I picked up the memoir Julie & Julia sometime in my first year of marriage. I remember sitting on the cranberry couch that faced the French doors that swung out from the living room of our first apartment. I held the book to my face and watched the trees on the other side of those doors sway. We hadn’t lived there long, only a few months, but my husband Adam and I were more than a thousand miles from home. One of the first things I did was get a library card. Then I read. A lot.
I remember Julie & Julia because writing a memoir based on a blog was a novel concept. In fact, I had no clue what a blog was then. I didn’t know you could just sign up and start writing on the internet. If I knew, I would have been doing it, documenting those first months of marriage and sharing with people back home. Instead I was reading and finishing up my master’s thesis. I wondered what kind of job I’d get, if I would become a writer.
My first job was a temp job working in the IT department of a printing company. I had no clue what I was doing, but I knew I was a quick learner, so I faked it. It worked for a while until moved on to a job editing a small local paper. Again, I didn’t know what I was doing. Again, I just faked it.
I didn’t know at the time how much of my life was about faking it. I was convinced I could do whatever I wanted, even though no one ever explicitly told me that. I knew I wanted to try a lot of different things, and that so far in my life I’d been reasonably successful. And I was already more successful than I ever expected, having found someone who loved me and wanted to marry me. Also, I had the guts to move away from home.
It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t have a blog back then. Who knows what I would have written. I was angry and mouthy, unafraid to speak my mind, or maybe just too stupid to know when to keep my mouth shut. I still struggle with those things, but I’ve worked on it. Age has helped rub down some of the sharp edges.
I’m guessing, though, I would have been extremely candid. I would have shared more than I should have, but only because I was obsessed with confessional poetry and radical candor. Maybe I would have shared too much because of catharsis and the belief I still hold that writing will somehow save me or heal me or both.
When I read Julie & Julia, I thought you had to be somebody to write on the internet. Julie Powell’s blog was on slate.com, which seemed like big business. She must have been somebody, I thought, someone bold enough to take on Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year and write about it.
I was somebody, too, someone who had run away from her problems but not herself, someone who wanted a new life.
I started my first blog sometime around 2007, but it wasn’t until a year later, pregnant with my daughter, that I started blogging regularly. I also started taking photos every day with a tiny point-and-shoot my dad had handed down to me. A month before my daughter was born, the camera stopped working and, by no minor miracle, my husband got it up and running to document Lily’s first moments of life.
A week after her birth, the camera died for good. We bought another tiny point-and-shoot, and I kept blogging.
It was a simpler time then. I wrote just to write – whatever was on my mind and heart, whatever I was interested in. I made friends through my blog and read their blogs. I loved it.
Here’s the best part: I didn’t worry about being a writer or a photographer or a blogger or anything. I just showed up a few times a week to write. I didn’t think about building a business or creating a presence online. I didn’t care about followers.
I remember one part of Julie & Julia where Julie was at her wit’s end, crying to her husband, “What about my readers?!” He thought the pressure was too much, and he was right. But she couldn’t let go.
As a twenty-three-year-old newlywed, I wasn’t sure what to make of that. It was intense. She was up to her eyeballs in her project and it meant something to her. That it somehow also meant something to others, to readers, had added an extra layer. The stakes were higher. Someone was paying attention.
There’s the tension.
I don’t know what to do with it.
I wish I could wipe the slate clean and start over. I want that feeling back, the one I had when I first started blogging, when I was a beginner in every way and trying was reward in itself. The pressure (whether it’s real or not) has gotten to me. But instead of pressing on like Julie Powell, I’ve shut down.
I write everyday but nothing that I share. I take photographs and they sit on my hard drive. I’m hard on myself, I know. Too hard, I’m sure.
I want to go back to that cranberry couch in that tiny apartment. I was happy then and life was simpler. I thought I had things figured out or figured out enough to get through whatever was coming for Adam and me. We had each other and that was enough. No careers yet, just jobs. No responsibilities except paying for our rent and his truck.
We’d pull the mattress out of the bedroom on the weekends and throw it on the living room floor. We didn’t have a TV in the bedroom, so we’d watch movies in bed and leave the mattress there until the weekend was over. We drank Busch beer and Adam perfected his mom’s macaroni and cheese recipe. I wondered what we’d do with our lives, but I didn’t worry too much. I had a home and a husband and a library card. I’m not sure what else I needed.