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When I first started blogging seriously back in 2010, I read so many blogs. I wanted to see what other people were doing, and I wanted to get ideas of what to talk about, and I followed lots of blogs from which I read almost all the entries.

Then at some point I stopped. I can’t remember if it was early this year, or sometime last year, but I do remember I was falling behind and I decided to take a break to catch up with life. And then I found I wasn’t missing most of the blogs I read, so I never came back to my blog reading in the same way.

Nala also doesn't read many blog posts. But she does have incredibly fluffy paws!

Nala also doesn’t read many blog posts. But she does have incredibly fluffy paws!

I still read a few blogs regularly. I read my friend Rahul’s blog because he is always making interesting observations and giving great book recommendations. I read my friend Ferrett’s blog because he is always doing strange things and giving great insight on social interactions. I read Theodora Goss’s blog because I feel like she’s teaching me how to lead a modern fairy tale life. I read Captain Awkward because I went so long wishing for an advice column that actually gave healthy advice and now I have one and it is so interesting and sometimes applicable to my life.  I read Nick Mamatas’s blog because he’s such an iconoclast online and that is fascinating to me. (Also, iconoclast was my new vocabulary word last week! I would probably pronounce it wrong if I tried to say it out loud.) I read Stina Leicht’s Feminist Mondays because she compiles a great list of links and backs them up with relevant commentary.

Other than that, I check in on an economics blog a few times a week, and I click on posts that people share with me on Twitter and Facebook. I’m more likely to click on said links if they’re for essays by Kameron Hurley and Robert Jackson Bennett or if they’re on io9 or if they’re shared by Mary Anne Mohanraj or Juliette Wade, but I end up clicking on all kinds of stuff.

I stopped reading some blogs because they got repetitive. I stopped reading other blogs because it was obvious the blogger was pretty messed up, which was compelling at first but then eventually mostly made me feel tired. I stopped reading most writing advice because most of it I either already knew or had nothing to do with me. I cut back on book blog reading because I’m so far behind on my to-read list (although I am hoping to catch some of the Book Smuggler’s Smugglivus this month because I do love year-end lists and reflections, what Rahul calls wrap-up season).

I still hear writers saying that they should really start their own blogs, but now I tend to respond, “Well, if you think you’ll like it.” Because it’s becoming more and more clear to me that blogs are driven by having a unique voice, just as much good fiction is. But I don’t think having a unique voice for one of those things necessarily means you’ll have it for the other. I mean, there might be some correlation, I don’t know. What I do know is that the short essay, suitable for most blogs, is its own form and as such, requires study and practice. So if you aren’t compelled to write it, I don’t know that there’s a strong argument for doing so anyway.

As we all know, I am compelled to write in this form, and all of this does beg the question of my own blogging. “What if I’m getting boring?” I wailed to my friend this weekend. He obligingly told me I wasn’t getting boring, thus proving his awesome quality of friend supportiveness, but it’s a question that is always in the back of my mind. That being said, none of the blogs I’ve stopped reading seem to be in any jeopardy, so I suppose the answer is that readers cycle in and they cycle out, and that’s as it should be.

I don’t miss the blogs I no longer read, but I do on the whole still enjoy blogs with a strong sense of voice. Perhaps I’ll stumble across some different ones that will enchant me all over again.

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Yes, I have now had the equivalent of a college education in blogging. I am taking a moment to bask in my sense of accomplishment.

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Basking achieved!

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I’ve been spending more time than usual over the past few months thinking about the future of this blog. Should I continue to post like clockwork two days a week? Should I experiment with length? With topics? With styles? What about Tumblr? Should I even continue to write the blog at all?

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My very first post on this blog was “Originality: Having Something to Say.” I spent some time last week muttering to myself: “What do I have to say? WHAT DO I HAVE TO SAY?” (Okay, that last wasn’t so much a mutter as an emphatic question.)

I think it’s important to periodically reflect on that question, as a blogger and also as an artist. Even if the answer is sometimes, “I have no idea.”

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I have heard the observation that blogging is inherently narcissistic, I suppose because it requires the belief that what you have to say matters. I’d argue that if you don’t value what you yourself have to say, it is perhaps not about narcissism as much as it is about a lack of self-esteem or self-confidence.

That is not to say blogging is for everyone. It really isn’t. Perhaps you don’t have a lot to say, and that’s fine. Perhaps you don’t want to post what you have to say publicly, and that’s fine. Perhaps you’d rather say what you have to say through fiction, or through visual art, or through film-making, or through Toastmasters, or through running for local office. Perhaps you want to keep your thoughts for yourself and yourself alone.

All fine, and none of it is automatically narcissistic. Since when did having something to say become equated with narcissism? Are we all just supposed to sit around in a state of complete apathy?

No, thanks.

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In a recent post, Penelope Trunk wrote: “Because he’s a good blogger, Noa blogs as he learns….” And a lightbulb lit up for me.

Because this is what I strive to do. I blog as I learn. That’s why I never run out of things to say: because I am always learning, and I’m always thinking about what I’m learning. Sometimes you, my readers, help me along the way with your insights and experiences. And then I get to learn even more.

Thank you for taking this journey with me, dear readers. I don’t know exactly what form this blog will take in the future, but I can’t wait to find out what we’re going to learn in year 5.

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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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I’d been wanting to write that post on forgiveness I published last week for a long time. But I kept punting it for other ideas because I was afraid to write about it. I was convinced the ENTIRE WORLD would disagree with me and be horribly upset that I didn’t think of forgiveness as something that can be forced, and somehow this would be an awful thing for me.

The longer I write for this blog, though, the more I realize that really, the world doesn’t care. Most people will never read my essay on forgiveness. And most of the people who did read my essay recognized something in it that resonated with them. So when I think the entire world will disagree, that is some bizarre thought process I am better off ignoring.

My friend Ferrett wrote some excellent blogging advice, where one of his main points was: “No, Seriously. Haters Are Going to Hate.” As a blogger or someone who is interested in maintaining a public example, this will inevitably be an issue at some point. Ferrett says that once you become sufficiently popular, there will always be people who hate you, and he’s completely right. It is amazingly hard to be sufficiently wishy washy to keep everyone happy. I don’t even know if it’s possible, although I suspect it isn’t. There will always be people out there disagreeing loudly, people looking for an argument, or people wanting to tear other people down.

Photo Credit: HeyThereSpaceman. via Compfight cc

For example, it is always amazing to me how angry people have gotten over my essay about intelligent women. They are upset because they don’t think women can possibly be as intelligent as men (seriously, what century are we living in?) or because they don’t think smart women ever encounter anything I mention so therefore I must be old and bitter (because only old and bitter people can engage with ideas about sexism?) or because of course all intelligent people must make loads of money because that’s the way intelligence should be measured in our society (I guess most artists and academics are just pretty stupid since they don’t prioritize making large amounts of money). But what is more interesting to me than the actual arguments is the amount of anger expressed because there are different opinions in the world. Opinions, it seems, can be very scary things.

But as strange as it seems to me that people can get so worked up over my six hundred word essays, this doesn’t change the fact that the world is largely indifferent. And in fact, as a writer, if my words cause anyone to feel angry or scared or hopeful or inspired or any emotion at all, then that means I’ve done my job. In the grand scheme of things, obscurity is more an artist’s enemy than controversy, however safe the obscurity might feel and however challenging the controversy might be. (And of course, how challenging the controversy feels will vary wildly from person to person.)

I think part of becoming an artist is learning to be comfortable with controversy. Not because it is bound to be necessary, but because part of an artist’s job is to express their perception of the truth. And if you are afraid of what the world is going to think about your truth, then maybe you won’t dig as deep as you can and maybe you won’t take the risks you need to take and maybe you’ll choose the easy way instead of the raw way. Creating art is a commitment to your own vision of reality.

So I wrote that essay on forgiveness anyway, even though it scared me. I was scared to write The Academy of Forgetting. I’m about to start a new novel, and even though I’m excited about it, I occasionally feel sudden spasms of anxiety when I think about sitting down and typing “Chapter 1.” I feel a tightness in my stomach and a sudden strong desire to do anything else.

But I’m glad I feel the fear. It’s like a compass, letting me know I’m going the right direction. It means I’m not taking the easy way. It means I’m challenging myself, and my writing is better because of it.

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Blog Retrospective 2012

It’s been another good year here at the Practical Free Spirit. I haven’t run out of things to talk about yet, which is certainly encouraging. The site views have more than doubled from last year, and December of 2012 was the second highest traffic month in the blog’s history. The first was April of 2012, when people got very excited that I was talking about intelligent women (or intelligence at all, for that matter, because as it turns out, intelligence is a complicated and highly nuanced concept to talk about, not least because of the difficulty in defining it).

If you’ve been reading me for any length of time at all, you probably know how much I love writing for this blog. That hasn’t changed. I continue to learn so much from doing this: my writing continues to improve, my understanding grows from having to organize my thoughts into blog post form, and you, my readers, often respond in ways that cause me to think more deeply. Writing a blog is one way to allow my voice to be heard, and it’s certainly a way that works well for me.

Most Popular Posts of 2012:

I’m really pleased to see that the five top posts of 2012 are all posts that are among my personal favorites as well. The topics: feminism, intelligence, being an artist, and personal growth.

A Highly Intelligent Woman Speaks Out

Combine two controversial topics–intelligence and gender perceptions–and watch the fireworks!

Not All Highly Intelligent People are Arrogant Pricks

I love this blog title almost as much as I love exploding some myths about intelligence.

What does it mean to be an artist?

This is a question that is, not surprisingly, of deep and ongoing interest to me. I’m thrilled that other people find it interesting too.

Strong Female Characters Can Still Screw Up, Get Upset, and Cry

I talk about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, feminism, and ideas about what a strong female character really is.

Nice vs. Kind

In a quest to leave people pleasing behind, I discuss the differences between being nice and being kind.

Other Personal Favorites:

Assertiveness: an Intermediate Guide

I use this post for my own personal reference, that’s how helpful I think it is.

The People Who are No Longer Here

I almost feel like this post is a prose poem.

I Know It When I See It: YA Voice

This is a writing post that I’d been meaning to write for a long time.

How To Be Resilient

Resilience was one of my favorite topics of the year.

Let’s Kick Self Loathing Where It Hurts

I love the comment section of this post, in which I encouraged all of you to brag.

Happy New Year! I’m looking forward to another year of discussing interesting topics with you.

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I believe in paying attention to the small scale.

Mind you, I have nothing against big dreams and lofty goals. You want to revolutionize modern transportation? Please do. You want to become a regular on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera? Fantastic. You want to write the next big novel, or design the next big advance in computing, or find new treatments for cancer? I’ll be cheering you on.

You want to save the world? Well, sometimes aiming high gives you the room you need to accomplish something great.

But whether we have great ambitions or not, who we are, how we behave, what we communicate, and the choices we make on a day-to-day basis can also have real impact.

This has been particularly on my mind as I watch the impact that others have on me and my life. On two separate occasions recently, I’ve been engaged in casual conversation with someone who I don’t know very well, and they’ve said something that changed my outlook and deeply influenced decisions I have since made. I don’t think either one of them was making any particular effort to do so, but both of them said something that changed me and helped me to see more clearly.

Photo by Cristian Bernal

We never know when we might do the same, when we will share a thought or insight or ask a question and change someone’s life forever.

When I was in Toronto, I was talking to a friend of mine who is a police officer, and somehow we got into a conversation about attempted suicides. My friend told me he talked to one guy who jumped off a bridge and survived, who said that while he was on his way to the bridge, if a single person had stopped him and smiled at him and asked how he was doing, he wouldn’t have jumped. A single person. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

And haven’t we all experienced that? The email or phone call at the right time, a trip out for frozen yogurt, an invitation to spend the holidays. The teacher who taught us how to think critically or write the hell out of a thesis statement, or the person who believed in our potential even when we were struggling. The sharp kick to send us back in the right direction, delivered without judgement.

I think that’s one of the reasons I find writing this blog to be so valuable. I never know when something I write here might be exactly the thing one of you needed to read that day. But the possibility that I could help someone with these essays the way certain blog posts have helped me keeps me writing.

This week in the United States we spend time thinking about gratitude. I think of the people who have helped me become who I am today, the people who have given me knowledge, advice, and wisdom, the people who have listened to me and provided moral support, the people who have blown me away with their generosity, and it is easy to feel grateful. It is also easy to see how their actions, often small and seemingly insignificant, have taken on a greater meaning.

The small scale matters, and part of its nature is that we might never know how much it matters. We often don’t find out how our influence ripples outwards, what lives we affect, how those lives touch other lives, and what ends up being different because we exist. We don’t know when we’ll say something that makes all the difference.

Which is why I think it’s important to pay attention. Tomorrow might be the day you accidentally change, or even save, someone’s life without ever knowing it.

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