Mar 30, 2014

On Turning Seven

Birthday cake with seven candles
Photo Credit

On Turning Seven
It’s my seventh blogging anniversary, and for once I’m not going to mark the occasion with a mopey post. The date has coincided with motivational blogging crises in the past, but, perpetual time issues aside, I’ve actually been feeling pretty good about blogging for the past few months. What I’ve been thinking about lately is not, for once, why I do this at all; instead, it’s what it means to have a seven-year-long public record of my thoughts. This blog covers the better part of my twenties, and these were formative years for me in different but not less important ways than my teens.

A couple of weeks ago I experienced a moment of acute blogging embarrassment: a friend who’d just finished The Left Hand of Darkness told me she’d gone back and reread my review, and, against my better judgement, I went and revisited it myself. There are good reasons why I avoid reading my old posts, and you can bet that the danger that I’ll stumble across such pearls of wisdom as “I’m not really someone who’s ever cared about gender” is in the top ten.

The thing is, I know exactly what I meant when I said that, and it’s probably not what you’d think at first glance. “I don’t care about gender” was my younger self’s very clumsy way of saying “I’m tired of the confines of gender stereotypes and of the weight of gendered expectations”. It was the awkward shape my resentment against everything I was told I was supposed to be because I am a woman took. I thought “not caring about gender” was the logical follow-up to rejecting gender essentialism and other people’s definitions of who I was. I was ignorant and deeply in need of more feminist readings, but I was also not all that different from who I am today.

I know what made a difference: it was reading and writing and education, both formal and informal. Yes, there were awesome professors, A Room of One’s Own, and glorious works that smashed gender essentialism with science, but there was also blogging. There were the people I met in this community and the books and conversations we’ve shared; there were the ways they challenged me and opened up my thinking. It’s no exaggeration to say that as a result I became my current self. Not who you’d perhaps expect from reading my cavalier “I don’t care about gender”, but not really the opposite of who I was back then either. Instead, as all the bits and pieces fell into place, as I made sense of my experiences and of my anger and hurt, as the world came more sharply into focus, I became more me — someone I’d have recognised in my early twenties, but armed with greater knowledge and more clarity and precision.

I hope that knowing I put those words out there as recently as six years ago makes me a more compassionate reader. As I’ve said before, I think it’s useful to have a public record of that. It’s deeply embarrassing, it’s often cringe-worthy, but it serves the purpose of reminding us that the way we see the world doesn’t spring into existence fully-formed; that mistakes and awkward phrases don’t doom us to eternal ignorance; that thought is ever-evolving. One of the biggest influences on how I make sense of my blogging was, unexpectedly, Sara Marcus’ Girls to the Front, which I read a few years ago. The book touches on feminist zine culture in the early 1990s, and this is the quote that has stuck with me:
One of his favorite things about the zines was that the writers weren’t pretending to have all the answers; they were making visible the process of figuring things out. Mary and Erika, in particular, constantly included calls for dialogue and feedback. “They claimed the space to be wrong,” Abram said, “and I found that to be very powerful intellectually.”
I’ve been wrong a lot over the past seven years, and I’m deeply grateful for all the comments, e-mails and Twitter conversations that helped me figure that out. I hope that seven years from now I’ll still be writing and that I’ll be finding just as much in my present-day posts to cringe about — that will be a sure sign that I won’t have stagnated.

To end on a celebratory note, I’d love it if those of you who also blog took the time to tell me about how blogging has affected you over the years. If you’re not a blogger yourself, I’d love to hear about any ways in which reading blogs (not just book blogs, of course) has shaped your thinking.

Again, thank you so much for reading. I wouldn’t be here today without all of you, and this is true in more senses than I can explain.

32 comments:

  1. Happy day! And really, it's horrible to go back and read earlier posts.

    Blogging (I'll be 6 this year) has brought so many wonderful people into my life and has given me opportunities and adventures I wouldn't have had otherwise.

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  2. Congratulations!
    I've been blogging for about four years now and I too hate revisiting early posts, the only good thing about them is that they remind me of how far I have come!

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  3. Happy Blogging Anniversary! *\o/*

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  4. Oh, yes, to all of this! I starting blogging almost eight years ago, when I was 18. It is deeply cringe-worthy to go back and read my early posts, when I was still on the fringes of the patriarchal Christian courtship movement. (For instance, I tended to give "content warnings" for books I "otherwise enjoyed", because I thought people would frown on me if I didn't.)

    And yet, it does make me remember to be kind to other young bloggers who are just starting to make a record of their own mistakes. I only hope I'm growing as a reviewer, as a reader, and as a critical thinker.

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  5. This difference in how you articulate your thoughts on gender now versus then is just a concrete reminder that the more we write, the more we realize we have to be very specific with our words if we want people to truly understand what we are saying.

    Congrats on making it seven years!

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  6. I think your vulnerability, and your ability to examine yourself honestly is one of the most wonderful things about your blog for me: I loved this post. Happy Blogiversary (sp?).

    For me, blogging has been wonderful for two reasons. On the one hand there is the social aspect - which sounds small, but isn't. I can honestly say that if I listed the ten most powerful friendships I've had, I think blogging would make up half of them.

    The other is that it gives you a reason to write your mind out in a place that you have to look at it with all the parts of yourself. Writing in a journal is good, and has its own strengths, but something that private, it engages in a sense (at least for me) only the part of my mind that feels it isn't getting to speak normally. Blogging, because it is at once shared and intensely personal, is this wonderful place for creating dialogue between the secret self and the public self, in a way that helps you to understand your thoughts and feelings, very powerfully.

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  7. Happy Six Wonderful Years! (But yes, one should never go back and read one's earlier posts! So embarrassing for all of us, I'm sure!)

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  8. Happy blogiversary! I'm so happy you feel good about blogging right now - I do too. I feel comfortable with it? Maybe for the first time in five years. Which is strange! I feel like I am always learning from you, Ana. Your posts are always so intelligent and thoughtful, such care is put into each post.

    I too go back to old posts and cringe and I've even thought of deleting some, but I never have and I'm glad for it. Blogging has informed my career (I never would have gone into publishing without it, never thought of publishing, apart from writing), the way I write (I think that I am good at writing sales pitch letters because, at the end of the day, they aren't so different from blog posts), the way I communicate, and also the way I make friends? I used to be so timid about making friends and talking to people, and I think finding my voice through my blog and honing it and learning about myself, has certainly contributed to a confidence I have now that I never did before. Thank you for making me think about this! I don't know that I've really put this into words before, but I do think it's true.

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  9. Congrats, truly! That is such a big accomplishment! And yeah, I've made the mistake of going back and reading early posts. Ugh. But you know, I have broadened my horizons and read things I would have never imagined before blogging...graphic novels, heavy classic literature, YA. And I've made lifelong friends. It's all good, even though I'm not doing much blogging any more. It conforms with our lives.

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  10. Happy anniversary Ana! I think reading blogs such as yours has definitely made me think more deeply about my reading. I'm embarrassed to say that I never thought about gender, race and context in which most of fiction is written until I started reading book blogs and trying to shape my own thoughts when I started blogging. This has made my reading a lot more interesting and broadened how I view literature although I still have a long way to go!

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  11. My years of blogging (seven and a bit) have also been years of intense focus on making sure I am bringing my boys to be decent human beings. Reading blogs has brought issues of diversity and gender to the forefront of my mind, and as a result to the forefront of many conversations with them. Of course, it helps that I read blogs that are incredibly thoughtful about issues of diversity and gender!

    The other part of blogging that has been immensely valuable is that it constitutes an identity, with concomitant membership in a community, that I made all by self because I wanted to do it, not because I had to or because I was expected to. I can't imagine stopping at this point in my life because I would miss that part of my identity so very much!

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  12. Happy Blogiversary, Ana! Hope you have a wonderful day celebrating! Your post made me smile :) I haven't read any of my old posts recently, but if I did, I think I will find a few awkward gems there. I admire your courage in picking that sentence out now and writing about it.

    You are one of the veteran bloggers I know who has been pretty consistent in blogging and reviewing, which I think is an amazing achievement. I will look forward to reading your fourteenth year blogiversary post seven years from now.

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  13. Happy blogiversary - I do enjoy popping by. Blogging is all about community for me - sharing what one loves with thoughtful and articulate book-lovers all over the world.

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  14. Congrats on 7 years! I think I will have been blogging 5 years coming this summer and it's definitely been a journey. I've made new friends online and offline, attended some amazing author events and conferences. I've learned a lot about social media and would have never been on twitter if not for my blog.

    So here's to many more years blogging and learning!

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  15. Happy 7! I try to avoid reading old posts too. I have 10 years of them dragging along behind me for better or worse. I like to think for the better. I've learned a lot about books and writing about books and I like to think that embarrassing mistakes have made me more thoughtful and considerate. I've also met so many wonderful people I would not have otherwise. That is the best part, the friends I've made that have translated into the real world. Here is wishing you many more years of blogging Ana!

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  16. Happy Blogiversary! I'm so happy you're still around.

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  17. Happy Blogiversary!! I am glad you are feeling better about blogging this year. :)

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  18. Happy blogiversary! I'm so thankful for your writing, and for your approach to the world. Your blog has made me so much more aware of how gender works, and of the power of the written word.

    Plus, you've steered me towards some amazing books. Always a great thing.

    My own blogging has had a deep, lasting social effect on me. I've gotten to know so many wonderful people over the last five and a half years, and I'm mighty grateful I've even been able to hang out with some of them in person. My blog is sometimes an enormous source of stress for me as I fail to fully articulate myself or to achieve the sort of stats the blogosphere tells me I should have, but I'm so, so grateful that it's brought so many amazing people into my life.

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  19. Happy 7th!
    I feel like blogging keeps me learning things. Sometimes when I look back at old posts I'm amazed--not so much about feeling I was wrong, but feeling that I can articulate more of what I think now, and that how I think has been affected by all the conversations I've had online about books for the past six years or so.

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  20. Hahaha, I seriously may one of these days go back and delete some of my older posts. Not the ignorant ones, but maybe some of the dumbest and boringest ones?

    Happy seventh bloggy birthday, lady! You are constantly recommending me new books to try, which is awesome, and of course on the other side of that coin, I love it that you've liked many of my recommendations too. It's awesome when you write one of your lovely posts about an author I also love. Like lovely Hilary McKay!

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  21. Congratulations on your bloggiversary! Wishing you many more years!

    The best part about blogging for me is also having a record of my thoughts (I have always been very big on journaling) so it's neat to have just a record on bookish thoughts. And, blogging has also helped me a lot in expanding my reading horizons. I enjoy genres now that I would never have thought of picking up before.

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  22. I guess I'm alone in that I've been going over my old posts and really enjoying it.

    Since I've moved to WordPress after 6 plus years on Blogspot, I'm migrating my reviews over. I'm not migrating everything, some of them are not very good. But reading them has reminded me of many books I enjoyed and forgot about and has been a legit way to be nostalgic.

    It's a little like the time I found a box of my elementary school work while cleaning out my grandmother's house.

    Congratulations on seven years and keep on blogging. Yours is always an interesting blog.

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  23. I guess I'm alone in that I've been going over my old posts and really enjoying it.

    Since I've moved to WordPress after 6 plus years on Blogspot, I'm migrating my reviews over. I'm not migrating everything, some of them are not very good. But reading them has reminded me of many books I enjoyed and forgot about and has been a legit way to be nostalgic.

    It's a little like the time I found a box of my elementary school work while cleaning out my grandmother's house.

    Congratulations on seven years and keep on blogging. Yours is always an interesting blog.

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  24. Happy Bloggy Birthday, Ana!!!
    This post actually made me cry. In a good way, of course. It was a very welcome reminder that we do all learn and grow. In these almost seven years that I've known you, I've consistently looked up to you, hell, idolized you. I absolutely cringe when I remember some of the things I've said or asked you over the years, because they screamed loud and clear the depths of my ignorance. But of course, never once did you make me feel that way--you only helped me and answered my questions and taught me oh so very much. It's just in thinking back, having grown myself, that these things hit me. So to hear that you have your own cringe-worthy tidbits makes me feel somehow better. Anyway, I am so very, very, very grateful that I've, in a sense, got to go along on this blog ride with you. It's a privilege to learn so much from you all the time. And it's so much more than a privilege to love you and have you as one of the absolute best friends I've ever had. LOVE YOU!!!

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  25. Seven years, so wonderful! I don't love reading my old posts either, I've changed as a person since I first started reviewing books and so I react differently to them, and that's okay.

    Blogging has influenced me in many ways, but the biggest is probably my willingness to try books outside of my comfort zone and my desire to think critically about what I read. I am so grateful for the blogging community and the books they have introduced me to.

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  26. Happy 7th blogiversary, dear Ana! 7 years...that is quite something to achieve, and to be doing it with so many intelligent, thoughtful book posts. You might see the flaws in your thinking back then. What I saw - and see - is the beginnings of a fine thinker about books, writers, words, meanings. Of which gender plays a critical role for you.

    Blogging was so new then too, at least book blogging was. For me, looking back, I see that my years have covered so many bumpy ones in my private life, that my blogging hasn't been quite as much about books as I wanted it to be. And yet, it's all mine, and reflects me! Which is what blogs are in the end, a way to see what we think and to record our views, as they develop and grow. At least for me it is. And to have a record of the books I've read, and why I've liked them (or not)!

    I hope you have long blogging years ahead of you. You have a singular voice in this world wide web, one that has brought you so many good things and people. You are a delight, Ana, and I am so happy to have met you. Happy blogversary and I hope you had some cake to celebrate!

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  27. I've just started blogging, but what I get out of it so far is the challenge of giving form to my thoughts. In doing that, of course one makes mistakes sometimes, and that is part of the learning experience. It could be interesting to revisit some of your posts sometime and say how you would change/update them. (It's also OK to let them sink into oblivion.) Anyway, a very happy anniversary! I enjoy your choices and your thoughts.

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  28. Happy blogiversary, Ana! This post is pitch perfect. It's so easy to think of ourselves as completely fixed, but we are, in fact, creatures of change. There are no masters, just students much farther on the path than we are. And it's important to recognize and appreciate that, which you have.

    For me, blogging has given me both my writing voice and a space to develop myself. I've been trying to make my blog posts a little more personal as of late, because I'm not simply trying to gauge the quality of the book as a completely objective observer. I'm trying to capture the interaction between myself at that moment and that text.

    And the act of reading blogs has given me access to amazing ideas and amazing people. Like you. <3 !

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  29. YOU'RE ALL THE LOVELIEST <3 (I'll come back with proper replies, but I wanted to say this in the meantime.)

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  30. Woooo! Happy blogoversary! I've been sitting on my reply because I was thinking about what to say. Thanks so, so much for writing, and I'm SO glad you're still happy to blog. I know I've mentioned before what an inspiration you are to me, but it bears repeating.

    As to going back, and public records -- sometimes I do, and sometimes I think I was a *better* blogger before, when I come across a really good entry, something I clearly spent a lot of time working on, whereas now - lately especially - I'm feeling a bit uninspired and pressed for time. Reading my old entries can sometimes help me recognize that I still have something worth saying, can remind me *how* I read, how much I love to read, how much I love to write about what I read. And how much I love to share the act of reading and thinking about reading and writing with others.

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  31. Happy 7th blogiversary! :) I wasn't fully aware that I cared about gender until I discovered your blog. The way you approach and discuss it while talking about books was very illuminating and I was grateful for having read something I could relate to.
    Reading blogs adds so much to my life and I admire the people who manage to constantly share their thoughts. Blogs such as yours inspire me to think deeply about a lot of matters and to try books, shows and stuff I wouldn't normally be interested in or those that wouldn't normally be brought to my attention. I like to think that reading the blogs of persons whose voices I trust help shape my thinking and how I see the world for the better.

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  32. Happy blogiversary!! <3

    I, too, look back on some of my old posts and think "wtf." In one of my oldest posts I said I didn't care about books with dragons in them! I CAN'T BELIEVE I SAID THAT

    I LOVE DRAGONS

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.