On the Question of What to Say

Dear Carolee

I was reading the newest posts on your blog, beginning with the one about begining again, about missing the “old days” of blogging.  And about being post divorce, post MFA and waiting in a middle space to listen to the universe and see what’s next.

In the comments you tell Dave Bonta that now that you are back at it, you struggle with what to say.  I find myself nodding in recognition. Here I am in another liminal space: unexpectedly remarried, post doctorate, empty nest. Also drawn back to blogging.

Except I was never completely comfortable with it the first time around. I kept losing track of my own voice. Common writing advice is to “know your audience”, right?  I think that was the problem. I’ve never been able imagine “my audience” for a blog. I think the hyperawareness of statistics and “followers” sucked the joy out of it for me. I’m a competitive person by nature. It was depressing. I would compare comments people left on other blogs.  It turned me into a weird, skittish person I didn’t recognise. I teach for a living, so it would be a lie to say that I am uncomfortable or dislike taking centre stage, or expressing my opinions. (I actually like being bossy.) But I see my students, look them in the eyes. It at least feels like communication. (Unless they’re sleeping – which they sometimes do despite their best efforts. They are eighteen and up late. I get it. I don’t take it personally. At least, I try not to.)

But who am I talking to on a blog? What do I want them to see? Am I the teacher/mentor? A social commentator? A mid-life paleo-runner, hiker, fitness  wannabe-guru poet? God forbid that I would be a “thought leader” (how I hate that term). Maybe I’m a wildly messed up poet with bipolar disorder, and hellofalotof baggage. In which case, I will need a new profile picture, and way to steel myself again the onslaught of advice.

Like Whitman, I contain multitudes. I was am too unsure of who I wanted to project. Toying with the idea of returning to blogging last year, I fell into this trap of an entrepreneurship group. Blogging seems to be something different now. Branding and monetising. Is the whole world like this now?

I was listening to a podcast I rather like, but the guest kept talking about “conversation” in a way that I have never imagined it. It was something about seven questions to ask the other person. Only the questions weren’t designed to facilitate conversation, so much as to ask the right questions to “help” the other person improve themselves. Since when did a good conversation begin with thinking you would help a stranger improve herself?

I joined a blogger group on Facebook. It seems almost all of the bloggers there are curating independent zines with posts like “10 ways to turn your life around”, with ads for that thing you can buy to do the turning. (I am glad I stumbled back on the poetry bloggers.)

What I truly miss is letter writing. And I miss the long email exchanges of the mid-90s, when my children were small and napping nearby – I could dig deep, take my time to think things through, but still be in conversation with a real person. Both my boys have left home. They are napping in foreign countries these days. So I’m asking myself, why is it I feel rushed now?

No rush in the mountains. But you know that.

The blogosphere, and later writing on Facebook (and God-knows, especially Twitter) sometimes felt/feels like grunting half-thoughts into a void for attention. (My Instagram feed is just pretty pictures: a respite.) And everything has to be timely. I felt an odd pull this summer to post my photos from the plateau camping trip while I was on the plateau camping trip.

Something has to give in my life. I’m not my Instagram feed, that has me almost fooled into emotionally equating little heart tallies with a sense of community.

Who am I when I blog? It is odd really, I have never had this problem writing poetry. I think, after all these years, I’m still writing to Edna St. Vincent Millay. But I doubt she would like blogs.

And then there is the fear. You didn’t say much about that, but you mentioned it. What are your fears?

And what about posting poetry? You mention another poet’s project to post on his blog rather than wait for journals to present his work online. Are we still in need of the gatekeepers?

Looking forward to hearing from you!

XO Ren

Carolee’s Reply

This is one of a series of weekly open letters to friends – friends who write back to me on their own blogs. Please click through.  Category: Correspondence.

If you’d like to catch up, read the letters in chronological order here.



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