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 Nature of Breathing

The sound of her coughing comes at me through the fog of sleep. It is a hoarse, barking sound, all too familiar. I roll over and look at the clock. 12:41 am. I take a deep breath and move to a seated position at the edge of the bed.

“You okay, Abra?” I ask our five-year-old, rubbing my eyes, then staring in the direction of the blankets on the floor. “Can you breathe okay?”

All I hear is a long, wheezing inhale. The exhale is a series of whimpers and cries and more coughing, the dry kind that doesn’t sound like it’s moving anything.

“It’s okay, honey. I’m coming,” I say. I stand up and walk over and scoop her up, laying her across my arms. I carry her downstairs. She’s awake now and on the verge of panic.

“It’s okay,” I say over and over again, words that turn into a sort of lullaby.

“I can’t breathe,” she manages to say.

“We’ll get you outside. You’ll be able to breathe out there.”

I somehow open the door to the deck, even with my arms full of her, and I try not to bang her head on the frame as we go out. I pull the door closed behind us with my foot. It’s freezing cold, in the 30s, and the air shocks me awake. I prop her up against the house and run inside for the warmest blanket we have. I sit on the wooden deck and she sits on my lap and I wrap us in the blanket. We are in a cocoon of warmth, my breath escaping in cloudy bursts.

Her ratchety breathing smooths out. Soon she sleeps, her head against my chest. I only have sweatpants on, and my feet, sticking out at the end of the blanket are freezing, but every other part of me is warm. Two miles away, down by the river, I hear the train whistle, long and sad.

God seems close in that moment. Everything seems so present, pressed up to the front of reality by the cold air biting my face.

* * * * *

Her cough wakes me again. 2:40am. I sigh and find my sweatshirt on the floor.

“You okay, Abra?” I ask her. “Can you breathe okay?”

“No,” she manages to scratch out between coughs and long, slow draws of breath.

“It’s okay, honey,” I say. I stand up and walk over and scoop her up, lay her across my arms again, carry her downstairs again. I talk to her all the way down. This time we have the blanket when we go with us. I sit her down on the wooden boards, go find one of our patio chairs, and then sit there with her on my lap.

Her breathing calms. She falls back to sleep. I stare at her eyelashes resting on her cheek. I could fall asleep if I could get my arm comfortable, but that’s not going to happen. I consider going inside and finding the air mattress so we can sleep outside. I can’t remember how long it takes to inflate. This fact seems very important, the way trivial things can seem so crucial in dreams.

I hear the steps of a medium-sized animal walking through dry leaves on the ground just beyond the deck. Too small for a deer. Probably a possum. Or a raccoon. The animal pauses. The night is still and dark. I hear another train whistle.

I sit with her as long as I can, but my back starts to ache. I carry her back up to the bedroom floor and lay her down, wondering if that shot of cold air will be enough to get her through until morning.

* * * * *

It doesn’t. 4:52am. I carry her outside again and this time I have a pillow for my arm and we sit there in that glorious cold and I listen to the sound of her breathing slow down, turn into sleep once again. She melts up against me, pulling her feet away from the edge of the covers. We sit there in that freezing cold and there is something beautiful about a moment, just before sunrise, when everyone is breathing easy, when two jets of steaming breath get ready for the dawn.

There is something that makes me feel God-with-us. Maybe it’s because in that moment I’m thankful for something as simple as another breath. Maybe it’s what happens when I stop and listen, when I move away from everything else – shelter, food, warmth – and simply exist.

I’m not sure why God feels so close in that moment, but I fall asleep there, in the dark, breathing in that beautiful air, the kind of air that’s only ever available just before the sunrise.

Finding All of My 13,475 Days

IMG_0411Yesterday I took Lucy to the dentist. It’s the same dentist I went to when I was her age – eight years old – so it always feels like walking into some kind of time capsule when I take her there. The same dentist, the same receptionist, the same terrifying smell.

This is how things operate in our area, for the most part: they stay the same. Change comes slowly, if at all. Every so often a road is widened or a new development springs up in an unlikely valley, but Gap Diner is still at the corner of 30 and 41, there’s a town clock at the top of the hill, and everyone wonders how the owner of Pizza Box can make a living because the parking lot is almost always empty, as it has been for the last 30 years.

After Lucy’s cleaning I talked and laughed with the receptionist. She is my parents’ age. She shook her head and her eyes got watery when she told Lucy that I used to come walking through those doors, looking every bit as nervous as she did. I remember those visits: the frantic brushing of the teeth, the unfamiliar plucking of floss, the smell of bubble gum fluoride. The pulling of unnecessary molars. The tightening of braces. The haze of laughing gas.

No cavities, so I took Lucy to an ice cream place to celebrate. What is it about the official pronouncement of no cavities that leads me to reward my children with sweets? As she munched on M&Ms smothered in vanilla ice cream and whipped cream, we talked about when I was a kid.

“Did you know this is the town where I grew up?” I asked her.

She shook her head, no.

“Is that why you know all the old people here?” she asked.

I laughed.

“Yeah, I guess so.”

I stared through the large glass window at the traffic coming down the hill to the light. I remembered when that was the only light in town, when Pizza Box, the Gap Diner, and the Hungry Man Truck Stop were about all you had to choose from.

Our waitress kept calling Lucy “honey” and me simply “hon.” This annoyed me, although I’m not sure why. But Lucy just smiled when the waitress walked away.

“People who work in restaurants are so nice,” she whispered, laughing, showing off the space one of her teeth had recently vacated.

I almost mumbled, It’s just because of the tip, but then I decided not to say anything. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with thinking that people are being nice simply because they’re nice. Even if they’re not. And who knows? Maybe she was just being nice. She probably was.

Lucy cleared her throat, took a drink of water, then looked at me with wide eyes.

“So you used to go to that dentist twenty years ago?” she asked, taking another bite of ice cream.

“Actually, more like thirty,” I said, staring back out the window, watching the traffic again. And for one bright instant I saw with clarity the many days of my life, lined up like note cards. All 13,475 of them.

Blank days too early for me to remember and blurry days that passed without me even noticing. Good days full of celebration: Florida vacations and my 16th birthday and the birth of our son. There were painful days, too, shredded around the edges, days where someone had tried to erase the writing but had instead worn through the paper.

What stood out to me the most about all of those days is that most had come and gone without anything extraordinary happening. And I thought, That’s what makes a life, this unpredictable concoction of a few poignant moments mixed in with an endless stream of normal days. I was reminded of Annie Dillard’s words, that “routines are nets for catching days.”

I looked back at Lucy. She had finished her ice cream, and she sat there quietly, drinking water through a clear, blue plastic straw. I paid the bill with a twenty.

“You ready to go?” I asked.

She nodded. So we walked out into that cold November day. When she holds my hand it makes me feel both old and new, tired and hopeful, small and yet responsible for oh so much.

All the days of my life swirled around me like snow.

How many days old are you? (You can calculate it HERE.) What do you have to say about that?

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.

My Last Blog Post

(The photo is of me breaking the sound barrier on a tricycle during our annual trek to the mountains. I chose this photo because most times this is how my life feels: exhilarating, slightly painful, and more than slightly out-of-control.)

So I’ve decided to stop blogging.

It’s been a much more difficult decision than you would think. I guess because after two and a half years, I’ve come to depend very much on this space as one where I can work out my many and jumbled thoughts. I wish I could somehow express to you how much your readership and comments and kindness have impacted me.

I’ve felt overwhelmed recently by this pressure to build a platform. I am not one who is known for moderation, so it’s no surprise that this blog and the related elements involved in promoting it (ie Facebook and Twitter) have become all-consuming. I need a break from being a platform-builder so that I can be a writer again.

I also need some time to think about what direction my writing life is going to take. I feel a little lost right now as to what I want the next year to look like, and I’m worried that if I just keep doing what I’m currently doing another year will pass in the rather aimless fashion typical of default modes and pre-programmed playlists. I’ve already finished one novel (not sure what to do with that), and I’ve got a second mulling in my brain that I will write this year. I want to focus more on writing short stories and honing my craft. I want to have more time to write for my clients.

Stepping away from the blog does give me a bit of a panic-attack. After all, if you’re a writer these days, it’s all about your platform. Or so they say. But I’ve chosen to see this stepping away from my blog as an act of faith, a deliberate clearing of space in a world where sometimes it’s difficult to find enough space to turn around. Besides, Maile and I have never really followed normal operating procedure, and we continue to be pretty happy with how that’s worked out for us.

Finally to all of you wonderful bloggers out there – you guys and girls have been a huge inspiration to me. Your kindness and support have been incredible. Your willingness to be so transparent and to keep writing the hard stuff is exhilarating. Meeting many of you during our cross-country journey was the highlight of our trip.

So farewell, for now. I’d be willing to bet that I will resume blogging at some point in the future, but I’m committing to at least a year off (or until I land a book deal) (or something else crazy like that).

If you’d like to stay up-to-date regarding what I’m up to, sign up for my email newsletter in the left-hand column – I’ll try to send something out every once in a while. You can also still buy our book, How to Use a Runaway Truck Ramp, HERE. It’s also now available on Kindle HERE.

Send me an email when you think of me! (

Farewell! Adieu! Adios!