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Reflections On 7 Years Of Blogging
Every year I say I’m going to remember my blog’s birthday so I can do some reflecting. And every year, the calendar reaches mid-October and I realize that, yet again, I forgot.
I launched Ali on the Run on October 2, 2010. I was 25 years old, working at my dream job in New York City, and loving life. I had run three half marathons, but still very much considered myself a new runner. The day I finally went live, I had just unintentionally completed my longest run to date: 13.3 miles around the southern tip of the island I called home.
Most things in my life have changed since that fateful day seven autumns ago. I’ve gone from being very healthy to very sick and back again a handful of times. I’ve doubled my “longest run ever” distance six times over, and along the way overcame a pretty serious exercise addiction. I swapped out a really bad relationship for a really, really good one — one that went from a 24-hour first date to a roommate to a fiancé to a husband. I’ve been on top of the world, and I’ve found myself emotionally buried under really dark imaginary clouds.
I’ve thought about retiring this blog so many times throughout the course of its existence. I’ve seriously considered how I would feel without this space on the internet to come back to, but for some reason, I keep coming back to it.
I love this community. I love every kind comment, email, or puppy-related Instagram Story that I get. I love that, thanks in teeny tiny part to this blog, a few more people in this world know about — and are perhaps more understanding of and sympathetic toward — Crohn’s disease. I love knowing that no matter what’s going on in my life, I’m not alone.
I’m really proud of this blog and everything that has come from it. I never started blogging for money, for internet fame, or for attention. I started writing here because I was happy with my life, but I felt like something was missing. I loved writing and editing all day at my job, but I wanted to write about what was on my mind. I started writing in sparkly diaries and college-ruled journals as soon as I was old enough to put letters together, and this was a way to keep that going. But more importantly, it became a place to find connection.
I have met some of my very best friends because of this blog. I’ve met people who have forever changed my life for the better, and, in a way, I met Brian because of this blog. I may not have gotten picked for that Run for the Rabbit campaign if not for Ali on the Run, so that’s pretty cool.
So it’s been seven years now.
In seven years, so much has changed in my life, and much has changed in the blogging world, too. I used to love reading blogs because they felt so authentic. I loved getting a glimpse into someone’s life — someone who was similar to me or someone I found aspirational. I loved seeing what they were doing and eating, where they were running, and what races they were training for. I loved that brain-dumpiness of it all.
I think it’s pretty rare to find that these days. I don’t read very many blogs anymore. Everything now is more curated, more monetized, more SEO-driven. And when a post doesn’t fit into those categories in an attempt to “keep it real,” the realness comes with a side of “please let this go viral.”
Where does that leave me?
Well, I’ve never cared about what other people are doing. I never really got into sponsored posts here because it was never about that for me. Would some bonus money have been great? Of course! But the first time I agreed to do a sponsored post, it was immediately clear that those law-abiding disclaimers tucked away in every sponsored post — you know, the ones where a blogger claims that yes, she got paid to write this, but that all [favorable] opinions are totally her own — those disclaimers are pretty much B.S.
When you are getting paid to write and review a product or service, you’re getting paid to say nice things, or at least mostly nice things. As someone with an editorial background, this concept was never new to me. When you work in publishing, you’re often kindly encouraged to include products from advertisers, and to feature them prominently, or at least more prominently than non-advertisers. So when a blogger tells me that she swears she’s Paleo but that she just loves Cinnamon Toast Crunch as a late-night snack, I don’t buy it. Which is fine! But it doesn’t usually make me want to keep reading.
As the blogging world has evolved, I’ve stuck around and have mostly kept doing my thing here because I never felt like I had to change. I’m glad blogging isn’t my full-time or even part-time job because I never wanted to have to review products and include affiliate links to things I kind of like in order to keep the lights on. I have always loved feeling like people came here to read by choice and that I didn’t have to try and sell them anything. (I like to think I would be great at lots of different jobs, but never sales. I would suck at sales.)
And as my health has wavered over the years, I’ve regularly asked myself what it is that keeps me writing, even if only every few months. I keep writing because I love getting to connect with people. I love the support. I love the community. I love YOU!
Of course, blogging, even as a very recreational hobby, comes with its challenges.
The writing is easy. The sharing, the honesty, the hitting publish — that stuff is all very second-nature to me. But it wasn’t until a year or so into my blogging journey that I learned about haters. I don’t know if there’s a better word — internet trolls? mean people? — but I will never forget the first time I got a negative comment on my blog. (And that’s not to say a single negative comment makes someone a troll! I know that.)
I remember where I was sitting when I read it on my phone. Brian and I had planned a weekend getaway to the Hamptons a few weeks before I was set to run my debut marathon out there. I was on the bed checking my email before we left to go drive the marathon course, and I remember how hot my face got when I read those words. I remember asking myself why someone would say such mean things when all I was doing was writing about my most recent marathon training run.
A few months later, I discovered that the occasional mean (and almost always anonymous) remark wasn’t limited to the comments section on my blog: A much larger, much more vicious community of like-minded Ali haters existed elsewhere on the internet.
I lost hours of sleep over the mere existence of that site. No one likes to read mean things about themselves. But to see a constant, steady stream of incoming comments… That sent me into a scary, anxiety-ridden place. I kept reading them for a while because I couldn’t look away. On the one hand, I wanted to just pretend the site didn’t exist. But knowing it did, in fact, exist and that I wouldn’t know what they were saying about me scared me even more.
I was younger then. I had thinner skin, and I let that shit get to me. I don’t know why. I’ll blame it on being young and lacking some level of self-confidence. I hate that I can so vividly recall the few negative comments I’ve received in a sea of thousands of incredible ones.
Just like I’ll never forget how I felt the first time I read unkind words about myself, I’ll never forget the day I said “no more” to reading that stuff. For lack of lighter language, I’ll just say this: That site, those anonymous people, those comments, they really fucked me up. They hurt my feelings, they made me question my choices, they kept me up at night, and they filled me with anxiety. All of a sudden, I was constantly aware of the fact that anything and everything I put out there, from a silly caption to a dumb photo to a lengthy post about my health struggles, would be picked apart and read into.
Suddenly, this hobby I’d poured my heart and soul into was something I was so torn about. I loved sharing my life, but hated the potential for harsh criticism. And I don’t mean well-intentioned feedback about trying a different diet to manage my Crohn’s disease; I mean anonymous, angry, would-never-say-those-things-to-my-face humans writing these things. I was just a happy 20-something sharing what I thought was a very uncontroversial life on a blog as a hobby — I couldn’t fathom that people could read into things so much and dislike me, especially without knowing me, so much. I hated that this site existed, but my greater fear was that one day my mom would find it.
I can handle a little hate. But the thought that my mom might stumble across the things people were saying about me? That broke me. So on Valentine’s Day of 2012, I blocked that site from my own computer and crossed my fingers that the people who commented on my blog — even anonymously — would be at least a little more kind. (And with the exception of a few, they always have been. I am so grateful for that.)
I will admit that recently, I made my way back to the site that broke me so many years ago. I didn’t let myself do much digging (more than 100 pages of material? definitely don’t have time for that), but I did take a quick peek at what people were saying because I was curious. On the one hand, I’m thrilled to be able to say that everything I read rolled right off my back. None of it hurt me or upset me, and a few people even seem to tolerate me! (Thanks, guys!) It mostly just baffled me. This Mean Girls-y stuff is seriously still going on? Seven years later?
After all these years, a lot has changed — in my life, in the blogging world, in “influencer marketing” — but I think the one thing that has stayed the same and that blows my mind is that sites like that still exist, and that people are still actively posting on them. It’s crazy to me that people read this blog (hi!) and so many others (so. many. others.) looking for things to find annoying. (I know I can be annoying, but I own it!) That people follow me on Instagram because they dislike me and enjoy seeing me flounder. That a snark-specific forum with my name on it exists, and that people sit behind their screens reading it and writing on it. That those same people follow my husband on the internet, and have invested enough of their time to form an opinion about him — and our marriage — too! (He’s amazing and I love him, and our marriage is not perfect, but it’s pretty freaking close. So don’t worry about that.)
So to those people — I know you’re reading, so hi! — I say this: Consider moving on. The next time you are tempted to spend your time reading and subsequently writing anonymously about strangers on the internet you loathe, whether it’s me or some million-dollar-making fashion blogger (my thread is so tame compared to many others), do something productive with your time instead. Give back. Volunteer. Go pick up litter from the side of the road. (It’s also crazy to me that people still litter!) Read to your kids, your dog, your grandmother. Call a loved one. Take a nap. Maybe you’re annoyed with these people because hey, sometimes they (we) do totally suck, but maybe you’re just tired! Do literally anything else with your time that will better serve the community and this scary, fragile world.
And look, I get it. I’ve read and followed plenty of people over the years that I don’t like — maybe because I did like them at one point and they changed or I changed, or just because they were like train wrecks and I couldn’t stop. And when I would read some of the negative comments people were writing about them, it validated how I was feeling. So I get it. I kind of get why sites like that exist, and I get how good it feels to commiserate with people in a misery-loves-company kind of way. But eventually, I did stop. I stopped following and reading, and I channeled my energy into healthier places. And I’m better off for it. I promise. (Reader responsibility, people!)
Finally, I’m not perfect. I don’t expect everyone to like me. (But you should! I’m funny and I’m nice, I swear!) I am human, and I am doing my best. Some days my best is pretty impressive. Other days, my best is far less stellar. No matter, I cannot fathom hate-reading someone for years and still being invested. Our time on this planet is so limited — why spend it doing anything you hate? Go have fun. Go smile. Go be productive. Go follow someone on Instagram who does make you laugh and smile! That’s my plan, and I hope you’ll do the same. (And the argument that people who put themselves out there leave themselves open to criticism may be true, but it’s pretty lame in this case, don’t you think? Hate Donald Trump for being a total idiot and douchebag and actually putting our entire country in danger — I know I do — but hating a random 32-year-old hobby blogger seems silly.)
There is so much negativity, divisiveness, and hate in this world right now. Why add to it? I have so many more thoughts on this topic, but let’s wrap it up on a peppy, more gracious note, shall we?
To everyone who has made this community the amazing one it is, THANK YOU. I know I say this often, but even as a writer with a whole bunch of words in her vocabulary, I’ll never have enough to adequately express my appreciation and adoration for all of you. You’ve kept me going when I was so, so low, and you’ve supported me through so much. You’ve shared your own stories with me, and you’ve changed my life. You’ve become some of my best friends, whether we’ve hugged or our relationship exists exclusively in email format.
I don’t know if I’ll make it to eight years of blogging. Probably not, to be honest. And that’s OK. Because the time I’ve spent in this corner of the internet has changed my life in the most unexpected and powerful way. That has nothing to do with me and everything to do with you, so THANK YOU.