The Bare Necessities

I remember six years ago after traveling through Europe with a friend, we came home and happened to be looking at our school backpacks. “I bet I could backpack through Europe with this,” she said, holding up a bag of rather ordinary size. I looked at her bag and thought it sounded lovely, but couldn’t understand how she thought she’d manage. Our previous trip bags were easily three times the size. What was she thinking?

Flash forward two years to me moving into a studio apartment. It was the first time I lived by myself, and I became acutely aware of which required items I had been borrowing from roommates for my entire life. Bowls, for example, proved to be a challenging item to live without. My new place had a mini-fridge but no freezer, and the idea of going a winter without smoothies was as abhorrent as the idea of paying for fresh fruit out of season. I ordered a stand alone freezer. I didn’t have a microwave either, but figured I could wait a week or two before I started shopping.

I lived there for two years and never bought a microwave.

It turned out that between the fast heat of a gas stove and the toaster oven my sister gave to me that same year, I didn’t actually need a microwave. The only reason I have one now is because my new place had it included.

Sometimes I’m amazed with what I can live without. Several years ago I made a conscious effort to limit my fast food intake. This was primarily to save money (fast food is not cheap, despite its reputation), but I thought it might encourage me to eat better as well. I gave myself a fast food budget of $20 a month, or about four meals. It was hard at first. I’ve always had a soft spot for Wendy’s chicken nuggets. But I made it through. Before long I lowered my budget to $10, then $5. Eventually I gave it up altogether, and went for about two or three years without buying fast food of any kind. These days I’ll get it occasionally when I’m truly in a bind for fast calories, or if I’m with friends and they suggest it. But I don’t crave it anymore (Peanut Buster Parfaits aside).

But it’s more than microwaves and french fries. I once turned off the DVD part of my Netflix subscription for two months to save a few bucks during the busy holidays. I never turned it back on. As a college sophomore I regularly used both my Tivo and a cable TV connection. I haven’t had either in years.

I spent years bringing things into my life, and I’m slowly managing to release myself from their grip. I’ve accumulated clothes and kitchen gadgets and subscriptions of every kind. It’s strange how easy it is to pick something up off a store shelf and bring it home, but how hard it is to throw it in the giveaway box once it’s outlived its usefulness.

JournalsThese days I fantasize about living in a Tiny Home. I’m not quite there yet. I still have a lot of stuff to get rid of. Sometimes my minimalist side fights with my frugal side, and I find myself unable to get rid of something that still has monetary value. I may never use the dozen blank journals I have on my bookshelf, but I can’t stomach the thought that I would get rid of them only to need them later.

Still, change has happened. Improvement is there. Last year I traveled around the country for four months, and by the end I’d managed to get nearly all of my belongings into the trunk of my tiny Volkswagen Jetta. People were astounded. I wasn’t. I could have done it with less.

I recently came across a post from a man who backpacked around Europe for three months. He mentioned that people were jealous of how small his pack was – a bag about the size of my friend’s backpack from years before. I looked at his bag, and thought of hers.

Yeah, I could do it with less.

Don’t Start a Blog

Don’t do it.

I know some of you were considering it.

Stop.

Don’t do it.

I know how it goes. I’ve seen it happen to lots of people. You see all these blogs that you like and you think to yourself, “Hey, I’ve got plenty of good ideas. Maybe I should start a blog.” It sounds like such a fun idea. And maybe you’ll even get a following. Maybe you’ll get lots of readers and find a way to make a little extra cash through ads. At very least, you’ll be able to get all these ideas down onto paper.

What happens next is the excitement of the platform. WordPress? Blogger? Maybe you could even build a site from scratch! How much could that cost? Well, okay, it’s an investment. But it’ll be worth it to have all that freedom. You’re going to want total control of your blog site for when it gets big.

You spend about one to five hours setting up the site. The number of hours is based on a complex calculation that factors in your interest level, your frustration tolerance, and how much time you are willing to spend making things line up precisely. You’ll throw in some dummy content, probably an About Me page. It will be vague. “This is my blog about my thoughts!” There is a 70% chance you will use the words “random” or “weird” or “fun” to affectionately describe yourself and your blog.

Your first post is a little boring, you can admit that. It’s only an introductory post. You just need to have something up. After it’s done you take a look at the site and decide to change the color scheme or the background or the widgets. This takes another hour. It doesn’t matter though, because you’re doing this on a Saturday when you have plenty of free time. It’s not like you’re coming home every night after work, setting up the site 20 minutes at a time. Of course not. You’re doing the whole thing in one day. It’s better this way. This way, you’ll have a good, solid foundation from which to work. If you spread it out, you’d never have time to get all these little things done. You’d never have time for the REAL blogging.

Depending on your confidence level, you will then tell either a small selection of very close friends, or the entirety of your internet sphere. Most likely the latter. The link to your blog will be all over your Facebook. It will be on your Twitter and maybe even in a mass email to your contact list. And you will get a lot of page views, because a lot of people you know will be interested. And it will feel pretty great.

And then Sunday comes. Sunday is kind of a lazy day anyway. You never get much of anything done on a Sunday. Besides, most blogs don’t post new content every day. You just put up your intro post yesterday. You’ll post something tomorrow. Yeah, that’ll work. You can make it into an every-other-day sorta thing.

This decision will be the last active thing you ever do with your blog. Your blog will sit in the vast internet wasteland of mostly-finished but never-started websites. A few of your friends will have bookmarked it, and they will check back several times over the next week to see the new posts. But there will be none. Within four months you will have forgotten your login information, which you didn’t write down.

R.I.P. little blog.

You may be thinking that it wouldn’t happen to you. You may be thinking that if you decided to blog, you would have more dedication. You would be able to stick with it. At very least you know you’d be able to go more than a couple of days.

But thoses are Saturday thoughts. And no matter how good your Saturday thoughts are, Monday always happens. You go to work at your normal, every day job. You come home in the evening, and you get something to eat. You’re about to sit down to write your next post when you remember some important task that has been left undone. Maybe you promised a friend you would do something by Monday. Maybe the trash is supposed to go out Monday night, or you promised to do the dishes. These are all very legitimate and very important things. And by the time you are done with the legitimate and important parts of your life, it’s late. You’re tired. It’s time to go to bed. You don’t feel like writing now anyway, it’s best to wait until morning.

The same thing happens the next night, and the one after that. Occasionally you sit down in an attempt to write, but it’s hard to think of anything. You can’t remember any of those ideas that used to spin around in your head. You do a lot of staring at blank screens. A lot of writing bad opening sentences and then deleting them so you can write something worse. Once or twice you manage to finish something, but once you go back to read it you realize it’s dreadful and not worth publishing.

So don’t start a blog. You will feel bad about it constantly, every time you’re late with a post or forced to put up content you’re not happy with just to keep a schedule. Don’t start a blog. You’ll have to work on it every day, and you won’t want to. It isn’t fun. Don’t start a blog.

Only fools start blogs.

It’s Not Just the Background

Congratulations! If you are a regular follower of this blog and you’re seeing this message, then your work is done.

I’ve moved from betterthanithought.wordpress.com to betterthanithought.com, and in theory my followers and subscribers have been moved as well. I’ll be continuing to blog about travel occasionally and life considerably from this new site, so stay tuned.

In appreciation for you reading this administrative post, here’s a gif of me over the last three weeks, trying to set up a self-hosted website for the first time:

Gif Created on Make A Gif

One Last Thing

I’ve been editing Yellowstone photos for two weeks. I should clarify that when I say ‘editing’ I’m not talking about something truly difficult like photoshopping them. Or cropping them. Or even fully opening them. I mean I’m deleting the bad ones and the duplicates and giving the rest names. And it’s taken me two weeks.

In my defense, I was in Yellowstone for four days and it’s one of the most picturesque places I saw on my trip. I didn’t count how many photos I took, but after my first round of edits I still had 298 to sort through.

The problem isn’t just the photos though, it’s the significance of finishing them. Because once I get rid of all the ones I don’t need, and I name the ones I’m going to keep, I can finally make my last Photo Tour post. And with that, I will be done with trip posts. Once I’m done with trip posts, I can export the whole blog and move it over to my new hosting account. Then I can launch the new blog. The one I’ve been saying I’d do. The one without a clean, easy finish line like writing about a trip. The one that goes on indefinitely. The one where I talk not just about strangers, but about friends. The one that I’ll take into my professional writing career. The one where I’m not only writing about doing scary things, but where writing about certain things scares me. The one people keep telling me to start.

SnowmenBut there’s 298 beautiful pictures of steam floating off of geysers standing in the way. There’s buffalo and thousand-year-old trees and those tiny snowmen someone built on that bench. That’s why there hasn’t been a post in a while. Because there’s only one left. One last thing before this part of my life is folded completely into the past, and my present becomes something else. Something new and exciting and scary. Like a solo trip around the United States once was.

Writing is Hard

(I wrote the following in November of 2013 with no intention of publishing it. However in looking at it now, I realize that this might be of some interest to a few of my readers.)

I have one and only one cure for writer’s block. Sometimes it will take me a while to realize I even have writer’s block. I like to mull things over in my head a lot before I write them, so I can easily stare at a screen for awhile without being truly blocked. But occasionally I will find myself staring off away from the screen after having sat in front of the computer for several minutes. I’m not thinking about writing anymore because whatever I’m trying to write isn’t working. So my brain goes off in other directions. What’s funny is that I am still writing during these times, I’m just writing off-task. Rather than mulling over the thing I need to work on, I’m mulling over what makes a person good at cleaning or how television transitioned away from the single-season-with-summer-break schedule. I write dialogs of imagined conversations I wished I would have had with people I was previously angry with. I imagine how I might introduce myself were I to become a Wall Street consultant, or the many things I would say to congress were I ever given the chance. These are tiny, separate essays that I write in my brain all the time. I have no where to put them, which is why I continue to mull instead. And they are the things I escape to when writing isn’t happening.

After an unknown period of staring into space while I write one of these lost essays, I realize that I must be stuck. There is a block between what I know I must accomplish and the act of accomplishing it. And that’s when I employ the only means I have of getting unstuck from this particular problem. I write about why I can’t write.

It may go something like this: say I want to tell a story about someone close to me, but I’m afraid of casting them in an unfair light. I know I don’t think poorly of them, but I worry that I won’t have the craft to convey the facts in a way that remains both true and positive. And I get stuck. I try to think through my writing and I can only think of explanations that are unfair to my friend. I may not realize this unfairness is why all the words sound wrong, I just know they do. And so I begin to type out my reasoning. I drop whatever voice I’m using, I ignore any sense of time or space. I start typing as though I am directly addressing the page, and therefore the problem. And I usually can’t get through more than two paragraphs before the problem is solved. Either I have eased myself into the problem and started on the path towards my intended topic, or I have stumbled upon something even more interesting to write about. Either way I am writing. When I am done I typically go back and trash those first two paragraphs and, like magic, my story starts exactly where it ought to.

Writing through the problem is in fact what I am doing right now. The thing you are currently reading is an example of me getting over writer’s block. It’s National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo. The goal is to finish a novel of 50,000 words in 30 days. I did it last year and had a lot of fun. Since I still have a lot of trip to write about, I decided this year I would make my 50,000 words go towards getting the rest of the journey down on paper. This means that rather than writing a blog post every other day, I have to write 1-2 posts every day, depending on their length. It’s tiresome and difficult to do NaNo anyway, but I’ve managed to back myself into an especially difficult corner: I’m not allowed to suck.

That’s the phrase: Allow Yourself to Suck. I credit Mur Laugherty with those exact words, but the sentiment is true for everyone during NaNo. Your goal is to get a lot of words down on paper. Not all of those words will be great. It doesn’t matter. Editing is for December. For now you must keep writing.

But I can’t wait until December. I need to produce 13 fully edited posts before November is over. And considering it often takes me as long to edit a post as it does to write it, and considering many of my blogs have gone over the 1,667 words needed per day for NaNo, I have been writing with a NaNo-level time commitment for FIVE MONTHS. And for four of those months I was also trying to figure out where I was going to sleep every night.

I know there are professional writers who will easily crank out 4,000-10,000 words a day all the time. But I am not there yet, and as I understand it that kind of production takes many people years to reach. And so I’m left with my only recourse, my only solution. I write out my problems. Perhaps tomorrow I will be able to get back on track. Maybe I’ll have to write through some more problems first. But for now, I can clock the rough draft of this post at 864 words, which brings me over the edge for how much I needed to write today. It’s a long way to December. But it was a long way across the country and back. And just like hiking up the Grand Canyon or driving through Oklahoma farmland, sometimes forward is the only direction. Walk, walk. Drive, drive.

Write. Write.

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