Have I really been doing this for fourteen years?
My general rule of thumb is that every time I sit down to write, I follow the enthusiasm. This is advice I hand out to fellow writers often: go where the energy is.
A tiny voice in my head wonders if I am qualified to be handing out writing advice. I’m currently working on a piece about ants, another about the color beige, an essay about my oldest starting middle school. I’ve got ten other works in progress, all of them half-fleshed and all of them terrible.
Lately whenever I sit down to write, I stare at a dozen drafts taunting me in my Google drive and think: I have energy for none of this.
I can’t stop thinking about Heather Armstrong, how even though I didn’t follow her, I absolutely knew of her. Mostly, I knew her as someone who influenced the industry in which I work—that is to say: the industry of writing about motherhood on the Internet.
Had Heather never begun, had she never said a word, had she never had the courage (the compulsion?) to speak, and speak, and speak again—about the ups, the downs, the hysterics, the heartache, the visceral pain and visceral joy of being human, of raising children in this fragile world—what might be different in today’s virtual landscape?
Heather was known as a pioneer, famous for being one of the first women to process her life on a blank page in real time, and then immediately publish her thoughts online for anyone to read.
Was that itself part of her demise?
She struggled, openly, with alcoholism and mental health issues. But I also cannot stop thinking about the amount of hate she endured over the years, and what role all of that animosity—which was both ongoing and public—played in her pain. There were (are?) entire forums on the internet dedicated to hating her.
Did she read any of it? (Did she read all of it?)
How could she? (How could she not?)
Last week I was interviewed on a podcast. At one point, the host asked me a question about leadership. I can’t even remember the specific question, only that it had something to do with wolves carving out paths in the snow. Something about how the lead wolf goes first, and does the hard work of creating a path where there wasn’t one before, which then makes it easier for the rest of the pack to make their way through.
I heard about Heather’s death a few hours after that interview and that was the first image that came to mind: Heather blazing through snow. If you do a deep dive into the history of blogging, specifically blogging about motherhood, most people credit Heather as starting that movement in 2001. A movement that, through a series of ripple effects cascading through the Internet, surely played a role in me starting my own personal blog in 2009. The same personal blog that bore witness to me becoming a mother in 2012. The same personal blog that eventually led to Coffee + Crumbs.
And while I did not know Heather, or even follow her work, the news of her untimely death still brought forth a knee-jerk reaction in me. She was one of us.
A few weeks ago, I read a story about a different woman, a different blogger. I want to call her one of the original beloved mom bloggers, but it’s probably more accurate to say she was both beloved and hated (more hated in recent years). After amassing a huge following over something like two full decades, she disappeared from the Internet overnight. Instagram, gone. Blog, gone. All traces of her online existence vanished into thin air. I think about how strange it must feel, to take years and years of writing and creative work, to set it all on fire, to throw the match and watch it burn. I wonder if she feels free. Sad. Thrilled. A bizarre mix of all of the above.
This is where I feel the need to say: I am grateful to have met so many wonderful, genuine, kind people on the Internet. I am grateful that while I have, no doubt, been criticized over the years both privately and publicly, I have never been on the receiving end of an online mob coming at me with pitchforks.
And yet I’d be lying if I said I was not aware of that specific possibility all of the time. One quick scroll of a volatile comment section reminds me I am not safe here. None of us are. It’s enough to make you run away. Enough to drive you mad. Enough to throw a match and watch it burn.
Artificial intelligence is growing rapidly with seemingly no regulations. Spam accounts are breeding and infiltrating everything. Hate forums and cancel culture are on the rise. Legit media sites are going bankrupt. Online literary journals are shutting down left and right. Entire social media platforms are being purchased and run into the ground by narcissists.
I’m not naturally a pessimist or a catastrophizer, but sometimes I can’t help but wonder—is it only a matter of time before I wake up to find my various online homes being ravaged by termites?
In 2009, I started a personal blog with no end goal in mind. I was 23 years old, one year out of college and two years into marriage, trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted to be when I grew up.
As of today, I have been writing on the Internet for over fourteen years.
When I did the math, I stared at that number, shocked. I think of all the choices I’ve made, all the breadcrumbs I’ve followed, all the words I’ve spilled, all the parts of myself and my life that I’ve willingly given away, bits and pieces that are still floating through the online galaxies like specks of dust, like tiny twinkling stars.
I cannot say I regret it. The question I seem to be wrestling with is: am I committed to doing this forever? Am I going to be 40, 50, 60 years old writing on the Internet? Or will there come a day where I simply say, thank you, I’ve had enough.
The older I get, the more I am thinking about the effects of putting my art online, building a business online, sharing so much of my self online. I don’t know if it’s my age, or the ages of my kids, or my specific version of a midlife career crisis, but more often than not, I find myself dreaming about being offline.
I dream of turning our Coffee + Crumbs essays into printed magazines or another book. I dream of planning writing retreats that happen in the flesh, not over Zoom. I dream of returning to photography—my other creative love—and flying around the country photographing families in their homes, capturing the daily magic of cinnamon pancakes and bubble wands and riveting games of hide-and-seek.
I dream of swapping apps and data and pixels for something more physical, something more tangible, something I can actually touch.
Yesterday I snapped at my kids half a dozen times before 8am. I felt terrible afterwards, wrought with guilt, frustrated by my own lack of patience. Why am I so grumpy and irritable? An hour later I realized I hadn’t eaten breakfast.
To be clear: that’s not an excuse.
To be clear: sometimes I am irritable, for no good reason.
Sometimes, though, I might just need a turkey sandwich.
I vox my closest friends and confess how often I dream of disappearing from the Internet, of not being online anymore, of not feeding the content machine another scrap. I tell them how much I wrestle with the hypocrisy of not wanting my kids to be on screens while my entire career exists inside of one. I tell them I don’t know what I would do if I left all of this. Get a job at a bookstore? Become a yoga teacher? Take a year off and learn how to raise chickens and make bread? Could I still write? But how? And where?
They listen without judgment even though I can hear myself—and acknowledge more than once—the privilege oozing from my mouth.
“Do you think coming out of book launch season has something to do with how you’re feeling?” my friend Sarah asks.
Yes, I respond. It’s the book launch and then some. It’s the news about Heather. The blogger who disappeared. It’s the 30+ podcast interviews I’ve just done. It’s the nonstop vulnerability hangovers. It’s the constant pressure I feel to keep going, to keep breaking down snippets of my life into soundbites and shareable squares. It’s my son heading into middle school, my own desperation to keep him away from iPhones as long as humanly possible.
It’s … the cognitive dissonance.
I long to make more embodied art, but I don’t know how. I dream about doing something different, but I don’t know what.
A while back I read a news headline about a football player who did a darkness retreat for four days. I keep thinking how nice that would be, to sit in a dark room with God for a while and pray for answers.
My best friend validates my concerns about being on the Internet, but reminds me I don’t have to decide anything today, or even tomorrow, and that maybe the best thing I could do for myself, right now, is to rest. She uses the word “burnout” and suggests I take some time off this summer. Clock out. Disconnect.
I zoom out. I consider every angsty thought spiraling in my brain—every thought about ChatGPT and hate forums and how terrible social media is and this existential crisis I seem to be having over and over again about so much of my life being online—against the simplicity of what she is saying. I think about how much better I felt yesterday after I ate a plate of eggs, a piece of toast, and drank an entire glass of orange juice. It’s not that my patience was immediately restored or that I instantly became a better mother (I still had to apologize to my children and ask them to forgive me), but the simple act of feeding myself took the edge off.
Maybe I don’t need to quit the Internet. Maybe I simply need some time away. I hit the button in my Voxer app to reply, and barely get out the words, “I think maybe I’m just tired,” before bursting into tears.
It’s 7:30am and my children are bustling in and out of my room asking for breakfast and tattling on each other. I am writing this from my desk next to a burning grapefruit candle—going where the energy is—feeding the compulsion to process my thoughts in real time. And while I am fighting the urge to keep editing and revising (can you believe I already cut 683 words?), to add more disclaimers and more nuance to all of this rambling, I’m going to quiet the voices in my head telling me all of this is dumb and let this piece fly anyway.
Not because I trust the Internet1, but because today I am willing to give another tiny speck of myself away.
Dearest reader, you have always been kind and gracious to me and for that I am abundantly thankful. ❤️