Yesterday marked the halfway point of my “Radical Lent: a Poetic Approach to 40 Days in the Wilderness” Project. As it is a project, and as I often remind my students of the importance of “early deliverables” that give you a chance to step back and ask yourself how things are going, I’ve decided to do that today.
Actually, I began this blog, From the Heart, in earnest on February 15th. It was already lurking in my private cyberspace closet for a little while before then, but on February 15th, I took what felt like an audacious and presumptuous step, and asked people to consider subscribing to my blog. Then I texted my sister to say that I felt sick.
The idea for the Radical Lent project–reading 40 poems in 40 days and writing about them–came to me a few days later (on Ash Wednesday), as I was pulling out of the parking lot after dropping my son off at daycare. I just thought, “This is what I’m going to do.” And so here we are: 21 posts, 60 subscribers, 136 comments, and 2,804 total views later.
I’m sharing these blog “stats” not to brag, because stats are completely relative, and to an experienced blogger, this would look pretty pathetic. Also, experienced bloggers advise not to become overly concerned with stats–how many people are reading your blog, who they are, how they are finding you, etc. This makes sense (though really, who are they kidding?) because, take it from me, your mood will directly correlate with the line chart of how many views you get on any given day, and if your thinking tends towards the obsessive, you can wind up sitting in front of your computer with a very bad headache trying to WILL people to read your blog just so you can see the evil line edge upwards (maybe if I hit refresh, the number will have increased?).
I’m sharing the stats because they are yours as much as mine, and here is why. When I ask myself what the main things that I’ve learned from this project so far are, I keep remembering a strange childhood fear of tornadoes. I grew up in New Jersey where the only truly disastrous phenomenon is traffic, so I attribute this fear to my general childhood neuroses (when I was about 8, for example, my father unexpectedly announced a preference for placemats at the dinner table, and I became very concerned that my real parents had been abducted by aliens, and these odd people with their strange new ideas about table settings were not to be trusted), or to too many viewings of The Wizard of Oz.
When the tornado fear would kick in, I used to calm myself down in my bed at night by going through the names of friends, picturing their parents, their houses, and saying to myself, “They will still be there. Kathleen will still be there, her house with the blue-tiled pool will still be there, her funny parents with the weird teeth will still be there,” and on and on, because this made the fear of being swept away less probable. While I could imagine myself being swept away, I couldn’t really imagine other people being swept away, so thinking of people I was connected to kept me closer to the ground.
This blog experience has been like that for me, despite the fact that there are plenty of ways to get swept away from the real task of simply writing from your heart for people you care about in a way that you hope is meaningful. There’s the stat obsession I mentioned earlier, there’s the whole phenomenon of social media, of putting your work “out there,” of learning about RSS feeds, Twitter, networked blogs, blog directories, and on and on and on. Not to mention the crippling self-doubt that while you might be able to write some nice little blog posts, you are not a “real” writer, and there are 17 million people who are smarter, more productive and more creative than you, but I just can’t go into that right now.
When those mental tornadoes threaten, I remember the lovely, kind, supportive people who read what I write and comment, either formally or informally; I think of how this project has connected me in completely new ways to people who I already know, and to people I am excited to be getting to know. Regular, everyday, tangible people who, just by being out there, and by letting me know that they exist, keep me closer to the ground, to what is real and true and important.
There are lots of sites that offer advice to new bloggers, and the posts that always get the most attention are about how to “get more views,” and “promoting your blog.” And there is some really good advice out there that will help me as I continue this endeavor. But for right now, my blogging mantra is this: be generous.
Read what you read not just because you hope that writer will come and read YOUR blog, but because you genuinely want to read what’s out there and support the people who are working at it, day after day. Know that there is enough room for everyone at the blogging table or whatever the “table” is for you. Be generous with yourself to (note to self: I’m talking to you here), because you are one of those people who’s out there, working at it, day after day, and that matters.
What I’ve suspected from the beginning is turning out to be true: it is working at the thing you love that will transform you, not the thing itself. What I mean is that it is the discipline of working at whatever it is that moves you and satisfies you that is the source of the transformation, not whatever outcome you happen to produce. And as far as outcomes go, when I look at those “stats”, however much or little they really mean in and of themselves, I want to say to you, to anyone reading, “Look! Look what we did! And we’re only halfway through!”
Today’s poem is a gift, to myself, and to everyone who has been following along on this endeavor so far. It’s an excerpt from the poem, “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Before you know kindness
as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow
as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness
that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day
to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.