I used to write a blog. This blog. I started it anonymously during my second year of law school, I think. Maybe my first year, actually. I can’t really remember when, but I remember that I was having a lot of feelings and needed to write it out. Anyway, the timeline isn’t that important. What is important is that looking back, I see a pattern in my creative life: I have this urge to write, and I follow it, and then I get scared.
Now maybe the urge to write, maybe that is just a distraction. I doubt this urge a lot, find it quite silly and a little embarrassing. If I really want to write, then shouldn’t I have some kind of clear idea what to write about? I struggled in my college creative writing classes because I couldn’t really choose a topic. I was very critical of my creative self and felt that all of my ideas were stupid and weak. I was afraid people would think what I wrote was lame. (I named all of my characters Jess for the entire semester. My professor wrote on my final portfolio something like You were the smartest person in this room and you could have been the best, if you had tried a little harder. It was my first B.)
It’s hard for us, I think, to really know the difference between what we are supposed to do, what we want to do, and what we are afraid to do. I read something this week that reminded me of this feeling – that we sometimes doubt our “callings” because they don’t always feel like we have been told they will. And sometimes the things that I am most afraid of doing are the things that, once I take the plunge and give it a try, are the things I am most proud of accomplishing.
So anyway, back to this pattern. I followed the urge. I started a blog (and it was really terrible, and oh, the graphics – so horrible) and I kept at it, bit by bit. I was nervous and afraid each time I hit “publish,” and yet I really loved what I was doing. I had only a handful of readers for years, and then I took on a blogging challenge where you posted each day for an entire month. It was fun and also terrible, and I wasn’t sure how healthy that experience was for me so I wrote about it. That post was selected for the front page of wordpress.com. And then – I had thousands of views in a few days and I was on top of the world. It was a rush: I had written something that someone important thought was good, and had shared with others, and those other people thought it was good and helpful too. I was in love with blogging.
Somewhere in there I connected my anonymous blog with my real-life facebook profile. I was proud and wanted to show my people what I had done, but I was also afraid that “people” would “find out” and think I was “silly” or “over-indulgent.” I felt that writing on the internet would be a source of personal and professional shame for me. I went through periods of excited writing followed by periods of absolute fear. (Hey other writers out there – do you feel this way too?)
I didn’t want for my blog to be silly or indulgent or a professional liability or something people would make fun of me for. But I also think that those fears originate from something I shouldn’t let control my actions. We shouldn’t have to feel guilty about the things that give us pleasure. And as a woman, I shouldn’t feel guilty or ashamed that some stereotypically female activities like journaling, blogging, crafting or cooking make me happy. I get to be a fully integrated person, who is serious professionally and yet still totally me, and I shouldn’t have to feel nervous that if the internet reflects my true personality my professional reputation will suffer. (I mean, seriously, it’s not like I’m doing anything weird.)
But I do worry. Just because I think intellectually that a thing should be true doesn’t mean that my secret inside person is fully there, all the time. I’m still nervous that waking this blog back up, after letting it sleep in maintenance mode for over a year, is the wrong choice. I am still afraid that my boss or my colleagues would find it and be like Ahahaha you are so silly and ridiculous, look at this blog with purses and makeup and feelings everywhere!
But I miss writing to you. I want you back. And I might get scared and go dark again in the future, I can’t promise that I’ll consistently be brave. But I am here, on October 1, turning my little blog-project back on and saying hello.
I started a blog post at the beginning of this year that I never finished. It was tentatively titled “On Speaking Up in 2014” and it was inspired by my friend Osheta Moore. Osheta wrote a fantastic viral blog post that called for white Southern lady-bloggers like me to use our voices to validate the experiences of non-white women who did not have our same privilege. Osheta wrote (and I agree) that white women writers must realize that their ability to choose whether or not to speak about an issue is directly related to their privilege in that situation: by saying nothing, they lose nothing because they already have everything. In early January, I told myself that I would spend this year of “ATTACK” speaking up; I wanted to practice taking risks in small ways so I would be ready for the big moments when they arrived.
But speaking up is hard work, and a number of internet scandals and real life disasters have come and gone since the New Year and I haven’t even gotten around to publishing the draft blog post that says I want to practice participating! It’s pretty cozy over here on the sidelines, where I can roll my eyes at internet crazy from a safe distance.
I’ve ignored that inner voice a lot this year, but over the past week it came right out and surprised me. I saw something that I thought was wrong, and before I could count to ten and calculate potential liabilities and decide not to get involved in a messy situation it was too late. I was on the record saying THIS IS WRONG. THE PEOPLE WHO ARE HURTING ARE PEOPLE I LOVE. THEY MATTER. MAKE IT BETTER.
My words didn’t necessarily bring about a better result, but I received a surprising number of private messages from women who were afraid to speak until they heard my voice, who told me that they felt braver and stronger because I went first. They began to share their opinions too. The opinions were all different — of course we did not all agree — but we had a dialogue that was mostly healthy and that I was proud to participate in. This week was sad and stressful and there have been a couple of personal emergencies and family health crises on my mind. Each of the notes I received and each instance of robust and impassioned dialogue I witnessed has been special to me. I enjoyed seeing women I respect disagree well. It was beautiful.
And so, I pulled this draft blog post out and I’m dusting it off a bit. I’ve learned this year to get right to the point in my writing so here it is:
We often think about oppressors as them. But sometimes the oppressors are us. Sometimes we are the ones whom we should be speaking against. When the people we love and respect are the ones committing wrongful actions (whether it is a relatively minor power imbalance or something big and terrible like systemic racism or institutional poverty) it is so much harder. Because then we have to not just speak out for the weak, but speak against those we love. That is WAY WORSE.
But even when we disagree with those we love, staying silent doesn’t reconcile or redeem. We may think it is noble to stay silent to preserve relationships; we may even call this “peacemaking” and claim our special place among the Blesseds. It is not. It is not noble to protect the feelings of the majority at the expense of the minority. It is not peacemaking to sit quietly and watch evil or fear or prejudice or injustice run the world. That is just plain old self-interestedness, the kind that reinforces majority status and others everyone else. And really, there are enough people reinforcing majority status and othering everyone else. It’s time to be real reconcilers, real peacemakers. We can do that by starting a conversation.
It’s Wednesday and I’m headed to work and my Feedly is full of mommy bloggers and not-usually-about-motherhood bloggers talking about sending their kids back to school, or sending their kids to school for the very first time. I’m not saying I don’t appreciate these situations. I love my friends who have kids and I often even love their kids. I like the BTS photos on Facebook, sometimes leave comments, and even said a little prayer for a few young ladies I am especially fond of.
But seriously, internet, I need a little variety in my morning commute. For any of you out there looking for something different, this is for you:
1. It is hot today in Chicago.
2. I just walked past Garrett’s Popcorn without purchasing anything. Huge personal accomplishment.
3. Today I am wearing a dress from Ann Taylor. It is navy, tan, and white with a zipper down the front. To be honest, I could do without the zipper.
4. I mean really, what is it with fashion zippers? They are not as good-looking as everyone thinks.
5. My office in Chicago has a really fantastic view of the city and Lake Michigan but it is so hot all the time that I have to keep the blinds tightly shut to keep the sun out. Which kind of defeats the purpose of the view.
6. I am really terrible at wearing shoes. Matching shoes that I own to outfits that I own is very difficult for me. It’s a daily struggle.
7. At work, I keep one pair of nude pumps at my desk and I wear them every day. And I get compliments on them almost every day. For the first two years, I wore a nude pump from Nine West with a fake snakeskin pattern. For the last 18 months, I’ve been rocking Anne Klein pumps with a shiny patent pointy toe and a matte everything else. And a stranger said “Hey I like your shoes” to me last Thursday at lunch. In six months these will probably be worn out and I’ll need a new pair.
8. I’m starting to feel silly now but I want to get to a solid ten items before posting this ridiculous list.
9. We are almost finished re-doing the guest room in our condo and now we are starting to hate every other room for not looking as good as the guest room.
10. I don’t have to fly back to DC for 11 straight days from today and I am so excited! That puts me home for a solid 16.5 days, which honestly feels like 100 days after the last few months.
Have a great day!
Light a candle
Take a bubble bath
Make a cuppa tea
Shop for groceries
Use real dishes
Clean the litter box
Run the dishwasher
Check the mail
(Pay the bills…)
Make the bed
Wear different shoes
Take a sick day
Sink into the sofa
Visit a friend
Go to church
Eat real pizza
Walk to work
See the skyline
Be a family
In her book Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg recommends keeping a list of topics for you to focus on during your writing time. (Page 26.) If you have a list of subjects for your writing time, then when you have time to write you can pick up and begin instead of sitting around trying to find something to write about. She adds random things to the list each day.
I’ve been struggling to find something to write about. I dug up my list from last year to jump-start my fingers, and I found these words from my friend Natalie.
Natalie Goldberg also recommends gathering up your “first thoughts,” which are your unedited, original ideas at the first draft stage. She suggests timed writing activities — you know, like the ones you did in that creative writing class, where you walked into the room and there was a quote or prompt or something written on the whiteboard that you had ten minutes to respond to, and if you were late to class you wouldn’t have time to finish — to practice getting the words out. Just sit down for ten or fifteen minutes and write about something on that list, making sentences one after another. Stay loose. (Page somewhere around 24 to 29.)
Apparently, if you keep a list of writing topics and spend some time writing about those topics, your first-draft thoughts will become something worth sharing with others. At least, that’s what Natalie Goldberg says. Lately I’m struggling to find this.
I have never traveled so much as I have these last few weeks. I’ve been chosen by the TSA Pre-Check Randomizer five times out of six in the last two weeks, which would be lovely if it didn’t mean that I’d taken six flights in the last fourteen days. I have enjoyed hearing so many other people order McMuffins from the Burger King at the airport. (There are no Mc-anythings at Burger King.)
I keep forgetting to search for the hotel receipt from my business trip. I know where it is: the outer zip pocket of my wheeled carry on bag. But I haven’t yet found the time to unzip that pouch and pull it out. The thing is, I could do it now, but my husband is asleep because we woke up at 3:30 a.m. today to fly home from Nashville. I should be sleeping too, but I don’t feel tired, so much as numbish or empty. I hope I remember to get the receipt tomorrow morning, but I won’t be surprised if I forget again. Wednesday is the very last day or else my travel privileges could be suspended.
I might be maybe somewhere inside okay with that.
I think that Leo has forgotten that he loves me more than H. I’m giving him a lot of treats so hopefully he will remember.
Somewhere between page 31 and page 44, Natalie Goldberg writes that the details of our lives are important, and that we should write them just as they are. Not the beautiful pieces, but the real things of our life: whether we are a few (several?) pounds overweight, or the weather is grey, or whatever, we should just say yes to real life because there are too many noes already. We should say “yes” to the lives we are living, so we can keep living them.
And so, in the spirit of Natalie Goldberg’s beautiful hilarious truth-telling, I am starting again, telling myself “
Natalie MB, you planned to write. Now write. I don’t care if you feel nuts and lonely.” (Page 105.)
I woke up at 3:30 a.m. this morning in Nashville, flew to Chicago, worked eight hours at my office, went to an office lunch-event to celebrate a coworker’s promotion, cooked dinner, ate dinner, watched the season finale of SNL (very disappointing Mr. Sandberg, and what in the world was that musical act thing?!), edited a friend’s 1000 word draft down to 825 words so she could get a fresh start, and then wrote this mess of words to you. I brushed the cat and gave him four treats and am about to do the dishes and head to bed.
Tomorrow is Tuesday, and I’m going to eat breakfast and go to work like I do on every Tuesday. Hopefully I’ll remember to find that hotel receipt so I can finish my expense report.
Today I’m scheduled to join an online blog tour, to share a bit about my personal writing processes. You can read prior submissions by:
I’m trying to put my finger on what feels so odd about these questions and answers, but I’m struggling to identify and edit out the awkwardness and so I’m going to share where I am at this moment. These answers may feel odd because I’m still identifying exactly what kind of writer I am and what kind of writer I want to become, so while I’m posting the middle of the story today, six months or a year from now I’ll be able to look back and see how far I’ve come. Anyway, let’s get to it:
What am I working on?
In advance of the Festival of Faith and Writing, I chose a topic to focus on for 50 days and spent some time each week (mostly on Sunday afternoons at a local coffee shop) writing. By April 10 I had about 15 pages of a draft non-fiction book proposal: a 80% research/20% memoir on leadership and career development and being female. I’m not sure I’m ready to write about that topic yet, so I’ve put it on ice while I regroup. I thought that FFW would leave me inspired but instead I’m a little frozen up by the multitude of options I have. (Also, because I have been completely swamped with other things). I’m excited to wrap up a few big projects at work so I can free up a little mental space and jump back in.
This month I’ve been working on the technical side of my blogging, including converting this space to a self-hosted blog at wordpress.org and going through some blogging bootcamp workshops created by Julie at www.fabulousblogging.com.
Why do I write what I do?
My best skills are wrapped up in my writing life, but I don’t always know how to use them, and I really struggle with how to use them creatively. This may sound weird, but I love writing project reports, shaping policy proposals, and building persuasive documents that let me dig into the pros and cons of an idea. I like to read, research, and consider a topic until I understand how complex ideas or systems fit together and can begin to see places where ethical questions or institutional incentives come into play. That sounds incredibly nerdy, but what I mean is that I like to pull ideas apart and see where they are weak or inconsistent, and then think and write about ways to strengthen the foundations or resolve any conflicts. It takes courage to examine your own core beliefs and see if they can hold up under pressure, and this is one of my favorite things about my brain. (It can also be a bit of a bummer. Just saying.)
How does my writing process work?
I’m always thinking about something — usually about a few different things all at the same time. I have a notebook where I jot down what I’m thinking. Writing it out helps me begin to sort my thoughts and bring some organization to what’s going on in my head. I’m a huge believer in diligent editing, and I will edit and re-structure and then edit again. I’ve never understood when people say that they wrote something and that the first writing of it was cathartic or therapeutic and then they post it online in that form. I’m fine with that for more casual life updates, restaurant recommendations, and that sort of thing, but the more personal or controversial a topic, the more time I like to let pass between my first, second, and third drafts.
How is my work different from others of its genre?
I really enjoy writing this blog, but I have a full-time job that uses up a ton of brain space and I’m not trying to change that. I love working and I don’t think of this blog as a way to get a book contract so I can quit my job and write forever — that whole idea sounds pretty terrible to me. Instead, I write to keep family and friends up-to-date and to learn to use my words creatively. My words need a less-serious outlet and writing here keeps me sharp and free and makes me happy. I think that’s what makes my writing here different from other bloggers in my “genre.” Also, I don’t know if I actually have a genre.
Okay, that’s where I am. If these answers seem a little awkward to you, then we are on the same page! I’m excited for the next writer on this blog tour because I know she is for real and will have insightful and uplifting answers. Be sure to stop by Marvia’s blog next week for her version of the writing process tour.
And, I don’t say it enough: thanks for sticking with me through these transitions. We’re almost at the finish line. Do you like the new header and layout? Missing anything? Let me know.
I mentioned last week that I’ve been working on my blog, putting in the time behind-the-scenes to make this space better. I’ve been re-labeling categories and editing or deleting tags, which requires spending a lot of time in my old posts. Lord have mercy, the graphics. Nothing humbles the spirit like the blog posts you wrote three years ago.
I have a lot of work to do before this first step is complete, but as I review and organize my old blog posts, I’ve noticed something. Again and again I’ve told you about these great ideas I have, some new routine I want to adopt to improve some facet of my life or some new skill I want to develop — and then, nothing. Nada. Just a bunch of quiet, a mention of what I ate for breakfast or a quick photo of a fish I caught, until I’ve come up with some other new and different goal, skill, adventure to talk about.
I talk about things here as if I have everything under control and really believe in my success. I write about a new idea or habit with the attitude that once I’ve written about it, it’s basically done. But that isn’t how things work. Writing down a goal or telling you I’d like to change my habits or patterns makes no difference in my actual habits or patterns. Whether I post it on the internet or attempt to make some kind of related graphic does nothing to change that — I still have to do the actual work.
It’s easy to forget the work, isn’t it, when we’re so full of ideas? It’s exciting at the beginning. Those first few steps are pretty fun. But now that I’ve re-categorized 50 blog posts and deleted the 100 tags, I am so over this whole blog-improvement effort. I want to move on to the next step and start working on cool new content and moving my blog to a new host. I’m tired of trudging through the muck of old blog posts that probably aren’t all that good anyway.
But if I really want to change anything, if I really want any of my ideas and adventures and attempts and habits to stick, to become part of my real life, I need to go deeper than the surface and really put the time in. That’s true when I’m working to become a morning person, or plan our meals each week, or add a little sparkle to my daily life, just like it’s true when I want to make my blog work better for you.
This middle part — the part between starting out on a new journey and completing your goals — it’s kind of boring. I’d like to skip right over this part and get to the good stuff, but I don’t have any good stuff right now. Instead, I have long, steady, tedious work that continues. So far, this work has created a new menu for you on my blog — a menu that isn’t quite finished. Well, the menu itself is finished, and if you look up top you can see it right now(!!!). It has drop-down menus to find content by category and sub-category. The content isn’t fully aligned to the menu yet, so there might be a few surprises in there. But I’m working, and I really want to finish this thing, to complete this task as well as others that will follow. Only 350 blog posts and 800 categories to go.