A little here, a little there

Boy, am I bad at keeping up with this stuff! It’s strange: When I was young, I filled my free time with creativity. I had so much of it that it couldn’t be contained; I needed to get it out. I enjoyed getting it out.

Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to make writing and editing my career, which is a blessing and a curse. (My inner editor wants to change that cliché, but for reasons I will explain in the next paragraph or so, I have to keep writing.)

The best thing about being a professional writer/editor is getting paid to do the thing you like to do. It’s a rare privilege. I appreciate it. And yet, when creativity is your 9-to-5, you pour your ideas and energy into your job—which leaves very little left over for the big, audacious ideas percolating in the recesses of your brain. The everyday drudgery of life calls, too; finding time to write the great American novel, or even the half-coherent blog post, is difficult when there’s fresh cat puke on the living room rug and it needs to be cleaned up right away.

And so, even though I work with words all day long, I have little time to play with them for pure pleasure. I’ve been struggling to identify the feeling this absence has created. It’s not sadness, and it’s not frustration. Nor is it a sense of failure—I work a lot, I make my family a priority, and I feel good about those things. It took months for me to realize what this feeling is. It’s loneliness. Writing has been my constant, and I miss it.

I don’t write here as much as I’d like to. I do keep two journals, though, both paper. One is a shared journal of our marriage, and the other is a series of letters to our son. (Ever a worrier, I want him to have a way to “know” me if I get hit by a bus or something.) Right now, I do what I can, even if it’s not my best. And that’s why completion, not perfection, is the goal for the foreseeable future. Even if it means a cliché slips in now and again.

Back at it

It’s been 21 years since I first started making websites. I liked the internet a lot more back then. Those early years drew the best kind of weirdos and geeks: people who were passionate enough about something to learn HTML and deal with FTP and find other oddballs on IRC. (There were a lot of acronyms in the mid-’90s.)

If you weren’t there (“there,” as though it was an actual place!) it’s probably hard to understand how wonderful the web could be. It was slower, for one thing. No Twitter, no comment forms, no memes, no hashtags. Google didn’t exist yet. Most people didn’t have cell phones, much less digital cameras—I remember taking photographs on film, having them developed, scanning them, and uploading them. It took days, literally, to get a few jpegs online. Today, it takes seconds.

Because the amount of content was closer to a languidly moving brook than the tsunami it is today, you could take a while to discover things. So much of it was unpopular and nerdy. Niche-y. Plus, if you knew what it took to create a website, your subconscious realized that it was a human doing the work. Maybe it’s just me, but that made the web feel much more personal and valuable, and there was a genuine thrill in being able to email someone who lived on the other side of the world. A message to a stranger, delivered in seconds!

I made a lot of friends in those years, and some of us now enjoy the comfort of well-worn, decades-old relationships. For that, I am deeply grateful. I also made some mistakes, whether due to youth or folly; in emulating some of my most-admired writers by “writing what I know” with reckless transparency, I hurt people. Truman Capote was an undeniable talent and an unforgettable character, for instance, but I didn’t appreciate how miserable he could make others.

My enthusiasm for—or, more accurately, my obsession with—the internet began to wane in the early 2000s. I struggled with the balance between writing openly and craving the freedom to figure myself out. As Blogger and Livejournal (and Diaryland, if you remember that) opened the floodgates of digital publishing, the web began to feel crowded and claustrophobic. My writing process became less creative and more performative. I felt as though I had been too open, had put myself out there too much, and I needed to retreat.

Simultaneously, I started working my way into the editorial career I’d always dreamed of. When you start getting paid to write, those assignments typically become bigger priorities than personal stories. Years passed and I never regained my zest for the internet. I wrote more in my paper journals than online, and I took up hobbies like photography and calligraphy. Even as I worked at digital startups, I tried to make more time for offline activities. The web, with its pace and hype, drained me. Living offline restored me.

Since the iPhone’s debut, I started to deeply dislike what the internet, especially social media, was doing to people. I noticed how it was rendering our relationships transactional, corroding our empathy, and turning us into self-promotional #brands. I hate how, if you’re out with a bunch of people and one person picks up his phone, everyone else follows—and if you leave your phone untouched, you somehow come across like the jerk who can’t follow social norms. I find it depressing when, for example, a family of four sits silently at a restaurant, vacantly tapping into their phones. (Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer the days when a family stopped talking during dinner because of long-held, simmering resentments.)

And yet, HERE WE ARE. For the past few months, I’ve been driven to write. It’s like a tiny electric charge that needs to funnel itself into something. So you’ll find me writing here, every now and then, and in the spirit of the early internet, I hope it finds its way to the best kind of weirdos and geeks. I think you’re out there, still.