Fall and rise, fall and rise
Oh hi there. (She says casually, as if she’s been here all along, and you were the one who just turned up after several seasons’ absence.)
So, I’m back. Let’s not make a fuss about it. (Except she loves a good fuss.) Let’s just carry on like it was before I left.
I guess an explanation might be in order.
Earlier this year I made a choice to take a break from blogging. It was coming up on five years since I started Aesthetics of Joy, and the anticipation of that milestone made me start reflecting on why I began blogging in the first place. This blog was born, in part, to help me through the process of writing a book of the same name, about how neuroscience and psychology could help us design objects and spaces that foster positive emotion and wellbeing. The cadence of blogging pushed me to articulate ideas before they were fully baked; your comments and stories helped me better understand the dimensions of the subjects I was exploring.
But five years in, the book hadn’t progressed much. I struggled to find the large stretches of time I needed to be able to string a work of that scale together. I found myself battling time constraints, struggling to drum up motivation, paralyzed by fear of failure, and spinning around an uncertainty about how to tell a story that had accrued five years of nuance. When you’ve had so much time to dream about something, inevitably nothing you write measures up to your dream of it. Every clumsy rough draft felt like a small puncture in the wonderful book of my imagination. I drafted and redrafted the same sections; I had mini-epiphanies interspersed with a lot of confusion; I wrote three pages in a day and deleted them a day later. The whole experience was like dog-paddling in the deep end: a lot of flailing and froth, and a persistent awareness of just how much water there was below me.
At some point in I read this post by Derek Sivers. He talks about the tension between having a public presence (like a blog) where you have people you regularly engage with (he uses the slightly aggrandizing word audience) and the need to go deep to do the sometimes boring work that you may need to do to achieve a goal. It made me start to wonder: was the blog less a support to my book work, and more a distraction? When there was a choice between working on book or blog, the blog always won. It was less demanding and more satisfying, with an immediate reward and feedback. By comparison, the book felt like moving a glacier.
Around the same time, I read Steven Pressfield’s War of Art. In it, he describes the concept of resistance—the force that keeps you from doing your most important creative work. He talks about how resistance can be sneaky, hiding in the least obvious places. Had the blog become agent of resistance? Was it just a way for me to avoid doing work by doing “work”?
Pressfield’s answer to resistance is to be a professional. A professional sits down every day, inspired or not. A professional does the work, whether it comes out good or bad. So I decided to take a break from the blog, and impose some discipline. I made a gant chart, gave myself aggressive timelines, and asked some loyal friends to unabashedly shame me if I missed my marks. I set early-morning alarms, and sat down with glazed eyes in the quiet pre-dawn dark to write what Anne Lamott calls “shitty rough drafts.”
The months passed, and I made progress. Then an obstacle would creep up—I would get the flu or have a deadline at work—and the draft would go off to the side. I realize I am often too firm or too gentle with myself. Do you have this problem? Sometimes I feel like one of those religious penitents from the middle ages, beating myself up because I got a few days behind schedule. Other times I just want to shirk off to watch Pitch Perfect for the third time and pin pictures of flowers onto Pinterest.
So here we are in November. I have a mostly-done book proposal, though still with a few holes. But I learned something over these last few months that brings me back here even with an incomplete in my personal grading column: I need to blog. See, somehow in the five year journey that has been Aesthetics of Joy so far, I managed to convince myself that I blogged for you. But taking a break from blogging has reminded me that this kind of writing is ultimately a selfish act. That may sound strange since I make no money off this blog and it does take quite a bit of time. I’ll try to explain it.
The most striking thing that happened to me in the time away from the blog was that I felt myself grow uninspired. I wondered how this could be true, because without the blog, I had more time to read and reflect. What I realized, though, is that inspiration isn’t just about seeing and hearing, but about absorbing and integrating. Inspiration is only good if you plan to create something; otherwise, what’s the point? Why shop if you don’t plan to cook? Why chew if you’re not going to eat?
Without the blog, I had no impetus to engage with the material I was encountering. I became like teflon for inspiration. Nothing stuck, and I began to wonder what was wrong with me. Yet the moment I decided to start blogging again, it was as if an engine revved somewhere inside me, and my eyes came to life again. It reminds me of the Anaïs Nin quote, “We do not see things as they are. We see them as we are.” With the blog, I see everything through the lens of the potential for joy. Without it, is much quieter. My mind, which normally runs 10 channels of activity simultaneously, had a few channels go silent.
Now I’m like a dog let outside after a long day and suddenly reminded of all of the scents in the world, running this way and that trying to chase them all. There is no quiet now, only the clamorous urgency of all the words in the world, climbing and tumbling and hurtling over themselves to bridge the countless gaps between us.
I don’t know if I’ll be a more consistent steward of this blog than in the past. I have a rich and varied life, a job I love and a wedding to plan (more on that soon!) and a book still in-progress. And I would rather fall and rise, fall and rise, on waves of real passion than churn out some daily pabulum that springs from an “editorial calendar” rather than the heart.
Still, know that I’m back with more love than I’ve ever had for all of you who stop by once in awhile to share a glimpse of delight in this world. And I can promise color and abundance, lushness and light, and exuberant geekery for the mysteries of how joy works in our minds. I plan to experiment with formats and layouts, style and content. You may even see some look and feel changes next year. More than ever, I hope this will be a fun place to play.