Monday, February 19, 2007

Someone I'd Like You to Meet: Chilihead from Don't Try This at Home

An hour isn't enough time to talk with this woman. Chilihead (and that's an alias in case you were wondering) from Don't Try This at Home was my guest judge for this month's Write-Away Contest and after speaking with her I couldn't help but wish she lived down the street.

Have you met people who have the gift of putting others at ease, whom you feel you've known for much longer? Ms. Chilihead is someone who will have you giggling and enjoying yourself right away.

I asked how she got such a distinguished name. Evidently a chilihead is someone especially fond of hot spices (rather obvious I know, but then not all bloggers come from Texas. How was I to know?) but she's not particularly fond of peppers.

In high school she was occasionally given this nickname based on hair color but it wasn't until she and her husband were eating at a restaurant where a spice labeled as "chilihead" was available that the name gained its power. Soon she was using it as an internet alias, signing it on her checks, stitching it on her pillowcases--the rest is history. Don't try calling her anything else.

I asked about the glasses, assuming incorrectly that it was a privacy issue, but instead learned that Groucho Marx was her maternal grandfather and that her entire family has large bushy eyebrows and chronic facial hair. A very touchy issue, thanks for asking.

Actually, closer to the truth would be that her family has a catchy sense of humor and the bushy-eyebrow-and-nose-glasses have a long and glorious tradition in the Chilihead home to the point that one Christmas the family decided to have their yearly portrait taken with them. The joke didn't die there and her mother reportedly has a Christmas ornament where Santa is sporting his own pair of stylish busy-eyed frames. So not only are the glasses handy for protecting privacy, but for easily identifying members of the Chilihead household in public.

We talked about her family. She has a son and a daughter who have different opinions on her blog: her son wants nothing to do with it, thinking that the epitome of mortification would be to be seen there, and her daughter dying to get her Big Break by "making it on The Blog."

Chilihead herself claims to be someone comfortable on the periphery. "In a social situation I'll be the one in the corner. I'm happy to keep my input to a minimum," she says with enough enthusiasm and friendliness to make me wonder how anyone could ever keep her contained in a corner (and here is where one would quote, "Nobody puts Chilihead in a corner!" if one were as big a movie-quoting nerd as she and I seem to be.)

But in all seriousness, I found her self-described social complacency fascinating. Why do so many bloggers, myself included, think of themselves as introverts, socially inept, quiet, or uncomfortable in social situations? To non-bloggers it must seem odd that someone who feels uncomfortable connecting with others face-to-face can publish their life's minutiae for the world to read. A paradox? Are bloggers solitary beings who spend their days staring at a computer screen or gregarious connectors, linking with people all over the world despite differences in culture, age and experience?

I don't have an answer but I know I'm a better writer than a speaker. I was asked to do a radio interview several months ago and paled at the thought, turning it down without hesitation. Give me the written word where I can cross out, revise, anguish over each syllable and I'm in my realm. Put me at a party and sooner or later I'm guaranteed to stick my foot in my mouth.

But this isn't about me, it's about my new friend--and Chilihead has collected friends all over the blogosphere. There aren't too many mommybloggers she doesn't know: Shalee, Jeana, Shannon, Antique Mommy, Everyday Mommy . . . the list goes on. She may be a private person but her personal, relaxed style of writing is easy to enjoy and has drawn readers over nearly three years of blogging.

Chilihead started blogging in 2004 in conjunction with her career as a web designer and as "an outlet for writing." With training in journalism and technical writing it's easy to see how her fields of study combined to produce a first-rate blogger but even by 2005 she says "it hadn't occur to [her] that people would ever want to read [her] blog."

Somewhere along the way readers did come and now she not only manages her own blog but answers questions at Blogging Basics 101, a collaborative effort that's been well-received as a useful resource for beginners.

But she admits her blogging has changed.

"It's become more of a conversation than a writing outlet for me," she says. "It used to be that I would sit down and really write but now I go for ten minutes and post. I've lost almost all of my writing skills."

I disagree--blogging is a new phenomenon and I don't believe an easy, conversational style takes less skill than writing for traditional print media. Is it any easier to engage a reader with two paragraphs than it is with two pages? Or does blogging's brevity require a honing of skills to the essence of language?

As I sandwiched this conversation in between doing three loads of laundry, sewing a patch on my son's cub scout uniform and rewinding a tape of old Blue's Clues episodes I didn't have time to ask her all my questions and I could have sat quoting movies forever. In this limited space I can't record everything we discussed but if you want to know more, check out Don't Try This at Home and tell her Michelle sent you.

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Amber said...

I love your spotlights...and I've enjoyed a peek over at her corner of the world. And all that sandwiched between so much?! :-)

MC Milker said...

I love your spotlights too! It's nice to get to know other bloggers.

I have been thinking about the writing associated with blogging recently too. Perhaps it is akin to writing for a daily newspaper. The skill required is to be able to quickly organize your thoughts and put them on the screen grammatically correct, not necessarily with fanciful prose. It’s journalism versus creative writing – just my thoughts.

Nicole said...

This lady sounds hysterical!! I'll have to go check her out. Great. One MORE blog to comment on. Ha Ha!! :)

Jeana said...

Call me vulnerable. I read this: "...that Groucho Marx was her maternal grandfather and that her entire family has large bushy eyebrows and chronic facial hair. A very touchy issue, thanks for asking." and about half-way through I was all, "He IS? She didn't tell me that!" and then I read the rest of the sentence and got it.

Come on, coffee, KICK IN.

Oh, and I love Chilihead. I think everyone should have one.

Pendullum said...

I am off tocheck her out...
Thank you for introduction... I am like Chiliheaed... I like to observe... and be a bit on the back burner... as so many people are vying for the attention... I like sitting back and watching the movement around me...ever so often poking my head in...and then standing back to see the affect/effect...

Stephanie said...

What introverted? You too? I thought I was the only one. Tim and I joke that we are completely opposite from real life in our blogs. He is very extroverted and talkative in real life, while I often stumble through conversations. There must be some deep physiological meaning here! :)

Christie said...

you're such a great writer, by the way! (as a journalist turned sahm, i find blogging a nice outlet for my creative juices for now). anyway, thanks for the profile on chilihead, she has a great blog, and also a great writer.
ps. $50 cut and highlights by a real stylist! that's a dream come true! i'd be so sad to let that go too!

The Wooden Porch said...

I think her blog is awesome!

Haley-O said...

It's true: so many bloggers are introverts in real life. I'm told I'm different in real life than online. Once I'm comfortable with you, though, I'm more like my blogger self. So, I think I'm a better writer than I am speaker, too--because I'm more relaxed probably. Then again, my blog isn't private at all. So many people in my real life know about my blog. So, it's hard for me to surrender to my introverted inclinations..., which is probably a good thing. Anyway, I'm definitely a better dresser online. ;)

Rocks In My Dryer said...

GREAT post--you really captured her personality. As someone who actualy does live just down the street from her, I can vouch that the rest of you are missing a treat!

Anonymous said...

I love Chili, as I like to call her, and am so blessed that she would have me as her friend. She's a keeper!

Jenny in Ca said...

great interview with chilihead. Her glasses have always cracked me up.
you have a way with words, thanks for the totally sweet, funny spotlight. I enjoyed it very much, and feel like I know Chili a little better. I wish I lived down the street...