That’s about the only articulate thing I can say about 2020. To be fair, I’m out of practice. However, I’d also guess I’m not the only person stuck in the space between “there are a lot of things that should be said about this year” and “dear god, I’m sick of people talking about this year.” A space that i believe can be most accurately described like this:
Sixteen years ago I started writing stories on the internet (about the adventures of renovating houses) before this was a thing. Just to put that in context, it was before YouTube existed, before Reddit existed, before HGTV was HGTV. A time where your best bet for finding information about how to DIY something on your house online was to delve into the fraught and contradictory advice on old contractor’s forums.
It took a certain amount of courage, in those days, to put stories about your life on the internet. To say, authentically (as a 23 year old woman, who just bought her first house), “Hey, I’m not an expert at this, and I can’t find any goddamn information on it anywhere, but here’s what I tried and how it worked.”
There were no rules. No real algorithms. A little money to be made (which, in fairness, I did), but not a whole lot of ways you could “sell out” even if you didn’t have a strong set of values around your platform. (And, let’s be honest, “platform” really is a generous word for it.)
There were, however, a lot of stories. There was a little bit of magic about being invited into people’s lives online, and I still carry those stories with me. I remember when Rob “Acidman” Smith from Gutrumbles died unexpectedly. When Patti from OMT had her first grandchild. When Sara and Shaun from Russet St. Reno got married. When Sarah from Ugly Duckling House broke up with her ex and took on all her house projects single-handedly. When Julia and Matt from Home on 129 Acres bought a farm at the exact same time I did. When Alex and Wendy from Old Town Home bought their historic Foursquare. (This list could go on forever.) And it’s not just the highlights of these stories that have value for me, but the whole of them. The projects, the searches, the obstacles. The tragedies and the strength. The joys and the successes.
Funny story (and something that almost never happens these days) I do not share religious, political, or lifestyle beliefs with everybody on that list. I don’t even share building philosophies with everyone on that list. (Although to be fair that’s because almost all of them are smart enough to wear PPE and don’t do electrical work while drinking… but whatever guys. To each their own.) And yet, there was no vitriol in these spaces. Just general enjoyment, entertainment, and, also, appreciation for being invited to know these people as people (even if, from the other end of the keyboard, it sometimes feels like you’re just telling stories into a void.)
These days, when I interact with people and the world via the internet, I don’t remember the stories (which, to be honest, are not so much stories as status updates.) I haven’t lost my curiosity, but it has very often been overridden by whatever dopamine hit scrolling endlessly through memes on instagram provides. And, in a lot of ways, I had been participating in that algorithm-driven machine, which we all know exists solely to sell us shit and waste our time, and yet can’t seem to quit. I participated through the way I posted, or didn’t. Through the way I branded this website. Through the way I monetized my “platforms” (seriously, every time I type that word I literally say “oh, go fuck yourself” to myself, out loud. It’s almost as bad as when someone unironically uses the term “influencer”… and now I’ve rolled my eyes so hard I think I pulled a muscle. Fuck.)
Even outside of the realm of blogs and influencers, I have friends (who have also been kick-ass colleagues in the corporate world) who write posts on LinkedIn that promise “5 Tips for [insert whatever business buzzword is hot this week]”. And I get why they do that. Why they have to do that. But also, dammit, I want your stories. Your real stories. The ones that you tell me over a couple of beers after a long week about the real challenges you have, and how some of them you overcame, and some of them you didn’t, because goddamn it life is hard. Interpersonal relationships are hard. Work, when you’re challenging yourself appropriately, is hard.
But that’s not how stories on the internet work these days.
A year ago, what I said to myself was: It is impossible to participate in any of this authentically anymore. And if you can’t participate authentically, you’re not participating at all. (And, also, because I’m basically a grumpy old man trapped in a slightly less old woman’s body, and “kids these days” have ruined the internet, which is not like it was back in the glory days of my youth… I threw a year-long temper tantrum about it. Goddamn sue me.)
And yet, even with a year of non-participation, some of you reached out and told me stories. Told me you bought your first houses (or farms!) Told me about the hard shit in your lives. About how you, also, were learning to tell authentic stories (and figuring out your personal boundaries for how and when to tell them.) About how your little girl was scrolling Instagram and saw a picture of me “working on trucks like daddy does!” and that may be part of why she believes girls can do things too. Build houses. Fix trucks. Put up fences. Drink beer and do electrical work.
(Or, maybe not so much that last one.)
It has raised a lot of questions for me about if and how I want to participate in telling stories online. In blogs, platforms, social media. And about what the value is. What the responsibilities are. There was a time I wrote stories about my life online just because I could, because it required a level of courage and authenticity I felt it was important to model for the world at large, and because I was goddamn good at it. But now, the courage isn’t in the storytelling. The value isn’t in being particularly good at it.
Also, as an aside, I have an Actual Professional Life. If the only things you know about me are stories from this website, you may be surprised that I’m as comfortable in corporate america as I am on a farm. Even though there’s no sawdust, no hammers, no getting your hands dirty planting seeds and then watching them grow. (I’m not going to say “no swearing” because that would be a big fucking lie. I swear in a boardroom as much as on a construction site, and I think everyone else should too.) There are, however, other things I love about it. Systems and processes. Figuring out how things work, identifying things other people can’t… things that are broken (or might break), and then fixing them. Identifying things that could be done better, and then improving them. Or growing and developing people, which has always felt like just another extension of hearing people say “I can’t” and showing them that they sure as shit can.
And, if we’re being honest, I’m not 23 anymore. At this age, and this stage in my career, there is a very reasonable question about how many stories about me drinking beer and almost electrocuting myself a prospective employer should be privy to.
But here’s a very real thing I’ve told the people who work for me: If you refuse to make a decision because you’re afraid you won’t make the right one… you’re always going to be wrong. Not that I don’t understand why inaction is so appealing sometimes. When you make a decision– when you pick a path–things will change. They may get better or they may get worse (those of us who have started “a small project” in 100+ year old houses know exactly how much worse), and I know how tempting it is not to do anything. When you choose inaction it’s easy to maintain the status quo.
Which is exactly why that’s the wrong answer. For me, at least. And for the teams I lead. Because in my life and in my work, I’m not here for status quo. I’m not interested in mediocrity. I’m here to kick ass or die.
And as far as this website is concerned, it seemed like it was time to take my own advice. To make a decision, instead of just sitting in a place of unanswered questions around if and how I should participate. So. Here I am.
Telling stories, old school.
No branding. No ads. No sponsored anything. No social media. Even if I don’t know exactly what the value in these stories is, I know that it will never be monetary, or measured in likes or followers or traffic. (I refuse to be the reason people spend more time on any of the apps.) The algorithm, frankly, can go fuck itself.
There will probably still be beer and power tools. There might be more about the ways I live a life that kicks ass (and sometimes almost kills me) outside of building shit. There will always be swearing.
2020 has been a weird year (to say the least) and I genuinely do not know what the next phase of my life will look like. More farm projects? Maybe. A finished house? Unlikely. A big move? An off-grid cabin in the woods? Building tiny houses? Climbing a big mountain? Flying airplanes? Running death races? I do not know.
But I do know there will be stories. And you’re welcome to join me for them.