Lessons Learned from 30 Days of Blogging

Last month, I decided to blog every day. As I explained earlier:

For whatever reason, I’ve found writing hard to do the past few years, and this year has been the hardest. I’ve also been disinclined to think out loud, even though I’ve had a lot I’ve wanted to say and share, both personally and professionally.

Mid-way through the experiment, I reported:

What it’s been doing is helping unlock whatever has been inside of me. I’ve been precious about sharing what I’ve been thinking, not wanting to say them unless I can say them well and feeling paralyzed as a result. I’ve also found it overwhelming at times to try to blog. I guess things are crazy in the world right now, and it’s not only affecting my mental health, it’s hard for me to make sense of it all.

Blogging as a practice has reminded me not to be too precious. The less I try to say, the less overwhelming I feel. The more frequently I share, the less I have to worry about saying it all in one piece, which makes it much easier to write. Plus, even though I don’t think I’ve shown it yet, I’m starting to remember what it feels like to write well. I’m rounding into shape again, which always feels good.

The biggest surprise has been that sharing regularly has helped me re-engage with my broader community. I didn’t think anyone really followed this blog anymore, and because I’m rarely on social media anymore, the algorithms seem to have decided I’m not worthy of most people’s feeds. Still, some people are paying attention to what I’m saying, and getting to hear from them has been a treat and is also motivating me to write more.

After having finished the experiment, I’m not sure I have anything different to report, other than to say that I don’t think I had any breakthroughs after 30 days, and I want to keep exercising this muscle. I thought seriously about extending my project through the end of the year, but I opted against it for a few reasons. Even though it wasn’t particularly stressful, it wasn’t stress-free either, and I don’t need the added pressure this month. It also tires out muscles that I’m using for work right now. I can focus on developing these muscles more when work settles down.

In the meantime, I think the exercise still is helping me share more than I was before. This is my third blog post in December. I think a good pace for me is to be blogging about once a week, especially when those posts are more or less organic.

Maybe the most interesting thing for me was seeing what I chose to blog about. This wasn’t just a writing exercise, it was a sharing exercise. I aggregated all of the tags from those 30 days of blog posts and ran them through WordClouds.com to see if I could detect any patterns.

Not surprisingly, I wrote a lot about COVID-19 and the elections. It was nice to see that I wrote quite a bit about collaboration. This wasn’t my goal, but I admit I was curious to see how often I felt compelled to write about “work stuff” — the original purpose of this blog — especially when I had so many other things on my mind. I loved that I wrote about a lot about making — food and art and photography and stories in general.

Finally, I was curious about the people and places I wrote about. Here were people I knew whom I mentioned in various posts (not including my partner and sister, whom I mentioned often and didn’t bother tagging):

I loved seeing this list. My interactions with others play such a huge role in what I think about and how I feel, and I love being able to share this space with the people in my life.

People I mentioned whom I don’t know:

Places I mentioned:

  • Africa
    • Nigeria
  • Alaska
  • California
    • Bay Area
      • Colma
      • Oakland
        • Joaquin Miller Park
        • Mountain View Cemetery
      • San Francisco
        • Fort Point
        • Golden Gate Bridge
    • Los Angeles
      • Forest Lawn
  • Cincinnati
  • Santa Fe
    • Ghost Ranch

Norms, Strategy, and Thanksgiving Duck Revisited

It’s been nine years since I and my family started eating duck for Thanksgiving. I have also happily introduced several friends to the concept, although surprisingly, I know of no permanent converts. Some (many?) of my friends actually like turkey. But I think the biggest factor is that culture, norms, and traditions are remarkably powerful.

I get it. My family ate turkey for over thirty years before converting. When I consider how much more I enjoy Thanksgiving now, and how much less stressful it is to prepare the meal, I marvel at how long it took us to make the switch.

I see individuals and groups struggle with this all the time. Goal-setting and strategy are more often an exercise in documenting what you’re already doing rather than a deep examination of where you’re trying to go and why. The latter requires that you make a choice, and making choices is hard.

That’s not to say that doing things because that’s why you’ve always done them is a bad thing. The most important thing is that you’re being intentional, and that you know why you’re being intentional. Chesterton’s Fence definitely applies.

Eating Extinct Animals

Yesterday, I wrote about how we may have eaten the Woolly Mammoth to extinction. Today, I want to write about eating extinct animals today.

Last year, I took care of my nephews in Cincinnati for a week while my sister and brother-in-law were on a trip. I decided to make it a point to work my way through their packed freezer, which had some truly ancient and scary looking items, including some cod that was older than my then nine-year old nephew and that had survived a move several years earlier.

Around the same time, I was reading Steven Rinella’s, American Buffalo, an excellent book about this iconic animal’s role throughout human history. At one point, Rinella mentions a mummified, 36,000 year old Steppe Bison in Alaska, and writes off-handedly:

Dale Guthrie, a professor emeritus at the University of Alaska, cooked and ate part of the animal’s neck. He reported it to be “well aged but still a little tough.”

I did a double-take when I read this line. It seemed wrong in more ways than one. I was also intrigued, so I did a little research, and I feel good about the overall ethics and wisdom of the move. It turns out that eating ancient animals is a thing, although Woolly Mammoth apparently does not keep well.

It made me feel a whole lot better about cooking that decade-old cod for my nephews. I ended up turning it into a tasty fishcake, which forever boosted their respect for my cooking abilities.

Eating the Woolly Mammoth to Extinction

Earlier this year, I listened to a podcast about extinct foods. It opened by claiming that the woolly mammoth went extinct because of humans. Wikipedia is not as definitive about it, although I did find some other articles that also argued humans played a strong role.

These days, it’s de rigeur to blame all of our most extractive, unsustainable practices on capitalism. Capitalism deserves its share of blame, but I think this kind of reasoning is overly simplistic. Animals are not ecologists. Animals behave in ways that are fundamentally selfish and sometimes destructive. Ecosystems succeed when there is just the right mix of competing and cooperating species. There is no management from above.

We are most definitely animals. It doesn’t surprise me that humans have been eating animals to extinction long before higher order economic systems existed. But, we are also theoretically capable of seeing and understanding ecosystems in the way other animals are not. In order to do that, we still have to figure out ways to see how our practices in aggregate impact the world at large. Furthermore, those feedback loops must not just be intellectually understood, but felt. Charts correlating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere with climate, for example, clearly aren’t enough.

This is what scares me about the de-extinction movement. It’s amazing that we can now revive the Woolly Mammoth, but should we? I would feel better about our chances at doing this “right” if we were better at building social systems with feedback loops that helped us make better collective decisions. I believe that we are capable of this, but our track record hasn’t been stellar.

The Anchovy Project

A few weeks ago, I discovered (via The Marshall Store) local pickled herrings. I’m not a huge fan of pickled herrings, but I was surprised to learn that they catch them here in the Bay Area, as I had never seen them in the markets or on a menu. I was telling this to my friend, Kate, my go-to person for all things related to oceans, and we got to talking about why we don’t eat more local fish, especially those lower on the food chain. She pointed me to State Bird Provisions’ Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski’s brilliant Anchovy Project:

They were planning on opening Anchovy Bar in San Francisco before COVID-19 shut everything down. I hope this pandemic doesn’t kill the project. We need more places like this.