Saturday, February 18, 2012

My blog is a 4th grader.

I find it kind of funny to think that I've been writing on this site for ten years. First of all, I find it funny that the Internet has been in my life that long, if not longer. The first generation of bloggers is marking a milestone. Then, I find it -- some word other than funny, don't know what it is -- that I was 14 years old when I began it. It was the thing to do at the time, as these public journals and personal columns were first becoming popular. Why did I do it? To distinguish myself? To get noticed? I don't think so (though if you ever do skim over the archives, you'll notice that in the first few years I directly refer to people, thinking they might read it -- doubt that happened). I think I did it for a few reasons. One: I do actually like writing, so it would be an appropriate thing for me to do. Two: Mollie had one, and it was wonderfully surreal to read about my friend's life from her perspective, on the Internet. It almost felt like she was my own personal celebrity because anyone could read it, but somehow more surreal was the fact that I knew what and who she was talking about (so that made me an indirect celebrity, right?). Three: It was pretty, and you could make it pretty however you wanted to. Four: The voyeuristic thought; people could read it if they so chose. I don't think I could have ever imagined that something like Facebook or Twitter would come along and give you the possibility to "market" yourself in a way. I mean, think about it, the only way would have been e-mail: "Hey everyone, I posted a blog! Take a look!" Psh, no way. I have a vague recollection of sending out a mass e-mail when I began the blog, just to inform people that they COULD check it (and how many people on that mass e-mail list do I keep in touch with now?...) if they wanted to... hint hint.

I posted a ton in those first couple of months; I think March 2002 has something like 50+ entries. They are wonderfully 8th-gradish, and amusingly young teenage me. WHY did I write them? Why did I go back and back and back to update about the smallest things? I'm almost amazed that I could update as much as I did, given that we lived in a small, one-story house, and had one desktop computer in the den, with four people to share it. At one point, my brother and I definitely had set amounts of time after school that we were allowed to be on the computer, for no other reason because there were two of us and we each wanted to use it and we needed to have the equal amount of time. I blurrily think I wanted the last shift, because that would make it easier for me to stay on longer, no brotherly whining behind me (love you, Mase!). And what was there to do in those ancient days of pre-fbstalking and pre-tweeting? WRITE. Write with no distractions. I don't know if we realize what social media has done to the simple act of getting on the Internet. It makes it so much longer (the time spent). In middle and high school, I got on the Internet to either write a story or blog, write a specific e-mail, or do research for school. Or, well, AIM. Which also took a pretty dang long time. (Things are popping back into my brain as I recall this time that seems like ages ago.)

I loved it also, I think, because it wrapped things up in such a lovely, publishable (published!) package. Each entry was in a clean font, no scrawl, and you could click a button to find the entry you were looking for. It could -- click! -- become a story and then history right before my eyes. I can even search for a word throughout a decade of archives and it will find all of the entries including that word. But ironically, I have never slipped over completely to the e-lectronic side of things. I have a suitcase -- my mother's, with the a built in combination lock that I think her father set for her (?) -- that holds ten years of paper and pen journals. I don't have it with me; only my college journals are with me. But my sweet parents guard that suitcase constantly (at my request). If it's tornado season, they move it downstairs to the basement as they would for any family member or pet. If the basement begins to flood (hopefully not during a tornado), they wrench it off the floor and move it back upstairs. It feels like they carry my life in that case, and it's somehow more vulnerable because it's written with and on elements that can smear and rip and burn. I wouldn't trade those or that practice for all of the blogs and e-books and retweets in the world.

As I've grown, the blog has become the stage where I got my first audience -- of more than two or three people in my family -- which has also been an interesting experience. I have no actual idea how large that audience is, and I think it varies from day to day and post to post. When I don't write for say, five months, I'm sure it goes away completely. It's this unknown base of eyes flickering, for some reason, over my words. So, knowing that I have some kind of audience, or the potential for one (more than my handwritten pieces), has made me sit up and edit, polish, and start with the public in mind a little bit more. It's also made me stare blankly at this template more times than I can count because I start thinking about the pressure of having that unknown audience. In some cases, it is more known -- the folks at the Brickhouse and Belk have been such supporters -- and that can make it even more difficult. Sometimes I find it paralyzing to even begin.

The timing of this anniversary (I'm one who takes anniversaries of anything to mean a lot -- it comes from writing about your life and memorizing random dates and suddenly just knowing when things happened because of that routine) is fascinating to me for a couple of reasons. I haven't been writing very much recently. I went through a bad spell of non-journaling this year, and as lame as it sounds I think I was deeply affected by having to write in the same physical journal for so long. From April to January, it wore me out with its boring white pages that never seemed to be filled quite enough. Normally, when I'm on a good roll, it will take more like 5 or 6 months to finish one. Now I'm on a fresh new one, with a blue and black cover that I bought in a market in Lagos, Nigeria. Anyway, tangent over. In regards to other writing, blog and Microsoft word, those have taken a hit too. I make excuses like "I'm getting used to the 9 to 5 work routine," or "I write at work so when I get home I don't want to write anymore," or, "I start too late and I need to go to sleep," or, the constant kicker, "I'll start writing tomorrow and get a whole new project going and it will be inspiring and refreshing and majestic! But, um, tomorrow."

A friend of mine is finishing up a Master's program, which requires her to take some classes that involve developing Life Coaching skills. When she asked me to help her out the first time around, almost two years ago, I was insanely grateful to have the opportunity to bounce my lost, unsettled, frustrated, need-a-job thoughts and hopes off of someone. She's awesome at it. She listened, encouraged me, and helped me set goals. And, ultimately, with the help and support of her and others, I ended up with a job.

Now we're back to her second class like this, and she is once again my coach. We've met a few times now, and have focused on an element of myself that feels fluid, and stuck, and uncertain, and confident all at once: my self-image (and how-others-see-me-image) as a writer (maybe kind of funny to call it a "self-image" since a writer isn't about the image, but about the action of writing. Important observation.). I mean, I've called myself a writer since I was probably 8 or 9, even though I had been doing it even longer by that point. In first grade I wanted to be an artist, in second grade I wanted to be a teacher, and from third grade on I wanted to be a writer. And that meant one thing: writing books. I think that must have been my definition because books were (and are!) what I loved. And I had been writing stories for a long time, and a book is a long story. So how hard could it be? And how wonderful! By the time I left high school, I had 17 floppy disks of words (starting from when I was 6 and we first had a computer in the house. I wish I had been old enough to remember the conversation that my parents had when they decided to buy a computer. Just curious.). In college, I stayed up late to write papers, and stayed up equally late to write for myself. Since deadlines abounded it my life, it didn't feel hard to set aside time for myself because -- well, because there was so little of it, in a sense.

And now, I'm out of college, settled into a job and a place to live and a life, really. New driver's license, official resident and all. I am so glad of it, so grateful, after last year's uncertainty and frustration and learning curve. In some ways, though, it's made it more difficult to write.... or maybe that's a new excuse. I guess what I mean is, the topics come less easily because in some sense they aren't pouring out of my head, I'm not awash with questions that seem to hinge so deeply on my next steps as I was last year. Sure, now there are different questions of course, but they aren't invading my consciousness every single second. So I've written less. I've slept more. I've written more for work. Then I've gone home to crash and re-watch Downton Abbey episodes. As I said yesterday to someone, I *think* a lot about writing, what I could write, what I should write, what I will write. But "will" never seems to come, at least not with the passionate vengeance that I wish for. Which is silly, because I know that the bulk of writing is sitting in a room by yourself typing until crap seems less crappy. So I need to make "will" happen. Will the will.

In my coaching session, I was asked what my definition of success is, in regards to writing. The first word that popped out of my mouth was "completion." Interesting, she said. Let's delve into that a little more.

Well, when I had the floppy disks and just wrote stories on our family desktop, most of the stuff that I wrote was unfinished. But that was also the period of time during which I started calling myself a writer. Now, as I've grown, in my mind I think the definition of "writer" has taken on a different meaning: even though I don't expect to be a book-writer as a full-on career, I still think it has developed some kind of connotation with a career (and my current job does ask me to write pieces), and because of that, unfinished pieces don't have as much clout as finished ones. Plus, people don't read unfinished ones. But the thing is, something has to start out unfinished before it can be completed. So I shouldn't think of one day of writing-but-not-done-yet as a day "wasted." Quite the contrary. I have floated ignorantly and somewhat blissfully into the idea that finishing is the end all be all. Maybe because when I finish I actually feel like a piece is fully good. But I haven't always felt that way or made it that way. I know good and well that the process can be equally if not more gratifying. Why have I forgotten to put that into practice?


So on this birthday, marking 10 years since I sat down and probably twirled aimlessly in the swivel chair a couple of times and typed "blogger.com" into the URL, what can I say? I can say that I'm still here, and I'm happy. I can say that being able to share my thoughts here has been a tremendous blessing and sometimes brought with it some element of pressure (good and bad). I can say that if you want to go back and chuckle at my 8th grade self, I can't stop you. And most of all, I can say that I will strive to enjoy the journey again, to find the marvelous balance when you're typing and you can't stop and you don't want to but it doesn't have to be done yet, it doesn't have to be complete, because, what I can really say after 10 years around here is that this is far from over.

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