Hard to believe I’ve written fifty posts for Here to Make Friends. But it also isn’t hard to believe at all, because I’ve spent countless hours brainstorming, drafting, writing, editing, revising, and formatting all so this weblog can be at least halfway decent.
I usually try to focus my writing around my work here in Indonesia, Indonesian culture and life or recounting stories which might be interesting about living in Indonesia. Writing about myself is so much easier—also less interesting to readers—than writing about Peace Corps or Indonesia; but because this is such a milestone I think engaging in a little narcissism is deserved.
This post will cover how Here to Make Friends came about, some fun facts and statistics about the blog, my writing process, and some tips for maintaining a blog or journal that I’ve found useful.
I wasn’t even sure I would keep a blog before coming to Indonesia. And when I first started I insisted on calling it a “weblog” (weblog being the word from whence blog is derived) because I don’t really like blogs all that much. But the time for quirky antics has passed, from now on this is a blog.
Before I left America, I had given a little thought to starting a blog but it didn’t seem like something I’d be willing to maintain. I’ve had some lapses where I didn’t write as much as I should, but for the most part things have gone smoothly. I originally thought, since I keep a journal, a blog would be redundant; however, I’ve really enjoyed being able to share Indonesia with others and having this blog has kept me on my toes about how I view and interact with Indonesia.
In one discussion with family before I left we talked about potential names for my blog. I’m not good at coming up with names so I was open to suggestions. One of the names suggested was Antipodal Anecdotes, which I think is just a terrific name. It was suggested by my uncle and was what this blog was titled for its first weeks of existence.
An antipode is an exact opposite, usually referring to a point on a sphere or globe which is as far away as possible from another point. Java is not very far from the antipode of my hometown, thus the name. I still think this name is quite clever, but as I’m about to explain, it didn’t have the same appeal to everyone.
When I started this blog I didn’t tell many people for fear of it eventually becoming one of those abandoned blogs where every post starts with “sorry for not posting more.” One day during PST the subject of blogs came up with another trainee. Hesitantly, I mentioned I had a blog and told this fellow trainee the name of my blog, Antipodal Anecdotes. The name elicited a response of derision, mockery and ridicule.
True, I suppose it might have been a little beyond what most people could easily grasp, but I thought a title which might require a little thinking back to high school geography wouldn’t be much to ask of readers. Clearly I was wrong. The evening after the conversation where Antipodal Anecdotes was mocked I changed the name and resolved to say as little as possible about my blog henceforth.
I would like to think that story illustrates how willing I am to adapt and change course.
Here to Make Friends
The current name of my blog was suggested by my cousin. It’s much easier to grasp, funny, and a good take on the common realty TV show saying, “I didn’t come Here to Make Friends.” Still, even with the new name I was reluctant for people to find out I had a blog and kept it quiet until after PST.
A week before swear-in another trainee asked me if I had a blog, out of the blue. I was surprised he knew about it and asked him how he had come across my blog. He told me his mom had found it and liked what I had written so far. I thought that was super cool and remember that as one of the first instances someone outside my family complimented my blog. I love my family, but they’ll say Here to Make Friends is great even if every post is just a picture of me eating rice.
The trainee who asked me that was Matt P. He is in East Java now. So if you’re still reading, Matt P.’s mom, thanks.
Writing during PST was difficult because PST was difficult. The days were long, I was still adjusting to Indonesia, and it was so hot in Kediri. But somehow I managed, and quite well, actually. Because everything was new, there was a lot to write about. I averaged one post every three days or so.
Because I didn’t have an internet connection at my host family’s house I had to write, edit, and post everything from my phone. It was arduous work, but enjoyable. And the effort I put forth during PST laid out the strong foundation on which Here to Make Friends now stands. Here to Make Friends is a fairly solid documentation of my experiences in Indonesia, thus far, only because I was able to form good writing habits in Kediri.
There are some subjects I’ve missed or passed over and many things I haven’t written about yet, but I’m pleased with how far this blog has come since I started it.
I like numbers. They’re reliable and easy to work with. They can also be used to create some interesting information. For each of my posts I update a spreadsheet that tracks how much I’ve written. Each post is represented by a bar corresponding to the number of words in it. The yellow line is the total number of words I’ve written for Here to Make Friends and the green line is the running average of how many words I’ve written.
The graph and these following numbers include this post. Here to Make Friends has a total of 65,869 written words. For reference, All Quiet on the Western Front is 61,922 words and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is 76,944. The average number of words per post is just over 1,200. I don’t try to write long posts, and I don’t like setting a minimum number of words requirement, but the older I get the more I find to say.
In high school, and I think my English teacher would verify this, I could write an essay about a Greek tragedy in one page of text (saying nothing of the quality of said one-page essay). Nowadays I can’t write a brief analysis of The Tortoise and the Hare with fewer than fifteen pages (also saying nothing of the quality). Conciseness is a skill I seem to be losing.
Here to Make Friends has received 2,248 visitors from over 70 countries. There have been 9,604 views since the blog’s inception with the busiest day having 344 views on January 26, 2017. There are currently 130 comments on the blog, including 32 of my own. This post is actually the 52nd post. The 50th and 51st posts were each about subjects I thought took precedence over this one because they had strong time components.
My writing process
I do not think of myself as a good writer. But if perhaps you do then that is only because I try to follow some simple guidelines I set for Here to Make Friends. The strategies I adhere to I would also recommend for others. This is one part tips, one part how I write for this blog.
Keep a list
This is probably the most utilitarian thing I do that helps me write. I have a note in my phone full of potential topics to write about. There are about two or three dozen things I have saved for later. Lately I haven’t thought of as many things to write about, not like I did during PST, but that leads into my next point.
What I write about is all from the perspective of an American Peace Corps volunteer living and working in Indonesia. Pretty simple. But over time I have started to lose that perspective and I don’t see Indonesia as I once did. What was once odd or unique has become ordinary and routine after having seen it every day. Big lizards running across the walls, three people riding the same bike, an ibu spoon-feeding her thirteen year old child. All things which seem perfectly reasonable and ordinary now.
Have a plan
When I was in a much more industrious mood I would plan my blog posts out several weeks in advance. This isn’t necessary, but it helps with maintaining a steady pace of writing. During PST I would regularly have three posts written ahead of time and scheduled to be posted over the coming week or two. Posting things at regular intervals is also important. Two near-simultaneous blog posts is poor form when there are often weeks of silence on either end.
Write when you feel inspired
Not everyone likes to write. I don’t really like to write. Dorothy Parker, the famous witticist, said, “I hate writing, I love having written.” I think that’s true for most people. Writing isn’t easy. These words do not flow forth from my pen like a reliable mountain spring. They’re clunky and obtuse, fitting together in a manner while I write such that I can’t help but be a little repulsed at how ineloquent I sound. This is what proofreading is for, which helps cleanup and polish any unfinished thoughts or ideas (see next section).
And yet I have had some moments when what to say and how to say it were not questions at all. Moments of intense clarity where what I wanted to write seemed to be something I had already written or already knew.
Elizabeth Gilbert talks about creativity and writing amazingly in her TED Talk, which I cannot recommend enough. I’ve seen it no fewer than two dozen times. Essentially, she talks about how creativity is not entirely something humans bring out from within themselves. Creativity is a gift, a glimpse at something. Which is why, when that glimpse comes about, be it a piece of melody, a few lines of dialogue or sentences of prose, an idea for a sculpture or an innovative way to do something, you must capture it because it might not come back.
Treat creativity like a finite resource and I don’t think running out of ideas will ever be an issue. In my list of potential subjects each topic is followed by a few lines. These lines are reminders and prompts, for me, they are excerpts from a piece not yet written.
I don’t think anyone likes to proofread their work, I am no exception. But as any high school English teacher will tell you (thank you, Mrs. Fracek), proofreading is key to good writing. I don’t care if proofreading replaces “honor thy mother and father” in the Ten Commandments, I’m still going to hate doing it.
My distaste for proofreading is why I write all of my blog posts with pen and paper first. I have a small book I use to write out everything I want to write. One of the most obvious benefits of using the old analog pen and paper is it cuts down on distractions. But the real reason I handwrite everything first is it forces me to go over everything once in order to type it.
Between writing everything by hand and typing it into a computer a little perspective is gained. It’s an opportunity to read everything again, make sure it flows well, and is comprehensible.
Write drunk, edit sober
I am not advocating taking a couple shots of whiskey and then trying to hammer out the next great American novel. In college, after a few glasses of beer, the only thing I ever did was see how many times I could play Landslide, by Fleetwood Mac on the bar jukebox before people started getting angry (the answer is three times, BTW). Not my most creative moments.
By drunk I mean emotional. I actually prefer to write with a clear head but there are times when being really angry, sad, happy, excited, or what-have-you can help with the creative process. Channeling emotions, whether they be positive or negative, is excellent for writing.
A big point here is to edit sober. It’s not hard to tell when someone writes something in a state of fervent emotion. Less concern is held for detail and quality in those instances. Combing through a piece written while very emotional is an absolute necessity.
Besides writing for Here to Make Friends I also keep a journal. I think my journal has been an invaluable asset for this blog. I use it to reflect on my days and decompress, but also, and most importantly, it’s a catchall for the minutiae of everyday life in Indonesia that is not represented on this blog at all. It’s also handy for checking the dates of when things happened that I might not have thought important at the time.
When other volunteers find out I maintain a journal one of the most common responses I hear is “I wish I did that.” For so many of us our desires do not quite line up with our actions. I know of a couple volunteers who brought journals over to Indonesia but write in them rarely, if at all. So here’s a little advice for keeping a journal.
Simple as the header suggests. But not really, right? Because what is there to write about? Well, I believe we’re probably overthinking this problem. After several years of trying to record my life in ink on page I still often write “don’t know what to write.” At least once a week one of my entries features the sentence, “Didn’t really do much today,” or something variation thereof. But I always write one page regardless of whether or not I left the house or if I napped for most of the day.
The point of keeping a journal is not to record the genius insights which parade through your head all day long. Sure, if you have some profound epiphany, feel free to write it down. I think people want their journal to be full of action and intellect. But no one’s journal is full of musings deep and philosophical. My journal will never be confused with the works of Jean-Jacque Rousseau—whose own ideas time has proven to be garbage. But that’s the key: time.
A journal is kept to record the mundanity and banality of everyday life. I’m not all that interested in having on hand exactly what I did yesterday or even Tuesday of last week, because I can say with near certainty what happened on those days. I do, however, find it interesting to be able to open a book and read exactly what I did on August 8th, 2015. Not because what I wrote was anything worth reading, but because of time. To read about a day as though it had just happened, even though years removed, is interesting.
A journal is a time capsule, and people don’t fill time capsules with jewels and gold. Time capsules are filled with ordinary things because time will make them into extraordinary things. Time is what makes the banal become novel. Given enough time boring can turn into exotic.
I don’t actually believe it’s necessary to write every day. My main point is that it should not matter what happens during a day to determine whether or not it’s worthy enough to be written about.
There is a saying I like which I believe is particularly useful here: “the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, the second best time is now.” It’s not too late to start writing in a journal. Someday today will be five years ago and what happened will be lost to memory, blended into the week, into the month, and eventually into the year. So pick up a piece of paper or go out and buy a journal and write about what you ate for lunch, who you saw at the grocery store, the song you heard on the radio, the roadwork that made you late for a meeting. Just write.
The journal I prefer to write in, and the one I always suggest when this subject comes up, is the medium Leuchtturm1917. It’s similar to a Moleskine—the journal everyone thinks of when they think about journals—except it has some key advantages.
The Leuchtturm1917’s pages are numbered and it comes with an index at the beginning. I use the index to make note of trips, meetings, and significant events. The last eight pages are perforated so if you wish to tear them out you can do so without harming the binding. It also comes with archival stickers to help label and identify completed journals. The paper is of a higher quality too, but that’s not much of a selling point to me.
But what you write in doesn’t matter so much as the fact that you write at all. My first two journals were just small notebooks with some company’s logo on them that I had picked up at a career fair or something.