I knew going into this challenge that I wouldn't blog every day. Sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes I don't have a clear emotional space, for many different reasons. Not that I require blissful silence and a happy heart to write, but some days things happen that put me in a state where writing is difficult. But since I knew that I wouldn't blog every day, I didn't get discouraged on days I missed. I just picked it up the next day (or the day after that).
Back in March, I stumbled across Effy Wild's blog challenge. The goal was to blog once a day in April. There is also a Facebook group where you can post links to your blog, as well as find and read other people's blogs. The rule was to post a comment on three blogs every time you added a link to your blog, but I confess: I often went to more than three!
I knew going into this challenge that I wouldn't blog every day. Sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes I don't have a clear emotional space, for many different reasons. Not that I require blissful silence and a happy heart to write, but some days things happen that put me in a state where writing is difficult. But since I knew that I wouldn't blog every day, I didn't get discouraged on days I missed. I just picked it up the next day (or the day after that).
My goal was to reestablish my habit of writing. I know that blogging is a thing that's far past its heyday, but I never totally stopped. Mostly, before this challenge, I've blogged only about books, with occasional political, religious, or social rants thrown in. I wanted to go deeper than that, to have the experience again of sitting down with the goal to write something, to shape it and edit it and give it some breathing space. To work with words on a regular basis.
I feel like I began to accomplish my goal (which is really about reconnecting to my writerly self, in an attempt to figure out who I want to be as I get closer to the empty-nest phase of life), and that I learned some things, so I thought I'd share them here, mostly so I can remember, but also so I can use what I learned to keep moving forward in my writing journey.
1. I like having an audience. I understand it was part of the challenge, but holy cow: getting comments consistently on my posts was awesome. It made the world feel smaller, in a friendly way. Being heard is pretty amazing.
How I can use that: I have been thinking for awhile now that I need to find a writing group. Honestly, I have no idea how to do that, and probably it will continue to be unlikely until COVID is more under control, but I am putting this out into the Universe: I want to find some like-minded people to share my writing with.
2. Blogging takes time. Many mornings I started the day with a warm cuppa and writing my blog post. I'd look up and the beverage was gone (or gone cold) and an hour had passed.
Often this would make me feel a bit anxious. One of my current struggles is feeling like I have worth and that I contribute. This comes from the huge imbalance between what I make working as a librarian and what my husband makes working in tech world. Let's face it: librarian is not a high-paying career. I can only work at my job because my husband's job supports us. Logically I know that I contribute, but emotionally? Emotionally, lately, I cannot feel that. Which is tied up in being at this place where I only have one teenager, and while of course I still take care of him, there is far less active mothering to be done. If I'm not contributing much to the family finances, and if I'm not, you know, housewifing or mothering, then...it feels like I'm adding nothing. So often, after writing and posting, I'd clean the bathrooms or do some laundry or start planning dinner, just so I could feel like I had done something measurable.
How I can use that: In reality, this is a new iteration of the same feeling. I've always understood that being financially successful as a writer is even more elusive than being critically successful. It doesn't help that I'm married to a person who sees money as a huge proof of a person's value. I have always wanted to be a writer but I haven't ever, really, had the confidence to pursue it with my whole heart. I mean, if I don't feel like I am a person of value within my family, how can I feel like my writing work would be embraced by anyone who isn't required, by marriage or genetics, to love it?
I just...I just want to find the mental courage to say "fuck it." (sorry for the language.) To not care about what other people think of me, and to pursue my dream without guilt.
Guilt is holding me back. Perhaps exploring that will help me to cast it off.
3. Blogging and writing are different. I mean, clearly: blogging is a form of writing. But it is easy satisfaction. You write your blog post, you polish it up a bit, you try to find a photo that works. You click "POST" and voila: your words are out into the world. No one but me determines what is "publishable."
This blog post is the 1682nd one I've written since fall of 2005. With varying degrees of success, I try to keep my blog posts around 1000-1200 words. If an average-length novel has 100,000 words, I've written roughly 15 novels. 1.5 million words.
But only on my blog.
Early on in my blogging journey, a commenter told me that a writing professor she was taking a class from told her that blogging can become an excuse for not actually writing. I thought blogging would be a stepping stone to other writing opportunities, and I know for some people it is. For me, it hasn't.
How I can use that: do the work. Do the work, which is hard. Face rejection. Find places to submit. Sit with the discomfort of whatever story I want to tell—the goddess locked in the mountain, the baby in the cave, the three-voice story about motherhood, the LDS vampire, the zombie story that is really about fire—rather than giving up and never finishing.
Do the work.
Does that mean I will stop blogging? I don't think so. However, I do think when I have an idea for something to write about, I need to pause and ask myself: what do I want to do with this idea? Do I want to share it right now in a social media setting? Or do I want to be more ambitious? I think there is room for both.
I read two different pieces of writing yesterday that have been working in me. Here’s the first one:
I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent but no faith that I could be. Martha said to me, very quietly, “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.”
This comes from a conversation between Agnes de Mille (a dancer who choreographed the dances in Oklahoma! and many other Broadway plays and who changed the way dance was used in drama) and Martha Graham (a dancer who revolutionized modern dance and all-around brilliant, creative soul). A writer I admire, Katherine Arden, shared it on her Instagram and I read it about twelve times yesterday morning, almost making myself late for my PT appointment. It ends with the declaration that no artist is ever, in the end, fully satisfied with her work. “There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than others.”
The second one comes from an essay I read last night at work, when I had roughly 27 minutes left before I could go home. In theory we’re not supposed to read at the desk, but sometimes you just need to. I was feeling worn out all day from my PT appointment (he worked my foot in hard but lovely ways that made me feel that it won’t always be a stiff club at the end of my ankle), but at that point I was just out, so I read for a few minutes:
She made weather, like all single peaks. She put on hats of cloud, and took them off again, and tried a different shape, and sent them all skimming off across the sky. She wore veils: around the neck, across the breast: white, silver, silver-gray, gray-blue. Her taste was impeccable. She knew the weathers that became her, and how to wear snow.
This is from an essay called “A Very Warm Mountain,” which Usula K. Le Guin wrote in 1980 about the eruption of Mount St. Helens. The essay itself is a masterclass about how a piece of writing is “about” one thing but then that thing is about everything, and if I could I would read it out loud with you and then discuss it. But what really, really hit me in the gut, what mixed with the Martha Graham words, was this small paragraph. It made me think Ursula would so understand my relationship with my mountain. She writes that of course St. Helens is a woman, but not in the way men believe, and that she is a sister, not a mother.
I have loved my mountain—Timpanogos—since before I even knew her name. And ever since I first hiked to the summit with my sister in 2006, I have carried an essay in my mind. If I had written it in 2006, when I had only hiked it once, it would’ve been much thinner than what I would write now, having summited it many times and grown intimate with its foothills and crags, its secret meadows and exposed ridges, its temperament from different directions and altitudes. Her temperament. But the basic construct would be the same, the way the local story explaining why she looks like the profile of a reclining figure, created by a white man and then labeled as Native American myth, is wrong. Of course Timp is a woman. But not only a virginal maiden pining for her lost love.
because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique
And yet, there in that essay is one of my favorite writers, exploring the same idea. Mountains as women, and how men don’t get the metaphor correct at all. And that sentence: “She knew the weathers that became her, and how to wear snow.” It is one of those sentences that fill you with both the joyous spark of something perfectly constructed and the despair that you, yourself, will never be the one to construct it. Someone else already did.
I took a little break from my April social media goals, after last week when I posted every day on Instagram (for a photo-prompt challenge) and blogged almost every day.
I started this blogging challenge because I wanted to reestablish my writing habit. A writing practice of showing up, every day. I imagined that it would help me tap in to the old feeling I used to have, when I was brimming with ideas and potential pieces. I wanted to reconnect to my writerly self, who I have carried with me every day of my adult life. Every day, in fact, since that time in April during my junior year of high school, when I tried to show up at school again, and in English class another student read a poem she’d written to the class and I realized that writing wasn’t just the thing I did in my notebooks, it was a thing that actual people did and shared with the world.
I have always, for maybe even longer than I have loved Timp, processed my world with writing. “Writer” has always been my highest aspiration. Words have always been my structure.
But here I am, almost fifty. I could tell you: I raised four children. I could say: I married a person who is wonderful but who does not understand this aspiration in any way, and that makes me feel ashamed and blanketed. I could make a story about how the words of a professor two decades ago still linger in my psyche, reminding me the odds are not in my favor.
I could explain all the many reasons I have doubts and hesitations and how they have stopped me from pursuing what I always wanted to do.
But deep down I know: they aren’t reasons. They are excuses.
The truth is, fear has stopped me. I have let fear stop me. Out of fear I built a dam and closed the channel.
I never stopped writing, not really. Even when blogs fell out of fashion I kept blogging. If you follow me on Instagram you know that my photos are mediocre but I spend a lot of time writing my caption. Before social media I wrote letters and kept a detailed journal.
I have always written.
But after I got married and started having kids, I stopped chasing my “be a writer” dream.
There was school and then there were kids and then there was unemployment and then there was teaching. There was the long decade of Kendell’s medical issues. There was my dad’s dementia and my floundering relationship with my mom. There was this messy, freeing, painful, redemptive process I am still inside of, the rebirth that is midlife. Through all of it I had the same sparks, different colors: I could write about this, I could write about this, this is how I would write about this experience…
I have sometimes written those ideas. Fewer times, I have polished and rubbed until the edges were smooth enough and I have submitted. Even fewer times have I received the “accepted” response and seen my words in print. I have written, yes, but not done what writers do, which is the work of having your work be seen by the world.
I wanted to find those sparks again. I still want to, but they are slow in returning. The dam is sturdy.
But I am finding something is different in me. I am having dreams and falling in love with images. I am putting my pen onto paper and writing, trying not to censor myself, trying to just follow where the ideas lead. I haven’t, perhaps, found my “blogging mojo” again. Maybe I won’t. But there is something moving. And o how I want to not let fear hold it still. How I want to not be constrained by the fear of how good or valuable it might be, by my feeling that my small life can’t be important enough to connect to the larger world.
I want to be like Le Guin and like all the other writers whose work has brought me joy. To leave something of myself behind that perhaps someone exhausted late at night might find, and read, and be, during the reading, lifted instead of tired.
I was reading somewhere on Facebook yesterday about a writer. Someone had recommended this writer’s memoir to the commenter, and she read it and loved it, and then did some research about the writer and discovered that he keeps a blog that he writes in every day. I overdid it yesterday and was kind of in a shell of throbbing misery so I can’t tell you for sure who the writer is or what the book was or even where on Facebook I read all of that, but this morning when I woke up (gratefully out of pain) I was still thinking about it.
Remember blogging? Remember when all of your friends had blogs, and you made other friends by following and reading your friends’ friends’ blogs? When blogging was about just sharing random stuff. It wasn’t about your Brand, or trying to sell stuff. It was just…sharing. Thoughts, ideas, experiences.
I miss that.
Am I coloring that time with wistful nostalgia? Maybe. If I had developed A Brand back then, would I have been a more successful blogger? Maybe. Is it easier to find like-minded people through social media? Sure. Do I have a tendency to resist change and to want things to stay the same? When it comes to technology…kind of. (I do still use my very old copy of WordPerfect for my personal writing, you know.) Is it kind of…weird, I guess, that back then (a decade ago) we just read random stuff about people’s lives? I guess.
The arguing voices in my head pointing out how ridiculous I am aside, I still do miss the heyday of blogging.
Because back then, I would’ve just written what I want to write today, instead of writing a long explanation of why I’m going to write the following. Because, if I’m honest, for me, blogging has always been about writing. About having a platform for my random words to be out in the world somewhere, and for the process of crafting something with words. So, like whatever writer that was being discussed on that random Facebook thread, I’m just going to write this because of the desire to put the experience into words.
On Sunday morning, my next-door neighbor, who goes on a walk early every morning, sent me a text letting me know that Kendell’s truck (which he parks on the street) had been egged. Which is how I found myself standing in the gritty pavement at the carwash, while Kendell vacuumed the truck after getting it washed.
When I got out of the truck (on my crutches, mind you), I gasped. The air was so clean after the storms we’d had over the past few days, and the mountains were perfectly coated with snow. It doesn’t last long, that smooth coating; the wind eats at it, and avalanches crumple the layers, so when it is like that—like frosting, almost, applied thickly with a flat knife—I try to appreciate it. And the sky! The sky was so blue.
White mountains, blue sky, clean, cold air. Even in a kind-of gross carwash vacuuming lot. Even on crutches. Even while I wished I could put on my running shoes, a pair of capris and a tank and hit the road and even while I compromised by crutching around the lot instead…even then. I am grateful for beauty and revision, for the world made clean, for breath in my lungs.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about social media in all its forms, and its impact on my life. Clearly I haven’t been blogging much lately—honestly, I haven’t been writing much at all. There are many reasons for that, from politics to politics’ impact on family relationships to finding that I am much more peripheral in the lives of people I thought I mattered more to.
What do I want my life to look like in the light of what I have been learning about myself, both individually and in relation to others, this year?
That question might not seem to connect much to social media, but for me, it does.
Out of all of my family and real-life friends, I am on social media the most. I keep a blog (I know…it’s been mostly inactive all year, but I still think about blogging). I post links to articles and essays and poems on Facebook, as well as what I think about the world: random thoughts, library stories, funny stuff I want to remember. Also things I feel passionate about, like, yes, politics (which has irritated more than one friend and/or family member). In the past, I would’ve blogged these things, but they are read more on Facebook so that’s where I put them. I also post a lot on Instagram: running and hiking pics, photos about books, writing, flowers, nature, scrapbooking…all of my hobbies, really.
I have sometimes felt a sense of being less-than because of my social media posting. This is subtle and hard to exactly describe (and maybe it is me being paranoid), but I see it: Amy is the weird one who posts more than a teenager. The “I don’t know how you have the time for that” sly remarks. The gentle reminding of someone else’s moral superiority for not being “of the world” like I am. My husband also doesn’t understand it, and he often asks me why I spend time on social media. After many discussions and thoughts about this, I’ve come up with a standard response:
It’s like having friends. (To quote Luna from Harry Potter.)
As an adult, I’ve found it difficult to find many friends. I have some close friendships which I highly value, but I never seem to spend enough time with those friends. I haven’t ever really felt like I fit in much with my neighborhood—I mean, I do have friends here, but they are the type of relationships that involve lending sugar or borrowing salt, saying hello if one of us is outside, the shared history of our children’s friendships. At college I didn’t make many friends because almost all of my classes were done after I became a parent, so I was just there for the education and I missed all of the social things.
I’ve never really found my tribe, honestly.
So, ever since we got the Internet at home in about 1997, I’ve had online friendships. Some of these have been casual, some have endured for many years. Some online friends I’ve met in person, but most I haven’t.
I understand the ephemeral nature of the friendships formed through social media. I know that much of what is post is surface-level stuff, the glittering perfect moments. I’ve always tried to be as real as I could online, posting disappointments and struggles as much as I have successes, but I get it: it is a space for relationships that are both real and unreal. If you need to borrow sugar from an online friend who lives in Alaska, you’re out of luck. But if you need someone to message with at 3:00am in the morning, Alaskan friend might just be around.
So whether or not it makes me weird, needy, or exhibitionary, I continue to post on social media spaces. Is it the most mentally healthy thing I could do? Probably not. But is it a thing I can adapt to work for me and my needs? Mostly yes.
A few weeks ago, the LDS church announced a social media project to its members. They were encouraged to post something they were grateful for during the week leading up to Thanksgiving, and to use a hashtag “give thanks.” I was annoyed when I read about this, because I had already planned on doing my own gratitude project, but to do it now, with everyone else doing it as well, felt like following the herd and I’ll readily confess to striving against doing what the herd is doing.
All of a sudden, I was seeing posts on FB and IG from people I hadn’t seen post in years. Some of the posts were what I expected: gratitude for families, houses, jobs, and possibilities. Some of them surprised me with their thoughtfulness and the topics they discussed. I had some lovely conversations with friends I haven’t heard from in awhile, but there were also some bristles and barbs along the way for me. I was put aback at the post-mo world’s furor over the project but still found plenty in their objections that resonated with me. After a couple of days (and figuring out my own project, which was to share some simply daily joys I observed), I started analyzing why I was still feeling annoyed.
One person who I used to be great friends with, and who helped me through a couple of hard years in my life, posted a gratitude every single day for the entire week. I was so excited to see her face and pictures pop up, because even though we have grown apart, I still appreciate what she added to my life and wanted to know how she was doing. I left comments on three of her posts, liked them all, read the comments of some of her other friends.
And never once, not once, did she like or respond in any way to any of the comments people left.
This morning I read this essay on the Exponent II blog, which is also about the writer’s response to the “give thanks” project. While her response is not entirely the same as mine, her words made me feel understood. Especially this concept:
So in this seven-day campaign blitz, Mormons are not only expressing gratitude, but we are also performing our in-group status. We’re showing that not only are we grateful, we’re willing to do what the prophet says, even if it means posting on social media when we normally don’t, or adding a prescribed hashtag and message to our already-regular posts. We perform our Mormon-ness by showing obedience.
My friend who posted every day but didn’t ever respond to any comments? Performing her Mormonness. It wasn’t about connecting to people (as social media is for me), but about doing what someone told her to do.
Over the past five years, my faith has gone through some fairly transformative experiences. I don’t act in ways I used to. I am not sure what I believe in anymore. But I also know many more things about myself, and one of them is that I am unwilling to do something simply because someone in power told me to. I don’t want to perform anything; I just want to be who I am, and if I find acceptance along the way (whether in “real life” or online), so much the better. But acceptance that is based on performance instead of authenticity is, I have learned, not real acceptance, and it is definitely not friendship or companionship or love.
As I have thought about all of this (and read—on yes! Social media!—other people’s thoughts), though, I have started thinking about the authenticity of my own posts. While I try to be real and authentic, I, too, am guilty of performance. Awkward photos of me hiking, for example, where my butt looks big or I’m making a weird face or I’m not trying to hide my perimenopause belly? I don’t only not share those, I delete them forever. And when I do share the painful bits of my life, I am terrified and feel foolish, so I don’t do it very often.
Maybe by its very definition social media is performative.
I haven’t quite figured out what any of this means yet. Blog more, write more Facebook posts, share more in IG? Or maybe share less? I don’t know.
But I do know this. Just as the LDS church (and likely many other religions) has an old white guy telling everyone what they should do, and just as I resist that voice claiming my obedience, social media also has a form of a bossy old white guy. He’s more subtle, though. He tells me that if I post this, if I look stronger or skinnier or sexier in that photo, if I write the right caption that is just long enough to say what I mean but just short enough to not lose anyone’s attention…if I do it right I will be included.
I also don’t want to perform for that voice.
I just want to be who I am, and to have that be enough. It wasn’t for the faith of my upbringing, and deep down I suspect it isn’t enough for social media, either. Which is, really, the work of the place I am in inside my life: knowing I am not enough for church, for my career, for my ambitions and aspirations, sometimes for my family or friends, but finding a way to make peace with that. To just be enough for me.
Without being a performance.
On Friday, Kendell and I went to the wedding reception of the daughter of one of our couple friends. We’ve been friends with this family for, I don’t know…at least 25 years. This friendship was formed—like so many other friendships and families in this valley—through our being employed at WordPerfect.
I started working at WordPerfect when I was 17 and still a wild child. I went to school during the day (not to my local high school, though, but to the local community college) and then worked from 3:00-9:00, doing data entry. My mom worked there, too, and my sisters, and a year later my friend Cindy (whose dad and brother also worked at WP) would introduce me to her brother, Kendell. WordPerfect had a huge impact on our little valley; it brought so many jobs after the biggest employer, Geneva Steel, began laying off workers in droves. I was young and impressionable and probably pretty stupid when I worked there, but I learned a lot from the (actual, adult) women I worked with.
At Friday night’s reception, I sat at a table with a woman I knew from those WordPerfect days, someone I admired because she seemed so competent. Complete, somehow, a woman with a career that defined her, who seemed entirely comfortable in being who she was.
After I took off my mask, she recognized me; well, actually, she probably only knew me as “Suellen’s daughter,” but she was polite and talked to me like an old friend. She told me about her adult children and her grandchildren, and then she asked me about my life.
“You always seemed like you were so bright and full of potential,” she said. “What have you done with your life since I last saw you?”
And honestly: I couldn’t think of one single thing I could say.
What have I done with my life?
I said something about raising a family and then started talking about my kids. I was surrounded by people so I couldn’t really let her question sink in, but when I woke up on Saturday morning, it hit me.
What have I done with my life?
The Amy she knew—was I bright and full of potential?—was certain she would do amazing things with her life. When I was that person she knew, I was at a huge turning point of my life, when I tried to set down all my rebellious ways and live a “good” life. I pulled on the dress of my religion and tried to wear it like it was a skin, and I tried to wear it for the next 25 years. I was going to be good, and the blessing in being good would be achieving what I wanted to achieve.
Could I have said that?
“Well, I tried to be a good Mormon.”
But she had talked about missions and temple weddings, and if that is the metric one measures “good Mormon” with (and, let’s be frank: it mostly is), then clearly I did not accomplish that goal.
The Amy she knew was determined. Yes: I got married at 19, but I was determined to graduate from college. Eventually I did. Eventually I even got two degrees. Could that be my answer?
“I got an English degree and one in secondary education.”
I know now that a Bachelor’s degree opens some doors, but it is really only a start. After I graduated with my first degree, I wanted nothing more than to be a stay-at-home mom. Did I want this only because it was what the LDS faith told me I was supposed to want? That was a part of it, but, no: I loved the time I got to spend as a mom at home with my babies and toddlers. I didn’t want it to end when life made it end anyway, and the fact that what I wanted didn’t seem to matter to God or the Universe or Whoever was so, so bitter to me.
But the truth is, you can only choose one life. It was impossible for me to choose the two things that I wanted: have a family and get a PhD so I could teach literature and writing at a university. (One of my deepest desires.) I know many women actually DO manage those two different choices, but the particulars of my life made it impossible. Or, at least, it seemed impossible. I chose my family, and I love them with all my heart. But there is a part of me that mourns for that Amy who never existed.
So, I guess my response to Barb’s question about what I have done with my life was an accurate one:
I raised a family.
I want this to be enough, but if I am honest with myself, it doesn’t feel like it is. Maybe if I had managed to be a better mother, I would feel like it was enough. But I made so many, many mistakes. There is a saying in the LDS church that people like to repeat: “no success can compensate for failure in the home.” I don’t think I failed, per se. But I could have done so much better than I did.
So here I am. Almost 50, with three adult children and one still in high school. No longer bright, no longer full of potential. What have I done with my life?
I raised four amazing children.
I ran some races, even a couple of marathons.
I hiked a lot of mountains.
I witnessed the suffering and death of both of my parents.
I taught online scrapbooking classes.
I taught high school English.
I wrote some articles for a scrapbook magazine.
I had an essay published in a book.
I became a librarian.
I took a lot of pictures, baked birthday cakes, made meals, did laundry, weeded my flower beds, mowed my lawn.
I helped my husband recuperate from six major surgeries in ten years, not to mention survive a cardiac arrest.
I went to church. I tried to fit in there, tried my best. I taught teenagers and adults some lessons out of the scriptures.
I did a little bit of traveling.
This is the content of an ordinary life. And there is nothing wrong with an ordinary life. It is beautiful, and even if it doesn’t seem like much from the outside, there are many things in that list I am proud of.
But did I fulfill that “bright potential” Barb thought she saw in me?
You know how sometimes time slows down in your head? When she asked me that question, I had that experience. I thought “Oh, God, how do I answer that, I haven’t done anything that would impress someone like her” and my mind flashed through my life and I thought “my truest wish is that I could tell her ‘I am a writer.’”
Then time sped back up to its normal speed and I tried to answer.
Almost 50. The brightest parts of my life in the past. Unsure if I have any potential left.
Was her question a Rorschach test, the first response being the truest?
I know what I want to do with my life. It is the thing I have wanted to do since I was 15 and someone else in my 10th-grade English class stood up and read a poem she had written herself. Since I was 16 and didn’t know what to do with all of the feelings I had, and writing in my journal was one of the only ways I could find to cope. Since I was 10 and read a book I loved and thought I wish I could do that.
How do I do that?
How do I stop wanting to be a writer and actually be a writer?
How do I claim that my other roles—wife and mother and daughter and sister and friend and employee—are important but I want, I want, to do what I have always wanted to do?
Is it selfish?
Is it silly?
How do I convince myself that I deserve to follow the dream I always had for myself? How do I separate what is needed right now (helping Kaleb through high school, saving for retirement, managing the various ways my body is failing, encouraging Jacob to find his way, being helpful to Haley, Nathan, and Elliot) from what I want for the future? (writing that makes me realize: that has always been my problem, putting aside what I wanted for what was needed right now).
How do I find the courage—is it brightness? is it potential?—to say “succeed or fail, writer is where I am focusing my energy”?
Writing this and posting it on my backwater of a blog will not accomplish much. I know the answer: do the work. Try. Don't let the "yeah, but"s get in the way.
But it goes deeper than that. It is about finding courage, yes, but it is about finding that belief I used to have, the belief that I do have potential, that I do have a brightness to offer to the world.
How do I find that belief again?
A memory I thought of this morning:
In the 90s, there was a short story magazine called Story. It was a beautiful publication, bound like a paperback rather than a magazine, with heavy cardstock covers and thick paper. I’m not sure how I found it, but once I did, I subscribed to it and when it came in the mail I would read the whole thing. This was during the years when I was a newlywed and then when we were building our house.
In one issue, the first one that came to my mailbox at our new house, there was an advertisement: Story was having a contest. You could submit your work and if you won, your story would be published.
I wanted to have a story published in that literary magazine. I wanted a copy of it, with my name in the table of contents and my words printed on that thick paper.
And at that point, I was always writing stories, so I finished and polished the one I thought was best, printed it, and got it ready to mail.
But that’s not really the memory. Honestly, I’m not even sure what story I sent in. The memory that surfaced is different, and more painful.
There was a five dollar submission fee to enter the contest. Five dollars is not a big deal, but right then—when we’d put literally every single penny of our savings into our house—it felt like a big deal.
More than that, though, was that I didn’t want to write a check for $5 because I didn’t want to have to explain it to Kendell.
I literally never talked to him about my writing aspirations. Just the thought of it made me blush. (Literally…not the sexy blush, the ugly one.) Writing—the act itself, as well as the idea that I might think I could be successful at it—has always felt a little bit…shameful to me. Like it’s a cute aspiration a child might have, but not a grown up in the adult world. I didn’t want to tell my mom about it either, or my friends; it isn’t only true in my marriage, but everywhere. “I want to be a writer” is both my deepest, longest desire and the one that embarrasses me the most.
So I didn’t want to tell my husband what I was doing. Part of me imagined my story winning and then showing it to him as a surprise. Part of me imagined my story not winning, and if he knew I’d submitted it I’d have to tell him it didn’t win, and how awful would that be? If I didn’t tell anyone, I could avoid the embarrassment altogether.
So I drove to the grocery store and used cash to buy a money order.
And that is the memory I came to this morning, after my sister-in-law shared this article on her Facebook page: sitting in the car (we had a Honda Accord then and it was my favorite car we ever owned) in the Macey’s parking lot, putting my submission together, full of hope and also of embarrassment and not able to put into words then how much hurt was involved in that hoping. I licked the manila envelope, fastened the clasp, and drove to the post office, trying not to cry.
Why that memory this morning? Because of something from that article. It’s about how women in their 50s should do something new or big, something life-changing. It divides women of this “certain age” into three categories: the retirement pushers, the I’m-just-a-moms, and the shadow dancers. I am a shadow dancer:
In their 20’s, these women labeled their dreams as foolish, and chose related (but sensible) careers, instead. (I chose Marketing Manager over author at 20. Just in case I wasn’t Hemingway….) The shadow dancer’s dream has never died; but a little bit of her soul has, every day.
Because, of course my story didn’t win the contest. Of course it didn’t; I was young and full of dreams and ambition but not much skill or knowledge. Since it was a contest, I didn’t even get a rejection letter. Just waning hope at the mailbox. (That is much, much worse than a rejection letter.)
During those years, before I had kids, I wrote a lot. I read Writer’s Digest and I submitted a ton of things. I had one poem accepted in The Daily Universe, BYU’s student paper (even though I wasn’t a student there yet), but that was it for success. Then I had Haley, and I started working on my undergrad degree, and I had professors tell me things like “I’ll be lucky if I find one real writer in my entire career as a professor” and “don’t get your hopes up about being a writer because most of you won’t succeed.” I read over and over, in different spaces and approaches, that success as a writer is basically impossible.
So I did exactly what that article describes: I chose more sensible things. I didn’t keep pushing and get a PhD like I had originally wanted. Instead, I taught high school English and then I became a librarian.
That dream didn’t go away. I’ve blogged, I’ve written for scrapbook magazines. I had an essay published in an anthology and a few in some LDS publications.
But life just chipped away at that thing I had in my early twenties, the absolute belief (even if it was tinged with embarrassment) that if I tried hard enough, I would be a writer.
And let’s be honest: I haven’t tried hard enough.
I let the shame overwhelm the belief.
I let sensible take the place of ambitious.
And I just carried it around.
I never stopped wanting to be a writer. I never stopped filling up with envy when I went to a book reading or signing or I met a writer in any form. I never stopped reading and thinking “I want to do what this person does.”
But I didn’t do it.
I made a life with my children and it has been a good life. I love them. I am grateful I got to be a mom and I wouldn’t give that up for anything. I’m grateful for the years I got to be a stay-at-home mom, short as they were. I get to work at a place that I love and I get to use the knowledge I gained from my degrees to help people.
But, here’s another truth: the shame is still here. The embarrassment. How dare I still carry around this dream? How could I think that I would be successful at writing, when so many others have tried and failed? There is also shame at not trying, too. And at the fact that maybe I am selfish for even my sensible choices, because it’s not like I’ve achieved any sort of financial success by working part time at the library.
But I also am not that girl in the Accord in the grocery store parking lot. I can at least find the words to describe what I am feeling. I have more to say than I could that day in my car, because of what life has brought me, good and bad.
I want to do what that article describes. Take a big, bold step. Reclaim that glittering, positive hope I used to have. I don’t want to be held back anymore by shame and embarrassment.
I just don’t know how to take the step, because even as I consider it—and I have been seriously considering it, the next step which would be getting an MFA—I am again filled up with worry. All these years I’ve worked as a teacher and then a librarian, I haven’t really been contributing much to my family, at least not monetarily. And now I want to use more money to get a degree that has a teeny, tiny silver of the possibility of success?
It feels selfish.
And that feels shameful.
The shame makes me go back to the sensible. Maybe instead of an MFA I should get a Library Science master’s. Or do something different. Law school? High school councilor? A total change—nursing? Hospital chaplain?
I could do those. I could choose something that makes more money.
I could stay where I am and change nothing.
But the tug is still there—the one that has tugged me since tenth grade, when, in my honors English class, another girl shared a poem she had written. She didn’t seem embarrassed. She read it in front of the whole class. And I thought—wait. We can do that? Not write, I was already writing. But share. Without shame.
That would be big. It would be bold to say “I am still worth pursuing what I have always wanted to do.” Because I only get one life, and I have this life right now, and that is it. I have years left, but not as many.
I want to be ready, and maybe that wanting is the thing that will make me actually be ready?
I want to give myself permission.
I realized last night at about 11:45 that I didn’t blog on Wednesday.
I’d been thinking about my blog post, but I got busy. Actually, not really busy. I’m currently obsessed with making log cabin squares. So I spent almost all day making them. And then I went to work. And then I got home late, and was tired, and ate a slice of pizza, and fell asleep.
But I woke up at 11:45 and it hit me I hadn’t blogged.
I thought about dragging my butt out of bed and writing something, just to keep the streak up. But then I decided not to. Too lazy? Too sleepy? Maybe.
But that little experience goes along with what I wanted to blog about anyway. So I’m going to pat myself on the back for blogging 8 days in a row. EIGHT DAYS. I haven’t blogged for even three or TWO days in a row for a long time. I’m just going to pick it back up again today and move on, because one of the things this 100-day experiment is teaching me is to think about my online life.
I had a conversation with some friends earlier this week about Facebook. They were talking about how they missed how Facebook used to be. People posting things about their lives, pictures and little stories. It’s different now, they both pointed out. It’s mostly politics and links.
“But I still post pictures and little stories on my Facebook,” I said. And they both said some version of, yes, we love that, but most people don’t do that anymore.
So I looked through my feed with a more critical eye and I realized they are exactly right. I do have some friends who post photos and stories on their pages. I still love that and I wish more people would do that.
But most of my interactions now on Facebook are inside the groups I belong to. I love these groups—people gathered to talk about the same topic, be it (in my case) scrapbooking and religion and running and books. But it is easy to feel like a tiny little insignificant part of the whole. It feels like a far less intimate connection. Or maybe personal is the better word.
That conversation and a few days of critical thinking about social media kind of made me embarrassed in myself. I know that I have a tendency to get too involved in Facebook or Instagram. I like to joke with a quote from Harry Potter: “It’s like having friends.” Social media makes friendship a bit easier because you can post whenever, you can write and edit before you actually communicate anything, you can do it all from your bed in your pajamas. I logically know that real-life interactions are far better than social media interactions, but emotionally, social media interactions fit will with my introverted little heart.
Somehow I didn’t really notice that I was clinging to something that many other people let go of long ago. Just like I still use WordPerfect even though no one else does, and just like I’m still scrapbooking even though all the friends I started with aren’t anymore. Or even like I still listen to music I loved in high school.
Or how I’m still blogging despite the fact that OMG Becky, no one actually blogs anymore.
I haven’t ever really thought of myself as someone who is resistant to change. But looking back, I can see how I cling to things. I find something that is comfortable for me, something I love, and I want to keep it around, even when it changes or becomes outdated.
I’m not sure I really have an answer. I might not even have a question. Is the problem that I need to disengage with social media? Or is it that I need to react to the reality that actually exists, instead of getting stuck in how the world used to be? Or maybe both?
I’m not sure. I do know this: I do miss people posting photos and little stories on Facebook. I will continue interacting with my friends who do. I might clean out my friend list so that I see more of what I like to see. And I’ll probably also keep posting in the way I have, but definitely with more self-consciousness.
What’s your relationship with social media like these days?
It’s hard to believe, but here is a truth: I’ve been blogging for more than 13 years. When I started, Kaleb was just a baby, Haley was only ten, Jake & Nathan were cute little boys happily thriving in elementary school. My dad had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but he could still talk to us. All of the other grandparents were still alive. We knew one day fairly soon, Kendell would have to have his hip-replacement surgery, but we had no idea all of the health issues he’d be facing. I’d recently left teaching and was so happy being a stay-at-home mom again, hanging with my baby and the Bigs, writing articles for Simple Scrapbooking magazine.
Back then, in 2005, so many people had blogs. So there was sort of a blogging community. Lots of commenting, lots of memes, lots of interaction. I never was a blogger with a ton of followers, but I had enough that I loved that part of my life, too. I thought more followers would come with time, because (I thought) I was writing about real and personal things, and because I always have tried to write posts that were well-written, with a point to be made.
Really, though, I was just writing about my life. Random pieces of stuff I experienced. And, it turns out, people are mostly only interested in the random pieces of stuff that well-known people experience.
So many of the friends I made through blogging no longer blog. I see them on Instagram or Facebook, but the interaction is different. Yet, here I am. Still blogging. (Just like I’m still scrapbooking even though literally NONE of the friends I started scrapbooking with, the ones who introduced me to it, still scrapbook.) (Also like I still use WordPerfect.) (And I never gave up Dr. Martens, even when they weren’t cool.) (And I still listen to some of the same music I listened to when I was sixteen.)
Because for me, while I did want to be one of those people who became well-known for her blog, deep down this blogging thing hasn’t ever been about followers. Or, at least, that wasn’t the main point.
For me, blogging was about writing. It was about writing the random pieces of knowledge I gained from my experiences and then sharing them with the world-at-large, even if the only person who ever read my posts was my sister. (I’m not sure my mom even read my blog!) It was about the fact that I have always processed my experiences by writing about them, and a blog made that act feel less solitary.
I’ve slowed way down on my amount of blogging, but I’ve never really stopped thinking like a blogger. Last weekend, for example, I went hiking; deterred by mud, we took a different route and ended up at the path of an enormous avalanche. Not only did I enjoy scrambling (very carefully) up the edge of the avalanche and then walking out across it, but I was also thinking about how I would describe it. (As if an enormous wave were turned into snow and then frozen.)
But let’s be honest here: blogging is a lazy approach to writing. Not because it doesn’t take time or concentration—at least, since I try to write interesting posts, time and concentration are definitely involved. But I write a blog post and I click on the “publish” button, and that’s the end of it. Hoping someone might stumble upon it. And, sure, some people do achieve writerly success that way.
But usually, it takes much more work. Submitting, for example. Writing query letters, searching for calls, polishing my pieces and sending them out again after they’re rejected.
While I still think like a writer, and while I still sometimes write, I am not doing the work. And I’ve gotten out of the habit of actually writing my ideas.
So here I am, trying again. I’m whispering this…I’m not going to write about it on my Facebook or my Instagram, where I have a few more followers. But I’m putting it out into the universe: I’m joining in with the 100-day project with this goal: to blog every day for 100 days. Not all of my posts will be long, but all of them will be longer than something I could write on Instagram (so...more than 300 words).
And yes…I know my history of success with trying to do anything for any number of days in a row. It’s dismal. I never, in fact, have actually achieved it. And maybe I won’t with this one, too.
But I want to. Not for blog followers (although of course, I wouldn’t be sad if I had more!). But to get myself back in the habit of writing again.
Because here’s another truth: this month, I’m turning 47. So much of my life is behind me, and fewer people need me, and maybe it’s becoming my time to be something I’ve always wanted to be.
I started blogging in the fall of 2005. I resisted it for a while, even though all of my online friends were starting blogs. Mostly because my online friends were starting blogs, and I tend to resist something if everyone is doing it. But eventually I couldn't resist the siren call of writing something and then putting it out into the world, so I started my blog.
Twelve years later, I’m on the other side of “everyone is doing it”: almost no one I know blogs anymore.
I’ve kept at it though, mostly because I would write about things even without blogging, but blogging helps me feel heard. It encourages me to polish what I write, instead of only scrawling it in a notebook or dashing it down in my computer journal. Blogging helps me observe the world better, as it reminds me to watch for things to write about.
But my blogging efforts have been pretty minimal this year. Partly that’s because of the silent blogging world. Part of the fun of blogging in those early years was interacting with other bloggers, and that’s mostly gone away. In January of 2017, I joined a blogging group on Facebook, hoping to revitalize my readership, but it served to point out how I am blogging in a way that’s destined to be overlooked: my blog is about random stuff. The thoughts, passions, experiences, frustrations, and joys of an ordinary life rather than a focus on a topic—that’s just setting myself up for failure.
But I don’t really want to only blog about one topic. I could have a running blog, a scrapbooking blog, a sewing blog, a book blog. But for me, blogging hasn’t ever been about my hobbies (even though I do blog quite a bit about my hobbies). It’s been about writing itself, about exploring experiences through the craft of writing.
And I’m not sure even successful, well-known authors achieve a wide readership that way.
So I’ve stepped back from blogging a little bit. Out of discouragement, maybe; definitely out of feeling the lack of how it used to be, the lack of a writing community.
It’s been 57 days since my last blog post, and that’s the longest I’ve gone without blogging since I started my blog.
I took this time as a way to process: does blogging still matter to me? If I never achieve a wide readership, is it worth it to continue? Is blogging actually detracting me from pursing other writerly goals (such as writing and then actually submitting my pieces, rather than leaving them to molder on my hard drive)? What would life feel like without blogging?
And I discovered that I would miss blogging if I stopped for good. If I am not blogging, I am writing less, but I didn’t submit more. (I didn’t, in fact, write anything at all.)
Then, this morning, I saw this quote on my Instagram feed (it was on Alice Hoffman’s page): “You only fail if you stop writing.”
I know this in my heart: I am a writer. It is as much a part of my identity as being a mother, a wife, a librarian; a runner, a scrapbooker, a hiker, a quilter. Do I only qualify as a real writer if I am being published? Perhaps. But I mean it in this sense: When I experience something, my gut response is usually “how can I write about this?” and in that sense, “writer” is part of my core identity.
So I am going to start blogging again, even as my goal continues to be “write and submit.”
Because the only failure is not trying. I trust Ray Bradbury.
Last week I was inspired to scrapbook a few pictures from 2012. I didn’t remember many of the details about the pics, but I came to my blog and found I’d written about the day here, and then I was happy because I had a bunch of details to work with for my journaling.
Since then, I’ve been thinking about my blog, and blogging in general, and how blogging and the scrapbook world sometimes intersect.
When I started blogging in 2006, it was partly because of scrapbooking. I was still trying to find a niche for myself in the industry, so I could bring in some extra income while I was a stay-at-home mom. Everyone in the scrappy world had a blog, and people read each other’s’ blogs, and commented on them, and referred back and forth to each other. We knew about each other’s kids and husbands and careers and, yes, scrapbook layouts. Blogging created a type of friendship.
The good ol’ days of blogging, which seem long-gone now.
Now, blogging is much more specific; it’s no longer really about the person, but about the subject. This is, I think, part of the reason my blog is fairly not-well-known-at-all-by-almost-anyone; I’m a Jack of all trades and so a master of none. If I were a famous person, perhaps people would want to read my thoughts on a huge variety of subjects, but as a non-famous person I don’t have a huge readership because I don’t fulfill a niche. Sometimes I get discouraged at my lack of readers (but oh how I appreciate every single person who might be reading this right now!), but if I look at it through a critical lens instead of an emotional one, I can objectively understand why I don’t have a ton of readers. (I like to think the “niche” I fill is “good writing about a bunch of different topics,” but that’s not really a niche, and how many people like me are there in the world? A person who quilts, scrapbooks, reads, hikes, runs, gardens, parents, and has strong opinions?)
Looking back now, over 10+ years of blogging, I value the opinions, thoughts, and ideas I have shared. But those little, nearly-private family details I have recorded here and there mean something entirely different to me. I know that monthly reviews about what we did in a given time mean almost nothing to a general reader because I’m just a random person. But to me, looking back—they are invaluable.
Even if it does make me feel a little bit silly posting them.
So, I think I’m going to start doing this again—just writing about our life. I guess I don’t have to post it on my blog, I could just keep the details in my computer journal. But there’s also something about posting to a blog that makes it feel like I have reached out to the world.
Today, I’m writing about having an awesome weekend.
One of the drawbacks about being a librarian is weekends: usually, you have to work some Saturdays. I work two Saturdays a month, so the Saturdays I don’t work are precious family time for me. This Saturday was one of my free ones, and we ended up having a nearly-perfect weekend.
On Saturday, I got up, started a load of laundry, and went for a run in the canyon.
I am still recuperating from last fall’s sprained ankles, so perhaps I went for a “run.” I have worked up to longer stretches between walking breaks; on Saturday I tried to do walk for 2 minutes, run for 3. Except, I did one five-minute stretch. And then, when I was almost back down, I hit the hilly spot of the trail and I just never let myself walk on uphills, and then I was so close to the end that I just kept running, so I also did one seven-minute stretch. My ankle is still hurting, but my ballet barre class is making it stronger, so even though it hurts it feels more reliable. I’ll take pain over fear any day. It was a lovely spring morning to be in the mountains, birds everywhere seeming joyful at the sunshine, and little bits and buds of green starting to appear.
After my run, I picked up a corsage for Nathan and then took him to the train. He was going with a friend who lives in Ogden to her prom and decided Frontrunner was a better plan than his unreliable car. We had a nice, friendly chat on the way and I just remembered all over again how much I love him.
Then I came home and gardened. This is my favorite Saturday routine: Run, then weed. I don’t even care that I’m gardening in my workout clothes! This was my first time in the yard since last fall; it’s amazing how fast the weeds come on. I pruned the rosebushes, pulled weeds, cleaned out all the old leaves, and started making plans for some new plants here and there. Kaleb helped me for a while, until he left to go to the Rec to play basketball with his cousin and friends, and Kendell was outside washing the car and getting the lawn mower ready for the year, and it was sunny and warm but not too hot and just…perfect. When I was finished with the front yard, I discovered some daffodils blooming on the side of my house, so I lay right down in the shade next to them and spent some time admiring them close up, until Kendell came to find me and laughed a little bit at his crazy wife.
We cleaned up and ran some errands: visited my mom for a bit, stopped by to fix his sister’s computer, vacuumed the (just-washed) car. Then we went to Thai Village for dinner, which I have been craving for weeks. Hello, pumpkin coconut curry!
On Sunday, Kendell and I got up and went for a walk in the foothills. Our church this year starts at 11:00 and this is the third time we’ve gone on a pre-church walk. I know some people would think that this is an activity that breaks the “keep the Sabbath day holy” commandment, but I disagree. I find so much pleasure and peace in the mountains; on the trail I find God in every beautiful curve and cool shadow. We walked on a trail we’ve not been on in years; it curves around the south side of the foothills and then you come around the curve of the mountain to a stunning view of Timpanogos, especially beautiful with the lingering snow and that blue sky.
Then church, where I taught a lesson about the gathering of Israel. Then a nap, and some time kicking the soccer ball at the park with Kaleb, and dinner with all four of us actually at the dinner table at the same time. While I cleaned up, Kendell, Kaleb, and Nathan had thumb wars in the front room and they were all laughing at Nathan’s ridiculously long, strong thumbs. Harry Potter for a bit, and then The Walking Dead.
This was a good weekend. No arguments, no upset kids, no one sick or injured or otherwise in pain. Just good, calm family time. I needed it!