In The Meantime, Keep Your Profile Low*

Small-clawed-otter-facts

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This is the 100th post on Scrapbook Infinity, which may or may not be an achievement. Have I ever reached 100 posts on previous blogs? Almost certainly. But I feel like this pseudo-project has been especially fun for me for the past year-with-change, so doing something a little different for this occasion feels appropriate. Here, then, is something very different from what I have been tackling on this site since the beginning, and something I’ve pretty much avoided doing for the past several years: personal writing.

For me, writing about my life is one the most difficult things to do—I just feel a deep unease with the whole enterprise, I think based on the idea that my life is far from interesting…and that I lack the literary skill necessary to elevate its mundanity to anything amusing/thought-provoking…and also that my a habitual desire for privacy. It feels more dangerous to write about thoughts without the distance of a completely neutral subject matter—some cultural thing to critique, goof on, or otherwise provide structure—to camouflage them, putting more of yourself out in the open, front and centre in fact, to be judged by strangers. A criticism of your fiction or analysis is one thing, but a criticism of an autobiography or anecdote or anything of that sort can take the tenor of a personal attack very easily.

This wasn’t always the case for me—I used to be what one would have called a blogger (and no, I won’t be linking to any of those sites), someone who would write about anything and everything, beginning in the middle of high school (not long after my family purchased our first internet-connected PC) and going pretty regularly until about five or six years. Blogging really hasn’t disappeared, but there was a time when it seemed like a new vocation that warranted whole news articles (and additional blog posts) about what being a “blogger” meant and whether one could make a living off of it. There were bloggers for every microniche, although they went off-topic on a regular basis (because who was going to stop them, their editor?), and it was considered a major faux pas to not even post a bunch of links on the schedule you set yourself—this can’t all be history already, can it? These days the whole concept has been so suffused into every aspect of the Internet that it no longer feels like a singular thing, and much of its peculiarities and communities ended up transferring to social media. Does anyone even refer to anything as a “blog” anymore (aside from me, I guess, because I don’t know what else to call this site)? Not that any of that really mattered to me when I was seventeen—I read a lot of blogs at the time, saw that you could have a place to write whatever happened to interest you that day, and used it as my first real platform, whether or not it was being read. It placated my burgeoning writing ambition well enough.

Dragging myself through a skimming of my old posts (I hate reading through older writing at the best of times, when it’s not pure adolescent excess) has had a rather depersonalizing effect on me—I look at and it’s difficult to see me in there. Those concerns and that style and that willingness to expel certain details about my life are completely foreign to me now, and to be honest, there’s an unearned mock-intellectual smugness to many of the posts that rub me the wrong way. Beyond even the idea that this kid thought anyone would be interested in what he had to say about some pop culture garbage (which seems to be the majority of the posts)—I think he was very aware that his audience was extremely limited and mostly wrote things for their own sake—it’s the shapelessness and pointlessness of the writing, the half-baked nature of the ideas, the way he would attempt to join in on topics where he was very clearly out of his depth, and the awkward attempts to be clever or funny. I can tell this inexperienced young writer had a lot to say without a mechanism to moderate himself, and had found many sites (oh the glory of the blogroll) usually written by older and more organized culture bloggers that he wanted to follow (and unconsciously aped their style, often badly.) All of these are the common traits of a creative person who grew up in the Internet age, given a forum before they could properly handle it, so it shouldn’t really surprising or particularly frustrating; still, the personal connection I have with this upstart blogger sometimes makes me wish I could tell the smarmy little fuck to shut up every once in a while—while I secretly relish my knowledge of what will become of him.

He will become slightly disenchanted with the whole blogging concept at an important juncture in his personal life, when future prospects seem to dry up and he becomes painfully aware of the limitations of his various comfort zones, a process he later realizes had been years in the making. With little concrete direction, no ideas of where he could go from there, he struggles for a while to carry on with his own little activities, and then has to step back—writing on the blog had been a fun side thing for him, an offshoot of his eventual goal to make a career out of his love of writing one way or another, but when that withers on the vine, he no longer knows what exactly the purpose of that side project was. Given what had happened and what he was feeling in the months leading up to the end, all the rejection and anxiety and listlessness, the fact that it took that long for him to give up is almost impressive, and his posts read as if nothing had happened at all. Eventually it all caught up with him, and after a gradual period of tapering off he decides that what he had been doing no longer seemed worth the effort—so he stops.

I picked up where the younger guy had left off, and found that while I wanted to write on a semi-regular basis, I needed something more substantial to provide the inspiration for it—so, I decided to go for pure critique, using all my experience from the past few years writing academic-style essays and paring it down to something that could be more in-depth and interesting but still enjoyable to write. With a baseline to go off of (including monthly quotas, and an emphasis more on responding to what really interested me rather than assuming that ranting and responding to other people’s ranting was the surefire way to success), it became much easier to get into the process, stick with it, and challenge myself to try new styles—and since it was book reviews, it meant I got to justify reading as much as I could, so a double win for me. I don’t think I’m any less of a style sponge than the other guy was (I just read a different assortment of things than he did), but at the same time I think it’s cohered into a real voice at this point. So while I didn’t necessarily write as frequently as he did, I like to think it became more assured writing, entirely fun to do but with a real drive behind it; plus, I became confident enough that when I felt that my book reviews had run their course, it wasn’t as difficult for me to transition that style I had developed to other pursuits (this site being just one of them.) I was able to keep up my writing and find a real, continuing sense of meaning in it, which if nothing else has gone the way the young guy has wanted, at least he’d be happy to know that I had that.

It is a quite valuable thing to have, that sense that there is something in your life you can rely on, and even when it seems frustrating or fruitless you can still continue doing it because you’ve entrenched it in your soul, and know that it will eventually prove again how rewarding it is. Did I know this before? I feel like even if I did, I took it for granted—writing was something I did, and I enjoyed doing it, but not with the same sense of determination and pure joy. It feels GOOD to do, and in times when it feeling good about things seems more and more difficult (an affliction I inherited from the other guy, one that comes and goes), it has been a constant source of motivation and gratification. Doing stuff like this finally got me to do the work I had thought I wanted to do all along, no longer tethered or reliant on any external vindication—it was the kick in the ass I needed, and that the younger me didn’t quite get. It’s subtly changed my perspective on writing in a lot of ways: I no longer subconsciously think the aim of writing should be some kind of professionalism, and I realized simply doing it is a great reward in itself. I’ve been free to do whatever I want while still aiming to steadily improve my craft—and it’s been a lot easier to do the latter while I’m doing the former.

Change, development, those are the things that never end for anyone in a creative field if all goes well; whatever possessed me to go back to my first attempts to be a “writer: in the first place, I’ve ended up with a fresher perspective on how I’ve managed to mature over time, even though I’d still like to burn every last trace of that early development process from existence. Maybe the reason I’m suddenly willing to overlook my distaste for writing about myself was because of that perspective; I now could see all my fears of the literary crimes I could commit as the afterimages of a life I no longer live, an imagination that has shifted and grown. Personal writing became something I hadn’t done for a good long while—and thus another new challenge, the kind of thing I want from projects like this one, a reminder of why keeping it up has meant and continues to mean a lot to me.

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