On Inspirational Weblogs, One Note Wonders, And The Need To Trust My Gurus

I told myself I would eat healthier this year, and I have been. When I haven't been eating peanut butter cookies.

I was lying in bed this morning thinking about my recent affairs with peanut butter cookies — there was that one from the mall coffee shop whose moistness bordered on damp, but still it melted like good fudge on the back of my tongue where I pushed its roughness up against the roof of my mouth — and I realize that I've been happier since I started my cookie-rich diet. I was less happy before the cookies, and now I'm happier.

Much like my alcoholic love of beer, though, I do not keep any peanut butter cookies in the house. Then, I would have a problem. So would my new jeans. I am sure that my body could really go for some broiled asparagus rolled in olive oil and coarse salt right now, but this is the fine balance between happiness and living a full life.

sidewalk note

I was giving some thought to this while I read Breed 'Em and Weep's "I Want You To Know This" as I watched the sun rise through my curtains, and I felt so very right, so very at ease with what she had written, because she was honest and clear and hopeful and positive, and it was tempered with realism, the truth of the hardship that life is, the obstacles that cross us. She told a real story, a practical story, one that can be touched and held and reasoned with and believed.

She exhibited all of the things that I strive to exhibit while spreading a message of love and happiness and encouragement. You maybe didn't know that I was trying to do that. I didn't either until recently, but that's what I'm doing, and since I realized that that is what I am doing with Five Star Friday and Grace in Small Things and the Canadian Weblog Awards and my weblog here, I've realized just what it is that irritates me with a certain movement in weblogs today.

(I get to say "what it is that irritates me with a certain movement in weblogs today" like some cranky old lady with a pointy finger, because I've been at this weblog since August 2003, and that confers a certain amount of elder wisdom on the internet. Or, at least I think it does. I'm pretty smart.)

You can spot an inspirational weblog fairly easily. They tend to be very tidy and visually pleasing — which is good, and this is what drew me to them originally — and they tend to tell us one or all of at least these three things: a) how happy/fulfilled/inspired the author is, b) how you can be as happy/fulfilled/inspired as the author is, and c) what that happiness will behave/look/feel like when you are in a better position than you are now.

On the surface, I do find inspirational weblogs inspiring to an extent, and I do want to love them, because they are the bright cupcakes of the weblog world, and they offer up such nice ideas about simplicity and feeling good, but so often they just fall flat. They are the cool new friend who perpetually seems to be having fun, and I really want to emulate her, but then that's where it ends. The experience goes nowhere. They are just the fun friend. There is no dynamism. What originally looked like depth starts to look like a flat EKG line, and I realize that, yet again, I've fallen for a One Note Wonder.

Most of us have met the person who has such a good time oh my god isn't this fun let's do this let's go over here let's meet these people life is an adventure wow, and you think her life looks so exciting and full, and you enjoy the ride for a while, but then one night you find her in the bathroom at a party crouched between the toilet and the bathtub ready to end her life because nobody loves her, and you realize that she's not close to anyone at all and that her seemingly broad and strong web of social connections is about as deep and strong as tissue paper, and it becomes clear that your relationship was with a thin veneer of fun and not a whole person at all.

One Note Wonder is a term I have long used to describe people like this, people that work to hit primarily one emotional/psychological note, and it's generally a warning sign. It tells me that they do not trust others enough to let them in. It tells me that they are actively hiding parts of themselves from others. It tells me that they have hidden motives for entering into their relationships other than actually being with people in those social relationships.

It's a terrible game of bait and switch, because there is a promise of connection, but that perceived relationship is just a picture of a connection, a facsimile. It's a relationship that behaves like a friendship without ever moving deeper. This was a hard lesson I learned several times through my teens and twenties: sometimes a façade is just a façade.

With their tendency to fall into the One Note Wonder trap, this is how I end up feeling about most inspirational weblogs. I really dig the aesthetic, the apparent ethos, at first, but if I only ever have one kind of experience there, if there is only ever one message, one mood, I start to wonder what's up. I still like the message, but I trust where it's coming from less and less. I remember the dissonance that often lies between the thin shellac of one sustained note and the reality of living beneath it, and I wonder what's being hidden. I cease to understand who is speaking to me and why I am listening to them.

winter cuticles

Life is messy. It hurts a lot. Bodies are always getting sick and dying. Human relationships can be complicated and passionate. This is why inspirational weblogs are so alluring, and they can act as fabulous oases, but I need more than One Note Wonders. I just need more. I need to feel a connection not only to its happy message but to the roots of that message. I need to see the practical reality of growth and change toward positive paths. I need to see the groundwork from which these things spring and the true bits of human experience to which they apply. I need to see more than happy thoughts and happy work applied to a happy continuum.

There is no point in gluing glue to glue.

Without depth, my trust is lost, because something is being held back. I am being lead along a sweet path without any teeth.

I am not saying that every weblog author must bare their soul to their readers. That, when overdone, is tiresome. What I am saying, though, is that if a weblog author aims to share an inspirational message but rarely if ever reaches above or below the idealized happiness continuum, if they do not reach through that message to show rather than tell, their words fall flat and false.

All that happiness, that talk of meaningfulness, the persuasion to feel without real communication about how that happens, when wrapped up in the pretty aesthetic of a Martha Stewart bow, begins to look a bit pathological, neurotic and kneejerk, defensive.

I need to trust my gurus, and in order for me to trust my gurus, they must have heart, meaty and human hearts. They must have the courage to be vulnerable, to show me how they got there and why they are still there. I need to know that they can do the hard stuff so that I can believe that what I learn from them will help me to do the hard stuff.


I have turned decidedly carnivorous when it comes to my desired style of inspiration. I want some blood and some sweat in it; I want some vulnerability and fear. I want a little more animal heat and a little less conservative sweetness. I need to know and believe, not emote; I do not want to skirt a passionate life with sweet comfort.

There is definitely space for the cucumber-sandwiches-and-refreshing-constitutionals coterie, but I'll stand by this: the sweater set and glowing skin are nice, but, when it comes to the real meat of happiness and living a full life, the flesh beneath is richer and decidedly more honest.

It is the courageous heart that bears the fruit.

Love Dunce

Chilling Out