It is an attempt at self-actualization that sometimes pays off and sometimes doesn’t.
When I first started publishing my writing, I really didn’t like the idea of referring to it as a blog. I went through a number of phases. I posted one article about a famous musician that was shared a whole bunch and for a minute made me think “hey maybe I can keep doing that for page views”, but ultimately decided to stick to the formula that has earned me a small but dedicated readership. It is a tedious way to earn readers but it feels more honest than intentionally posting clickbait articles that I think people will share just for the sake of getting clicks to my non-monetized site. I have received a number of very nice emails about things I have written from friends and strangers alike and that is a nice confirmation that this is less than meaningless.
The reason I disliked the word blog so much is because it made this all feel more trivial than it already does. I say trivial because if I never wrote another word here the impact on collective culture would be very small/non-existent and I am actually really okay with that. I recently tried to edit a misused word in a piece I wrote about Hemingway that I liked and wordpress deleted the whole damn thing. It is likely that I am the only one who even noticed that, and I have made peace with that relative anonymity. I’m not currently pursuing writing as a career or a monetized project. I am writing two books that will likely never see the light of day and I’m fine with that too. I write because I am bad at understanding my thoughts as they exist in my head, and a little less bad at understanding them when I put them in print. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and have an idea that feels like might kill me if I don’t put at least a few lines of it into a drafts folder. My drafts folder is absolutely full of 3am panicked nonsense, and maybe 10% of it ever ends up getting published in one form or another.
While trying to figure out what to make of this thing, I spent some time early on submitting pieces to various publications and asking writers that I respect or admire for advice on how to freelance and build a name for myself. The advice I got was to just keep writing, so here I am. Real writers write, is what I have been told. I actually had a fair amount of success with national pubs for a guy just starting out, much to my surprise.
My first interaction with a national editor went a little bit like this:
“We love this and would love to publish it, but will need to make a few edits… is that alright?”
“Yeah, I think that would be fine, as long as I get to take a look at it before you put it up. Also, it would be great if you could link to my site.”
“Sure thing! It has tentative pub date of XX, we’ll be in touch before that with the edits.”
Guess which part of that never happened.. The article went to publication and I actually found it by chance on Facebook. It had my name on it but I didn’t recognize the title or the pull quote. They seemed to have kept a few parts of my piece but the voice was completely lost in it and I felt strange reading it. I took a chance to create something vulnerable, something that had upset family members that I care about, and it felt bad to see it changed and published without my approval. Without my voice, what I write is kind of meaningless. I know that freelancers deal with this all the time, but I asked them to take the piece down and they did so graciously, and from there I decided to stick to writing for myself, in my voice, and to not put any extra pressure on it. I started this thing as a way to cope and the amount of mental energy that I put into every word combination isn’t worth letting someone else control how it reads. I pick up 2-3 new followers every time I publish something and that’s 2 or 3 new people that I get to engage and commiserate with and I like the speed at which that typically goes.
I found myself in a heated personal argument recently in which someone mentioned my writing. They told me “yeah well you just go and blog all day” and it sent me back to the early stages of this when I would have vehemently argued that that’s not what this is. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what this page is called, what matters is that this person was trying to minimize something that helps me process grief and meaning by calling it something intentionally trivial. People who are good at hurting other people tend to develop a fine-tuned ability to trivialize meaningful things and make you feel stupid about them. Don’t let people do that to you, as much as you are able to control it.
I ask my friends, with alarming regularity, if I am an asshole. It is an attempt at self-actualization that sometimes pays off and sometimes doesn’t. One of the best responses I ever received to this question that I ask too often can be paraphrased like this: honest people have a way of holding a mirror up to people, to show them what they actually look like.. and some people are only able to interpret that as you being an asshole. Heavy stuff, I am grateful for that insight as it lives in a very prominent spot in my mind.
I recently began a deliberate journey back towards emotional health, and that included getting off the herbal alternative to SSRIs that I was on and getting back on the real thing. The thing that I always forget about anti depression medications is that they just kind of make you not feel anything, good or bad. It’s weird to just not feel, no ups or downs, just existing as an impenetrable wall of nothing. My 8yo begged me for a bedtime story last night and I couldn’t conjure even the slightest theme of our ongoing bedtime story series. The pantry of random ideas that I usually open to send my kids off to sleep was full of cobwebs and I resorted instead to trying to explain to my boys that I will spend the next day planning a super story to cap the week.
Maybe feeling like garbage makes us more creative? It is some kind of ability to escape from our burdens into a story over which we have complete control, playing god in a universe that exists for 20 minutes between brushing teeth and closing their bedroom door for the night. It feels like kind of a shitty trick of the universe to have to trade creativity for not wishing you were dead while your friends and family say “I’m proud of you” for making personal health decisions. Like hey thanks I spent 4 hours last night staring at the ceiling wondering why I don’t care about anything but I guess technically I wasn’t sad so decent trade off.
There is no formula to any of this. I am publishing this as a way to tell people that read and care about what I write that I’m on a deliberate path towards fullness. That path currently includes an inability to conjure meaningful ideas, but in the long run I believe it will be worthwhile. Slow and steady wins the race, and some days feel slower than others.