Five Things I Learned During My One-Year Blogging Break

Last December I decided to stop blogging. The final decision to stop caught me by surprise, although it was something I had been considering off and on for quite some time. Here are five things I learned during my year away from the blogosphere:

Silence is important. One of the most powerful things that happened to me in the last year was that I had an encounter with silence. I was hired to write a book for a man in Istanbul who was dying of cancer, an amazing, strong man with an incredible story, and while I was there I came face to face with silence.

After I got back from Istanbul, I started reading more about silence, making time for it. The practice of silence changed my life, and I look forward to writing more about that here soon.

Basically, when you’re blogging every day of the week, it’s difficult to make time for silence. It’s hard to dwell on things for any amount of time without talking about them right away. This is the challenge ahead of me. Blogging out of a space of silence.

Platform isn’t everything. I was so obsessed with numbers before I stopped blogging. How many visits today? This hour? This minute? How many likes? How many shares? A year away from the blog was a tangible step that forced me to focus on getting better at writing instead of getting better at drawing attention to myself.

There is value in secrecy. You know how in the story the angels told Mary she would give birth to the Messiah, then she Instagrammed it right away? Then shared it on Facebook (which was linked to her Twitter account)?

Nah. She treasured it in her heart. There’s power in letting things simmer, just thinking about them.

I am fascinated by the blog as a form of writing. As a lover of novels and short stories, I used to short-change the blog as a form. I tended to think of it as a platform-building tool, a means to an end. But during my time away I paid attention to the bloggers who were still forging ahead. I watched the interaction they had with their readers and the conversations going on.

The blog isn’t dead.

Jealousy sucks – Celebration is better. Anne Lamott talks about Jealousy in her book, Bird By Bird, and for the first month or two after I stopped blogging I sometimes got sideswiped by Jealousy. It’s hard to take a step back out of the limelight and watch other writers write amazing stuff and get huge numbers and continue to build an audience. But it was good for me. It was good for me to stay silent. It was good for me to wait.

And in the process I learned that one of the best ways to quell Jealousy is by supporting the folks you’re feeling jealous towards. Instead of stewing, get on board and help. Celebrate the small things with people. It’s possible to take joy in other people’s successes. It’s actually kind of fun.

So there you have it. Five of the many things I’ve learned during the last year. Any questions?

The Note I Sent Downstream (or, Why I’m Blogging Again)

5741269325Being nine years old, and intent on getting my message out into the great, wide world, I wrote a note in cursive, the clumsy curling script I had decided I would dedicate my life to learning. I tore a piece of paper from one of those notebooks that only releases a page after blessing it with a thousand, ragged edges.

I rooted a pencil from The Drawer. We called it simply, The Drawer, with capital letters. It was like the Room of Requirement, only drawer-size. But it was more like the opposite of the Room of Requirement because it usually held lots and lots of things I would never need – the wrong size batteries, a compass for drawing circles, a calculator with a malfunctioning number nine.

I scribbled out a note on the paper, a message to the wild beyond. It was an important message, a world-changing message. Then, because I was nine years old, I went out to the ramshackle shed in the side yard and found some scrap two-by-fours (no longer than my hand) and a few only-slightly-bent nails. I bashed together a squarish thing that would float and secured the note to the outside of the wooden vessel with endless layers of clear tape.

From there I wandered down the long farm lane, past the apple tree I would fall out of the following year, past the garden and the tall, gangly stalks of sweet corn. I walked through the church parking lot, past the hide-and-seek cemetery, and then I slid down the bank to the field beside the stream.

I stared at that message in my hands and I wondered if it would hold up under the rigorous whitewater of the Pequea Creek. I wondered if I had put enough tape on it. I wondered who would find it, because in my mind that wasn’t even a question. Someone would find it. But who?

I threw that clunky block of wood into the swiftly moving current, and it floated away. Past the small dam we had built. Past the Amish schoolhouse. Down the long straightaway, around the bend, and out of my life forever. I turned and walked back up to the house, speechless with awe at a world where a little boy like me, barely nine years old, could send a message out into the world.

Twenty-seven years later, I’m still amazed.

* * * * *

It’s been almost a year since I last wrote a blog post here. It’s been a busy year, one I can’t wait to tell you about. It’s also been a silent year, in the best ways possible. A few people have asked me why I decided to start blogging again. Why am I returning to the blogosphere? The thought of coming back brings me a little anxiety, a little hesitation – one of the main reasons I stopped blogging was because I felt like I was standing in a crowd, screaming, trying to get as much attention as I could with whatever post would drive the most traffic. I hope I don’t go back to that place. I’ve never been much of a shouter.

While I don’t yet know how to articulate the various facets of why I’m blogging again, this story from my childhood came to mind. I guess I still feel like an eager little boy, nailing these clunky vessels together, hoping they will somehow carry a message – with all its ragged edges – downstream.

The Whiny Voices of Anti-Adventure

Today I’m guest posting over at Ed Cyzewski’s blog about “Five Things That 10,000 Miles Taught Me About Being a Father”:

I’ve been trying and failing and trying again at this “Dad” thing for the last ten years, through four children, two continents, seven houses, and a big blue bus. I’ve changed thousands of diapers, denied or fulfilled thousands of late-night water requests, and fell asleep countless times while reading bedtime stories.

Yet none of those things properly prepared me for being a parent during our recent 10,000-mile trip. Here are five things I learned about parenting while we were on the road:

1. Be willing to stop. At more than a few points on our trip, we changed the entire itinerary just so that we could push pause and add some margin to what occasionally became a rather hectic schedule. Many times this was because we could tell our kids needed some quality time with us. Is your life overheating? Pull over and set up camp some place peaceful.

You can read the rest of the story HERE.

Forget the Path Behind You – It Leads Back to Mediocrity

It’s a strange place to be, this particular spot in life where we’re too committed to the current path to even consider going back. Do you know what I mean? Have you ever reached that point?

Before this, there was the beginning. The starting out. The hemming and hawing and difficult decisions and the voices – oh, the voices! – protesting and arguing and whining. There was that sense that our feet were far too tender for the path we were called to travel. A lonely path. A path few understood.

Then, when we finally started off down this narrow way, there were the (many) places where it was hard not to look back, and while looking back, hard not to turn back. That was the place of second guesses and curious road blocks. That was the place where the launching point was still in view, still attainable, still turn-back-and-findable.

But the last six months have been a machete slicing its way through undergrowth. The path, once felt so defined, vanished, but the place at which it melted away became its own launching point, and with all the slashing and breaking, the stinging and stooping, we completely lost all sight of where we’d come from. We stopped and we looked around and we marveled at the silence. The peace. The unrecognizable.

When that realization hits, that the way back is no easier than the way forward, the first sense is panic. How did we so easily lose our lifeline to that place of safety? What now? Where do we turn? There is, at that point, no greater temptation than to sit down and cry a river of tears and hope you can somehow drown yourself in their shallow stream.

But we did none of those things. We kept moving forward. And we learned something rather shocking.

There is a remarkable peace to be found when the way back to mediocrity has been erased. There is a remarkable excitement when the way forward has nothing to offer but calamitous failure or life lived to the fullest.

And who is to say that one is not found in the other?

What’s Your Golden Ticket?

There’s plenty of money out there. They print more every day. But this ticket, there’s only 5 of them in the whole world, and that’s all there’s ever going to be. Only a dummy would give this up for something as common as money. Are you a dummy?

– Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

* * * * *

This is my favorite part of the movie, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Charlie, on his third try, manages to buy a chocolate bar with a golden ticket inside. Only five children in the whole world will find a ticket and gain entrance to Willie Wonka’s private candy factory.

It’s a dream come true. Charlie finds a ticket. But on his way out of the candy store, someone offers him $500 for his ticket. Charlie is dirt poor. By the time he gets home with his ticket, he has made a difficult decision: his family needs the money more than he needs a trip to a chocolate factory.

But his grandfather looks at him:

“There’s plenty of money out there. They print more every day. But this ticket, there’s only 5 of them in the whole world, and that’s all there’s ever going to be. Only a dummy would give this up for something as common as money. Are you a dummy?”

* * * * *

What’s your view of money? Do you realize how common it is? What are you willing to give up for it?

What’s your golden ticket? What limited edition thing (dream, opportunity, lifestyle, gift, the list goes on and on and on) are you about to give up, just so that you’ll have more money?

* * * * *

Turns out, by keeping the ticket, Charlie ends up owning the entire factory. That sounds a heck of a lot better than $500. If you give up your golden ticket, what are you actually giving up? What are you gaining?

* * * * *

We all give up certain things for money. Part of that is a necessary exchange. If we want to have a place to live, clothes to wear, food to eat, then most of us have to give up our time and work for money. But sometimes we start to really like the extra stuff that money can give us. So we start leaving more and more stuff at it’s altar.