You know, I made my name blogging everything and anything. It brought me joy. Don’t know why I don’t go back to that.
— Lee Skallerup (@readywriting) May 30, 2016
Years ago, when I had just started blogging, unemployed, trying to start a business, taking care of two kids under the age of three, in a new town, etc, etc, etc, I had also started yoga, something I never thought, ever, I would do.
Then again, I had never imagined I would find myself in the situation I was in at that moment, so I figured I might I well try it. I wasn’t sleeping, so I chose one that was meant to be done at the end of the day, calming the mind and the body.
If you’ve done yoga, then you know that the end of the practice is spent in a kind of meditative state. The Yogi encouraged us to ask ourselves in that moment if there was anything that our inner-voice wanted to tell us. Typically, I would roll my inner-eyes, and half-heartedly asked myself, well, what ya got for me? Then then one day, I heard an answer.
“You are exactly where you are supposed to be.”
It became a mantra for me over the next few years, as I struggled with the failure of my business, the years in my contingent faculty position, and many other things, things that all felt like failures, setbacks, and roadblocks. I held on to that message, maybe one that I needed to hear, but one that I certainly didn’t believe, nor did I even want to hear, in the moment it came to me.
Maybe the universe does send us messages. Maybe I’m just stubborn, and my subconscious even more so.
Fast-foward six years. I’ve done yoga off and on over time, even joining a yoga studio during my brief sojourn in Lexington. But I always carried a copy of that particular yoga video, to return to when I wants to do a series that was familiar and effective. I started doing yoga again, recently, in an effort of self-care.
A quick detour here about self-care and depression: it’s really, really, really, really hard. When you feel like you just want to sink into nothing, it’s difficult to find the motivation for self-care of any kind. Yoga always helps, but I have to start getting better before I can really start doing yoga again, because if not, it just exacerbates things; look at how horribly out of shape I am and who am I to take time for myself anyway so what is the point of any of this?
I dusted off the familiar sunset yoga sequence, and found myself at the end, asking my inner-guide if there was anything that I needed to know.
Keep fighting? KEEP FIGHTING?
When I got the job in Lexington, leaving my contingent teaching position behind, I slowly let go of many of my side jobs and places where I fought the hardest. At least, I thought I was letting go. I certainly didn’t think I was giving up. And even if I was, I was tired. I had spent the past five years working multiple jobs to help make ends me and try and hustle my way out of my professional situation. It’s not an unfamiliar fight, one that I fought alongside fellow contingent academics, freelancers, and unemployed members of my larger social media community.
The last piece of that period of giving up and/or letting go was shuttering my Inside Higher Ed blog. And, really, when I look at the majority of the things I let go of, most of them were writing projects, assignments, and spaces. I was tired, and I couldn’t write anymore. I didn’t want to write, I couldn’t write anymore. What was once the easiest, or at least most obviously effortless, thing I did became the hardest.
I hated writing.
Academic writing, blogging, essays, freelance pieces, even emails and tweets, I hated them all. I was exhausted from all the words, words that (in that moment) never seemed to make any difference. Or maybe that had served their purpose so no longer necessary.
I began resenting being known for being a blogger, a prolific writer. There is more to me, I screamed, than my words, but I was really worried that I was no longer what everyone associated me with, and that I would just let them all down by my loss of words. Or, the loss of confidence in my words. What if there was nothing more to me than my words? What was I if not all these millions of words spread out over the internet? What was left?
I wasn’t writing for myself anymore. I was writing to piss off the trolls, I was not writing so maybe they would leave me alone. I was writing because people had told me my writing had meant something to them, I was not writing because people had told me that my writing was awful and useless and pointless and so many other awful things. I was writing because it was my job, I was not writing because it was no longer my job. I was writing because I thought I wanted to be a part of the conversation, I was not writing because it was all just noise. I was writing because I thought had something to say, I was not writing because I thought someone always seemed to say it better. I was writing because people seemed to care, I was not writing because people seemed to care.
When I started blogging, I wrote for myself, but I was hungry for an audience, for attention, for a community. At the same time, because I didn’t yet have any of this, I just wrote. I didn’t care about narrative and being perfect and polished and having the hottest take (all the time) and sticking my foot in it. I just wrote.
And now, I seem to have come full circle. I’m writing again, for a few different places, including here. And I’m in a place, here, where I can say, once again, this is my space, and I’m going to write whatever I want to. I don’t have to worry (as much) about shoehorning it into some sort of professional narrative, or its (relative) virality, or even if anyone reads it at all.
Keeping fighting. Maybe what I’m fighting for is to get my voice back. Maybe that’s the thing that I had been slowly losing over the years, the big, loud, messy voice that found a place on the web. I thought I had found a place where I could be that person, professionally, but I wasn’t that person anymore, not really. I stopped writing for myself, as myself, so of course I felt like no one heard me anymore.
But of course, work is never far away from my mind, even when I’m in a space I’m trying to claim as my own, because nothing in my life is separate from anything else. I read my colleague, Deborah Schleef’s piece Who’s Afraid of Domain of One’s Own, and think to myself, well, me. What does it mean, to me, to enter this fourth phase of my mature digital presence (undergraduate, upstart academic blog after a long pause, big-time blog, and now this)? This is my space, and a space that is wholly and totally my own. What does that even mean?
I am, also, after everything falls away, a teacher; I have been for as long as I have been a writer. And a practitioner (or at least a dabbler) in what it is that I teach. I tell my students to embrace the messiness, to try and to fail, and to make space for those experiences and experiments and play and passion. My messiness, my own bumbling and failures and do-overs and trying again, done often publicly, has been well-documented, and lately, I have been moving away from that, while trying to push my students towards it.
“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.” – Virginia Woolf
I have my own Domain, and it is mine to do with what I please. What an incredibly terrifying and liberating and privileged and intimidating opportunity. And, I am in a position to truly make it my own, regardless of if the writing matters for ages or only hours, or maybe not at all. And for it to be messy and complicated and incomplete and imperfect and full of digressions and personal and intimate and rife with run-ons and asides and topics that seem unrelated and blog posts that become essays with no heading breaks because that’s how I write and that’s who I am. Evn if it’s “wrong.”
This is how I keep fighting. This is my domain. So long as I finally write what I wish to write, how I wish to write it.