A Brief History of (My) Time (Online)

Once upon a great many years ago, in the days before the term blog was widely used and the Internet was still an oracle conjured solely through computer monitors, I started an online journal. It was 2001, and I was a sophomore in college. I’d come to the conclusion that I would never be a person that maintains a paper journal – probably by staring at the stack of unused journals cluttering my dorm room – so I decided to move my journaling attempts online. I signed up for a free account at Diaryland, and my first blog was born. That attempt didn’t last long, but a year later, I was at it again, this time setting up a flashier account at Xanga and typing from my own desk in my own room in the apartment I shared with my best friends. Perhaps the new sense of solitude and autonomy somehow encouraged that effort. Maybe it was because I chained smoked while I typed. For one reason or another, though, that blog stuck. I maintained it from 2002 through 2005, when I jumped platforms to Livejournal. But by mid-2007, I was deeply entrenched in a number of real life activities, including buying my first house and transitioning to a new career in marketing, and I began to neglect my blog. That trend continued until late 2008, when I wrote my final entry several weeks before beginning divorce proceedings with my (now ex-)husband.

Old Blog Collage
Previous banners and featured photos from my former Xanga blog.

And oh, the difference ten years makes. Looking back at what survives of my old online journals is a lesson in humility (and humiliation). I was a very dramatic, intense young woman. Most of the writing makes me cringe, and all of it prompts me to ponder how I’ll assess this writing in another decade or so. And I can’t help but interrogate my motives here a bit more harshly.

Which brings me, rather circuitously, to my point: sometimes, we have to examine the past to give direction to our future. There’s a lovely quote from Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time that explains time in terms of chaos.

“The increase of disorder or entropy is what distinguishes the past from the future, giving a direction to time.” – Stephen Hawking, from A Brief History of Time

What he’s talking about here is the “Arrow of Time,” a concept I’m in no way qualified to explain even half as well as this article, if you’re interested. The basic idea in a very small nutshell is that as conscious beings, we perceive the future as the direction where all the disorder – all the messy potential – exists. To us, time flows forward, from certainty to chaos. Except General Relativity tells us that time isn’t a projectile hurtling forward – it’s the fourth dimension, as omnipresent as the three dimensions of space that we comprehend with our senses. Just as all of space exists right now, despite our perception of moving through it, so does time exist – full and complete, no past or future to be seen. As a writer – particularly one focusing on speculative fiction – the concept of time fascinates me. And the act of writing itself allows us to move outside of time – to examine the past, yes, but also to center ourselves in the present and imagine the future. Through the act of writing, we can experience time as we experience space – in every direction, or focused on the entire wide expanse of existence.

For this reason, I’ve plucked the above quote from it’s context to consider time through the lens of the endeavor at hand: blogging. I’m looking at this blog in several directions – examining the seemingly unchangeable past alongside the apparently unknowable future.

In the past, I blogged to chronicle a specific time in my life, to capture a snapshot of the events and emotions that shaped me from the ages of 19 to 25. Scrolling through those old writings, I’m swept into a different time. I enter a mind at once familiar and alien, full of longing and anger and insecurity that I somehow both vividly remember and cannot believe I felt. I can’t help but laugh at the resolute proclamations I made about life and love and work when I was 22, so certain of my understanding of the world. I read an entry about a visit I took to Athens two years after graduating, about how lonely it felt to visit a space that held memories but no future potential, about the rift I felt forming between my best friends from college and my newly-married self. I wanted to rub that young woman’s back and tell her that it’s just a growing pain. A byproduct of personal evolution.

“The friendships will be fine,” I soothe.

Most fascinating of all are the moments I forgot. Stress about an exam in a class I can’t remember taking. The breeze that slinked through the pine trees outside our apartment balcony. Lectures I skipped. The quirky way a close friend smoked his cigarettes. Anxiety and existential angst spun up from my early days in telecom sales. The moments before a memorable kiss in the pouring rain.

Suddenly, there was life in the past again. It held surprises. An unexpected kind of disorder of forgotten times. It struck me that the experience of engaging with my memories as a text crafted in another time provided me with insights I couldn’t easily excavate from my own mind. It felt personally important, but then again, that was the purpose of my early attempts at blogging – to create a record for myself and perhaps the handful of strangers that stumbled across my site. But is that form of blogging still valid in 2018?

So I sat down today, in the fleeting present, to craft my first post here, and I reacquainted myself with those forgotten writings to help answer the fundamental question that has troubled me since I began to seriously consider creating this site.

Why blog?

More specifically: why would I start another blog now? What am I offering here, in this digital space?

Most of the guides to modern blogging steer readers in the same general direction: create a blog with a clear purpose. Define your niche well, and you should immediately know your readership. You will be a Mommy Blogger, a Food Blogger, a Travel Blogger, a Fashion Blogger, or a Blogger that Blogs About Blogging. You will craft on-message posts in the voice you’ve cultivated to support your personal brand and engage your readership that is, understandably, looking for tips about motherhood, recipes, travelling, style, or hey, how to start a blog. Support all of this thematically-relevant content with cross-channel tie-ins – snappy Tweets, hashtag-heavy Instagram art, your YouTube channel and Pinterest boards – and suddenly you’re building a platform that can be monetized.

Now, we’re just meeting, so you don’t know this about me, but I can be rather contrarian – my natural space is the outsider space, and I tend to have a reflex that ensures I remain an outlier. So I read all of those articles and thought, “Fuck no.” To be fair, what I meant in more diplomatic terms was, “That advice isn’t relevant to my personal reasons for returning to the online blogging space, and I’m not sure I want to conform to these current ideals.” It just came out as, “Fuck no.”

Don’t get me wrong. Yes, I tend towards knee-jerk defiance, but I’m also a marketer. I get branding. I get defining an audience and driving engagement. In point of fact, the strategy outlined above works, and it is common sense if your goal is to create a revenue-generating engine. I just came to the conclusion that I’m not attempting to create a revenue-generating engine.

A few of years ago, when I was still deeply entrenched in the business world, I decided that the blog I’d been considering in my head would be about how to apply project management concepts to writing a novel. The way I imagined it, I’d drive my own novel to completion (I have to pause here to appreciate how I was even thinking in jargon back then) by working through my levels of effort, creating a scope of work, crafting an exhaustive project plan, and holding myself accountable until I’d finally, finally finished the final draft.

That was in 2014. Four years later, I’m still working on the same novel (on version 90 at this point). I never did any of that planning, and frankly, I’m pretty sure my own idea wouldn’t have worked for me. Certainly, it’s working for someone, somewhere. But me? Nope. I’m just not that kind of creative writer. No matter how capable I am of managing a different sort of work using those methods, that’s not how I want to – or can – write a book.

(Little aside: I’ve been lucky enough to study under and get to know the amazing author of the Nina Zero series, Robert Eversz, through my continuing education studies with UCLA Extension. It’s a longer story for another day, but in a nutshell, when I started working with Robert, I’d worked myself into a state of perfectionist paralysis thanks to months of research on plot structure and craft. The way I figured it, “rigor follows risk” – and carving out time from my truly insane work schedule to write the novel I hoped would one day break me free from my corporate bonds – well, that was the definition of risk in my mind. It took advice from him to be able to let go and trust myself to write – to begin to stumble my way back to my natural storytelling rhythm. I’m still recovering, slowly rediscovering the heart of my work.)

In any case, my one, structured idea for a blog died a slow death, and I was never able to find another well-defined niche. I love to travel, and I try my best to make room for sojourns in my life as much as possible, but I don’t travel nearly enough to fill a blog with fresh, relevant content. As much as I love to read stories about bloggers who sell their possessions, quit their jobs, and transition to a life on the road, I know I can’t live that way myself. My home provides a balance to my wanderlust, a sanctuary where I can nurture myself, where I find solitude with my thoughts. Plus, I’m kind of a hermit sometimes. Most times. Any time I’m not working or travelling, really. I need a stable place to return to, and I’ve had to accept that I don’t actually want to be the nomad that lives in my head. So yeah, travel blogging is out. I followed this process of elimination through a list of all my interests and skills, and I landed at the conclusion that I just didn’t have a blog-worthy concept.

I didn’t revisit the idea until three years later, when my best friend, Samira at Memory Box Mom, suggested I try again.

Samira and Andrea at Chaxa Lagoon
Sam and I in Chile’s Atacama Desert – enjoying the sunset at Chaxa Lagoon.

This was just over a year ago, and I’d finally managed to extract myself from my demanding job at the company that had employed me for 13 years – or just over 75% of my adult life. I was deeply entrenched there, so it had taken more than a year and a half from the time I submitted my resignation to the day I packed up my office and sat for my exit interview. I was leaving Savannah, the place I’d lived for more than 20 years, to move to the family home I’d inherited from my grandmother in Cleveland, Ohio. My husband and I had lived apart for that grueling stretch of time as I worked to sell our house and exit my job, and he labored to find employment and renovate portions of our new home. We did all of this so that I could make a huge sea-change. I was shaking up my life, breaking free from the bonds of inertia that had held me in the same progressive motion for more than a decade. I was facing down the entropy of the unknown future. This was the risk I’d feared and dreamt of throughout years of stolen weekends and sleepless nights bent over my laptop, pushing ever higher up the career ladder. I was saying no to the life I’d stumbled into and never left, creating something new from its ashes. This was goodbye to my role as the big provider in my family – the moneymaker, the workaholic, the breadwinner, the bacon-bringer. My trembling hands were poised to pass that baton to my husband so that I could be free – unbound, really – to focus on the one true love of my life: writing. This is how I would do what I’d been saying I would do since I was three years old. This is how I’d become a novelist. A professional woman of creative words.

Resigning. Moving. Shifting rolls. Renovating a home. Finding a new life. Claiming an intentional destiny.

Suddenly, my stable life brimmed with change. Choices were made, and hurdles were faced. That’s the bones of great fiction for sure – this have to happen to have a story worth telling, after all, and I hoped all the upheaval would provide the ingredients of a life that felt worth living.

Samira took in my situation, eyed me carefully, and told me, “this is it. This is what your blog should be about.” And she was right. Really, she’d found a seed that could mature into a compelling blog if only I’d water it, allow it a little sunlight, make room for it to grow.

Readers, I’m sad to report that like most plants that find themselves in my care, I let that little seed die. I was consumed by the tangible act of overhauling my life. Moreover, the emotional toll was heavy, and I came to feel that what I needed most of all was space. Time to not work. Time to not think. Time to heal in the still-developing cocoon of my new life.

So that year passed without a written record of its ups and downs. And it was a worthy journey, one I imagine I’d be interested to examine anew as time passes. I survived the renovation from hell, began life as a freelance writer and marketing consultant, and took the trip of a lifetime to the Atacama Desert in Chile with my sister-soulmate as a step towards finishing my novel (read Sam’s recollections of that trip in Chile Part 1 and Chile Part 2 at her blog). Then, just as I sat down to finally, seriously begin working on my novel anew, more change arrived to upend my still-settling existence.

On December 16, 2017, my father passed away. A few days after his funeral, on Christmas Eve, I learned I was pregnant.

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“Reading” the newspaper with dad, 1983.
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Cruising down the Danube in Budapest, 2012.
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In Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka in 1999.

Those two events tore through my life, an arrow of my personal sense of time rending my life forever into Before & After. All time may exist right now, in this moment, but suddenly that arrow pushing me forward, creating the illusion of time as a motion rather than a space was more prominent that ever. The future was nothing but chaos and entropy. It felt beyond the scope of my own imagination – a life without my father and a life with a child, as a mother to another human who will perceive me as no other human ever has.

The concept of this little human who would henceforth be a part of my life for all the vastness of time felt crippling, a foreign weight bending me low, into a new world I could barely fathom. And the shadow of my father’s death loomed, complicating the already complex storm of emotions raging inside me.

In 2016, I weathered Hurricane Matthew in my home, with my parents. They’d opted at the last minute to stay, and though I’d already made evacuation plans, I refused to leave them alone, especially since the area around my home was theoretically somewhat safer from falling trees and flash flooding. I remember most vividly the inner band of the storm, where the wind was at its most brutal, pummeling the house at speeds of over 90 mph. I can still hear the low groan of the siding, the way the glass moaned in its frames. That roar of wind like the open mouth of the Old Testament God. I thought the roof would peel away. Waited for the flood of rain to sweep us out to sea. And I perceived, perhaps for the first time ever, my own insignificance. The smallness of my world – myself, my family, my home. The sum total of my connections, belongings, and dreams felt infinitely small and fragile and fleeting.

That smallness, that sense of a reckoning come to bear against the borders of my existence – that’s what I felt when I tried to wrap my mind around the sudden, immediate reality of becoming a mother.

Now, I know we’re still just meeting each other, and we’ll have plenty of time to explore this topic further, but let it suffice to say that though I’ve struggled with the burden of an infertility diagnosis, my husband and I have never actually tried to conceive, and I’ve never, ever been at peace with the idea of motherhood. I’ve been torn between longing for a child and feeling that the role of parent was not for me. It’s never been easy to sort through my feelings on the subject, and seeing double lines on a pregnancy test for the first time in my life didn’t make it easier. It was a raging storm – the hurricane bearing down while I uselessly considered whether I should have fled.

Sneak preview: I’m making my way towards a certain kind of peace and assuredness on this topic, but its hard work, sorting through the debris left in the hurricane’s wake.

But let me wander back, finally, to my point. This arduous review of my blogging history and the lengthy explanation of the changing landscape of my life comes to this: I’ve got a focus for this blog. It’s not an easy soundbite. I’ll have to work on my elevator speech. But I know why I’m here.

I’m here because I want to explore time in the context of my own life. I want to do what a writer does and move backwards and forwards. I want to keep my eye on the expanse of it all, the landscape of time that makes my life. I do this not for money or because I imagine anyone else needs these words. I do this because I need to write these words. I need to stare down all the disorder of the unknown future and write my way towards it. I need to look back and struggle for understanding. This is a blog about both yesterday and tomorrow. What I write here is a byproduct of the new kind of freedom governing my todays and tomorrows, a wandering towards the undiscovered country that is my new life, a way to sort through what to do now that I’m a writer unbound.

Thanks for joining me on the journey.

Gratefully yours,

 

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3 thoughts on “A Brief History of (My) Time (Online)

  1. I am so glad you’re finally back online in this way. This will be the blog I click to read each time you post. Your fiction writing has always captured me intensely, and I am so glad now that the world can see your craft in non-fiction here. Your perspective and life changes are the stuff of novels. I am so proud of your shift to this space and for this first elegant and honest post!

    Liked by 1 person

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