporter covering the team is Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News. He writes a great blog, Extra Baggs, and a pitch perfect (pun intended) Twitter feed at @extrabaggs. Good sportswriting, in my opinion, doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

I think Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone is one of our best political investigative reporters. Plus, he’s funny. Here’s his Taibblog, but check out his long-form pieces because they’re excellent.

I’m a big fan of Mary Karr’s memoirs, but her first one, The Liars’ Club, was a touchstone book for me at a critical juncture in my life.

I read many personal blogs that I’ve been reading for years, including yours. I’d particularly like to mention Patti Digh. Her writing at her blog, 37 Days, has guided me toward my own wisdom countless times. And the collaborative efforts behind her most recent books is a breath of fresh air in a social media marketplace that’s more often focused on competition, rather than collaboration.

I’m a big supporter of indie filmmaking and greatly enjoy reading the newsletter from Filmmaker Magazine.

Marilyn Maciel is a long-time blogger currently on hiatus. She resides in Davis, California with her musician mate. She enjoys reading, following the San Francisco Giants, indulging in her Netflix addiction, riding her vintage bike, researching her family’s history, making collages in her spirit notebook and dreaming of faraway places. She has lived in San Francisco, Portland and the U.S. Virgin Islands. You can find her Twitter feed at @MarilynM, her poetry in several of Patti Digh’s recent books and her creativity interview series at La Salonniere.

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