I’ve spent most of the last three months ‘dumping’ my thoughts onto the blank page, or in my case, blank computer screen. This is despite Louise de Salvo’s belief that we have a better chance of benefiting from
detailed, organized, compelling, vivid and lucid
writing, otherwise known as ‘crafting’, than from simply writing what we feel.
I’ve been a ‘dumper’ for most of my life and owe a lot to the process. It helps me to: understand what is bothering me; clear my head; and constructively deal with my feelings, thoughts and anxieties.
But in my thesis, now almost five years old, I agreed with de Salvo. I asserted that autobiographical writing can be more healing if we reflect on our memories and turn them into readable, enjoyable, evocative material meant for public consumption. When I’m not stuck in a ‘dumping phase’ I can spend days and weeks ‘crafting’ my work, editing, reflecting on, and thinking through what I write. The result is occasionally something I’m proud to share with others, and I find the crafting process as therapeutic as my ‘daily moan’.
So, which am I, a ‘Dumper’ or a ‘Crafter? Crafting is harder than dumping, but I’m not sure dumping is always beneficial. On the other hand, writing ‘Daily Pages’ is lauded by most writers as a preeminent example of ‘turning up at the page’, and a valuable source of raw material to shape into a polished piece of ‘creative’ writing.
In other words, a writer can, perhaps should, be both a ‘Dumper’ and a ‘Crafter’. The problem is, while writing my thesis, and more recently, my critical inner voice insisted I stop wasting time ‘Dumping’ and get serious about ‘Crafting’. Then, when I’m crafting a piece, my inner critic hisses, ‘This will never work,’ or, ‘why write a blog about dumping or crafting? Everyone knows about this, it will be boring, no one will read it. You are wasting your time.’
I was recently asked about blogging and gathering ‘likes’, the snare social media uses to keep us logged on-line. But what, exactly, is a ‘like’ worth and has it become a measure of self-worth? Can a ‘like’ substitute for ‘Well done,’ for an invitation to share coffee, or for a virtual chat about your blog? Is a ‘like’ less affirming than the ‘holy grail’ of a ‘comment’ because a comment implies a reader wants to engage with you on your topic or idea? And what are comments compared to high sales figures and literary prizes, bait that lures authors and novelists into believing they are the exemplars of the craft of writing?
I’m not saying approval, credit and prizes are bad things but, to return to ‘dumping’ your feelings and problems on the page, I do suggest rereading these ‘rants’ can yield one of two insights: either the writer unwittingly created something remarkable and satisfying, or they are confronted by a vindictive, angry, suffering person who should either hide their aberrations and discontent or seek professional support.
Like writers, anyone is capable of being a demon and an angel, a saint and a sinner a ‘Dumper’ or ‘Crafter’. It depends on whether or not we choose to work on ourselves. The raw material we have to work with is the human creature we are. Sure, we can dump our rage on another person, as if they are a blank page forced to accept our negative thoughts, feeling and ideas. We can also ‘craft’ ourselves into a kind, affectionate, honest and honourable person, someone others want to engage with and by crafting the self it’s possible we can heal ourselves (and silence the inner critic). Crafting the self may also help us heal the world.
In my last post, I described my discomfort with the travel industry. While researching the topic I discovered criticism of the industry is not new. In 1959, German poet Hans Enzensberger wrote an article addressing the issue of travel as an ‘experience’. This post will attempt to summarise the article.
Enzensberger begins by outlining the development of tourism, including the first appearance of the word ‘tourism’ in dictionaries. He is particularly interested in how tourism is mythologized as a ‘metaphysical’ experience when it was, originally, an exclusive enterprise that pandered to a selective group of people clamoring for an historical, untrammeled, romanticised, pristine experience of, as Enzensberger calls them, carefully selected ‘sights’. He argues that travel is a by-product of the bourgeois/ capitalistic endeavor, designed for the benefit of the few, who believe they have a ‘right’ to crisscross the planet at whim, to the detriment of the many whose rights are deferred. Eventually, the ‘privileged’, wealthy tourists were joined by ‘emancipated citizens’ who, although restricted in both capital and time, nevertheless flooded the tourism industry. This has been achieved in three different ways: standardization, packaging and serial production. Standardization is a result of the emergence, in the 19th century, of ‘travel books’, which encouraged travelers to perceive, and venues to package, certain ‘sights’ as highly significant. Standardization creates ‘obedient tourists’ who visit sights ‘produced’ as tourist venues.
‘Packaging’ is the assembly of a set of specific experiences and venues. When it proved too expensive to create packages for every individual the ‘serial production’ of collective experiences, otherwise known as cruises and guided tours, emerged. Taken together, these three techniques drive an industry that markets ‘inexpensive’ destinations while eliminating the risk that tourists will stray off the predetermined, mass-produced and designated trail. It does not, however, address the needs of residents who live in cities, not ‘destinations’, and who resent the seasonal, mass intrusion of thousands of people into their country and lifestyle.
Given the significance of such locations to the packaged product, tourism, claims Enzensberger, is little more than the political, social, technological, intellectual, cultural and environmental ‘homogenization of space’. I interpret this to mean that most tourist sites are mere parodies, frozen facsimiles of what they once were, little more than fantasy images on a postcard tourists purchase or the photos they snap, instead of unique, organic locations open to change and renewal.
Enzensberger also addresses the ‘adventure holiday’, which, he claims ‘allies itself with the methods of competitive sports.’ A form of heroic tourism reminiscent of Odysseus’ journey back to Ithaca, the adventure holiday provides access to ‘untramelled’ locations, effectively eradicating their ‘undiscovered’ value. Enzensberger’s article was written in 1959, but this concept of ‘lifeseeing,’ or ‘observing the way the people one visits really live,’ eerily prefigures the growth of Airbnb, where tourists eschew large and impersonal chain hotels for the opportunity to stay in a real home with ‘real’ people. This, however, has brought its own problems and restores international hotel chains to their original position of ‘castles of the bourgeoisie’. Fifty plus years before its creation, Enzensberger also foreshadows Facebook when he says,
it is not enough to experience what ideology has sold as the pristine and far away – one also has to publicize it. Those who stay at home demand that the adventures be recounted …
In 2017 neither tourists nor their families need to wait until they arrive home to recount their travel adventures; they can post photographs of the day’s ‘experience’ on Facebook thus verifying their privilege and reputation as travelers.
Enzensberger reminds us that while migration has always been a ‘biological and economic’ necessity, travel has not, historically, been a pleasure. Both, however, are closely associated with capitalism: travel through rampant advertising, the plethora of hotel chains and the marketing of museums, art galleries, and historical sites; migration through war, the premier fuel of capitalism. Is this is why people fleeing, for example, Syria, are labeled ‘economic refugees’? Does the idea, spurious though it might be, of tourism as pleasure blind us to the legitimate needs of people fleeing for their lives? How can we imagine refugees are seduced by the lure of exotic places and economic benefits when what they need is safety and time to grieve for lost homes and family members killed by the same capitalistic regime that casts tourist dollars across the planet?
I am aware that this post describes what Enzensberger calls ‘tourism’s clandestine disappointment’:
Despair is a familiar experience for tourists. Blindly, they grasp for the strongest means to dissipate boredom, well aware beforehand of the futility of their escape. Again and again they see through a deceptive freedom that is sold ready made, but refuse to admit the betrayal that has victimized them. They do not voice their dissapointment because the blame would not fall on the organizers of the trip but only on themselves. In the eyes of their friends, such a confession of defeat would amount to a social failure.
Enzensberger, A Theory of Tourism, pp. 134-135
Written in the late 1950s, Enzensberger’s article examines who benefits from the tourism industry and who is disadvantaged by it. More importantly, he asks that we examine how tourism shapes our perception of the world and ‘whether we have created it, or it has created us.’
These questions continue to be asked. In 2015, Elizabeth Becker described the growing criticism of tourism adding that in 2012 tourists made a billion trips abroad, bolstering an industry that adds ‘$7.6 trillion to the global economy.’ She concludes by noting that,
The United Nations World Tourism Organization projects that by 2030, global tourism will reach 1.8 billion trips a year. It is now so big that it will inevitably be part of conversations about climate change, pollution and migration. Without serious government attention, many beloved places will be at risk of being trammelled and damaged — what those in the tourism industry call being loved to death.
Should we, can we, reverse this trend? Are there better ways to experience the world? As TheGuardianrecently reported, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), which promotes ‘responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism’,
recommends a number of proven methods for managing crowds in destinations, such as encouraging tourists to visit beyond the central sights, diversifying tourist activities, reducing seasonality and, importantly, addressing the needs of the local community. The focus should not be, it says, on simply stopping tourists arriving.
The UNWTO has published a pamphlet listing a series of goals designed to achieve this end. The first is to
End poverty in all its forms everywhere: As one of the largest and fastest growing economic sectors in the world, tourism is well-positioned to foster economic growth and development at all levels and provide income through job creation. Sustainable tourism development, and its impact at community level, can be linked with national poverty reduction goals, those related to promoting entrepreneurship and small businesses, and empowering less favored groups, particularly youth and women.
The next time I contemplate spending my tourist dollar, I will try to keep this and the sixteen other sustainable development goals in mind. Unless we all commit to doing so, there may be no more tourist sites to visit.
‘The moral faculty,’ says Professor Shaun Nichols, ‘is part of the mind most likely to be seen as the ultimate explanation for whether a person’s
identity endures or fades away.’ Is this a revision of the old saw, ‘Manners maketh the man‘?
Morality: what we, what I, believe is right or wrong. I am five, I am ten, I am fifteen and all the ages between; my parents’ mantra is, ‘do the right thing.’ What is the ‘right thing’? Right for me? Right for them? Right for someone else?
What do we mean by right? What do we mean by wrong? ‘Semantics,’ my father said. ‘Walk around in another person’s shoes,’ he advised. ‘Think of other’s needs first,’ cautioned my mother in what was my first inkling of irony.
Six months ago, as I grapple once more with depression, I am encouraged to ask ‘What are my needs?’ and put them first.
I think my father might have been heartened by Professor Nichols findings:
People regard morality as central to identity. Why might morality occupy such a place of privilege? One possibility is that our moral selves are central to what it means to be human …
One’s morals are more significant than any other trait? Down what well, then, does meditating on morality lead us? Is morally praiseworthy behaviour dependant on our motives? I think this was where my mother was heading.
“Ethics” leans towards decisions based upon individual character, and the more subjective understanding of right and wrong by individuals – whereas “morals” emphasises the widely-shared communal or societal norms about right and wrong.
Is betrayal immoral, unethical or both? If betrayal is about ethics then one who betrays may well have a confused understanding of the difference between right and wrong. If it is about morals, betrayal negates any contracts negotiated with loved ones, neighbours and colleagues. It derails trust, sabotages intimate relationships, disavows whatever we owe to these people.
All I have is the power of words and this image looping through my head, running, stopping, starting, over and over: a warrior woman, red hair bristling from beneath her helmet. In one muscled arm a sword, on the other a shield. She wears her anger like an annulus, but she circles and winds fruitlessly through my mind. Why does she stop and start? Why doesn’t she act? Maybe wisdom is more fearful than anger?
Wisdom: accrued knowledge, the ability to apply that knowledge, to apply insight gained from experience.
My mother once told me I had the power to wound her with my words. I was fifteen and I thought, but dare not say, ‘I garnered that power from you’.
If I feel betrayed, if I feel a loved one’s actions are morally and ethically questionable I can be, using words my mother loved, vituperative and vindictive. Or I can lean against the wisdom of my father, secure in his understanding of the difference between right and wrong, the nobility of his moral and ethical ruminations learned while watching, in his adolescence, men go stoically, foolishly to war.
What are my needs? To be secure in the knowledge that any contract with loved ones are honoured, that no betrayal, even that of the imagination or the mind, occurs.
I can wait. I can act when wise to do so. And I can call people who betray me to account. My mother passed her sword on to me. My father handed me the shield.
The day after my grand daughter was born my son, who is a gifted photographer but lacks the time to develop his talents, took this photograph of his new born daughter.
Later that year, while playing around with my camera, I photographed my partner as he prepared our Christmas Dinner, our first one with our grand daughter.
Both photos are, for me, emblems of the bounty of life but I also like the contrasts between them – the old hands, the new hands (what wonders will they perform?), the sharpness of the paring knife, the tenderness of those tiny, vulnerable fingers.
Our idea of bliss changes. What we once thought of as heavenly can become an embarrassment. The pop group from your teens, the dish you used to prepare (in my case cheese fondue) that you’d turn up your nose at now. Other things remain in your personal library of bliss; a beautiful sunset, holding your first-born in your arms, even though he’s too tall to cradle anymore and you must be content with a hug.
Then there’s the bliss you could never imagine but cannot now do without; the delight that comes from hearing the doorbell ring and knowing your granddaughter has arrived. There’s also the bittersweet bliss of greeting your children from interstate and luxuriating in their smiles despite knowing they’ll leave again in a few days. Photographs fail to capture such moments, which makes today’s #developingyoureye task difficult for me.
What, apart from being with my loved ones, represents bliss? What do I experience that brings me bliss?
Every afternoon at three my partner and I have afternoon tea. One of us will make Chai, and we often have a piece of cake or a biscuit. Occasionally, though, I’ll indulge a blissfully rich hot chocolate with marshmallows. When I feel the need to raise the bliss a notch or two I’ll serve it in a robustly colourful Mason’s ‘Regency’ cup and saucer.
It belonged to my mother and I believe it was her mother’s. There are, as you can see from the photograph below, two such cups and their saucers, but the pink one has a fine crack in it so I only drink from the blue one.
I don’t remember my grandparents using them, but when I take my first sip of chocolate I wonder if they took tea in the afternoon, sitting together in their kitchen, drinking from cups brought from the ‘Old Country.’
My grandfather was from Wales and my grandmother was a Glaswegian. A visit to their home when I was a child was an experience in accents, a concert of emphases, stresses and inflections that delighted the ear even as it sometimes confused the child.
When I hear a soft female Scottish voice I remember my grandmother Bell’s beautiful smile that, more often than not, quickly evolved into rich laughter.
Several weeks ago I introduced Barbara, my first guest blogger. She taught me a valuable lesson about gratitude and as a result of her post I decided to find ways, through this blog, to practice her philosophy.
Regular readers will be aware I try to post twice a week, usually on Wednesday and Sunday, but I missed last Sunday. It was a busy weekend, a holiday weekend in fact. I didn’t manage to post anything by Sunday evening and we were out all day Monday. It’s that Monday, its conviviality, its treasure house of memories and its challenges, that I am grateful for. We spent the day showing interstate visitors around one of South Australia’s beloved wine regions – not beloved just because of its wines but because it is one of the most beautiful spots in Australia.
Back in the 1980s I lived in the Barossa Valley. One of my children was born there, I learned to drive along its narrow back roads and I survived several long hours one night, alone with three children under four and a dog and a goat, sheltering in our farmhouse as flood waters lapped at the veranda. Thankfully, the rain stopped and my husband arrived from out of the night, having found an alternative route that bypassed the swollen creeks so he could be with his family. I’m so grateful he didn’t turn back to the city and leave me alone with our children that wet and wild night. I would have coped if the water had continued to rise, and he knew I would, but we coped better together.
Years later, children grown and my marriage over, I was living alone and often drove for two hours to the Barossa to visit my parents, who by then were living in the Barossa Village Aged Care Facility. I will always be grateful for the care given to my parents, the gentle way the staff dealt with my mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, and my father, who grieved for his wife’s deterioration but who always shared a joke with the staff and tried to find a way to make their day less wearisome.
After my father, and eight months later my mother, died, I cleaned my mother’s room, said goodbye to the staff who cared for my parents, and didn’t return to the Barossa for many years except to drive through the Valley on our way north. Monday was the first time I’d been back for a whole day and now I had a chance to share the Barossa with friends. The weather was glorious: the sky an uninterrupted blue; the breeze chilly but tempered by the sun; the vines golden in the glossy winter light. I was the designated driver; after all, the main purpose of the visit was to taste the delicious wines made in the Barossa, enjoy a long lunch and then visit one more winery. It’s imperative, given this, that someone abstain from alcohol and be capable of driving home.
There was a small hitch, however. I used to love driving, and my solo trips to the Barossa, made over five years ago now, were a pleasurable routine. But lately I’ve experienced a deal of anxiety and even mild panic attacks, many of them associated with cars, traffic and driving. My partner, of course, was aware of this, but our friends did not realise their chauffeur was, to be frank, clutching the steering wheel as if it was a club, periodically taking long, deep breaths and telling herself she was a competent and safe driver. It was not, for me, a pleasant drive back to the city, but I did it; we arrived safely, deposited our passengers and later that evening opened a bottle of fine Barossa Riesling to celebrate.
I’m cannot say I’m grateful for the panic attacks and the anxiety. I neither appreciate, nor am I thankful for, the physical and emotional sensations the attacks engender but I suspect there is a gift, one I have yet to discover, inherent in my current affliction. Maybe these attacks are an opportunity for me to develop compassion for others who are likewise affected? Perhaps they are a chance for me to get to know myself better, or develop more refined planning and coping strategies when faced with life’s problems? Maybe it’s a chance for me to reflect on life, how precious it is, how tenuous our grasp on it is, how important our loved ones are, how strangers can become unlikely allies in caring for those we love.
Right now panic feels like the only response we’ve got to what’s going on around us. The natural, psychological and physiological response to war, terror, destruction, abuse, anger and hate is, and probably always will be, panic; to flee, to freeze or to fight. We are after all, animals, albeit of a particular and peculiar species, and survival is our strongest instinct.
Saying, ‘Don’t Panic,’ doesn’t help. Telling us to panic more and who to blame for our fearful reaction, doesn’t help. Admitting to feeling panicked, to being anxious, to being petrified, does. When we name and accept what ails us we can address the cause of our fear and construct a reasoned response. We stop reacting and we think. The reason why we are such a particular species is because we can stop and think. It’s not easy but it is the one truly powerful and positive gift we have. Our ability to think, to solve problems, to find ways to cooperate, to resolve issues is surely a gift for which we must always be grateful.
What do you think: Is panic something we can learn to be grateful for? What does our anxiety tell us about who we are and what we value?
Could you live the eremitic life, either in the Christian meaning of the word, or in the secular sense?
In both religious and secular literature, the eremitic life is lived by a ‘hermit’, a person who, according to the Oxford Dictionary of English, lives in solitude as a part of a religious discipline, or who intentionally shuns society.
The female equivalent of a hermit is the anchoress. In my first post I mentioned Robyn Cadwallader’s début novel, set in 1255, about a young woman, Sarah, who is walled into a cell nine by seven paces, and these are the paces of a slight girl, where she intends to spend the rest of her life. After many difficulties, both internally and externally generated, Sarah adjusts to her life as an anchoress. She is not entirely isolated, however. From her cell she ministers to the women of her local village, playing a small but vital part in the life of the people who live close to the church where she is immured.
Hermits are generally reclusive, solitary, characters found in all religious traditions. The modern image of a hermit is of an ascetic or eccentric elder, alone on a mountain or in a forest, meditating, growing their own vegetables and bothering no one. A quick Google search revealed this image to be only partially true, particularly in the case of Sister Rachel Denton who stays in touch with the world via Facebook and Twitter.
I’m not sure I want to become a hermit, but the solitude, the extended stretches of time and the ability to decide for oneself how to spend that time is very appealing. How would I fill my days? Writing, of course. I’d make up for lost time, pumping out as many stories as possible. Then there is reading; the cliché that there are too many books and too little time is spot on. My to-be-read pile of books will probably outlive me. I’d walk every day, not power walking but strolling, being present to birdsong, to the gentle chuntering of the leaves as they respond to their conductor, the wind. I’m also of an age to reflect on my life, to weigh and measure my accomplishments and forgive my failures. I’d also meditate. I’d silence the inner chatter, breathe, honour and refresh my neurons and soothe the synaptic clefts tucked away in my brain.
Is the eremitic life a selfish life? That’s like asking if awakening the inner self is a selfish act, for in a sense that’s what hermits are exposed to, their inner self. They might study devotional tracts or scriptures, they might nourish the land they live on but when the sun sets, their companion of choice is the being who was with them at the beginning and will be there at the very last: the voice in their head; their consciousness; their inner being. It takes, I believe, a certain kind of courage to deeply and honestly connect with one’s self. What we find is a complicated, seething consciousness: complex and simple; wise and foolish; generous and selfish; peace loving and aggressive; kind and cruel; honest and corrupt; decisive and irresolute; knowledgeable and pudding headed and all things in-between. How many of us are willing to risk knowing who we really are?
Right now, I’d settle for one or two days of solitude a week. I’ve already confronted many inner weaknesses and faults, even accommodated and embraced a couple of them, though I am positive there are more lurking within. I’d willingly turn off the television, the radio and the internet and be with my self. Nor would I worry about being selfish because I think knowing and accepting one’s self is the first step to knowing and accepting others. After all, if we can live with the madness and glory that is the self, then spending time with our loved ones should be simple. For now, however, I am satisfied with Emerson’s recommendation:
Solitude is impracticable, and society fatal. We must keep our head in the one and our hands in the other. The conditions are met if we keep our independence, yet do not lose our sympathy. –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Solitude and Society, 1857
I have my small sanctuary, a physical space where I write, but as most writers know it’s the space in one’s head that must be nurtured. I am slowly creating that inner space, a mental mountaintop where I withdraw and nourish the word-smith within.
Do you want more time with yourself? Do you want to devote your day to the scriptures or to similar works of the learned and wise? What do you need to know that a few day’s solitude might reveal? Would you remove yourself from the madding crowd and listen to the inner voice?
I’ve been thinking about the process of ageing, prompted by my partner’s recent performance in ‘Ghosts, Toast and the Things Unsaid’. It was a piece of interactive theatre where the ‘audience’ of two, assumed the ‘identity’ of one of two of the play’s characters. The premise of the play involved looking back at the significant moments of one’s life. The photographs below are my way of looking back at the person I was and will become. They are arranged according to the number of decades I’ve spent on the planet: the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s and 10s. The last photograph was taken at my 60th birthday party, almost four years ago. I was smiling because it was a wonderful night but also because I knew my grand daughter was due any day. She was born three days later and is the joy of my life.
I still love to dress up, though I do it less often these days. I notice I tilt my head when I’m posing for a photo, and I occasionally look pensive. My mother used to say I was a ‘solemn’ child. Maybe that’s because I was an only child and my mother was … difficult … She had a difficult experience when she was young and I doubt she ever recovered.
If I had to choose a photo and give advice to the girl captured there, I’d choose the high school picture. I’d tell the girl in the photo that being published three times in four years in the High School Year Book, and being a member of the editing team, means she IS a writer and she must never let anyone tell her otherwise. I’d tell her appearances are not important, friends save your life and your sanity, lovers break your heart as often as you break theirs, children survive and even thrive despite the mistakes you make with them, feminism will save humanity but not enough people believe it, and to eat properly and keep active.
I’d also tell her what her father told her; she’s a fighter, she never gives up and rarely gives in and it’s what I like about her. I think it’s what he liked about her too.
I wonder if she’d listen to me?
Oh, and I will tell her that the other day, while we took a break from being dinosaurs and chasing each other up and down the hallway, her grand daughter hugged her and said, ‘I love you Nanny’.
I have decided to set myself a blogging challenge; seven posts in seven days. I enjoy a challenge but of a particular kind. The thought of studying a new topic sets my heart aflutter as does a pile of as yet unread books, the prospect of an intriguing, thought provoking conversation or even working out my budget; my needs, as far as challenges go, are somewhat pedestrian. One I find difficult, however, is maintaining a daily writing habit.
So, here I go: the first of seven posts and, as you will have noticed, a new theme to aid the process.
I had an epiphany the other day. Such moments of exquisite understanding are rare and beautiful although they can be confronting. The details of my epiphany are not important; what I’d like to explore is the meaning of the word. While it is usually associated with the Christian festival of 6th January I hope to explore its secular application.
My Oxford Dictionary of English tells me an epiphany is a moment of sudden revelation or realisation. Roget’s Thesaurus rewards my lifting it off my bookshelf by providing synonyms like illumination, inspiration, disclosure and afflatus. Afflatus sends me scurrying back to the dictionary where, I discover, it means ‘a divine creative impulse or inspiration’. It comes from the Latin verb afflare, from ad ‘to’ + flare, ‘to blow’. An epiphany, it seems, could be construed as a blow to ones perceptions or, as some might say, a blinding flash of the obvious (aka BFO!).
(Photo Credit: Andrew E Weber)
What about my Chambers Dictionary of Etymology? Can it supply me with more information? Epiphany is borrowed from Old French from Late Latin from, in turn, the Greek, epipháneia; a manifestation or striking appearance. Chambers then tells me the first literary sense of this meaning appeared in 1840 although I’d like to investigate this further …
I could go on but I think you get the point. Writing can be a daily challenge when you love words, when you own a good dictionary, a thesaurus and an etymological dictionary. There are so many distractions, so many entries to explore, so many new words to imbibe … hang on, is that what I mean? Let me just check ….
Please share your favourite word, or what happened the last time you consulted a dictionary, or how you maintain a daily writing habit. In fact, you can share anything you’d like as long as the words are pleasantly phrased!
I haven’t blogged for several weeks. I tell myself it is because we have experienced problems with internet connectivity, but the real reason is I am questioning the wisdom of having started a blog and, therefore, my commitment to it. This is partly because I’ve yet to establish a solid, regular writing habit and partly because being a blogger is not just about writing; it involves reading and responding to other blogs, particularly if the blog is to make its mark in the blogosphere. In other words, running a blog is hard work and I’m not sure I’m up to it.
Originally titled Reflective and Therapeutic Writing the original purpose of this blog was to share my research into, and experience of, therapeutic writing. Early this year, however, I decided to rename the blog Elixir: Creative and Reflective Writing and try focusing on my creative writing. Unfortunately, this didn’t help; the blog languished and my motivation waned. What to do? Maybe focusing on the shared element of both titles; Reflective Writing, and applying the technique of reflection to the situation might help? To do this, I have adapted Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle as my model.
As I imagine most new bloggers do, I eagerly threw myself into the fray. After searching for blogs similar to mine and finding only a few and reading books, and blogs, about blogging, I wrote the first post and launched my blog. What I didn’t realise was the degree to which bloggers need to network, that is, read and respond to other blogs. This is how a blogger builds a following. It makes sense, but it is hard work, particularly if, like me when I started, the blogger is employed. Frankly, I don’t know how most bloggers work, have relationships, relax, read other blogs and research and write their blogs but I certainly admire their work ethic (especially that of my clever daughter-in-law whose blog can be found here and here).
How did it feel?
Once I got over the initial euphoria of, ‘Yay, I’m a blogger,’ I started to feel like I was drowning in a sea of words and believe me, I love to read. Instead of moving with the current I nervously headed back to the shore. I imagine it becomes easier with time, but time was something I didn’t have and I very soon felt overwhelmed by it all. While Blogging 101 offered by WordPress is excellent, it didn’t help me. I don’t blame the course; it provided sound advice about networking but I’ve never been good at it. I do think, however, there could be a warning; like Alice in Wonderland when she eats the cakes labelled ‘eat me’, networking is something that should be nibbled at rather than swallowed whole. In my experience a network can very quickly become huge and I simply don’t have time to read all the sites I subscribe to.
What went badly, why, and what were the consequences?
So, trying to read the blogs I had subscribed to became a chore rather than a delight; making comments on the blogs I managed to read was fraught with indecision and, the worse sin of all, I failed to respond immediately to the kind and perceptive comments other bloggers and the general public made about my blogs.
A second problem was my perfectionism: my blogs had to be pristine; the punctuation and grammar flawless; my sentences sparkling; my content interesting, relevant and well argued. How I envied those who seemed capable of churning out a blog every couple of days (while knowing that they probably agonized over their grammar, punctuation and sparkling sentences as well). My need for perfection taxed my editor, my partner, who did a sterling job under pressure from an anxious, fussy writer. This meant the blog also became a chore rather than a joyful experience. That was why I decided to inject new life into my blog earlier this year and rebrand it. This meant, however, that the original blog ‘disappeared’ from the intertubes and I lost some readers. One of them found me recently and gave me my first pingback. (Thank you, Calensariel).
It also became quickly obvious that writing a blog was NOT the same as researching and writing a PhD. For a start there is no supervisor or thesis advisor to consult with, to support or push the candidate along. A PhD also has an ultimate word count but a blog is eternal. I don’t mean individual posts, but the life of the blog. How long can a blogger keep saying what they want to say? Is starting a blog like having a baby? If so, it needs to be held and fed and changed daily (and nightly) for three to four years. Does a blog experience the ‘terrible two’ tantrums? What about the primary (elementary) school years, when it gradually grows more independent? How does a blogger deal with their blog’s fraught but invariably interesting adolescence? Does a blog ever grow up? Can it be taken on a holiday? What will happen if it has a sibling?
What went well?
It was not all bad, of course: Blogging 101 helped me connect to some amazing bloggers and taught me how to set up and tweak my blog pages and posts. I wrote some blogs I am proud of and confirmed the advice given by Blogging 101 that the blogs which attract the most attention are those that came from the heart. I also learned a lot about myself as a writer, and about what I want to spend my time writing about.
What could I have done differently?
For a start, I should have waited until I had time to properly nurture this baby, nor should I expect it to be perfect. I should have asked my new blogging friends for advice and (gently) encouraged my non-blogging friends to read and share my blog. When other friends said, ‘I’ve been meaning to read your blog, I must get onto it,’ I should have immediately emailed them the link.
A writing routine and a deadline is crucial; even a self-imposed deadline can be put off if one’s confidence is low or energy ebbs. Planning my writing, editing and posting times would have helped too. I also needed to reflect, at the very beginning, on what a ‘good readership’ meant to me. Did I really want 1,000s of readers? This goes back to my original intention: why did I start a blog; what did I want to achieve; who did I imagine would read the blog and how did I plan to give them what they want?
What have I learnt about myself during this experience?
I love to write because I love communicating with people but I’m still discovering what, as a writer, this means. I have a tendency to become very enthusiastic about a project, then lose the momentum when things get tough. My PhD, however, was something I saw through to the end, so I do complete projects. Is this because I managed the PhD workload well or is it about motivation? I started a PhD because I wanted to hone my writing skills and this is why I started the blog; it was not so much about sharing my research as sharing my writing, my thoughts, my ideas, my feelings. I also learned that, despite thinking I’d overcome my perfectionism, I haven’t.
Where to now?
While I don’t want to overdo the metaphor of ‘blog-as-baby’, it is a useful way of thinking about it. At barely six months old, this blog’s world is still limited. Its personality is still being shaped and its impact still to be felt. As for networking and reading all the blogs I have subscribed to, what mother spends more time looking at other babies instead of attending to her own?
Writing a blog has helped me understand who I am as a writer. Most writers do this in private, sharing their work with a few carefully chosen friends. The problem with blogging is anyone can read, deride, stalk or even worse, ignore a blog. The risk is an inherent part of the venue, the vast multiverse that is the blogosphere. Maybe I’m playing it safe here in my little corner, maybe it’s just right or, on reflection, maybe it’s not up to me to decide.
I’d love to hear about your experience. What did you struggle with and why? What did you learn in your first twelve months of blogging? What could you have done better? How do you cope with networking and reading other blogs?
Gibbs, G. (1988). Learning By Doing: A Guide. Birmingham, UK: SCED