What I Learned from Participating In Bloganuary

Image courtesy Pixabay

I participated in Bloganuary this January as I thought it might be a good way to revive my blog and to think differently about how I blog. This is a challenge from WordPress that provides you with daily prompts to inspire you to write blog posts, usually something personal about your life and your inspirations to get to know you better.

I really enjoyed the exercise; although I did not blog every day, it helped me to blog at least once or twice a week and I am definitely thinking differently about my blogging content now. I also gained 17 new followers from participating in the challenge, as well as 293 total views for the month, 159 visitors, 17 likes and 7 comments.

Lots of people say blogging is dead, but compare that to my email newsletter, which has had 15 signups since May. Granted, I need to reinvent my newsletter as well and produce more engaging content there.

Participating in this challenge made me realize that blogging is not dead after all, but it is different than it was 10 years ago. People have been saying it’s dying for about the last 15 years. Ten years ago people would document their lives and overshare, vent and complain in their diaries to the world, and a robust community would comment and engage with all the other bloggers in the blogosphere doing the same thing.

This has been supplanted by social media; this sort of blog is dead, I think. But I think blogs are still useful for certain things. As with all content, blogs are about your ability to build an audience, and they take a lot of work, shouting into the void and consistent posting – much like social media. But I find they are useful for authors still because they tap into an audience that doesn’t necessarily use your social media platforms.

They also give you good SEO and keep your website current in search results. That really is the main reason I blog; that and to build an audience for my writing. Besides, as a former journalist, journalistic-type writing comes easy to me; I can pop off a blog post in about 20 minutes, whereas it might take someone more comfortable with fiction much longer to write. Journalistic writing is second nature to me.

Creative nonfiction, though, is somewhat harder. Different style entirely. More personal.

I’ve struggled with the direction I wanted to take this blog. Like I say, back in the 2010s, what was popular was a long diatribe about your horrible experience at Costco. But people don’t want to read that any more; it doesn’t make you relatable, it just turns people off if they don’t know you. People want useful, inspiring content; they also want to feel like they know you.

I’ve drawn back a lot from social media these days and value my privacy more. I no longer want to document my life or whine about my day or use my blog as an outlet to vent my anger about the world. I have a journal and friends for that.

I’m also not an expert in anything; I don’t want to provide you with writing advice, as there is plenty of that online. I don’t want to be your therapist. I also want you to get to know me and how I see the world. Writing is about how we process our emotions and our interactions with the world, and how we do that as people often says whether someone will like our writing.

I also don’t want to spread myself too thin. I’m experimenting with several platforms this year and I do not want to get content burnout. And no, before you ask, I don’t want to hire you, this is just something I do for fun.

I plan to keep going with my book reviews, and blog here at least once a week. I am thinking of starting a Medium page and posting more “article” type content there on topics like productivity, health, fitness and creativity.

Bloganuary made me realize blogging is worth keeping up with, because it is a way for you to get to know me beyond the shrillness of social media noise. That’s what it is all about as an author. Building an audience and a platform for your work. You just have to pick and choose what you can do with joy and consistency or you’ll never build that audience, no matter what it is in today’s crowded landscape for content creators.

With that, I’m finding myself excited about what I can offer you on this blog in 2022, and I realized I was overthinking it all along.

Just write, that’s all. Just write.

Bloganuary Day 27: Solitude

Photo by Denise Ruttan

Bloganuary Day 27 Prompt: Where do you go when you need solitude?

I go to the woods. Maybe this is not true solitude as I always have my partner with me when I go hiking, but I always feel calm around him so I think it counts. I’ve been out there alone, too. I am lucky enough to live in a city called Corvallis, Oregon, just an hour and a half drive southwest of Portland, in the heart of the Willamette Valley. It has a swathe of wonderful, uncrowded hikes just a five minute drive away. It is one of the best perks of living here.

Just five minutes and I can reach world-class beauty that people travel around the world to see. One of my 2022 goals is to go on a hike somewhere new every weekend; or even if it’s a favorite trail, to just go get exercise, fresh air and be among the trees.

I get some of my best story ideas while hiking, too. Just that meditative action of walking along a trail and avoiding tripping on tree roots puts my brain in story mode. I just keep thinking “What if?” and drive my characters to impossible situations in my head, then I must race home and write it down in my process notebook so I do not forget it.

I even got new hiking shoes to make my new goal more tangible. It not only gets me out of the house in a covid-safe way, but it gives me a sense of adventure, gives me an excuse to do photography, and helps my mental health. Hiking is great on many fronts.

Following are some photos I took from a hike last weekend on a trail called Vineyard Mountain. This is a trail through a vast wilderness that is owned by the local land-grant university. Unfortunately, it is also used as an experimental forest for forestry programs so it is not entirely pristine. But it is beautiful and I am glad a small section of it has been preserved for local residents to enjoy.

The rest of my photos will speak for themselves.

Bloganuary Day 20: Favorite Photo

Photo by Denise Ruttan

Bloganuary Day 20 prompt: What is your favorite photo you’ve ever taken?

I don’t think it’s possible to pick one single favorite of the literally 10s of 1000s of photos I’ve taken over the last 10 years or so. I first ventured into photography with my first DSLR, a Nikon D5100, in 2014 or thereabouts. Prior to that I was a journalist and took photos on assignment with my work camera for small-town newspapers. My partner thought I had an eye and encouraged me to get a camera of my own, to finally abandon automatic mode and truly learn the inner workings of a proper DSLR.

At first I shot nature, landscapes and that sort of thing; then I decided I wanted to make it a side hustle, so I wanted to shoot portraits, and I needed a portfolio.

But I couldn’t get anyone to pose for me. One friend did a shoot with me that turned out great. I next turned to the Internet, to Facebook groups and later Instagram, to find models. My first foray into model photography was a Facebook post about a shoot workshop at Eugene photographer Allan Erickson’s home studio. This was a fantastic south-facing older home with wonderful natural light. I worked with a pro model and I wasn’t sure how I felt at first about art nude photography but soon I was hooked. I went back there many times in later years for future shoots.

Landscapes of the body.

Finally I was able to find more local collaborators, amateur models who did trade-for-photo arrangements (They provide modeling services, I provide shooting services and photos). This was for portfolios – some of them wanted to make it as professional models; others turned to sex work to make money and did boudoir or portraiture for the creative passion of it. Photographers usually made their money off commercial work like weddings and collaborated with models for their creative outlet. I ended up using freelance journalism to fund my photography habit, since I didn’t have it in me to hustle as a commercial photographer after all.

It was a fun scene for awhile. Thanks to an old group called ISOConnection and a now-defunct art nude site called Zivity, I was able to meet lots of models and photographers. The fun scene had a dark side, of course, as all these sorts of tight-knit communities do. Photographers taking advantage of models, and vice versa; unprofessional behavior; down to the flat out abusive kind of conduct, not just the wait six months to return any photos kind.

Did that for awhile and got burnt out on the scene, wound down my hustling and only did the occasional shoot when I felt really inspired, back in 2019. The pandemic hit in 2020, of course, and I stopped working with models for awhile but it was a long time coming. I needed a break. I thought I had quit for good; I had grown bitter about the community.

But still, I missed it. It was still a social outlet with fun, creative people, and I was feeling an itch to be creative visually again; so between outbreaks, I hired a pro art nude model and did another shoot this fall, which was great. Unfortunately, Omicron has meant I’ve suspended my portraiture work for the time being, but I’m keen to get back to it as soon as it’s safe again. I miss the light side of the culture. These are driven, creative people who love art and beauty – and often, cannabis.

This last spring I finally was able to upgrade my camera to my long-coveted full-frame. I now shoot with a Nikon D750. Photography is an expensive hobby, and the gear is only part of the expense – one of the things I burnt out on. Renting studios, traveling to Portland all the time. I loved many aspects of it but did I love it enough to spend what was essentially a decent side hustle income on it, precluding opportunities to travel or do other things with my time?

I digress; back to the photo. Gear is only secondary compared to what you do with it, how you use it, the composition you select. This was one of my favorite shoots from my intense years. I don’t want to get as intense as I had been in it; these days I just want to do a few shoots a year and only work with the same people, forming relationships to tell a series of portraiture work over time.

The model here is Devi, an Indian model from the Bay Area who goes by the moniker “Googlymonstor” on Instagram. I think this shot perfectly captures what I love about the art of body landscapes viewed with the female gaze. It’s probably one of my top five favorites from that whole five-year period; plus Devi herself was a wonderful person and a fun model to work with. This is why I plan to hire models a couple times a year, and collaborate with a few people the rest of the time. Shoots like this inspire me. Shoots like this remind me that a community is made up of people; some will bring you down, and some will inspire you to be the best artist you can be.

A collaboration with a model and photographer who are of similar abilities, vision and sensibilities is one of the purest artistic mediums out there. It won’t pay the rent, of the studio or your house. But sometimes capitalism alone cannot feed the soul. We need more than to just pay the bills. We need to survive, and then we need to live.

All natural light. Just shadows and curves. Nothing more to say.

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Bloganuary Day 16: Causes

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Bloganuary Day 16 Prompt: What’s a cause you are passionate about and why?

Freedom of speech. Voltaire is widely attributed as saying, “I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend, to the death, your right to say it.” In this sense, I am a classical liberal in that I see this as the foundation of civil society.

You may try to temper this statement by saying that certain kinds of speech, like hate speech, are unacceptable, and you may be right. However, I think qualifying speech with certain conditions like that does not protect marginalized people; it only leads to the slippery slope of silencing most people on topics on which ordinarily you may find allies, because they are afraid to offend someone or not pass some sort of moral purity test.

You find this scenario on both the left and the right. On the left, you must be anti-racist, believe in systemic racism, patriarchy, and the like, and prove that you do by echoing the correct talking points; on the right, you must believe that elections cannot be legitimate if you lose them, be anti-vaccination, never criticize Trump, and the like. You are banished from the party and effectively silenced if you do not speak up about any of these talking points.

Neither of these poles leads to equity or a more civil society; we’ve just become more divided and only allowed the extremes the opportunity to speak. The rest of us are too afraid of getting cancelled, to offend someone, to be seen as judgmental, or generally not listened to. The values of civil society are being consistently attacked. Maybe one side is more egregious than the other based on your ideological platform, but never before has freedom of speech been more fragile.

Ironically, this is in the era where we are more hyper-connected than ever before and can access all kinds of information and global perspectives with the swipe of our finger on these little boxes we call smart phones.

Unfortunately, by connecting us, they have not made us smart. We only block and disassociate with people who believe different things than we do. We divide further up into tribes of people who are sycophants, culturally and economically similar to us, people who won’t offend us, who get us; because the other side is demonized. The center can no longer hold.

I believe that certain kinds of speech are indeed unacceptable, in a legal sense, as well. You cannot yell fire in a crowded room. But other kinds of speech are murkier. Should Trump have been banned from Twitter? I think yes. But should social media companies be regulating what is considered acceptable speech online? I’d rather see government, which does not have a profit motive, crafting those regulations, versus social media companies self regulating. Instead, government has let the Internet become the Wild West where anything goes all in the name of freedom, because they cannot hope to keep up with the rapidly changing pace of technology.

I think speech that harms others should be marginalized. You can deplatform the worst offenders for violating terms of service, but this is inconsistently enforced. People who post links to their website to Facebook groups should not be treated the same as people who say you can cure covid by drinking pee.

In this era of information, we should have become enlightened, more educated, more open-minded. Instead we are more divided than ever into identity clubs, united by our talking points and never questioning past the acceptable line.

We have become bereft of the ability to think critically, to question authority, to challenge each other. We have forgotten how to truly debate one another without personally attacking the other, or finding excuses to call the other person wrong instead of fielding a legitimate argument. We seek to push our agenda at all costs, slamming our talking points over any chance at real discourse.

The Internet has exacerbated this, too, by putting screens between us, leading to the same kind of impersonal realm as road rage. When you can shake someone’s hand you are much less likely to spew vitriol at them. The pandemic, too, has deepened our isolation and closed down traditional community gathering places. Instead we remain stuck at home, glued to the glow of our screens, doomscrolling for that chemical reward of the hunt.

Is this what civil society is built on? I would argue not.

So I am for freedom of speech. I am for letting the Nazis march and counter-protesting. I am for allowing speech but also marginalizing it and holding people accountable. I am against cancel culture, bullying, silencing people. I think people deserve the right to explain themselves and to change, to admit mistakes and grow.

Freedom of speech is what leads to equitable outcomes, in the end. And that’s because I believe those with a moral obligation to society are those who uphold the ideals of the society. You cannot achieve that, a free, equitable, civil society, when you’re afraid.

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Bloganuary Day 10: Gratitudes

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Bloganuary Day 10 Prompt: What are five things you are grateful for today?

One: Exercise. I go lap swimming at my local city pool in the morning a couple times a week, I’m signed up for another beginning tennis class that starts tonight, I do yoga at home a couple times a week and I’ve been trying to get back into running and weight lifting, but haven’t been super consistent with that last one. I miss going to the gym but I don’t feel safe there just yet, but those other physical fitness activities are within my comfort zone. It gets me out of the house, helps my mental health as well as my physical health, and it gives me a social element.

Two: My health. My mental health has been pretty up and down the last couple years but hasn’t everybody’s? My physical health, however, is pretty good. I am grateful I’ve never had covid and am protected through vaccination and masking up when I go out indoors. I’m still fairly careful because I don’t want to get it or spread it to anyone else. I’m not afraid necessarily of getting it myself but I’d feel awful if I knew I had transmitted it to someone else. Aside from the usual aches, pains and insomnia, I’m pretty healthy and that’s something to be thankful for.

Three: My partner. Jim and I have been together for 14 years and I wouldn’t want to weather pandemic isolation with anyone else. He is my rock, goofy, a good listener, gives great advice and he is a wonderful cook.

Four: My house. I moved from a tiny, cramped apartment to a duplex with a yard just before the pandemic and I’m so happy we did. I have my own office and can shut the door, and we have a vegetable garden in the summer.

Five: My creativity. Staying home through the pandemic has made me realize what’s really important to me. Writing, playing music, doing crafts, are all things that make me happy, give me a creative outlet, intellectual stimulation, and help me escape to other worlds.

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Bloganuary Day 9: Assumptions

Bloganuary Day 9 Prompt: What do people incorrectly assume about you?

My age. I mean, look at this selfie I took today and see what you would guess. It could also be my demeanor that influences their impressions of me, because I’m shy and awkward around strangers; the words do not flow to me at parties. It took a long time to train myself out of hesitation devices and ending statements with a question tone to erase some more of my youthful affectations.

I have a few gray hairs but my skin is good, aside from eczema that makes my nose red in the heat of summer and the cold of winter, and eternally chapped lips. Still got my baby cheeks. I guess it’s my Scandinavian genes – I am part Norwegian and Swedish.

It’s the first question I get asked and I often confuse people. I’ve been assaulted rudely at parties by older people who demand to know my age before they even learn my name. Even kids have to know. I stammer and stumble when I talk sometimes, and I’m not orally proficient as a speaker, but then you hear me talk, and I betray my sensibilities and life experience that seem older than I look.

Well, drumroll please, I’m 40. I still get carded at grocery stores by clerks who think my ID is a fake. It’s actually somewhat entertaining how much it confounds and surprises people. Most people think I’m 30 or younger. Some assume I’m 20. But this is only if you don’t know me. You have to get to know me to take me seriously.

You would think this would be flattering and a blessing, but in truth, it’s annoying to be constantly infantilized when I just want to be respected. I’ve learned to use it to my advantage; when I was a reporter I was quiet and non-intimidating, and people would open up when they felt you truly listened to them without even asking them any pointed questions. And when I asked the blunt questions, they didn’t take offense.

When I was a court clerk I didn’t have to bark at people or yell or be authoritative to get people to be respectful and follow the rules of the courtroom. I just had to respect people back and show them kindness, and instantly defendants from all walks of life responded to it as if it was a gift someone had given them. You don’t have to be the biggest or oldest person in the room to get respect.

I have much less energy about it than when I was younger. It used to make me angry when I was young. Now that I’m no longer in my 20s, my 30s was spent training myself to not care what anybody thought. Now that I am beginning my 40s, I still don’t think of it as a compliment because people don’t usually say it in a very complimentary manner. They treat me like an oddity, an object, something that they have to puzzle out and try to understand, while I crouch before their piercing gaze and try to disappear, which only helps strengthen the illusion.

I am, however, learning to just shrug about it and move on. I don’t feel lucky that I look young for my age but I’m glad I don’t look older than my years. I don’t want to get mistaken for an AARP member or have a face pocked with wrinkles, but as I don’t care much about appearance, that wouldn’t bother me.

I’m learning to laugh about it instead of roll my eyes. Watch out for the quiet ones and people you dismiss based on their physical appearance. They’re stronger than you think.

Bloganuary Day 8: Writing Strengths

Image from Pixabay

What I like the most about my writing is two things actually – my character development and my way with language.

I’ve really taken it to heart that characters need to be flawed, complex, whole people who face problems and conflict, then go through changes and transformations. I get a lot of inspiration from the various work and travel experiences I’ve had throughout my life for the people in my stories. I’m an avid people watcher and I like to study their quirks and tics. I am drawn like a moth to a flame to interesting people.

To be interesting to me doesn’t mean you have money, fame, or a certain kind of career, or any other kind of status or prestige. Interesting people have diverse interests and backgrounds. They see the world differently than most people. I think people are defined by the choices they make; their choices add up to form their character. Exploring someone’s character is why I find the craft of fiction a rich and enthralling experience.

Even when you are writing about dragons and orcs, fiction is the act of telling the truth. Not the facts or reality per se, as it is seen in scientific terms. Not post-modernism, where the facts are only how you perceive them and opinions are facts. But capital “T” Truth. Spiritual Truth. Art explores who we are as humans and how we interface with the world. Fiction is how we impart our consciousness to others. It’s the legacy we leave of our souls, even when we are writing a character that is vastly different from us.

In that sense, fiction is writing what you know. But it’s not your skills or talents. You absolutely should do research to make sure you are representing a character accurately and understanding culture and history that is different from yours. But writing what you know is writing what you understand about the world.

In addition to character development, I really like my writing style and language ability. I think I am good at phrasing things in a lyrical, flowing manner and imparting my voice through my words. This has come from writing for years, almost since I was six years old, with breaks in between. Nowadays I have an authoritative tone to my writing that comes from my journalism background; I’m trying to tone that down a bit, though, and focus more on showing and not telling.

Anyway, that’s what I like about my writing. Do you agree? Interested to know what you like about my writing.

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Bloganuary Day 7: Laughter

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Bloganuary Day 7 prompt: What makes you laugh?

What makes me laugh the most is goofy and stupid humor. I am fond of quirky irreverence and people who are the opposite of uptight. I like people who don’t take themselves too seriously; in fact, they don’t take themselves seriously at all, but they still care about serious topics.

Dad jokes make me giggle. I like old-fashioned slapstick humor. I grew up on a steady diet of reruns of Laurel and Hardy and The Three Stooges, despite being about 40 years too late for them in the 80s, when I was a kid.

The physical, cornball humor they reveled in is so lacking today. Modern comedies rely so much on mocking people that I find few of them funny. Satire can be at times funny but mocking people is not to me. A good example of a comedy that most other people younger than me found funny but I found horrible was the Netflix movie Don’t Look Up. Mocking people is low-brow in a junior high school way.

Admittedly, I like low-brow humor, but I don’t like making fun of people. I like laughing at jokes, which is a form of storytelling of its own. I can remark upon the humor of them but I cannot for the life of me tell a joke of my own.

Finally, sometimes you just need to laugh at yourself. I haven’t been properly embarrassed in years. If you asked me what my most embarrassing moment was, I couldn’t tell you; I’ve learned to laugh at myself, my clumsy mistakes, my lack of coherence at times in speaking, my stumbling through life. That is the true joy of not taking yourself seriously and not caring what others think.

You’re always smiling at yourself instead of trying to look cool. Because if you can’t make yourself laugh do you even understand humor?

Bloganuary Day 6: Inspiration

I am playing catch-up because it took me awhile to think of this one. I thought of famous people first and quickly discarded them because they were flawed in some way or another. So many people usually end up disappointing me but I still admire something about them; that is, however, because people are complex. But it is also why I am not big on celebrity worship and see it as superficial, too. People are human, warts and all, and that’s what makes them interesting, not fame and fortune.

The Bloganuary day 6 prompt is: Who is someone that inspires you and why?

I finally came to the conclusion that I had to get personal. The person who inspires me the most is my dad.

From my dad I have gained my work ethic, my sense of responsibility and integrity. He has always been there for me unconditionally, and I know if I ever need a safety net or extra help and support I can come to him. He is the rock of my family. We have led different lives – he worked as an engineer, married my mom, had three kids, bought a house in the suburbs, hunts and fishes and plays the bass for hobbies, and retired from a successful career working for the same companies all his life. He still lives in my childhood home with my mom.

I, meanwhile, made poverty wages as a reporter, have bounced between careers, majored in creative writing, I rent my current abode, I’ve lived many different places, I’m not married but I have a longtime partner, and I don’t want kids.

However, I respect and admire him. His father died at age 49 of a heart attack, leaving his mother to raise him and his sister as a single mother in Washington State. He was the first in his family to go to college. He went to junior college, then to a four-year college to major in engineering. He got an engineering job which paid for him to pursue a master’s degree. He’s your classic self-made sort of man but he’s also very humble.

From him I gained my love of jazz. I grew up listening to Diana Krall and Nat King Cole and Miles Davis, watching my dad cart his double bass to symphony orchestra or big band rehearsals. I learned the piano, then started playing the flute, and was the only other person in my family to stick with music. My dad taught me that you don’t have to make a living at your passions for them to be worth pursuing and add something to your life.

He’s had heart issues but he has still stayed active, tromping through the woods on hunting expeditions or doing his hill walks in his suburban neighborhood; his Nordic Track in his office was not gathering dust. He had complications from surgery a few years ago but still regained most of his motor functions through sheer force of will, persistence and determination.

He built a shop in his backyard so he could pursue his passion of restoring vintage British motorbikes. He’s so involved with this hobby that he volunteers with a motorcycle and vehicle museum in his retirement years.

Maybe it’s not true any more in today’s economy that you can work hard, do all the right things and still live a comfortable middle class life and live your life to the fullest. But my dad inspires me that it’s possible. His work ethic, integrity and practical, grounded approach to life inspire me to be a better person and work hard at my goals.

Bloganuary Day 5: Wished For Talent

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Day 5 Prompt: What is something you wish you knew how to do?

I wish I knew how to do a lot of things. I wish I spoke at least five languages, Japanese and Russian included; when I was a child I wanted to learn Arabic. I can knit but I’m not an advanced knitter. I want to learn how to crochet, how to sew, how to do all sorts of crafts. I want to learn guitar. I want to play flute better.

I am a hobby person but I am more of a jack of all trades than an expert in any one. I’m always learning something, trying to master a new skill, got my nose in a book. This year I want to learn script writing and write plays and comics. It builds on my current skill foundation in writing fiction. I am always studying, but never finishing a project. I start, then stop. I go strong for a month or two and then I give up for three.

But really, the skill I wish I knew how to do that I don’t think I would master even with hours of practice is drawing. I just don’t have an artistic eye. Maybe if I had done it for countless hours every day since I was six, like I have with writing, I would have a passable talent with it. But whatever the gift for drawing is, I just don’t got it.

There will always be people who say it is never too late to learn an art, that talent can always be practiced and learned. Believe me, I’ve tried off and on, but the most I can really manage with any success is filling in the lines on coloring books. If I really put the hours in my sketching sometimes shows promise with the way I shade or shape things. But then I’d need to put the hours in. And an incredible amount of hours for something I’m no good at to begin with.

It would make things so much easier, if I were only artistic. I feel like artistic people have a much more colorful imagination; I’m often struggling for ideas. I come from the field of journalism, where documenting what you see is more important than creating it from whole cloth. When I photograph models, I’m not good at conceptual art, organizing a creative team, and coming up with a finished product that doesn’t just look like a copy of someone else’s shoot on Pinterest. I am much better at documenting what is there, about organizing the constituent parts of an existing scene into a story.

Same too with my other skills. I think that is my weakness in writing. Storytelling. I’m excellent at character development, emotional responses and descriptions, but my plots are weak. My ideas tend to be concepts for settings and characters rather than “George is flawed. Stuff happens to George. George saves the day and changes as a person.” My sense of humor is similar. I laugh easily and I’m good at one-liners but I can’t tell jokes for the life of me. Telling jokes is really about constructing a story.

Same with my other hobbies. Music takes practice to become proficient but you are reading music or part of a band. With knitting, I am following a pattern. With baking, I am following instructions. With coloring, I have to stay within the lines. I’m good at routine. I’m good at following rules. Probably a little too good. I do not like change. I don’t take enough risks.

Instead I have projects that I never finish and skills that I dabble in but never master. My craft boxes are mausoleums of yarn, fabric, scissors and three inches of project. I have sketchbooks with three pages drawn and drawing tutorial books of which I’ve read a few pages. But I can’t bring myself to get rid of them. They just sit on the shelf. Waiting for me to develop some discipline and commitment.

Knowing how to draw would make things much easier. After I learn script writing I wouldn’t have to either hire an artist or find a fresh art school graduate to collaborate with in order to pitch a comic book project to a publisher. I could write and draw the whole thing myself. It would help with so many other things too, like graphic design for marketing. I’m okay at graphic design but I often can’t execute the ideas that I dream up in my head.

But I still keep learning, keep trying, keep dabbling. Maybe it won’t be drawing, but maybe I’ll finally finish more than one knitting project a year this year. Maybe I’ll bake bread. Maybe I will finally learn French or run a 5K or learn karate. Maybe I will finally get good at something. Maybe I’ll finally write a book.

But those are just skills. Just interests. They don’t say anything about who you are as a person. People who spend the single-minded attention to get good at certain things, insane professional-level good, are often very boring people. All they think about is that one thing. All they do is that one thing. All they can talk about is that one thing. They’re really good. But what else do you do? How do you live? Are you kind to others? You are more than your paycheck, your skill level or your productivity.

Because really, being a good human is hard enough.