This post has probably been brewing for longer than I realise.
But things — suddenly and finally — collected and coagulated in my mind last night as I sat working, unhappily, at the kitchen table.
I had been scrolling through my blog’s editorial calendar (actually a list saved as ‘list’ on my desktop) while tinkering with some images from old posts that I’d never been happy with and, quite unexpectedly, I began to cry.
‘I don’t want to do this,’ I moaned to myself.
And I tried to think of what I would like to be doing but came up blank. I couldn’t think of a single thing that I could work on that wouldn’t make me feel miserable.
While I sat hunched at the table, I realised a bunch of things at once.
Firstly, I don’t enjoy blogging any more. I don’t like what I do here. I started One Good Thing just over a year ago, having blogged off and on (mostly on) since 2002. When I launched One Good Thing, I thought that I knew what I wanted to do with the space. I modelled this blog on the ones that dominate my feed, mostly lifestyle and design blogs. The problem is, while I’m quite Internet and design literate — and a lover of beautiful things — I am neither a stylist nor a designer. I’m a writer. Sometimes I read incredibly successful design blogs and it bothers me that the blogger doesn’t pay more attention to their writing. However, at the same time, I’ve let my own writing slide in a big way, often generating half-arsed, smart-arsed commentary about whatever thing I’ve posted for the day, then wondering why I feel so disheartened and unfulfilled all the time. I became aware last night that what I produce on One Good Thing is neither different nor special considering the volume of truly excellent lifestyle and design blogs out there. Do those bloggers ever stumble across my site and wonder why a writer is trying to develop visual layouts? Do they feel like I shouldn’t be playing with their toys? Although I enjoy learning more and more about effective layout, design, and typography as I go, I do waste considerable amounts of time and energy sweating over visual components when I could, in fact, be writing.
As a writer, I have the opportunity, responsibility, and (I hope) the skills to produce content that readers want to read — not merely glance at then skim. I myself subscribe to hundreds of blogs. I know that I’m guilty of looking at dozens and dozens of entries every day, but skipping the accompanying text because it’s so rarely compelling. And that’s sort of OK if the purpose of those blogs is to collate visual material. But my purpose in writing has always been to write meaningfully and well. I want to have interesting discussions about the things that turn me on — food, style, design, health, words, the philosophy of living, the philosophy of writing, and current issues. I don’t want to have ‘just another WordPress site’.
All of this has come to a head quite organically over the last several weeks because of some particular occurrences and conversations.
Two months ago, a super popular blog linked to the post I wrote about the HBO series Girls, and my little baby blog experienced a phenomenal spike in traffic. (Take a look at my stats, if you like). That was a crazy time. Without warning, I had thousands of people reading an opinion piece that I had hammered out over one or two hours while sitting in a café one morning. It wasn’t a brilliant post; however, it did raise some interesting points. People enjoyed reading it. In the weeks since, my traffic has gradually fallen back to its previous baseline, and I’ve found the slow decline somewhat discouraging. It’s shown me that I’m not consistently producing content that piques readers’ attention when I actually am capable of doing so.
At the beginning of the year, I wrote an article for a small south-east Queensland magazine about depression and spirituality around the theme of ‘submission’. It was finally published last week and I have received a lot of positive feedback regarding not just what I said but how I said it. Quite naturally, that felt good to me: I’d written about something close to my heart and I was proud of the writing, too.
What I’ve come to realise is that I work best when I work to a topic or theme rather than trying to introduce superficial material such as ‘this packaging is cool’. By trying to emulate my favourite sites, I may have actually been selling myself short. My haphazard blogging ‘schedule’ doesn’t usually offer me the time or space that I need to work effectively. I need a more clearly defined structure and focus — and I need to get back to what makes me different as an individual and as a writer.
Just today I read a brief article by Flying Solo contributor Robert Gerrish. He wrote: ‘… we do ourselves no favours if we diminish the role of the individual by doing what’s expected or what everyone else is doing.’
It was the final little push that I needed to arrive at this place.
Last week, I sat in a dimly lit bar talking to a friend and I confessed that I didn’t feel comfortable writing about many of the things that I actually want to write about.
While I always a) post only what I like — not what I think is cool or what other people will like — and b) write in my own voice, there are many things I’d like to mention or discuss that I feel I shouldn’t. I worry that my family, friends, or clients will judge me or that I will hurt my business by discussing things of a more personal, serious, deep, or abstract nature. I can be glib and loose and quirky, sure, but at my core, I can’t abide chitchat. And I feel that One Good Thing has become a hub of my own mindless chitchat.
Maybe it’s because I’m not entirely comfortable with myself.
In the past, I’ve been led to believe, to a large extent, that who I am is not good enough. I have never been secular enough for secular people or religious enough for religious people; I have never been literary enough for serious writers or gripping and edgy enough for popular writers; I have never been alternative enough for the alternative crowd or whatever it was that grants admission to the in crowd; I have never been bad enough to be really bad or good enough to be really good; I have never been in the right place at the right time for anything: I’ve never been the right girl at the right time for the various men that I’ve chased; I’ve never been offered the incredible job because I’ve known the right person or simply got lucky. All my life, I’ve watched my peers streak ahead with their confidence, luck, and connections while I’ve put my head down and worked hard.
Let me tell you, a squeaky clean GPA does not keep you company or return your calls. Looking good on paper doesn’t mean anything if you don’t know anybody. Credentials amount to very little if you do not believe in yourself, if you are not proud of yourself. The blogging world, just like the real world, is a bizarre mishmash of leg-ups and self-promotion.
Lately, I’ve become more aware of the game and I don’t want to play it any more.
I want to go back to basics and create something good — and authentic. I only want to pour my energy into something that feels right and of which I can be confident and proud.
So, I guess I’m saying goodbye for a while. To One Good Thing. And to blogging in general. I’ve registered a new domain name for a different venture already, but I need to take some time to figure out what I want to do with that space and how I will do it. I’m going to leave mood boards and cupcake porn to the professionals. I’m going to daydream and brainstorm and shed the layers of expectation and self-loathing and worry that have built up over time. And I’m going to try to locate the real Amber who exists in the mess somewhere.
As a final word, I want to say thank you to everybody who has read this blog, liked my page, followed me on Twitter, sent me messages and e-mails, and left comments — despite my hang-ups and failings. I hope that you’ll join me on my next adventure, whatever that may be, and if it’s your thing.
I have been obsessed with carrot cake since… Friday.
I had an early appointment in town and then another one at lunchtime, so I decided to fill the gap by writing at Ground Up — my favourite little hole in the wall, whose tall timber inside table is perfect for hammering out a few hundred words here and there. Feeling somewhat morose and peckish, I asked for whatever was in the cabinet to have with my pot of Earl Grey.
I’ve never felt passionately about carrot cake before.
But this was a revelation. My piece, served on a little cutting board, was sliced from a gluten-free loaf slathered in cream cheese icing and sprinkled liberally with strands of coconut. I managed to put it away within two or three minutes of absent-minded nibbling, after which I felt despondent. More cake! said my brain.
Scientifically proven facts about carrot cake:
Carrot cake contains vegetables and is therefore a superfood.
Carrot cake is an acceptable breakfast food.
Carrot cake fuels copywriting inspiration when consumed in tandem with working.
My only definitive goal this weekend was to produce a carrot cake as good at Ground Up’s.
I looked through several of my cookbooks, failing to find anything that looked promising. But my dear friend LovelyK recommended this sheet cake recipe, which I made using wholemeal spelt flour and stevia and a wee drizzle of molasses. I also tossed in some crumbeld walnuts for good measure, because carrot cakes should always include walnuts (that’s Scientific Fact #4). It is a good cake, but it’s not as damp or crumbly or flavoursome as the one that I ate on Friday. This means that I will one day have to pluck up enough courage to inquire of the Ground Up boys who bakes their cakes and what recipe they use. I doubt they’ll tell me. It seems like the sort of thing that would be secret. (They also boast ‘the best brownies in the world’ and I have so far been unable to refute that fact.)
What I’m excited about this very minute is the icing. I have failed miserably in the past at concocting icing recipes from scratch (including the occasion last year when an entire chocolate torte oozed out of my hands onto the passenger seat of my car en route to a birthday celebration because my ‘cappuccino’ icing was obnoxiously delicious yet runny). I got lucky today: my coconut cream cheese icing is both delicious and well-behaved.
Scientific Fact #5 about carrot cake is that cream cheese icing is the sine qua non of exceptional carrot cake.
Carrot cake must be topped with a generous cloud of cream cheese icing if it wants to be taken seriously.
This is a happy coincidence for me. I usually avoid icing cakes with recipes from books at all because icing is disgusting. Buttercream? Think about it. I look at those generous swirly swirls on elaborately iced cupcakes and can’t help but feel preemptively ill. Buttercream should not be a thing. Cream cheese icing, on the other hand, is a cheerful compromise that remains decadent without being quite so… so… cloyingly artery-clogging and sickly sweet.
Speaking of all things sweet, I’ve been using Natvia a lot lately, which is a natural, granulated sweetener made from a combination of stevia and erythritol. It’s sweeter than table sugar, which means that you can use less. And the only difference that I’ve noticed in baking so far is a slightly different flavour profile and a drier texture. In a recipe like this, the difference is undetectable.
So, one day, when I get my hands on a truly wonderful carrot cake recipe, I’ll have whatever the smaller, less impressive, two-ish version of a trifecta is. And I’ll be so smug.
coconut cream cheese icing
250 gram tub cream cheese (not light)
1/4 cup Natvia (or plain stevia, or 3/4 cup powdered sugar or xylitol)
2 tablespoons coconut butter (warmed to a liquid)
1 tablespoon coconut milk (or other milk)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon finely grated orange rind
shredded coconut for sprinkling
Use a mini food processor to blitz the sweetener to a powder (unless you are already using powdered sugar). Then, making sure that the cream cheese is at room temperature, beat until soft. (To be completely honest with you, I cheated and used my mother’s Thermomix for everything. Usually I would beat the cream cheese by hand or with electric beaters.)
Gradually add in the sweetener, coconut butter, coconut milk, and vanilla — beating until glossy and completely smooth. (If you simply tip in the liquid ingredients all at once, they’ll likely splatter all over you. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)
Finally, beat in the grated orange rind.
Spread the icing over your cake using a palette knife dipped in hot water every so often for a smooth result. Sprinkle liberally with shredded coconut.
This recipe makes enough icing for one 20-centimetre round cake or a standard loaf or square cake (around 18 centimetres).
What’s good enough for Proust is plenty good enough for me. Yeah?
I happen to be typing this post one-handedly while I lie curled in the foetal position because the rest of me is buried beneath the bed covers. It’s in silent protest against the weather, you see, which is windy and grey and only edging reluctantly towards a top of 11 degrees. I think this is why I woke up with a cat on my head this morning.
In other news, I feel as though I’ve finally relaxed after my frantic time in Brisbane. Because I’ve only been down a handful of times this year, I’ve ended up cramming a lot into my trips. Probably too much. I don’t recommend getting lost in the city when it’s pelting down rain and your nerves are already jangled.
And speaking of driving in the rain, my journey home on Wednesday night unfortunately coincided with a storm of epic proportions. I could barely see through the downpour for two whole hours. I clutched the steering wheel, peering anxiously through the windscreen, unable to tell half the time what was a road bit and what was not a road bit (on account of extensive and messy roadworks along the highway), and praying that my little red car would not be squashed between two or more overzealous Mack Trucks.
The best thing about being home is sleeping in my own bed again.
I love hanging with my sister, but her spare bed should really come with a warning sign regarding spinal injuries (like running at the pool or diving into the shallow end). Every night I was there, I woke at approximately 3.30 am thinking, ‘OOF ARGH COULD I BE ANY MORE UNCOMFORTABLE?’
Sometimes I think in caps lock.
Onto the best bits…
1. Driving to Disclosure’s ‘Help me Lose my Mind’ (featuring London Grammar). If you’re going to do a lot of driving (and a lot of getting lost), you need to have some music blasting. Disclosure’s album, Settle, has what I believe to be one of the creepiest covers ever, but this song is pretty rad. Breathy and upbeat. Good for travel — both of the successful and unsuccessful variety.
2. Why ‘perfectionism is the enemy of good for your blog’. This post isn’t perfectly written, but that’s not the point. The point is that, by practising any daily habit, we sometimes produce better work than other times. And everybody has to start somewhere. If I only ever chose to post perfect updates here, I’d never post anything at all. But I feel that gnawing sense of self-doubt every day. When will I finally learn that perfectionism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?
3. A commissioned artwork just for me and my wall. I was getting up to leave my friends E+M’s house last Sunday morning when E suddenly produced a framed artwork. Because they have such lovely original stuff up on their walls, I assumed that she was showing me their latest acquisition. But I was wrong! They had asked an artist friend to make this piece for me — an artwork reading ‘Were we not wounded we could not produce the pearl’ in hand-cut felt lettering. It’s one of the most beautiful (both literally and figuratively) things that anybody has ever done for me. To say that I love it would be a gross understatement. So, thanks again, you two. (I like to think that the dog was in on it, too.)
4. Freshly cut hairs. What is it with girls and their hair? I don’t know. A woman’s hair is not just hair, you know? I met a lady last year, actually, who is completing a PhD all about women’s relationship with their hair. It’s certainly a complex one. For a few weeks now, I’ve been itching for a change. I’m changing a lot inwardly at the moment, and I feel a certain need for my outsides to reflect my insides somehow. Yesterday I got three inches cut off to produce a jaw-length bob. The split ends are gone; I can’t tie it up any more. And I’ve come to grips with the fact that managing my high-maintenance hair is simply something that I’ll have to ride out – unless I want to wear a hat for the next twenty years. At least I don’t bother with much makeup or other grooming. I would have to make fun of myself.
5. 23 reasons working for yourself will drive you to drink’. I’ve been feeling the strain of freelance lately, namely juggling multiple projects and multiple expectations with the reality of significant waiting periods before invoicing and regularly having to chase up payments on top of that. (Not to mention the common misconception among family and friends that ‘working for myself’ actually means ‘doing nothing all day’.) Freelancing is certainly a gut-wrenching roller coaster ride. The question remains: Do I want to get off? I will reevaluate my options after EOFY. But an article like this one helps, at least, to reassure me that I’m not doing everything wrong just because I find it hard sometimes.
6. goop mag issue #4‘s guide to metabolism-boosting yoga. I did some yoga classes towards the end of last year that I enjoyed very much, but it was tricky for me to attend every single week consistently because my joints were doing funny things. Rather than sign up for another term, I’ve been thinking that I should get my yoga on at home. I have a mat. I have a warm office. And now I have an easy guide. This sequence looks like fun, even though my nemesis (Downwards Facing Dog) makes an appearance. Think of your core strength, Amber, think of your core! (PS Some people hate Gwyneth, but I find her goop stuff kind of daggy and likeable.)
7. Returning to my natural habitat, i.e. my usual bedroom. Since March, for various reasons, I’ve been occupying the spare bedroom here at home. But my own room now has lovely lacquered floorboards and wooden blinds and feels really nice. I shifted everything in and around on Thursday. (Is it stupid to sleep in a double bed if you sleep by yourself? I always sleep on ‘my side’, which wastes half the bed, but I do so love my mattress.) I have to remind myself that this is a temporary stopover. At some point in the next six months, I’m going to have to make a move and get out of the parents’ house completely. However, it’s lovely to be in this room for just a little while longer.
Is it possible to pull a glute muscle while merely writing in bed? Because I think I just did that.
Over and out.
Stay warm. Stay safe. And stay tuned for carrot cake.
I’m sorry that I haven’t been especially present here this week.
I did a whirlwind five-day tour of Brisbane, and while I’ve been writing a few bits and pieces (and always have a blogging calendar), I’ve found it suddenly terribly difficult to apply myself to this space. I open my WordPress account and simply stare at the text window and wonder, ‘Why do I do this..?’
I’ve never been particularly preoccupied with my ‘success’ as a blogger, but there’s still something a little disheartening about watching your stats fall, sweating and fretting over a layout that doesn’t seem quite right, posting day after day without comment.
Then I think of all the blogs that I read every day and enjoy and never comment on. And I realise that lots of people use RSS apps, read on the fly, don’t like to engage — whatever. And they probably aren’t judging me because I’m not a boutique typographer. (Or are you?)
I don’t even know why I started talking about this right now, except that I didn’t merely want to slap a song on the screen without saying ‘hi’ first.
One good song. Yes. Right.
I love love love this tune by Vance Joy (from the album God loves you when you’re dancing — it’s true; He does). It reminds me somewhat of Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros’ ‘Home is wherever I’m with you’. No?
I don’t know about you, but I can’t love a song properly without also falling for its lyrics. This one starts: ‘I was scared of dentists and the dark / I was scared of pretty girls and starting conversations’.
I like that.
Then the chorus: ‘I love you when you’re singing that song and / I got a lump in my throat ’cause / you’re gonna sing the words wrong.’ Who knows what it’s all about. I like it anyway.
Now I really have to go because I have mascara in my eye.
I was feeling uneasy one night recently, so I sat down to write.
I worked for two hours and wrote close to 3500 words. Then, later, I dragged them all into my laptop’s trash can.
I’m not sorry that I did. But among them was a little list of paradoxes. A list of five items that I can easily remember. A paradox, according to my dictionary, is a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that, when investigated or explained, may prove to be well-founded or true. A classic example of a paradox is the statement ‘I’m lying.’ If it’s true then it’s false. If it’s false then it’s true.
But first on my list was time.
How is it that every day drags by so slowly yet the weeks are gone in an instant? Where have the last three years of my life gone? And can I make it through to the end of yet another day?
Can time move both slowly and quickly..?
I suppose that’s a trick question. After all, what could be more susceptible to perception than time — something that we understand less the more we think about it?
But the days do seem so long.
I’m busy at the moment. Busy and desperately tired. Even so, I still find myself listless at the end of most days, at a loss to fill the yawning chasm between stopping work and going to bed. My brain is usually defunct by then, but I can’t very well go to sleep at 5.30 pm.
So, I kill time.
I was looking for something else just recently and I happened upon these few sentences by author Mark Z. Danielewski. He writes: ‘Who has never killed an hour? Not casually or without thought, but carefully: a premeditated murder of minutes. The violence comes from a combination of giving up, not caring, and a resignation that getting past it is all you can hope to accomplish. So you kill the hour. You do not work, you do not read, you do not daydream. If you sleep it is not because you need to sleep. And when at last it is over, there is no evidence: no weapon, no blood, and no body. The only clue might be the shadows beneath your eyes or a terribly thin line near the corner of your mouth indicating something has been suffered, that in the privacy of your life you have lost something and the loss is too empty to share.’
And there I had my final paradox.
I may feel sometimes entirely alone, but there’s no thought or experience that I’ve ever thought or endured that somebody else hasn’t themselves thought or endured before.
I often wish that I could. Maybe that’s why I like browsing Etsy so much — it fascinates me that people are capable of creating so many cool things.
Personally, I haven’t tried to sew anything by hand since an ill-fated cushion cover attempt in 2002 (in which I accidentally stitched what I was working on to my own pants. I became well acquainted with a Quick Unpick that day.)
I can’t sew, I can’t carve or sculpt, I can’t knit. I can do some basic crochet stitches.
I can certainly make a mess…
Anyway, I confess my incompetence in an awkward attempt to introduce a new, just-for-fun series. I thought that I’d like to share with you some of the gems that I come across on my occasional Etsy binges.
And I couldn’t begin with any other shop than Huiyi Tan‘s sweet little silver store.
My sister bought me the most gorgeous pair of cloud earrings for my birthday and I haven’t taken them off since.
Being obsessed with the weather forecast, I’m quite preoccupied with Tan’s lightning bolts, raindrops, and umbrellas. In fact, the whole set of sterling silver weather forecast studs is available for around $80 AUD.
I’m sorely tempted.
But I also love the dinosaurs. T-rex or brontosauruses? (What an ungainly plural!)
It’s like a chic nerd heaven. Chic nerds are REAL, right?
Go forth and spend your silver on silver.
(PS I was having trouble with my earlobes reacting to jewellery a couple of months back, but I haven’t had any problems with these sterling silver studs. They are super comfortable to wear with a brushed-metal finish.)
The more I think about these words, the more true and profound they feel.
Miscommunication and hypocrisy surely do account for much conflict in relationships, from the personal through to the political.
I have never studied philosophy myself, but truth appears to be a common theme in the philosophical discussions that I’ve encountered. I am less interested in relative experiences of ‘truth’ than I am in absolute truth and in telling the truth.
I went looking for this cookie recipe at the start of the week.
Hunting it down meant searching through the archives of my old blog. I knew what to look for. And there it was. Nestled beneath a big fat rant about a film.
Crazy Stupid Love, in fact.
I had to laugh in spite of myself. It’s been a while since I saw the movie, so I can’t quite place my vitriol, but I still stand by what I said at the time: narratives like this are stupid and misleading.
I have no better preface for these ridiculous cookies (that somehow work despite there being no eggs or butter and very little flour whatsoever in the batter). So, here goes.
“I watched Crazy Stupid Love last night.
I wanted to like it, because I had heard good things about it, but I just couldn’t.
I almost didn’t watch it until the end.
Here’s the thing: without giving away the entire plot, I can tell you that one of the main characters in this ‘comedy-romance-drama’ is Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling) — a chronic womaniser. He has honed his picking-up skills to perfection, lassoing a different woman every night of the week, it seems. Until he meets Hannah, a be-freckled law graduate who has just passed the bar and may or may not snort occasionally when she laughs. Although she resists his initial attempts at seduction, she later comes running to him in a fit of hurt and fury when her then boyfriend fails to propose to her, instead inviting her to join his firm. Overnight — yes, overnight — they develop a ‘connection’. The bad-boy having thus revealed his true inner self (a sensitive, broken soul — awwww), is now reformed, and pledges to maintain a lasting, meaningful relationship with ‘Hannah Banana’, the miraculous game-changer.
You know why I hate this plot?
Because it is such utter bullshit. But it’s this sort of utter bullshit that girls absorb en masse from pop culture and which leaves them disappointed in encounter after encounter after relationship after relationship both in their adolescence and through to adulthood.
Because the truth is that most jerks are and remain complete jerks.
But ladies always wonder if they might be that special person who finally ‘gets through’, whose mysterious transformative powers somehow unlock the wounded little boy within and ultimately release the proverbial butterfly that has just been waiting — you know, deep inside that chrysalis of jerk-dom — for the Right Girl to come along.
We’re led to believe that by simply being our freckled, bespectacled, goofy, adorable selves, that guy who doesn’t call us back, who breaks up with us on Facebook, who unravels our self esteem thread by thread and then criticises us for being ‘insecure’, and who fobs us off with lame excuses such as, ‘Maybe I just wasn’t who you thought I was,’ or ‘I can’t give you what you need,’ can and will be transmogrified if we love them enough. If we’re the right girl.
And then we hate ourselves when, inevitably, we are not the right girl. When we have the wrong haircut or figure, the wrong job, the wrong sense of humour, the wrong expectations, the wrong feelings.
What do women want and need? To be treated with respect. That pretty much sums it up. Films like this one perpetuate damaging myths, like that when you meet the right person, everything just works.
I thought that Crazy Stupid Love was a crazily stupid movie, which means that, at the very least, its title sort of worked.”
One for the team, Amber. And now for the cookies.
One good thing about these cookies is that you can chuck in whatever you have in the pantry. The first time I made them last week, I threw in oats, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds (as the recipe reads below). The second time I made them, I’d run out of sunflower seeds, so I used desiccated coconut instead. And I had a couple of handfuls of chocolate chips hanging out at the back of the pantry, too, so they went.
Chocolate has health-giving properties.
It’s science, I swear.
Crazy Stupid Cookies [vegan + sugar-free]
2 tablespoons flaxseed
1 tablespoon coconut butter (or macadamia oil)
1 cup natural crunchy peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup whole rolled oats
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
3 tablespoons wholemeal flour
Preheat your oven to 180° Celsius (350° Fahrenheit) and line two biscuit/cookie trays with greaseproof paper.
In a food processor, grind the flaxseeds to a powder or fine meal. Add the coconut butter, the bananas and the peanut butter, blending to a paste,
Transfer the mixture to a bowl, then stir in the oats, seeds and vanilla.
Roll the mixture into balls using a dessert spoon. Use the spoon to flatten slightly. Place on trays, a centimetre or so apart (they do not spread while baking).
Bake for 12–15 minutes, until very lightly golden and dry to the touch. Cool on racks.