One afternoon in June I sat in a chair in our small-town hotel room in Benin, not wanting to cook dinner. This would be done on our camp stove, its three metal feet sitting on the tile floor of our bathroom.
The time and effort required felt onerous because I didn’t have to cook dinner at all. If I strolled a short distance I’d surely find cooked food to bring back in two or three single-use plastic bags, the kind of meal we’d eaten frequently in Benin. Given my preferences, and the late afternoon upon us when mothers and daughters would be scraping the bottoms of their pots for last servings before they’d pack up and return home, my takeaway would probably have been rice and sauce: simple, cheap, delicious, oily. Not very micro-nutritious.
Sitting at the room’s desk I weighed our eating options while working on a blog post about eating—eating animals, eating well, eating better, all these choices and how to make them and how to inform them. The scope was too broad, that’s a common situation I find myself with, but at the time I didn’t know it and it didn’t matter. The point is that because I was writing this post I felt that if I didn’t put a bit of effort into living closer to what I was writing down I was going to feel gross afterwards, because I’d feel like more of a hypocrite than was inevitable.
So cooking it would be, unless I found something up to my “standards” while I grocery shopped on foot. I didn’t, but I did find some beans that I bought and cooked from dry, an hour-long process I rarely undertake. To these beans I eventually added vegetables that I already had on hand.
I was proud of this dinner’s taste and nutrition. I let myself set aside the realization that cooking them from scratch had required more gasoline than I’d have otherwise combusted. I felt happy. Dinner was delicious.
It seemed clear to me, then and now, that if I hadn’t been writing that blog post with the intention of others reading it, I wouldn’t have cooked dinner at all. Since then the draft has been sitting unattended, and hasn’t steered my decisions as much. But when it did—and it will again today, now that it’s back on my mind—the accountability of writing in public struck me as such a great part of having a blog.
Increasingly I’ve blogged as a way to make some progress in my thinking and actions. The version of me who started this blog in 2014 would have not understood the appeal of publicly writing about unsettled thoughts, especially if they dwelt on things that mattered to her or topics that felt difficult to speak about in the first place. And yet here we are, her and I.
Sometimes I start writing a post knowing that I am unsettled and unsure and wanting to inch forward specifically through committing to saying something publicly. Other times I start a draft feeling smugly confident that I’ve already figured something out. Typically this smugness is replaced by awe and bewilderment when my drafts show a mind definitely still muddling through what that same mind thought was resolved.
Sometimes I wish to write a straightforward post about something wholly uncontroversial, neat and tidy, easy to write and easier to read. I have found myself increasingly unable and/or unwilling to write these. I don’t know whether to celebrate or bemoan this, whether to nudge this change away or fully surrender to it.
When a post is written with the hope of moving my thinking or actions forward, the finished version of it is something more modest than a resolution or epiphany. The published blogs of my thoughts on not wearing a bra, or wild meat, or photographing people don’t feel like closure, though like Jia Tolentino I don’t think as much about something after I’ve written a post about it—a type of closure. If my published blogs give me anything, they give me more refined questions compared to what I had before.
But these are more than I’d have otherwise. I am grateful for the refined questions, and having arrived at them through the process of engaging with a thought or idea knowing that I will be making a public statement of what I’ve learned so far. I believe it’s because I have a blog that I often learn something and find myself wanting not only to write it down for myself, but also for myself and others on my blog. This desire to share is related to but separate from the motivations I list above, the wishes to be accountable and to work through my thoughts.
Why do I want to share? We should all be suspect of the urge to share in our culture where sharing is done impulsively and endlessly for all sorts of fantastic, deplorable or weird reasons.
Maybe sometimes I wish to blog so that my online persona will seem clever, world-wise or productive. Maybe it’s because I want my voice to be heard, or because I want to leave a legacy, or because I want to feel I’ve accomplished something—there’s something final and “done” about hitting Publish on WordPress. Or, more charitably, because something moved me, and it’s not bad advice to create art and narrative to share for no reason other than to celebrate having felt moved in this life.
Whatever the reason, knowing that someone else will read this makes me ask “why?” far more often than if I was journaling for myself.
Interestingly, Evan isn’t like this. He creates fantastic journal entries that deeply explore questions and lead to insights to which he holds himself accountable. He creates these without the intention of ever sharing them with another soul. Lately he has poured more time, love and effort into photography, so I asked him if he’d ever be interested in showing or printing the shots that meant something to him. He said yes, but only if they were anonymous.
The rest of this post is about a few other reasons I’ve found joy and excitement in blogging over the nearly five years I’ve been doing it.
In my experience, blogging has been nothing ventured nothing gained. The posts that I’ve been the most scared to write have also been the most rewarding to write, both for the process itself and because of hearing back from those that read them.
The post I’ve received the most feedback about was about inheriting. I’m so grateful for the feedback I received from people I know and those I’ve never met or communicated with before. These reflections, experiences and questions continue to trickle in. Thank you. You have made me feel seen, and have given me different perspectives through your feedback.
One person was convinced that by articulating on the internet that I am very wealthy, I’d be kidnapped and (insert terrible fate) by fanatical Islamic terrorists in deep, dark Africa. This is feedback too, useful in its own way; in time I became grateful for it. I am grateful for it because I imagine many people relate to this reader’s feedback, to some degree: that it’s reckless enough to travel on a bicycle in The Rest Of The World. To then flaunt wealth on top of that is a recipe for (deserved) disaster.
Had I simply fumed about how wrong, prejudiced and out-of-context I thought this opinion was, I think I would have had another all-too-common experience of running in circles with my thinking, digging my heels self-righteously into my own positions and feeling like this person and I will never understand each other. Us versus Them. Me versus You.
By instead imaging how I’d write a blog post addressing these beliefs, I found myself feeling more charitable, explanatory, and curious about the root of our disagreement. For one thing, that makes for more interesting reading and for a writing process that I learn more from. It’s also the type of public writing I’m less likely to regret later.
My views and first-hand experiences about being open about wealth while bike travelling remains one of many posts I’ve not yet written. Who knows, I might never write it. The list of things I’ve at times felt conviction, urgency, excitement at writing about is hundreds of items long.
When I don’t feel shitty about myself for not fleshing out more of my ideas into blog posts, I marvel at how many ideas and thoughts pop into my head.
Why don’t I write more if I like it, I have things to write about and the writing changes me in ways I appreciate? I reliably have a crisis of faith—in myself, in what I wish to say, in how well I’ll be able to say it—while creating any new post. The section of my writing app that holds these active drafts is called “In The Trenches.” This crisis of faith is as demoralizing and confusing as it is common: pretty much anyone who tries to create something feels this way less or more often. Call it perfectionism, call it navel gazing, call it a love of control, this is the primary bottleneck that keeps me from going the distance with more ideas.
Even on a bicycle, even in West African countries, there is time and space to write and publish more than I do. Internet connectivity is only required for the publishing that occurs after all the writing and editing is completed offline. My laptop has a good battery life, handy for the relatively rare evening we don’t have electricity.
I follow many great blogs that publish both polished and off-the-cuff posts written in a variety of lengths and forms: sometimes an original essay and other times simply a comment or tiny insight about an article they enjoyed. I envy these bloggers for the lack of friction they seem to have as they cycle from idea to articulation over and over again. While there are many things I like about blogging how I do it, one downside is that the loop between idea, writing, editing and posting is a month long (or longer). I publish long posts, infrequently. It’s not that more posts are necessarily better, it’s that for me less posts reflect more days in between writing and editing, time during which mental gears get rusty, momentum is lost, self-belief gets battered. I forget how to have the consistency and confidence to write a blog post and must relearn.
Funny enough, if I go a few weeks without logging into my blog, I get a little afraid of it in a way I can’t quite put into words.
But it’s my blog, so it’s entirely up to me, I can change it whenever I want. I think there’s elements of my blogging that fall under the category of: the stories we tell ourselves about what we can and can’t do, even if those stories are no longer true.
In this spirit of experimentation, the post you’re reading right now began as an exception to my normal blog-writing process. It’s an idea that’s been bobbing about in rough draft in my writing app for so long: a reflection on the rewards of blogging, a thank you to all of you whether you’ve read one post or far more. I almost got to the point of publishing this post the same day I started to write a coherent draft of it, which is just crazy to me and my normal process. It ended up being published two months after I started it, but with less editing than I’m used to.
I’m currently nudging a friend to blog, not because she knows what she’ll blog about, but precisely because she might discover it by trying. I believe she’s got many kind, intelligent, funny and important things to say, and my hope is that she starts saying them so that she and others can enjoy and learn from them. I hope that endorsement doesn’t give her the stage fright it would give me. It would be hard for me today to accept such an endorsement of my abilities or future potential, because as this exact friend has pointed out, I am bad at taking compliments.
But I can say with confidence that I can write, and that I have lots I want to say. I believe these things because I’ve showed myself through blogging.
With others in mind, something else that feels so great: I have met people through blogging, and grown to know a few. I have met them through first reading their blogs, or through them first reading my blog and then realizing that a reader is also a great writer (Kyle!). Other bloggers I’ve met in person first, and have found that experiencing their laugh, smile, temperament and presence has made me want to know them better through their writing. Because it’s no longer creepin’ if you’ve met them, right? This describes my curiosity and wonder with Evan’s blog (I got to know him fairly well); Brenda’s blog, and Jude’s blog, among others.
Mika is the person I’ve come to know the best through the shared context of blogging. Our shared interests include trying to write in a way that feels honest, reflective and heavy on open-ended questions. Having ongoing communication with another blogger for whom writing online is a significant part of their life has been encouraging for me, and fun.
Like me, Mika is on tour right now. At the moment he’s producing a newsletter while cycling through Ukraine with his partner Nastia. It shares glimpses of his external and internal journey, with a few beautiful pictures and often heartfelt gratitude for those that have assisted them along the way.
Because I know Mika, but also because they’re interesting and unique newsletters, I open them as soon as I see them in my inbox. Maybe you’d like them too. If interested, you can read all the ones he’s written about Ukraine here.
Well, here we are, nearing the end of another edition of me trying to bridge the gap between where I find myself and where I’d like to move towards. In this edition, the gap that spurred this post was that I’d set out at the beginning of this year to write a monthly blog post, and it had come to be six weeks (and now, almost three months) since I’d last published one. I felt shame, guilt, frustration and a wish to write. I missed having blogging in my life, because I like it. Maybe I love it.
Earlier in this post I shared that drafting a blog post can lead to surprises, when something that seemed straightforward gets more complicated as you try to write a post about it. A related surprise is that writing a blog can also reveal unsettled thoughts about a different topic entirely.
In writing this post I learned that it feels good to write something faster, freer than my normal. It also feels a little scary, because obviously it will be the end of the world for me and for this blog if there’s a typo or an awkward sentence. I couldn’t possibly be overly neurotic or have an inflated sense of this blog’s importance…no…of course not…
There’s been a lot of talk in this post about how I seek change through blogging—in my thinking, accountability, actions, writing, etc. These all have the future in mind. But I don’t want to end without sharing how blogging is also a dear way I take stock of what’s already here, in my mind and words and in the world as I currently experience it.
Writing this post has filled me with gratitude for continuing to feel I have something I want to say, and that I’ve kept at blogging for years now and that it’s affected my life and who I am. Writing this has also reminded me of how lucky I am that people close and far spend time with my blog, and that I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with and knowing other bloggers.
For these reasons and more, I like blogging. When I think about the future, one of the few things—projects?—I feel confident saying I hope my life includes is this thing I already have, already do: blogging here, in some form or another.