This essay was also reposted on July 2nd, 2013 by The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog.
Six months ago today I started blogging for Reflection and Choice, and it was this scary new thing that I had never done before. Like many things in life, I just agreed to it because I like the person who thought up the idea, even though I knew, as I was smiling, and nodding my head, and saying, “Sure, that would be great!” that I had no idea what I was doing, no idea what I would write, no idea if I could even do this. Obviously, I had been overdosing on Snow Patrol songs and “Just say yes!” was ringing in my ears. So, I said “yes.”
My first post was called “The End of Something,” but little did I know that it would be the beginning of something really meaningful to me, and a reminder of the big reason I love teaching at a university is that I get to learn something new every day. Plus, nothing makes me happier than when a professor gets schooled: Consider me a permanent student in the course known as “Blogging 101: You Don’t Know What Will Come of This.”
To mark six months of blogging freely without having one attorney contacted, I thought I would recount five things that I have learned from blogging so far. I have learned a lot more than five things, but hey, it’s a blog, and in general, it is best to remember that brevity is the soul of wit. If readers wanted a book, they would open their nooks, and forget clicking on my little blog post. I might have called this piece “Learn From My Mistakes,” or “It’s My Blog and I Will Write About What I Want To,” or “The Blah Blah in Blogging,” but the thing about a blog is that you can write about one thing, or three things, or everything, because there are very few rules, except the ones you impose on yourself, and there is always a second or third chance. Kind of like, well, real life.
1. You can blog for good. By this, I don’t mean forever. I mean you can blog to make this world a little brighter, even on the dimmest days. I felt really humbled when I could write about two people who passed away, people who left huge legacies behind that made living a better enterprise. This wasn’t easy. These people were towering examples that made me acutely aware of my own limitations, but that was the point: they made me want to be a better person, and if that feeling can be transmitted to readers and elevate them in some way, then I am all for it.
One of my friends who died was like a brother to me. When I was writing about him, I cried all the time, and when I taught on those days, my students thought I was turning into one of those professors who is a stone’s throw from showing up to class in her pajamas. But grief is real, and so it was important to write about it. The immediacy of the blog form is scary, but also a consolation–I didn’t want to wait two years for a commemorative book to come out to honor these outstanding individuals. I wanted to do it instantly. That is the miracle of the blog.
2. Things can go wrong, but no one dies on the operating table. I am Miss Very Low Tech, and so just learning the logistics of getting the thing up might make you think that I was on some kind of remedial track, and let me assure you, I am. I am quite sure that my Dean, Dr. Chris Hammons, will do an entire post comprised solely of hysterical emails that he has received from me. Those go something like this: ”I have posted a title and picture with absolutely no text. Not sure what happened. Can you help?” Or, “I am so sorry, but an email just went out to hundreds of people with the title, ‘Ten Great Things about The Great Gatsby Ten Great Things about The Great Gatsby.’ I guess I really liked the title and typed it twice. Can you help?” Or, “I just posted a picture of Daniel Day-Lewis, except it looks just like Laurence Olivier. Can you help?” Luckily, I just picture Dr. Hammons rolling his eyes, fixing it, and wondering what the next hysterical email will sound like. My guess is pretty much like all of the other previous ones.
Not all posts are winners. I did one on Halloween and Sylvia Plath, and although I thought it was okay, about three people read it. Then I did a piece called “Gatsby Fever,” and Baz Lurhmann reposted it on his big-deal Gatsby movie facebook page, and I had a lot more readers. You take the bad, but tell others about the good. But, as Snow Patrol (did I mention I love Snow Patrol?) reminds me whenever I write a train wreck or home run of an essay, “This isn’t everything you are.”
3. Don’t take responses too personally, unless they are fantastic! I had a few friends, I mean friends that I have known for decades, who took a little while before they joined my blogtastic fan club. I will just sum it up and say that I was crushed. But then I realized that they were getting divorced, or dealing with their child’s dyslexia, or writing a play. Thus providing me with hundreds of blogging topics. But what I am saying is that it had nothing to do with me: the blog was a big scary thing for me, but not necessarily for them. But the job of the blogger is to make it look easy, have sprezzatura, make it interesting for the reader for whenever they get around to it. That is the genre. But don’t wait too long–I wrote about Benghazi and General Petraeus the day he was testifying, and that was a good thing, because if you say the name “Paula Broadwell” right now, I guarantee that people have to think a minute. But here is the thing: you will get responses from complete strangers whom you have never met, and they have read something you have written, and it has struck a chord with them, and they have written the most moving or memorable comment, and you will never forget it. And suddenly, you think maybe people really can connect through the written word, and you just want to give peace a chance. It will crush your inner cynic faster than I can type “Thank you so much for reading.”
4. Blogs lead you to other blogs. I never thought about blogs until I started blogging. And let me tell you: it is harder than it looks. Just as Dolly Parton famously said “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap,” it takes a lot of thought to be glib–which is the aesthetic of the blog no matter how hard one tries to change it. I now have this whole new-found respect for bloggers, because coming up with the goods day in and day out, or week in and week out, takes some doing. I have been led to all sorts of blogs about topics ranging from professional cycling (which I don’t do, but I had to learn about before doing my preachy piece on Lance Armstrong) to flappers in the 1920s (can’t wait to blog about that!). This world is not huge and intimidating; it is small and full of amazing connections. I blogged about this fantastic play called “Wittenberg,” and now that the playwright has read the blog, he messages me great phrases like “Hulk Out,” which is so much better than “Makes Me Angry,” and then I parrot those phrases, and there is nothing that anyone can do about it. See? Blogging is fun.
5. Blogging can help diminish one’s hypocrisy quotient. I teach writing, and the fact that I have to PUBLICLY post each week is really good for my students to see. As in, “Well, I guess she really does write.” In high school, I used to think it was so grotesque to see hugely obese sports coaches yelling at kids, telling them to work harder and “run another mile.” I don’t want to be that kind of coach. I don’t like to ask my students to do what I won’t do myself. It just doesn’t really make any sense. Although I do make my son Christopher do a lot of math that I won’t do, so it is not a complete and total cure. I am just trying to reduce the number of categories of hypocrisy that are simultaneously functional. Like a blog, it is a work in progress.
Each time I have to post, I am scared out of my mind, aware of the inevitable failure that will happen, excited about the posts that seem to go better, addicted to the idea of checking my stats. It is a love affair with something, but I am not sure what it is.
Sometimes I think it is the topic, something that has whipped me into a frenzy, and I can’t wait to tell someone, anyone, about it, because the topic is so compelling.
Sometimes I think it is just the person I want to talk to about it, waiting to hear what he or she thinks.
But most of the time I think it is the words themselves, and how they string themselves together, line after line, waiting for the right reader at the right time. How maybe they have meaning for someone somewhere, maybe just for that minute, maybe for a very long time.