Today is my blog’s birthday. It is one year old – and it would like jewelry or a high-end juicer as a gift.
I have been putting off even thinking about this particular entry because I knew it would be difficult to go reminiscing down Far-Too-Vivid Memory Lane. Still, like anything that’s birthed, I suppose a blog should be recognized, and – as it hasn’t left me with stretch marks – I have decided to celebrate it.
I wasn’t always a writer, but I was always a writer. Does that make sense? It only makes sense for me now. It’s taken a year for a lot of things to begin to make sense.
When I was in third grade, I had to write an essay: How To Make Life More Pleasant In Room 8. It won an award and the prize was that it got taped to the door of the classroom. For years, my father kept a copy of that essay and I have it now. I’m sorry to say that my penmanship in third grade is exactly the same as it is today – and I’m sorrier still that I recommended things like “always raise your hand before you speak,” because I grew up to be the kind of person who would sometimes rather do anything than ask for permission.
In school, writing was where I excelled. I entered contests for Young Playwrights and for a while there I wanted to be a poet. I still remember some of those high school poems by heart, but what I always had a miserable time with was titling my work. My titles were always awful; they were overwrought and rarely captured the tone of the piece it was meant to represent. Dialogue and fucking titles, I would think. Those are the two elements of writing I’ll never master.
I’d eventually learn how to do both. Turned out that dialogue became one of my real strengths. And with titles, I learned to keep it simple or to do a clever play on words. The title is always written after the piece; it has never once gone the other way for me. Maybe catalogued somewhere in my Top 20 Biggest Regrets is titling my first book Student. I had a reason for it, a good one. I was trying to reference that some people dream of being students for life and want to be students of life, but I seriously hate it now. The title blows, and I wish I’d figured out that it did three years ago.
Shitty title aside, publishing Student got me excited about writing again. The passion had slouched dormant for a bunch of years while I found myself consumed with other things, with other people. For a while, the only things I really wrote were college recommendation letters, emails, and text messages. And look: my emails and texts are pretty funny and well-constructed, but the scope? It’s limited.
The resurgence of my writing happened strangely – as I find the very best things often do. I should write a blog was the kind of thought that passed through my mind sometimes, but it was a faraway thought; nothing about it felt real. If I actually went ahead and did it, I wasn’t sure what my blog would even be about and more, I didn’t know if my thoughts would be seen as worthy to a large and random audience. It struck me as somehow arrogant to expect that they should, but one day something changed inside of me and this is exactly what I thought: so fucking what? I have opinions – and that I do doesn’t make me arrogant. And really, there are far worse qualities than arrogance. But once I’d sort of combatted the maybe-I-shouldn’t-do-this thing, out came the issue of actual site construction. I’m not really all that adept at technology, so saying that I would start a blog was like saying I was going to become a fairy princess.
Eventually a friend constructed the blog for me. It was a surprise and it was maybe the best present I’ve ever gotten and it was received out of the blue, like the best presents are. I can still remember opening that email, clicking on that link. Seeing it was surreal and beautiful. I loved the layout and the blurb about me – it was so weird reading a blurb about myself that someone else had written! – but the site, though fully constructed, still needed to be “launched” and I didn’t have the ability to do it myself because I hadn’t created the files. And it never got launched so eventually I went ahead and built a site myself.
I’d tell you it was easy, but that would be a total fucking lie.
Back when I thought the site would be ready to go with the flick of a keyboard stroke, I still found that I felt out of sorts about the whole thing. I tried to analyze the hell out of myself to figure out why going forward kind of made me want to scratch my skin right off, but I think now that I didn’t quite know the right question to ask myself to get to the beating heart of the matter. And it’s entirely possible that I could still be struggling with it all – though I kind of doubt it – had this question not been posed right to my face: “What are you afraid of?” It was a simple question, and its simplicity helped to make it the most direct and provocative question I’ve probably been asked in a decade. It was succinct – and there was an answer to it. I was afraid exposing myself to strangers. I was afraid of students stumbling upon my writing. I was afraid of running out of things to say. Some people cautioned me about not being too revealing because I’m a teacher, but I steadfastly decided to ignore that warning. It was not a fuck-you to my profession or to my district, but I have attended exhibitions where Art teachers I know present their own work and it’s not always G-rated and it doesn’t need to be as long as the event is not school-affiliated or promoted at school. The school should have nothing to say about it, and I refused to let that part of the equation define any part of who I was becoming as a writer. I’m actually very proud of myself for embracing that bravery; had I not – had I allowed one teacher reading something I posted and telling me, “You’re crazy to post this; you’re a teacher!” – the whole thing could have come crumbling down before the first story was even built. But the other concerns still kept me mildly paralyzed and I remained mentally motionless until that probing question was asked.
I had to decide that I wasn’t afraid of anything.
And then I had to make myself believe it.
Most of the time I was able to pull that courage off. Most of the time I didn’t even sweat doing it, and when I published That Year in December, the quote I used on the page before the story begins was one indicative of the very moment I learned to not let myself care:
I took month-long vacations in the stratosphere
And you know it’s really hard to hold your breath.
I swear I lost everything I ever loved or feared…
The final line of that quote from Growin’ Up illustrates the last year of my life. I lost so much. But I think I also gained more than I initially realized.
I officially launched the blog myself on April 2, 2014 with a piece about meeting River Phoenix when I was fourteen years old. I hadn’t thought much about that experience in a long time, but there was something about it – the ambition, the determination, the missteps that literally made me tumble down a full staircase in public – that made me think it would be a great tale to recount as my first step into this fucked up online world.
I either told people I had a blog by screaming at them, “I have a blog!” when we’d run into one another or by posting about it on Facebook. And hundreds of people visited my site on that first day! It was very exciting and I felt very proud, but the awkwardness I pretended to totally ignore followed quickly behind. Math teachers in my school started mentioning my own blog to me when I ran into them in a stairwell. They were complimentary, but I’d never quite know what to say except for “Thank you!” For the first time in my fucking life, I became bashful – and that was a completely unfamiliar feeling; even when I dressed up for Halloween as a slutty dwarf three years ago, I was Sleepy.
But once I started posting, I decided to try to publish at least three pieces a week. I’d write during my periods off or at night and I never stopped writing in my head. But I’d get frustrated – frightened almost – when I hadn’t posted in a few days. I’m quite aware that consistency is essential to keeping an audience and to honing my writing, but some days I just felt like I had nothing to say. Some days I had far too much to say and I didn’t know where to start, and I refused to force it because I find that when I push the writing for writing’s sake, the prose feels clunky because my thoughts are too scattered to flow. I’d try to fight through the block. I’d take a walk or I’d jump in the shower and I’d try to just relax and breathe and, when they finally came to me naturally, I’d jot ideas or lines or just words into my phone. It also turns out that I think of potential topics to write about while I’m doing sit-ups; I think it’s because I am desperate to think about anything except for my scorching stomach muscles.
So what has it been like, this past year as the writer of a blog? It’s been wonderful and illuminating and revealing and terrifying and insulting and defining and exhausting. Some days it has kept me sane. Some days it has driven me batshit crazy. It was a year where it snowed more than I ever remember it snowing and there were a lot of still, silent nights where everything in the world looked white and all I felt inside of myself was darkness and I would try to crank out just one more perfect sentence.
I found myself going to the beach and to painting class and to yoga and on dates and to Congressional fundraisers and to bars and I could never remove the knowledge that my life was the only real place I could draw ideas from because, besides my script, I don’t really write fiction. The constant awareness that “this moment could turn into a blog post!” inhibited me sometimes and it inhibited the people around me too. Without my saying anything, I’ve had people turn to me this year and ask if I was going to write about this. One person directly asked me not to write about this – to not even mention what “this” even was.
It became hard, though, to stay in the moment. There were times, like during a first kiss, when I’d find myself almost floating out of my body and looking down at the situation and figuring out how I’d eventually put my feelings into prose. It was not always fair, especially not to the guy who was a very good kisser. I became distracted at a time when I should have been simply very happy.
Then there was the unanticipated exposure of it all. I mean, sure – I understood that people would read my work, but I never thought about my parents as part of that population. It led to some bizarre moments:
“Realize that it’s just meant to be seen as a funny, snappy line,” I told my mother and my stepfather while we sat in a freezing tent last May waiting for my brother’s college graduation to begin. We were there and he was still driving over. It was very possible that he would miss his own graduation, which would have surprised absolutely nobody, and it would have also surprised nobody to see that we were two hours early and in the very first row. It was absolutely freezing that day, and since we had no kindling to build a bonfire to warm our hands by, my parents decided to spend the time reading my latest post, the one that began with a reference to me having no gag reflex and, well, that was a truly fucked up moment for me – and I’m guessing for them too.
But one thing I have to say for my parents: they never mind if I use them as writing fodder.
“I had to start the piece by exploring the time when I didn’t quite trust you or your intentions,” I told my stepfather over the phone after he read a post completely about him, “because it was necessary to illustrate how our relationship has grown.”
“Sweetheart,” he said warmly, “you never have to worry about what you write about me. I love you because you tell the truth.” And that kind of support helped me to soar.
I asked for permission before writing about people only twice this year. I sent the fully written piece to both people (they were different pieces written in different months, but I did the same thing with each guy) and asked him to read it before I posted it and to let him know that if he was in any way uncomfortable about it, I would not publish it – and I meant it. One read the piece about him and was very flattered; one texted me not to worry, that I should feel free to write about him. “Read it first before saying that, okay?” I asked, and then he did read it and he wrote me back to say that everything I’d written was true and to go ahead and post it. When I told my sister that story (she never went ahead and read the piece; she never does) she told me that she didn’t think I should have written it, that it was too personal.
I do know what crosses a line and what doesn’t. During this last long year, I straddled guys to feel something and took I painkillers to feel nothing. And I only wrote about some of it.
I met men who asked very early on to read the blog and my books. It was like getting the first full month of dating out of the way in one fell swoop, that getting-to-know-you time condensed into one Sunday afternoon when a guy sat on his bed and read a ton of entries about my life.
“You hardly ever use peoples’ names when you write about them,” one guy said to me very late one night. I couldn’t tell if he sounded relieved or suspicious. I wanted to tell him to go ahead and embrace the relief. But he’s right; I usually don’t use names. Part of it is pretending that I’m keeping things anonymous, but most of it is that I want it to feel relatable to somebody who is not me. Plus, I don’t want to cross the Exposure Line, something that exists solely in my own mind, but I can’t help but feel a real responsibility for writing that I’m tossing into the world and I think that’s a wise way to think and to behave. I tried to always play fair. I didn’t strike out against anyone, except for one anonymous psychopath. I decided I didn’t want to be the blogger version of Taylor Swift, in that I would destroy you in print if you fucked with my feelings.
It hasn’t been hard for me to tow that line. It would actually be hard for me not to tow that line.
Writing about myself so frequently allowed me to understand better what it is that I want, what it is that I care about, but it also kept me somewhat enclosed within myself. Certain days I would wonder if this blogging thing was counterproductive to achieving ultimate happiness. It feltcounterproductive. I cried sometimes while I wrote. It didn’t happen frequently, but when it did, those tears didn’t come from tear ducts; they felt different, like they flowed from someplace I usually kept far more hidden from the world. I’d found a forum to confront my fears about the passage of time and loss and family members and shifting relationships, but confronting those issues led to different fears. You know that expression “I felt it in the pit of my stomach”? Let’s just say that I have vacationed frequently in the pit of my stomach this past year.
Sometimes – usually while I was walking my dog, putting the leash onto her collar to keep her safe – I’d find myself saying out loud, “I’m okay.” I said it like I was answering an actual question somebody had just posed and that’s weird, but I take some solace in the fact that my answer to the phantom questioner was never, “I’m a fucking mess.” It’s an odd thing that never happened before I started writing this blog. I’m not fully sure that the two things are connected, but I think they must be.
But then there is the pure joy writing has brought me this year, and there has been a lot of it. Part of the whole process is that I have become reacquainted with people who go to my site, including some people who used to be my closest friends before time and circumstance shifted things. I got sweet feedback about one post from a girl who was a senior when I was a freshman in college, and I vividly remember getting dressed for Homecoming in her room at the sorority house when I was only seventeen years old. I’ve heard from camp friends I had when I was ten, and one girl posted about my Vanderpump Rules recaps, telling her friends to check them out. I was thrilled because people did go to my site after she wrote that without being solicited to do so, but more, she is themost hilarious Facebook friend I have and that she found me funny was a true compliment.
“My site visits have grown,” I told my ex-boyfriend Jim over text when he asked about how the writing was going. “It’s fucking weird.”
“Only half of those hits were from me,” he texted back. I knew he was kidding, but it hadn’t occurred to me that he’d gone to my site at all and it felt a little bit awkward that he was reading certain things.
And that awkwardness is just something I have to get over because it’s my problem, not his. I’m the one shoving things into the world to be read. I’m the one who has to remember that I can feel awkwardness, but I don’t have to feel it so much that it wards me away from doing something I love. And I do love writing – everything about it – when it’s good.
There are certain posts I really like and I go back and read them a lot. I love the one about Jeter’s last game (Two) and the posts about my brother (Smacked) and my stepfather (Jack). I really like the ones written about Tori Spelling’s bloody trainwreck of a reality show (Reality PurgaTORI and HisTORI Repeated). The writing is snarky – and it should be; have you seen that fucking show? – but I like the way the language flows. I’m proud of those. I was concerned that one post, Time, read as disjointed and bumpy, but I actually got lovely comments on it and when I read it now, I find myself impressed. I don’t completely remember writing it, and those are always the very best pieces because they stem from someplace fully organic – which is something I only recognize when something is clearly not organic.
But there are also pieces I have never gone back to read. I will not read about my mother having surgery (Waiting) because it makes me choke up still and I will not read about events that once felt happy that became completely compromised. But I will not delete posts either, no matter how conflicted I feel about the content or the writing because I see this year as an evolution, and holy shit, have I evolved. I went from being an exceedingly private person to sharing frequently and I reconciled it by knowing that I was controlling everything. I shared things in my own way and at my own pace and they were filtered through my own mind. Still, I’m not yet used to people knowing so much. I think I might always struggle with that part.
But while it felt strange exposing myself through writing, it also felt strange when some friends and family said nothing at all. I don’t think my sister has read anything I’ve written since last April and it hurts to think that she doesn’t care, but I guess it’s also a positive thing that she didn’t read the piece where I called her “a total asshole” twenty-three times.
I stand by it, though; she was acting like a total asshole.
I’ve been rendered stunned by the traffic my blog has begun to receive, and I’ve seen certain patterns form in terms of site visits. I’ve become shockingly addicted to statistics. Obviously, on the days I post something, my site visits go up. But then they also spike at random times, like on Christmas Eve and on Saturday nights. Recently I checked my stats and I almost fell over; I’d reached 850 site visits two days in a row. “This has to be a mistake,” I mumbled out loud, and convinced that it was, I emailed the support team and asked what had gone wrong and when the accurate statistics would be available. “Nothing’s wrong,” wrote the stranger. “Your site really got that many visits.” I wish I could tell you that I was simply thrilled – and I was thrilled because that’s a very exciting thing – but I also felt nervous somehow, like a gauntlet had been thrown, even though I basically threw that fucking gauntlet myself and I could probably go pick it up and hide it before anybody found out.
Early on, I wrote a piece about Cat Marnell, the former xoJane Health and Beauty Editor who basically got fired for being a drug addict. I love Marnell’s writing and I sent her the piece I wrote and she tweeted out a link. My readership skyrocketed that day and I was able to see the power of Twitter firsthand. Plus, I was so excited that someone whose work I admired liked my work too and that she had written me back so quickly after I sent her the piece in the first place.
“Next time I’m writing a piece about George Clooney,” I remember saying to someone with a laugh.
I have started to develop a real and loyal following because of my reality show recaps, and I was able to leverage that in order to also post on another blogger’s very-heavily-trafficked site. I did it as a way to reach a broader audience, but I made sure that I could still post the work on my own blog too. I have found that there is an avid audience out there for glossy, very-edited television content – and I have also found that everyone who is either conscious or typically sober believes that Brandi Glanville from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills must be contained like the Ebola virus. But silliness aside, I found myself this winter having two deadlines a week for the other site’s recaps – which usually ran to about fourteen pages per recap – and there were nights I felt the pressure. I wanted the work to be witty, and I did not want to ever write a this-happened-and-then-this-happened recap. I wanted to infuse my recaps with a running commentary that combines the knowledge I have about media and production and for them to be peppered with my interests in psychology and a zeitgeist that often terrifies me. I’m tremendously proud of those recaps. I worked really hard on them, sometimes spending twenty minutes tweaking one sentence so it would eventually read like I wanted it to. Still, there is something utterly ridiculous about watching The Real Housewives or Vanderpump Rules with a computer in my lap so I can take notes. I take notes! And when I once told a guy that I couldn’t hang out because I was on a deadline but that he could come over and watch the show as long as he stayed perfectly quiet, he laughed at me.
When I told him I’d take notes while topless he stopped laughing.
Because of how frequently I’ve written this year, I got to realize some very random things I do when I write. Turns out that when I write dialogue, I actually move my lips as though I am performing the words. I thought it a funny quirk the first time I noticed I was doing it, and I suppose that it is, but it reads as a whole lot more than strange when I’m in public and I appear to be having an conversation with my very own imaginary friend. I also kind of nod my head as I read things back while I’m in the editing stage, and I am not kidding when I tell you that I wonder if that’s why I’ve been getting headaches lately.
What I realized this year is how much passion I have for writing. I am truly at my absolutely happiest when I love something I have just written – or when I’m eating close to nothing. One of those things is probably not particularly healthy.
Maybe I’ll write about it.
I didn’t start this blog as anything other than a creative experiment and outlet, but it’s turned out to be good promotion for my books. I finally figured out how to sell my books on my blog (it would probably take a normal person five minutes to figure it out. It took me three days.) and someone bought both books from New Zealand. How did someone find me in New Zealand? And why had I never considered how much it would cost to ship things there? Still, it was an odd and beautiful experience, I’m grateful for that person’s support, and I hope she liked the books.
Over the course of this year, I have embraced the truth: I want to be a full-fledged-earn-a-living-as-a-writer writer. I started to think a little bit like a businessperson – or, more accurately, a businessperson who had either flunked out of Wharton or changed her major to Underwater Basket Weaving because the Math part of the program was just too hard – but I began to think in terms of things like contacts and publicity. It made me feel like an asshole sometimes. I’d meet someone and then turn the conversation towards a project I was working on. It made me feel manipulative, but I tried to remember that I would help someone if I could – especially if I could really believe in what that person was doing – so maybe what I was doing in this new arena wasn’t all that horrible. Still, it felt strange at first; sometimes it still does.
I have to keep my courage and my desire to grow my audience in the front of my mind, regardless of the insecurities or the shadows that sometimes fall over me and it’s been a constant learning process. It has challenged me every single day. At a recent event to celebrate writers, I was asked to read something, maybe a few pages from That Year. I hadn’t been expecting to be asked to read. I didn’t even have a copy of the book with me, but I have the manuscript on my phone.
“I don’t know,” I told the person who asked, “I’m not sure I can find a part that’s not so personal and I don’t really feel like going there,” but I figured I’d try and I swiped open the book. Here’s the thing: if you wanted me to read from my first book, all you would have to do is say the first few words of one of the sentences in the book and I would instantly know what part of the story you were talking about. I know the placement of every single comma in that one. But since it was published, I have never once gone back to read That Year, even though I think it’s a far superior book to Student. So when I found myself looking at the pages of the story out of nowhere, it kind of overwhelmed me and I decided to read one of my blog pieces instead. I read one about my father (Show A Little Faith, There’s Magic In the Night) and my voice shook a tiny bit. I read directly from the blog app on my phone and my Cookie Monster iPhone case faced the crowd. I received beautiful responses, especially from the people who mentioned how my words captured a loss they had experienced and that felt very meaningful to me. I think that we all seek to connect. I just didn’t know that, for me, it would take the form of a blog.
Someone I recently met asked me what I did as we both drank a glass of red wine.
I write and I teach was my response.
What do you write? he asked, and he raised his eyebrows at me when he said it.
I wrote two books, I have a blog that gets good traffic and I wrote a pilot script, I answered, and all of a sudden it didn’t strike me that saying I was a writer made me full of shit. I’m a fucking writer and this blog might very well have served as the map that allowed me to truly find myself. The journey has not been easy. It has not been relaxing. I often didn’t want any form of a souvenir from the places I have traveled and maybe if I knew how to read a map things would have gone more smoothly, but when I take a good look at what I have chosen to explore over this past year, at least I can say this: I pack light and I’m willing to explore the dark places.