Blogger adventure: Felicia Sullivan of love.life.eat
Finding myself short of bloggers I knew in real life to feature, I went through my Twitter feed to see who I interact with most. Blogger, author and marketer Felicia Sullivan was an obvious choice: she shares great links and often favourites or retweets my tweets, which is always nice for the ego.
In fact, I discovered Felicia’s blog through Twitter, on a bus journey into London, and I kept selecting the next post until my mobile battery said no more. At love.life.eat, Felicia shares her baking and cooking experiments and her travel diary alongside mindful, inspiring thoughts on her journey to improve her life, all in first-class writing style.
Clearly, I’m a fan, so I took advantage of this blogger feature to understand more about Felicia’s writing process, how she decides what (and what not) to share online and how she inspires her readers.
On my feedly, your blog is under the “becoming a better human” category. How would you qualify it yourself and what was your aim when it started?
Thank you! That’s incredibly kind of you to say! When I first started blogging in 2001, I was curious about this new form of online journaling, and I maintained a blog merely out of curiosity. When I was a child I used to have dozens of pals and friendship books, and I initially viewed the online space as an extension of that – a way in which I can share my thoughts and meet people I would have otherwise not encounter.
I think I’ve been spending the past decade trying to be a better person, to love myself more, to be kinder to myself and those around me, and I think it’s important to share what I’ve learned with others so people feel less alone when they are physically alone. So I’ve documented, to a certain extent, changes in my life and growth that I’ve felt comfortable sharing online.
How do you decide what to write on love.life.eat?
I don’t really have a defined strategy or a deliberate content plan - what I write tends to be ephemeral. I write about the thing that currently consumes me - what occupies the periphery. Writers tend to write out their obsessions in a myopic way, and this mind-set dominates all aspects of my writing life. I’m currently working on a novel, which has been a four-year odyssey, and my blog posts are obsessions in miniature. One day I may be consumed by finding the perfect Irish scone based on a recent trip, or I may want to talk about challenges of being a female executive in the workplace, based on a dinner I’ve had with a friend. Sometimes I feel like I’m a photo lab that’s constantly developing pictures, always thinking about the frame of what happened and how that impacts me right now or in a few moments from now.
Some posts are very personal - how do you decide what to share and not to share online?
The online space continues to fascinate me because readers have this perception of being extremely connected to someone whom they’ve never met or truly know, which is to say that while I share some personal aspects of my life, they don’t encompass the whole of my life, only a slice of it; a slice of which I feel comfortable sharing. I have a rule of thumb when it comes to what I post: I share only that which I would feel comfortable having a peer or work colleague read. So while I may talk about topics that relate to feminism, addiction, career, art, food, and body issues there are some topics that are verboten, off limits: the personal lives of my friends and my love life, for example. I often joke to my very close friends that I’m the pentagon of personal relationships - you won’t know I’m married until you actually see a ring on my finger.
Much of my life is lived online, and I’ve started to realize in the past few years that if all aspects of my life are online it suddenly becomes less mine. It belongs to someone else. As a result, I hold some of my cards, parts of a played hand, close to my heart. So while it might appear that I’m pretty public, I’m actually extremely private.
There are a lot of scare stories out there about employers stumbling on blogs and deciding not to hire people as a result. What’s your advice to bloggers?
I think it’s tantamount to understand that how you represent yourself - online and off - generates perception. People (family, friends, employers) have an impression of you based on what you write and post. Assume that every résumé submission or LinkedIn invitation is followed by a comprehensive search that is on the level of the CIA. Assume that people who are viewing what you post are forming an impression about you based on what they see. You have the ability to shape one’s perception of you, and perception is shaped whether it’s fair or not. In that vein, why not deliver an impression that you can be proud of? Maybe save those half-naked selfies of you doing Jaeger shots for sharing with your friends IRL instead of putting them on online.
love.life.eat is mostly writing-based, why is it so important to have high quality images on it?
I’ve always been fascinated by the intersection of image and type - how an image can fill empty spaces or convey an aspect of a story that can’t be told with words. I also find that photographs can take you to places where prose can’t go, and I view what I create on my blog as an expression on what I’m able to say and what can’t be articulated. I think about how the power of image and type can assault a reader’s senses, move them in a way they hadn’t anticipated.
You have an active community in terms of the number of comments and also how long and thoughtful they are. You have also written a (really good) post about how bloggers sometimes react to their comments. What’s the role of the love.life.eat community in your blogging life?
Someone once told me that my blog will never be huge because I’m not “mass market” – my writing is often dark, obtuse, sometimes dramatic and often times strange – it doesn’t appeal to an aspirational, wide audience. My immediate urge was to punch this person in the face (just kidding), but then I realized they had paid me the highest compliment. I’m not one to cleave to size; rather I’m intrigued by breadth and depth. I do have a nice bit of traffic, but I love the small feel of my community, the fact that people really leave thoughtful, provocative comments, which often challenge the way I think.
Your blog makes me want to do things, from baking scones to going to India or taking more time to be mindful about what I do. Do you have any story of readers who changed something in their life as a result of reading your blog?
Readers haven’t directly shared any transformational stories, however, interestingly enough, friends of mine, who’ve read how I candidly, and without shame, write about my various substance abuse addictions, have opened up to me about their struggles That’s probably the most gratifying part of being so open with that aspect of my life online—the fact that people trust me enough with the most personal and painful aspects of their lives, and trust that I’m going to be a real friend and not judge them for being human.
To be honest, I really struggle with the notion that I impact people. I rarely think I do until someone has to kick me in the head with a compliment. But whenever I do hear about the powerful impression I’ve made on someone, it honestly warms my heart.
How has your writing evolved since you started the blog?
For a time, my blog served as a haven for me to experiment as my voice and narrative style have became more refined. For years I was a traditional storywriter, and for a time I experimented with line writing. Now my style is the fusion of the two: telling stories with language reimagined. I firmly believe that one becomes a better writer by constantly writing, and reading - artistic growth is not predicated by a particular platform.
How does your MFA Fiction feed your non-fiction writing?
Someone once asked me how I’m able to oscillate with ease between fiction, non-fiction, copywriting, and business writing – and the only way I knew how to respond is to say that I simply think about how to craft a compelling story. There are technical rules by discipline, sure, but those are things that can be taught, whether it be from a formal MFA program or self-taught. Storytelling is the art. How you see the world and translate it is the art. What I learned in an MFA program were the most technical aspects of story (e.g. pacing, character development, structure) – elements I use in all of my writing.
Setting aside the formidable investment (which I’ll be paying off for the rest of my life), what I probably loved most about the MFA program at Columbia was the fact that it was essentially a graduate English degree with writing thrown in for good measure. While the workshops were important in terms of cultivating our voice, style, and stories, we were required to take four graduate level classes in English or adjacent disciplines, so I was exposed to writers and styles I’d otherwise have ignored. I discovered, and fell in love with W.G. Sebald, Gary Lutz, Carol Maso, Michael Cunningham, Susan Minot, and other extraordinary artists as a result of having been in the program.
How does your blog fit in with your career as a creative digital marketing executive?
I don’t know if it necessary plugs in, rather my blog serves as a platform for one expression of my voice. Another expression could be a marketing plan or proposal for a client, or a draft of a novel for my patient agent. For a long time I found myself segmenting various aspects of my life: marketing, creative writing and food writing/photography, believing that they were all discrete aspects of my life that couldn’t overlap. Then it occurred to me that the magic is actually in a mess of the three. Principally, I see myself as a writer, someone who builds and creates, agnostic of form, discipline or platform.
You’ve got a blog, you’ve got a job, you’re writing a new novel, you cook, you exercise… How do you prioritise so you can fit it all in?
Good question! I’m extremely Type A, and rely on scheduling and time management to get me through my day. I’m extremely disciplined with my time, and only send emails or engage in conversations that are meaningful and impactful. I’ve trimmed the proverbial fat in many aspects of my life so that every moment is lived mindfully, where I’m creating, spending time with people whom I love, or resting, recharging the batteries as it were.
All photos courtesy of Felicia Sullivan.
If, like Felicia, you would like to be featured in the next instalment of the Blogger Adventure series, please get in touch at fashionmemex[at]gmail.com.