The Crack in Everything: On Not Doing it All

February 1st, 2011

Backstage.

I keep up with about two dozen blogs. And by “keep up,” I mean that about once a week (sometimes once in a couple of weeks)  I scroll through my priority RSS folder, slowing down to absorb anything that catches my eye, starring items I might want to refer to later, and clicking through only when I want to comment. Once a month or so, I’ll go scrolling through some of my other blog folders, organized under headings like “Fashion,” “Food,” “Authors,” “Big Ideas,” “Local,” and so on.

My online reading tends to be aspirational — I’m mostly drawn to those blogs which are inspiring to read and/or beautiful to look at. I like to read about people who have life lists and vision boards,whose dreams have a way of becoming reality, whose thoughts translate to actions. I like to read about people who do and make.

It’s not that I’m averse to reading about people’s struggles. I “star” a great many of those kinds of posts as well, for the insight, beauty and vulnerability they often contain. But if the struggle seems constant over time, and the outlook is chronically negative, well, I’ve got Cormac McCarthy for that, and he does it much better.

Some people are put off by (or love to hate) the kinds of blogs I like, because they feel like their own lives can’t possibly measure up. I understand where that sentiment comes from, but I also understand that a blog isn’t meant to represent the totality of someone’s life. It’s a chosen selection. I think of a personal blog as an invitation into one’s home. If I invite you over, I’m going to shove the baskets of dirty laundry in a bedroom behind a closed door, and run a brush through my hair. I don’t think that makes me a phony.

But a good host puts you at ease, too. If you were to marvel over my housekeeping, I would certainly wink and forbid you under any circumstances to look in the bedrooms. If you were to ask me how I do it all (totally hypothetical–nobody coming to my house will ever ask me this), I would be quick to disclose 1) that I don’t; and 2) whatever helps me get any of it done.

Which is exactly what Ali Edwards did in this  post about her daily work at home routine. How on earth a professional scrapbooker’s blog came to be among my weekly reads, I can’t even tell you now, but Ali is one of those people making and doing things whom I admire. And though I don’t scrapbook and am not the slightest bit tempted to learn how, I connect with her passion for storytelling, and for encouraging people to tell the stories of their own extraordinary, ordinary lives.

Ali’s blog is so well produced, it’s tempting to wonder how she does it all. I thought it was particularly gracious and hospitable of her to disclose the help she has with childcare for her preschooler, even though she works at home. I wish all my favorite bloggers would do the same, because not only does that get me off the hook for failing to keep up, it gets me thinking about the areas in my own work and home life where I could use outside help. I may not be able to do anything about it right now, but it gives me permission to consider that maybe my own work is valuable enough to warrant paid assistance.  When Ali or Dooce mentions that they have help, that becomes a clipping on my interior vision board. And while I know that women who can afford to outsource are often the target of resentment for those who can’t, I think they catch less by being transparent about it. Isn’t that what bothers us about Gwyneth? The sense that she is being dishonest by omission when she writes about her daily domestic routines? Would she really be hated more if she introduced readers to her nannies and assistants? I’m not a Gwyneth hater, but it seems like she couldn’t alienate the ones she has any more. And the rest of us could all feel a little better about ourselves for not maintaining a perfect body, a pristine diet, a gorgeous blog, a hot marriage and a successful career, when we don’t have anywhere near the same resources.

What do you think about it? As personal blogs and bloggers become more professional, do you relate less or are you inspired more?  And blogging or not, whether you work outside the home or not, what are the tasks that you would outsource in a heartbeat–guilt-free–assuming the money was there? What’s the one task you really need to outsource, but don’t feel entitled? Let’s throw some things up on our vision boards.

Need a little help feeling emboldened? See the hilarious Craigslist ad DC Columnist Seeks Help Doing Everything. And work your way back from there.

No Responses to “The Crack in Everything: On Not Doing it All”

  1. erniebufflo says:

    I have a love hate relationship with beautiful bloggers’ lives. One in particular is Rockstar Diaries. I described her the other day as “a girl from an Anthropologie catalog come to life” with the matching adorably geeky husband in horn-rimmed specs. She always looks effortlessly gorgeous, with perfect bangs, cute updos, lovely lipstick, and perfectly styled outfits. Her home is gorgeous and it seems she has her own paparazzo to follow her around all day taking lovely shots of her as she goes about her lovely life. It’s all very pretty, and has inspired many DIY attempts on my part, but sometimes it also makes me feel very less-than. How does she afford all those Anthro dresses? Who is taking all those photos? How does her hair always look so amazing?

    I too have an adorable husband, cute dogs, and a ton of free time to make gumball necklaces and cute cupcakes. On good days, I think, man, if I had my own personal paparazzo, my life and blog would look that cute. And yet on my bad days, I still feel so very less than.

    As far as outsourcing goes, I’d like a stylist to make me look cute, from haircuts to outfits to perfect lipstick colors. I’ve got the cupcakes down pat.

  2. erniebufflo says:

    Oh, and the money to afford those beautiful clothes, obviously.

  3. Neil says:

    I’m not big on these types of blogs that you mentioned, but it has nothing to do with feeling that my life doesn’t measure up, as you suggested. I love story and drama, and if a story has no drama, then it isn’t that interesting. Now this doesn’t mean that I am one of those people who believe a story has to be about someone who has been victimized, poor, or down and out. My favorite stories are internal and dealing with the foibles of the upper middle class. Remember there was once a blogger who created an uproar saying that most middle/upper class moms didn’t deserve a voice as much as those with “real problems.” That is nonsense and rather insulting. But if people were really interested in telling good stories, there are stories everywhere. I’m sure there are plenty of internal and external conflicts that develop because of having a nanny or cleaning woman. Guilt? Hiring issues? The relationship between the nanny and the child? Trusting a cleaning woman to be in the house alone? What happens if the help has immigration problems? Perhaps there are even racial and ethnic differences.

    So, anyway, this might be besides the point, but while I think it is terrific that you enjoy a certain type of blog reading, I’m not sure you are correct in why someone might NOT like it. For me, it has less to do with class or jealousy issues, but lack of a compelling story. And we both know that there is drama going on in a household whether or not a nanny is involved. I will always go first to a writer who holds my interest by revealing some personal truth. That is way more inspirational to me than reading about vision boards.

    • KyranP says:

      I said “some” people have that reaction. Like the person who commented just before you 🙂 But I hear you. I think people go to different sources and mediums for different reasons. I enjoy human drama too, but I tend to enjoy it most in literature and film, not so much in blogs. It’s a context thing with me. I look to blogs much the way I look to magazines, for entertainment, practical information, style tips and inspiration.

  4. TrudyJ says:

    I don’t think anyone is ever going to accuse me of having one of those blogs that set too high a standard, but I am a big believer in outsourcing certain tasks, primarily housework. When my kids started school fulltime and I went back to work, the first thing I did was hire a cleaner. It was also my smartest move. Really, if you can afford to pay someone else to do a task you don’t like or don’t have time for, why wouldn’t you?

    • KyranP says:

      Trudy, I would have to say that’s at the top of my list, too. There was a brief, shining period back in the days of a corporate paycheck when we had someone come in biweekly. I long for the day to return!

  5. Cid says:

    I love aspirational blogs. Yours, as a soon-to-be-published author is one of them, especially since we share the mother of three boys gig. I have wandered around and I find what I read regularly changes with my moods. At the moment, stuck in the dead of a Canadian winter I gravitate towards design blogs featuring bright, sunny kitchens or gardens.

  6. Chris says:

    My blog preferences change. Like the genre of books I read. If a blog doesn’t hold my interest, I quietly leave for a while. There are times I enjoy beautiful words and pictures, other times raw and raunchy humor, and sometimes the simple comfort of a friend’s blog I choose to support. When a blogger becomes more professional/successful, I feel the distance, but I understand why it happens. I don’t dislike or resent someone’s success and their ability to pay for help.

    I agree with you that blogs are “a chosen selection” of someone’s life. I’m not as comfortable sharing my grit via a blog, because people close to me are affected by those choices. I have other outlets for airing grit, and continue to resist the urge to do so publicly.

    I’m getting tired of artistic elitism, whether the art is painting, photography, writing, blogging, scrapbooking, interior design… There’s an audience for everyone.

    These days, I look to the blog world — social media in general– for some mental refreshment. Life’s heavy. When times lighten up, I’ll seek a little internet homework.

    In the meantime, I’m pro getting help if a person can afford it, and I’m pro growing penicillin under the bed and having my sons turn their sweatshirts inside out when laundry is piled high, if a person canNOT afford help.

  7. I like Neil’s point about a compelling story. I read some of those aspirational blogs, and I do so because I can imagine being (or already am) friends with the writer. And so their aspirations and creativity and modern lofts and boho style doesn’t grate at all – it really is inspiring. A blog that doesn’t compel me has nothing to do with what it triggers in me (‘Oh my god her house/hair/marriage/wardrobe is cleaner/prettier/more luxurious than mine…’). It just doesn’t compel me because it … just … doesn’t.

    The same is true for sad blogs, quiet blogs, literary blogs, food blogs. Some compel. Some don’t.

    Some blogs are as chronically negative or emotionally difficult as others are chronically bleached until they squeak. Neither are wholly good quality or bad quality writing, or wholly uplifting or depressing.

    This digresses a bit, but I don’t think there’s such a thing as inauthenticity. As human beings, our baseline is inauthentic. We don’t become ‘authentic’ by disclosing our foibles. Because what are Dooce or Ali Edwards doing, by exposing their foibles or compromises? They’re actively trying to balance their own storytelling, to be more endearing, to avoid being seen as squeaky-perfect. Which is an effort that’s still just as manufactured as any other.

    I don’t mean that to sound as cynical as it does. We all do it, this effort to balance. That’s why when I feel stuck in grief (stunned that anyone reads anymore for exactly the chronic wet blanket you mention here), I antagonize Christians and try to share pretty photographs.

    Blogging reduces to this because most people are inclined to please, and to not be alone. And so we accommodate. “I’m a) perfect (OR) b) a god damned mess, and so is my life. But you should see my a) oozing bunions (OR) b) wild roses.”

  8. KyranP says:

    God, it makes me happy to have smart commenters who make me think hard about what I really think.

    What I’m thinking right now is that my “priority” folder is maybe a little too homogenous. Also, I’m realizing how much my tastes in blog reading have drifted since I’ve gotten back into reading books.

    And a whole bunch of other thoughts that are still unformed. So more on that as I mull it over.

  9. KyranP says:

    And Kate, I know you sometimes feel “stuck in grief,” but yours is one of the blogs I read every time I see a number in bold next to it, and the idea of comparing it to a wet blanket is so ludicrous, it makes me smile.

  10. Christa says:

    Thanks so much for this, Kyran.

    I started my blog about two months ago, after almost a year of reading blogs regularly. It really helped to see what spoke to me, over time, and yours – Notes to self – was certainly one of them. As was Kate’s.

    I don’t think the particulars are what matter so much as an overall honesty, a light from within shining through all the “stuff”. Good writing and good design can make it a pleasure to read, but I really want to hear what is going on inside people’s hearts and minds. If it rings true, I am there…

    And I am so very glad I posted my vision board last week. Literally!

    Wonderful, as always, to hear your thoughts.

  11. Angella says:

    I love how Kate says she antagonizes Christians. I just think she calls out the crazy that gets thrown her way (says a friend of Kate and a practicing Christian).

    I, like you, have folders in my reader and the “must reads” folder is full of the people whose blogs I would click on first, even if I didn’t have a reader. They speak their truth openly and without fear.

    Loved this post, Kyran. 🙂

  12. I think a blog has to be a believable story, and when that is about someones’s life, then that can be enough.
    I find that I can tire easily of blogs, that what I read on them, and see on them doesn’t seem to sink in.
    So many blogs just seem to cut and paste pictures, without much focus on generating new ideas, or starting a conversation. I think a blog needs to have a life attached to it, a story you can read and feel.
    I don’t know if I just keep ending up in the wrong places but so many people are blogging about “stuff”, instead of anything of any interest.
    I really liked this post, and I enjoy your writing, thanks

  13. Mariellen says:

    I started blogging after reading other people’s for quite some time, yours included. “This will be good,” I thought. “I’ve been told all my life I have a way with words, so I’m in with a head start..”.ah well that was the arrogance of ignorance, or maybe inexperience, or maybe some other factor I haven’t yet identified. But the more I write the more artificial it sounds to my ear, and the more I dispair of coming across as my own person, warts and all. The one that hates cooking and loves colour, is hopeless at estimating the time it takes to do things and admires the do-ers, big time. I get paralysed at the the prospect of the doing, so those that do while they seem normal, also imperfect, alsio rtying to get it all done and failing miserably, get my reading eye and stay my faltering motivation. It doesn’t stop faltering..but the faltering doesn’t get so bad that I stop in my tracks. So, so easy to do. I see them like a light beam that I can’t avoid, that I can’t shoo away as something really not like me at all. They are like me, so duh, I have no excuse not to do. I may still procrastinate, but I know the ball is with me. Eventually, I start. As I get older, I feel more and more inclined to start earlier rather than later. I have a longer period of time to look back on and think, “boy, I wish I’d done/ tried/ been..” (insert as desired) a long time ago …

  14. Leahpeah says:

    This is such a compelling subject to me, Kyran. I’ve really struggled with trying to find a balance in what I share online. I know in the past I’ve gone way too deep and then countered with going way too shallow. I’ve almost just stopped a couple of times because I haven’t been happy with anything up to this point.

    I’m working on a solution at the moment, one I’m feeling good about, but in the meantime, I’ve noticed that my own blog reading follows along with what I’m writing/sharing. For example, I’ve been heavily into crafts and sewing the past couple of months and that seems to be (nearly) the only type of blogs I’m reading. I haven’t even been reading some of my dearest friends for months. I started to feel guilty about it a few weeks ago and tried to go through and catch up on them all, but it was tiring. I’m just not in the same space some of them are.

    I think what I’m trying to say is when I’m working on sharing thoughts and feelings, I’m more likely to look for that in others and the same goes for crafty times.

    Being authentic is near and dear to my heart and I’m starting to learn that being authentic isn’t the same thing as sharing everything with everyone. If you want to craft your online writing to highlight only the fun/good/easy/sparkly, I don’t think that means you’re being inauthentic. It might mean you’re trying to focus on the positive and share that with others. Maybe? But throwing in the hard/ugly/grisly parts can make a much more compelling story for others to read.

    • KyranP says:

      Leah, it’s so good to hear from you, as one of the first voices I hearkened to when I first came to this new country of blogging! I think the grappling is good news (for you, too, Mariellen!). It’s a signal that our voices continue to push against the boundaries of comfort.

  15. KyranP says:

    I’m pondering all these comments in my heart again this morning, and what seems to emerge is how fluid and uncontainable this medium is. Looking back upstream, I see that I’ve meandered by lots of different terrains and communities. The minute I think, “ah, this must be the place,” the current of Story picks me up and moves me along.

    That quality, along with the sheer democracy of blogging, is perhaps my favorite thing about this way of telling and hearing stories.

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