Tuesday, January 1, 2013

On writing and all that...

Why do I blog? That is this century's Big Question.

I have been reading blogs for a few years. I used to read lots of food blogs, but I now find myself disenchanted with the content, because I feel no personal attachment to the blogger (writer?). I've read what feels like a million different posts varying on the same theme. There is not much variation in that genre. Really, there is not much variation in any genre.

I recently pared down the blogs I read by a lot. I dumped the blogs that I didn't enjoy reading. Sometimes just opening up my Google reader felt like a chore, instead of what I think it should feel like: opening up a new book (or returning to an old favorite), or meeting a friend for coffee.

In the past, my litmus test for subscribing to a blog was looking at the first page of posts and determining whether the subject matter matched with what I enjoyed reading.

That is a bad criterion.

That's how I ended up with more than 100 blogs in my reader and on average about 600 unread posts. You can tell how that would begin to suffocate my blogging mentality. And maybe that's why the posts here became so much less frequent and inspired themselves.

But why? Why do I blog? Why do I have a blog? The word "blog" comes from "weblog." What am I "logging" in this "web" of information that pervades my life, your life, our collective lives? Is it of worth? Do I care? Should I care? Does it matter? Should it matter?

These are questions I've asked myself recently, as I've pondered blogging and the place it has in my life. What do I value in a blog?

I value a unique writing voice above all else. Good writing. Writing that feels like an embrace, or like being talked to, not talked at. Writing that is real, and organic, and natural. Not scheduled and sponsored and veiled and disclaimed. I realized that I had known this all along, but had forgotten it somewhere along the way.

The irony of blogging and presenting yourself to the entire world, is that usually you are not really presenting yourself to the entire world. You are presenting a particular version of yourself. A version that is less messy (or more messy, depending on the message you're trying to convey), a fleeting ideal. It is not "real life," but we present it as such. I'm not sure how many of us prepare a bowl of oatmeal and eat it with a spoon tied with twine on a rustic (but not too rustic) wooden chopping board. I eat a bowl of oatmeal most mornings in fifteen minutes before class, with an orange spoon, usually burning my mouth, all while checking Twitter. But that's pretty boring, and it's really not that beautiful or twee or Pinterest-worthy. (But kudos to those whose real life is a steaming latte enjoyed while reading The New Yorker (on the iPad, natch) and gazing out at the early morning fog.)

My writing voice has changed a lot in the past two and a half years I've had this blog, since I first started college (and so have I, so it seems only fitting). I've become more aware of myself and how I write and what I like to write about. I've become less censored and correct. And so this blog has changed a lot, too--most obviously in its scope and what it means to me and the way I treat it, the prism through which I choose to view it and view myself as its creator.

I used to set a timetable for myself in blogging. "At least once a week," I'd tell myself. Why why why? That kind of rule sucks the life out of this blog and out my desire to write, too. Quality over quantity. It is a cliche for a reason. I'm not sure how or why I came up with this kind of perverse rule for myself. It is decidedly unfun. It's silly and stupid and kind of embarrassing when I think about it.

But why do I blog? It is not for the readers, or else I would write about far less esoteric things than Oliver Trask being the greatest TV villain of all time, or Songs I Can't Stop Listening To (complete with Angela Chase references!), or my love of the word "Also." And the same goes for Twitter, because I write the most random, crazy, niche tweets that I'm sure no one ever understands, but I do.

I don't even like the word "blog" as a verb. Because I'm not exactly what it entails and what it means.

But I do write. I write because it's fun, and it's escapism, and I have a weird satisfaction reading things that I wrote from a distance. (When I moved all my stuff out of my old room at home I found my portfolio from my senior year of high school, which included every piece of writing I'd ever done in high school. And you can bet I spent like the next hour reading it. I was mortified and charmed. But mostly mortified. Also, yes, I realize how narcissistic this is. I do this with my tweets, too.)

I write because it is exercise putting your thoughts into paper, whether real or virtual. I do not take many pictures in my day-to-day life, but I like to think that what I write, whether 140 characters or 10,000, is a word snapshot of me, on this day, at this hour that I clicked "Publish."

How cool is that?

I've got thousands of little word snapshots floating around in space, each specific to me, and to who I was at that very second. That is very cool.

So do I write "for me"? Yes, I guess I do. I write for all the Saras--tomorrow Sara, and next week Sara, and next year Sara, and 2020 Sara, and maybe even 2040 Sara. But I write only as today Sara.

That is confusing to me in the most surreal way. (Like when you look at a word, such as "freely," for a long time and then suddenly it loses all meaning. The same thing happens to me when I think deeply about the concept of "hair." Nothing else makes sense anymore.) It is fascinating that we can focus our thoughts and our energy into separate threads. And it's not until we step far enough back--until we have that distance--that we appreciate it as a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

. . . .

On Christmas Eve, I impulsively bought Shopgirl, Steve Martin's novella that became the inspiration for the 2005 film. It's a short book, only 130 pages or so, and I read it all that night (in between a little George Clooney film fest). It was the first book I'd read in a few months (sad, I know) but the writing itself affected me more than a book had in a really long time. The story itself is not as groundbreaking or enthralling as something like Harry Potter or Gone Girl, which sucked me in for the plot of the thing.

This was all about the writing. The way Steve Martin constructed his prose, the chapters, each a little story, a little thread. And when I finished it and took it as a whole I realized just how magnificent it was. Calm and subtle, sweet and delicate at times, the prose just blew me away. I looked up words to see what they meant, paused for a few minutes at the sheer brilliance of a single sentence. This was writing that made me actually feel something. I felt satisfied, but also hungry for more. I felt really and truly inspired. This was pure writing.

I went to bed that night feeling inspired by this book, by this story, and by the building blocks that created it--the metaphors or similes, phrases, witticisms, use of an esoteric word over a commonplace one. It was elegant and perfect and it wasn't trying to be anything more than what it was.

. . . . 

I realized that Christmas Eve night, which soon turned into the early morning hours of Christmas Day, that there is great wisdom in the saying "Write what you know." Well, I mean, obviously. It would be pretty difficult to write intelligently or at least in a respectful way about something you didn't know about.

Then I realized that's what I've been doing for the past year on this blog anyway. I think I've published a recipe only once, my harrowing journey into the unknown world of Brown Butter Tart. Even then I was incapable of resisting detailing my entire thought process and strategy, complete with a nerdy and embarrassing Microsoft Excel anecdote.

This summer I posted more prolifically than I had in a long time as I traveled through Europe. Looking back through those posts, it's kind of glaring how devoid of any historical frame of reference or actual objective fact they are. But I love that. I can look up that stuff on Wikipedia any day, but with time my memories of the cities and the places I visited and the people I was with will fade. They already have, as much as I try to fight it.

But if I'm being honest I wrote those posts just as much for my family, who wanted to follow my experiences, as I did for myself. I suppose there's nothing wrong with that, but that also meant I kept the posts decidedly PG rated (not that I was like doing NC-17 stuff left and right, because I was not, but some of the other travelogues I read of my friends at the time were so much more honest and flawed and true, and I wished I had the courage to write like that).

In the past few weeks I've shifted away from that toward things that I wanted to write about. (It's not that I didn't want to write about my study abroad experience, because I did and I'm glad I did, but I've never been the "this is what I did today" type of blogger because I find it incredibly boring and bland and uninspiring.) I know for a fact that only the most nerdy OC obsessive will understand, let alone appreciate, my dive into the realm that is Oliver Trask's unmatched villainy. And when I wrote about my beautiful, dark, twisted fantasy (obvi, Homeland), I restrained myself from veering down that entire rabbit hole (complete with my own twisted theories and opinions) for fear that I'd be too alienating in my attempt to describe why I loved this show. As an exercise, I'd like to ask you to read these two takes on the season two Homeland episode "Broken Hearts": one, two. I know which one is more enjoyable and also which is more embracing of its own craziness.

I guess that is what I decided to do in these past few months: not just to accept the crazy, but to embrace it.

I mean, I can't even write a semi-normal "Songs I Love Right Now" post without going off on tangents about Angela Chase or the Girls Season 2 Trailer, which I want so desperately to talk about in mediums that allow thoughts longer than 140 characters. Pitchfork, this is not.

My "Best of 2012" list is a mockery of all those other top 10 lists you see this time of year. I'll say officially I did it on purpose, tongue-in-cheek, but really it was just my excuse for talking more about Homeland, Girls, my love for Lena Dunham and GIFs and Twitter and depressing music.

And finally, my post the other day about following me on Twitter was basically a vehicle for me to read all my old tweets (at the time, some 1400 of them) and laugh at how witty and also weird I can be. Those posts didn't feel like obligations or requirements or tasks to be checked off a list. They felt like the exact opposite of that. Like something I couldn't help, a side project that I pushed unabashedly to the forefront.

But I so loved writing them. I had more fun writing them than I did writing any of those Europe "recap" posts or those tired and why-did-I-do-that? "well said/friday inspiration" posts. Sometimes that can be fun or funny or even downright inspiring. But it just reminds me of "...and now back to our regularly scheduled programming" and that does not inspire me anymore.

Today, at this very moment on this first day of 2013, I am inspired by things that I love, and thus by things that I know. (Because I have an obsessive and addictive personality, so if I love something, then I really know it. Today I listened to Lena Dunham's audio commentary for the Pilot episode of Girls and she talked about how she was so in love with Chris Eigemen, who plays her boss in the episode, that she tracked down episodes of Homicide: Life on the Street that he was in just so she could say she'd seen everything he'd ever been in. Then I realized that this was what I was doing with my girl crush, Claire Danes, and I felt less crazy.)

(The scary thing about all this is the thought that one day I'll just run out of things to write about. Like I'll become so disenchanted with everything on this Earth that everything will cease to inspire me. Obviously I don't see that happening anytime soon, but I'd be lying if I said the notion itself didn't simultaneously frighten and thrill me.)

I don't for a second believe it coincidental that once I tore down the walls that I had put up that served as my boundaries in this space that I not only began to have more fun writing, but that I also began to write more. Once I rediscovered the truth in my writing voice, and in what I wanted to write about and why, I was set free. And that is glorious.


  1. ditto that. finding a blog post from you in my reader is always a treat. no matter the topic. it is like we're back at that kitchen table or sitting in the car on a long drive - just the two of us talking. you challenge me to think about things differently and often to think about things I've never thought about. and I love you for that. and your writing, too. I need to read shopgirl. also, I read the two broken hearts reviews...#1 wins in my book.