A Ridiculously Long Post

Over the last while I’ve noticed a big shift in the blogging world, one that has encouraged me to do a lot of thinking about where I stand with it. I’ve been reading blogs, mostly ones that focused on food and lifestyle for years and there are several that are daily reads for me. I’ve followed many bloggers as they married, had children, wrote cookbooks and became internet superstars. I’ve found it so inspiring to witness someone like me, with nothing more than an interest in cooking and a crappy camera turn blogging into a full time job. It was my greatest dream for a while in fact, to turn blogging into a career. But over the last few months, I’ve read about the dissatisfaction of many of the bloggers I’ve followed faithfully for so long.

They’ve spoken of difficulty creating original content. They’ve lamented how uninspiring it can be to blog full time. They’ve listed the critiques of internet trolls and the changing landscape of ad revenues as sources of stress. They’ve talked about the challenges of disconnecting from the blog world in their downtime and how it can negatively affect their relationships and their overall happiness. I get it. I do not have a burgeoning readership by any stretch, but when people, many of whom you do not know take time from their day to read your words, to compliment your photos, to comment on your work, you connect with them. You feel thankful for them, humbled  by their attention to the space you’ve created.  That’s one of the biggest reasons I started blogging in the first place. I wanted to create a space. I wanted people to come to it, to feel comfortable and welcome in it, to look forward to visiting it. I had felt that way visiting so many other peoples blogs, but I wanted my own timeline of memories and photographs and recipes and experiences. And so I did it. And I soon felt a connection to the people who read, and a duty to respond quickly to their questions and to thank them for their visits and to provide more for them to read. But with that relationship comes a tug of war with your life outside of the blog.

I’ve felt disappointment before when a blogger I’ve loved and read for years starts to sell their soul, so to speak, in the name of growing a readership, or earning a living. Shilling products that they never would have a year ago. Showing up every couple of weeks with an “I’m sorry I’m so busy, here’s another half-assed rambling about a random product that I’ve been paid to tell you about but really would never actually buy” post. It begins to leave a bad taste in a reader’s mouth. And it’s not rare either. I’ve regularly followed several blogs for years and I can tell you that more than half have turned into this. They have all of the excuses in the world, but the truth seems to be that they’ve made blogging into a career and relied on it being the same way forever but now the tide is changing and they have to as well, if they want to continue being paid to do it. So they sacrifice the quality, the endearing reality, the genuine stuff for manufactured everything and the whole thing suffers as a result.

I don’t want to become that. I’ve done exactly two posts of this nature on my blog. Two companies have reached out to me in the past and asked me to write posts that linked back to their sites; one for watches, the other for purses. I was flattered and wooed with talk of being featured on a social media page (spoiler alert: neither company actually delivered) and so I did it. I tried to look at it as a learning experience, a way to branch out, but those posts didn’t feel good to write and they were even worse to read. I’m mortified of them and have thought numerous times of deleting them off my site. They weren’t me, and you, the reader could tell that, I’m sure.

One of my very favorite bloggers, one who I’ve followed almost since she began six years ago recently divulged that she was thinking of quitting. She has two children now and her life has changed so much since she started. She felt forced so often to put up content, much of which she felt was mediocre to push along her blog and she just didn’t know if she could do it anymore. I understood; I haven’t even blogged for a year and a half yet but sometimes you just don’t feel it. And what I’ve noticed in myself is that if I’m not excited about the post du jour, you won’t be either. If I wasn’t super proud of that photo or stoked to write about that particular recipe that day, it shows through. And as a result I’ve often wondered, is it better to post consistently on Monday, Wednesday & Friday, or is it better to post whichever days of the week I want, so long as I feel inspired in the moment to write those posts? Lately, I’ve been leaning toward the latter and I feel good about it. I feel glad to have freedom in this hobby. What’s funny is that while I understood this particular blogger’s plight from my blogger’s perspective, the reader in me thought, “No! Please don’t leave! I love reading about your life and I’ve been inspired by your words. I love visiting your space!” Which led me to wonder, “What if someone, even one single, solitary person feels that way about what I do?” Why would I leave it?

Because sometimes I miss living in a moment without making it Instagram worthy. Because sometimes I just want to eat my damn supper without photographing it. Because sometimes I want to cook a meal on instinct without measuring and writing down every ingredient. Because I can’t stand Facebook and don’t want an account anymore but it seems to be the easiest way to get my words out. Because as hard as I try, I just don’t love photography and it’s a huge part of blogging. Because whenever I have some kind of a technical difficulty I want throw myself out a window. Because sometimes I feel that I came in too late.

The peak was long ago and I keep hearing that this thing that I’ve just barely started is already dead and that can be highly discouraging. I could liken it to falling in love with someone you know you can’t be with. You either stay and fall deeper when it can go nowhere, or you cut the ties early and experience that pain that can only come from wondering what could have been. Or what about that period of time before VHS became obsolete and people started pressuring us to only buy DVD’s from then on? I was conflicted. I was fairly young but I already had a pretty stellar VHS collection, including my brand new copy of Sweet Home Alabama and I remember thinking, “But what about all the VHS movies I DO have? What will happen to them?” That’s sort of how I’ve started to look at my blog lately. Is it a VHS collection that I need to stop adding to and move on to DVD’s or do I keep adding to it until they aren’t available anymore at all?

My truest love in all of this is the writing part. I am so deeply in love with words and with writing them down and then piecing them together to make something magical. Writing feels like an old friend of mine. I have experienced many a time when I’ve neglected to do it for awhile, and when I pick up the pen and paper I feel my soul exhale a little bit. “There you are”, say the blank pages. “We’ve missed you.” There are few ways I can achieve some inner peace as quickly as I can when I just pick up a pen and write. I’ve struggled a lot, as many writers do, with wondering if I am any good. Who do I think I am, with little formal writing education to speak of, to share my words as if they mean anything? But I read a quote recently that said, “To be a writer all you have to do is write.” And when I ponder that, I know in my heart that I have been a writer for a very long time.

The first time I can recall writing anything for fun was when I received a little diary for my sixth birthday. It was a small, sturdy book with a tiny lock and a pair of ballet slippers on the front. I can’t imagine what I scrawled in there, but I do know that it started a journaling habit that has carried well into adulthood. In elementary school I had several pen pals, and I loved writing and receiving letters. I read and re-read them until they were crinkled and faded and stored them altogether in a box like hidden treasure.

When I entered the seventh grade, awkward and insecure and unsure of my place in the world, a seed was planted in me. I had decided that year that I did not want to play the clarinet anymore and as a result attended a music class while everyone else was at band each day. We reviewed the history of music, discussed musicals and listened to copious amounts of the Beatles. One morning, as everyone was filing into the room, Mr. Stewart stood quietly at the front, holding a report that I recognized immediately as my review of the Music Man. I was sick with worry. Why is he holding that? Am I in trouble? Everyone settled and Mr. Stewart spoke, “Class, remember those reviews I had you write for the Music Man?” Nodding heads. My head did not nod. I was frantic. I was so used to feeling insignificant and I was about to get singled out and potentially reprimanded in front of my peers. “I just wanted to share this one that Shaleen wrote.  I’ve been having my students review the Music Man for a long, long time and I’m going to put this report in my folder so I can share it with my other students from now on. It’s the best review of the Music Man I’ve ever seen! Shaleen, mark my words, you’re going to be famous a writer someday.” I was speechless.

That unexpected praise lit a fire within me. I was good at something! I scribbled poems and short stories and started half a dozen novels. I turned my tiny bedroom closet into a “writing nook” with a bean bag chair, a lamp and my crumpled notebooks. I used to shut myself inside it and write for hours. I signed up to write for the school newspaper, although I quickly learned to resent it because the many rules limited my creativity. Mr. Stewart often pulled me aside to discuss my latest writing and gave me feedback. He encouraged me to dig for the “meat and potatoes” of the story, as he called it. Five years later, I had just turned 18 and was exercising my new right to vote when I saw Mr. Stewart. When he asked, “So Shaleen, are you a writer yet?” I shook my head. I was going to be a social worker, I told him. He was immediately disappointed. “But you were such a great writer! You have to write!” A couple of years after that, I saw him again and he told me he was still using my report on the Music Man as the example.  He knew something I didn’t then.

My favorite classes were always the ones I could write in. I still journaled like mad. And then in my second year of university, when I started to feel an inkling that my major was wrong for me, I had a professor who seemed to utterly despise me. I had chosen that particular history class because it sounded interesting and different but I was out of my element and soon as I was struggling. I went to the professor and explained my concerns but he was incredibly critical and unhelpful and I was humiliated. Couple that with my anxiety over wanting to change my major, and I started missing that class a lot. When I did show up, he was constantly calling me out and putting me on the spot, knowing that I was having trouble. He almost seemed to take pleasure in it. I hadn’t done well the whole semester and had done myself no favors with my attendance. Then, a chance for redemption. The final project was a paper on a topic I was really interested in. At least I was a good writer! I had that going for me. I worked HARD on that paper. I researched it for weeks and worked late into many nights on it. I asked two history majors to critique it for me. When I submitted it I was brimming with pride, knowing when he read it that he would finally see what my strength was. I received it back a couple of weeks later, covered in red gashes. He had failed my paper. Beside the vicious 43% he had written, “Poor effort. Your writing is terrible. You would really benefit from a writing workshop through the university.” I was stunned. Writing was all I had ever been good at! When had I become terrible? It totally deflated me.

I quickly made plans to change my school and my major in an attempt to forget that defeat. I was too ashamed to write for a long time after that, and other than some occasional journaling, I pretty much quit. But no matter where I was in life, I always longed to write more, to really be a writer. And a couple of years ago my longings grew too big to ignore, so I started my blog. I wrote light hearted posts about food and difficult posts about loss. I took pleasure in every word in some way or another. And now I want more. I want to write big things, things that move people. I don’t care if everyone likes them. I don’t care if I get published or make money. I don’t care if everything I write is perfect. I know that to simply write something shitty is better than to write nothing at all.  It feels too good to ignore anymore. Writing is for me. I know it. I still have insecurities, don’t get me wrong. The irony is not lost on me that I work at a newspaper as something other than a writer. It’s kind of comical actually. Often times when I meet someone new and tell them where I am employed, they will ask, “Oh, are you a journalist?” When I say no, I want to hang my head a bit. I feel the loss of what I could have been, had I acknowledged my love for words so many years ago. Although I may not be a journalist, or a bestselling author, I can still be a writer. I’m starting to reconcile that with myself now. I can’t be 18 again and re-choose a major but I can run with the circumstances I’ve created for myself right now at almost 28. There’s empowerment in that my happiness is only a choice away.

So where am I going with all of this? I imagine you’ve probably already noticed some changes around here if you read regularly. When I started, I was steadfast in my schedule. I posted recipes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, each week. Eventually I realized I wanted more variety and swapped out the Friday recipe for a lifestyle-esque post, but that was my schedule and aside from a death in my family I held to it. The last couple of months were full of renovations and minimal cooking and most weeks I could only muster two posts, but I reasoned that life would get back to normal and I’d pick it up again after the move. I love searching on my site for a go-to recipe or reading old trip recaps. But I want to write more, and not just a little blurb to go with a recipe. I want to dig deep within myself because I feel like I have more to offer. I’ve thrown around the idea of a site makeover and that I’ll probably do soon. I’ll post according to inspiration, not what day of the week it is. I really do adore this space I’ve created and I still want to hang out here, hopefully with you, as it continues to evolve. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I recently signed up for daily writing prompts and I’ve been faithfully scribbling in my little notebook every day again. I carry it with me everywhere now, like a writer would. It feels phenomenal.

Do I share more of my writing with you here? Would you read it? I’m up in the air. I have some decisions to make. Not pressing ones, necessarily, just things I’m thinking over that I want to resolve for myself. And because so many of you have invested your time in following me, I feel I owe you the honest truth of where my head is at. I’m quite certain this is the longest post I’ve ever shared here. Are you even still reading it? Because this has been kind of ridiculous, I get it. You probably came here looking for a supper idea or something with chocolate in it (you are still in the right place, I assure you) and here I am spilling my guts. But I don’t regret it either. In fact, I feel incredible after writing so much.

I am a writer, after all.

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One thought on “A Ridiculously Long Post

  1. Tom Erwin says:

    This world needs honesty now more than ever. Honesty is often the hardest thing we can give as our internal fears can put pressure on us. I’m delighted to have read such heartfelt honest commentary….. Thank you for sharing.

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