Thirty years ago, my friends and I took an overnight camping trip. About twenty of us hiked from a roadside trailhead to the top of a smallish mountain in the Shenandoahs—the Virginia and West Virginia section of the Appalachian Mountains. Some of us wore metal-framed hiking backpacks, tent and sleeping bag lashed to the outside. Others shouldered the small canvas JanSport backpacks that children wore to school. Those people carried their sleeping bag dangling from their hand. All of us brought alcohol. As we wrapped up our party night around the campfire, everyone pleasantly buzzed, my girlfriend announced that we would zip our sleeping bags together to sleep.
I first noticed my bubble in college. My campus included a housing section for upperclassmen. A series of small, four-roomed brick houses arranged around a courtyard. This area was called “the Courts.” My court housed four of us, two seniors, two juniors. Directly across the lawn was a court with six sophomore women. We hung out together all the time. They became like sisters, except when we hooked up, which was frequent, but quickly forgotten. For the first time ever, I had a friend who wasn’t a guy.
Girls are touchy (gender stereotyping, sorry), more so than guys, and suddenly I had friends who liked being close to me. They sat inches away, they rested their hand on my shoulder, they touched my wrist when we talked, they hugged. When they invaded my bubble, it made my skin hurt. Or at least this is the way I interpreted the sensation at the time. It took me another twelve years to understand why.
On my camping trip, being zipped into a small, confining bag with another person in my sleeping space made uneasy—it upset my stomach. After suffering for an hour, I got up to go to the bathroom. Out of the tent, in the autumn chill, the solitude of the silent, starlit forest comforted me. I wandered away from the circle of tents, then fearing I was still too close and people would hear me, I wandered away some more. When I finished up, I headed back to where I thought I left my tent. After a couple of minutes, I adjusted my course, and then again, and then doubled back. That’s when I realized I was lost on the top of a mountain in forty-five-degree weather wearing nothing but a t-shirt and boxers.
Quietly at first, I called for help. Whispering really, I called my girlfriend’s name. As the minutes passed and my fear grew, I called louder and louder. I wouldn’t say I was shouting, but certainly projecting my voice. “Help! Can anybody hear me?” After a small eternity, calling out, wondering how I might stay alive all night in the woods, my brother shouted out “Jeff, shut up!”
The next day, was awful. As we hiked back to the cars, periodically someone would call out in a thin, wavering voice: “Help, can anybody hear me?”
This is exactly how I feel when I blog. Shouting into the night—people hear me, but they don’t respond. When I post a story, hundreds of people (well, two hundred people) drop by my webpage over the next couple of days, I assume to read, but really, I have no idea. They leave as silently as they arrive. “Possibly,” you might suggest, “this is because you tell long, pointless stories before diving into your main topic. They probably get bored and drift away.” Hmm. Harsh, but point taken.
Some read, I know they do, because on the rare occasion I’m out in public, someone will mention a blog post. “Hey Jeff, I read on your blog the other day…”
“You read my blog?”
“Oh, all the time.”
But from my lonely spot in the woods, I feel completely unread. Or at least mostly read. After three days or so, a story I posted will typically have maybe a dozen likes and conversation threads with three or four other bloggers. What do the other one hundred eighty-eight people who drop by my page do? I’m my mind, they read a paragraph, roll their eyes and hit the back button. Sometimes on WordPress I’ll click into someone’s post that has one hundred and forty-three likes. I wonder how that’s even possible. Some of these posts are exquisitely written, but many (most) are simply diary entries.
One of Eli’s favorite phrases is “that sounds like a you-problem.” He says it in a good-natured way that nicely lets me know that I’m talking about something unimportant to him. “Oh man, the bird feeder is out of seed.”
“Well, that sounds like a you-problem.”
This blog-insecurity is clearly a me-problem. No one is obligated to leave breadcrumbs proving they were here. Getting likes isn’t why I started blogging, and spending a few hours writing an essay remains one of my favorite activities in life. The online response should be meaningless to me. Plus, two hundred people dropping by my webpage is actually quite a feat. If half of them read any of my post, then I’m getting read.
My long-term goal is to flip my thinking. I already know the necessary steps required to improve my stats: pick a topic for the blog and then stay on topic; set a schedule, stop rambling. But I don’t want to do any of these things. I just want to write whatever and whenever I want. I’ve got an awesome hobby, I know this. I can take it with me where ever I go: vacation, a coffee shop, the dentist office while my kids get checkups, in the front seat of my pickup while Eli mountain bikes with friends. I create something tangible and artistic. It exercises my brain. I enjoy doing it. If that isn’t enough, this really is a me-problem.
I’ll get there one day. I’m improving at a slow, slow pace. But in the meantime, when I call out lost, alone in the woods, can I maybe get a thumbs up?