Underwhelming

I recently returned from a work trip. And I was reminded, once again, that I’m not a conversationalist. Those who know me well, and even those who have met me once, know this. Compared to other kids, I was quiet when I was little, but as I grew up, I came out of my shell — a cheerleader in junior high, student body secretary in high school, constant partier and socializer in college. I’ve wondered, though, if all the drugs I’d done through my late-teens, 20s, and early 30s ultimately mellowed me out, or even rewired my brain. But there was always a reservedness there, an observant nature, and a belief that I didn’t think it was necessary to speak unless I had something meaningful to say. Small talk has never been my thing.

Meeting me in person is underwhelming. A handful may not agree, as over the years I have clicked with some people on this earth. But for the majority of people I meet, especially over the past decade, I leave no real impression, except maybe for the fact that I seem more interesting on my blog or Instagram or something, and in person am incredibly disappointing. Sometimes I want to apologize to people, or warn them in advance the moment I meet them — I just want to let you know, this is all there is to me, just this moment right now, as I smile or shake your hand or give you a hug. Nothing more. I’m not witty, lovely, outgoing. So please, let’s get that out of the way so you’re not disappointed later.

I might be quiet, and it’s not that I’m shy, or bored, or angry. Oftentimes, the more articulate and affable people around me — like my husband, for one — say things that I might have said, so I don’t have to say them. And sometimes, I think my thoughts are uninteresting, so why bother saying them and calling attention to myself?

Most often, however, I’m quiet because it takes me a while to absorb information. I have a hard time shaping and articulating responses during conversation, and I think it’s gotten worse with age. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve formed a response to a question or discussion days later. My thoughts flow better on paper, but telling stories in person? I can’t. I don’t retain information and remember things I’ve read — I can’t for the life of me tell you the key points about an article I read yesterday, or the essay I edited for work recently, or share details of events or stories that have happened to me in an engaging way.

I’ve mentioned some of these challenges to my husband, but I’ve never written about them, nor admitted them to anyone, really. I’m not sure why, but I suppose it’s because I’ve succeeded so far in many aspects of my life — school, friendships, work — that these deficits haven’t seemed to hold me back or impinge on my success.

My current job allows me to work remotely full time. Teams communicate primarily via text-based communication like Slack channels and asynchronous discussions on private group blogs — and now increasingly through Zoom video meetings, which mostly make me anxious, and remind me of all the meetings I used to attend at my past jobs. But our general approach to distributed work and text-heavy communication is one of the reasons I applied to the company over five years ago — it seemed like a work environment that allowed people to communicate in different ways, and as I reflect on some of my bigger career and academic decisions — like proofreading marketing materials in solitude at a college campus, or enrolling in a low-residency writing MFA program that I completed mostly at home — I have unconsciously gravitated toward roles and settings that have made it easier for me to communicate, and thrive, in my own way.

I’m glad to have had these options. But as I get older — and the grooves in pieces of wood get smoother and deeper — it’s quite easy to stay cozy in my shell.

Patricia Lockwood on writing now

Snippets from “How Do We Write Now?” by poet and essayist Patricia Lockwood, on writing in our age of online toxicity and distractions:

The first necessity is to claim the morning, which is mine. If I look at a phone first thing the phone becomes my brain for the day. If I don’t look out a window right away the day will be windowless, it will be like one of those dreams where you crawl into a series of smaller and smaller boxes, or like an escape room that contains everyone and that you’ll pay twelve hours of your life for.

The feeling you get after hours of scrolling that all your thoughts have been replaced with cotton candy — or something even nastier, like Runts or circus peanuts — as opposed to the feeling of being open to poetry, to being inside the poem, which is the feeling of being honey in the hive.

That the line in you will one day be memorized by other people, even repeated by them silently as they brush their healthy teeth.

Blogging with a small “b”

A snippet from a post by Tom Critchlow on small b blogging:

But what is lost by following big B blogging? By chasing audience we lose the ability to be ourselves. By writing for everyone we write for no one. Too often I read things otherwise smart people have written for places like Fast Company and my eyes glaze over. Personal identity is necessarily watered down. Yes those places have large audiences but they’re shallow audiences. They don’t care about you at all. Your writing washes through their feeds like water.

Instead – I think most people would be better served by subscribing to small b blogging. What you want is something with YOUR personality. . . . Writing that can live and breathe in small networks. Scale be damned.

I’ve pretty much stopped blogging on my personal site completely for various reasons: apathy; inability to let go in front of an audience; lack of motivation; disinterest in media and tech; unwillingness to stay plugged in and part of the stream… I just don’t care anymore. I work in tech, I work with writers and influencers, I write for a massive audience online for work, blah blah blah. But on a personal level, I’m in a very different headspace.

Still, Tom’s post reminded me of what I used to enjoy about blogging — there was a period of time, about five or so years ago, when I was really engaged and connected to my network, especially on Twitter, and got my work noticed and featured in the Atlantic, the New York Times, and other big outlets. While I’d always written online with an audience in mind, my favorite part about blogging was ultimately writing for myself, reading and learning and deepening my knowledge of things along the way, and documenting a wider web of ideas in my very own online space. I remember doing all of this because I truly enjoyed it — my site was an extension of me. Publishing on it made me feel more complete. And it still exists, but now mainly as a relic. I just don’t need it as I once did.

But anyway, I like what he says about “forgetting the big B blogging model” and not chasing an audience, or scale, or page views. It’s such a simple thing, but somewhere along the way, I completely forgot how to write for myself, how to face inward, how to be me.

h/t @photomatt

Placelessness

From a piece in the New York Times Magazine on digital nomads:

If the usual trappings of adulthood don’t seem attainable, and a permanent sense of precariousness seems unavoidable, why not embrace impermanence instead?

Can you imagine a pair of noise-canceling headphones for geography? That’s how I started to think of Roam. When you want to, you can block out your sense of place entirely and exist in a hazy, calm, featureless space that could be anywhere. This nomadic bubble goes beyond a hotel in that it stretches around the world and is built to encompass your entire life; it promises to become your post-geographical home. Yet I found there to also be an anxiety to this hermetic placelessness, no matter how beautifully unburdened or minimalist it appears. Living anywhere is a lot like living nowhere.

Awake

I had the most vivid dream the other night, the kind where I could feel every sensation in my limp body, where I twitched and perspired and curled my back so I could feel every bit of what was happening. Nick was with me in that world, and I felt a mix of pleasure and fear, but overall strange — it had to be strange — but then I lost him in the darkness, among the crowd, and looked frantically for him everywhere. And that was the rest of the dream, as we know how dreams tend to go: fixated on one thing, determined but unable to reach a goal, unable to find him. So I woke up, pulled off my mask, and immediately reached to the right side of the bed, his side, to touch his face. He woke up, and I said, “I couldn’t find you. I lost you, and I couldn’t find you. But you’re here.”  Continue reading “Awake”

Two playlists

A holiday playlist for people who can’t stand traditional Christmas songs. Primarily featuring Greg Gaffin (Bad Religion), with Fiona Apple, Mr Little Jeans, The Smashing Pumpkins, The Kinks, and more mixed in.

 
An electronic/dance-y playlist of favorite tracks—some old, some new. Mainly drum and bass, jungle, and late-90s trance.

Stealing

I recently found and featured an essay, “Stripped for Parts,” by Courtenay Bluebird at Bluebird Blvd. I really loved this part in particular:

You see, writers tend to steal little things off of people—

a complete set of figured naval buttons on a man’s patched pea coat; a certain way a woman pushes back her bobbed silver hair; a child that can whistle with two fingers like a man.

Writers pocket these moments and pull them out to look at later under a lamp with a notebook. This is fine with me—it’s magpie stealing. It is general and gestural and often sweet.

There’s another kind of stealing that happens, though, where a writer will pick the lock on your life story, touch a couple of wires together, and roll your life down the driveway before you even know your story is gone.

Gardening in the age of Google

My vegetable garden is thriving. But I’m not sure what it would have looked like without the internet. Some of my searches over the past month:

  • How do you prune cosmos?
  • Why is my cosmos not blooming?
  • What is the yellow foam/slime growing on top of the soil?
  • How do you harvest beets?
  • Do you prune fennel stalks?
  • Is my fennel supposed to flower?
  • What can I do with pineapple sage?
  • How do I dry sage?
  • How do I make stevia powder?
  • Can I prune zucchini stems and leaves?
  • When are French baby beans ready to be picked?
  • How do I deadhead zinnias?
  • Where do I deadhead marigolds?

Work of the body

I love books, and I can’t imagine how I’d have ever gotten into woodworking, let alone kept developing skills, without libraries and magazines and television and the internet. But I can’t help thinking we’re hamstrung by relying so heavily on all these visual and intellectual means of instruction for what is, after all, work of the body.

“Some thoughts on learning together”

After googling something garden-related, I discovered the blog of David Walbert. There’s thoughtful writing here on a variety of topics — cooking, woodworking, history, and more. But this bit in particular has really resonated with me, as I’ve never been very good with my hands and making things on my own, and am learning each day while out in my vegetable garden.