Sunday, September 9, 2018

The Truth about Blogging

I started blogging about ten years ago after discovering Orangette.  The blog’s author, Molly Wizenberg, had written a book called A Homemade Life, which she followed with Delancey.  I was (and remain) enchanted.  I found her blog as my husband and I were driving home from getaway weekend in Chicago, and spent the length of Route 30—all the way from Gary, Indiana to Lima, Ohio—squinting down at Molly’s writing on my phone.  In both her book and on her blog, she describes her father’s influence on her life, framed with descriptions of the food they ate together. She writes in such a sweet, clear, and honest way.  I thought, Could I do this?  Use words to tell a story that feels this lovely?  A story of value and beauty? 

Inspired to the point of imitation, my first blog was about my grandmother’s proclivity in the kitchen. She had passed away by then, but as many grandchildren do after the loss of a grandparent, I was seeking to understand her and her role in my parents’ lives.  After a lovely service honoring my grandmother’s life, during which we feasted on favorite foods from her home-chef collection, my aunt gave me a lovely cookbook she’d created from my grandmother’s best recipes. I started cooking my way through each one and blogging about it.   I wrote about the challenges—some 1960s-era recipes don’t translate well to today’s groceries and kitchens—and I wrote about the way I remembered my mother’s mother. 

My grandmother was not easy. She drank way too much, judged others relentlessly, and snapped viciously when I left sloppy post-bath footprints on her hardwood floors.  She was mean to my grandfather.  In the end, she was mean to everyone. 

But she was also woman of immense toughness and experience, rich in knowledge and cultural understanding. She had a wide-open mind in a time it took guts to have one.  When I was little, she let me try on her high heels.  She had fabuloushigh heels.  She gave me my first typewriter and with learn-to-type handbooks, which launched this whole love-to-write thing in the first place. I wrote essays and sent them to her, and she mailed me a check; it was my first paid writing gig, and certainly the most lucrative, if you consider quality-to-cash ratio.  The summer before I started junior high, I visited her in D.C.  My parents were having a hard time—they had, truly, nomoney.  But at that particular point in my life, it realllllllly mattered to me that I not wear my sisters’ janky, worn hand-me-downs to the first day of seventh grade. My grandmother took me to a massive TJ Maxx on Rt. 50 and bought me new school clothes.  I’m still grateful.  

I wrote about those things, but I also wrote about the ugly things.  The stories were as I remembered them, sandwiched between recipes and grand kitchen experiments.

And then my aunt called. I’d upset her.  I’d written something harsh—about how my grandmother’s cold dismissiveness, I think, or about something hurtful she’d said in a Valium-and-vodka haze.

My aunt—how I love her!—was gentle.  She didn’t say, “You’re wrong.”  She didn’t say, “Take down this stupid blog and stop disrespecting my dead mother.” She didn’t even suggest I was out of line to tell one-sided stories on a public forum.  She was just quiet, and sad, when she said, “I wish you’d known her as I knew her.” 

I hung up the phone and breathed in shame and guilt. I deleted the blog, impulsively, perhaps, as an apology to my aunt, and to anyone else who’d loved my grandmother to the point of all-in, full-on forgiveness.  Including, suddenly, me.  

I started a new blog with a different focus and different goals—the primary one, I should note, being to avoid hurting or offending anyone. Which, it turns out, is impossible.  I’ve since learned writing on a public forum is practically begging someone to be hurt, give criticism, or take offense. 

Having a blog isn’t easy. There is always a nagging to-do list—you’ve got to find inspiration, sit down to write about it, wrestle it into a decent piece of work, publish it, and then hold your breath and hope you haven’t offended anyone. 

Blogs also get trolled. I spent time last weekend trying to take back comments from an alleged “Escorts Agency in Ilamabad” promising “client satisfaction” for “social events or party or your ideal objective along these lines.” It’s stupid-annoying.

It appears my girl Molly Wizenberg has tired of being a blogger.  Her last post was ten months ago.  She’s busy doing other things—a super-popular podcast, a new relationship, a young daughter, and maybe even a new book. I don’t blame her one little bit.  Blogs come and go; that’s why they are what they are, and why they do what they do.  They surge and ebb, starting with a excited writer and faltering when what needs said has been said.  Mine is on life support, and I know it, and it is actually fine with me, because no blogs last forever, and nor should they.  I’ll be looking for my next inspiration soon.  And maybe my next inspired project realllllllly won’t actually offend anyone, for realthis time.  


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