Something I’ve been working on in therapy is to ask, “What purpose does this serve?” before a thought or an action. Mostly, it’s a tool to help me break negative thought patterns, to ask ,“What purpose does it serve to say that about your body?”, or “What purpose does it serve to dwell in guilt and shame over your last relationship?”, or, “What purpose does it serve to pick that fight?” etc. And today, I want to think about the purpose this blog has served and what it may or may not serve now.
I started this blog almost exactly five years ago (June 17, 2011), eager to document and reflect on my journey into critical wellness, and determined to find some sort of structure to my summer on fellowship. I would workout and/or do yoga in the morning, document my fresh juices and gluten-free “clean” meals, then work on preparing for my prelim exams, wrestling with class-guilt and against a legitimate case of summer SAD. I was partnered with a lovely man with whom I would go on to share four years of life, most of which were documented on the blog. I was in my mid-20s, imminently approaching my Saturn’s Return, and feeling restless.
The Rebel Grrrl Kitchen (as it was originally titled) served at first as an admittedly enabling platform into what I would now describe as my phase with orthorexia. The blog—although filled with body-positive aside and radical theory—was still mostly a vehicle to hold me accountable to eat “clean” and “good” food, all, at the end of the day, in the service of weight loss. I insisted that I was doing this more because of how I felt rather than how I looked, but during my cleanses—when my partner would beg me to eat solid food after nearly fainting in the living room, when I’d be constantly thinking of food because I wasn’t allowing myself to eat it, when I turned down social plans because I wasn’t eating anything more than smoothies that night—I was focused on loose clothes, not how awesome it felt to feel weak and hungry. That said, transitioning into more mindful eating and switching to an almost entirely whole foods diet did provide a foundation for feeling really great, and I was grateful that I, within a year or so, lessened the restrictions I placed on my food, and eliminated posts about “clean” food and cleanses.
I started to make friends and build community around the blog, connecting with other likeminded feminists, vegans, punks, and queers who were stoked on health and/or veganism and/or delicious food. I felt motivated to experiment with new recipes, and loved capturing the dinners I’d make for friends we’d host at our beautiful home in Minneapolis. I was working hard to reclaim the ostensibly normative situation I was in as a partnered woman who loved being in the kitchen. I loved the idea of being a sort of punk rock vegan healthy intellectual Suzy Homemaker.
I’d say my last really active year of blogging was also my last year in Minneapolis. I was on fellowship again, so the blog provided an outlet outside of my dissertation. It was a great stress relief and I looked forward to writing and editing posts 2-3 times a week. It felt easy to write about my life. I had a life that was okay to talk about out loud. I was in a committed relationship, I was on-track with my work life, I was mostly happy.
For many reasons, my blogging decreased after I left Minneapolis. I could blame it on going from grad student life to full-time professor life, a reality that left me with fewer hours to devote to my blog hobby. I could credit having to pick up a second job, teaching multiple classes a week at my yoga studio, for the lack of blogging time. But the real reason is that my long-term relationship ended. It ended in a long, messy, and horribly painful way, dragging on for months of uncertainty. It was, hands down, the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, leaving this relationship that was really wonderful in so many ways.
I didn’t write about this on the blog for a lot of reasons, prime among them, to respect the privacy of my ex. And, to this end, I will still spare the details of this very sad story, but like most breakups, trust that it was complicated, deeply deeply painful, and that I still love him, and will always love him, very much.
But privacy aside, you don’t talk about breakups on food blogs. There seems to be this unspoken rule that if you’re going to visit a food or lifestyle blog, you’re going there to feel happy. You want to see beautiful pictures and hear cute anecdotes about the blogger and their boo (usually husband) and their cat or dog, and eventually the baby they will have and document.
I threw a wrench in that formula with my choices and I stopped having cute anecdotes to share on the regular. Instead, I was living in a basement apartment (that didn’t even have an oven or stove!), alone, depressed, cooking meals for one, and slipping back into a bout of bulimia that I thought I had shook years before. I was struggling financially paying rent as a single person in Boston, I was suffering from a broken heart, I was not remotely excited about experimenting with new recipes, nor did I have space to have friends over for dinner (nor, being in a new city, did I have many friends to invite to dinner in the first place).
It was a deeply dark time. (I lost two grandparents and my childhood dog within the first year of this, too). I missed my ex, and Minneapolis, and my cat (who I lost custody of in the breakup), and my family, and my friends. I wasn’t happy, not on a consistent basis anyway, but I kept trying to create blog posts to focus on the occasional bright lights that helped me through that year. I wasn’t lying on my Friday Five “Stuff from the Week That Made Me Happy,” but those lists were not easy to make. Life was dramatically different from the early blog posts of beautiful grilled dinners on a Minneapolis summer night porch.
Jeanette Winterson writes: “When we make a change, it’s so easy to interpret our unsettledness as unhappiness, and our unhappiness as a result of having made the wrong decision. Our mental and emotional states fluctuate madly when we make big changes in our lives, and some days we could tight-rope across Manhattan, and other days we are too weary to clean our teeth. This is normal. This is natural. This is change.”
Yes, that. And so, I don’t mean to paint a picture of days that were literally unbearable, but, rather, that more often than not, they felt it.
One of the bright lights that got me through was a long-time friend, “L,” with whom I eventually began a romantic relationship. I didn’t know how to talk about that on the blog either. I was still suffering from the pain of my breakup, but also falling in love with someone new. Our society doesn’t have narratives about that. How you can be sincerely suffering in one part of your heart and also finding space to love in another. I didn’t want to write about the breakup, and I certainly didn’t want to write about L, because although it was hard to admit on the blog how sad I was, it was almost harder to admit that there was a new person who made me happy sometimes in spite of it.
I kept trying to blog without mentioning any of this explicitly. The posts felt more and more insincere, more and more surface-level.
And then things fell apart with L. There is a long list of reasons for this, about which I will, again, spare the details, but trust that it was also painful, and that it was due in part to the fact that I wasn’t actually ready to be in something new without having healed from the other breakup. (And in my open wound, I firmly believed I did not deserve happiness, certainly not after hurting my ex so badly).
Cheryl Strayed writes: “You have to say, ‘I am forgiven,’ again and again, until it becomes the story you believe about you yourself.”
How do you write about that on a food/lifestyle blog? Mostly, you don’t. And so, I didn’t. I continued to talk about everything else in my life outside of the dark cloud that hung heavy over every heartbeat….
And then things got worse. I started behaving in ways that I didn’t recognize as myself, and my therapist helped me realize that I was dealing with PTSD from a host of childhood and adult trauma that I had never even attempted to resolve. This too seemed like impossible content for the blog. Can you imagine? “Hey readers! I had a panic-attack this week while remembering details from a sexual assault I experienced at age 12, but check out this adorable vegan cupcake I made after it happened!”
A year ago, during my time in England, I finally started to feel a light at the end of this two-year tunnel of hardship (thanks in part to a wonderful person I met there, with whom I also had a messy relationship, which was also too complicated to explain on the blog), but right when I was feeling like breathing was getting easier, J, one of my best friends, committed suicide. I did mention this on the blog, but again, not in detail, and I promised to get back to Friday Fives as soon as I could to keep things upbeat.
That was about 9 months ago, and this year of blogging has been probably the sparsest yet, mostly because I was just tired of the effort it took to compartmentalize when I wrote. I knew the blog wasn’t serving much of a purpose at all. I was actually coping but, although this past year hasn’t been quite as horrible as the previous two, it still felt hard to write it. After J’s suicide, L and I decided to give things another shot, and that’s been difficult but also good, and I still, nearly three years after the first breakup mentioned, didn’t know how to talk about someone new on the blog. How could I be a partnered woman in the kitchen again when ya’ll first met me as a partnered woman in the kitchen with someone else?
So why am I writing all this now on what may be my last blog post here? Well, because, empathy. And because, as Maggie Nelson writes: “I will always aspire to contain my shit as best I can, but I am no longer interested in hiding my dependencies in an effort to appear superior to those who are more visibly undone or aching.”
For the past 2-3 years, I have been undone and aching more than ever, and although I contained my shit as best I could, I want to be vulnerable with you now, so you know that I’m not above being broken.
This whole journey of thinking of my life alongside the blog reminds me a lot of the beautiful series Sayward posted after a year-long hiatus she took from her blog, Bonzai Aphrodite, during her divorce. Reading Sayward’s belated account of that helped me through my own relationship’s end. And: reading other people’s accounts of financial struggle helped me through my own recent years of economic hardship. And: reading other people’s accounts of PTSD helped through my own diagnosis. Knowing other people go through the shit (and make it out to write about), helps you get through the shit. It took me three years to finally say it all out loud, but I’m doing it because maybe there is someone else who went through some incredibly messy relationships and didn’t know how to make sense of it to other people. Maybe someone else experienced deep heartbreak, and too soon new love. Maybe someone else moved to a new city and lost two grandparents and a family pet that same year. Maybe someone else didn’t confront their childhood trauma until they were 30 years old and are now left with the work of coping and being (and eventually thriving) in spite of it. Maybe it’s you, and maybe this will help.
Reflecting on the start of this blog makes me realize that I was probably not a different person when I first started writing (I’m still a charming Marxist-feminist vegan who loves cooking vegan food in high heels ;)), but I was certainly in an incredibly different place in life. I have made a ton of mistakes the past three years, and learning the lessons of them has hardened me, but also strengthened me. I have been through the shit, and I have survived it. Looking at my early posts admittedly makes me pretty sad, and definitely makes me nostalgic (that’s a given with me). Life was good and easy then, and I made hard choices that led to life feeling much less good and not really easy at all. I work pretty tirelessly to let go of feelings of regret (even while admitting mistakes were made), and trusting that these trying three years taught me things I needed to learn. But not dwelling in the “I should have done x y and z differently” is a daily challenge.
And the thing is, I know I’m not the only one who has made hard choices and coped with the consequences and found ways to live full lives anyway. It felt important to share that with you all, that I’m one of those people, and that I’m sorry for not telling you sooner, but I was in it and I think maybe I’m just now finally climbing out of it for real, and so now finally have the words and the distance to say it out loud. And I think acknowledging this and admitting that things are very different than they were when this blog started in 2011 is a step in the healing process.
Caroline Myss writes: “We are not meant to stay wounded. We are supposed to move through our tragedies and challenges and to help each other move through the many painful episodes of our lives. By remaining stuck in the power of our wounds, we block our own transformation. We overlook the greater gifts inherent in our wounds—the strength to overcome them and the lessons that we are meant to receive through them. Wounds are the means through which we enter the hearts of other people. They are meant to teach us to become compassionate and wise.”
I don’t know if there is a future for Rebel Grrrl Living. As I said, RGL (RGK, really) started at a different time and I don’t know if it feels right to document such a different chapter here. Maybe I’ll change my mind, but for now, I will remember RGK/RGL as evidence of a lovely chapter of life in Minneapolis, and as the posts got vaguer and more infrequent, as evidence of a trying chapter that I survived and found pockets of happiness in anyway.
I love writing and I love connecting with people and I love food and health and so I don’t think my time in this blog world is done, but I don’t know when or what that will look like in the future. I do know that I’m grateful for the purpose this blog has served in the past, and even in these recent years, when it helped me realize how much I wasn’t really coping or working through the issues at hand.
I am so grateful to all of you who checked in on a regular basis (and so grateful for all of you who just checked in once or twice!). I am grateful for the friends and community I made and will forever cherish my time in this little corner of the internet.
Thank you for eyes and your hearts. Stay rebels, friends.
PS: If you haven’t yet, I hope you’ll consider checking out my podcast, Feminist Killjoys, PhD! I’d love to keep the RGL community thriving there! <3