I haven't blogged in a while. For that matter, it's been some time since I've written anything of substance. Every once in a while I'll knock off something akin to a journal entry but, other than that, nothing.
The last year or more has felt particularly challenging for me. The physical fatigue and cognitive challenges I've been trying to come to terms with since my stem cell transplant are with me every day. While I felt like I was managing reasonably well early on, lately things have felt different. One of the consequences has been that I have stopped doing a lot of the things that, I realize now, provided me with a lot of inspiration, motivation and energy. One of those things is writing and, more specifically, blogging.
How I started blogging
Writing on the internet is something that has interested me for more than 20 years. The nearly limitless possibilities of individuals and groups being able to share thoughts, information and research, that would be free and accessible to anyone, was intellectually electrifying for me.
Back in 1997, the possibility of sharing my thoughts on the internet compelled me to hand-code (as one did back then) a website. It wasn't pretty, by today's standards, but it allowed me to share my thoughts on some of the issues that were on my mind.
One post, making the case that Canada should be "adding value" to its natural resources rather than simply exporting the raw material, attracted the attention of a class in Japan, resulting in an email exchange. At this point I don't remember a lot of the details of that post, or the exchange, but the fact that it happened sticks with me to this day. Much of my focus through the remainder of my undergraduate and graduate studies was framed by the democratically liberating potential of this new medium.
Unfortunately, the frame through which I viewed my life's possibilities at that point was almost entirely practical. I was a visionary thinker, in some ways, but an entirely pragmatic doer. In 2000, faced with the prospect of choosing my path forward, and through the lens of pragmatic thinker in a new, potentially long-term, relationship, I began my sensible search for a career in public administration...
And then I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
It wasn't until five years after my diagnosis that I resumed writing on the internet again. In fact, it was the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the start of my treatment, on July 1st, 2001, that was the subject of my [first post] (/five-years-later/) at Without Leukemia, over twelve years ago.
While this blog has never been one of those tightly-themed, specific-subject-matter blogs, having drifted away from blogging in the last two years, I have come to appreciate how important it had become to me.
Making sense of my blogging
One of the challenges of blogging in 2018 is that the act of blogging has become such a contested and argued-about activity. On the one hand, with the advent of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, many see blogging as almost anachronistic, the pastime of digital luddites, a relic from a previous internet age. On the other hand, for many who still blog, it has become a hard-core commercial activity, framed by affiliate advertising, and driven by analytics and Search Engine Optimization.
The early days of my blogging at Without Leukemia were fairly care-free, with me mostly writing whatever was on my mind and when I felt like sharing it. Over time, I started blogging more about politics and public policy, and less about my cancer and "survivorship" experiences. I had some thoughts about trying to refine the focus of my blog, but I was enjoying having a platform to share my thoughts and ideas.
Then, after seven and a half years in remission, my Leukemia relapsed.
I remember sitting in the hospital, deciding to make a concerted effort to blog again, and posting "Facing leukemia again", at the end of February, 2009. At that point, I had already been in the hospital for a month and a half, with the prospect of an indeterminate number of more weeks to go. I imagined I would blog about my experiences. I did post again in April, but that was my last post before my transplant, at the end of May. Indeed, I didn't post again until the end of 2009, long after I had been discharged from hospital
It was at this point that I lost my way in terms of blogging. Yes, I continued to post over the next six years, but much more sporadically and inconsistently. I was feeling a kind of existential blogging crisis, an increasing sense of purposelessness. Certainly, there were events that particularly engaged me, notably the campaign for electoral reform in Canada, but I was gradually losing the will to blog.
At the time, I wasn't sure exactly what was happening. Obviously I had been through a life-changing illness and then, just over a year later, the dissolution of my marriage. Perhaps the purposelessness I felt towards my blogging reflected an ongoing search for meaning in my new life-reality?
While I have no doubt that a search for meaning in my new life has played a role in my struggles with blogging, I think I have drastically underestimated the impact of my post-transplant cognitive deficits, both on my writing, and on my general well-being.
What writing means to me
It is somewhat ironic that, in this time of existential and practical struggle, writing has been one of the activities that has suffered most. I failed to appreciate how important writing is to my thinking process.
Don't get me wrong: I've never been a prolific writer. In retrospect, however, my failure to develop and nourish a writing practice is something I look back on with deep regret. Not only did I squander potential academic and career opportunities, but I also failed to make the most of a tool that would have been tremendously valuable in helping my busy mind navigate through complex issues, and more successfully cope with the challenges I face today.
Over the years, I have gotten caught up in the idea of writing as a path to a career, or simply to having something published. This is the distinction my partner Sherri has made between "wanting to write", as opposed to "wanting to have written." I have no doubt that, at various points in my life, this thought, that what I am writing should be something of significance, has been an inhibitor to developing a writing practice. For a long time, even the act of writing in a journal was accompanied by anxiety about whether it would be read by others at some point in the future, and what they might think of my petty ramblings.
Since my last illness in 2009, my perspective has started to change. While I did still have to work through some lingering "wanting to have written," my focus has become much more urgent and practical. While I don't regularly think about dying, the reality of my own mortality is hard to avoid. Having twice been treated for an illness which is notoriously difficult to survive in the long term, I am keenly aware of the value of every day I am alive.
In the first few years after my diagnosis I was often concerned about my legacy, in the "What, of significance, will I have contributed to the world?" sense. More recently that pretension has fallen away. What has replaced it is a concern for "How will I be remembered by others?" and, more specifically, "How will my boys remember me?" Much of what I want to be remembered for is made up of the choices I make on a daily basis, how I choose to live my life. As someone whose mind is constantly abuzz with thoughts and ideas, however, the reality is that the "life of my mind" is part of what I want to be remembered for, especially by my sons, since neither of them really knew me before my last illness. This has been one of the most important motivations that has driven me to start blogging again.
What this blog means to me
I honestly don't remember what motivated me to write that first post on this blog back in 2006. My best guess is that I saw or read something that reignited my interest in writing on the internet, and my experiences with leukemia seemed a natural subject on which to focus. The fact that the majority of my posts were not about that experience suggests that either that focus was too narrow, or perhaps that rehashing and reexamining my experiences was not as cathartic and rewarding as I initially imagined.
Today, it feels like the purpose for my blogging is more clear. As someone who thinks often and deeply about political and social issues, it is beneficial to have somewhere to share my ideas and opinions, and to refine them as I learn more and hear from others. As someone who has not been able to be traditionally employed for almost six years, and who struggles with having the energy to maintain engagement in groups and community organizations, having a place to share these ideas and conversations with others, when I have the energy and focus to do so, is beneficial to my mental health. It will also, hopefully, allow me to start positive and proactive conversations about tools, habits and strategies for dealing with life's challenges, that can benefit both myself and others.
While Facebook and, to some extent, Twitter, provide some opportunity to share such ideas, social media platforms themselves don't encourage thoughtful, considered writing. Some do manage it, but even the interfaces themselves work against drafting anything but the shortest of comments. And in an environment where "likes" or "follows" or "mentions" are prized over all else, it's easy for the actual message to get lost.
Social media and other content platforms make it easy to share what one writes with a wider audience, but they are not without their cost. On social media, and sites like Medium, your content exists on the internet in a context that is beyond your control, and at the whim of the company that owns the platform. While I've opted for using various platforms in my blogging to this point, if I am going to be writing on the internet again, I want to set a good example and own myself, and not outsource what is important to me to a third party.
While most bloggers are understandably focused on getting their writing in front of as many people as possible, that's not what I'm most concerned about. Of course, I would be delighted if one or more of my posts became popular, and were shared widely; I won't, however, be disappointed if that doesn't happen.
My goal for blogging, at this point, is to set an example for my audience of how to manage the complexities of this world thoughtfully, rationally, generously and with empathy; hopefully, I can also model how sharing one's thoughts in writing (or otherwise) can be one small step to building community, and a better world.
You might think that goal suggests the need for a large audience. Certainly, more readers never hurts. But the one thing that has allowed me to get to where I am today is to let go of the pretension that my writing needs to be read widely to have significance. Indeed, my primary audience is only two people: My sons, presently aged nine and twelve.
They are, at the end of the day, why I'm blogging again.