Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Making My Way Back

Is there anyone still out there?
I'm working on making my way back from this unplanned summer hiatus.
Friends, I have had one solid and stubborn case of writer's block.  The reasons are thrice...

1) Good old fashioned exhaustion.  The heat, the pregnancy, the always-on-the-go little man... these have conspired to make this summer a rather sleepy season for me.  I've been napping a lot.  My brain feels like mush.  Most days, when I get to that evening moment where the little dude is asleep and the kitchen is clean and I'm showered and my chores are done for the day, I feel like I am crossing something akin to an Ironman finish line.  I made it!  And it all starts again in 8 hours...
         1a) I don't like food anymore.   This pregnancy has been napalm for the cooking element of SMJ.  A solid four months of morning sickness segued into a general apathy for menus that don't involve pizza, Honey Bunches of Oats (not a cereal I had ever purchased before... crazy craving action there) or Oreo frozen yogurt.  I'm usually the menu-creating wizard, the husband's biggest barbecue fan, a summer seafood aficionado.  Yet with this pregnancy, I just don't really feel like anything, cooking or eating wise.  I've gone to the trouble of cranking out epic dinners once or twice, but always end up feeling like, "Eh.  Pass the Honey Bunches," no matter how delish the dish turns out.  I'm sincerely hoping the arrival of the baby and the coziness of fall conspire to get me back in the kitchen.  I miss it.
         1b) Adventures in Parenting.  The little man is potty trained.  Amen and hallelujah.  It was no small feat, and to blog it would have been to basically give you a scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.  Some things are better left unsaid.

2) Summer being summer.  Travel, visitors, ice cream runs, canoe rides, road trips, lawn chair sitting, family time... these have all taken precedence in the demands on my time and energy.  We went on an amazing family vacation in South Carolina in June, and part of me wished I was one of those bloggers who had photo-essayed the whole thing, it was such a feast of visual beauty, great food and hilarious fun, but at the same time, I was so glad to just immerse myself in the experience over taking the time to painstakingly photograph and document like a proper blogger... living in the moment with the family just won, and I'm so glad it did.  This has truly been a glorious summer...
My boys "fishing" in the pool in South Carolina.
A lollipop reward for a potty training success.
Sometimes it just takes good old fashioned American bribery to get the job done.
All gussied up (third-trimester style) for a beautiful wedding in Vermont.
Visiting friends in New Hampshire's stunning Lakes region.
Trying desperately to stay cool by any means possible.
3) And this is hardest to form words about... Being at a blog crossroads.  This blog started as a way for me to write in a more disciplined way, share recipes and adventures with friends and family, and stay grounded with myself in the early, bleary-eyed days of working parenthood.  Over time, my readership grew, and somewhere along the way I thought I might be able to make blogging into a part-time job.  I resolved to be a more disciplined, scheduled poster, seek professional blogging opportunities more aggressively, and find ways to "grow the brand."  Somewhere in the midst of this ambition, two things happened (well, about one hundred things happened, but two major items jump out in regard to blogging):
    1) As my focus on the blog world intensified, I came to realize that I am literally one of 10,000 mama bloggers who love Lululemon, Anthropologie, long runs, Patagonia, Stonyfield Farms, a craft project and a recipe for a good quinoa salad.  I stumbled upon a blog one day where the author was taking part in a group blogging exercise where she linked back to everyone else participating, and I'll be damned if there weren't over 100 links to people just like me.  And guess what?  All of us are just plodding along with these websites, waiting for Martha Stewart to call and give us the perfect part-time, creative, at-home mom job of our dreams.  Man, did the grimness of those odds totally take the wind out of my blogging sails.
    2) Blogging suddenly became a lot less fun.  Loyal readers and good friends could probably easily pick out the posts I've put up because it was Wednesday and posting a blog was on my list whether or not I was inspired.  Most of these have evolved around shopping I won't actually do, and I despise that voice of bored longing I've invoked despite knowing better.  Not my best look.

At the same time, I'm starting to come to the conclusion that blogging is jumping the shark a bit. Helen Jane writes about this beautifully in this blog post.  There are so many disturbing trends in blogging that have emerged this spring and summer, not the least of which have been that several popular mama bloggers have gone from waxing poetic about their lovely family life to announcing divorces almost without warning.  No one knows what happens behind closed doors, but one wonders if marriages suffered in part because of this necessary refusal to live in the moment when the moment is always being documented.

Successful professional bloggers tend to be the early adopters who developed a consistent following before everyone and their mother had a blog, or those who have spent a lot of time and energy pimping themselves to specified brands... but at what cost?  One health and fitness blogger I used to love to read now literally only writes posts on her freebies and products-to-review from Garmin, Reebok, Crossfit, etc. yet in her sidebar today, there was a Wendy's ad!  Real localvore stuff there, unnamed health blogger.  I loved her so much more when she was just earnestly packing lunches and planning dinners as a busy RD student.  Now, her voice rings very insincere and corporate, and that is not something I'd ever want for myself or this space.

Meanwhile, bloggers who will have continued success seem to be branching into podcasting and other multi-media enterprises, and for awhile I was putting intense pressure on myself to somehow capitalize on this and the blog-to-cookbook trend, but I'm coming to accept that this doesn't jive with my current reality.  Our move, getting us settled in a new place, raising a toddler, preparing for a newborn, keeping house without outside help... these all dominate my limited energy, as well they should.  I've also spent time beating myself up for not being the kind of person who puts the house to bed and then writes like a fiend from nine to midnight before getting up at five to start all over, but I'm coming to accept that right now, I just can't do that.  Maybe down the road, but not right now.  I only have so much energy to burn, and right now, it is all going to my family.  I only get one chance to manage these early years of ours together, and I think and hope that in the long run I'll be glad I allocated my efforts as I have.

I've had to spend some time this summer making peace with who I am as a writer, as a blogger and as a mom/wife/daughter/sister/friend, and it is still a work in progress.  For now, though, I've come to a small, simple, imperfect and impermanent solution:

I'm no longer waiting for Martha to call.  Nor Bethenny, Ellen, Andy Cohen, Joy the Baker, Random House, Real Simple or Ina Garten (let's be real... if Ina called, I probably wouldn't be able to keep it together on the phone anyway).

I'm going to write when I'm inspired and I have something of value to share.  Not because it is Wednesday, not because I was "supposed to" put up three posts this week and it is Thursday and I've only put up one (really, I couldn't be better at creating my own personal prisons of expectation... this is something I aim to stop).

I'm going to have this baby, get the hang of mothering two boys, and figure out how to manage this house where my husband works from home and there is always dog hair on the floor and a Matchbox car underfoot, and I'm going to try to do this without losing my mind.  I'm going to hope that my palate, culinary energy and athletic aspirations return after I heal from the birth of this baby next month.  I'm going to work on getting my body back to normal and learning to breastfeed again.  I'm going to hop on the thrill ride of a holiday season decked with post-partum hormones.  Then I'm going to exhale and reassess this whole career/writing/blog thing.  And I'll write about it all when I have something cogent to share and the moments to express it in a quasi-coherent fashion.

I'm not going to write about earrings I can't afford and don't need.
I'm not going to write about food I don't feel like eating.
I'm not going to write in a brand-stalking, brand-seeking fashion unless I come across something I really truly love (I'm looking at you Sanuk Yoga Sprees... best shoe ever... no one payin' me to say that) and want to share it with you sincerely.
I'm not going to write unless I've got something damn good to say or on the off chance that I go back to cooking food that tastes good.
I sincerely hope you'll stick with me, as I value everyone who reads this blog, and can't imagine what the past three years (!!!) of blogging would have been without you.
Thanks for listening.


  1. Well, I will miss you but totally understand and appreciate your honesty. I am a mama of one lil guy also and find myself in similar shoes some days. Do i: Have another baby, venture back out into the working world again, save for those awesome boots even though I will only wear them 20% of the time? And, seriously, what's the deal with all these blogger sell-outs? Best to live in the moment rather than document it as it passes you by...I will check back time and again but for now,

    Sending well wishes and sweet thoughts to you and yours....

  2. Your instincts are good, Mama J. Many of us are in similar worlds, and we don't have time to sift through the blogging world. When we come upon a voice we like whose recipes and advice resonate, we will not go away. Take your time, have the beautiful baby, and enjoy your family. We will be here! (Just share some pics, por favor.)

  3. Thanks, Ali + a. I appreciate your support!
    And don't get me wrong, I'll still be writing here... perhaps even with more regularity once I get in the swing of things with the new babe. I just want to be sure that I'm coming from a place of organic authenticity rather than professional aspiration. I owe that to myself and to you! We shall see...
    And I'd be honored if you'd continue to swing by :).
    And, Ali, the pics will flow freely! xoxo

  4. Your blog posts always feel so timely and right along such similar thoughts I've been having. Well, the pregnancy aside, since I am not able to sympathize with that, but certainly nearly all your thoughts about blogging. I have been wondering the same thing about all of these "big" bloggers. What is happening? It's almost frustrating that bloggers that spend most of their blogs selling out are more popular. My blog list has majorly dwindled just in the past few months because I can't stand reading them anymore. There are a few I love and they seem to stay true to form despite their popularity, and yours is certainly one of them. I know that my best blogging comes from when I write when I'm inspired and excited to share things with my family and friends about a trip, a family experience, a struggle, or anything else that I enjoy. I'm excited that you are refocusing, and I think you will love it so much more, and so will your readers!!! Enjoy that new little one when he gets here, and I'll aniously await those incredible posts when you feel inspired to write them. I am also dying to know how you finally potty trained J! Are you willing to share secrets privately? :)

  5. Thanks, JRR. I appreciate all of your encouragement and feedback. And I'm glad I'm not alone in feeling skeptical about some of these big time bloggers. Indeed, if you're striving to "make it" as a blogger, theirs is the model that represents financial success. Yet, I think the tone of sponsored blogs rings so false because blogging is such a personal medium to start with...

    "Check out my quirky, intimate, backyard family barbecue... sponsored by Kmart!"
    "Don't you love the moody new colors I've chosen for my walls? Thanks Benjamin Moore for providing all the paint!"

    I think these kind of posts really mess with medium... is it still a quirky gathering if everything has to be from Kmart and photograhed perfectly for them? And most readers aren't in a position to repaint their whole house unless they too are going to get a major hook-up from Benjamin Moore. This is why I loved that Helen Jane piece... she just totally captured the resentful, bitter, disenfranchised longing that reading some of these bizarre sponsored posts can bring and how that longing has soured the whole blogging game at the moment.

    Despite the fact that I'd adore the ability to somehow make a living from my musings and photos, I just can't reconcile that with what 'success' seems to do to an authentic voice. That and the aforementioned probability of 'success' have just been messing with my head. Best to step away in those moments and regroup, right? But I'm not going anywhere! And appreciate that you'll still be here reading when I post.

    On a separate note, will totally private message you re: potty training. It took some iron will and creativity, but we got it done!

  6. I'll always be here. Just sayin'. Much love SMJ...

  7. Can you message me as well on the potty training tips? I somehow managed to get the girl trained *relatively* easily, but the boy is turning 3 and is talking me out of it at every turn. Hmmm...I see a market forming here... (I will send you a note elsewhere too.)