LOL I forgot to title this post before publishing it, that’s how much I didn’t know what it was going to be about when I started

June 25, 2024 @ 8:27 am | Filed under:

Playing my old game of typing nouns into this blog’s media library search bar and choosing one of the photos that comes up. “Crow” yielded comical results: a good many pics related to my book Fox and Crow Are Not Friends, as you might suspect, and several from Johnny Crow’s Garden; but also four pictures from Comic-Con? With no discernible relationship to crows? This baffled me until I clicked on one of the photos and realized it was labeled “crowds.” Which felt like it should have been obvious, but I had to get up really early today and am fuzzy. Took me five lines to solve Wordle, which hardly ever happens. Unless it’s the nasty kind with a dozen possible first letters, like -IGHT or -ATCH, which, today, it wasn’t. Is that spoilish? Does this caption need a spoiler alert?—Oh! all this and I forgot to say what the photo actually IS! It’s a crow mobbing a kite—the raptor, not the windborne disappointment machine—taken in 2012 on a sub-par phone camera and zoomed waaaay in so I could make the bird I.D.

That caption got so long I had to decaptionify it, because the caption settings here are for small, centered, italic text: annoying to read in bulk. Opening WordPress today felt like it used to, back in the bloggity heydey I now gaze wistfully at through glasses so rose-colored they are fragrant. Which is to say, I opened the tab with zero idea what I was going to write.

That really is how it was, most days, during that first ten or twelve years when I blogged almost daily. Very much a practice of discovering what was on my mind through writing about it. The act of writing came first, the discovery second. Or they were simultaneous. It’s too early in the morning for metaphysics.

I’ve completely lost track of the relative positions of the chicken and the egg. Did I write more because I was less distracted? Or was I less distracted because I wrote more? By “write” I mean blog, that clunky verb for a genuinely nourishing practice, the interactive learning-in-public we were doing together in a long-form manner that has almost entirely disappeared from the internet (along with idealism), except, possibly, on Substack (a platform about which I hold cautiously idealistic views).

Is what I’m writing now a Substack post? Like, what even is the difference? What I write over there is, I would say, still more like a blog post than an essay. Obviously there is a great deal of overlap between those two types of writing, which I’m somewhat stubbornly putting separate labels on: many blog posts are/were essays, and plenty of Substackers are writing loose, thinking-out-loud public journal entries, especially on Substack Notes. I think the distinction, in my mind at least, lies in the discoverability baked into the Substack app: writers can’t help but be aware that Certain Kinds of Writing are more likely to be shared and boosted, and words are like those quantum particles that behave differently under observation. (We think. How do we know? It’s too early in the morning for quantum physics.)

One thing I know is that I have never, never known Where to Post the Thing—whatever the thing may be/may have been. I always had side-blogs, some of them public but nichier than Bonny Glen, some of them invite-only where I used the kids’ real names or conducted experiments to see if I would write differently when anonymous. I had Lilting House, Bonny Glen Up Close, Unsweetened. I had a bread blog! (It was called Peace of Bread. I’m so sorry.) I had a LiveJournal. I had a column at GeekMom. I had blogs I don’t even remember now. Which means I have always, always second-guessed myself about where to post what. Patreon was a bit of a torment that way: I’d write something for my treasured patrons and think: wouldn’t this be better on Bonny Glen?

There was a period where Instagram created the same kind of quandary—that interval when the algorithm demanded long captions, and publishers desired a large IG following. I never did acquire a large IG following, because I couldn’t help resenting the implicit pressure to do more than share nice photos. Any long caption I wrote felt like a blog post, which was irritating.

Not just irritating to me: to many writers who felt affectionate about their blogs or newsletters. We understood that social media platforms had changed the game (as early as 2008 readers were shifting their discourse about blog posts from the comment boxes to Facebook posts meant only to share the links), and certainly we had moments of feeling excited about the possibilities of Discoverability. But the possibilities were mostly a distraction, a fragmenting of our powers of attention. As readers, writers, thinkers.

I do enjoy Substack. I like that it gives readers a way to read posts via email, if they prefer, or to read in the app or on the website, if that’s more to their liking. I do both. But I think it’s also wicked confusing to newcomers (there are Posts, Notes, and Chat—three different formats in which conversations can take place, each with its own nuances and logistics), and it only adds complexity to my where-to-post-what quandary. Blog or Substack? Substack post or Substack Note? Paywall or public? Gah. I don’t know about you, but I can’t run that gauntlet of questions without feeling like it’s rather more fuss than the piece of writing in question merits.

Here I am at the bottom (I think) of this post, unsure what my point is beyond: ugh, decisions of little real consequence are nonetheless hard. However, I do have clarity (950 words later) on one small thing: I like having a place (here) where I can write messily and clarity can be the end result, not the starting point. And that (she says, in the sort of arch ending favored by algorithm-driven platforms) is the kind of ‘discoverability’ I’m looking for. (Ew. Lol.)

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  1. Karen Edmisten says:

    Oh, the old days of blogging! When we dropped in on each other and had lovely, extended conversations. 🙂 I miss that too. And I’m so often paralyzed by what/where to write that I too often end up sharing nothing. You’re spot on about Substack. I have cautious hopes for it too (though I haven’t started writing there yet) but yes, it’s a bit of a maze (Posts! Notes! Chat!) to navigate. And how many of those notifications do I want landing in my email?

    Sigh. Anyway, it was lovely to meander through these musings with you. ❤️