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In Which I Type A Whole Bunch of Words At You

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention. 
Be astonished.
Tell about it.
--Mary Oliver

Ready to spill some dirt.

Let's talk, y'all. Actually, I will do the talking -- all you have to to is listen. Ooh, am I nervous about this. I feel like poor old Jerry Maguire handing around his mission statement.

But, if you've read any of the camp recaps, you know that the first thing I tell my campers is: BE BRAVE. In fact, part of my decision to write this was informed by my experiences at design camp: something happens there in which genuine connection and community is built in a really short amount of time, which phenomenon is truly astonishing to see and be a part of.

I also tell my campers that design can change your life. And, OH HELL YES IT CAN. I believe that with my whole heart. People need a little more pretty in their lives. And a little more pretty helps to burnish those ragged edges of real life.

With that said, I've been doing a lot of thinking about the direction in which I want this site to go, and what I want it to be. I've been writing online for over ten years now, and this blog has gone through so many iterations I can't remember them all. Once upon a time, this was a personal diary, where I talked about my feelings and emotions and what chapter books my first-grader was reading. Then that little girl grew up and this space became a design blog, and I feel like somewhere along the line it lost its voice.

The thing about design blogs is that they often give the illusion of perfection: that every single detail of life is under control; that everything is shiny and beautiful and styled just-so; that there is no dirty laundry shoved behind a closet door. We all do it, of course -- it's human nature to want to present one's best self (or one's best table vignette) to the world. And it is one of my greatest pleasures to present a lovely, aspirational world to you. As I said before, this positive skewing of life is a great counter-balance to the pressures of reality. But this ginned-up perfection also comes with its own set of problems.

Perhaps you are thinking, “What in the damn hell kind of problems might you encounter while taking photos of outfits and jetting off to parts unknown every week or so?” And you'd be right to ask: to the casual observer, my life seems easy, and simple, and my job seems kind of not like a job. But there is a funny kind of pressure that comes with pretending everything is wonderfully perfect all of the time. It's not honest, or brave, or authentic, and frankly, it's kind of exhausting. There are many, many people out there who are great at this kind of job, and I have nothing but the utmost admiration for them. Sometimes I feel like I'm scrambling to keep up. But maybe I don't need to keep up. Maybe I need to bring it down a notch. Maybe I need to bring some of that true, authentic, camp-type connection right here to this blog.

So while abchao.com is still going to be entertaining and delightful and inspirational -- I'm still going to post pretty things; I'm still going to hold super-fun design camps; and I am certainly not going to stop posting headless photos or painting things white -- I want to reset things a bit. Let's just put it out on front street: this site is no longer about the mere superficial. My grand plan is to co-opt the space where, interspersed with all of the pretty things, I share personal things too. Where I show you more of my real self again. Where I get some dirt on my hands. Where things maybe get a little sloppy, because sometimes, you know, life is fucking messy.

I also want to get back to that place where I write in a meaningful way. Through all of this site's transformations and permutations, I was and always will be a writer first. Mary Karr, memoirist extraordinaire, once said, "I believe a writer makes a contract with the reader to tell the truth." I'm going to try to listen to that voice. Maybe it will invite criticism, or complaints, or comments and suggestions I am afraid to hear. But I've learned recently that if I can't take responsibility for my own words, I'm probably the asshole in the scenario.

So, let's recap: I'm tired of hiding. I'm tired of pretending that everything is perfect when it really ain't. I'm tired of falling back into the same old easy patterns of posting. I'm tired of being a headless cipher with a one-note voice.

I do have a head, y'all. And I aim to use it.

That this new blog philosophy meshes up with the major changes happening in my life is no coincidence. Madeleine's graduation isn't the only thing on our minds, although obviously that has been the main event -- but now it is over. And my beautiful, nearly-grown daughter will soon be off to college, where she will begin forming her own story to tell. But that hasn't been the only thing going down, of course. Life still happens to you while you are busy ordering caps and gowns. The last year, and more specifically the last six months, have unfolded like some ridiculous screwball comedy (of errors). And the next few months are sure to serve up even more challenges as we all settle into our new places in life. I want to tell you those stories, and I will, in time. Don't be thinking I'm vague-blogging here: I am going to get to them all, and I hope you'll be patient as I ease into it.

Now, you know I'm not promising a college-length essay every day, or even every week. Sometimes I might just show you a photograph. Sometimes I'll take you along as I attempt to cross something off that big old life list. Sometimes it will just be a sentence or two. But it will be my sentence, and it will be real, and it is my fervent hope that you will jump in beside me for the ride.

Whew. That was a lot of words. Let's call it a day. Be brave out there.

Reader Comments (94)

June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEliza
Okay, so now I'm worried.
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne
No worries, Suzanne. All is well; nobody's dead. Yet. :)
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAB
You're the bravest person I know. I look forward to reading now more than ever. In your corner forever <3.
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBeth
<3 x2
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterALH
love you both. love you all. we're so proud to know you, anna beth.
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSophie Lesher
This sounds fantastic. Can't wait to see how it unfolds! Kudos to you for your bravery and your authenticity :-)
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSarah E
The world needs pretty AND authentic! Sharing takes some cojones...and there's nothing more compelling than a real-life story.
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJanelle Rickermann
life is fucking messy, so it's nice to see the pretty parts and the fucking messy parts sometimes! cheer to a new road.
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrooke lyn
Always appreciate your words and your voice and looking forward to all the stories you have to share.
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSelila
I can't wait to see where you take the blog and your sweet self (and make sure you take yourself up to DC for cocktails soon!) <3
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJessica
you have been missed, so i'm excited to see what's ahead for this site!
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMartha
I am looking forward to this new direction. Onward!
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKatie
Yeah! I look forward to hearing more about YOU. Because I really miss the personal side of your blog. Thanks for being brave!
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterErica Lucci
Thanks for this, and thanks for keeping it real. This is something I think about quite a bit with my own site, as blogs and online life has shifted and evolved. It used to be about sharing and a community feel--and often now it feels different and I fear the love of the pretty and perfect sometimes makes people feel less good about what they really have in their lives (my life does not look like Pinterest, even though I can take a few pictures that do).
For the most part, I think we're all just fumbling through, trying to get to the light, trying to enjoy the moments along the way as much as we can. Like you, I want to be honest about that. It seems like the most supportive, most helpful, thing we can do.
Thanks for being brave! I can't wait to see what comes next.
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commentertea_austen
Thank you, thank you, and AMEN.
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEmily
You are one of my favorite internet writers. I'm so happy about this. I've been struggling with the same kind of thing. When you have a business, it's easy to let it consume you to the point that you're neglecting all the other creative parts of yourself because they don't go with your "brand". I miss those parts. Thanks for giving a voice to this.
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermaile
This is why your blog is one of my favorites.
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJenny
A-PPLAUSE! Looking forward to this new path. Love.
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterErik the Person
This sounds oddly refreshing, I'm looking forward to it! Also, if you need any messy-life pictures, I have plenty to go around ;)
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermadeline
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMarlena
Can't wait, PL.
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBuntsy
*leaps up for mad applause, knocks over chair, sprawls on floor* HOORAY!
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLinda
Can't wait to hear it all.
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKizz
Love it!
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCasey
AB you are the cat's pajamas. Super excited to see what you have in store...To bravery! *clink*
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commentersal
man, i've missed you. welcome back.
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterhannah
Mary Oliver, Mary Karr & you makes for an awesome post. I look forward to a lot more sentences.
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKelly
Be real. Always. If people still don't love you, they don't deserve you in their life.
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFun mama
kudos to you, my friend! i am a self-confessed blog addict - i LOVE getting glimpses into other's people's well-styled, picture-perfect worlds and {sometimes} i will take those snapshots and inspirations into my world but usually i just like to indulge my nosy-self and browse through the lives presented in my favorite blogs. but what captures me the most, and what i share in my little corner of the cyber universe, is the real-life moments. granted, what i share is for me and my far-away friends (sometimes living in hawai'i can be a pain in the a$$ when it comes to staying enmeshed in our friends lives and vice-versa) and the majority of the blogs that i enjoy browsing through are - like yours - people's livelihoods and extensions of their entrepreneurial ventures. but ... anyhow ... i'm looking forward to seeing different glimpses of the the life you choose to share with us!
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterlisa
Life is messy and I'm looking forward to future posts. For the record, I never thought you or your life were perfect!
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTerri in SF
i'd give all the pinterests and tumblrs and twitters in the world for the big, messy personal blogs of ten years ago, and i am so glad to hear yours will be one of them again. welcome back to flavor country, ma'am.
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterlauren
I'm with Lauren. Let's get the juicy bits!
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHelen
This is what the internet used to be about. I find this really refreshing and touching, particularly in the midst of so many sponsored blog posts and lack of authenticity out there lately. Good for you for enlivening your inner writer and for being brave; we'll be here to bear witness.
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSFDC
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJessica
Hear hear! I've missed you around these parts, and I am *so* along for this ride!
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSheri
Weepy with admiration, AB.
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commentervictoria
Awesome. I can't wait.
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterkat
love ya, dollface!
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterpooja
Well that build-up had me worried, but this new direction sounds even better! Can't wait to read more -- and thanks for being brave. You've got me feeling all inspired now.
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret
This is something I struggle with as I figure out what to write in my own fledgling blog.
Thank you for your bravery and honesty. { BIG HUG }
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKarolina
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKatrina
Big hugs & applause from an SF camper and reader since waaaaaaay back. You're the bee's knees, lady - bravery is a beautiful, inspiring thing.
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBeth
Phew indeed and hurrah for you! I've missed hearing your 'voice' recently, so am excited for the next phase. I'm also totally peed off with so much of the world that doesn't value honesty or the truth of things - something I've been thinking about a lot recently - so applaud you!
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLaura
This is the best stuff I've read in a long time. Hooray for you, Anna Beth Chao!
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRorie
Way to put it out on Front Street, Ms. Cleo would be oh-so-proud! You go with your brave self!
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKathleen
Can't wait. I sit here and crave the real stuff while looking at perfectly styled pictures of the not-real.
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJK
Word. While I love design, fashion, etc., and totally agree that they can be the sources of some of the bright spots in life, there are certain bloggers who, I feel, are just styled to within an inch of their lives. To the point where I suspect it might just be exhausting to keep it all together. And as someone currently planning a wedding and browsing some wedding blogs...well sir, that's a whole other level. A 'perfect' wedding - or life - with all the 'right' stuff - won't mean a damn thing unless there's real fun, love, and grittiness there too. I'm all in for some real talk. Messy can be pretty too.
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCorey
Thanks for keepin' it real, yo. Perfection is annoying.
I've been reading your blog for years and I love design a lot but I do miss the more personal writing you used to do. Your life has a sparkle to it that comes through even when things aren't always perfect. I'm a big fan of the pretty and the messy, combined and that has been the one of the main concepts of my art for a long time. I guess I'm trying to say that I'm pretty excited to see what comes next!
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

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