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In which I am retiring “In which” and a few other decisions about blogging

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I have been blogging for ten years. Of course, hardly anybody read my blog for the first seven years – and rightfully so – but I have been writing online in some capacity for ten years. I started my first blog on Xanga when I was just twenty-five years old: I was a burned out, over-churched, cynical Gen-X kid with a lot of doubts and questions. I wrote my way through that life and into a new life. Moving, change of vocation, identity crisis, an awakening of calling and purpose, pregnancy and birth, raising three tinies, miscarriages and loss, a deepening of my theology and my Christian practice, a strengthening in my marriage, and everything else that has gone into the past ten years for us. I’m not the same woman I was ten years ago and for that I can only thank God.

But I haven’t been the only one changing over that decade: blogging has changed immensely in the past ten years, too.

The hard thing is trying to figure out when to “change with the times” and when to stand your ground in the place you’ve established. For instance, I still love to tell stories about the daily life and simple joys, even though those don’t get the page views or comments or shares of other posts. I won’t stop telling those stories or writing the way I love to write because it’s not popular. But there are other aspects that I need to embrace – running ads to pay for the upkeep of this site which has become prohibitive, being aware of the power of social media, creating regular content that is relevant, and so on.

When I stopped blogging a few months ago, I was close to quitting altogether. Ten years is long enough, I reasoned.  Half the time, I can’t keep up and I don’t think I want to try anymore.

So it was a nice summer away. I worked on the book, we walked through some changes as a family (more on those later), and enjoyed the summer with the tinies.

But as the weeks passed, I began to realise something: I missed it. I missed blogging because I love it. I love the immediacy of it, I love the mess of it, I love the unedited glimpse into life. I missed writing about my daily life. I did NOT miss huge aspects of social media which has grown wearying for me or the idea of having to create “pinnable” images (I’m crap at that stuff) but I resolved to find a way to blog in a way that brings me joy.

Blogging is a powerful medium particularly for those of us who are outside of the usual power narratives and structures either because of location or religion or gender or orientation or race or political leanings, let alone all the odd combinations therein. This is how we have been heard. When else in the history of the Church would anyone care what a happy-clappy bleeding-heart mum from western Canada thinks about anything? Never. That’s your answer. This is a powerful medium for connection and for change.

For me that meant settling a few things about blogging:

  • My whole self belongs on this blog. I am not an ideologue or propaganda or a brand, I’m just Sarah. I’m interested in a lot of things and I have a (sometimes too) full life. But one of the things I’ve always loved about blogging is that I get to my whole self here: I get to love theology and Church talk, I get to care about race and feminism and social justice, I get to write about mothering and family and marriage, I get to crack jokes at my own expense, I get to love Doctor Who and Call the Midwife, I get to love thrifting and knitting and pretty things as well as being a Jesus feminist, I get to be a homemaker who talks recipes and cleaning and laundry as well as a lover of literature and poetry and history and Girl Power, I love the local church and yet I don’t wear rose-coloured glasses about this stuff.
  • I don’t want to overthink writing right now. I’ve decided to write like it’s fun again. I’ve decided to bench my inner critic – and ignore the thousands of Internet critics – and just write like nobody is reading it. (Which may end up happening.) If I want to write about something, I’m going to write about it. No more overthinking, no more fear, no more worries about “what might happen” or if it “fits my brand.”
  • Write with passion and conviction again, critics be damned. My soapbox has gotten a bit dusty. I might pull it out a bit more now and again. I’ll run the risk of being called emotional and being misunderstood. I have been ruminating on this one for a while. Of course, for those of you who know me or have read me for a long time, you know that I don’t believe you need to speak in anger or judgment or arrogance to speak the truth: but make no mistake, I want to speak the truth. With gentleness, with love, and with strength. Sure, I love to write beauty but sometimes the most gorgeous thing I can imagine saying is the truth.
  • Amplify the voices and experiences of others. My platform might not be a big deal but I want to steward it well and generously.  I want to curate those voices and introduce you to the people who are teaching me, across a wide spectrum of global issues, theology, and current events.
  • Write more about global women’s issues with a focus on prayer and action. Feature the stories that matter to those of us who identify as Jesus Feminists.  I’ll make an effort to stay engaged, to pray with purpose and faith, and then to find ways to engage with hope.
  • Chill out. Write what I want, when I want, and hang the rest of it. I still believe down deep that good content trumps click-bait titles and free graphics.
  • I have a full life offline and that life – particularly my husband and my tinies – gets my first loyalty.

The other decision I made was to kick “in which” to the curb at long last. All those years ago, I began to start my posts with “In which.” I wish I could tell you it was a big conscious decision but it wasn’t. I just loved the original Winnie-the-Pooh books by A.A. Milne and all of those chapters started with “In which…” I have always hated titling posts – in fact, for a good long time, I just published essays without titles, if you can believe it. So this was just an easy way for me to work. It became a habit and then a routine. I never even considered anything else.

But I’ve decided to retire the whole “In which” thing now. I’m kind of tired of it and I imagine everyone else is, too. I think the passive sentence fragment as a title has run its course. Plus a lot of other bloggers use it now and so it’s not a differentiator for me like it used to be. And it makes the other aspects of blogging – particularly sharing on social media – difficult.  (I might use it now and again, of course. I reserve the right for retro writing.)

I’ve broken almost every “rule” people make about blogging. This post itself is a big no-no: “Never blog about blogging.” But so many of you have been on the journey with me for so long that I felt like I needed to share a bit about where my thoughts were at after a summer of quiet in this space.

I’m looking forward to this new season of writing my life out online.

It means more to me than you could know that you are here with me. Sometimes I still can’t believe I get to do this or that anyone reads it. But my life has been enriched with your presence here, your influence has changed me, and I still love what I do even ten years in. I’ll call that a win.

 

Continue Reading · blogging, work, writing · 144

In which we are chasing dreams in the Midst and in the Afters

A_Sarah

 

I have a confession for you: sometimes I used to get so mad at the Inklings. I have felt resentful because C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and all these other writers, real writers, had luxuries like housekeepers and pubs and colleagues and writing cabins and a way to pay their bills, they had creature comforts and every time the Muse arrived, they didn’t have to shush her, plead with her to come back later because, right now, Muse, can’t you see? Preschool, supper, diapers, bath times, and everything wonderful in my life needs my attention.

I’m not someone who has pursued a very traditional path to becoming a writer. Even now, my life doesn’t resemble the Great Writers and their habits.

Instead, I imagined my little yellow book while I was a full time working mum with another one on the way. And then I actually wrote most of it while I was on maternity leave with a four-year-old, a two-year-old, and a newborn.  I remember once crying in self-pity, “Hell, anyone could have written the Narnia books if they had a housekeeper and sustained silence. Even I could construct Middle Earth if I had a full night’s sleep!

Instead, I wrote most of my book at my kitchen table during naptimes or sitting on the bathroom floor while a kid was in the bathtub or at the public library with earphones on so that the study groups of teenagers wouldn’t distract me.

This is the season of chasing my dream in the Midst of my life and in the Afters of my life: in the midst of raising tinies, after supper, after bath times, after stories, after kitchen dance parties, in the midst of Saturday morning cartoons, after bills are paid, after work, after groceries are put away, after laundry is folded.

I write after it all and in the midst of it all because this life is what I’m writing about….

If it wasn’t like this, I don’t know what I would write about anyway. Our lives are always content. I remember hearing once that all theology has its roots in autobiography.

I’m over at SheLoves Magazine today sharing about why I believe there isn’t one way to be a writer. A lot of us write in the Midst and in the Afters. Click here to read the rest of this article.

Continue Reading · SheLoves, women, work, writing · 20

In which the moments are now ours alone :: on (not) blogging about my tinies

Sarah and Anne

photo by Tina Francis Mutungu

In the fading of the day, Anne was curled up against me in our beat-up old leather chair. I was reading, and she was just resting, watching me. We were rather quiet because the other two were watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood together. I had my hand in her blonde hair, slowly running my fingers through, she was precariously balanced, a noodle of a girl. Then we had a lovely conversation.

Maybe you’ve noticed or maybe you haven’t, I don’t know, but Anne and Joe have steadily been disappearing from my blog for a while now. I used to tell a lot more stories about them – their spirituality, their daily lives, their quirks, their new experiences, their wisdom, their frustrations – but the “mum-blog” aspect of my writing has wound down.

(It’s likely I’m the only one who misses it – the world hardly needs another over-sharing mother with a blog.)

I made a conscious decision to stop blogging about the tinies when they started kindergarten. I figured at that point – when they had friends at school, a presence in our community, a life of their own beginning to emerge – that they needed to know that their life was their own. So when they headed off to school, they headed away from my blog, too.

It’s been hard sometimes because, well, I’m a writer. It’s hard not to write about the most precious part of my life, the most inspiring, most rich and challenging part of my days. But I don’t write about the intricacies of their lives anymore – at least not publicly. (Babies and toddlers are fair game, so Evelynn still shows up a lot, particularly on Instagram since we’re together all day while the older tinies are at school. I tend to treat that medium as a her baby book (poor little third baby). But even with her young age, I try to be respectful with an eye on her future life.)

The tinies all know about my blog, of course. Before I post a picture of the older tinies, I ask if it’s okay with them. “Is it okay if I share this on Facebook? on my blog?” Most of the time they say yes, they get a kick out of it. Sometimes they say no, and then it’s just our moment. Sometimes I don’t even ask, I just know: it’s not for anyone else but us.

I do write about motherhood still, of course but now it’s more about Me As A Mother, my own journey. Details are obscured. No one is named if a particular situation warrants a mention. A couple of years ago, right about the time I was having these realizations about “war photographers” that I eventually wrote about for D.L Mayfield, I was having very similar thoughts about my own tinies.

And I’ll be honest with you: there are a few posts back in my archives that I wish now that I had not written about the tinies - I feel sad that I took a private moment and made it public, let other people weigh in on their lives. I was learning, and I get that, but still I have regrets. I have deleted them. I will make apologies when they are older: “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have written about that. Will you forgive me?” I’m trying to figure out a way to keep writing about mothering without using my children as fodder – and until I do, I’ll just keep erring on the side of silence and protection.

So that moment on the chair earlier today with Anne, it was ours alone. Even though the Writer-Me wants to capture the narrative and make some art, some connection, out of it, the Mama-Me is holding it close to the heart, protecting them. The days are moving too quickly sometimes. Anne is seven and a half, Joe is five and a half, Evelynn is nearly three. We have a lot of laughter, a lot of mess, a lot of frustrations, challenges, victories, and sacred moments. We have conversations that end well and other ones that end in eyes-rolling or yelling. There are things about the tinies and about this new season of our lives that are so incredible. But most of those moments will go unblogged. Those moments, those conversations, they’re ours alone now. I’ll jot them down in a journal, maybe someday they’ll show up in my writing but that day won’t come for a while – if ever.

I need my children to know that they aren’t blog fodder. I need them to know that they can grow up without an audience being privy to their sacred moments.

I need them to know that when they curl up around me in that old leather chair that their secrets are safe with me.

 

 

Continue Reading · blogging, family, parenting, writing · 86

In which Ms. Frizzle is my new writing muse

Every writer has inspiration and tricks of the trade so I thought I’d share one of mine here today: Ms. Frizzle.

Yep. Ms. Frizzle. I’ll explain:

If, like me, you were not in elementary school in the 90s (me, I was in high school wearing way-too-much-black eyeliner and kissing boys while listening to brand new Nirvana tapes, you understand), you might not have heard about The Magic School Bus. It’s a cartoon show about a magical teacher named Ms. Frizzle who takes her class on a Magic School Bus to strange and wonderful places. They travel through the human body, shrink to the size of bugs, travel in time to dinosaurs, go up into hurricanes, all kinds of exciting things as they learn about science. I discovered them when I was homeschooling my eldest a couple years ago and fell head over heels for the series (I’m a sucker for jokes with bad puns). The tinies adore the Magic School Bus and even though it’s a bit dated, we still watch the shows often. (You can catch the show on Netflix now.)

Anyway, one of Ms. Frizzles favourite ways to teach is to drop the kids into the middle of the experience and say “Take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy!”

image source

I love that.

I have been in a bit of a rut as a writer since I finished “Jesus Feminist.” Some of that is pace of life and scheduling, absolutely. Life is a bit busier now than I like. But even when I do write, I feel….guarded. I feel like everything I say has to be edited within an inch of its life, I’m worried about who I will offend, I edit and edit until I have said absolutely nothing. I am cautious to the point of comatose.

As you may imagine, writing hasn’t been much fun for me lately. Instead of being a thrill of creation and communication, it’s become cautious and exhausting.

I’m interested in a lot of things and I have a (sometimes too) full life. But one of the things I’ve always loved about blogging is that I get to my whole self here: I get to love theology and Church talk, I get to write about mothering and family and marriage, I get to crack jokes at my own expense, I get to love Doctor Who and Call the Midwife, I get to love thrifting and knitting and pretty things as well as being a Jesus feminist, I get to be a homemaker who talks recipes and cleaning and laundry as well as a lover of literature and poetry and history and Girl Power, I love the local church and yet I don’t wear rose-coloured glasses about this stuff.

Obscurity is its own protection. When people read your stuff, you start to realise: crap, people are actually reading this stuff. And then you start to edit. And if you’re me, you edit until you are saying nothing. Or you edit until you don’t end up publishing anything at all.

So back to Magic School Bus. Ms. Frizzle has given me my new focus in writing this year: take chances, make mistakes, get messy.

I don’t want to overthink writing right now. I’ve decided to write like it’s fun again. I’ve decided to bench my inner critic – and ignore the thousands of Internet critics – and just write like nobody is reading it. (Which may end up happening.)

If I want to write about something, I’m going to write about it. No more overthinking, no more fear, no more worries about “what might happen” or if it “fits my brand.” Every time I am writing and I can feel my inner critic taking control away, I want to turn to The Friz: “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy.” And keep going.

As an example, that was a big reason why I wrote the post about “biblical marriage” last week. It was a bit of an experiment. The initial news story came up over a few days, and I thought, “God, I want to write about that, the old me would have written about that.” And I didn’t. I have begun to be afraid of my anger, afraid of my passion, afraid of being my whole unedited self. Sometimes I think that I couldn’t write half the brave stuff I wrote in “Jesus Feminist” now because I have all the caveats and “but-what-abouts” and critics in my head too much. Now I have something to lose perhaps.

But then I sat back and remembered Ms. Frizzle: I want to “take chances, make mistakes, get messy.” And I just banged out that post in an hour on a Monday morning because I wanted to do it – heart in my throat and fully alive – because I was passionate, because I believed in it, because I thought it mattered to me. I took a chance (and yes, I ticked off a lot of people – I’m still being burned in effigy across the Internet for it), I made some mistakes with it (absolutely), and I made a mess (the blog crashed, it was uncomfortable, the post created tension).

And you know what? It was freaking brilliant.

Imperfect, messy, uncomfortable but I felt alive again. I felt like I said something, like I created something, like I ignited something, and it was awesome. Even if it didn’t matter to anyone else, the experience of it mattered to me. It wasn’t just about the topic – even though of course I’m passionate about that topic –  it was also about wanting to write something and, instead of talking myself out of it with all the logic at my disposal, I said, “to hell with it” and I wrote anyway.

I want to do that more. I want to just write when the mood strikes instead of worrying about “best times for posting” and “driving engagement” and “consistent branding.” I want to be able to get angry. (I’m not afraid of my anger in my life – why should I be afraid of it here? Often our anger is an invitation to do something.) I want to be able to be sentimental and foolish, naive and inclusive again. I want to write blog posts instead of free content for Facebook disguised as status updates, I want to write my second book! I want to create and make art and disrupt and rabble-rouse, I want my art to reflect my life.

Once you open the door, it’s true: to whom much is given, more will be given. My brain is positively teeming with ideas again, it’s like being drunk with words.  I want to write about the hard things of mothering and the glorious moments of transendence and joy. I want to write about trees being cut down in my back yard and favourite recipes and fashion, I want to write about knitting and Sherlock and the way the sun descends in the late day and inspiring Jesus feminists. (“Write all the things!“) I want sh*tty first drafts and imperfect arguments, I want sloppy love and awkward silences. I want cold mountain air instead of quiet formal living rooms.

So here’s to my writing muse, Ms. Frizzle.

Here’s to taking chances, making mistakes, and getting messy again.

 

Continue Reading · work, writing · 39