Automatic Pilot

“Get me out of here! Now!” she cried out each time I arrived at the non-descript institutional doorway. Her dementia had descended in cruel full force and she needed the 24-hour care we could no longer provide at home, especially as my father was now stuck in hospital for an extended period. At 89 years old, he had been her chief caregiver for many months and was now spent, exhausted and seriously ill.

I did not anticipate the period in which both my parents would be ill and needing special care. He was seven years older, and we all just assumed she would eventually windup as his caregiver. Today it is all a bit of a blur. I was working long hours at my job, with a young daughter to raise. When it became clear my mother had to move into a nursing home, it was my partner who camped out on her couch, staying with her for two full days and nights. Patience finally paid off and he gently persuaded her to leave the apartment with him. She took his arm trustingly to make the short trip to a new reality, suitcase in hand.

She was to live in a facility in North Toronto. One of the better ones, my siblings and I were assured when we visited and interviewed the staff some weeks before. Promises of good care aside, it was still an institution, with all the drabness and smells that conjures. Pale green walls. Shared bedrooms and a huge dining area populated by the elderly, four to a table, not necessarily engaged in conversation over their rice pudding.

While visiting her, I found it was safest for me to switch into a kind of “automatic-pilot”. First thing I’d hear as I emerged from the elevator were the heartbreaking whimpers of old people plunked in wheelchairs and lined up in rows outside the nursing station. Walking past them as they pined for a visitor, sometimes reaching out a scrawny arm, was a hideous, disconcerting experience for me.  Human train wrecks. Their lives now empty canyons, I would hurry by, discomfited and focused on my own train wreck – my mother Jacqueline.  

Here she was in a care home where one morning she would fall getting out of bed and break her hip, because she didn’t remember that she needed her walker to get to the washroom. Staff couldn’t be in all places at all times and accidents happen. But there’s an ironic twist to the story.

Jacqueline was a well-respected geriatric social worker, a pioneer and published author, an expert on the clinical care for people with dementia. Once when I was visiting early in her stay, she referred to the “other” social worker on the floor, meaning the fellow who actually was employed by the nursing home. She had spent so much of her life working in that role that it was deeply ingrained in her very being, her definition of self. She would point out to me, as we made our way from her room to the dining area, when she thought spilled water should be mopped up immediately, before someone slipped and got hurt. It was actually heartening to see this smidgen of her identity still holding tight when the illness had already stolen so much.

She never forgot our names though her short-term memory was quite impaired. She was often confused. When my father eventually died, her grief was overpowered by memory loss, although she still occasionally said she had to get home to make his dinner. At that point she was cared for on some days by a lovely, skilled young woman and my mother seemed to enjoy her company a great deal. I once came upon them giggling like schoolgirls and it was clear that at that stage, she still had joyful moments. I suppose it was a small mercy that she seemed to forget my father, her husband of more than fifty years. The grief was likely less painful for her.

But to be clear, and especially as the weeks passed, she was by no means a calm, sweet elderly person folded into a wheelchair. She was pissed off. At being cognitively impaired. At having to stay in the nursing home. Maybe at some level she got the cruel irony of her illness and anger emerged as her principal demeanour.  She was downright unpleasant a good deal of the time. Unfortunately, as with many elderly people, the broken hip had signalled a downward decline. My mother was no exception and within a matter of months, she died.

I did not know that the “automatic-pilot” state I adopted wading through the wheelchairs at the care home would last until now, almost fifteen years later. It is only recently I’m experiencing something akin to a thaw. Tentatively, I am feeling able to remember more about my mother, from a time before the ravages of the illness. 

I’ve started to dredge up feelings about her at different times in my life. As a little girl I was always so proud of her. What a terrific role model. She worked outside the home and managed the family. This was not as common in the early 1960’s. I knew she was doing important work, helping people. I always assumed that I would do the same – have meaningful work and raise a family too.

She was a gregarious woman, very sociable and a good listener. As a teen, my friends used to call her for advice. She arranged an abortion for at least one young woman in my circle (pre- Morgentaler). They trusted her. I was more reticent.

It was the normal kind of separating out that daughters do from their mothers. In my twenties we didn’t talk as much. I was living my own life, devoted to my job in a city far away. Visits home were sometimes stressful. My parents were eager for grandchildren and my trajectory in that lane was haltingly slow.

I miss her now, realizing how much I’ve lost of the good memories.  From a young age, she instilled in me a sense of my own worth as a person and the need to be independent financially. She was incredibly accepting when I told her, fearful of her reaction, that I’d been infected with an annoying STD. She simply wanted to assure that I had good care, and made no judgment about it. 

Some years later, she was the first person to tell me, when my infant son was so ill and so profoundly disabled, that I might choose not to care for him full-time at home. I wasn’t ready to hear it at the time and, in fact, felt quite vexed at her suggestion. But eventually, after he had succumbed to non-stop seizures, was unable to digest liquids without a feeding tube inserted into his tummy to bypass his raspy breathing and, suffered umpteen other complex medical conditions, I began to see her point. The crux of her message was not about my readiness to tackle such a challenging situation. Rather, she was to giving me permission to consider a life in which I would mother at a distance — with the full 24-hour nursing care support my baby needed — but remain fully involved in his care.

These were small gifts. Testimony to her unconditional love for me and that she was practical to the core. Free of judgment but not afraid to express her opinion. The cruel illness that enveloped her in the end can’t erase the years of generous mothering she offered me. I can’t purge that awful last year of her life but as I inch away from the shock, anger and bewilderment that captured me for such a long time, I am grateful for her love and guidance.

Capturing Hope from a Deep Cavern of Shame

CBC Radio. June 2018.

The early autumn sun is strong, but it is so windy the bucket won’t stay still on the water. Waves lap hard at its metal sides, water seeping over the top.  I had collected big, shapely stones from the surrounding land, filling the bucket, hoping that it would sink. I attached a rope to it with a bowline knot I learned in Girl Guides and tied the other end around my right foot. My plan was that I would be pulled down and drown in the deep lake. To my great consternation, it didn’t work. I kept bobbing to the surface, the only damage a rough scrape on my face from the bucket’s rim as it skittered about on the waves.

No-one knew how desperate I felt. Or that I wanted to end my life in the most private and excruciatingly beautiful place I knew.  A lake in the Gatineau Hills, only an hour from Ottawa but where you were more likely to see deer than another human being. I had gone there to be alone and to bring months of suffering to an abrupt halt.

Six months had passed since I’d turned thirty years old in a forbidding ward at the local mental hospital. There the doctor had pronounced me bipolar. There was no discussion permitted. She prescribed lithium.  When I asked if I could take lithium and still have children, the nurse told me — rather meanly I thought — that this was the least of my concerns. The diagnosis felt like a life sentence, a tool of oppression unleashed upon me.   One overworked nurse had barked at me, “You’d better stay on your meds or we’ll see you back here in no time.”  I was offended by her haughtiness.  To me, that hospital stay had been a total power struggle. I would never give in to the medical establishment and their insulting labels.  I was young.

Instead, I carried around a deep cavern of shame. There was a constant debate in my head, an overbearing babble of voices, judging me at every turn. Low self-esteem and humiliation were my M.O.  I walked in Ottawa for hours every day, the dangling conversation a constant companion. 

Ten years later, the darkness pounced on me again. I had two children and was in the middle of a divorce when I smacked into a wall emotionally. I saw no hope on the horizon. I prepared to kill myself with a puree of pills and fruit juice made in the blender. In a suicide note I expressed the belief that my children would be better off without me. In the gathering darkness, I drank my potion. As it turned out, my ex swung by the house unexpectedly. He ferried me to the emergency ward, where I insisted on calling my psychiatrist at home even though by that time it was close to midnight.  He told me that it was the illness speaking.  I so desperately needed to hear that.  And I had reached a point where I could hear it. For the first time. I wasn’t just a screw-up, I had a disease. It was a relief.

After years of struggle, and umpteen therapies combing my psyche for the origin of my faults, I 

accepted that I have an organic illness, with an inherited component.  

It is acknowledging that, accepting that I have an illness – without giving in to it – that is gradually liberating me from constant fear of a life punctuated by scary hospitalizations. 

Speaking frankly today of my battles with depression feels like “coming out”. I live with bi-polar illness, to be exact.  So far, it’s the lows that pack the worst punch. The highs have cost me money I did not have, but up till now I haven’t declared I can fly.  

But she’s an evolving hurricane, this vexing visitor of mine. Her storms brew up and blow in differently each time; my task is to stay a step ahead, using all the medical and complementary health assistance I can muster. I can’t say I’ve ever conquered the shame entirely, but when I begin to feel better, it recedes.

Finding understanding can be a reach. Few truly appreciate the unspeakable desolation that accompanies the heavy cloak of darkness when it descends. It’s a most terrifying loss of control. 

But experience has yielded a route that can bypass hell. While I insist fervently on remaining in the driver’s seat, I promise not to hog the roadmap. The people who love me must know how to intervene when my brain biochemistry goes awry. Before it’s too late.

I am more hopeful. Being bi-polar is not the sum total of who I am, nor is it a life sentence. The world is still my oyster, although it’s a dialed-down version. The pearls are plentiful. Work, family, heartache and fun are all possible, so long as I heed my limits. The label, so crushing in my youth, is now allowing me — with help — to liberate myself from its most nasty symptoms.  I am learning to keep the shame at bay. 

I don’t know what’s around the corner, but I hope that the arsenal of counter measures I’ve developed work to keep me safe when the depression next roars. For the moment, life is good. I am winning the battle against self-shame, with the help of my community of loving family and friends. Accepting that I have a chronic, episodic illness becomes easier as I get older. I am less afraid now. Hope emerges on the horizon. I strive to capture it, to mold it in my hands and create a promising future.

My Father’s Hands

I wanted desperately for my hand to be as big as my father’s. Strong. Competent. His commanding grasp holding my little four-year-old hand. We’re on the commuter train from Long Island to Manhattan, to his office. It is a special day. To board the train together, hold his hand and spend the day. All I wanted in the world was for my hand to be that big, that powerful.

Crack! My father’s hand against my cheek. He awakens me from sleep. I’m lying on the 1970’s deep gold-coloured carpet in my bedroom, having a sleepover. My two best friends are asleep in the bunkbed. We are about 13 years old and all startle awake to his sharp voice. I don’t remember what he said. Or what I could possibly have done to provoke such violence. But I certainly remember how ashamed I felt. Humiliated and hurt in front of my friends.

He was a complicated man. 

I knew, growing up, that he was usually quite proud of me. For my accomplishments in sports and music, for being successful academically and then politically as a student leader in university. We had good strategic conversations in my early 20’s and his advice to me was steeped in wisdom borne of his own political and union activity as a younger man. He instilled in me a drive to make the world a better place, to “make a contribution”.  

Living my own life away from the family from the age of 18, I developed some distance from the bad memories, the scary rages that punctuated my childhood. Like when at age 8, I would bolt from the dinner table, race up the stairs in leaps and bounds to climb the ladder to my top bunk, diving for the corner of the bed by the wall where he could not reach to swat me. 

Today we might say that he had poor impulse control. In reality, given the family mental health constellation — my own included — I think it would be more accurate to say he suffered from what was then called manic depression. His moods dominated the family and I grew up believing the dark times were my fault. 

My mother once sought professional counsel to ask what she was doing wrong. But I think she also loved his fire. I have in mind that she found him exciting when courting, maybe even a little dangerous, and thus even more interesting. He was definitely a passionate man. Her own father had been more sedate, a conservative lawyer with solid social standing. My father, artistic and political, represented the promise of a more exhilarating life.

What she did not perhaps expect — or deal with adequately — was the effect of his rages on us children. I can only speak for myself and in my adult life, after a series of relationship (mis)adventures, I seek intimacy with men who are constant, more measured emotionally than my father. I shy away from anger that is expressed toward me and am learning how to channel my own productively. I only ever experienced the ‘over the top’ variety while growing up.

And yet, some of my greatest strengths derive from this man. He had a profound appreciation for intellectual pursuits. Something he didn’t have an opportunity to follow because of his decision to leave university and fight fascism in the Second World War. Four of his five children have earned PhD’s or the equivalent. And the fifth is an erudite poet. We all recognize that some of our love of learning and drive are linked to him.

Later, moving away from home, separating definitively from the chaos of the family dinner table, where plates occasionally sailed across the room, allowed me to steer my own body image into a more positive zone. I learned that I did not have to carry his pain. But even now, it’s an effort daily to balance my self-esteem and body weight; it occupies a psychological space way beyond its genuine importance. 

My father’s legacy continues.

Notwithstanding the deep scars, he was a loving father. A romantic, he would regale an imaginary audience with Rogers and Hammerstein tunes while I accompanied him on the piano. He passed on his love of music whether classical, blues or jazz. 

Once in my late 20’s when I was considering having a child on my own, it was the cause of some consternation in the household. My father took me to lunch and told me that “any baby of yours will bounce on my knee.”  His constancy in that situation gave me peace of mind.

My father’s hands were caring but they were also a weapon to be feared. For years I walked on eggshells, hoping not to inflame his anger. I believe counselling and medication could have blunted his rages. Maybe seeking treatment would have allowed him to harness his own passion and energy into something more positive than the damaging emotional unpredictability I experienced.

I believe the fact that the illness and emotional abuse was unnamed contributed to the challenging family portrait. If only someone had said to me, with patience and consistency when my father acted out, “Miriam, it’s not your fault, you’ve done nothing wrong,” the essence of my very being would have developed differently. 

In one sense my father was just a guy trying to raise his family the best way he knew how. Is it fair for me to judge him with my 2020 lens?  I have read that the pathway to healing from trauma can involve forgiveness. Am I truly ready to move into that space or is that letting him off the hook too easily?

The hands that cradled me were not always gentle and that partially explains some of the fault lines in my own psyche. So be it. Today I choose to live well, manage my own mental health challenges, and try not to repeat his mistakes. Of course, I am fully capable of making my own.

A Stand of Conifers

Imagine my surprise! I arrived at the lake to find a brand new road crosscut against our property, running practically straight up to the new structure above. A strip laid bare, right on the property line next to our building. Razed earth. It was ugly but, moreover, it occurred to me that there could be noise coming from the cottage above, that the new road would ferry in comings and goings of untold proportion. And so, I looked for a solution.

I found one in the forest itself. By planting tiny evergreen seedlings alongside the old gravel road, I could eventually block sound and view. Today, more than seventeen years later, the pine and spruce seedlings are thirty-foot trees. They form a rustling canopy, sheltering the cottage from any noise that might escape the occasional passing vehicle.

It wasn’t a matter of conflict with the neighbours – we get along well. No, it was a practical matter. Of noise. Of privacy. The modest stand of conifers has graciously played its role well in the intervening years. 

Inside the cottage we are cozy, poised for rest and work. Taking meals with the view of lake and forest we feast on local ingredients, enjoying nature’s bounty. The rustic pine table is big enough to sit eight comfortably. It sprawls in the area once a screened-in porch, now rebuilt into a room with windows that open onto the lake and forest. The table is covered with blue and green woven placemats that set off its honey-golden hue. Sometimes it’s just me, while often we’re two or three and, on occasion, several more gathering around. There is something in its sturdiness that encourages the sharing of pleasure, of friendship. The cast of characters changes with each passing week; the table, in its constancy, endures as witness.

In these Covidian times, I am reminded how special those shared meals were. Easy melding of friends, family, enjoying good food and fellowship. I wonder what this cottage season will bring? I recall that as a young woman, many years before a shelter graced the property, I sat and watched by the sunlit rock, astride a still-watered lake. Covered with soft green moss, the rock anchors cedar trees with their majestic crowns. A fresh, almost citrus odor wafts from the cedar fronds, reaching me below. 

Sitting on the rock, in the indented space I claim as my own, I am sunbaked and naked. I chase away the odd fisherman in my brazen nudity. As I feel the mossy texture beneath me, the water now churns amid the fishing boat’s wake. In the distance, a small island beckons. It sports one lone, spindly pine. The island is always named for the youngest visitor to the lake. To give the power of place to the children and gather hope in their outstretched hands.

As always, this place offers up the quiet for reflective practice, for writing. Two decades ago, I charged my laptop on a marine battery, red and black cables spilling akimbo, to create a memoir about my son’s short and difficult life. Now, having harnessed solar energy, I am able to write night and day. Power and light now accompany even the most blustery, sodden days of late autumn.  

It’s a treasured existence.  Quiet yet connected. My writing thrives in this stillness, it nurtures my soul. I don’t want to lose these days of contemplation. Surrounded by the   towering stand of conifers, I am grateful for peace it brings.

Paddling Toward Peace

published in Dreamers Magazine November 2020

Wild waves crash across my kayak as I try to paddle forward, to stay on course. Wind whips up the waves as water drips from behind my head down my back, seeping under my life jacket. I feel the wet sensation against my skin. In no time, I am drenched to the bone as I continue slogging, paddling toward the bay ahead which will be more sheltered from the wind. There is a reason for this trip.  I have business to attend to.

We are eight boats against the elements, a community of strangers including two very experienced young guides. One of them brings up the rear, tossing me encouraging messages across the waves. His cries “Great going,” and “You’ve got this,” help me to persist.  It’s a bit of a marathon performance to cross this channel on our very first day out. The sky is dark now, having shifted quickly from the warm haze that shone when we left shore. We have five days to explore the North Channel together, a part of Lake Huron north of Manitoulin Island in Ontario.

I am making some progress against the blustery wind, should be able to reach the bay in about 20 minutes. I just have to keep moving. Always keep the paddle in the water in waves, in order to steady the kayak. My muscles are flagging, but I keep going. Trying to keep my hands from sliding down the shaft of the paddle, I dip and swing to the other side. It is a constant, rhythmic motion that slowly propels me against the wind and waves toward the opposite shore where the stronger paddlers are already beginning to gather.

I read somewhere that a wave you face is not an obstacle but an opportunity. An opportunity to learn about yourself and prove your strength. An opportunity to develop new skills and come out wiser. Fine words that seem rather high and mighty right now. In the trenches of this journey, I am too focussed on moving forward inch by inch to contemplate their deeper meaning.

I am sweaty but I cannot smell my fear. Rather I rise to the challenge, feel exhilarated and persist. With the guide’s encouragement I give a final push and we move out of the wind and into the bay. What a relief! I am soaked and full of wonder at the waves and wind that challenged us right off the bat. A robust feeling of accomplishment accompanies me as I munch on a power bar, hoping to glean more energy for the paddling still ahead.

As I look around I realize that I am treading on ground that in years gone by was interpreted gloriously by members of the Group of Seven, landscape painters in the 1920’s. They captured in their paintings the undulating pink granite rock that characterizes the land surrounding North Channel. I sense their presence deep in my being as we prepare again to set out. This time our plan is to hug the shore, avoiding the worst of the wind, and to search for a campsite for the night. Our hope is to paddle only for another hour before setting up camp. I feel weary but determined to complete this day’s challenging journey. 

***

Looking up, I notice the sunset has begun. Multiple shades of orange and pink brush the western sky. I clamber down the warm, pink granite rocks to a scraggy point at the shoreline. The rock was a little bit slippery and I’m glad to make it down to the water safely. It is relatively calm in the early evening’s light when we slip away to complete our task, the main reason for this trip to the North Channel.

Thirty-one years ago, almost to the day, my son Jake was conceived on the Benjamin Islands which I can see far across the bay. He would have been thirty years old this year and it feels like an important milestone. Today I will lay him to rest, scattering his ashes in this extraordinarily beautiful setting. He died fifteen years ago and only now am I ready to let him go.

Jake was a beautiful boy with soulful blue eyes that erupted into smiles at the flicker of light in his face. He was unable to sit, stand or speak and received nourishment through a feeding tube to bypass his raspy breathing. And yet, with a voice that sounded like the cooing of a pigeon, he communicated his pleasure and discomfort. Sadly, he was destined to die young. 

His short life bestowed untold richness upon mine. While he was alive and for some time after, I wrote and advocated on behalf of children like him. My life was full as his younger sister joined me in pickets and panels to advance the needs of kids with disabilities. Jake’s passing was not unexpected, but it was still jarring, leaving an indescribable emptiness.

This evening, in this spectacular place, I am carrying a medium size yogurt container filled with his remains. I lean over the water perched precariously on a rock. The ashes sparkle in the light as I take a small handful and toss them into the still water.  Some ash clings to the rock below while the rest creates a translucent, milky soup just below me. Gradually I scatter the contents of the container and watch the water as it flows. A good rain, such as we expect that very night, will fully disperse the ash into the Channel.

I am wrenched by sadness — it is the ultimate letting go. And yet, I also experience a certain feeling of peace. “Swim strong little man,” I think to myself. “You’re free now.”  When Jake died, a First Nations friend told me that Jake was now ‘free to run, the wind in his hair’. This evening I remember those words and they again bring me some solace. 

And yet, in the tent at night I am restless. In that ethereal state between dreamscape and wakefulness, I envisage that milky water again. As I watch, a young spirit boy miraculously emerges and swims away. I can see his strawberry blond hair and lanky frame. It is my Jakey. Again, I am filled with that strange combination of sadness and peace as he swims from me away into the near distance. Quietly, I again say goodbye to my sweet firstborn.

Welcome to my blog

I’m just starting this blog and it’s the dead of winter here in Canada. The air is crisp, the days and nights cold. I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you in the coming months and hope that your experience of this pandemic is not too awful. For me, as something of an introvert and as a writer, I’ve been able to survive well over the last year. I do miss having friends and family over for meals and going out to theatre and films. Hey, I miss getting a haircut too! But we’ll get through this and in several months, once we’ve all benefitted from the vaccine, perhaps we’ll get together again. In the meantime, I hope my words offer you some interest and comfort.

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.