What shall (should) I write about?

What shall I write about?  That’s a question I think about whenever I sit down to work on a post.  What’s the right kind of thing to put on a blog, or rather, what’s the right thing for me to put on a blog.  There are things that seem just too mundane to write about — like washing dishes or mowing the lawn.  But even those can be made interesting if treated by a really skilled writer.

I need a break from the strange story of John, and perhaps that was getting close to things I shouldn’t write about.  Will my descendants really want to know about their ancestor’s foolish love affairs?

So for the time being I’ll change the subject.  Today the subject is what shall I blog about?

Jerry and I have had some social events lately which we have enjoyed immensely.  We went to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island where Jerry used to live.  There we had lunch with an old friend of his late wife, Susy.  The three of us sat at a table for 2 hours in a little café at the San Juan airport.  The café is called Ernie’s, but it is run, single handed, by a Korean woman who makes good hamburgers and various Korean dishes.  The walls are decorated with photos of vintage airplanes, some with Ernie flying them.  The windows look out on the runway, so we watched the Cessnas and other small planes as they landed and took off.  The friend, EB, is a little younger than us, and is a brave woman.  She had 2 sons and lost both of them, 1 year apart, in automobile accidents.  She is divorced.  But she is eternally cheerful, laughs a lot and spends her time with friends, in her garden, and making quilts.

I could blog about EB.

We took the dogs for a walk on the beach, a beach piled high with driftwood and surrounded by orange California poppies.

California poppies

California poppies

I took some pictures of the patterns in the driftwood.  I was thinking of Marja-Leena’s blog and the wonderful pictures she posts of patterns in rocks and sand and leaves.  I was trying to think of the world as abstract beauty, or to transform the image by changing the scale to micro.  I could post some of those pictures.  I could show that I find it difficult not to make form from whatever I see.

On the beach

On the beach

Jackson Beach, Friday Harbor, Washington

Jackson Beach, Friday Harbor, Washington

A little later we sipped wine with other friends, Paulette and Doug, at their house on a little dirt road far from the main road, where their dogs can run free without worries about traffic.  Paulette is a master gardener, and we toured her garden which includes a small lake, stocked with trout, and a waterfall, built by her husband, that circulates and partially purifies the water of the lake.  The four of us talked about geology, about the flooding from Lake Missoula at the end of the last ice age, about bears and guns, about wine and dogs and mutual friends in San Juan and Manley Hot Springs.  We talked about my blog and the reaction to it by some residents of Manley.  We talked about John McPhee (his book, Coming into the Country, is about Eagle, Alaska,) and the reactions of Eagle residents to what McPhee wrote about them.  While we talked we saw an osprey dive into the lake, fishing for trout.

Yellow irises and water lillies

Yellow irises and water lillies

Then Jerry and I had dinner at an elegant little restaurant, Duck Soup Inn, because it was the fourth anniversary of the day we met.  We shared a scrumptious appetizer, smoked oysters with a garlicky butter sauce;  I had duck breast and Jerry had beef brochettes.  Paulette and Doug called the restaurant and treated us to wine and the oysters.

So I could blog about these things.

Or I could blog about an article I read in the Economist about the prime minister of Canada.  I bet that 9 out of 10 people who live in the US couldn’t tell you his name.  I take an interest in Canadian politics because Jerry and I drive through Canada once or twice a year to get to Alaska, and I live only 20 miles from the Canadian border.  Besides, a lot of my blog friends are Canadian.  The Economist says he’s like George Bush’s twin.  He’s an evangelical oil man and follows policies that the tea baggers would like.  And, like Bush, he’s a spender, spending money on silly things like constructing an artificial lake for the media at the up-coming G-20 meeting, complete with fake canoes and recorded loon calls.  Now I’ll reveal his name: it’s Stephen Harper.

Or I could blog about any of 3 articles I read in Science:  One was a genetic study of various groups of Jews — showing that they are related genetically as well as by religion.  Or about an article on the hormone oxytocin, the hormone that is secreted during childbirth and lactation, and how it makes mother bears protect their cubs fiercely.  Or another report about Polynesians coming to the new world before Europeans, an article called Beyond Kon Tiki.

Or I might blog about the 60th wedding anniversary party that we went to.  It was for Karl and Polly, held on the wide deck of the octagonal house he built for her.  The house, and the deck, have a view of Puget Sound and the Canadian islands. The sun was shining; Karl and Polly’s daughter sang “Long, Long Ago” and their granddaughters played the violin and viola.  Karl made a little speech about a dream he had. He has had a life-long romance with flying, but gave up his ultra-light when he turned 80. He dreamed he was saying goodbye to airplanes and airports; as he walked away from the airport he came to Polly standing by their car, and felt a sudden flood of happiness.  He knew that marrying her had been right.

At that party a woman called Elizabeth came up to me and said, enthusiastically, “I read your blog all the time.”  I thanked her.  She paused, and said, “You write about such intimate things — I mean, I couldn’t — well, what makes you want to write about such personal things?”

I said, “I’m not sure, but I think it has something to do with being honest.”

Since then I have thought more on this.  Some people write political blogs.  I care a lot about politics, but I am not sure I have anything original to say about politics.  Some people write poetry and put it on their blogs.  I write poetry too, but for some reason I am much shyer about revealing my poetry than I am about revealing my life.  Some people write lyrical things about flowers or sunsets or travels.  Some write about their children or their grandchildren or happy times with their partners or husbands.  There may be hints of trouble, but they are often not openly stated.  Too much chance for embarrassment or hurting someone.

I try to take care not to hurt, but sometimes I fail.  I am surprised that what some people find hurtful are things I think are trivial.  I write about my own life.  I have not always been wise or successful.  I think I have had an interesting life, and I want to revisit it in lots of different aspects.  I would like my descendants to know what it was like to live in my time, and I don’t want to gloss over the difficult parts, or my own weaknesses and failures.  I often wonder about my grandparents and great grandparents, people I knew or heard about.  I would like to know the truth about their lives.

So I put a lot of it down.  I’m not really brave enough to reveal my every mistake or embarrassing moment or ugly episode, but some things, like the story of John, are in a way cautionary tales.  What real difference will it make if someone is shocked by my small revelations?  The whole thing, after all, is an experiment.

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16 Responses to What shall (should) I write about?

  1. Tessa says:

    What an extraordinary post, Anne. You have described to a tee the agony and the ecstasy of blogging – sometimes more of the former than the latter, alas.

    As far as I am concerned, you can blog just about anything you wish. I have no doubt I will enjoy it all. But please, please, please don’t ever blog again about Stephen Harper …

  2. pauline says:

    From time to time I imagine we all wonder whether we should make public the things we’re thinking. I love reading here because I get to glimpse your comings and goings, to see if what you think is what I think, to know what another part of the world is like. Every computer I know of has an off button. If people don’t like what they read, they can hit that button…

  3. dale says:

    I don’t like to hurt people either, or even offend them, but I’ve long since given up worrying about it, partly because it turns out I hurt and offend people half the time even when I’m trying not to. So since I’m going to do it anyway, I might as well do it while saying things that are important to me and that other people might learn from. That way at least the chances are higher that the people I hurt and offend will be people who don’t care about the same things in the same way as I do 🙂

  4. Marja-Leena says:

    Oh, you have blogged about a lot of things just in this one post, Anne, just goes to show how many subjects interest you! But, like Tessa, I don’t want to hear about horrible Harper!! I really enjoy the stories about your colourful past life as well as your interesting present one for you are such a good storyteller. Go ahead and be as revealing or not as you wish! And thanks for the mention of my photography, I’m very honoured that they inspire you. I like your photos.

  5. Rain says:

    When people get memoirs published, they offend others also. Some get mad at a fiction novel if they know the author and suspect they were inspiring some part of it. I think a person has to blog what makes them comfortable and feel good and others choose to read or not for the same reasons.

  6. Hattie says:

    The advantage of blogging, I think, is that it is a new medium. No two blogs are alike, just as no two people are alike.
    I wonder what will happen as blogs become a more formal medium. Will there be a right way and a wrong way to blog?

  7. wisewebwoman says:

    Captivating post, 20CW.
    I am anonymous on my blog as I wanted the freedom to discuss myself and others with total abandon. I’ve never regretted that decision at all as I would be totally constricted if my ID was out there. – I write for other publications too and would not care for those readers being privy to my inner self.
    I would really enjoy you in person. I positively know that.
    As to Harper, he’s positively creepy. I rarely blog about him – I call him BushLite but actually he’s probably far, far worse as he does have more of an IQ IMHO. He terrifies me and many others.
    Some day you’ll finish the John story and many others I hope. I find there is a peace in writing of our struggles and also who wants to read BLAND?

  8. beth says:

    Oh, I liked it that you mentioned Harper! Americans should at least know his name, don’t you think? Here in Quebec he is not popular at all, and it’s a good thing because Quebec provides at least some balance.

    As we get older I think honesty is more important to us than worrying about everything that might offend someone. Your honest and direct reflections about your own life are what attract me here, and I really enjoyed this look at your mind casting around for inspiration and ideas. And please do continue the John story eventually!

  9. Laura Carr says:

    I believe that you could write about a flea bite and it would be interesting beyond measure.

    This batch of photos is inviting. I see all sorts of animals in the driftwood. Thank you.

    Your post is filled with life and beauty. I too, write from a personal POV. I too believe that this blogging exercise/experiment is one of practicing honesty. Sometimes my daughters are uncomfortable with my writing, and sometimes they do not read it at all, saying that I’m in denial, or too positive (-: Maybe we are writing just for ourselves, as our spirit/soul desires to express itself fully and with transparency. My kids do not seem to be that interested, but my granddaughter loves that I am an “author.” She went to school dressed as an author on Career Day… everyone asked her, “What are you?” This made my day!

    I love that you posted all these things that you “could” write about, and never once said “should.”

    Oh John. I am waiting to hear more, when you are ready.


  10. Friko says:

    the eternal question for all thoughtful bloggers.

    sometimes it is difficult to find anything meaningful, a quick poem has to do, a flippant remark has to be spun out, and everyday, rather mundane occurrence has to be made into a funny/sad/whatever post.

    What you do is always interesting, always well thought out, always ‘new’ for this reader. You write about a world which is alien but endlessly fascinating to me. Perhaps that is what we all do. We write about things happening in our own little (or not so little in your case) corner of the world, which is ‘a foreign country’ for others.

    A historian I know said, when I told him about blogging “you are all your own historians now, people like me won’t be needed soon.”

  11. Darlene says:

    I think the longer I blog the more I reveal about myself. Sometimes I think I tell way too much. I should have remained anonymous with a pseudonym so I could really let go with all of the funny embarrassing things I have done or that have happened to me. There are funny family stories I don’t dare tell because it might hurt the person involved.

    It is restricting to have to be so careful. On the other hand, I need to be more careful at times. I am, by nature, very open and it is hard to reign myself in.

  12. maria says:

    Even as you query yourself about what would make for a proper blog post, you cover such an amazing territory that comes fully alive to us, your readers. As another commenter has already noted, you could write about a fleabite and make that interesting, or rather, I should say, engaging. Because no matter what you write about, through your honesty and skill you engage us – because you are so engaged with your life.

    I struggle with my blog topics lately. That’s because there are issues in my life I don’t feel free to discuss on my blog, as they involve other people. Since these issue have been “engaging” the better (or maybe just the largest) parts of my attention, there is little left over for engagement with the world, so blogging hasn’t been easy. It is in this sense then that I find your post so inspirational!

  13. Dick says:

    What’s here, Anne, defines perfectly the function that blogging serves: the opportunity to ramble creatively with no extrinsic agenda governing what is presented. Discursiveness, self-interruption, no central theme – all elements that normally we would see as undermining ‘good’ writing – combine to engage the reader’s attention. Blog-as-journal, with no purpose other than to draw the reader into the life ands times of the writer. A rare skill and one you have in spades!

  14. Freda says:

    What an extraordinarily insightful post. I stumbled across your blog by accident and certainly intend to come back to see what you get up to next. Thanks for sharing the dilemmas and the joys of blogging. Every Blessing.

  15. Or you could take my approach … don’t blog at all for almost two years, then pop up an “Is anyone still out there?” post and go dropping by your old friends’ sites to see who is still online. Glad to see you’re still at it :o)

  16. annie says:

    Or you could blog about a little bit of everything. Thank you! Unlike you I dread if anyone I know finds my blog. I think its my own place to go and only my on-line friends can see my bare soul there.

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