An Interview with Writer and Blogger Linda Leinen

Linda Leinen
Linda Leinen
Linda Leinen

TreeHouse bloggers recently had the opportunity to interview Linda Leinen about her writings, the readers of her successful blog The Task At Hand, and the fascinating life she’s led.

TreeHouse: Your work life seems to have taken a few turns throughout the years. You started out as a medical social worker at The University of Texas’s Department of Surgery and are now varnishing the woodwork of sailing vessels. That seems like a big change in careers. Was it as large a stretch as it sounds?

Linda Leinen: I suppose it would have been, except for the fact that, during the years between social work and wood work, I did a good bit more stretching, in a variety of ways.

For example, after moving to Liberia, I discovered fairly quickly that living and working in an environment where needs are great and resources are limited demands creativity and the development of problem-solving skills. Sometimes I solved problems and sometimes, as when a teacher was needed at a nearby school, I was judged to be the solution to a problem. In that case, I ended up teaching, and enjoyed every bit of it.

Of course I learned as much — or more — than my students, primarily because I also had to learn how to teach. Later, I transferred those skills to a variety of contexts, including work as a sailing instructor.

It would be easy to say that sailing was the reason for my taking up brightwork (the formal term for varnishing boats), but of course it was more complicated than that. Still, there’s no question that my time in Liberia, my work as a pastor and my time on the water all nurtured both my confidence and my willingness to take on risks: prerequisites for any entrepreneur.

 

TH: You spend a lot of time near water, open-ocean sailing and varnishing boats on the Texas Gulf Coast. What is it that draws you to the water? Do you feel the combination of sea and air helps you creatively?

LL: I didn’t begin sailing until 1987. Until that time, my only experience with boats was a trip or two in a fishing boat on a Minnesota lake during family vacations, some canoeing, and trips to barrier islands on various Texas ferries. When a friend invited me to come along for a sail on her 40th birthday, I was entranced by the experience. The next week, I started sailing lessons.

I’m far less fond of lakes than I am of open water, perhaps because I love to travel and I equate sailing with travel. I love the sense of possibility, of freedom, that comes with stepping on board a boat and loosening the lines –  I even love not knowing what challenges will arise along the way.

As for any relationship between the sea and creativity, I’m not sure that water is the critical element. Rather, the combination of an outdoor life, manual labor, solitude, and freedom is what I find pleasing. If someone offered me equivalent work on the prairie or in the mountains, I’d happily go, particularly if I could work and think during the day, and write at night.

 

TH: Is The Task At Hand your first blog? What initially made you want to start blogging?

LL: I didn’t set out to blog. When I joined Weather Underground in 2005, my primary interest lay in tracking hurricanes. Somewhat later, I decided to use my space in their blog section as a practice page for learning to post photos, untangling the mysteries of HTML, and so on.

My first entry was a recipe for pecan pie. My second entry, more substantial, was about a trip to the Texas Hill Country. People seemed to enjoy it, and I began to receive compliments on my writing. A friend suggested I needed to begin a “real blog,” both to gain some flexibility and to increase readership. Six months later, I began The Task at Hand on WordPress, and I’ve maintained a more-or-less weekly posting schedule since 2008.

From the beginning, I said that I intended to use WordPress’s blogging platform in order to learn to write. Blessed with a mysterious but absolute conviction that the way to learn how to write is to write, I disregarded much of the wisdom being bandied about at the time: particularly that blogging success required daily posting, short pieces of fewer than three hundred words, and plenty of polls, memes, and quizzes. So far, I’ve been pleased with the result.

 

TH: Who are your readers? Do they comment/interact with you often?

LL: I love that you ask the question that way. When it comes to readers, the “who” is much more important to me than the “how many.” Certainly I take pleasure in seeing my readership increase, and in watching page views increase when I publish something new. But it’s far more pleasurable to know so many of the people behind the numbers.

They certainly are a varied lot. I’ve had a reader as young as thirteen, and one well into his nineties. They’re scattered around the world, of course, and have a variety of interests. Many do comment, and I respond personally to everyone. My view is that each post isn’t an end in itself, but the beginning of a conversation and it’s that conversation I hope to nourish. The interaction with (and among) readers helps to make blogs unique, and the sense of shared history can be marvelous.

 

TH: Where do you see your blog headed?

LL: Honestly? I can’t say. While The Task at Hand has led to the publication of essays and articles in the “real world” and the anthologizing of some of my poetry, I don’t see moving away from my blog to other forms of publication as either necessary or desirable.

I have a draft file crammed with essays and stories that I’m looking forward to working with and publishing on my blog. Some people say that writing isn’t “real” unless it brings home a paycheck, but I haven’t been able to convince myself of that particular truth. So, for the time being, I’ll keep writing, and those who enjoy what I have to say can keep reading.

 

TH: Do you have any bloggers or writers that you turn to for inspiration? Favorite sites you read regularly? 

LL: Now and then, I’ll skim the selection of writing quotations on Goodreads. Usually, I start on a random page near the middle, since there are roughly six thousand quotations. Gems like this, from Chekov, could take a lifetime to unpack: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

I tend not to read how-to-write blogs, although I cherish sites like “Brain Pickings” and “The Paris Review” for their musings on creativity and their ability to open unfamiliar worlds. Certain photographers, artists and musicians are must-reads because they provide commentary about their process along with their work.

As for writers, the list is smaller, stable, and always dependable: Flannery O’Connor, Annie Dillard, William Faulkner, T.S. Eliot, Lawrence Durrell. And, yes — Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson, those guilty pleasures of the literary life.

My first post at “The Task at Hand” was titled, “Dazed and Confused.” Near the end, I wrote, “The question no longer is: do you want to write?  For good or for ill, read or unread, poorly scribed or passionately sung, I will write.”

Years later, I read this, from the estimable Mr. Thompson: “As things stand now, I am going to be a writer. I’m not sure that I’m going to be a good one or even a self-supporting one, but until the dark thumb of fate presses me to the dust and says ‘you are nothing’, I will be a writer.”

There’s a lot I never understood about Hunter S. Thompson, but that, I understand.

 

About Linda Leinen:

Sharing stories, trading secrets, weaving new realities with threads pulled from discarded memories or long-forgotten dreams – those are the tasks I’ve set myself, here on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Living a quiet life, a hidden life — anchored to my dock like a barnacle to a piling — I varnish boats for a living. My dock provides both things Virginia Woolf recommended for a woman who writes: money, from the labor, and a room of my own — space and solitude for thought, remembrance, and creative reflection on the truths and mysteries of life.

Years of life and experience lie behind me. A child of the American Midwest and the only child of striving parents, I was expected to attend college, but I rejected teaching in favor of a degree in medical social work. It was a good occupation, leading first to Houston’s Texas Medical Center, then on to Phebe Hospital in Bong County, Liberia, where I served under the auspices of the Lutheran Church in America.

As so often happens in countries like Liberia, changing needs dictated a change in responsibilities, and my initial involvement in maternal-child health clinics was exchanged for oversight of the hospital chaplaincy. Then, in a delicious bit of irony, I was asked to begin classroom teaching in an inter-denominational seminary not far from the hospital, while supervising students in a clinical setting.

I enjoyed it tremendously: so much so that I decided against a Master’s degree in social work, choosing instead to pursue theology. For a variety of reasons, I settled on Berkeley, California for my schooling, and spent four years studying at the Graduate Theological Union and Pacific Lutheran Seminary. Offered a chance to continue on toward a PhD, I chose instead to serve Lutheran congregations in Texas for the next decade, before a series of mostly serendipitous events and inexplicable impulses led me to strike out on my own, beginning the business that still brings me delight.

Today, as I write, images and words tumble along the edge of memory’s winds like so many scudding clouds. Living and working in West Africa, studying in Berkeley, open-ocean sailing and the joys of teaching have all shaped my life and influenced my convictions.

With a sense of yet one more sea-change arriving, I remember the words of Georgia O’Keeffe, quoted in Joan Didion’s White Album. O’Keeffe says, “Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant… It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest.”

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8 Comments

  1. Thank you for publishing this interview with Linda, whose blog and wonderfully poetic, informative writing I have now been following for a number of years.
    As an astrologer, of course, I have worked our from this interview what the dominant planetary energies must be in her birth horoscope!
    Jupiter, the planet of all mind-broadening activities: higher education, long distance travel, and the structuring of religious belief and practice, being several key modes of expression arising from Jupiter.
    Then Neptune, symbolising the longing for the Divine which is the content of religious practices, the sea, all forms of music and art, the boundless ocean of creativity – and the need for retreat, for contemplative space out of the quotidian world.
    And Saturn, which grounds the above energies in worldly, practical forms…

  2. A wonderful interview from a brilliant blogger. *”My view is that each post isn’t an end in itself, but the beginning of a conversation and it’s that conversation I hope to nourish. The interaction with (and among) readers helps to make blogs unique, and the sense of shared history can be marvelous.” * I appreciate Linda’s beautiful writing style and the subjects she chooses but it is her willingness to converse that makes her blog shine.

  3. What a joy it is to read this interview, as you share your insights on blogging, writing, sailing and varnishing boats – while drawing all these different threads together to weave them into a vibrant whole. One of my weekly favourites is to open The Task at Hand, and I look forward to enjoying much more of your exciting writing, Linda.

  4. Thank you for sharing Linda with your audience. As one who follows her blog, I’ve long been entranced by her writing and her ability to communicate warmly and personally with those who read her work. It’s lovely to learn even more of the “back story.”

  5. This interview with Linda was most enjoyable. I read every post on her blog and I’m so glad that I discovered Linda or she discovered me. We are fellow Texans and apart by about 180 miles. I think she is a marvelous person and the best blog writer. She should be writing a book about her life. I mean that, really!

  6. What a delightful experience this has been. It’s been a pleasure to be introduced to the TreeHouse site, and to have the chance to share a bit more of myself here.

    Anne ~ Your comments are most interesting, as is the fact that you posted them exactly twenty-nine hours before the moment of my birth — how about that? The only reason I know the time is because it was a family joke for so many years. The doctor was at a service club luncheon at the local hotel when they had to give him a call.

    It’s been fun knowing you, and learning about your perspective on things. I’m looking forward to learning more: about you, and maybe even about myself!

    Gallivanta ~ Let’s face it. We both love to do what I grew up thinking of as chit-chat. Sometimes serious, sometimes frivolous, it’s always fun. Thanks, as always, for your friendship and support!

    Mary ~ You’re more than kind. The thought that someone looks forward to what I have to say is remarkable to me. But of course, we all look forward to one another’s work, else we wouldn’t be here. Who knows what the future will bring?

    Jeanie ~ The only thing that would make this better is for Oh! to be here to share it with us. I hardly can believe so much time has passed since those early Write on Wednesday sharings. We’ve survived a lot. Now, it’s time to thrive.

    Yvonne ~ I tell you what. If there’s ever a book, you’ll get an autographed copy. I honestly don’t know what comes next, but knowing you’re here to enjoy it with me is just great. You know that old Texas saying that goes, “We’ve howdied, but we ain’t shook”? One of these days we’ll get the opportunity to shake, too!

  7. I have long been impressed, and encouraged, by Linda’s writing at The Task on Hand. Her posts are an example of beautiful writing, and even her comments reveal well thought out responses that have caused me to think even more deeply than I did in reading the post alone. Her comments on my own blog are some of the most meaningful ones I receive.

    I admire her independence, her convictions with what is good and true and right, and her spirit of adventure. Thank you for the post, highlighting a very important blogger, but also a very important person.

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