miscellaneous bloggy thoughts

I’ve been a little quiet around here, and I think there are two main reasons. The first is, I’m lazy, and the less I have to do, the lazier I get. The second is, I’m not sure where I’m going with this blog. I am a different person than I was when I started it, and the blog was instrumental in shaping the ways I’ve changed. It’s hard to describe, because it’s not a cause-and-effect, event-event-event kind of story. But now that I am headed to grad school, I have a definite sense that a chapter of my life is closing – not only in terms of where I am and what I’m doing, but also who I’m becoming. And this blog is a part of that.

So if only to get some of these thoughts out of my head (but hopefully to gather some thoughts from other bloggers), here are a few things I’ve learned/ways my blog and I are changing.

1. I used to participate,but I’m realizing: the progressive Christian blogosphere is that dramatic friend.
I skimmed over the Gospel Coalition “gag reflex” post, and it made me mad. Not mad that someone is wrong on the internet!, to be clear. Mad that enough people had blogged and tweeted about this post to induce me to read it at all. All these posts and tweets seemed to consist only of emotional responses to the words “gag reflex”, when the rational response was, this is a truly terrible argument. The guy (I forget his name, don’t care) destroys his own position by reducing marriage to sex and sex to body parts; obviously heterosexual sex is just as “gross” when you describe it the way he does. He doesn’t actually have a problem with gay marriage. He has a problem with bodies. It’s all very silly and Freudian and I guess a slow news day induced the outrage machine to gift it with thousands of pageviews; but I will never belong in that machine. I’m not a talk-incessantly-about-the-issues kind of person, and if I were, I’d be exactly where Rachel Held Evans is 98% of the time. So I’ve vowed to keep the progressive Christian issues blogosphere at a dramatic-friend level of arms-reach. If it’s not measured, insightful, or thought-provoking, I’m not reading it. I’m reading a book. Books make me happy.

2. I went looking for my “voice”, and I found it.
Here’s a thing: I’ve never loved the title of this blog. But I needed it. About a year and a half ago, I began a quest to learn how to speak the truth – to share my thoughts (and feelings [eek]) with other people in ways that I used to be truly incapable of doing. It might sound silly, but the first few times I tried to say stuff I’d been guarding for so long, it was physically hard. I sat in silence with people for fifteen, twenty minutes. I rewrote tiny short notes to people over and over. But then I started to break out; I gave a testimony at my church and I gave a goodbye speech to my improv team and I cried until my face turned all splotchy at both. I wrote the letter to my ex that I should have written a year earlier. I started saying how I was really doing. I told strangers they had nice eyes. I worked at a church and I said what I thought was wrong. I looked people in the eyes and said, “You are hurting me.” In February I yelled angry things at a priest. I preached another testimony and cried in very-public all over again.

I’ve carved out a space for myself and my words, instead of trying to contort myself to fit in the spaces between others’ words, feelings, and perceptions. My will-they-accept-me-will-they-like-me? filter has thinned dramatically. And this blog has been a huge part of that. I wish I could give a hug to everyone who’s ever read any of it, and I’m not even that big on hugs.

I know I’ll always be learning how to speak up and share my honest thoughts, but I think I’ve arrived at a place where I can be proud of myself. I’ve written a lot recently about self-acceptance, and it seems like a bit of an ending point that I never could have foreseen on this truth-telling journey. I am a much less fragmented person now; my inner and outer lives are closely aligned. I have integrity; I am more whole. And I’m able to love myself because of it.

3. I “found a voice”. A voice is a means to an end. I’m ready for it to not be so much about me.
I’m not normally a very envious person, so when I first started blogging I was surprised at how quickly I could become angry or jealous that someone was more “successful” than me. I’m still not sure why that is, except that writers bind up so much of ourselves in our writing. I rarely feel that way anymore; but I think I have unconsciously viewed blogging as a competition even when I try to keep it shoved into the “hobby” space it’s supposed to occupy in my life.

I also don’t think of myself as a person with a platform or any influence at all. Which is mostly true, but I’m no longer just a solitary girl doodling around on the internet alone, trying to “make it” in some way. This hit me when Rachel H.E. tweeted one of my articles(!), and I was overwhelmed by the number of people who congratulated me – who were invested in such a small success of mine. I’m a little bit afraid of technology, but I’m looking for ways to encourage and work with other people – find community – the way a small group of friends has cared for me. I’m so grateful to those people, including (but not limited to) cool reader Mallory Pickering, Facebook champions and IRL friends Anna Rich and Austin Young, and incredible incredible On Pop Theology editors Ben Howard and Sebastian Faust.

4. I’m going to grad school now.
I have no idea what that’s going to be like. I can spout all kinds of hopes and intentions about this blog, but I can’t know whether it will turn out to be a helpful escape or an exhausting drain once I settle into life in Boston. It may end up looking very similar; the subject matter may turn more academic; I may only post every few weeks. All I can tell you is that I plan to still be here. It’s sort of like a pet that I can’t really imagine getting rid of, and most of all I don’t want to lose the chance to connect with you. For real, thank you for reading. I meant it about the hugs.


you move with them

“Do you think he will learn something from it?”

I am talking with someone a couple years older than me, about someone my age, and we both smile, one of those shared looks that communicates a thousand unspoken words of common understanding. We both know exactly what we hope “he” will learn.

Other early-twenties bloggers, too, I wonder how many older readers shake their heads at us and think we are darling. Overthinkers, every last one of us, and leaning hard into whatever identity we’ve chosen and telling everyone all about our childhood, “what it was like growing up”, like we aren’t still trying to grasp it back from whomever relegated it to the “things we’re done with” bin.

I wonder what I’m pressing onto this space with such intensity that in five or ten years I will shake my head at myself, softly smiling at all the things I needed you to know about me.

When you are older you know a few things about yourself, the essentials of who you are that won’t change, and you know that change is inevitable for all the rest; even that you cannot always see the change until it’s already happened because things just come, and you move with them, and the seasons wear us all into our different patterns like trees. But when you are young and an overthinker, the future seems like something you might fall into – one minute peering over the edge, next minute thudding onto the bottom – and you tiptoe around the chasm securing yourself to various Things You Know and Things You Want To Be. You think you will fall slower and better than everyone else with their regrets.

I don’t think I will stop trying to live my life on purpose, or trying to anticipate everything, or overthinking in my quest to live the very best life I can. Those are things I like about myself.

But I am letting go of the need to be grown, to Educate People and Fix Things, to give more than I have or to force an outcome to conform to my expectations.

Things just come, and you move with them, and the seasons wear us all into our different patterns like stones, and I know he will learn what he needs to and the gashing edge will smooth into an intriguing, beautiful bevel.

Things just come, and you move with them, and the seasons wear us all into our different patterns like riverbeds, and I know when it is finished mine will be deep and clear as the night sky in Adrian, Georgia, which is the closest place I know to God.

future employers STAY OUT

*psst* this is my name if you met me at church and can't remember and we've known each other too long for you to ask again because it's awkward.

*psst* this is my name if you met me at church and can’t remember and we’ve known each other too long for you to ask again because that would be awkward.

In a moment that managed to combine great thoughtlessness with great prescience, my parents gave me a name that sounds like several other names and then they spelled it like they wished we were Welsh. They have apologized for the ensuing confusion.

But really they shouldn’t have. Sure, I have a hard time introducing myself to old people; but my parents had me a little too early to recognize the genius in what they were doing, which was in fact making me extraordinarily Google-able. Once people figure out who I am, that is.

If you Google me, you will quickly find several pages that are actually directly related to me, along with other mentions of less-important Lyndsey Graves-es. It helps that I’m a fairly active participant in the Internet (in fits and bursts, at least).

Having, like most twentysomethings, little else to manage and interface with and delete emails from, I indulged in one such fit; yesterday I joined tumblr (find me so I can follow you!), and today I joined LinkedIn. I only wanted to follow people and save hipstery photographs (tumblr) and use other people for my own professional advancement (LinkedIn).

But that LinkedIn account sent me into a minor identity crisis here at my desk on Tuesday morning. I don’t know how to author one of those! I know how to write a résume – describe my mostly-adequate experience and accomplishments with aggresively grandiose jargon, prioritize experience most relevant to job applied for, and keep it out of the hands of people who actually know me. I also know how to write a blog post – be honest, and always include some run-on sentences (those are especially honest). And my Facebook profile is a hodgepodge of shared social justice articles and all the one-liners I’m going to put in my mockumentary someday.

Inviting my friends and teachers into my fledgling professional life, though – that’s something I’ve hesitated to do, and writing my profile I remembered why. THEY DON’T BELONG THERE, that’s why. Or, to be more accurate, I’d really just rather not have to combine the two. Where my LinkedIn profile says “Young Adult Ministry,” my friends have all heard me say “young adult ministry… whatever that means *snort*”.

The only reason I got an account is because I’m so Google-able. The care and keeping of one’s work life, online-writing-hobby life, and real-world-relationships separately is a quaint but unhelpful notion anymore. A savvy employer will find  me. I won’t get to print my information onto expensive heavy paper and hand in that version of myself. They will see all my snark, earnestness, controversial opinions, and personal celebrations, in descending order by popularity measured in page hits; and that will be the same picture whether they’re at a university, an online writing venue, or whatever coffee shop employs Ph.D.s in theology.

Every little piece of ourselves that we tether onto a corner of the internet becomes a dot that others can connect to form a picture of us – in most cases, an indelible dot. Another quaint but fairy-tale-ish notion from the past? Moving across the country and “starting over”. The activity from your past is recorded; your current whereabouts are in the searchable White Pages; and your online identity is a cloud made of thousands of tiny water droplets – every tweet, every like, every friend and “connection”.

Which makes it all the more difficult, even if you’re doing your best to be intentional about creating that identity. My coworkers are disconcerted that I wore jeans and only jeans in the winter, but have started dressing up in the summer. They need me to stay in one place once they’ve got me figured out. But it’s difficult, impossible even, to project a consistent image across multiple platforms, so they’re going to have to live with the uncertainty of knowing a dynamo like me.

In the end, though, I think I’m hopeful. I may never be able to convince a hiring manager that I’m a straitlaced, whitebread, grown-up individual with absolutely no slightly Communist ideals. But then again maybe all that overblown résume language, when it served to identify me, was actually as bad for my soul as it felt.

Maybe I am glad that where my LinkedIn account says “lead volunteer, Havenplace”, my friends are standing by, perhaps remembering the tears I cried over those kids and the ways I was changed by those kids. Maybe some of my connections will be those kids.

Maybe it is good that my name forces me to stand out a little, and I can choose to rise to that serendipitous, unlooked-for occasion. Maybe, even if I discover that everything I ever posted in my twenties was a gigantic appalling mistake, I’ll not forget that humility is the rarest and most endearing quality an academic – or a human – can ever possess.

Maybe the internet, this weirdly ephemeral medium that once flooded the world with concerns about anonymity, will finally make us better people by exposing us so.

May my own Facebook photos reveal integrity – a life actually lived the way my blog claims I hope for.

And may those two blog posts I tried to hide please dear goodness really stay that way.

blueberry smoothies, your personal theology, and other inconsequential items

“Blueberry smoothies are the most cheerful color.”

I actually considered tweeting that. Not the idea-forms, is-immediately-rejected kind of “considered”. If it hadn’t required me to leave the kitchen, I might have actually tweeted it. [This is one of many reasons I will not own a smartphone until a museum offers me $50,000 for my flip phone.]

Luckily, I realized that this would be an awful tweet because of the reason: NO ONE CARES. But before the alarmists and people-who-think-they’re-too-good-for-the-future take me as one more example of the hyper-narcissistic twentysomething blogger, I’d like to give my own reasons for my almost-tweet. I didn’t think anyone was waiting to hear what I think the most cheerful color is. And I wasn’t trying to draw attention to myself. I was honestly struck by the delicate lavender speckled with earthy indigo, and I wanted to share it with someone. If another person had been in the kitchen with me, I would have remarked upon it and probably never thought of tweeting about it. But there wasn’t, and for a moment I thought that tweeting my smoothie would actually contribute to some kind of conversation.

This carpet cleaner worked REALLY WELL, but using it gave me a headache!

It’s easy to see how that is not the case with the smoothie tweet. Even if I’d had a picture, I couldn’t really share the accidental-everyday beauty of that moment; but without one, it is a boring and stupid thing to make others read. But like I said, I’m not worried about narcissism. I’m worried that the narcissistic and the well-intentioned can end up in the same social media boat, paddling around in a sea of no one cares.

I’ve been a student of the blogosphere this summer. I’ve read a ton of blogs, followed every post of many, and kept up with my twitter feed. I’ve written here,  submitted guest posts, and came this close to making a tumblr. And I’ve noticed a great many people suffering from blueberry smoothie syndrome [myself included, obviously] – people who think they’re making vital contributions to an important conversation, when really they’re not. I’ve learned to be wary of those who say that “blogging is their calling” – many of these people seem to be “called” to put out some pretty average work. And I’ve seen that a post “going viral” is a bit of a crapshoot, while most any not-ugly, not-bad blog can gain a good number of followers with several months of very hard work.

I know I sound like a big rude downer, so let me clarify – I don’t think my own blog is better than average, and I really respect people who put in the work to gain an audience. But I do think the blogosphere in general, and individuals in particular, need to understand: your blog won’t change the world. AT LEAST [I’m shouting over an imaginary clamor of objections] not more than anything else you do. Yes, we all hope that our story will resonate with just one person, or bring a thoughtful moment or a smile to someone’s day. But here’s the real-life facts: probably 80% of the people who read blogs are themselves bloggers. And all people who read blogs tend to follow the sites that agree with their opinions and interests. The blogosphere is really a bunch of tiny baby spheres of ultra-specialized groups. Even if you have a large following, you are not talking to “the world”. You are talking to other organic farmers who have internationally-adopted twins, or something. Even if you have a very large following, you are talking to people with internet access and free time.

Or maybe you’re not that interested in reaching the world; nearly every dedicated blogger you come across is going to say they just want to “start a conversation” or “build a community”. But only the blogs with the very most followers/commenters really come close to doing that on a consistent basis. This is purely a numbers thing; if you’re really really lucky, every tenth person to read your post will comment. So if you’re blogging to “start a conversation”, are you not actually talking to the 90%?

Of course you are. That’s why the social media people don’t talk about how to build a “conversation,” they talk about building a “platform”. You’re speaking from a platform.

Again – I’m not saying any of this is bad. It’s bad when people forget that everyone doesn’t read blogs. That they can state their opinion in elegant prose with a touching story, and not change anyone’s mind because their audience already agrees. That 500 people have already said what they’re saying. That you can’t mix up its and it’s.  [Oops, that is my other blogging peeve].

Here is my point [I’m so bad at getting to these] – I support your blogging/tweeting/tumbling efforts. But. BUT. Don’t imagine that your blog is more important than other things you do with passion and excellence. Don’t talk about it to people who don’t care. Don’t ignore real-life opportunities to write a passionate “manifesto” [seriously, who decided everyone should have a manifesto, thereby cheapening an incredibly cool word?]. Because you’re a whole lot more likely to change someone’s mind on an issue by talking to them one-on-one. And you may be “called to blog” for your own sake, not everyone else’s. And your time and attention is precious to the people you love… not so much to your followers.

As for me, I’ve never claimed to write for more than just to be writing. However, if this post changed your life, let me know so I can tweet about it.

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