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Tuesday I met a friend for coffee. It wasn’t any friend, it was someone I felt I knew, I admired, I kinda girlcrushed on, but had never met in person. I’ve “known” Winona since around 2006 when I came across her fashion blog. We non-fashion insider fashion blogs were a new-fangled thing back then, and we created our own little community. Though she stopped blogging many years ago, thanks to social media we have kept in touch and I have been able to see how she took her love of writing and make it into a career. She also dropped her expected typical existence and moved cross-country with her boyfriend to start new. And made it. On her terms.
She was in town for just a few days; the stars aligned and we had an hour where we were both available. We met at a bookstore/café a few blocks from my office and near a Metro stop. I didn’t care about what or who I or she was wearing, it was raining, we hugged, we got coffee, and we never stopped talking for that hour. Conversation was easy because thanks to the internet, we already knew a lot about each other, we could fill in the gaps, we didn’t have to share a ton of backstory to get to a point.
When I got back to the office, I was on a boring conference call and started scrolling through my very first blog (now locked down and hidden). The one before Wardrobe Oxygen and its various iterations. The one where I had a pseudonym, where I blogged about my dreams and dinners in pink font on a black background. Where I lived on the internet when I met Winona as well as Kristine, Candi and Catie, Elena and Fi, and many other amazing people with whom I shared deep thoughts, not so deep thoughts that we thought were deep, what we ate, what we saw, and often what we wore.
Winona and I talked about our love for the internet, but also the struggles with writing for a 2015 audience. How you want to be honest and raw, but how the commenters are there just waiting for your post to tear it apart. How it feels weird to try to think of the most raw or shocking thing about yourself for pageviews, clickbait, advertising dollars. I looked at my old blog that afternoon and cringed at so many things I said and was glad I shut down the blog many years ago. I was raw, I was honest, I put it out there, but those cringe-worthy moments almost a decade ago were met with comments from complete strangers who could relate, celebrated my honesty, were gentle with their advice and constructive feedback, who laughed with me instead of at me.
I came across a post on the old blog where I discussed paranoia the deep destroyer. Yep, quoting the Kinks then and now. I wrote about how I have held myself back and hurt relationships because of assuming the worst. People were talking about me, people didn’t like me, people were trying to have me fail. I remember writing that, remembering how cathartic it was. The world doesn’t care so much about me to try to destroy me. It’s all in my mind, I am only a speck of sand.
I regularly used the mantra, “I am a speck of sand” when I would feel the fears welling up, worrying about what people thought of me, assuming the worst. Even as my blog grew, I still knew I was a speck of sand. There are millions of blogs out there, millions who are bigger, more famous than mine. I am only a speck of sand and all that matters is that little bit of beach (or corner of someone’s shoe) where I reside. To some, I am nothing, I am invisible. But if I end up in your eye, or connect with fellow specks of sand to be more visible, I can make impact. This concept served me well and kept the deep destroyer from destroying my blog and my psyche.
But the present isn’t a time for pink font on black backgrounds of blogspot URLs, and it’s not a time for being brutally honest and raw and remaining a speck of sand. I saw that last year when I was criticized for a post I wrote in 2009. I continue to see it today, when I see my analytics, find someone on a forum or in comments share my blog as a great resource, and then another comes after and says something like, “I used to like her too until I found this” and shares a link to where that criticism took place. Where a mob mentality can happen over hating some speck of sand and figuring out ways to obliterate it, hurt it financially and personally. Where I have seen good friends share their soul and without rhyme or reason some get torn to shreds while others make bank. I see how raw and honest has become the key to 15 minutes of internet fame and I start wondering if people who share are doing it for catharsis, for community, or for the hope that they could end up on the Today Show or at least Buzzfeed, Jezebel, or HuffPo. I see how even brands are asking for more intrusive aspects to their partnerships – share your child, photograph yourself without makeup, get paid to write about a chronic illness and tie it in to a car company or digestive aid.
A lot of that raw honesty in my old blog was due to age. At 29, I looked at bloggers like Dooce and Stephanie Klein and thought I too could write something witty and become famous. Maybe my blog would segue into a newspaper column a la Carrie Bradshaw or a book of my funny thoughts like Sloane Crosley. Here’s me in my nightgown, eyeliner to my cheeks with a hangover! Let me tell you about the time I thought my bathroom was making me sick and I tore off the wallpaper and destroyed the place while Karl was in Mexico for teacher training! Did I ever tell you about the time that my dog ate a bag of weed? Let me vent about my asshole boss, I totally think by changing his name he’d never know it was him.
I got burned (hey, did I ever tell you about the time I was denied a government clearance for work partially because of what was on my blog?), I started a family, I got older, and I got wiser. I thanked my lucky stars that I never got that book deal or newspaper column about my personal thoughts, and that I got into blogging relatively early in the game but late in life so I never felt it was okay to share every single detail in high-resolution digital imagery and live video. But even with age and wisdom I have said and done things that still make me cringe, still come back to haunt me.
When I did my reader survey, so many of you said you wanted more of me. More personal life, more Emerson, more Karl, more essays, more real and raw. Chatting with Winona reminded me that there are still amazing wholehearted people out there rocking on the internet, I can be one of them, there can be a balance between being open and being a sellout. But it also reminded me that we may all be specks of sand, but we now live in a time where everyone feels they have the right to bitch about that speck of sand in their eye, warn everyone about the dangers of eye damage when visiting a beach, and figure out ways to shut down the beach to protect the rest of the world from such irritation.
Each day with this blog it is a balance. Give great content, but don’t be impersonal. But don’t be so honest that you can hurt yourself and your loved ones. Be profitable, but don’t be a sellout. Figure out ways to improve, do better, but don’t let it consume you. Be proud of success, get out there because we all deserve recognition for a job well done, but always remember you are a speck of sand. Be proud, but be humble, and always keep your guard up yet give enough of yourself to keep ties to what makes blogging so special in the first place.
I’m not going anywhere. As I said to Winona, I have more ideas than days in the week to post them and hours in the day where I can write about them. The more I blog, the more inspired I am, and the more I want to create good work that can do good work. Blogging is a rush, writing is what I love, and having an active community and regular feedback to improve and connect is such a gift. But I treasure my life, my family, my IRL community, and my self and need to protect and respect it, keep it separate, keep it sacred. I think true blogging talent is finding that balance of personal and professional; I am working on that every day.