Telling Stories About Myself to Myself

The narrative that I often tell about this blog is that I couldn’t not blog.

I’d kept my first pop culture blog for about six years, and then shut it down when I noticed that my heart wasn’t in it anymore. I’d grown bored with simply reviewing the movies I’d been watching, the concerts I’d been going to, the books I’d been reading. I felt like I wanted to be more than a rote recommendation machine; I wanted to expand my writing beyond critiquing someone else’s art. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to write about instead, only that I wanted to get to a place where my writing was more personal. (I don’t think I realized how extremely personal my reviewing actually was, how much of myself was revealed in my preferences and critiques, but that’s a subject for another time.)

As I’ve talked about elsewhere, I went into clairvoyant training later that same year and quickly discovered that the part of me that was good at giving psychic readings was the same part of me that was good at writing. It stood to reason that as long as I was doing something that involved my third eye, it didn’t exactly matter what the medium was. So I was perfectly content to stop writing for a couple years, just going to psychic school and giving readings there and playing music with my band the other nights of the week. Plus, I’d had a day job in the publishing industry for nearly ten years at that point, and all the reading and editing that I did there seemed to satisfy the part of me that felt most natural with a pen in my hand (or with a keyboard at my fingertips).

But almost exactly a year after I completed my two-year stint in psychic school, I wasn’t giving readings anymore, the band had imploded so I was no longer gigging or practicing regularly, and my job had taken a distinct shift away from editing and into the nuts and bolts of scheduling and budgeting. My creative restlessness was beginning to show, especially in comparison to my boyfriend’s creative output, which was in a phase of huge blossoming and development. He was blogging regularly, writing scholarly articles, and working on his first full-length book. I wasn’t necessarily feeling competitive with him—our strengths as writers are completely different, as are our areas of focus—but I was feeling a bit, oddly, call it, left behind. “Why don’t you just start a new blog?” he kept imploring me. So finally, I did.

But what to write about?

I knew I didn’t want to write exclusively about the arts anymore, but I also knew I would inevitably want to discuss some movie or album that had captured my fancy, so I wanted to make space for that. I had recently taken up perfume as a hobby, and had always loved playing around with makeup, so I thought it might be fun to have somewhere to explore all the ways that I presented and processed my own femininity. And of course there was the psychic stuff. Long before I’d gone through my in-person training, I’d been a religious minor in college and had been attending a Zen Buddhist temple on Sundays. Spirituality had always been enormously important to me, and I wanted to continue to reflect on what I’d learned and how it fit into and influenced my daily life.

So, rather than winnowing any of those things down, I just decided I’d kind of write about them all.

This was in the last little sliver of time when blogs were still a viable way of communicating and building an online following, before social media (in the sense of Twitter and Instagram and Facebook) really took off as the primary way that people not only kept up with friends but also consumed news and reviews. And so I read up on some best-practices for blogging and decided that consistency was supposed to be key. I never kept a regular schedule at my old blog; I posted when I had something on my mind. But all these self-proclaimed blog strategists were recommending that my readership would want to be able to rely on a specific day, and even a specific time, when I’d be posting, so I thought, OK. Let me take those three areas of interest and slot them in for publication on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and then make sure to write something short on the subject every week.

I kept up the schedule for a little while, but it ended up being far too much for me, considering that I hadn’t been actively blogging in close to three years and my writing muscles were way more out of practice than I thought they would be. Writing had ceased to be fun and started feeling like a chore, like something I was doing to keep up with a vision of the me I used to be, rather than a disciplined but ultimately joyous expression of my own constantly churning inner monologue. So I tried to devise ways to make the burden feel lighter. I scaled back to posting once a month and all but eliminated the focus of the three sections, loosely tagging whatever tumbled out of my brain with one of the categories, no matter how little it actually fit. I gave myself fewer restrictions, rather than more, and that somehow ended up being worse. If I’d promised myself to post something once a month, that meant I would start nervously thinking, mid-month, that I really should come up with something to write about, then go into a hysterical panic the last few days of the month as I struggled to write something I could feel remotely proud of that would also be somewhat legible to the handful of people who still, graciously, clicked through to read what I had to say.

So what was the easiest thing that I could come up with to fill the inspiration gap? What could I pretty much always count on if I was at a loss for something to write about? Me. My own past, my own memories.

As you can see if you read the About section linked above or if you scroll all the way down to the footer of this page, I describe this blog as being about “music, film, spirituality, memory, time, love, perfume, and my life in Chicago.” And when I appeared on the “Blog vs. Podcast” episode of A Chatter of Fact, at approximately minute 37, I went so far as to describe what I do here as “memory work.”

I’ve spent literally years writing here and thinking that I was chasing validation from other people who would be interested in what I have to say about a movie or a book or a perfume or cool stuff to do in Chicago. But I finally had to admit to myself that this blog is actually pretty selfish and self-centered. Everything that’s happening here has no pretense of being about anyone or anything but me. I’m finally just now consciously figuring that out!

To be clear—the primary purpose of my writing here has always been to examine and catalog moments and memories and impressions and experiences from my own past. Although I may have tried to connect some of these anecdotes to broader subjects that would be relevant to other readers, I’m mostly just telling stories about myself to myself.

It doesn’t necessarily feel like nostalgia to me; I’m not longing to go back to another time or place that’s now unreachable. For a while I did think it’s because both my parents are dead and there are, in general, fewer and fewer people around who remember me from when I was a kid. I considered that maybe I’ve been trying to foster some sort of personal coherence and permanence through these stories that other people usually get from their families and communities and other long-term relationships. But then I recall that, actually, I’ve always been like this—even when I was small, I loved when my dad would set up the screen and projector in our living room to show old, silent home movies on 8 millimeter film. This fondly remembered ritual from childhood feels intimately related to how I ended up creating this web-based environment for myself in the first place, in that I learned to think about memories not only visually, but also to interact with them by giving them voice.

My mother was a mostly self-taught but very talented photographer. I’m so lucky to have had a thoroughly, beautifully documented baby- and toddlerhood. My father, likewise, was obsessed with self-documentation. He often recorded his band‘s gigs on cassette tape (which I’ve recently been busy archiving on Bandcamp) and was hardly ever present at a family gathering without his 8mm camera and, later, camcorder. These images they captured and created may have been the way in, but when we would look at them later, the conversation and narration they inspired were another art in and of themselves. The images reflected back enough hard data to establish primary facts—who was there, about what year it was, what the occasion would have been—but it was up to us to continually supply the meaning, to tell the story.

A lot of people say they write things down to remember them, but I’ve always felt like I write things down in order to forget. To exorcise them, to get the repetition of a phrase or idea out of my damn mind so that it can stop haunting me. During college, I used to stalk around campus with my head down, internally chanting portions of essays-in-progress to myself until I could get a moment to sit down and transcribe it all into a notebook, where I could build on and edit my ideas. This is still how my best pieces compose themselves to this day. And that’s why I often completely forget about things that I’ve written. Once the words are out of my head and exist on a page or a screen, they’re out of my system, leaving space for a new me to arise and get to know all over again. She’s always teaching me to be a better listener.