The hardest part of writing a blog is writing a blog.
Ok, that’s not true.
Writing a blog is the second hardest part of writing a blog.
It is, after all, unreasonably difficult to consistently engage just about anything in life that’s not strictly necessary. This is the truth behind the downfall of most New Year’s resolutions: it’s tough to maintain the forward momentum of thrice-weekly Zumba classes when there are stacks of unpaid bills, an empty fridge, 457 unanswered emails and ten seasons of Dr. Who begging to be binge-watched. It’s also the reason why the interwebs are a veritable graveyard of blogs that haven’t been updated in the past 7 years, except for one post about a Thanksgiving dinner in 2012 involving a highly inappropriate episode with the creamed spinach. And while disciplined consistency has definitely been challenging, the hardest part of writing a blog, the part that totally and unexpectedly crippled me, is this: success.
I started this blog right about a year ago. My inaugural post include this confession: “Fear tells me that, despite all evidence to the contrary, I have nothing purposeful to say and by creating this site, I am not doing anything but proving that point in an unflinchingly public way.” While this fear still lives in my heart and, realistically, probably always will, I managed to say enough purpose-filled things that a couple people began reading and sharing which led to a few more people reading and people sharing and on and on. It was incredibly exciting and cool to see the readership build month after month. You know, right up until the end of 2015 when I freaked out.
To be clear, this was not a running-around-in-circles-screaming-out-the-names-of-past-lovers sort of freak-out. It was a much more dignified affair in which I’d construct elaborate pieces of mental theater that played in my mind every time I would sit down to write: swank gatherings held in meticulously appointed lofts—maybe in New York, maybe in Paris. There were literary elites and cultural illuminati in attendance, swishing their artisan curated, hand crafted cocktails. With pinched expressions, they’d discuss how I’d shown such promise early on—like an ethnic Elizabeth Gilbert or Cheryl Strayed without all the hiking—but clearly my star had already lost its shine and now they were sorry they’d ever shared my posts with anyone in their circle; oh, the social capital I’d cost them. They’d shake their heads and move towards the buffet with hopes the vegan foie gras would not disappoint them as deeply as I had.
I want to not care about those people, the ones I create in my mind as expressions of the self-doubt and insecurity and intolerance for embarrassment that I attempt to manage through my relentless devotion to perfectionism. But there’s a problem: creating is messy business. It is patching together conceptual flotsam with discarded embroidery floss and leftover packing tape before shoving it through a trapdoor in the prefrontal cortex and out into the world. The result can be magnificent—a Tiffany lamp, the Eiffel Tower, maple glazed bacon—or it can be monstrous (see: almost everything on YouTube). But, for the most part, it’s just a flat, unvarnished surface of okay-ness with a couple seemingly accidental spots of sparkle.
It can’t be any other way.
So, a couple months ago, I told myself it was time to line up some Ubers for my cocktail party guests and get back to writing. I knew it was going to be hard because the fridge was still empty and I need to go workout and emails are waiting to be answered and, well, because I want the words to be perfect and meaning-filled and grand. I want them to express a truth that is both highly personal and expansively universal. I want them to be honest and unflinching and wild. But, mostly, I want them to have a good enough flat-to-sparkle ratio that they don’t suck.
While I know intuitively that not wanting to suck is a really, really important part of my creative process, when I started this post I would have been hard-pressed to explain exactly why not sucking matters so much. And then, like an answer to a question I wasn’t yet smart enough to ask, I received one of my favorite things: notification from the library that a book I’d requested was ready for pick-up. It was a slim volume by Rob Bell, a Christian writer whose approach makes most of my theologian friends apoplectic. But I’m a Jew and I like his work, so I get to be delightfully simple minded about the whole thing.
About a third of the way into the book, Bell makes a distinction between success and craft. He says, “Success is when you’re seduced into thinking that your joy and satisfaction are not here but there—somewhere in the future, at some moment when you accomplish X or your win Y.” He nailed it. Well, mostly. I agree our understanding of success is most often future-looking, existing somewhere out there. But, occasionally, it is possible to accomplish X or win Y and then success is, indeed, here but only for a fleeting moment. What causes the stress, the anxiety, the fear is not being able to hold on to what we’ve accomplished or won, in having it slip irretrievably into the past where we can only ever experience it as something we once had, but have now lost.
Craft is an altogether different beast.
Craft is always and only here. It can’t be achieved or accomplished or won. Nor can it be forfeited, forgotten or lost. It can only be unfolded and explored. It is form and feeling and wisdom and work and lineage and heritage and humility and skill and substance and surrender and, in my case, a deeply held desire not to suck. Maybe today I’ll find the sweet-spot and write something so ridiculously fabulous, so alive with the very essence of anti-suckiness, that I’ll instantaneously transform into a literary last name: Hemingway. Faulkner. Orwell. Jacobson. More likely, I’ll peck out a few hundred almost comprehensible words. But it really doesn’t matter which of those happens, because I’m at least willing to try. And that, my friends, must be my new measure of success
Goodies from this post:
- Yesterday, I read a new post by my friend Marlowe Moore Fairbanks. Because the Universe has a tremendous sense of humor, it just so happened that Marlowe wrote about why she hasn’t been writing. It contained this passage, which I heartily echo: “This morning, I woke up and knew I would start writing again, that it was time. But, I thought I was going to get to write a mic-dropping blog on my perspectives of the current situation involving attitudes about race and racism after Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the Dallas police officer massacre. I didn’t know I would have to write this overtly confessional blog first at a seemingly inappropriate moment socially. But, I don’t get to pick. The wild spirit returns from her wintering den, and She is.”
- The book I reference by Rob Bell is titled How to Be Here. I also really love his book What We Talk About When We Talk About God. He has all kinds of pod casts and other fun stuff up on his site.
- This week, I happened upon the work of Glennon Doyle Melton. I like her. I think you will, too.
- And please please please do yourselves a favor and check out my blog of my beautiful sister, Libby Shannon. It’s one of my favorite things on the interwebs.