On blogging, Mary Englebreit, and the lost art of journaling

I haven't been blogging much because I've been writing in a physical journal, a small red notebook given to me by my friend Dumindra. I had forgotten the great joy that privacy can be, and how lovely it is to write completely uncensored, unliterary, unbeautiful observations about the world.

My perception of blogging has shifted ever since I attended a social media conference for work and was schooled on the "best ways to blog for business." The session was thirty minutes long and we were to write a snappy headline and three call-to-action bullet points for our product. That was it. These were all things I knew already, practically speaking, and could rationally understand, and had actually put into practice myself in the past, for different publications, but I left the conference terribly depressed, thinking, I wonder if this is how children will learn to write. In bite-size, profit-oriented bullet points that are sharable on social media and measurable on Google Analytics.

There is, of course, a huge difference between a personal diary and a blog, and an even greater  divide between a personal interest blog and a corporate blog. I suppose what I miss is writing without an audience. As in, no one will ever read this. As in, I am writing for the sake of writing, or for the purpose of working this idea out. As in, what I write right now will have no effect whatsoever on my profit margin. I am not convinced that children of the twenty-first century will have any sense of what it means to write privately or purposelessly.

I was given my first diary on my tenth birthday, a Mary Englebreit number with a locking key. [Note: total scam. The key never worked.] The diary was structured into two entries per page, allocating a mere three or four lines per day. Somehow I got it in my head that what mattered most was frequency, not quality; what mattered was that I wrote every single day, and I didn't bother to filter if any of it was actually meaningful. Thus many of my entries were things like:

"Dear Diary, 

Today I went to soccer. Then we ate pasta for dinner. Then I read Laura Ingalls Wilder. 



I think at that age I equated writing a diary with writing a book. Quite literally the difference was merely prepositional: i.e. "I'm writing a book" versus "I'm writing in a book." This was further encouraged by the fact that all the diaries people gave me were hard-bound books with pictures of waterfalls or kittens. I felt an allegiance to my diaries that I felt to little else. Though I gave up on my fourth-grade diary after a few months, I returned to journaling as a seventh grader, after reading Harriet the Spy.  I made a commitment to myself the night of February 19, 1997, that I would write every single day, for as long as it took to become a writer.

I wrote every day, or at the very least, summarized every day, until the end of my freshman year of high school. When high school started, my family got a new computer, which for some reason I thought would make my writing better. I tried writing entries for a few weeks, but soon gave up because, well, high school was busy, and even though the computer was more efficient, it wasn't the same as sitting on my bedroom floor in my pajamas with the radio on, playing with the size and style of my handwriting, creating a physical artifact of my adolescence.

These are all the things I wanted to say at the social media conference, but of course I knew I never could. People write for different reasons and under different circumstances. It always amazes me the millions of ways you can push words around on a page. I am grateful that the professional work I do does challenge me and represents ideals and ethics that I support. It is remarkable, though, to think of how the Internet as a medium for communication has effectively rewritten the act of writing itself.

It seems fitting to end this post by remarking on its inappropriate length and total lack of bullet points and imperatives. Seen from the eyes of social media executives (because they are a thing now), this post is nothing more than a slowly deflating balloon. 

But it's my balloon, so there.