Saturday will be the three-month anniversary of this blog. With this post, I creep above 40,000 words written in this space during that time, over the span of more than 60 posts. I am also bumping up against 4,000 views since launch. Sounds great, right? Well, believe it or not, I am somewhat ambivalent about this accomplishment.
When I wrote the About page for this blog, I paused when thinking of how to describe what exactly I was trying to do here. I ended up using the vague term “personal writing project,” which may look like it means nothing, but it actually means a lot of things.
I have a Livejournal that I’ve kept for seven or so years (it’s easy to find but impossible to read, muahahaha). My activity there had dwindled over the past year or so, probably owing to Facebook and Twitter and a host of other distractions, including writing features for the Boston Phoenix. Back in February, I decided to port my Twitter updates over to LJ, and the reaction was vehemently negative. LJ should be for LJ, the prevailing sentiment declared. Leave Twitter over there.
About a week later, I wrote a thoughtful post about appreciating my non-hip neighborhood in Somerville (which I republished here by request, since it’s friends-locked now on LJ) and got a lot of positive feedback, summed up by my friend Joey who said, “That was a very nice tale and a reason why you shouldn’t give up on LJ.”
The next day, someone anonymously gifted me with 12 months of paid LJ account time. This is a $20-some investment, no small shakes. I still don’t know who it was, but I owe them big time. It jolted me into realizing that This Was Important.
That whole chain of events came during a relatively crappy time, when things on all fronts of my life were at varying stages of chaos, panic or transition. The Twitter Backlash of ought-nine reminded me about the one thing in life I have to hold onto no matter what: writing. Nothing can take that away. I’m good at it, and people like reading what I write. And I should give myself the space to let it happen — on a personal level moreso than freelance. For my own sake, if nothing else.
But, as I began recommitting to my personal writing, there were other factors in play, as well. Mainly, there was the developing story of my family — both my most recently acquired family in England and the family I am gradually rediscovering here in the states, families that my brother and I have been getting to know in one way or another over the past seven years, since we started getting to know each other. Our upcoming trip to Florida and West Virginia is another chapter in that story. I’ve known for a long time that I was going to need to write this story, to try to figure out what it all means and share it. I realized in April, after returning from my most recent trip to England, that it was time to get serious about this. But to get serious, I needed to find time in my life to commit to writing, and I needed a mechanism for holding me accountable.
That’s when I decided to start a blog. I wanted to keep LJ as a space for more personal musings among friends. The purposes of this blog were to get me back in the practice of personal essay writing; to get me used to writing about my life in a public platform; to try out ideas and share snippets and vignettes from this broader writing endeavor.
For a long time, a quote by Anne Lamott that I had cut out of the newspaper was taped to my computer monitor: “You just sit down and write everyday for three or four hours. You do it like piano scales until you have a story to tell.” Well, I didn’t have three or four hours a day, but I did realize I needed to make time in my life in order to make this goal a reality. So, I start setting my alarm 45 minutes earlier each morning, giving myself just two options: write or run. This has worked out remarkably well. Most of my blogging gets done in the mornings before work. (And sometimes, I actually run!)
As far as the piano scales part goes, some of my blog entries have been about my family (the ones self-importantly tagged “The Project”), but I’ve also written about the Boston Globe, music, various things in Somerville and topics ranging from relationships to swine flu to the merits of iTunes vs. Amazon MP3. I am of two minds about this. In one regard, any writing is worthwhile writing — any writing is writing I wasn’t doing before. But in another sense, am I getting distracted from what I should be writing about? As I look at the numbers with which I led off this post — particularly the 40,000 words one — I can’t help but think, did I spent 40,000 words writing about the union woes at the Globe when I could have been working on The Project?
Maybe there is no “should” or “could.” Maybe there is only “write.” After all, you can’t write your symphonies unless you do your major scales, or something. (There’s a reason I quit piano lessons.) These 40,000 words would not have been written had I not started this blog, and without them I would not have gleaned the lessons I have about presenting a well-reasoned argument; writing with purpose and not for the sake of filling space; not being afraid of putting personal information and reflection out into the public sphere; diligence and discipline that, surprisingly, are needed even to do something you love and need to do to survive.
That said, I know I have a large task ahead of me, and I won’t lie and say it’s not scary. It’s scary, alright. It’s not only a test of my abilities, but of my fortitude in confronting a life — the parts of it both known and unknown — and trying to make sense of it. Skeletons, closets, etc. But there’s no turning back now.
I recently taped another quote to my wall, this time by Michael Chabon:
“It seems kind of magical and mysterious,” he says, but in the end, writing is a job.
“You sit down in your chair and you put in the time until you get 500 words or 1,000 words or whatever your personal target is. … It’s a habit and it’s an occupation. Inspiration really plays a minor role.”
This quote may seem kind of deflating, but it actually helps me. I don’t want writing to be magical and mysterious. I have a goal. I have things I need to do. And I need to sit in this chair and do them.
Here’s hoping that the next 40,000 words of this blog bring me closer to telling the story I need to tell. I may still write about the Globe or my latest musical obsessions, but I know I need to focus more on the bigger goal. So I’ll keep on trucking. Note by note, word by word. Until the story is told.