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Five years ago today, I published this blog’s first post.

Five years. FIVE YEARS.

And this is my 516th post. Can you imagine? I have sat here typing like this 515 times before this time.

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Let’s think about this blog for a minute. Why do I do it? Why have I sat down every Monday and Wednesday for the past five years of my life and written a post?

It’s not a wildly successful blog, after all. I don’t get thousands upon thousands of hits. This is no Whatever, no Bloggess, no MarkManson.com. I don’t get nominated for awards for my work here. Sometimes I write what I believe to be an important post, and it sinks to the bottom of the pond without leaving a single visible ripple in its wake.

I make no money from the blog. I don’t run ads that give me a kick-back. I don’t participate in marketing schemes. I don’t even have an affiliate Amazon link.

And yet. Five years. For five years I have shown up.

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The blog is not always easy on a personal level either.

Occasionally, people believe it is okay to discuss personal and private issues they have with me in the public comments section of a public blog. (Note: This is not okay.)

Occasionally, I use an anecdote to help illustrate my point, and people I care about get worried they might have inadvertently hurt my feelings. (Note: I probably wouldn’t have chosen that anecdote were that the case.)

Occasionally, people in my personal life read a post of mine and think I am talking about them when I am not. Or they think I am talking specifically TO them, and I am not. Or they make a personal choice I may or may not agree with, and say, well, I did it because of what you said on your blog. And I look down at my open hands, and I think, I don’t want that kind of power. I want to make you think, yes, but then the decision is yours.

Occasionally, people misunderstand me. Sometimes this is because of projection. Sometimes this is because I didn’t do a very good job writing my post. Sometimes it is both.

Sometimes I don’t know where the line is. I don’t know what to write about and what not to write about. I don’t know what to tell you and what not to tell you. Sometimes this confusion ends up leaving you confused too.

Five years.

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So then, why? Why am I sitting here struggling over these sentences?

Part of it is that I believe in creating for creating’s sake, and art for art’s sake.

But perhaps more of it is because I believe in my One Reader.

My One Reader reads my post and has an Aha! moment.

My One Reader reads my post and feels less alone.

My One Reader reads my post and decides to go on fighting another day.

My One Reader reads my post and loves herself a little bit more than she did before.

My One Reader reads my post and thinks about something in a new way.

My One Reader reads my post and feels a little lighter.

My One Reader reads my post and thinks, I thought that was just me! And a little bit of the guilt or shame or self-disparagement dissipates.

My One Reader reads my post and later on when he is lost, he remembers it and he comes back and reads it again, and it is a small light in what might have otherwise been complete darkness.

My One Reader gets a kick out of seeing yet another Nala photo.

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My One Reader reads my post and a connection is created, and maybe we see each other a little more than we did before.

I don’t know who my One Reader is on any given day. But I believe he or she is out there. And I believe he or she matters.

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Five years. Here’s to you, One Reader. And here’s to the Practical Free Spirit.

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I get asked this question all the time: What is your blog about? Inevitably I flail about, stringing words into somewhat coherent sentences that may or may not have any actual meaning. Sometimes if I’m standing next to someone else who I know has read my blog, I ask them to answer the question instead. It is ultimately more entertaining to watch them flail about trying to explain my blog than it is to do it myself.

I know, I know, I’m terrible (or possibly simply hilarious). But really I keep hoping someone will have a good answer and I will learn something. This has, however, only happened one time, and then I promptly forgot the answer. I tried to get him to repeat it, but somehow it didn’t sound as good the second time, so I think he might have forgotten it too.

But given how much time and effort I give to this blog, it is high time I do my best to answer this question.

During my senior year of high school, a new class was offered by the Senior Honors English teacher Mr. Skinner. It was called Ways of Knowing, and it was an advanced class about philosophy. I didn’t take this class. I’d heard stories of how difficult a teacher Mr. Skinner was, and due to a turbulent home life, I’d barely gotten through my junior year of high school. In fact, I’d ended the year hospitalized for pneumonia. So I was past the point of caring about the philosophy class all the other smart kids were taking. I did, however, hear a lot about it during fourth period independent study AP French Literature, during which my two fellow students were always doing their Ways of Knowing homework while I…read French literature.

When I think about what my blog is about, I often think about this Ways of Knowing class. I wouldn’t say this blog is about ways of knowing. But I would say this blog is about Ways of Living. And these two ideas are linked in my mind.

Nala's Way of Living

Nala’s Way of Living

It has been the work of my life thus far to study and consider Ways of Living, and the roots of this driving interest go back to that time in high school, and even further back. Knowing things is all very well and good, and I was always a curious student, but what I most wanted to know, surrounded by misery as I felt myself to be at that time, was how to live. How to be happy. How to be fulfilled. How to be an artist. And in a world that didn’t seem to value art. How to create connection even though circumstances had left me completely isolated. How to deal with emotions that arose from extreme situations beyond my control. How to deal with that lack of control. How to create meaning, to live it, in a chaotic world.

This is what I write about.

As I got older, I added some interests. How social structures contribute (and sometimes detract from) ways of living. How personal identity plays into both larger structures and personal interactions. The intersections between technology and society and how we live or can potentially choose to live in the future. The question of expression. How the past, and memory, coalesce into identity and how to work with that. The lessons of narrative. How to initiate (and survive) transformation.

This is what I write about.

And always people. When I escaped to college, I began asking questions. So many questions. Here are things I always want to know: Are you happy? Why or why not? What are you afraid of? What gives you joy? Who and what do you care about? What are you looking for? How do you create your own personal meaning? How do you deal with suffering? What do you say you want, and how is that related to what you actually want? How are you connected with the outside world? Who are your friends, your families, your communities, and what do these relationships look like? What did you used to wish you would be doing as an adult, and how do you feel about that now? What is your relationship to work? What is your relationship to the past? How do you see the world? Who do you think you are?

This is what I think about. This is what I write about.

Ways of living. Yes.

This is what I want to know.

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I just looked at all the posts I published here on the blog in 2014. I didn’t actually read them all because a.) I don’t have that kind of time today, and b.) I can usually remember the jist of them from the headline anyway. And I also took a look at a list of viewer stats. And using all of this information, I’ve compiled a list of noteworthy posts from last year.

Some of the posts I chose were popular with you, the readers. Some of them are ones I feel are important. I’m including several posts about grief that I wrote in the wake of Jay’s death in June because I hope they might be helpful for other people in the future.

You might also notice that I’ve finally updated my photo here on the blog. I hadn’t changed it since I started the blog back in 2010, so I figured it was time!

Without further ado, here are the 14 Greatest Hits of 2014:

GISHWHES, Harassment, and Ask vs. Guess Culture

Thoughts on Being Professional

On Entitlement and the Friend Zone

A Woman of a Certain Age

If Not Me, Who?

Why I Love Selfies

Where is Our Compassion?

Hope as Fuel

On Filters and Walking Away

Remember the Stars

 

Posts about Death and Grief:

There Will Never Be Enough Time

Here Lies My Grief

The Beauty Remains

Grief Does Not Fit Into Small Boxes

 

Thank you for joining me for another year at The Practical Free Spirit. I’m looking forward to finding out where we’ll go next!

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Blog Retrospective 2013

I’ve been looking over the last year of posts on the Practical Free Spirit. It’s always very satisfying to do this, looking at all the essays I’ve managed to write and post in the course of the year. Especially during a year like this one, when I did not accomplish all I wanted to, writing-wise, it’s helpful to look at what I did accomplish.

I chose THIRTEEN of my favorite essays that I wrote this year. Which I guess since we’re talking about the year 2013 is at least somewhat appropriate. These are what I consider to be the year’s greatest hits. So if you are a regular here at the blog, you might remember some of these or even be re-inspired by them. And if you’re new-ish to the blog, this list is probably a decent place to start.

I Don’t Care if You Understand Me

If Boys Really Won’t Read Books About Girls, We Have a Problem

On Trolls and Obscurity and Making Art

How to Start Over

We Need to do Better when Dealing with Death

Remember Who You Are

I am not Sorry

Commitment Leads to Awesome

How to Overcome Fear

If you have a lot of secrets, this blog post could save your life.

The Best Life Advice I’ve Ever Heard

Taking time off from social media is actually no big deal.

Failure is the New Black

 

Hope you enjoy! I’ll be back next week to talk more generally about the year that is ending and to share what I’m focusing on for 2014.

 

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I read Terri Windling’s delightful essay on blogging recently, and I love a metaphor she used so much, I have to share:

“Here’s what blogging is to me: It’s a modern form of the old Victorian custom of being “At Home” to visitors on a certain day of the week…And each Comment posted is a calling card left behind by those who have crossed my doorstep.”

I doubt it will surprise anyone that I have long been a huge fan of Jane Austen’s work. I started out by reading Victoria Holt gothics in my early adolescence, and then moved on to Austen and the Brontes. I’ve read some Georgette Heyer in my time as well. As a teenager, I used to comb the fiction section of my local library, searching for likely candidates for more historical fiction in this flavor. Or about King Arthur, or the Robin Hood myths, or Elizabeth I, or Eleanor of Aquitaine. But Austen is my very favorite, and perhaps why this metaphor resonates so much for me.

Social media is so pervasive now, and I struggle to be entirely consistent. Sometimes I have more time to spend on Twitter, sometimes I’m reading more on Facebook, sometimes I post more and sometimes less.

But the blog is something different. The idea of each blog post as an invitation to all of you that I am At Home is deeply appealing. Here, I am the hostess; I set the topic and tone for the conversation, and I can moderate it at will. It is a chance for me to create a certain kind of intimacy as I allow you into my virtual home.

Photo Credit: Photomatt28 via Compfight cc

I also really like Ms. Windling’s point that the internet, and having a blog in particular, gives us a tool for creating boundaries. I get to set the rules for when I’m At Home–right now I’m At Home on Tuesdays and Thursdays– and what rules are to be followed when In My Home. I choose what topics are discussed in My Home and which ones are off-limits. When I don’t have the time or bandwidth to engage as often on the social networks, I can rest easy knowing I still have my At Home Days, a time and place where I can easily be found.

Sometimes when I think about the Internet and what it has made possible, I can’t help feeling I live in an Age of Wonders. I value my online community so much; all of you collectively add much dynamism to my intellectual life and much richness to the life of my heart.

Thank you for visiting. I hope you enjoyed the tea and biscuits, and I hope you’ll come again sometime soon.

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It didn’t occur to me when I started this blog three years ago (THREE YEARS, WOO!) that every year, I’d have two posts back to back about birthdays. I was newly returned home after attending the Taos Toolbox writers’ workshop, and I was rearing to start this new project I had in mind: a blog called the Practical Free Spirit, about…well, I wasn’t really sure what it would be about. Mostly I was sure that I was excited to give it a try.

Since that time, I have written three hundred twenty-three posts. This one you’re reading right now is number three hundred twenty-four. If you multiply that number by ten, you’ll have some idea of how many comments have gone through this site. (Arithmetic! It is surprisingly fun!)

What did I do on my blog's birthday? I went to a fancy tea!

What did I do on my blog’s birthday? I went to a fancy tea! (Technically it was to celebrate MY birthday, but I won’t tell the blog if you won’t.)

I have written about a variety of subjects, many of which I never would have guessed I’d ever write about when I started the blog. I’ve written about things I didn’t want to write about, and I haven’t written about things I did want to write about. I’ve tried to strike a balance that is personal but not too personal, which, as it turns out, requires a fair amount of skill. I’ve also tried to keep things mixed up enough to stay interesting. (I’ve succeeded in keeping myself interested, in any case, which is critical for this blog continuing to exist, so I’m going to call that a win.)

This blog has thoroughly woven itself into the rhythms of my days. If it’s a Monday or a Wednesday, I’m writing an essay. If it’s a Tuesday or Thursday, I’m telling you all that I wrote it. If it’s a Friday, I’m wondering what in the world I’m going to write about next week. And then I start the process over again.

Anyone who reads this blog eventually learns how much I love it. That love has changed over the years, but it hasn’t faded. Sometimes it is a difficult love: when I don’t know what to write about, or when I’m feeling pressed for time, or when I don’t express myself as well as I hoped I would. And sometimes it is a dazzling love: when I get feedback by comment or email or conversation that something I said resonated or helped somebody, when I get to talk about subjects I think are very important, when I get to create art.

Thank you for coming along for the ride. I can’t wait to see what the blog has in store for us in the next year.

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Here is a beautiful thing.

In the midst of stress, there is connection. In the midst of sorrow, there is laughter. In the midst of fatigue, there is anticipation. In the midst of loss, there is appreciation. In the midst of chaos, there is the act of kindness that matters because of its mere existence.

In articles about dealing with stress, the idea of gratitude is repeated over and over again. Whether or not it is an active strategy, I find that gratitude and its cousin appreciation bubble up so easily these days. Perhaps because I need more help I have more to be grateful for. Or perhaps the contrast makes my appreciation keener. Or maybe I’m always this way and I just don’t usually pay as much attention. It is hard to know.

I stood in the grass at Shoreline Amphitheatre this weekend, my vest zipped up against the cool evening air. I watched Passion Pit play their song “Take a Walk,” and I was so happy to be there. I watched a friend of mine win the Andre Norton Award on Saturday night, and in the middle of tearing up, I was so happy to be there. I ate a late evening snack at my favorite local crepe place with a group of friends old and new, and I was so happy to be there.

My Taos buddies and I at the Nebulas this weekend. Photo by Valerie Schoen.

My Taos buddies and I at the Nebulas this weekend. Photo by Valerie Schoen.

A friend told me this weekend about a friend of hers who read my blog post about stress last week. Apparently it had a big impact, being the right post at the right time for this friend, who has been going through a lot herself recently, but she was embarrassed to write and tell me. I laughed and said, “I was embarrassed to write that post too.” I am so happy I decided to write something that mattered to someone.

I am so happy that so many of you have reached out to offer support and tell me it’s totally fine to spend some time staring at trees. And I completely agree. Staring at trees can be pretty great. So can eating pie and reading fluffy novels and petting little dogs and wearing a fantastic dress.

I am so happy to be here right now.

I am always looking for reasons to be happy, and I found so many of them this weekend. And perhaps that’s what I feel the most grateful for: my ability to find those reasons, and your willingness to create those reasons with me.

Thank you.

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