Probably the toughest thing about running a blog and any writing is wondering, as Roger Waters did, "is there anybody out there?" You post things and then post some more things. You tweet links, share on Facebook, post to Instagram. Maybe you even publish a newsletter. And still you wonder, "is there anybody out there?" It's the sort of thing that can feel discouraging pretty fast.
But only if you let it.
Here's the thing about running a blog: every post should be a gift. If you think that sounds hokey, wait until I get started on Rachel from Friends.
There's an episode in which Rachel receives a present and right away is set to return it for something she actually wants. The giver is offended and Rachel seems petty and self-centered. I've had this experience from both sides. You too.
Be the giver. You've thought about the present you're giving, made some logical assumptions, tried to figure out just what would have the right effect on the person and get the right reaction. You give the thing and they aren't thrilled. Damn it all. The experience doesn't crush you exactly but you come out of it dented, offended, disappointed. Well, of course you did! But don't get too attached to your righteous indignation. Let's flip this thing around.
There was this time a friend's mom got me a sweatshirt for Christmas. It was a brown, polyester-blend sweatshirt with tight, four-inch cuffs and a crew neck. The best part? The front of it sported an eight-inch tall band of faux-leather into which was carved the brand name of the sweatshirt. This was the nineties and my friend's Mom may have thought I was making MTV videos. Whatever she thought, I thanked her and that day took it back to the mall. I got a Fossil watch instead. I had to return it, right? Well, of course I did!
I'll get back to blogging and writing at some point. Hopefully soon. Of course it may not matter if or when I get back to it because I'm still wondering is there anybody out there? Even if there isn't, this gift stuff still applies.
When you give Rachel or anybody else a gift, you have to give the whole thing. You have to give it all the way which means you have to let go of the expectations of how it will be received. Remember what I said about picking out the gift? You tried to figure out just what would have the right effect on the person and get the right reaction. You know what the right effect and reaction are in this case? They are the ones that makes you feel better. Maybe now you're seeing the problem.
A gift well given doesn't depend on the person keeping or returning it. A real gift is given with thought and feeling for the person to whom it is given but no expectation of return on investment for the giver. It's pretty Zen stuff and I don't want to give the idea that I'm a Zen master. I'm not even sure Zen should be capitalized.
My friend's mom meant well giving me that gift. One thing of which I'm proud is that I received it politely and gave an earnest and real thank you. I could have really flubbed that one had I not Mom trained me to do these things right. There's no gift so terrible I would ever want to offend or disrespect my friend's mom. I love her too much. Even now I feel grateful she gave me that terrible sweatshirt. It was so awful I didn't even put it on, but that doesn't mean it was a bad gift. It just wasn't one I kept.
Consider this: she didn't get me a cheesy, horrible sweatshirt; she gave me a Fossil watch I wanted. How kind was that?
Okay, okay, back to blogging and writing now, but you've already figured it out, right? There are two levels on which is there anybody out there? doesn't matter.
First, I give these posts as gifts to whomever does or doesn't read them. To expect people to shower me with praise, send hundreds of dollars, and hook my up with a publishing deal is to expect too much and forget what I'm doing. That people comment and thank me as often as they do is an embarrassment of riches and has to be at least a little bit beside the point. If I aim to get just the right effect and reaction, I've gone down the wrong road.
Second, each one of these has to be a gift to myself. I'm blogging to learn and explore the craft of writing. It's slow going but the trees outside my window eventually grew to twice the height of the houses. The writing of each post is a gift to my present self and the me waiting far down the line. I'm the type of writer who can't get enough of pounding the keys and pushing the pen. This is all I want to be doing. What other gift do I need?
None of this means you can get away with giving just anything. My wife doesn't want a new vinyl record, an old typewriter, or a Tesla Model 3. Those are what I want. A true gift given to her will be filled with my thinking of what she wants and needs and how much we love one another. The gift well given must be well considered.
If she loves the gift, that's wonderful, but if she doesn't, then I've learned something and we get her something she will love. The gift is to make her happy. When I have helped to make her happy, my work is done.
I wrote this post to stop myself from falling into disappointment. This despite having more interaction with readers than I expected. I'm reminding myself what I'm really doing, what I've done, what I might do. None of that is discouraging. Just the thought of it gave me the idea to write this and I offer it as a gift for anyone who cares to receive it. Feel free to exchange it for whatever helps you feel better. Tomorrow I'll post another. For you and for me.