“Did you get it? Inhale! Harder…”
I think about this “first” often because it was the first time that I knew what I was doing was wrong and did it anyway. I was purposefully breaking a rule... something that would eventually lead to a lie. And the strangest part? It was exhilarating.
Sometime last year, I wrote about having a smoke on the stoop late at night, how for a hundred years, it has been one of my rituals... a nightly treat. More people contacted me from that post than any other post I published last year. Maybe even ever.
Why? Because we're all sneaking something on the stoop. For some, it’s weed. Alcohol. Food. Sexts with ex-boyfriends and girlfriends, affairs with strangers while on business. Ice cream out of the carton. Internet message boards. Something. We're all trying to mask the smell of sins. Our selves. Because we all have them. Beneath the smugness of cocked fingers, we are all digging our heels into something society has warned us to walk away from. Or our parents. Our Spouses. Our selves.
We're running red lights. And coveting strangers. Calling in sick when we're perfectly healthy. Calling in healthy when we're imperfectly sick. We’ve all had our moments… moments when no one's around and it’s safer to speed through a red than it is to brake hard. To break hard.
This website turned ten years old last fall. I haven't changed the banner yet, which is kind of the worst, but a lot of that is because I wanted to write something -- to say something -- to thank everyone for being here this last decade. But also to comment on where I am today. As a writer and blogger who feels an undeniable need to purge before starting fresh, here, and everywhere else in 2016.
I was twenty-four when I started Girl's Gone Child. I had dial-up in those days. And a newborn. And a day job. (And a night job.) I had another blog, which I started when my friend Brooke and I went traveling in Greece. It was a travelogue. I called it Pointy Toe Shoe Factory and I signed every post with PTSF.
When I started GGC, it wasn't even called GGC but “Childbearing Hipster,” a name I realized, a month after starting it, was already in use by another blogger in what was once a relatively small pond of mommy blogs. I brainstormed a new list of ideas for names. Girl's Gone Child was one of them. Girl's Gone Wild was still a thing in those days and the joke on the header of my site said, "Welcome to the new and improved titty-flashing all-nighter."
A friend in early blog days made my banner. My domain was still .blogspot.com. (A squatter bought girlsgonechild.com months after I started my blog and tried to charge me 5k to purchase it back from him, which is why I'm a .net. My blog grew faster than I had anticipated and there was no fucking way I was going to pay some asshole for what should have been mine to begin with.)
I started Girls Gone Child because I didn't know a single other woman with a child. I didn't have any friends with kids nor did I know any parents. Period. I was in a tiny old apartment with a tiny new baby and an extremely new husband and two dogs and odd jobs and only my mom to call for advice.
And I was scared.
But also desperate.
And so, as a writer, I did what I always did when I felt sad and scared and alone. I wrote about it. To myself. And to anyone who was out there.
I sent out my SOS to the world.
And over time, people responded. And I found other writers who were also mothers and who were also lost. And alone. And happy, yes, but also desperate and miserable and all of the things that many (most?) new moms are.
I was home with my new baby during the day, working nights, trying to figure out how to make a living while staying home with my child. (It took me many years of daily writing on this website before I made any real income here.)
And it meant everything to me to find these women. And men, because in those days there seemed to be just as many dads in our little community as moms. There was Chag and there was Pierre and there was Dutch... And everyone was really cool to each other, even when they didn't have to be. And it felt safe. It felt safe to be honest and messy and incorrect. It felt safe to be angry and scared and thrilled -- to post blurry photos of cluttered rooms and drooling babies.
I look back on those early posts and cringe at how little I knew, but also marvel at how willing the community was to build itself up instead of tear down... The Internet was generous and supportive and kind. And for so many of us, it was real. It was REAL.
So I kept writing. Because THAT was enough. Hell, in those days that was everything. Blogging was an exchange. A conversation. The "Mommy and Me" group for Misfit Toys.
In those early days I wrote mainly of motherhood. About struggles and triumphs and my love for Archer. I wrote about unexpected pregnancy and unexpected marriage and unexpected life… About milestones and early intervention and making mom friends and wishing for a nanny… I wrote about what was happening in my heart and my home and with my family…
My life online looked exactly like it looked off. There were no filters. No pinnable images. No twitter or Facebook or social media of any kind. Our communities were the links we added to our “blogroll” in the margins of our websites. Our bios were a sentence long and ended in ellipsis.
That was 3,000+ posts ago.
In those days, blogs were where writers went to rebel—to sing our truths on the margins of our assignments. Glossy magazine editorial writer by day? Real life first-person fuck-the-man truth by night...
TRUTH was what the people wanted. Glossy mags were full of shit. Blogs were REAL. Blogs told the messy truth about childbirth Cosmo wouldn't dare reveal... The frustrations about parenting PARENTS MAGAZINE would NEVER publish. Post-partum fashion ideas that VOGUE would scoff at...
But in time, blogs became the very publications they once rebelled against. There was far too much money for them not to. There were sponsorships at stake. In order to appeal to a wider audience, an ability to self-censor was paramount. Filters were a must. Opportunities dwindled for those unwilling to neuter their voices...
"Sponsors don't necessarily want to align themselves with controversy..."
"But blogging is about the REAL story..."
"No. Blogging is about building your brand."
There is so much going on in the world and so many voices with the potential to spark debate, influence the ambivalent, lead those who are desperate to be lead. There are platforms with podiums set up on their roofs and audiences waiting below. Waiting. Waiting. Still waiting. Waiting... Complacency is lucrative when you're a brand. Brands seldom speak up. Fight back. Pick a side.
Pick a side, lose half your audience.
Find a new job.
The Internet has changed but the real writers in this space have not. The storytellers with their words pouring down their faces in sweaty strands -- making us laugh and cry and think and question and FEEL.
I am not a brand. (I fucking hate that I'm supposed to be.) And yet somehow I have been able to work with INCREDIBLY supportive sponsors over the years. (Most recently, Plum Organics, Blue Apron, Shoebox Greetings, Fandango...) who are willing to let me be me and write what I write and say what I say... I have also NOT worked with brands that are not willing to let me be myself, which is an empowering feeling that has softened the financial blow I’ve received these last couple of years blogging as my monetary compensation has plummeted.
I hope to continue to make a portion of my living here. I realize how fortunate I was to make as much as I have these past few years... But I am also well aware of the climate change, both in my heart and in this space. There is work to be done on new pages. New screens. New worlds...
I believe that the truth is a beautiful goddamn mess. I believe that sharing our triumphs and failures is what made blogging great all those years ago when so many of us got started—not to make money but to share a specific human experience that, in the end, was shockingly ordinary. I thought I was this anomalous creature being a young mom in LA. Turns out, I was just like everyone else. My experiences were not unique to my age. Or location. Or past... I was experiencing what mothers around the world were experiencing -- what mothers FROM THE BEGINNING OF TIME were experiencing -- guilt, frustration, love, loss, growth... And because of that, I never felt that sharing my life was a risk... exhausting, perhaps, but never a risk.
"We've all been there," I have reminded myself a thousand times. And it has been my goal, here on GGC, to tuck the same reminder into the folds of my work. Because it's too damn easy to feel alone. Please know that you're not alone.
Real life happens everywhere to everyone. People have bodies. And stories. And nipples. And needs. People want what they can't have and believe in all sorts of things they do not disclose for fear of comments sections... of strangers without eyes who claim to see. Who might disagree and therefore never return...
I will be the first to tell my children that smoking will kill you. That even one is a terrible idea, but that will not stop me from buying my monthly pack at the newstand... driving up in my minivan, under the cloak of night to sit on the stoop of my home, watching my breath float away. We do what we think is right for our families but also for ourselves, even when it's dangerous. Risky. NOT ALLOWED.
....Because the longer we try not to light the thing on fire, the more it consumes us.
This does not make us bad parents or people. It makes us human beings who are willing to accept that we exist beyond our spouses’ peripheral vision. And our children's. And our audience’s.
I have never regretted smoking those cigarettes in 6th grade. And I have always believed in sharing what experiences I feel might benefit or be relatable to others. I believe that all human experiences are universal. That my family is not a delicate flower I must protect from the elements of the universe. That "safety first" is why everyone is afraid to speak up—to stand up for their friends and neighbors... to go out and LIVE their lives. With great RISK and also great REWARD.
And most importantly, LOVE.
And so, for the last ten years I have shared here. I have shared me and—filtered through my lens—I've shared us.
I've shared what feels right and important and universal. I've written posts years ago that I disagree with now and posts that forced me to disagree with myself. I have been able to write through my first decade as a mother, and in that time, have been able to articulate to myself what I want and who I am and what REALLY matters. And on even on days when I feel lost and lacking, I KNOW what I want. I know what I am capable of. I feel secure. Insecurities and all...
And when my kids are old enough to read this post and every post I've ever written, they will know what it looked like to be here, now. They will know how hard it was. They will know how beautiful it was—how completely frustrating it was. How enlightened it was. And hopeful. And blessed. They will also know that I was always more concerned with preparing them for the world than protecting them from it.
They will know that I wasn't perfect. And that neither were they. They will know that there was rivalry. And inexplicable bonding. They will know that I loved them so hard my brain changed. And then it changed again. And again. They will know that I fought for them. That I fought for us. That I fought for me. That we were late to school more than we were on time. They will know that parenting and marriage and LIFE in all its lifey-ness takes hard fucking work but it’s worth it. IT’S SO COMPLETELY worth it. And if they have any questions about why I felt the need to write about ALL OF THAT and ALL OF THIS, then I will be here to answer those questions. Hell, I already am.
I have worked very hard to create a space where people feel safe to read and share and not be judged for their often unsafe ideas. And I am extremely proud of that. I am proud that, somehow, all these years later, I'm still here writing and you're still here reading and this is still a thing that I can do. And while this past year I have questioned more than I have answered, why I'm still writing here, on this blog, in this space, this is what I do. And as I continue to branch out into other areas of work and creative livelihood, I will always keep a light on, on this porch. (And a hidden box of smokes behind the potted plant.)
And, yes—the cigarettes are a metaphor. They always kind of were.
Thank you for sticking around.
Thank you for letting me share.
And exhale. (And be myself.)
...To ten more years of words. And life. And marrying the two in new ways that feel right and real.
With love and gratitude always,