I share what I learned last year that influenced my plans for writing this blog in 2018. I address voice, post frequency, videos, photos and of course: what I’ll be writing about, and why (1,500 words).
In 2017 I experimented with voice. Sometimes the only voice was silence, because I was not posting!
The detached voice I began to use was meant to sound professional while also helping in shifting the focus away from myself and towards others, including Ugandan women, Tanzanians affected by fluoride, and Rwandans affected by mass wasting.
But I learned that taking the “I” away only removed my assumptions and biases in a superficial way. Although these stories were based on research and interviews, my opinions and personal experiences continued to significantly affect them. This made me uncomfortable, and I reflected on this realization.
I even backed out of an article about coal plants in Lamu I’d committed to write, because I realized I’d gone in with too much bias and emotion to approach the topic in a balanced manner.
Then I pivoted, and started to write about topics that I was personally grappling with, like how my identity was tied to geology, and my imperfect experiences with veganism. Earlier in the year I had also written about personal topics like my choice to delete Instagram, but back then this seemed contradictory to my desire to build a portfolio of professional articles. My intention had been to only write about things that were “important.”
In a sense I’ve gone full circle. In 2015 I wrote about my experiences travelling. In much of 2016 and 2017 these experiences no longer seemed important enough to write about because they weren’t climate change or human rights abuses or (insert global obstacle here). And yet I continued to structure my life around bicycle travel, and personally saw a lot of value in it.
This was an awkward limbo to inhabit, and felt like self-punishment. This year I hope to balance my personal experiences with discussions of what I’m learning and why this seems important to me.
I worry about being another foreigner exploring their neuroses in Africa. But if I am susceptible to that, I think it will come through my writing regardless of what voice I use or topics I choose. I know I am guilty of some of the “How To Write About Africa” tropes, and this makes me feel ashamed, and yet I don’t think silence is going to help fix this. Instead, I will try to move beyond the stereotypes as best I can by writing through them, hopefully not fucking up too much along the way.
Oh, and I will swear sometimes. Credit to Philosophy Bro. I also swear in person.
“In person” is what I’m getting at: I hope 2018’s voice will sound more like “me.” I hope this will persuade readers that my long posts are worth their time, because this voice might help do a better job of explaining what these experiences taught me or how they changed my opinions. Or, just better convey while I love living on a bicycle long term.
The best example I can give is the difference between my first article on tsetse flies, written like a science report (you’ve been warned) and my second attempt months later, where I share how their bites increased my empathy, in a voice that feels more like me.
This blog will probably never be chronological. In fact, I expect most posts in 2018 will be about things that happened several months or even years prior. Yesterday I posted my favourite photos from Georgia, where I spent a few months in 2015.
Sometimes writing about things as they are happening or still fresh feels too raw. Letting them settle has the benefit of giving time and space to a place, but the drawbacks of forgetting details and subjecting my memories to time’s warping of them.
Some posts will be about a particular event, like the evening I sought refuge in Lermontovo, Armenia. In other posts, I’ll share my current thoughts on a particular topic, like the decision to compensate when collecting water. In this latter type of posts, I tend to combine older and newer experiences; in writing about fear, I compare feeling scared in Canada and Tanzania. With both types of posts, writing about things that make me uncomfortable is a focus. Post won’t necessarily focus on bicycle travel, but many of them will be at least tangential to life on two wheels.
If you visit this blog because you want to know where I am and what I’m doing now, I get that:
Evan and I will be in East and Southern Africa for 2018. At the moment we are stationary in Kenya, but when we return to bicycle travel we’ll be in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, South Africa and Lesotho. That’s the plan, anyways. I find it motivating to remember that so many things could change in an instant.
If chronological updates are your thing, I invite you to join our TinyLetter—you can learn more about it here.
PHOTOS AND VIDEOS
Posts will be accompanied by pictures, this hasn’t changed. Evan is helping me make processes for keeping photos organized and findable, and he lovingly edits most of our photos these days, but we both take them.
I am gradually adding photo galleries, each with a short written introduction to the country or theme they document.
In 2015 I made videos about finding my way as a solo woman on a bicycle in Central Asia and the South Caucasus. It was fascinating to learn a little bit about making videos and to convey my emotions through music, but I have no plans to spend time on this in 2018.
HOW OFTEN WILL NEW STUFF BE POSTED?
In 2017, I invited a few deadlines into my life while bicycle travelling in East Africa. In the spring I completed this online writing course, and in the summer I set deadlines for two articles I wrote for Geology for Global Development’s blog. These activities involved arranging in-person and phone interviews as well as meeting deadlines. This scheduling challenged me, but I am trying to be more considerate about the reasons behind each obligation I take on.
By the end of this year, my goal is to have 100 written posts on this blog (galleries not included). You’re reading number 56, counting up from this 2014 post about my lazy canoeing in Utah. Achieving my goal requires me to publish on average 3-4 posts per month in 2018.
The number 100 is arbitrary but the attraction is that it is measurable. Is it achievable? Evan would say “totally, it’ll make you less lazy” and I say “I don’t know…it feels really tough…I’m averse to risk of failure!” As I see it, this goal addresses both of our perspectives.
WHY WRITING IN PUBLIC?
In his both philosophical and pragmatic guide to travelling by bicycle, Tom Allen reminds us that most bike travellers (or other travellers for that matter) don’t write a blog, a book, an email newsletter or post on social media. I think there are no right answers to whether or not someone should share online, only better and worse reasons for doing so.
Over the years I’ve used blogging and social media for different reasons, including validation and obligation. These kind of suck, and I experimented with privacy in part to try and move past them.
My return to public writing is, I hope, for healthier reasons. I want to “make gifts for people,” like Brendan encourages in “Make It Till You Make It” I want to improve my writing by getting feedback from different kinds of people. I want my posts to find people who find them interesting, maybe even thought-provoking. It would be cool to have conversations with these people.
You can understand why this means I may re-evaluate my lack of social media.
I also share in public because it’s (slightly) less terrifying than not writing at all. When I don’t write at all, or am only writing for myself, I can feel out of balance. There’s all this input from the world and not enough output of my own. And at times I simply feel stuck in an echo chamber of my own opinions. Writing publicly is for both myself and others. It forces me to think actively and to articulate flawed and uninformed opinions. This scares me and motivates me.
I have made many mistakes during my three years of writing online, and one has been my sluggishness in responding to comments. If you ever want to say hello or share a comment or question, please do via commenting on posts, or email hello (at) meganjamer (dot) com. I will get back to you. If I’m on the move this might take up to a week.
To readers old and new, THANK YOU!