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I was talking to a friend last week, and he said, “So what about the blog?”

I explained to him some of my thoughts about the blog. And then he said, “Well, why don’t you just be honest about it? What I always liked about your blog was how honest you were about everything.”

There are several reasons I haven’t been blogging much this last several months. The primary one, of course, is my health, and I’ve already written about that. But given what has been going on in the world, I’ve also been reluctant to blog because in some ways, it feels…weird. There is a dissonance between my personal experience of the world, which is what I blog about, and the greater events that are unfolding right now. And I have been uncertain about how to deal with that.

I feel like I want to give a constant disclaimer: I know there’s a lot of crazy shit going down in the world right now, and I’m aware of it, and that is the background context upon which everything else sits. Did you read that article last week about how an economist at MIT believes the U.S. is turning into a developing country for something like 80 percent of the population? That is the country I am living in. Anxieties about immigration, about health care, about nuclear war, about civil rights, about the rise of kleptocracy, these and many more are issues that those of us living in the United States are now stewing in.

I am also aware of exactly how lucky I am to be where I am now in my life. I write a lot here about taking opportunities to create personal change, to live an examined life, to heal what needs to be healed. I still believe this is incredibly important. In the past I have spent a lot of time thinking about why people don’t take the opportunities that are presented to them, and I have a lot to say on that subject. But recently I have been thinking much more about the many people who never received those opportunities in the first place, and I have little to say about it that other people are not saying better and from a stronger base of experience.

Finally, I spent all this time working on changing, and I’ve tried to give you a window to that experience through this blog. I spent years toiling away. And then I moved to a new place, and I was in an accident, and I sat and waited to heal, and now…

Everything is different.

It’s not as dramatic as it sounds, but it is the essential truth of my experience over the past year. Moving shifted everything, giving me a new foundation from which to work, and the changes I’d been working on for so long came together. Now I can see them informing my life in a variety of ways, and many of them no longer take so much work to maintain. It feels sudden even though it was anything but sudden.

So I’ve needed time to process how things are different, and it’s also a little uncomfortable that just when the outer world completely explodes is when I’m doing so well in many ways personally (except for health stuff, of course.) It feels strangely perverse to feel so much gratitude and well-being when so much shit is going down.

But I’ve had some downtime now, and I do still hope to blog sometimes. Here on the Practical Free Spirit, I write about my experiences, for better or for worse. My friend is right; I’m very honest in my writing here. I try to say what is true even when I’m playing with language or can’t get into specifics. So that is what I will try to continue to offer you: the truths as I see them, both small and large, and mostly personal.

I know these might not be what you need, but they are what I have to offer you. I know in the grand scheme of things I am not important; I say this not to be humble but to put things into perspective. I know times are hard, and it looks like they might get worse. But if my story can entertain you, or divert you, or give you a modicum of comfort or insight, then I am not wasting my time.

Writers write, even in challenging times. In the novel My Name is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout, a writing teacher tells the protagonist, “You will have only one story….You’ll write your one story many ways. Don’t ever worry about story. You have only one.”

This is my story. It is the one I have to tell.

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  1. You write in an effervescent, breathless style that makes you think of tiny, tiny bubbles in champagne that tickles your nose. You know it tickles your nose because hundreds of writers have insisted this is so.
  2. You must repeat words. Especially adjectives. Especially simple yet descriptive adjectives like fresh and soft and tiny and smooth.
  3. Also fragments and short sentences. As many as you have the stomach for. A firm, taut stomach or a poochy, loveable stomach. Any kind of stomach. The type of stomach does not matter.
  4. Lists shine like chronicles of diamond brilliance. Everyone loves lists because NUMBERS and PERIODS. Even if you actually have no structure whatsoever, a list will make it seem like your mind works in an orderly yet quirky fashion.
  5. Irony oozes out of your articles like fresh, fresh honey. It hardens into impenetrable armor that allows you to say what you want with fewer repercussions because no one can entirely tell where the irony ends and the truth begins.
  6. Or fuck, you can also just swear a whole fucking lot so you sound like you have a goddamned edge, like maybe you’re a little angry but also you’re just so fucking cool that everyone should shut the fuck up and listen to what you have to say, which is good old-fashioned hard-nosed no-shit wisdom, y’know?
  7. But if you’ve already got some of the manic pixie dream girl vibe going on, then the gentle sarcasm-dripping flow of honey armour is definitely the way to go. People will love you. They will love you so much, they will share your article on Facebook without ever knowing your name. Eventually you can start the next Toast except named after a different breakfast food or maybe crème brûlée.
  8. Your irony is like a scythe if you’ve ever used a scythe. Otherwise it’s like the X-acto blade in sixth grade art class. You make long careful cuts against the grain of society’s bullshit. Long, smooth cuts. Long, incisive cuts. Long, insightful, sharp yet understanding cuts that are way healthier than the way physicians used to practice bloodletting on sick people via cupping or leaches.
  9. You can also use ridiculous metaphors and not-very-obscure historical and pop culture references that may or may not apply. Either way you will be creating sly but searing commentary. People will think you are clever.
  10. It also helps if you include a refined and artful graphic related in some way to the past. Here is an 18th century painting. Here is a bucolic landscape. Here is a brass lamp that is definitely more than ten years old. Even better if you can insert either a sweet sense of superiority or a relevant allusion to one of today’s societal woes.

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    Each one of these objects holds a profound yet subtle significance.

  11. Suddenly you know how to write tongue-in-cheek articles about Seattlites’ obsession with bridges, men’s urges to make a pass at you while you’re crying, Burners’ conviction that by not going to Burning Man, you are missing out on the greatest experience known to man, and the strange propensity to want others to admit you have it worse than them while simultaneously acknowledging your innate and glowing greatness.
  12. You also begin to plan the most ironic post on dating that has ever been conceived by a human mind. It will be scathing but human. Bitter but sweet. Absurd but relatable. Your single friends will read it and laugh. Your married friends will read it and polish their rings.
  13. Bubbles. Fresh. Fresh fresh bubbles. We all love bubbles and freshness and everything about this post that makes us remember that pleasant sensation of being too clever and fresh and laundered to breathe. Like a magazine ad. Like crisp ironed cotton. Like a blog post that has gone at least one list item too far.

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Birthday time!

While I was moving, I missed talking about a few big milestones: my birthday and this blog’s birthday.

My birthday first, shall we? This is the first birthday I have not had a birthday party in…oh, maybe fourteen years, give or take. But throwing myself a party while moving would have been dicey at best, and in any case, I was more in the mood for some quality one-on-one time with close friends. I had birthday sushi, and birthday cake, and birthday chai, and birthday BBQ, and birthday pie, and birthday steak, and my friend took me to see one of my favorite musicals (Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party, for those curious). And I got jammed and sung to at my regular weekly dance venue. From all this, we can divine that I really like food. And most importantly, I got to spend time with some of my closest friends.

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Taken on my birthday in an empty apartment.

That being said, all this birthday celebrating was doubling as farewell meals, and the farewell aspect often overshadowed the birthday aspect. So it was a weird birthday. And without its usual marking, it doesn’t entirely feel like it actually happened. I find myself hesitating an instant longer than usual before being able to answer the question of how old I am, because in my head, the number hasn’t completely flipped.

Last night someone suggested I throw a housewarming party, and that there could be cake at this party. Like a stand-in birthday cake. There’s no way I can pull anything like that off until the fall, but we shall see….

Meanwhile, while I was making the drive from California to Washington, this blog turned six years old. Yes, this is the 610th post on the Practical Free Spirit, and I’ve been posting here regularly since 2010. When I began, I had no idea what this blog would become or how it would change my life.

I gave some serious thought to closing down the blog this spring. I simply wasn’t feeling it; the majority of the themes and issues I was thinking about at the time were not ones I wanted to write about, so I was left struggling to find things to write about that I felt were worthwhile. This was the first time since I started the blog that this had happened, and this combined with the conventional wisdom that blogging is dead and mostly irrelevant made me wonder whether it wasn’t time to close up shop and move on to something else.

Obviously that didn’t happen. I knew I was going to be moving, and I thought my continued blogging would help my California friends and I stay in touch. I also thought making such a big life change might potentially lead to some interesting topics to write about, in addition to some topics I already had in mind to write about in the future.

And finally, I know this blog occasionally makes a difference to someone, and that matters to me. I know people sometimes feel isolated. I know it sometimes helps when I write candidly about emotions, about trying to overcome the past, about grief, about things many of us are thinking about or experiencing but that we don’t always get to talk about. Normalizing these things is important work. It helps us process, work through feelings of loneliness and shame, and build empathy.  It helps us learn more about what it is to be human.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the future year brings, both for me and for the blog. Happy birthday to us!

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This is the last of my 2015 wrap-up posts: the one in which I look over the last year of my blog. I wrote many things! A lot of them are pretty good! Hooray!

I’ve compiled a list of my top ten posts from 2015, chosen by you, ordered from least popular to most popular, with a couple of honorable mentions.

Looking down the list, about half of them are about or related to dating. Three of them are about my own personal development, including one about that perennial favorite, imposter syndrome. And two have to do with social lives and building connection. I also notice the headlines (a historical weakness of mine, alas, alas) are actually on the punchy side, which is awesome. I experimented a bit more with the blog this year, and I’m really glad I did.

Honorable Mentions:

I don’t think shared interests are that important in dating, because this perhaps sparked the most conversations this year.

I Have an Agent!, because I’ve been waiting a looooong time to write this post.

 

Top Ten 2015 Posts:

The Maybe-Date

We Are All Insane Together

On Dating as a Feminist

The Most Boring Question of All Time

How to Build a Support System

If you have a lot of assholes in your life, maybe this is why

What I Really Did Last Summer

I Was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl

How I Met My Boyfriend

 

and the most popular post of the year….

A Ten Never Marries a One

 

Thanks for coming along with me for another year at The Practical Free Spirit. And now it’s time to look forward and sally forth into 2016!

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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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