Amanda showed me the blog Fieldguided when we were living together a couple of years ago. It was full of cats, music, flowers, clothes, design, decorating, and beautiful photography. I was instantly hooked. It's because of this blog that I listen to Bill Callahan, shop at Robber, and grew out my bangs. A couple months ago, I interviewed Anabela for a profile section in Vive Magazine. We had coffee at Luna Café on Dovercourt and chatted about writing, blogging, creative output, and how to keep a blog going for 5+ years.
This interview is in the latest issue of Vive. It was cut down due to space restrictions, but this, right here, is the whole shebang. Thanks Vive for letting me publish this here!
|photo by Dan Epstein|
LKM: When did you decide to start blogging?
AC: Well, I had a Livejournal, I think I started it in like 1999. I think I worked out my blogging related kinks then—because it was very confessional. I think it was helpful because it just prevented me from having that same tone later on. And then I stopped after a while. But I kind of liked having a blog that was not private and that I could just write in whenever I wanted. And I had a couple of other ones that I just started and stopped. I was doing a Masters Degree in library studies and I had to take a very basic computer type of class, and they had us create a blog as an assignment. So Fieldguided actually started when I made it for a class. But I knew that I’d continue with it anyway, because it was something I’d been meaning to do. I had another blog that I was sort of phasing out at the time that was more specific and focused. But I never intended for it to be read by more than five people.
"I can make an off-hand comment about a colour of lipstick that I’m interested in and I’ll get like six different people recommending different things that I should check out. I think that’s pretty cool."
LKM: So you were interested in writing before that? Or did the Livejournal thing just sort of start you off?
AC: I mean I don’t consider myself a writer. I did go to journalism school for a few years, so it’s always something that I’ve enjoyed. But I’m not a writer. I think that’s a muscle that you have to flex from time to time, and I’m really out of practice. I don’t do much writing on my blog. But I’ve always enjoyed it—I used to have pen pals when I was a kid—now it’s email pals, I guess.
LKM: If someone asked you what kind of blog you have… I’m sure they do all the time.—how would you describe it?
AC: It’s hard to say… it’s sort of everything. I try not to make it about me, so I don’t really consider it a lifestyle blog. It’s not about one thing in particular. I guess it’s about things that I like, and some of it is my life, like photos about things in my life.
People use “lifestyle” as a catchall, but then I look at other blogs that are more lifestyle blogs, and that’s not me. It’s not a fashion blog, it’s not a design blog, it’s just…
LKM: I think it incorporates a lot of those things though…
AC: Yeah. I don’t think there is a term for it, really.
LKM: You should make one!
AC: [Ha ha] Yeah, I should. But it’s funny, a lot of the blogs I read are about exactly that—they’re about everything and nothing in particular.
LKM: What’s your favourite part about having the blog part of Fiedguided?
AC: It still is really amazing to get feedback and comments from people all over the place. I try not to pay too much attention to stats and things like that, just because I would go crazy if I focused on that too much. And, as I said before, I never intended to have an audience or like… readers. And I still feel uncomfortable saying “my readers” because it’s like… “Who are you?”
But it’s amazing. I can make an off-hand comment about a colour of lipstick that I’m interested in and I’ll get like six different people recommending different things that I should check out. I think that’s pretty cool. It’s a little bit of dialogue with people all over.
"When I’m feeling most uninspired, blah, whatever, it really does help to just force myself to go somewhere and take pictures and just do something even if it’s out of my comfort zone."
LKM: What about some of the experiences that have come from that? I know that you do lots of photo stuff and you have your screen-printed bags, obviously. Did that come out of having the blog?
AC: Yeah! Not just having my blog but also reading a lot of other blogs and really feeling inspired to do something creative. Like I said, I was doing my Masters in Library Studies and working at my current job, which is at a library, typesetting books. I don’t really get to do anything very creative. So I was just really inspired to do that kind of thing. Geoff has a background in art, so that kind of helped. Everything that I know about photography is through him.
But I’ve had so many amazing opportunities, I have to admit. Like being able to have an online store, which is really cool. And not having to worry too much about advertising and just rely more on word of mouth. I was invited to be in a group photography show in London last year, and I don’t think that would have happened if I didn’t have the blog. We were invited to take part in a handmade market in Portland a couple years ago, called Little Winter—and that wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t have the blog, because they just wouldn’t have known who I was. So these experiences come from fostering relationships with other bloggers, I guess. A lot of the friends I have now, in Toronto, are through blogging. I ended up becoming good friends with Katie who has the thank you/okay blog—she had just moved to Toronto and was looking for Toronto blogs, and then she found me and we met and just got along really well. And same thing with Bre from Scout Catalogue… so yeah, it’s pretty cool. It can be difficult to make new friends, but that’s something that I started doing back in the Livejournal days. I once drove to Manhattan to stay with somebody that I met on Livejournal, and it was really fun! So there have been a lot of great things that have come through it.
I know that a lot of my blogging friends have had really bad experiences in terms of people being anonymously mean to them or whatever. But definitely, there have been so many good things that even if there had been more of that coming I would still really enjoy that. It would still be worthwhile.
LKM: Have you had any negative experiences?
AC: No. I mean I have had the occasional anonymous comment that wasn’t very kind, but I don’t really let those get to me, and I don’t take them seriously, because obviously they’re just a one-dimensional. I mean, I don’t want it to happen. And sometimes I get kind of cynical ad tired and I just don’t want to do it anymore because I don’t have time. But I think I’ll always continue to do it.
At one point I was taking sponsorships, so I had ads on my blog from independent businesses. And when I did that and I was taking people’s money, I felt a lot of pressure to continue to blog constantly, like at least three or four times a week.
LKM: Did you have to write about specific things?
AC: No, when I set it up I never stipulated that that’s something I would do. I didn’t really charge a lot—but I guess it’s hard to say what’s a lot—and I had to try to make sure that people were happy with the outcome. But I did feel a lot of… well I just did it to myself, the pressure, because there more you post the more hits you get, the more hits they potentially get.
LKM: And that becomes a financial transaction.
AC: So that was a difficult period for me, in terms of angst and like “What am I doing?” But it’s generally a really positive thig.
LKM: So on a day-to-day basis, it’s more a positive thing than a negative thing.
AC: Yeah. If anything ever flares up it’s not a big deal. Every once in a while I’ll have a friend look at my blog and they’ll make a comment and I’ll feel really misunderstood. Like… “NO! You know me! That’s not me!” when they’ve suddenly lumped me in with like this Hello Giggles cupcake thing. And I’m like “Really? Do you know me at all?” So when that sort of thing happens I get a little frustrated, but it’s not a big deal.
LKM: On the days when you’re just coming up with creative content, and it’s really difficult, what do you do for inspiration? Where do you go?
AC: I think that when it comes to that kind of thing—because it happens all the time, like I’m just kind of constantly in a state of that—these days I try to maintain a list of potential ideas, although I don’t have anything on the list right now. But when it comes to that I try to… well I try to create a lot of my own content. I really don’t like reposting things that I’ve seen elsewhere. I did a post recently on a really cool photographer that I hadn’t seen around very much—I hadn’t seen her blogged about on other blogs and I thought her work was really beautiful, and that it would make my blog look nice. So I’ll do that kind of thing from time to time, but I really like it to make my own content. So when I’m feeling most uninspired, blah, whatever, it really does help to just force myself to go somewhere and take pictures and just do something even if it’s out of my comfort zone. Like a while ago I visited the Fortnight Lingerie studio, and that was not the ideal circumstance because they weren’t in production that day so they didn’t have a lot going on. It was just a quiet day, and the lighting was terrible because it was a really gloomy day and I didn’t have any special lighting with me or anything.
LKM: But the pictures turned out fine!
AC: But I thought it looked really nice, and it was positive for her. But I can be really shy. And she lives at the studio, too, so asking “Can I come to your house/studio?” But she was really great about it. That’s something that I have to force myself to do. But then it ended up being really great and I was glad I did it. So it usually comes down to taking pictures, or trying to do something different. But it’s hard!
"I try not to swear [on the blog]. You never know which fairly religious person might be into tote bags."
LKM: Have you ever been recognized or approached by someone on the street?
AC: I have! Generally that mostly happens when we do sales, like when we did the Holiday Market, when we’ve done a couple at The Workroom, and I always have people come up to me and say that they read the blog—which is really nice. But in terms of people coming up to me on the street… it has happened once or twice. One time—this is a few summers ago—I was on Bloor Street and I had this basket on me, and I had just written about my baskets and someone recognized me. But it doesn’t happen too often.
Since I work at U of T—in Robarts where there’s a lot of young people around, some really… fashion blogger looking people—I’m always worried that there might be somebody who reads my blog, because I’m just so frumpy. Like when I go to get a coffee I just don’t look at anybody! I’m usually grumpy at work, and I’m wearing whatever I threw on in the five minutes I had. It’s not a big deal, but it’s in the back of my mind every once in a while. If somebody makes eye contact for more than three seconds, I’m like…uh oh. But that sounds really arrogant! It doesn’t really happen. And I think when you’re in Toronto you’re generally safe from people approaching you randomly. It doesn’t really happen very much.
LKM: But you do share quite a bit about your life, right? Like the neighbourhood where you live, and stuff like that. So I’m sure there are people who feel like a bit of a kinship.
AC: That reminds me! Somebody did leave me a comment a while back saying that they saw me—I don’t know if it was regularly or if it was just once—but that they saw me riding my bike along Harbord St. on my way to work, and I was just like “Arrrrhhhh.” That would have been in the summer, and I would have been all red and sweaty and on my way to work. But I thought that was cute.
LKM: Can you talk a little bit about the separation between who you are online and who you are in real life? Do you see a big difference?
AC: I don’t see a big difference, because it’s all in there. There are certain things that I won’t talk about—especially on Twitter where it’s much more immediate, it’s much more… I mean for somebody who tweets as much as I do, there’s a chance to let a lot more slide. It’s not as edited I guess. I try not to swear. Because you never know like which fairly religious person might be into tote bags. And if there’s no need then I’m not going to. So just little things like that. And I feel like things like sarcasm do not travel well online, so I try to refrain from being overly sarcastic or cynical or things that people might misinterpret and take offense at.
LKM: But that’s something that you don’t necessarily restrain from in person?
AC: No, in person I can be just as sarcastic and mean as anybody else—with my friends anyway—but I try not to do that online. I just don’t want to get into anything with anyone. It’s just not worth it.
LKM: What kind of advice would you give to girls out there who are interested in starting a blog but maybe don’t know how to start. How do you start it? Stick with it?
AC: I think definitely, and this might contradict what I just said, I think it’s really important to be yourself. It sounds cheesy, but people are really interested in other people. I think that the most popular blogs out there are the ones where people constantly post pictures of their lives, pictures of themselves, talk about themselves and what they’re doing. People love that stuff, you know? They want to see who you are.
It’s crazy to me how I can just write these repository-type posts I have and feel ridiculous when I write them sometimes because I’m giving my opinion on this thing. Sometimes I think… who cares? But people do care! They like to read that kind of thing. So I think it’s important to not fake it. I guess I sensor myself in some ways—more like edit myself. But it’s still me, it’s still true to who I am and I stand behind it. And then in terms of sticking with it? I don’t know… I’d like to figure that out too.
LKM: Five years is pretty impressive!
AC: Yeah, I mean if only five people read it I probably would have abandoned it a long time ago.
AC: Yeah, I mean if only five people read it I probably would have abandoned it a long time ago.
LKM: Do you feel responsible to your readers in some ways?
AC: Not really, and I don’t know if that comes out of a kind of self-deprecating streak where I’m just like “Ugh, nobody’s going to care if I don’t write a blog post for three weeks,” but I’ll get a comment occasionally that’s like “I’m always excited when you post” or something. So that’s nice. And then on the other hand there’s the business end of things. I need to keep my profile up and not let my stuff be forgotten. But here’s my advice: If you don’t love it then don’t do it. Don’t keep it up because then there’s no point. But if you enjoy it then you’ll find a way to stick with it.
LKM: Where do you see Fieldguided going in the future?
AC: As the blog?
LKM: Or as more than the blog…
AC: That’s a good question, I wish I knew. I would love to be able to do it full time, and I would love to expand the line, because it’s so tiny at this point, which is just a matter of finances. But there’s so many other things that I would love to do, but I just don’t know if that will happen. We do have a couple of things in the works, a couple of collaborations, but there are lots of other things that I’d like to get into.
I would love to be able to do that full time, and to become a full-time business person and just have the blog on the side. That’s the dream, but I don’t know if it’ll ever happen. But if, in a year, we’re still going at the same pace, that’s fine too. I feel like I have enough going on. I’m constantly busy and I kind of like it. But it can be overwhelming. I don’t know, is that depressing? The same place in a year? I’m pretty happy with how things have been going.