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

Chimamanda Negozi Adichie’s Brilliant Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story”

Among the many interesting things that came up in my conversation earlier this week with my friend, Eugene, was his recommendation of Chimamanda Negozi Adichie’s wonderful 2009 TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story.”

This line summed up the talk beautifully:

I’ve always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.

A few things came up for me as I watched. First, Adichie mostly talks about the single stories told by others. I think her premise also applies to the single stories we sometimes tell ourselves. Finding that balance between honoring the truth of our experiences while also recognizing that it is just one experience is really challenging.

Second, Adichie’s complaints about the single stories many Americans have about Africa in general and about Nigeria in particular reminded me of my travels there in 2008, especially this line:

Every time I am home I am confronted with the usual sources of irritation for most Nigerians: our failed infrastructure, our failed government, but also by the incredible resilience of people who thrive despite the government, rather than because of it.

In a blog post about my experiences leading up to the trip, I wrote:

One of my best and oldest friends, Gbenga Ajilore, is Nigerian. So is one of Blue Oxen‘s advisors, Ade Mabogunje. I spoke with both of them before the trip, and they were excited about me coming here. The reaction from other friends and colleagues was quite the opposite. Most of the non-Nigerian Africans I spoke to do not think highly of Nigerians for reasons that I don’t quite understand. Several of my well-traveled friends had horror stories to share, although none of them had actually visited here. Cheryl [Francisconi] is the most fearless and experienced traveler I know, and even she had some scary stories.

I was incredibly fortunate to have many stories about Nigeria going into that trip, as it enabled me to have an open mind. Cheryl told me something else right before the trip. She thought that my week in Nigeria would be one of my most difficult travel experiences, and that I would walk away loving the people there. She was so right on both counts.

30 Days of Blogging in November

Those of you who follow my blog regularly probably have noticed that I’ve been posting frequently, once a day every day this month to be exact, with 12 more days to go. I don’t know what my longest daily streak was prior to this month, but I’m pretty sure that in the 17 (!) years I’ve been blogging, I never posted more than two or three days in a row.

I decided to give it a go last month while I was doing 31 days of watercolors as part of Inktober. It was my third daily project, including my 365 days of photography in 2015 and my one second of video a day last year. All three of those undertakings were about playing with visual storytelling using modes of expression that felt new to me.

I never really considered doing a daily writing project before this month. I’m more or less comfortable with my ability to express myself through writing, and I haven’t cared enough about getting better to practice more intentionally. I’m also reasonably comfortable with my ability to think out loud through this and other blogs, as the more than 800 posts on this site indicates.

However, muscles atrophy with disuse, regardless of how developed they once were. 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.

I have loved the impact that my previous daily projects have had, and for the first time, I wanted something similar for my writing and blogging. Eighteen days in, it’s definitely having the desired effect and even a few bonuses. However, it’s also been a very different experience from my other projects.

It hasn’t been stressful. I’m not worried what anyone thinks, and I’m not trying to prove to myself or anyone else that I know how to write. On days when I have a lot to say, I say it. On days when I don’t, I find something simple and short to share. Because I don’t have any ulterior motive other than to do it, I don’t spend any more time writing than I want to on any given day. If I want to say something skillfully, but can’t find the words, I don’t bother saying it.

It hasn’t been joyful, either. I haven’t felt any great satisfaction about anything I’ve written, although there are few things I’m glad to have captured. And I haven’t had any major epiphanies through the writing process.

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.

Last week, I published a piece on the Faster Than 20 blog for the first time in months. It wasn’t a coincidence. I recently felt motivated to revisit a piece I first started writing four years ago, gave up, and tried again two years ago, only to give up once again. Maybe I’ll finish it this time. Time will tell.

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.

Daily practice is an amazing thing. So simple, so obvious, so useful.

What I Love About Making Photos

Yesterday, I did some modeling for my friend, Quincy, who’s practicing his portraiture. It was a special session for a lot of reasons. Quincy’s dad inspired me to take photography seriously, and seeing that desire to tell stories click in Quincy is super cool. I also loved watching how he worked: what caught his eye, how playful he was in how he framed his shots, and how he engaged with me, which is probably the most important (and hardest) part of portraiture.

Quincy asked me two questions that surprised me, and I’ve been mulling them over ever since. First, he asked me what I loved about making photos. Believe it or not, I think that’s the first time anyone has asked me that question.

One reason I got into photography in the first place was regret. When I went started college many eons ago, my parents gifted me a point-and-shoot film camera so that I could capture some of the good times. I took maybe two rolls of film in my entire time at school. I just couldn’t be bothered. I basically have zero records of my good times in college, which is a bummer. It didn’t take long for the regret to settle in, and I got good at making sure I captured things shortly after graduation.

I’m so glad that I did. I love having a journal of my life that required very little effort to make. (Digital, then smartphones, have been a godsend in this regard.) Looking over old photos does something for me inside. It doesn’t matter what I take photos of or how good the photos are.

But I only started taking photography seriously seven years ago, and that process has been a revelation. I loved how it felt to be new and bad at something in my late 30s. I feel like I’m growing every time I make photos. I love the different part of my brain that it activates. It’s also calming. My friend, Yi (another person who inspires me to make), recently gave a talk on creative practices and the difference between activities that fill you up versus drain you. Perhaps the simplest way for me to answer Quincy’s question is that making photos fills me up.

The thing I love the most about photography is that it’s taught me to slow down and see beauty. I constantly notice things today that I know I never would have noticed before, and it always gives me a jolt of delight and satisfaction, even if I’m not holding my camera.

Quincy also asked about the favorite photos I’ve taken. I don’t have too many favorites. I have a lot of photos that give me a deep sense of satisfaction, not necessarily because they’re good, but because they remind me of something. But the photo that immediately came up for me when he asked this question was this one I took of my partner while we were exploring a farm together last year:

First and foremost, it stirs up good memories. Coincidentally, we were on our way to meet up with Quincy’s family and other friends to camp and feast. The land beyond the fence is Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, including olive trees they harvest to make and sell olive oil.

I also like the composition. I like the lines from the tire track and the tall grass. I like the tree in the middle. I like how the color of my partner’s dress contrasts with the rest of the scene. I love her reflection in the puddle from recent rains. It feels so representative of how much she loves nature and how curious and comfortable she is when she’s outdoors.

I also like the complexity of the photo. It’s not just a beautiful picture out in nature. Human impact — from the tire tracks to the fence to the torn plastic tarp — is clear and evident. It’s jarring, and it stirs up complex feelings.

Olivia de Recat’s Closeness Lines

A few months ago, I came across Olivia de Recat’s art, specifically her rendition of “closeness lines over time.”

I was struck and moved by how simple and moving and information dense this piece was. It really shows how a few simple lines can tell a compelling story.

You can see her other art and buy a print of this and other pieces on her website.