Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Blog Anxiety

There is a point early in each year where I invariably experience a crisis of confidence about this blog.  "Have I run out of new things to say?" I wonder.  Every time I write a blog post, I'm never sure where the next one will come from, or even if it will come. Often I experience a bit of blog anxiety. Will it resonate with anyone? If so, then how do I follow it with another that will also? Just as with paintings, not everything is a masterpiece and in the interest of timeliness, blog entries often are not our most polished work. 

I think it is about more than just writing, for writing is merely an expression of our thoughts and experiences. The past eight years of this blog have been fertile, a time of exploration and discovery in my life that in turn has fed this blog. The core of my unease is perhaps less will I have interesting things to write, more will I have interesting things to live? Exploration and discovery presuppose a path that is unknown.  And it is that very unknown, that is the root of unease, that also gives birth to the surprises that delight us with their unexpected nature.

* Photo credit
So let's leave those more existential concerns aside and consider blogging itself. I've been thinking about it recently as a friend announced she was considering starting a blog. I advised her to choose a broad topic and be prepared to expand it over time. Don't hesitate to knock down the walls of your house and add on rooms. Living in one space can get tiresome. Meaningful content is one of the challenges, but even a meaningful topic can begin to feel confining over a long period of time.

In writing classes we are given prompts, ideas that inspire us to write. I've learned that prompts are all around us. Sometimes an event is a prompt or a question that is posed that perhaps stumped me at the time and lingers. This post was started by something as basic as a friend saying she was thinking of starting a blog. If you're someone who ponders ideas, you will find that you can riff off just about anything. When you write a blog, you need to learn to pay attention to those curious thoughts that make you wonder. They usually contain a prompt.

Then there is the commitment to consistently write. The most important thing for any blogger is a love of writing, otherwise it is a lot of work. Well it's a lot of work even if you do love to write, but it's the difference between a labor of love and just plain labor.Writing can be magical. Metaphors appear as if out of air, cicadas and nesting dolls and tectonic plates. "Where did those come from?" I wonder. It is as if the experience of a lifetime is blended together and unexpected elements emerge. It is the magic that enthralls me the most, how ideas and images take shape through the mere act of writing.

There are annoyances as well. For me the most annoying aspect of writing a blog is finding photos and correcting formatting that somehow alters in the cybersphere. I swat at these impatiently, obstacles to metaphors and magic.

This is my ninth year of blogging. I began when I was heading off to the Vilnius Yiddish Institute to spend six weeks in Eastern Europe. I hoped to keep a record of my explorations. I knew nothing about blogging and frankly didn't care if anyone read it, in fact I wasn't sure I wanted them to. My objective was not to embarrass myself. The bar was set pretty low, good writing and proper grammar was all that was required (perhaps not so low after all). I spent time every evening writing and drafted my travel companion into the effort as well. There was no shortage of material given our surroundings. Each evening we explored the events of our day, something I found oddly satisfying.

When I returned from my travels I realized I wasn't quite ready to quit. My writing began to focus on my genealogy research and the artwork that grew out of my explorations. I was still protecting a zone of privacy. I got married upon my return and we headed off to Paris for our honeymoon, but I wrote very little about it. I hadn't yet deemed that in scope.  I was a private person writing publicly and rather shy about it.

Over time I wrote about travels in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, meetings with distant cousins who I tracked down through my research and of course my evolving artwork. My interview project with Jewish elders and the artwork that followed occupied a lot of blog real estate as well as a lot of my energy. For a time I wrote about the Artist Lab until I was invited to write a dedicated blog for it. Now I had two blogs to maintain. Later when I was a long distance caregiver for my mother, I began to veer into the personal, sharing my perspective as her memory faded. 

A funny thing happened. Readers seemed to like the personal, that stuff I'd avoided as private. My artwork began to move into the personal too as I explored memory and with the death of my parents in the past few years, my blog became a place to process who they were as people and who they were to me. My original title Layers of the Onion: A Family History Exploration still seemed oddly appropriate, but I had moved from ancestors to those who raised me. I began to let myself into my blog and gradually found my voice, sharing personal stories that shaped my perspective.

It dawns on me occasionally that I have gone public. Friends read my blog as well as friends of friends and many people I don't know. I am often surprised when people mention it in social gatherings and seem to know a lot about me. I've met new people through my blog so in many ways it has expanded my world. My greatest "ah ha" out of writing this blog is that authenticity is found by sharing who we are. Life gets easier when we do that. People connect and respond to us when we let them see the real person. All that hesitance to let people in, to preserve a zone of privacy, is distancing and I don't need that as much now as I once did. 

It is a risk to let people see who we are, to tell our story. Maybe they won't like what they see, but the benefit of getting older is we care less about that. Part of our journey as people is to find and share our authentic selves, the stories and observations that define us. It is from that effort that we begin to recognize the common threads between us and others. At its best a blog can be a path to our common humanity.

*Photo by Matthew Hull at

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