I woke up last Saturday morning to an email from a dear friend who lives in Syria.
You’ve got at least a vague notion of what’s going on there, right? What did Nick Kristof say in the NYT the other day? Civil War? The BBC News hasn’t made that declaration (yet). It says it’s a “bloody internal conflict . . . threatening to become” a civil war.
The subject line in the email from my friend read, “I am safe and well.” She sent the message to herself and blind copied all the recipients; so I have no idea how many people got it.
She asked that we pray for an end to the violence in her country.
And at the end of her brief note, she surprised me by mentioning (and attaching) an essay I had written about our friendship back in 2005.
That piece, “The Scope of Distance,” was a part of Fresh Yarn’s 21st Installment — a rare issue, “devoted exclusively to emerging writers with little-to-no publishing credits.” It was the first time my writing appeared on the internet. Ever. (Unless you count those quippy match dot com bios from the late nineties. I do not.)
When the email came in, I was in New York City at my first blogging conference, BlogHer 2012. If you’ve never heard of it, this event is attended by nearly 5,000 bloggers from all over the world. This year, President Obama beamed in via satellite, and people like Martha Stewart, Katie Couric and Soledad O’Brien showed up in person.
I tend to be skeptical of conferences, in general. It feels a bit like attempting to buy one’s way into a subculture.
Perhaps it’s because I’m insecure about my own credentials. Ordering business cards with the word “writer” under my name and paying an admission fee to wear a lammie doesn’t make me feel like a professional. I thought it might, but it didn’t.
After blogging for five years, I have yet to narrow in on a focus. I’m frustrated by my inability to concisely describe the purpose of this blog. Or maybe I’m stubbornly refusing to commit to a purpose. I don’t have an area of expertise (I keep meaning to get one of those) or even a niche. Dammit, what’s my niche? Whining?
Incidentally, this is my 600th post. There’s probably somewhere around a quarter of a million words here — at this blog — that I’ve typed with my own ten digits. Instead of celebrating, all I can think is, I’m tired of being so fucking meta all the time.
The way I was described back in 2005 at Fresh Yarn still applies: emerging with “little-to-no publishing credits”.
I thought attending BlogHer, the goddess mother of all blogging events, would help me gain confidence and clarify my goals as a writer.
In my angsty hope for direction, I forgot how much face to face exposure with corporate sponsors confuses me. I walked around “The Expo” feeling like a 1950s housewife watching vacuum cleaner demonstrations. Was I supposed to become inspired to write about breakfast sausage, flameless candles, mattresses, hot flash remedies and/or yogurt bars? Am I overreacting? There were some consolations (snacks and free vibrators–plural, batteries included).
Clearly, I don’t know how the Business of Conferences works, but I do know that I don’t want a major bank commandeering anything I’ve written about my relationship with money, particularly under the guise of a contest.
What I do like about conferences is the sessions (aka panels). It’s like going back to school, to the kind of classes where you sit in the front row because you love your teachers and everyone is engaged with the topic.
Last Saturday afternoon, I sat quietly in my last panel of the day listening to some bona fide BlogHer experts talk about why they write. Turns out their answers were similar to my answers.
- I write to make sense of what I see (and who I am) while simultaneously escaping what I see (and who I am).
- I write to find out what I think and feel.
- I write to leave my prints somewhere outside of myself because the alternative means everything about me is 100% fleeting.
- I’ll admit it, I write because I like to go back and reread my old work.
- So yeah, I write for myself.
When my words take the form of a blog post, it means that once in a while, someone somewhere might tell me, “I feel that way, too.” Blogging eases the inherent loneliness that comes with being human.
One panelist in particular spoke about this. She impressed me immensely, but I haven’t yet sought permission to use her name or link. When she mentioned correspondence from her readers, she was moved to tears an an incredibly endearing way.
That’s when I remembered the email from Syria that had come in just hours earlier. My friend — coping with danger I cannot imagine — didn’t just share my essay. She introduced it by saying,
“I find great relief reading its words these days.”
I’m humbled by the economy of these nine words. I must remember them when I get absorbed in gluttonous self-reflexivity (every other hour).
Writing merely to alleviate my own loneliness is too small. I might be far from a focus/purpose/niche, but today, I’m a bit closer in the right direction.
Dear friend (whose name I’m afraid to use because this is a scary world),
Thank you for your email. I find great relief reading its words.