6 Unburned Pieces of The Mind
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20050924

Blogging - A Paradigm Shift of How We Disseminate and Communicate

Six months ago during a phone conversation with my son, he suggested I create a “blog” after I had told him I had gone back to writing to help pass up the time since he had left home. “Blog?” I inquired. After getting his usual “Gees, Dad,” he spent the next week guiding me through the process of creating my own web log, or "blog," which Brad L. Graham is credited with coining several years back. When I first began posting my writing, I had a sense of what I wanted to “blog” about, but I didn’t have an overall sense of what I wanted to accomplish, or what purpose it might serve other than giving me a healthy distraction to keep myself from going stir crazy. After being an active parent for 18 years, and then finding yourself with an empty nest when your child moves out, it takes a while to adjust to the new pace. It’s like I took the off ramp from the freeway, and decelerated from seventy to zero within seconds. When you come to a full stop like that, it’s hard to figure out whether to go left or right.

In the process of “blogging,” I began reading other bloggers to get a sense of what other people were doing with what seems to be a very unique cultural phenomenon that makes the exchange of ideas, services and products more fluent and accessible. Of the numerous blogs that exist on the net, and are created each day, I am convinced more than ever that we are indeed “language” animals. Blogging also has become unique in that we can choose how we represent ourselves to the world. Even with standard templates, people tinker with them until they get the right format, font, and background that say, “Hello, it's me and this is my blog. Come on in." And with a simple click, the door opens to their small havens of political views, stories, anecdotes, essays, information on a variety of topics, and virtual flea markets where you can buy all kinds of products from books to vitamins.

That others are writing each day by posting to their blogs, regardless of their ability or education, is simply amazing. For hundreds of years, print media served as our conduit for the exchange and discussion of ideas. Blogging, though, makes that exchange both immediate and curiously intimate. Want to know what people are thinking about a specific topic? Easy enough, since all one need do is a Google search on “blog politics," for example, and wham, an unbelievable amount of sources becomes instantly available. From there you can whittle down to a particular topic of interest.

But as with writing for publications, it does take a while to develop an audience. During my first few months of posting, my readership was marginal at best. I hardly had any visits or comments during my first month, and my counter showed only twenty-six people had visited. But even then I was pretty excited. Out of that twenty-six, seven took the time to respond by commenting. In the process of exploring different blogs represented by sites like blogexplosion , Blogcritics and others, I began responding to blogs I liked, and in turn would sometimes receive reciprocal comments as well. By the end of the second month my hit counter started to become real busy, and was up to 3200 visitors, certainly more than I had ever expected. My postings were also generating more comments, which gave me the opportunity to visit more blogs in return. This last month and half, though, has been a watershed, not in terms of my writing, per se, but in terms of the incredible people I have met and corresponded with by blogging. It would seem that blogging has made the world smaller, and has made it possible to become part of a community joined together by common interests and the Internet.

Three bloggers (writers) I have begun to develop a sense of camaraderie with have their own unique perspective on personal issues that matter to them, but instead of trivializing their view points by ranting to no end, or breaking down into silly diatribes that say much about nothing, they breathe life into the ideas they present, and show obvious care about what they think and say.

Phil Dillon, for instance, blogs Another Man’s Meat, which he describes as being a blog that represents “my world and my times through the prism of the Kansas Flint Hills.” As you read his posts, there is no mistaking that here is a writer who has a keen sense of the art of invention and style. When Phil gets his hands on a political issue, he starts to tear it apart like a mechanic tearing into an engine. He does not ride on easy assumptions, but instead tests each one until he gets at the crux of the problem. This from an essay in response to those who took offence to his analysis of Nazi propaganda as similar in tone and reasoning of the anti-war movement that began to flair up in earnest when Cindy Sheehan served as the catalyst for certain groups that seem to have an obvious self-serving political agenda:

I understand the rhetoric is supercharged right now. But I can honestly say that it is not politics, but principle that guides my thinking. You may not agree with those principles, but try as you will, they can not be marginalized, nor will I abandon them. - Dillon, Offensive Enough?

When you read Phil, turn the TV off and pull up your chair with a cup of coffee. He’s a slow read, but well worth the time.

Another blog I began to take an interest in is Clive Allen’s Gone Away. Clive offers a unique British perspective on American culture and politics as a travels around the United States. His descriptions of our people, how we are similar and how we differ from the Brits, remind me of a modern day Walt Whitman:

It was their honesty and optimism that attracted me to them. All my life I had been surrounded by people who would go to great lengths to avoid calling a spade a spade, but here was a nation who saw nothing wrong in going straight to the point. They seemed so open and willing to learn about the world around them, almost innocent in their enjoyment of life. - Allen, “American Experience" p. 9

As I started to become well acquainted with these two writers, I discovered another blogger whose writing I have come to admire. Letting me be by Liz Strauss offers a compilation of writings that focus on a variety of topics specific to her life and to the process of writing. She writes with a deft touch that makes you feel welcomed to be in the company of her words. In terms of style, "The Turkey in the Trunk" exemplifies Liz at her best:

“The drive home took about two hours. It was me, music, and the empty Illinois cornfields. My thoughts were busy with the day to come, seeing my brother would convince everyone to cause diversions while he ate my lunch for me, and how my cousin Joe and I would sneak down to the basement when we were 'peopled out' to get space and catch up on things.”

Especially wonderful and informative are her non-fiction articles from “The 65th Crayon,” which she describes as “. . . a rainbow of news and insights about colorful people, places, and things.” “Scribbles: Snow White Never Kissed,” is an example of her reflections on fascinating tidbits of information. Though more than that, she offers astonishing personal insight and reflection on day-to-day events, but especially impressive is her output. Compared to her I am a definitely a turtle-paced poster. Hmmm, try to say that three times fast.

Anyway--all kidding aside and certainly no offence to Liz--what I have come to appreciate most about blogging these past few months is the sense of friendship and community that seems to have developed not just with them, but with those who also read my blog, and with those whose blogs I read as well. There's JC of Further Ironies; Patry Francis of The Marvelous Garden; EuroYank: An American Alien in Europe ; and many others I am getting to know and enjoy. But I am especially indebted and grateful to Phil and Liz for posting a review of my writing on their blogs, and to Clive for recognizing a need for a forum where serious writers representing a variety of views can link together by joining Writers Blog Alliance.

It used to be that if you wanted to have an exchange of ideas, or stories, you would have to make a considerable effort to belong to a specific community of people who shared common interests and goals. It is easy to do that when you live in a large city. It is even easier to do that when you attend or teach college classes. But in a small community isolated from a larger metropolitan area, it is very difficult to find a similar community. Those that do exist, as I have found, can be painfully provincial. Thanks to the Internet, the world has become smaller by becoming broader in ways that almost seem incomprehensible. Instead of hopping in my car to drive across town to meet with a friend to discuss our writing or a book, I can connect with him or her online. The only drawback, though, is not being able to be in their presence physically. But then, who knows. Because of the camaraderie we develop with our fellow bloggers, especially those who we consider to be in our immediate circle, and the alliances we form with them, we may decide that getting together for a day of discussion might be an entirely plausible proposition. And so here’s to that cup of coffee, virtual or otherwise, that we may someday drink in the spirit and wisdom of friendship, and commune with each other in a lengthy discussion on writing and literature.

By S. L. Cunningham