This is a personal essay that I wrote for a non-fiction writing class. I thought some of you might find it interesting.

Tiger’s Nest.

Tiger’s Nest Monastery sits about six miles north of Paro town, perched on the side of a mountain. Reaching the monastery is a two mile hike, with seventeen hundred feet in elevation gain. The path is a combination of hard, rocky earth and more than seven hundred stone stairs. Tiger’s nest is a holy place. It is built around a cave where the Guru Rinpoche sat and meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three days, and three hours. The first temple was erected there in the Guru’s honor by a distant cousin of the mad saint Drukpa Kunley in the seventeenth century. The original complex was destroyed by fire in 1998 and rebuilt and restored in 2005, but you can still feel the weight of veneration in the stones and timbers.

It was part way up those seven hundred steps that I realized I wasn’t going to reach the monastery on my own. I fell behind our group, and one of our guides came to walk beside me. I fell further behind, and he took my hand, helping me up the steps. Once we reached the top, we removed our shoes and climbed the Bhutanese stairs – which were more like a slanted ladder – into the monastery proper. We walked silently on stocking-feet across the old wood floors, looking at the murals in the monastery complex. We were ushered into a line of people, and at the head of that line was a small man in monk’s robes seated in an ornately carved wooden chair.

He poured water into my cupped hands with a dipper, and I smoothed the water over my head, as I had seen those before me do. I looked up at him, searching for confirmation that this was the right thing to do. He smiled and gave me a small nod.

I was still shining and damp-headed from the monk’s blessing when we left the monastery. I was worse on the way back. The guide who helped me down the stairs assured me that I was a “good work horse” as he held me up. I babbled to him about how ashamed I was of my weakness, and he smiled.

To the right of the path were dozens of small clay objects; mini-stupas. Objects of mourning, made of clay and the ground bones of the dead. Each one was a corpse, anonymous but not alone, left to weather away in the wind and rain. I didn’t know it then, but I was already sick.

On the path to Tiger’s Nest.

Mount Cholmolhari.

Mount Cholmohari sits on the border with Tibet, rising to 24,000 feet above sea level, the second highest peak in Bhutan. The Bhutanese do not allow people to climb their mountains. The mountains are sacred. Cholmohari has been climbed just seven times, claiming three lives in a 1970 attempt. It is home to goddesses and a sign post on the road to Mount Everest. We camped south of it, so over the next two days I would get to see it lit by alpenglow at both sunset and sunrise.

This was our third day on trek, and I was unable to complete even the first day’s hike.

They had put me on a little mountain pony, straddling a wooden pack saddle laid with blankets to make it more comfortable. They tied rope stirrups for my feet, and I had to squeeze hard with my legs whenever the pony went up or downhill to keep my seat.

I slid off the back of the pony when we reached Cholmohari base camp, and our guides helped me to a folding chair. I sat, at the edge of a tiny creek. Yaks wandered the pasture on the other side. I thought of nothing. I was exhausted. The trek guides worked on setting up the camp behind me.

When the rest of the trekking party appeared around a bend in the trail, they looked like a line of ants. I watched them walk in.

I was laying in my tent. The presence of the mountain throbbed in my mind, radiating so powerfully from the north that I imagined I could feel the gravity of its bulk pulling me toward it. Outside, the soft voices of our trek mates having conversations I could not follow. I imagined that they were talking about me. It was around thirty degrees out and lightly snowing. The cool air felt good, and I squirmed out of my coat. I dozed, and was transported to the dark and smoky dzong near Paro where we had listened in stunned silence as the monks drummed and sang. The music, like the mountain, had a gravity that I couldn’t deny. At the time I’d longed to be able to record it, but that wasn’t necessary. Even now, when I can’t remember the sound of it, I know that music has burrowed its way into me, changing me.

My sister scraped at the tent entrance. I roused from my half-sleep, sweating.

“Can I come in?”

“Sure,” I said, pushing myself into a sitting position.

She unzipped the tent flap and stepped in, not bothering to remove her shoes. She knelt on my sleeping pad, zipping the tent up behind her.

“How are you feeling?”

“Tired. Sore.”

She eyed me. “You should sleep in your sleeping bag.”

“It’s too warm,” I said.

There was a moment of silence.

“So I think you have pneumonia,” she said.

“Okay,” I said. She’s a doctor; I tend to give her the benefit of the doubt in these situations.

“And I don’t think you’re going to get better until you’re inside somewhere warm.”

“Okay. So what does that look like?”

“Well, I borrowed a satellite phone, and the closest place that can send a helicopter is India, and it would cost fifty thousand dollars.”

“Jesus.”

“We can do it if we have to. The travel insurance would cover it. But I think if you can, we should hike out.”

“Okay,” I said. My heart sank. I could get up and wander around base camp, I could get to the mess tent for meals, but I wasn’t up to even the short day hikes around the area that the rest of the trekking group had been taking.

She dug around in the pockets of her down jacket and pulled out two orange pill bottles.

“This is an antibiotic, and this is prednisolone.”

“Those are the dog’s antibiotics,” I said, eyeing the black canine silhouette on the label.

“Don’t worry, he doesn’t need them anymore,” she said.

She opened the first bottle and handed me a big, oval shaped pill. She opened the second bottle and handed me four round flat pills.

“We’ll ramp up the prednisolone over the next few days until we’re back in town,” she said. “It’ll help give you the strength for the hike.”

“I’ve been on prednisolone before,” I said. I took the pills, one after the other, with water from my water bottle.

“When do we leave?” I asked.

“We’ll head out when the rest of the group leaves to go over the pass.”

“So the morning after tomorrow?”

She nodded.

The first day of our evacuation hike from Cholmohari Base Camp was a blur. I woke up in my tent in a yak pasture the next morning. I dressed quickly in the chill air and packed up all my personal belongings. The hike was originally supposed to be three days to cover nearly twenty miles, but it had been shortened to two. We had been sent with insufficient provisions. Today was going to be our long hike, the one that would take us back to the nearest road.

I unzipped the door to the tent and the farm dog curled up at the entrance lifted its head. I pet it. It got up, stretched, and trotted away. I tossed my duffel bag out onto the frozen ground.

The guides brought us tea in plastic mugs. My sister handed me eight of the small round pills. The steroids. “I don’t want to go any further,” I told her.

“We have to,” she said. “Take your prednisolone and lace up your boots.”

“When we get back to town I can stop taking this, right?”

My fever had broken. I hated the prednisolone. I hated it every time I had to take it. It made me irritable.

“We’ll see,” she said.

I laced up my boots.

As we hiked, I was distracted by skull-shapes in the shadows and the stones on the trail. Not the terrifying death’s heads of the west, but quiet watchers, their empty eyes holding vigil from the edge of the path.

The sound of an old woman singing followed me down the trail.

When my right knee gave out underneath me, I sank slowly to the ground. I clenched the trekking poles in my hands, kneeling in the dust. Nobody pestered me to get up and keep going. They just stood behind me silently, waiting. I took a few deep breaths and pushed myself back to my feet. I reminded myself to lead with my left foot from then on.

We stopped on a sunny hillside for a lunch of mango jam and butter sandwiches and a single hot boiled potato. That potato tasted like heaven. My sister is allergic to mangoes.

I remember looking down from the trail into the blue-green water of the Paro river, and thinking I could just fall into the water and die. It wasn’t deep enough to drown in, but maybe I would hit my head, or the hypothermia would get me before anyone could reach me.

We reached the pickup point, a flat expanse of gravel surrounding a stupa. A place where the roads end. My sister grinned, I took a photo of her by the stupa. Our guides sat me in a folding chair and brought out cookies and hot chocolate while we waited. The cookies tasted like sand to me.

The stupa at the end of the evacuation hike.

We were picked up about an hour after our arrival. I dragged myself into the van. I half slept on the way back, snippets of conversation in English and in Dzongkha drifted in and out of my awareness. Nothing made sense.

It was dark when we arrived at Paro town. Our rooms were on the third floor, and I struggled up the stairs on ruined knees and ruined lungs. We would leave for Thimphu tomorrow. I would see a doctor there.

The City of Thimpu.

The city of Thimphu is the capital of Bhutan, and it, like the rest of this region of the country, is made of stone. It rests in a river valley at over seven thousand feet elevation, the fourth highest national capital in the world. Wild cannabis grows on the hillsides, and in the mountains sits the Great Buddha Dordenma, more than a hundred and fifty feet tall and gleaming with gold. Below the golden Buddha, migrant workers from India break rocks by hand and build roads, living in tin shacks along the highway.

The Great Buddha Dordenma.

I’m standing on my hotel balcony, smoking a cigarette. Below me, the city with its stone buildings and their stone roofs, abutting stone streets. I don’t know if our hotel is the tallest building in the city, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were. Jackdaws flit from roof to roof. Stray dogs bark and whine.

The buildings are a mish-mash of graceful traditional architecture and cement blocks that remind me of buildings in former soviet states, squat and anonymous. Bhutan is a country modernizing in a hurry and on a shoestring budget. Thimphu once had a single stoplight, but the locals didn’t like it and it was quickly removed.

I am a few days back from our catastrophic trek.

This is my last day off before I return to the exhausting schedule of tourism planned by our guides. I spent last night carefully draining the blisters on my feet with a needle and some alcohol pads. I was off the steroids, but had more pills to take from the hospital in Bhutan, where the doctor noted that in addition to respiratory illness, I had hepatitis. The pills were to support liver function.

Smoking in public is illegal in Bhutan, and breaking this law earns you scowls from the locals. As such, smoking makes me nervous, as the balcony feels like a strange space in between public and private. The smoke burns my healing lungs, but I am painfully aware that during the day I will not be able to smoke at all, so I make the most of it. I sit sagging on the side of one of the lounge chairs, still weak, my knees stiff and sore.

As the sun sets, the dogs set up their chorus below – they are most active at dusk and dawn, like so many wild things – and the smell of the city changes from stone to wood smoke. I long for the quiet of Paro, for its dusty streets and smiling children. I long for home, with its sea-level atmosphere and soft rains. I long for my younger self, who would have been up to the trek.

You know what listicles are: those “20 Reasons Why x” and “7 Moments When y” articles that populate the web. They’re everywhere on social media. The word “listicle” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2016, but this shouldn’t be considered the start of the phenomenon; they’ve been used in print media for many, many decades.

I thought we had gotten beyond this, but I’m still seeing listicles everywhere, especially in the marketing space, and I’m absolutely baffled as to why. I simply can’t understand the appeal, especially on industry sites. One would think we would be reading content with some depth to it, but no. Listicles, everywhere. I sat at my laptop, tears in my eyes, and wondered what was to become of us.

Listicles are bad. You should stop clicking on them. Here’s a list of reasons why. Number 4 might surprise you!

1. They Displace Content With Depth.

You cannot get into a topic in any real depth in a paragraph or two. As a result, when you read a listicle on a topic, you’re not learning anything about it, especially since most listicles are gripe posts and hot takes. I have finished listicles, especially industry ones, with the distinct impression that I’d been robbed; I had invested my time and my attention, and gotten nothing in return.

In this sense, listicles can be compared to the Letters to the Editor section of a local newspaper: opinion pieces with virtually no information. I guess content like this can be useful, I used to steal the Letters to the Editor page out of the paper when I was a teenager, but I have grown since then, and my desire for information has evolved since I was fourteen. I want content with substance.

2. They Feel Dated.

The listicle, as mentioned above, is not new. Cosmopolitan magazine comes to mind as one of the worst offenders (9 Ways to Please Your Man, etc.), and the web, for a moment, gave the format a fresh feel as suddenly you could find listicles on basically any topic. But that honeymoon vibe has faded, particularly as they format has led to deceptive headlines and spammy ads.

The format is so tired now that I had the privilege of listening to a writer read a personal non-fiction piece that borrowed the form of a listicle. That’s right; it’s so tired it’s being lampooned by the literary crowd.

The form has been used so much, in so many situations, that you know what you’re looking at before you ever click the link. Whenever I see an obvious listicle headline, I feel tired, weighed down, discouraged. Because I already know what’s behind the link, and I know it’s nothing good

3. They Encourage Clickbait.

For those of you who don’t know, and because the word “clickbait” has been subject to both misuse and overuse, clickbait headlines are headlines that are intentionally deceptive. This can include the hyperlink text or the snippet text accompanying the link, and they’re often not outright lies; they’re usually sensationalized or misleading.

Clickbait headlines are a scourge of the internet. They garner clickthroughs for websites that thrive on them, and can also be the basis of malware attacks and/or distribution. Clickbait functions by taking advantage of a “curiosity gap;” the headline gives enough information to make the reader curious, but not enough to satisfy that curiosity, leading the user to click through.

I think of myself as a pretty savvy consumer of web content, and as a result I don’t run into a lot of problems with clickbait headlines, but when I do it’s more often than not a listicle that’s involved.

Clickbait headlines are very easy to make for listicles, because it’s easy to play on the emotions of the viewer without fulfilling that promise within the article itself. So if you hate clickbait, and I know you do, stop clicking on listicles, because the two thrive together.

4. They Might Make You a Worse Writer.

If you’re a writer, you already know that you learn craft and style from reading. This is why it’s important for us to read from lots of different sources, both online and analog. It trains us in how to better communicate in text.

So it stands to reason that reading bad writing can make you a worse writer.

And listicles contain some of the laziest writing on the web. Along with the fact that they fail to reach any level of depth, they are often sloppy in both form and grammar. This is not a problem for most people, they’re written well enough to be understood, and the casual style lends itself well to communicating with most of their audience, especially since each entry on the listicle only has to be a few sentences long.

But craft is important, especially for people who are writing long-form content. And reading garbage only teaches you how to write garbage.

5. They Could be Bad for Your Brain.

Listicles are like the television of the web. Okay, no. Hulu and YouTube and Netflix are the television of the web, but listicles are similarly just brain candy. A few sentences per item, often based on the Buzzfeed model and filled with animated gifs and other visual elements, they allow your brain to coast in neutral.

The thing that keeps your brain in shape is using it actively, and your brain reacts differently to actual content than it does to listicles. This is something of particular importance to me, as I’ve evolved into a middle-aged husk of my former self and had to think about ways to keep myself sharp as old age looms on the horizon.

When you engage with long form content, your brain must analyze and organize the information as you absorb it. With ranked lists, such as listicles, that analysis is already done for you. It’s like simple carbohydrates instead of complex carbohydrates. One makes you work a little harder and rewards you with nutrients, and the other just gives you a sugar rush and a bit of a headache.

I’m not here to shake my broom at you and tell you to go read a book; in fact it’s safe to say that I do the majority of my reading on screens. But for your brain’s sake, skip the listicles.

6. They’re Often Emotionally Manipulative.

Listicle headlines are often written to pull on your heartstrings. A lot of people call this “clickbait,” but these headlines aren’t necessarily deceptive. They certainly can be, but clickbait is by definition deceptive, and what we’re talking about here is just emotional manipulation.

Listicles rely on provoking not just your curiosity, but on provoking emotions such as anger, outrage, surprise, inspiration, and excitement to get you to click through, and the headline is designed specifically to appeal to those emotions. Not only that but the content of the listicle is designed to keep you reading through to the end, often tickling those same emotional triggers, and often through multiple pages (which means multiple clicks and multiple ad impressions) along the way.

And often, you don’t even get the pay off for that emotional arousal, leaving you feeling unsatisfied.

7. They Work.

Listicles are easy. They require little commitment from readers in terms of both time and effort. You get a little emotional jolt out of them. There’s one out there (probably way more than one) that will confirm some existing bias you hold and that’s satisfying too. The link text is always tempting, and using the Buzzfeed model, you’re going to see some funny gifs, and who doesn’t love funny gifs?

They gain ad impressions, they support native marketing, they make money. You are buying that content with your attention and your browser space, which are hot commodities in the online ad space, and people are making money off of it.

Buzzfeed, perhaps the monarch of listicle publishing, made three hundred million dollars in revenue in 2018. This was not all generated from listicles; Buzzfeed also produces some fun video content and quizzes and heartstring pulling slideshow content, but it’s all in the same vein of mindless entertainment.

In Conclusion.

Your apportionment of your attention changes the web. What you look at, what we all look at, encourages some types of media and discourages other types. This is a kind of power. Use it wisely. Consider what you want the web of the future to look like; do you want slideshows full of gifs and blinking, flashing ads? Do you want thoughtful, in-depth content? Do you want to see a mix of both?

Consider what you want to see and apportion your attention accordingly. Me? Listicles make me feel tired.

So this post should be taken in with the understanding that I am 41 years old. I’m part of the generation that witnessed the beginning of the web, and that remembers a time without it. I am, as they say, an Xennial. Trapped between worlds.

I was there in the BBS days. I was there for Hamster Dance. I witnessed the rampant overuse of the gif. I have seen it all, some through the green monochrome monitor of an Apple IIE.

So I’m not new here. But also, I’m not quite a digital native, either.

There are too many bad websites out there. Even some really professional corporate websites are bad. And I’m here to tell you what I, a middle-aged grad student (clearly everyone’s target market), am looking for in a website.

Don’t Fear White Space.

It’s not just okay that every inch of your website isn’t taken up by widgets and feeds, it’s a good thing.

Personally, I’m an inveterate consumer of content. I have a wicked news habit I just can’t kick and I’m subscribed to more than a hundred podcasts. The stack of books I’m reading dominates the top of my bookshelf (and my personal reading log). So I’ve got a lot rattling around in my head at any given moment.

Extras, like a feed letting me know that someone just bought one of your products popping up in the corner, distract me from your content.

Company name has been edited out because they’re a company I actually really like.

Your use of white space directs the eye to what you want consumers to see. What you want them to interact with. I get that a feed like this functions as social proof, but I think there’s a way to do it that’s less distracting.

You want the design of the site to direct me to what you want me to see, and using white space (and plenty of it) does that. It forces the eye toward your content (or your CTA, or your buy button, or what have you). That doesn’t mean that it has to be all white space; you want a sidebar with other content? Great! I love content, I want to see what else you have to offer me. If it’s intriguing I might stay a while. But keep it simple, and use negative space to direct me around your site.

White space between paragraphs is necessary too. Break up any walls of text. Reading on a screen is already difficult, don’t make it harder than it already is, or you’ll lose me.

Use Animation Sparingly.

I know this stuff can look really slick, right? Finally, a website that moves! Dynamic elements, pieces of text that scroll over the background, reactive menus and other navigation elements! You have ultimate freedom to make the website you want!

Stop.

Too much animation distracts me from the elements of the website that really matter to you or your business (your content, your CTA, what-have-you). It can make pages frustrating to navigate and impair website performance.

And there are people who suffer from motion sensitivity that may not be able to use your website at all with too much animation. Remember, accessibility is important on the web, too.

Use Clear Fonts.

I was looking at copywriting portfolios online today, and I stumbled across one (that I won’t link to, I’m not here to start problems) that used a script type font for headings.

Why?

Folks, I know you think the script is pretty. I know you think it’s on-brand for you, especially if you’re a writer. But it’s difficult to read, and I’m probably going to pass on it and move to a website that’s easier to read. There is a wide, wide world of online content out there, and I’m not working for yours particularly unless you give me a damn good reason.

There is no excuse for making your website harder to read.

Using script fonts sparingly, such as in a logo or a header can look really classy and great, but don’t use them in the headings or body of the website content, or if you do, make sure they’re bold and clear enough to be read easily.

Pop-Ups – It’s Complicated.

Look, I’ve read a dozen articles about how well pop-ups work. I really honestly have. I have read most of them in a state of consternation.

I’m prepared to admit that in some circumstances, and in some contexts, they work on me too. I would be either a fool or a liar if I didn’t. But they’re also one of the fastest ways to get me to leave your website.

If I’m reading an article or blog post and your pop-up comes in the middle of my enjoyment of said content, I might close it and keep reading, but I’m less likely to visit your website in the future. It’s analogous to sitting in a park reading a book and then having some guy come up to you and try to sell you something. It’s distracting and disruptive and unpleasant.

It’s important to understand that as an unemployed grad student with no money, I am of course everyone’s target market.

Seriously, though, the least disruptive pop-ups are the ones that appear after I’ve reached the bottom of the page, and honestly to me that makes the most sense in terms of a customer’s sales journey.

And for God’s sake, keep it to one pop-up, please.

Use Contrast for Readability.

Maybe it’s my age, but I often struggle with readability on websites. I don’t know if you remember, but a few years ago it was really in to have medium grey text on a white background and it was nearly unreadable. It became so prevalent that I would close a browser tab out of spite whenever I encountered it.

Believe it or not, people are still doing it.

Look, it doesn’t matter how slick and well-designed your website looks if I can’t read it.

This is an accessibility issue too, there are people who are vision impaired who simply cannot wade through paragraphs of low-contrast text. And it’s both impolite and unwise to ask them to try.

In Conclusion.

There you go, my gripe post about websites. I feel like a lot of this ties into readability and site performance, which are two things that every blogger or web designer should concern themselves with. I don’t think they’re too much to ask.

Are you exhausted by blog posts about bullet journaling yet? How about Instagram posts, or YouTube videos?

Well buckle up, because I got something to say about bullet journals.

Full disclosure, I maintain a bullet journal (I will never use “BuJo” unironically because it sounds like a code for blowjobs to me) and have done so off and on for years now.

If you’ve stumbled upon this post and are wondering what a bullet journal is, it is, in short, a combination planner and journal maintained in a blank notebook. It is fully customizable, and was inspired by a system created by Ryder Carroll, featured in the video below:

Ryder says that his inspiration for creating the bullet journal system was to manage his life as a person with ADHD. As a result, it’s very useful for organizing and planning, replacing dozens of scraps of paper and post-it notes that might otherwise take over one’s desk, purse, pocket, or wallet.

A huge following sprang up surrounding the bullet journal system, and it evolved, taking on a life of its own that far outstripped Ryder’s original system.

Now, I’m not here to tell anyone what’s right or wrong, and even Ryder says there’s no wrong way to bullet journal; that’s the beauty of the system. It can be whatever the user needs it to be. It is infinitely customizable, adjustable, and modifiable. I mean, it’s a blank notebook, right?

The system that Ryder initially envisioned was a series of notes each day that could be migrated; ideas, additions to standing lists, things like that would go to what he called Collections. Tasks and appointments and events would be migrated to the days that they were to be attended or accomplished. So each day was a running list, and each day could be closed out when the items were migrated. Very helpful for ADHD and anxiety sufferers.

If you look up bullet journal or BuJo on Instagram or YouTube today, you will find people creating complicated, intricate spreads with hand lettering and artwork, trackers and systems, that really bear little resemblance to Ryder’s original system.

Initially I became enthralled with this content and put a lot of effort into creating Instagrammable spreads in my journals. I worked hard on it, particularly putting a couple of hours in at the beginning of each month to “set up” the journal. I was excited about this new project.

But after a several months of this, a problem raised its head. I wasn’t using the journal. My intricate spreads were blank, abandoned. This was for a few reasons.

It was too complicated.

The system I had pieced together was too unwieldy for me to whip out the journal and note something down. My “dailies” became nothing more than to do lists, and I tried to flip to the collections pages to make notes because the space pre-allocated for daily entries in my complicated system was not sufficient for little notes, ideas, etc. As a result, I would lose things. The ideas I was sure I would remember until I had a chance to sit down and page through the book flew out of my head before I got to my bus stop.

It was too stressful.

The pressure of creating new, fresh spreads that I could post soon shut me down completely. The worry that I would ruin something I’d spent hours creating kept me from using the spreads I had created. Then, with the trackers, they existed as a reminder of things I had failed to do, a record of my personal shame.

I started looking for answers.

Of course, I started looking within the online bullet journal community. I tried all kinds of keywords, minimalist, simple, etc. Even the “minimalist” bullet journal content was too complicated for what I needed.

Just as a note, the bullet journal community online has become intensely gendered. On the feminine side are intricate, artistic, complicated spreads. On the masculine side are bearded online media bros who celebrate the bullet journal as the ultimate tool for productivity and rationality and structure, all the while sneering at “female” bullet journal spreads. I’ve been trying hard to find content in this space that breaks out of this binary and have been frustrated at basically every turn.

So I went back to Ryder’s original system. I made a couple of tweaks, such as including monthly calendars (they help me know which dates fall on what days of the week for future planning), and I included a habit tracker, not for compliance, but for tracking mental health. And I started using the journal as Ryder originally intended; a list of notes and ideas, rather than as a fancy to do list. I also developed some personal rules for bullet journal maintenance.

My bullet journal rules.

I want to preface this by saying that I’m not telling anyone else what to do. If you find planner peace with complicated spreads, do it. These rules are for me

1. No Rulers.

A lot of people use rulers or straight-edges to set up. Hell, even Ryder does in the video above. But I really need perfection to not be a part of this process at all, so forgoing rulers helps me understand that this is a messy, spur of the moment process, and that perfection is not the goal. This helps with the anxiety I feel about using the journal.

2. No Boxes.

The heart of these complicated systems are boxes. Boxes for your days, boxes for your weeks, boxes for notes, boxes for to do lists. Boxes ended up constraining my use of the journal, editing what was important enough to include and what wasn’t, resulting again in my losing information.

Okay, I still use some boxes, for tracking things that only require a checkmark or something, but for daily pages, no boxes. I don’t care if a day takes up two pages. In fact, I would be pretty delighted if one did, because it probably means I did a lot of brain work that day.

3. Migrate at the End of the Day.

Everything goes on the daily list of notes. Everything. At the end of the day, appointments and tasks get marked off or migrated to collections, etc. That closes out my day. Nothing left un-dealt-with to keep me up at night. Everything has a plan or a place as appropriate. And it prevents me putting off writing something down until I can flip through to the right place, resulting in better capture of information.

4. No White Out.

I’m a creative worker, as a writer, and messiness is important to that process. Failure is a part of creativity, and allowing those mistakes to remain on the page allows me, perhaps counter-intuitively, to accept that. I may scribble them out and write the correction next to them, but no white out, no hiding mistakes. Only acceptance of my flawed self.

The result of following these rules is a messy, minimally decorated (I knew I would need to be able to work in my journal with just what I could carry in my purse), and honest reflection of my life, and looking back through it has made me feel good, helped me remember things, and encouraged me to consume media (books, movies, YouTube videos, articles) that I had noted down and then promptly forgot. I’ve captured more ideas, whether good or bad, than I had before. It has been a success.

And I couldn’t be happier.

I started writing here again for a couple of reasons. One, I was paying for the domain and I knew the site would look dusty and abandoned with no new content on it. Two, I had started posting some kind of ridiculously long content on Facebook, which is really not the venue for that. Three, I was writing extensively in Word files that would then end up saved on my laptop and forgotten.

Content is my business, so why would I put in that work waste it?

Writing is important when you’re a writer. It keeps your hand in, it allows you to grow in your craft. No writing, no growth.

The more I interacted with the website, the more signs of age were visible on it. The twitter widget with no posts. Content so ancient that it embarrassed me. Outdated information, like the podcast that no longer exists. Remnants of an era in which I apparently did not believe that blog posts needed pictures.

I did feel a terrible urge to delete all that old content, but I didn’t go through with it.

I stared at the now empty social media widgets.

The more I looked at the site, the more stale it felt.

Plus, the purpose of the site is a little different now than it was a few years ago. I’m not just writing fiction now, and I have an interest in copywriting/content marketing that I can explore and exhibit. The content I directed toward readers would be different than that I would direct toward potential clients and employers.

So I embarked on a website redesign.

I’m not going to tell you the redesign is complete (it isn’t), and I don’t know if it will ever be complete, or if I will continue tweaking it until I’m old and grey.

I struggled a lot with this. There’s a lot of conflicting advice. “Keep personal and professional content separate,” some people say. “You need a touch of your personality; people want to know who you are,” others say. “You are your brand,” still others say.

In the end, I decided this is going to be, whether I want it to or not, a mix of personal and professional content. As a writer, I am painfully aware of the fact that while I’m a very good writer, I am not now nor will I ever be the best in the world. I can’t just sell writing. In fiction, we say that we are selling our voice; that all the stories have already been written, but nobody’s written it the way you can.

I removed all outdated content (except old blog posts), and removed empty social widgets in favor of icons I found less tacky. I realized that if I’m going to link to my social accounts, I needed content there as well.

This is when things started to spiral outward.

When I stopped updating  this website, I also stopped bothering with social media with the exception of my private Facebook account. It’s been years since I tweeted or instagrammed. I had already been chastised for the lack of new content on my LinkedIn by our career advisor in the MBA program. My Facebook account was the only thing I felt motivated to update, because it was the most rewarding; populated with people I already knew, full of local and international news, and it talked back to me. I got replies and delicious likes, and so many pieces have already been written about how addicting feedback can be.

Other social media accounts were never like that to me. Twitter was like tossing messages in bottles into a vast sea. LinkedIn just wasn’t, you know, fun. It was scary, like being at an office party and worrying that you’ll say the wrong thing to the wrong people. Instagram, well, most of what one sees of Instagram involves models and “influencers” and restaurant plates. And though I take photos, I had no interest in that sort of thing, and I would never fool myself into thinking that the photos I take are good.

Social marketing advice in the writer space tells us to pick the platform that we work on best and stick with that, but I wasn’t even updating my “professional” Facebook page. Facebook limits visibility of professional pages so thoroughly that even my friends didn’t get to see posts to my page, and without feedback (and precious likes), my interest in it faded.

And so I started to ask myself, what can I commit to? Can I commit to a tweet a day? A photo a day? A LinkedIn post a week? What can I do? And I started to build myself a list of internet chores.

Most of these are words, and it’s good for me to write words. It’s practice. It’s growth. It’s my job. Instagram, well, it’s good for anyone who publishes on the web to have a repository of images to choose from, and ones you’ve taken yourself are even better, because you won’t see that same free stock photo on someone else’s thumbnail.

And it occurred to me how strange it is to set up a list of social chores. I’m not going to become Instagram famous. I’m not going to amass a huge Twitter following. But if someone googles me (and they will), these old accounts will come up. With old content. That may no longer reflect who I am and what I think and believe.

And I think to myself, is this a chore that other people do? Or do they stick with a social media platform that they’re most comfortable in? Am I the weird one? And, will it start to feel more natural to maintain these other platforms the more I do it? How thoroughly do I curate? Is poor content better than no content? Will I need a piece of social media management software to handle my own stuff?

The really strange thing about social media is that it turns everyone into a marketer, whether they like it or not, whether they know it or not. We all curate. We all do, We may not realize we’re doing it, but we do. We all are trying to decide with each post what parts of us we want to advertise and which are best kept private.

And in a way, I think that’s what I find kind of exhausting about it. Decision after decision after decision, not knowing what any of the stakes are.