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Person I just started dating: “You said you were easy to find with a Google search, so I took a look, and I’ve been reading your blog.”

Me: “That’s…great.” Oops.

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A thought I’ve had in the middle of a flirtatious conversation: “Oh, you’ve totally been reading my blog to try to figure out if maybe you want to date me/to find out if I’m available. That doesn’t make me even vaguely uncomfortable.”

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On an online dating website: “I’ve been following your blog for quite some time, and it would be great to have a conversation with you.”

Me: “Am I professional Amy or dating Amy right now? I am SO CONFUSED.”

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“This totally inappropriate thing I did was inspired by you and one of your blog posts.”

Me: “Um….” ???

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I love my blog, but I do not love having my blog and dating. I try to pretend it’s not weird because sometimes the best strategy is to bluff your way through something, but in reality, IT CAN BE PRETTY WEIRD.

It’s a question of a balance of information.

Whenever I write a blog post, I ask myself if I’m okay if the whole entire world reads what I’ve written. That is my base assumption, not because I think that will ever happen in a million years (it won’t), but because I want to do my best to remember how very public this blog is (even though it doesn’t always feel super public). So I’m sanity checking whether what I’ve written is something I’d be willing to say in public, even knowing whichever person I’d least like to might, in fact, read it.

So it’s not that there’s anything of which I’m particularly ashamed on the blog. I’m sure I’ve said some stupid things sometime in the past, because in four and a half years, that’s pretty much a certainty. I’ve probably also said things that I no longer agree with, because hey, in four and a half years I’ve learned new things and changed my mind and become aware of more nuance in certain issues. But overall, I don’t find the blog embarrassing.

What I don’t like about having the blog and dating is that at the beginning of getting to know someone, I think it throws off the balance. An enterprising person can read four and a half years of more and less well-thought-out essays from me. Surely most people won’t have the time for such an undertaking, but even so. Even if they don’t read all or even most of my essays, there are still an awful lot of them.

And meanwhile, what do I know about them? A few emails worth of carefully curated information? A single conversation’s worth of anecdotes? The flow of information is the opposite of balanced in this situation.

And then there’s the problem of assumed intimacy. People read this blog, and over time, perhaps they feel like they’ve gotten to know Blog Amy. And that’s as it should be. I’m happy when you get to know Blog Amy. But the people I’m dating? I don’t want them to get to know Blog Amy. I want them to get to know Personal Amy. Preferably by talking to me and spending time with me. I want to share my stories and opinions myself instead of past Blog Amy getting to have all the fun.

It’s not even that I don’t want the people I’m dating to read my new blog posts as I’m publishing them. It’s more that I then want to talk to them about those posts. I want to have a conversation about those subjects, because if they weren’t interesting to me I wouldn’t be writing about them. I want to talk about what was hard about writing them, or how people responded differently than I thought they’d respond, or how no one is interested in reading about such-and-such a subject.

Meanwhile, I don’t want to think of my backlist of four and a half years at all.

Blog Amy or Personal Amy?

Blog Amy or Personal Amy? Sometimes it can be hard to tell.

I’ve actually thought about whether to continue the blog, given the potential dating weirdness, and you can see the answer to my deliberations in my continued blogging, and even my new willingness to blog about dating. My discomfort, when it comes, is the price of maintaining a public persona, however obscure, on the internet. And I’m willing to pay the price.

I’m willing to stand behind this blog, and say, yes, this is part of who I am. I am a writer. And dating a writer can probably also be weird. Take it or leave it. The blog leaves no room for anything less. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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Person I’m dating: “So I saw your most recent blog post. On dating.

Me: “Oh….”

Person I’m dating: “I didn’t read it.”

Me: “There’s nothing about you in it.” Please don’t freak out. Please don’t freak out.

Person I’m dating: Doesn’t freak out. Starts a conversation based on the headline of the blog post instead.

Me: Sometimes mature communication wins.

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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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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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