Blogs & blogging


RIP Prince

Without much hoopla, Hoarded Ordinaries has made the awkward transition from tween to teen:  it’s been a little over thirteen years since I published my first blog post on December 27, 2003. Because my blog anniversary happens so close to the New Year, I typically use the occasion to post some sort of retrospect on the previous year in blogging. So in honor of Hoarded Ordinaries’ thirteenth birthday, here are thirteen posts from 2016.

End white supremacy

Many people were happy to see 2016 go, given its tumultuous conflicts, violent outbreaks, and tragic losses. When I look back on 2016 through the lens of my blog, I see frequent reminders of loss and heartbreak. I blogged relatively little in 2016, averaging less than a handful of posts most months. (In September, I only posted once, which is unusual for me.) One of my resolutions for 2017 is to blog more, and considering I posted only three entries in January 2016, I’m already on-track to blog more this January than last, at least.

Bunny enjoys her lap-time

Last year began with J and me putting Bunny the cat to sleep, a sad event I chronicled in “Traveling Mercies.” In May, we put another of our cats, Crash, to sleep, and I described the now-too-familiar experience of coming home to a too-big, too-empty house in “His ninth life.” As if euthanizing two cats weren’t enough, in October we put our elderly beagle to sleep after a sudden seizure led to a diagnosis of metastatic cancer. I never got around to blogging Melony’s death: I never found (and still don’t have) words to describe the sudden, beagle-sized hole in our household.

Float reflections

Many of the tragedies of 2016 transcended the purely personal. In “A world full of swans,” I responded to the Orlando nightclub shootings, and in “The cries of the world,” I addressed gun violence by and against police. The election of Donald Trump was a development I’m still reeling from, and I described my reaction in a post titled “Aftermath.”

Stickwork

Not everything in 2016 was drear and disappointing. In August, I enjoyed a trip to the Brookline birthplace of John F. Kennedy, which I blogged in “The house on Beals Street.” In October, I enjoyed a trip to the Tower Hill Botanic Garden to see a stickwork installation by Patrick Doughtery, which I described in “Where the wild things are.”

Journal pages

Although I didn’t write much in 2016, I did meet my goal of reading (more than) 50 books, which I recorded on Goodreads. Of the books I read in 2016, I particularly enjoyed Alexander Masters’ A Life Discarded, which I discussed in “Trusting your days to the page“; Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, which I mentioned in a September post titled “Between the book and me“; and Kerry Egan’s On Living, which I reviewed in a December entry of the same name.

RIP Bowie

Many of my blog entries aren’t easily categorized: one of the things I love most about blogging, in fact, is its random and ragtag nature. In a February post titled “As the moment unfolds,” for example, I describe the flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants feeling I have whenever I teach a new course for the first time, and in “A grace freely given,” I describe the feeling of abundance that comes from leaving a book in a Little Free Library. Finally, in “Keep your options open,” I describe the spacious, free-fall feeling that comes in the summer when I have time to write but haven’t yet defined a topic.

Wake up and do good

For thirteen years, Hoarded Ordinaries has been a place where I’ve explored the creative abundance of writing by the seat of my pants, with or without a clearly defined topic. Here’s to another year of posts both random and ragtag.

Art Wall

My twelve-year blogiversary was several weeks ago: it’s been twelve years and a couple of weeks since I posted my first blog post on December 27, 2003. Each year, I usually use the occasion of my blogiversary to review my favorite posts from the previous year, but this time around I want to reflect on a broader theme: what have I learned from a dozen years of blogging?

Walkway

The deepest and most lasting lesson I’ve taken from twelve years of blogging, I think, is that it’s always good to be writing. Sometimes on a doubting day I second-guess the time I spend on my blog: surely there must better, more lucrative, or more prestigious projects I could devote myself to. But when I consider how I actually work—how and where my Muse strikes, the kind of things that interest me, and the way I spend my days—I realize blogging nicely matches my creative proclivities. I like writing about an assortment of little things, and I like the way both journals and blogs focus on a ragtag selection of loose ends. Given the challenge to write a Big Book about Something Profound, I clam up, but given the opportunity to share whatever little something comes to mind, I always, eventually, find something to say.

Contemporary

Truth be told, if I weren’t blogging, I probably wouldn’t be writing much. It’s easy to assume that if you didn’t spend a little bit of time every now and then writing about whatever random stuff interests you, you’d suddenly have ample opportunity to focus on sustained profundity, but I think the opposite is just as true. If I ever were to write a Big Book about Something Profound, it would be exactly because I’d flexed my noticing on the scales and arpeggios of daily writing. Henry David Thoreau didn’t write the books that made his reputation despite the fact that he kept a journal; instead, Thoreau’s journal is where his books were born. As much as I enjoy and have come to rely upon my daily journal pages, I also enjoy the accountability and immediate feedback that writing in front of an online audience provides.

Face to face

Blogging is an ephemeral form—a genre that focuses on the minute details of passing days—and as such can sometimes seem not to count for much: at the end of twelve years, what do I have to show for the time I’ve spent? But I’m not sure a lasting legacy is the best way to judge a writer’s (or any other mortal human’s) real worth. After a dozen years, an architect might point to a building erected, but what does a chef have to show for her devoted labor? Does cooking nourishing meals—each one consumed with grateful gusto down to the last crumb—count for nothing simply because the leftovers do not last?

Walkway

If I write something fulfilling and tasty today, I still need to write something tomorrow and the next day and the next: a blogger’s work, like a woman’s, is never done. But some of life’s greatest joys are ephemeral, every dance begging another just as every kiss commands its consequent. Just because something doesn’t last and thus must be repeated doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. To the contrary, the impermanent and the ephemeral push us to live in the moment, spending with abandon whatever we have NOW and trusting that in the future, more will be provided.

Korean art

What I have to show for the past twelve years of blogging is nothing more than a determination to keep blogging for another dozen, the practice of almost-daily writing being its own reward. Whenever I teach the basics of meditation, I note the special temporal nature of the breath: unlike thoughts, which can wander into the past or future, the breath brings us back to the present exactly because it can happen nowhere else. Try as we might, we can’t recover today the breath we lost yesterday, and there’s no way to stockpile today’s breath for tomorrow. The only place you can breathe is right here, right now.

Partly cloudy

A blog is like a fog of breath on a mirror: yesterday’s brilliant utterance cannot make up for today’s sudden silence. If you want to stay alive, you have to keep breathing, and if you want to keep blogging, you have to keep writing. There is no resting on your laurels in this business: as a blogger, you’re only as good as your last post just as a body is only as alive as its most recent breath.

Head of the Charles regatta

Today is the last day of November, which means it’s the last day of National Blog Posting Month, or NaBloPoMo: a conscious commitment to post once a day, every day, during the month of November. I’ve done NaBloPoMo for several years now: it’s a good, annual nudge to get me blogging more at a point in the semester when I don’t have much time to write.

Head of the Charles regatta

Since NaBloPomo is basically an experiment to see whether I can balance blogging atop a teetering pile of daily demands, at the end of the month I like to look back and see what (if anything) I’ve learned from the experience of posting something every day, even on days when I technically didn’t have the time or inspiration to write.

Head of the Charles regatta

Every year, I realize (again) that I can always find something to say, even on hurried and uninspired days, and every year, I discover (again) that I sometimes surprise myself with the posts that seemingly materialize out of thin air. There is, I’ve found, something magical about the simple action of setting your fingers on a keyboard: once you start typing, your mind will furnish you with something to say, even if you had no idea what you were going to blog about.

Head of the Charles regatta

I sometimes think of this as being the “stone soup” nature of blogging: even when you think your cupboard is bare, you can always find a little bit of something simmer. The magic, again, happens when you set fingers to keyboard or pen to paper…or when you open Google Drive on your phone and start tapping out a new Doc.

Head of the Charles regatta

(Yes, more than a few blog posts this month were initially composed on my phone, that ubiquitous device that doubles as a word processor if you don’t mind typing with your thumbs. You’d be surprised how much you can write during the spare minutes you’re waiting at the vet, at your favorite take-out place, or in line at the drugstore.)

Head of the Charles regatta

As in past years, I’m a bit relieved to be posting my last November blog entry for the year. Now that Thanksgiving break has come and gone, the busiest part of the semester looms, and I need to focus on things other than blogging. But before I press my nose to the proverbial grindstone, it feels good to look back on a solid month’s worth of blogging: proof of what I can do when I set my mind to it, even if my mind claims to be too busy and uninspired to write.

Today’s photos come from this year’s Head of the Charles regatta, which happened back in October. The best stone soups are sometimes simmered from long-overlooked leftovers.

The Wall at Central Square

A quick search of my blog archives reveals I often get the blog blahs–that is, an inert sense of not having anything to say or share–in August, but this year I seem to be ahead of schedule. In the past, I’ve learned that simply showing up in the midst of a dry spell can sometimes lead to the unexpected, but this time around, the blog blahs feel like a bad case of “been there, done that.”

This time around, even my morning journal pages feel sluggish and repetitive, with me repeating a seemingly endless list of undone tasks and to-dos: a litany of “shoulds” and “gottas.” When you’re in the midst of the blog blahs, you read old blog posts and journal entries with a sense of amazement and even jealousy: Who was I when I had the time and inspiration to write long and insightful essays? At the moment, saying anything profound or even positive seems ambitious and unattainable.

But, I’ve been writing (and blogging) long enough to know that even the worst case of blog blahs eventually passes: you just have to wait it out. And the best way of waiting, of course, is to keep writing, even if what you’re writing seems inane, insipid, and uninspired. Are to-do lists and whining rants fun to read? No, which is why I write them in my journal and mercifully don’t share them here. Are to-do lists and whining rants fun to write? No, but sometimes you have to flush out the gunk that’s causing your creative clog.

So, here is a post that feels both clogged and gunky: an attempt to shake off the blahs by posting something, anything. I remind myself of something Gary Snyder said when I saw him speak back in 2010: “You never know if you’re going to write another good poem.” When you’re in the midst of the blog blahs, you begin to wonder if you’re ever going to write another decent blog post, another decent journal entry, or another decent anything, but the only way out of that slump is to write your way out.

Flickr is currently down, so I’m posting this entry as-is, with only one accompanying photo. I don’t know what it is that “Everybody Knows,” so I’ll leave that to you to figure out.

Degas' Little Dancer

Last night I shared on Facebook a link to an article about famous writers and their journals. The article begins with a quote from Madeleine L’Engle, who tells aspiring writers “if you want to write, you need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you.” Now that we live in an age where it’s incredibly easy to publish one’s thoughts for all to see, L’Engle’s advice seems outdated and even quaint. What is the value of writing solely for oneself in an era when everyone can have an immediate online audience?

Noh masks

As a writer who keeps both a public blog and a private journal, I feel particularly qualified to comment on this. In many ways, my blog and journal repeat one another: I often blog essays that started as journal entries, revising and expanding upon an idea that arose in my morning scribbles. Occasionally, I’ll write in my journal about something I already blogged, either because a reader’s comment led me to think more deeply about the matter or because my published post didn’t feel “done.” But even though my public blog and my private journal often overlap, I don’t see either as being redundant: instead, they each have an important place in my writing practice, and they each offer their own unique benefits.

Hollywood glamor

Keeping a public blog forces you to consider issues of audience, especially if you blog under your full name. Using your name on your blog means you necessarily have to stand behind anything you post, and you have to be comfortable with the possibility of anyone reading what you write: friends, family, coworkers, strangers, and casual acquaintances alike. This forces you to make conscious decisions about what you will and won’t share to protect your own and others’ privacy. Some would decry this as a form of self-censorship, but I don’t think such limitations are always a bad thing. Professional writers have always made decisions about self-disclosure, deciding how and how much they should include personal details in their writing. In my mind, this kind of discipline is a good thing, as it forces you to express yourself in a careful and deliberate way rather than just spewing your raw thoughts without any thought about consequences.

Protest dress

This isn’t to say, however, that raw thoughts don’t have their place: that’s what both journals and first drafts are for. If my public blog is where I publish and stand behind the work that bears my name, my private journal is where I can go nameless. Nobody reads my morning scribbles, so I don’t have to protect my own or others’ privacy, and I don’t have to worry about making sense. In my private journal I can blather on about whatever inane thoughts happen to be rattling around my head without the need to pretty them up for publication. To mix metaphors, if my blog is where I put my best foot forward, my journal is where I let my hair down.

Degas' Little Dancer

In my mind, the point of keeping a private journal isn’t to write something that is useful, even though I do sometimes use the things I write there. Instead, my journal is a place where I can practice the art of thinking on paper without worrying about those thoughts. When you don’t have an audience, you don’t have to stay on topic, and you don’t have to make sense: you can, in a word, contradict yourself, exhibit faulty logic, say stupid things, and admit all kinds of foibles and hypocrisies. Your journal will never judge you for what you say: your journal, in fact, is simply a mirror of your own mind, reflecting your thoughts without comment or condemnation.

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit

When you establish the habit of writing without an audience, you become intimately acquainted with your own mind, seeing the ways you repeat yourself day after day. Over time, you become increasingly familiar with your mind-habits as they unspool in sentences across the page. Even if you never revise or recycle any of this material, you still derive a benefit from producing it. Whereas talking comes naturally, writing is necessarily a second language, and a journal gives writers a place to babble like toddlers, establishing a near-native fluency as we train ourselves to think on paper.

Profile

Several weekends ago was my eleven year blogiversary: it’s been eleven years and just over a week since I posted my first blog entry on December 27, 2003. Each year around my blogiversary, I take a chance to review the previous year’s posts, choosing my favorite ones and otherwise taking stock of the year that was.

So, here are my top ten favorite posts from the past year:

Asleep and dreaming?

In February, J and I said goodbye to our thirteen-year-old yellow Lab, MAD, whom I memorialized in “That good night.”

In March, J and I visited a makeshift memorial to Lieutenant Edward J. Walsh and Firefighter Michael R. Kennedy, two Boston firefighters who died while fighting a fire in Boston’s Back Bay, an experience I described in “A thousand hands and eyes.”

In April, J and I joined a million other cheering spectators along the route of the Boston Marathon, as I chronicled in “Taking back the Marathon.”

In May, friends and I went to see an exhibit of colorful quilts at the Museum of Fine Arts, which I described in “Make your bed.”

In July, J and I toured the Charles W. Morgan while she was docked in Boston Harbor, as described in “A whale of a tale.”

Snowy contemplation

In “Solitude,” I explained one of the reasons I enjoy writing in my journal.

In August, I memorialized Robin Wiliams with a post called “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.”

In September, I considered my religious devotion to the act of writing in a post titled “Like prayer.”

In “A modest proposal,” I offered my take on the student riots that marred this year’s Keene Pumpkin Festival.

And in “King hickory,” I described a quintessential October stroll.

Whenever I review a year’s worth of blog posts, I’m always surprised at how much I manage to post given how little time I have to devote to writing. Here’s hoping that pattern continues for another year.

Technicolor hippies

Last Friday was my ten-year blogiversary: it’s been ten years and a few days since I posted my first blog entry on December 27, 2003. Part of me feels obligated to write some sort of retrospective post—some overview of what I’ve gained or attained from ten years of blogging—but the Zennie in me is leery of such talk. In Zen circles, this question of “what have you attained” is a trap: a snare designed to pull you out of the present moment by asking you to make a judgment about the worth of your past endeavors. The question “what have you attained” is a sticky lure because it’s so easy to wonder what you “should” have attained in a given period of time. After ten years devoted to a single endeavor, what do (or should) I have to show for it?

Braids

That is the snare, right there: looking back at ten years of blogging, has it been “worth” it, or has it been a “waste”? This question is a trap because it presumes we can (and thus should) “get” something from everything we do: after ten years of blogging, shouldn’t I be able to capture in a neat nutshell the thing I’ve “gained” from all that effort? But life isn’t a souvenir shop where every experience gives you something you can take with you: life is, instead, a series of liquid moments that cannot be captured or contained. Given ten years of water flowing under the proverbial bridge, exactly how drenched have I become? Instead of trying to capture, contain, or quantify the river of time, how fully have I experienced and appreciated each and every drop?

Be-ribboned

I’m amazed that ten years have passed since I began blogging: in some ways, the years have flown by, but in other ways, December 27, 2003 seems like a literal lifetime ago. Given that I never consciously planned to spend ten years of my life blogging, it seems remarkable that proceeding “one post at a time” eventually added up to an entire decade of posts.

Hanging out

On the other hand, my life ten years ago seems like an entirely different existence than my life right now. In December, 2003, I was married to my ex-husband; newly moved to Keene, NH; and stuck on a dissertation I’ve since finished. Ten years ago, I was “stuck” in more ways than one, and I needed an outlet: a way both to express myself and to make sense of the world and my place in it. I had long kept a journal, but my faithfulness to that task was sporadic, and blogging gave (and continues to give) me an accountability—an audience—that has kept me writing. It was my ex-husband who believed blogging would be a good medium for me, and he was right: my blog and my dog were the two things of inestimable value I took from my first marriage.

Embroidered

Reggie is now gone, but my blog lives on, having become a catch-all for both my day-to-day life and my creative existence. Many days, my blog is simply a diary, but occasionally it serves as a travelogue, scrap-book, or faithful friend who listens without advice or interruption as I struggle to make sense of whatever thoughts are rattling around my head that day. If I go too many days without posting, I feel a nudge pushing me back to it: this curious impulse to “feed the blog” has kept me writing in a way that no other trick or temptation has.

On the fringe

My favorite post from this past year was “The Marathon I want to remember” because it’s one that took me days—almost a full week—to write. Sometime the act of composing a post is a technical challenge: a problem of finding the right sequence of words to express an intended message. With my Marathon post, however, the challenge was deeply personal: how do you express a gut reaction you yourself don’t fully understand? Writing that post felt necessary; I needed to explain to myself (more than to anyone else) my response to a traumatic event in order to understand that response. When I think of the profound things that have happened in my life over the past ten years, I have inevitably made sense of them by writing and posting about them: my completion of my PhD, for instance, or my separation and divorce, my second marriage, Reggie’s death, and my decision to leave Keene and Keene State.

Hippies in furs

I’ve pondered in the past whether an exhibitionist urge underlies the decision to blog the details of one’s personal life, a question that seems almost quaint in this age of live-Tweeting and Insta-selfies. When I started blogging, social networking was in its infancy, so blogging about one’s life seemed alternately weird and pretentious: who am I, in a word, to think my daily life is worthy of a frequently updated webpage? I never wavered, however, from my sense that it’s natural for writers to write about what they know, and what subject do I know better than my own life? Nowadays, of course, nearly everyone has a Facebook account, and nearly everyone (presumably) is fascinated by the minutiae of other people’s (presumably) real lives. Perhaps I simply started ahead of the curve.

Retro hippies

In retrospect, I’m grateful to have been blogging for years before I jumped on the social media bandwagon: now that everyone can (and does) say anything instantaneously and unedited online (occasionally with regrettable consequences), I’m glad that years ago I established my own rules of what to share and what to keep secret: my own personal privacy policy. In an age where it’s easy to blurt out anything to an invisible audience, I’m glad to have a decade’s worth of practice saying things chiefly for my own benefit.

Earth goddesses

This past March, on the occasion of the ten-year blogiversary of Beth Adams’ “The Cassandra Pages,” I wrote a post pondering the “real work” (and perhaps the “real worth”) of blogging, and what I wrote then pretty much rings true now. What is ten years’ worth of blogging “worth”? Well, I’ve written (and shared) far more in the past ten years than any other, and I certainly wrote more by blogging than I would have if I weren’t. So after ten years of blogging, what have I attained? Right now, I’m writing a post I plan to share, and I hope to continue posting day-by-day, post by post, as long as it feels productive. How do I define “productive”? I don’t know, other than a gut sense that as long as there are words to say and days to say them in, I guess I’ll continue writing and sharing one post at a time, starting with this one.

The photos illustrating today’s post come from Hippie Chic, a collection of 1960s- and ’70s-era clothing that was on exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts this past summer: a bit of grooviness I never got around to blogging.

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