Why I stopped blogging for 2017 (plus a big announcement!)

I didn’t intend to take a year off from blogging. I intended to take a little break and pick things up where I left off; fired up, finding my voice, setting the world on fire. In no particular order.

But life happened. The 2016 election triggered memories I’d never been ready to deal with before. My brain not-so-gently reminded me that we have a lot of work to do to get healthy. Long-buried past traumas seized me, and grabbed me by the throat. I broke down, and realized I needed professional help; that despite my best efforts to heal, I’d really only scratched the surface.

Just two weeks later, I was laid off from my job of 5 years; a corporate restructuring that left me in the dust. It was nothing personal, of course, but it certainly got me terrified about my future.

I had no idea how I was going to move forward with my life. My brain seemed like it was turning on me, and the security of my stable income was washing out with the tide.

Faced with massive uncertainty and self-doubt, I retreated.

I got myself into treatment for PTSD. I found a kind, patient therapist who runs a local mind-body wellness center. She gave me a safe place to unpack my past, little by little, and also taught me to stop giving so much power to it.

I learned to set boundaries with myself and others. I learned to observe my thoughts. I learned to stay silent and pay attention when what I really wanted to do was to set myself on fire and scream my head off.

With new tools and lessons tucked under my belt, I struck out on my own as a freelance writer/researcher/producer. Taking the leap was almost as scary as getting help, but ultimately led me to more opportunity and career fulfillment than I ever could have dreamed of. Today, I’m getting paid to work on dream projects I would never have had space for if I’d still been at my corporate job.

It was excruciating and beautiful in equal measure. I blossomed in totally unexpected ways.

With all of this amazing processing and learning happening, I wanted to write. But blogging became too cumbersome. Not because I wasn’t thinking or saying anything worth writing, but because I was in a sacred space: I was doing the work for me and no one else.

My inner voice told me to hold back for the moment; to get my bearings so I could come back stronger than ever. I wasn’t ready to share the many lessons I was learning through treatment and the rediscovery of my own life.

Now I am.

And I’ve realized I am ready for a change. I’m not the cute girl with a banjo I was when I started this blog, hoping for it to be a fun place for my musings. Don’t get me wrong, the banjo is still around (I’m currently covering the entirety of Taylor Swift’s reputation, because I am nothing if not consistently extra). But the cute girl? She has grown into a fierce woman who is a force to be reckoned with.

This blog has grown so much over the years: it’s amassed over 4,000 followers. It’s been featured on WordPress’s Freshly Pressed, syndicated by Thought Catalog, and shared by Brain, Child Magazine. CGWB is a project I’m immensely proud of. That said, it’s time to move on.

So, I’m very excited to announce that in the coming weeks, I will be migrating this blog to its new identity, Chelsea Processing. The content will still be much of the same; writings on grief, healing, social issues, pop culture and more. I will continue documenting my path to higher self, and may even introduce some other cool multimedia stuff, too.

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What does this mean for readers and subscribers? The good news is, if the migration process goes correctly on my end (fingers crossed I don’t mess this up!), very little will change for you. If you’re a subscriber, you should still get updates, only they’ll be from Chelsea Processing instead of Cute Girl With a Banjo. The old content will still be available for viewing on the new site, and I will do my best to make sure all old links redirect to their new home on ChelseaProcessing.com.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your love, loyalty and support over these past 5 years with Cute Girl With a Banjo. You all helped make this experience incredibly joyful and fulfilling, and for that, I’m eternally grateful.

I’m feeling better and stronger than ever, and I’m so incredibly excited to keep moving on this journey.

Who’s coming with me?

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What are you willing to sacrifice?

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Photo Credit: Flickr user CelestineChua

As a newly-minted 30-year-old, I spend a good portion of my time grappling with impossible questions: what am I doing with my life? What should I do with my life? Should I have a family? Should I be doing more for my career? Should I fake my death to get out of paying my student loans? (Kidding… sort of.)

One issue I’ve been working through lately is the pursuit of my writing: On the one hand, I am pulled to be a successful writer who makes money with my words. On the other hand, I’m not sure if I’m willing to do all that being a successful, paid writer entails.

This dichotomy is illustrated perfectly in this brilliant article by Mark Manson, “The most important question of your life.” Manson (I think rightfully) claims that asking ourselves what we theoretically want in life isn’t as important as asking ourselves what dreams we’re willing to sacrifice for:

“Because if you want the benefits of something in life, you have to also want the costs. If you want the beach body, you have to want the sweat, the soreness, the early mornings, and the hunger pangs. If you want the yacht, you have to also want the late nights, the risky business moves, and the possibility of pissing off a person or ten thousand. 

If you find yourself wanting something month after month, year after year, yet nothing happens and you never come any closer to it, then maybe what you actually want is a fantasy, an idealization, an image and a false promise. Maybe what you want isn’t what you want, you just enjoy wanting. Maybe you don’t actually want it at all.”

Manson’s words are so spot on it hurts. I love writing, and I think I’ve always imagined myself as a writer. Writing is one of the only clear goals I have ever had in my rather directionless life. Yet, when it comes to the sacrifice — the long hours spent keeping up on Twitter, posting to Facebook, reading and commenting on other blogs to build WordPress relationships, promoting myself across social media, pitching myself out to media outlets, writing every single day, never being able to unplug — it all feels like too much.

It’s no longer enough to hole yourself up in a beach cottage somewhere, write the next great American novel, and ship it off to publishers. These days, to be a successful writer, it feels like you have to have absurdly high follower counts, a “strong social media presence,” the body measurements of an E! host, professional photography skills, an intermediate understanding of HTML, and oh yeah — you have to be “on” at all times.

It seems endless and it all totally overwhelms me. I’m going to keep it real here: by the time I’ve spilled my heart onto the page and pressed publish, I’m kind of exhausted. I’ve barely got the energy to halfheartedly post my article to social media, much less follow up on comments, cross-post, or even submit my essays to media outlets who have outright asked to publish my work.

The truth is, if I don’t bother to sacrifice myself at the alter of social media and shameless plugging, someone else will. Let’s face it, thousands will. There are millions of wannabe writers out there, many of whom are willing to do what I am not. I could have all the talent in the world, but without the hard work, I am a waste.

I love to write. I love to blog. I long for more. But at what cost? The idea of being chained to social media day in and day out fills me with dread. I do not like the thought of giving up the balance in my life and tirelessly throwing myself into the dream.

Perhaps I really am just in love with a powerful illusion; a vision of me sitting in that little cottage composing my life’s work. It’s a beautiful chimera, that’s for sure.

But maybe there is more inside me. Maybe that little voice that says what I’m doing now isn’t enough is pushing me out of my comfort zone for a reason. Maybe, after nearly three years of deep, all-encompassing grief over my mother’s death, I am coming back to life, and ready to try again.

In 2015, I promised to publish more. I did that. I posted essays rather consistently, built a moderate following, got syndicated by Thought Catalog, and overcame my incessant and damaging need to be liked. 2016 could very well be the year I go further, and really sacrifice for my art.

I think I’m ready to throw myself in.

What are you willing to sacrifice to accomplish what you want in life?

When passion alone isn’t enough

“So what’s your plan for your writing?”

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Plan?! I’m supposed to have a PLAN?! And what’s with the red dots on this picture? QUESTIONS.

Rarely does more than a month pass before one of my well-meaning friends or acquaintances asks me this, and frankly it might be my least favorite question of all time. I’m not sure why, but it fills me with the kind of anxiety and dread that usually only come to me during freak storms (you should see how I prepare for hurricanes — the hilarity of my fear-guided neuroticism never ceases).

I’m not sure why, but the idea that my writing should do something has always pervaded my consciousness. It took me a year of hemming and hawing to even start this blog, because I was freaking out over finding some kind of purpose or path and wasting time asking myself bullshit like “well, what’s my personal brand going to be?” Long gone are the beautiful, sad days when I wrote just to write, sitting up in my room scribbling in journal after journal with no intention of ever showing anyone my work. That was simple. This feels like anything but.

I know I’m not the only one feeling this way. A few days ago, my brother and I were chatting about his foray into standup comedy. I told him I was proud of him for how much he’s killing it — he only started about a year ago and he’s already come so far in both his confidence and performing skills.

His response? “Thanks! It’s weird cause I have no idea what I’m doing. Is this a hobby or what?”

I said some offhanded things about how passion projects don’t necessarily need a definition — they provide all kinds of benefits to us without necessarily needing to go anywhere in particular. But I would be lying if I said I never feel that way about my writing. What AM I doing? Who am I doing it for? Why isn’t writing up in my room enough for me anymore? What pushes me to face my fears and share my deepest longings and secrets with everyone I’ve ever known (including their mothers) not to mention any stranger or potential employer that happens upon my work?!

The ultimate question is: why isn’t it enough?

Why isn’t it enough to write a decent personal blog with a handful of followers who look forward to reading my essays? Why isn’t it enough for my brother to stand up on stage a couple of times a month and make some people laugh? Why are we so driven to do more, push harder, define it, perfect it, monetize it?

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. Today, I’m just asking. I’m asking because that feeling of dread that comes every time someone asks me if I have a plan perplexes me. Why can’t I say, “I don’t have one — writing words and pressing publish is the extend of my plan”?!

If I’m being honest, I’ve been disenchanted with all of it lately, in a way that’s been really hard to pinpoint. I can’t tell if I’m sick of my own voice, or if I’m just experiencing some fatigue. Perhaps I’m just ready to reach out for something bigger — or maybe just different. Maybe, I just really need a plan to push me forward, and not having one in place is sabotaging me.

All I know is that none of it feels like enough. A passion project like this blog probably can’t stay suspended forever. It has to move forward; to grow. Otherwise, I risk losing the drive to just keep writing. I risk giving the whole thing up in lieu of something more practical; something easier. Something that doesn’t push me quite so far out of my comfort zone or require me to give myself so brazenly.

The crux is that right now, I’m a bit directionless. Yet I still feel the desire buzzing just beneath the surface, telling me to keep moving forward. I have no idea what I’m moving towards or what my end game is. I just know that I can’t stop now.

I guess I’ll just have to figure it out when I get there.

Writing while female: the very real threat of online harassment and how it’s held me back

Author’s Note: This essay was originally published on Hamilton and Griffin on Rights, a site run by Professor Marci Hamilton and Professor Leslie Griffin, which is dedicated to the healthy separation of church and state and the rights of women and children (specifically surrounding childhood sexual abuse). I encourage you to check out the site and the amazing work these women are doing. It is currently the only legal blog that has the majority of content authored by women, and you can find my writing there on the last Tuesday of each month. This post has been republished with permission. 

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Last week, one of my blog entries, “How I’m Learning to Break My Silence and Fight Racism” was picked up to be republished by Thought Catalog. I was thrilled for the exposure and hoped that it would potentially lead to new blog followers. But truthfully, I was also apprehensive — the potential for a hostile comments section terrified me. This would be my first time diving into the world of anonymous commenters. Up until this point, I’ve held a strict publishing policy: I only allow my work on websites where the comments sections have full names attached to each commenter, such as those powered through Facebook.

Why do I have this policy, which holds me back from fully pursuing my writing? Fear. Fear of online harassment. Fear of being ripped to shreds and denigrated. Fear of doxxing, stalking and threats. Fear of being treated like I’ve seen so many of my fellow female writers treated.

Lately, as I find my voice and my writing takes flight, the question of dealing with online harassment seems to be more of a “when,” rather than an “if.” It appears that a woman can only rise so far before she is at risk. From my observations, just about every female writer I follow on Twitter deals with online harassment or abuse in one form or another. Some are subject to truly disgusting and terrifying behavior. Lindy West, who often writes on feminism, was featured on This American Life to share her story of an online harasser who created a Twitter account posing as her deceased father, just to hurt her. He later apologized (the first time West had ever received an apology from a “troll”), but the experience was still distressing. Ragen Chastain, a size-acceptance blogger who writesDances with Fat recently shared a particularly harrowing account of her online harassers creating hate websites devoted to her demise, trying to sabotage her sponsorships and speaking engagements, and even going so far as to stalk her and her family in-person at an Ironman event she was competing in. Anita Sarkeesian, a media critic who foundedFeminist Frequency, became the target of an online harassment campaign over her video series “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games,” which examines gender tropes in video games. The harassment has been so disruptive to Sarkeesian that she has had to vacate her home, and even cancel a speaking engagement amidst the threat of a mass shooting.

And it’s not just female writers that dare to write about controversial topics like feminism, body acceptance or racism who are targeted. Mia Matsumiya, a professional violinist, has amassed more than 1,000 lewd and inappropriate messages online, which she’s sharing on Instagram to fight back. Chicago sports anchor Julie Dicaro has spoken out about being harassed and threatened with rape simply for sharing her professional opinions while female. Just look at the Twitter replies of any famous or even noteworthy female and you’ll see a litany of disgusting, graphic and insulting comments. By my observations, social media is a verifiable minefield for women to navigate, no matter what kind of work they do or opinions they share.

So it was with great apprehension that I allowed Thought Catalog to publish my piece. The essay had gotten mostly good feedback from the WordPress community, and my own Facebook friends, but I had no idea what to expect when it came to the anonymous commenting world of Disqus. What awaited me did not disappoint. My piece garnered 45 comments, most of which were racist, some of which were misogynist, and pretty much all of which were downright bizarre. Upon reading them, I felt my heart quicken and a lump rise in my throat, especially as I saw a few commenters using my full name. Thankfully there were no threats or outward insults, yet my impulse was to immediately regret my decision to go against my no-anonymous commenters policy.

After giving myself a few moments to calm down, I was able to talk some sense into myself. I realized that if I allow my voice to be silenced, then I am letting potential harassers win before they’ve even struck. By creating policies around what they might do, I’m giving these pathetic people more power than they deserve. I’m holding myself back both personally and professionally and letting fear be my guide, rather than what feels right to me. Besides, even if I can protect myself from nasty comments sections on my articles, there’s really no stopping anyone from harassing me elsewhere on the internet, so my policy is actually moot. If the only shield I have is my silence, then it’s not one I’m willing to bare any longer. I will not acquiesce that women should be seen and not heard.

I took a few deep breaths, closed the tab on my browser, and vowed to myself to stop obsessing over the words of others. More importantly, I vowed not to let hate win — not today, not tomorrow, not ever again.

The Internet Commenters in My Head

Confession time: I’m addicted to internet comments. They’re probably my worst, most destructive vice. No, really. I have a problem — I absolutely MUST know what anonymous people on the internet think. I will often gloss over huge portions of articles I’m genuinely interested in just to see how the commenters reacted. My problem runs so deep that, if I’m reading an article on my phone and can’t get the comments to load from my mobile browser, I will email the link to myself so that I can read the comments on my laptop later on. Yeah, it’s pretty bad.

Why the obsession with what random people online think? There are too many reasons to list, but the ones I’m most able to articulate are: 1), I’m a glutton for other peoples’ ignorance and stupidity, 2), sometimes commenters genuinely bring perspective or further depth to an article or concept that I’ve never thought of, 3), the lawyer in me simply MUST know what the other side(s) are saying so I can stay in front of their arguments in the inevitability that I end up in a real life debate on the topic, 4), because clearly I hate myself and don’t value my own time. Ha!

I try to keep in mind the fact that the people who consistently comment on internet media are not representative of the entire population — the vast majority of folks are like, “meh, this is not important enough for me to get involved,” while internet commenters are like:

For me, it's more like, "I can't. This is important. Someone is wrong on the internet and I have to watch someone else destroy them in the comments section!"

For me, it’s more like, “I can’t. This is important. Someone is wrong on the internet and I have to watch someone else destroy them in the comments section!”

According to my brother, most anons who angrily comment on the internet are either teenagers in their rooms with nothing better to do, or worse, adults with nothing better to do.

But still, their words seep into me and I find myself fearful of them. They color both my perceptions of myself and the thoughts I share when I write. Ultimately, I fear both rejection and harassment and as silly as it sounds, one of my worst nightmares is hundreds of anonymous people telling me how horrible, stupid, fat and unworthy I am.

By constantly reading what they write, it’s almost as though I am trying to arm myself against them — trying to stay one step ahead of them, so I can ward them off preemptively. So that nobody will ever say something terrible or hurtful to me anonymously again. Because that’s how THAT works.

I’m no stranger to internet harassment. When I was a Freshman in high school, somebody made a screen name on AIM called “ChelcIsFat” and proceeded to send me bullying messages day after day:

“How much do you weigh? 38729202339392728292 lbs?!”

I blocked them, and they came back around time and time again under different burner screen names — over and over, until I had nothing left but tears and the burning question:

“Why me? Am I really so horrible?”

I had my faults, for sure. I was a hanger on and a bit annoying, but I didn’t deserve cruelty. I didn’t deserve harassment. And I found all of those negative internet experiences to be extremely alienating and scarring. They still profoundly affect me and the way I interact with others.

Sadly, cruelty and harassment are just par for the course when you’re a woman on the internet — or anyone on the internet, really (though, let’s be honest, women are particularly targeted).

Here’s the thing — as much as I try to compartmentalize all of those anons, and tell myself to brush them off, I’ve noticed lately that they’ve taken on a life of their own in my mind.

They’re perpetuating my self-doubt: “I shouldn’t publish that — nobody cares about what I think about racism. I’m no authority!”

They’re lurking beneath my words, urging me to be more diplomatic when I’m really, really not: “Maybe I should tone down that argument… I don’t want to anger anybody or have them criticize me.”

They’re keeping me from fulfilling my potential and being true to myself: “I shouldn’t post too much in my blog, or promote myself too enthusiastically or people will get annoyed,” or “I can’t post two essays in a row about my grief or I’ll drive people away. What if people think that’s all I am?!”

They’re holding me back from fully pursuing writing: to this day, I won’t publish my work anywhere that has anonymous commenting systems, for fear of backlash or harassment.

I’m ashamed to admit that I police myself based on the words of anonymous people who are, for all intents and purposes, extremists. But I also don’t know how to get them out of my head or get past my paralyzing fear of being bullied again.

I’m sensitive, and I don’t want to (slash honestly couldn’t) change that.

So what do I do? Do I keep quiet and let them win, or do I put on a brave face and keep writing? Is it worth it to get hit in order to be authentic? Am I seriously this pathetic and cowardly, when there are people like Malala Yousafzai in this world (who, if you’ll remember, was a CHILD when she risked her life to write about being under Taliban occupation, and despite being shot in the head for that conviction, she is STILL putting herself on the line to advocate for girls’ education)?!

These are the questions I grapple with constantly. And of course, the internet commenters in my head have plenty of opinions in regards to the answers.

But today, I’m going to very maturely give them a big ol’ double middle finger and say, LA LA LA, I’M NOT LISTENING.

This Year, I Resolve to Word Vomit

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Like many bloggers, I have resolved that this year, I will write more. Actually, that’s not wholly accurate. In 2013 and 2014, I resolved to write more. Which I did, by the way. But filling up journals, while being extremely therapeutic, isn’t getting me very far in realizing my writing dreams. So in 2015, my goal is actually to publish more.

Of course, being a perfectionist entirely insecure with my work, this has presented an identity crisis (and, if I’m being honest, fear) in me. As much soul-searching as I’ve done, I’ve been stuck on where to go with my blog. What do I write about? Who is my intended audience, besides my Facebook friends? Why do I keep starting blogs and then growing out of them abandoning them when motivation runs dry?

Since my mom’s death, I have felt a shifting inside of me. My older writing — mostly rambling tales of my drunken, coming-of-age foibles — seems to be disqualified on account of maturity and aging that I never remember consenting to. Overnight, it seems, I became an adult. Seriously. I even got confirmation from one of my oldest friends this past weekend. It’s real; it happened. I fought tooth and nail against it, but adulthood dragged me down and won. Being thrown into a world where your mother’s advice is no longer a phone call away will do that to a person, I guess.

In the past year or so, I’ve been sharing nuggets of wisdom that I’ve picked up along my journey of healing. But this presents a problem, too. Writing about lessons learned can be really great and can certainly strike a cord with the audience. But basing an entire blog to that end would make me feel extremely sanctimonious and self-aggrandizing. And as someone who’s naturally pretty sanctimonious and self-aggrandizing, I really don’t need to swell up my head with fantastic ideas that I’m gonna explode everyone’s minds with my Ultimate Wisdom.

So, what’s left? Do I just word vomit, throwing posts against the proverbial wall to see what sticks?! Lower myself to listicles and lifestyle posts where I make my life look enviable but never really reveal anything about myself (AKA, Facebook in blog form)?

I wish I could apply my “don’t wait for the right time, start living now” advice to my writing, but I always find myself lost in limbo. How do I get over myself (come to think of it, maybe “GET OVER YOURSELF” should have been my resolution instead of lame ass “publish more”)?! And how do I balance my need for privacy and my distaste for oversharing, with my desire to lay it all bare and reveal everything about myself, my experiences and my feelings on a Taylor Swiftian level?! All I’ve got are questions (and a blank, space, baby!), with no direction in sight.

If I think of any sanctimonious/self-aggrandizing wisdom, you’ll be the first to know.

In the meantime, I guess I’ll just keep it real and write about whatever I damn well please. Consider yourself warned: this blog is going off the rails.

#WordVomit2015

The Epilogue of My Life

I’m sitting in my home office pouring over dozens of old journals filled with everything that once mattered to me: rambling descriptions of my days, exhaustive detail of my interactions with crushes (SO. MANY. CRUSHES.), short stories about things well beyond my understanding, the beginnings of bizarre novels, Backstreet Boys fan fiction, and of course, a crap ton of really bad poems. Some of them are unfinished — chapters I couldn’t bear to continue — and others are filled up to the brim; their front and back covers scrawled with memories and inside jokes that have long lost their meaning.

I initially pulled all of these journals out because I was looking for an entry I’d written about visiting New York on a field trip back in April 2000. I wanted to write about about how the city was everything that I didn’t know I was searching for, and how I found myself there, and why I eventually left. I wanted to say that moving to New York was the only thing I was ever sure of in my life. But digging through my memories and reading my decades-old writings led me to discover that those words simply aren’t true.

Leafing through some stories I wrote when I was 13, I found an epilogue (which I appropriately titled “What ever happened to?” by the way. 13-year-old me was so clever!). Under my name, it read “Chelsea took up a career as a writer, became a successful author, and lived happily ever after with her two best friends, their husbands, and the love of her life.”

First, I just want to say, HOW FITTING that I wanted to live with my two best friends and their husbands back then because I totally still do! I guess I’ve always been Janice Ian-level obsessed with my best friends to the point where people tend to question my sexuality, and I’m totally cool with that. I’m all about that group compound life, y’all. Some things never change, I guess…

Anyway, what really stuck out to me, and what I can’t stop turning over in my mind now, is that in my heart of hearts, I have always wanted to be a writer. After all, what could be a more obvious indication of longing than the aspirational words of one’s epilogue? It’s the one space where happily-ever-after exists, and there’s no room for condition or clarification; but-fors or bumps in the road. It’s simple. Unlike actual life, an epilogue makes sense.

There was always something else out there for me, besides New York and finding love, pulling me along, ever since I was a lonely pre-teen sitting up in my room in Connecticut. There was always one journal or another, my salvation. My words, written down; my history. Some are more beautiful than others, but even the ugly ones are inextricably tied with me and everything I am.

These days, I don’t know where I’m going, and thinking back on it all, I guess I never have. I can’t help but notice that my epilogue never mentioned where I would live, whether I ever bothered to marry the love of my life or if I’d start a family of my own. I watch those around me map out their lives with certainty, always feeling a nagging sensation of cluelessness about my own future.

I still don’t know where I’ll end up, or how I’ll get there, or what it all means. I just know that if I had to write my epilogue here and now, I’m not sure I’d change one word: “Chelsea took up a career as a writer, became a successful author, and lived happily ever after with her two best friends, their husbands, and the love of her life.”

A girl can dream, can’t she?