Thoughts on Blogging in 2018

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The writer does not simply give us what he thinks or knows; he gives us himself.
—from “Style and the Man” by John Burroughs

While poking around the backend of my WordPress account, I recently discovered several of my old blogs from 2007-2010. Truthfully, they’ve been “hidden” for years, so I forgot they even existed—and what a treasure trove of me there was to re-discover there! I’ve blogged under several site names over the years and typically abandoned one for the next, but the consistent theme of all my blogs has been me wrestling, semi-publicly, in some small way with the big questions of life. Although my posts were very sporadic during those early years, I decided to import them all here, so that I can have one, whole, continuous blogging record from when I started until the present day.

If you’ve been reading and writing blogs for as long as I have (apparently almost eleven years), you will have noticed that blogging has pretty much died. The mass extinction of blogs seems to have reached its peak sometime around 2015: First came the exhaustion and disillusionment of the bloggers whose monetized blogs straddled the line between compensation and exploitation, then came the “Is everyone having fun on social media without me?” phenomenon that effectively killed those still standing (hardly surprising given that Facebook went from 1 million to 2 billion active monthly users between 2004 and 2018).

It has been really disheartening to watch as blogs I used to love—or had the misfortune to discover three or four years too late—shifted their creative focus to social media silos, where no one owns their content and everything they produce is then sold back to them in some form or another. Gross. And the ephemeral nature of the internet in general, and social media specifically, means that if these “platforms” close up shop, all of that content will be lost, irretrievable—every memory, every family photo that you diligently documented on Facebook will be gone in the blink of an eye. The Wayback Machine doesn’t archive social media, but it does archive blogs.

Amid all this bad news, there is one interesting ray of hope: Many of us who started blogging more than a decade ago are still doing it. Perhaps it has something to do with the sheer amount of work we have put into, and continue to put into, these virtual spaces over the years. Regardless of our reasons, we keep coming back even when we know a lot of folks are no longer visiting our blogs, and if they do visit they are skimming rather than engaging (as we all do these days). We keep making beautiful pictures with professional-grade cameras, and painstakingly edit them in Photoshop, knowing that nearly everyone who actually sees them will do so on a tiny iPhone screen.

One might rightfully ask: Why bother? I can only answer for myself, but being able to look back on my life through my own thoughts and pictures is an incredible gift. And, I think this may be true for others, as well. Over the years, the posts of my favorite bloggers have become less frequent, but more sincere. Their blogs have matured with them, becoming more personal, more philosophical, more reflective—less about “projects” and “tutorials” and “shop updates” than about living. It’s really quite beautiful and inspiring. Of course, sometimes my older posts make me wince a little with embarrassment, but I think that’s a pretty common experience for those of us who make things to be seen. As John Burroughs noted, publishing requires being exposed.

And, exposure can be a good thing; it’s an integral aspect of the web. Back in the day, new bloggers sought exposure through inclusion in the “blogrolls” of more popular blogs. I found so many of the blogs that I still read and love from some blogroll or another, but you rarely see them anywhere today—like so many of the visual and functional aspects of websites, blogrolls largely died out with the advent of mobile technology. As an extension of this love letter to blogging I’m bringing back my blogroll, and I’ll be adding to it over the coming months—you can find it in the sidebar (desktop) or at the end of this page (mobile).

Come what may, I plan to continue blogging for the foreseeable future—perhaps you will consider joining me? Trust me: If you can post on Facebook, you can use WordPress (or Blogger or Typepad or Squarespace . . . ) and I’d love to add you to my blogroll 🙂

Le blog est mort, vive le blog!

boston in bloom

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Out of the nursery and into the garden
where it rooted and survived its first hard winter,
then a few years of freedom while it blossomed . . .
developed strange ideas about its height
and suffered the pruning of its quirks and clutters,
its self-indulgent thrusts . . .

Its oldest branches now, the survivors carved
by knife blades, rain, and wind, are sending shoots
straight up, blood red, into the light again.

—from “The Cherry Tree” by David Wagoner

It was my birthday this past weekend. Now I am 37. My husband and I were in Boston on an unrelated errand, and the morning of my birthday dawned bright and clear. From our hotel room I could see the city coming to life—teams rowing up and down the Charles River, ducks arriving and departing, cars zooming hither and thither.

After attending to our obligations, we had the late afternoon and evening to ourselves, and we spent it strolling along the river where, overnight, a profusion of blossoms had sprung up out of the veritable desert of early spring in New England to cover what seemed like every branch and every inch of earth along the riverbank.

Everywhere we went we could hear people wondering aloud, “Has that tree always been here?” while they trained their cell phones and cameras at the shocking sprays of pink petals—in spring, mother nature wants to be noticed. The beautiful weather and the beautiful flowers, and the opportunity to stroll along the riverbank at the golden hour with the man I love . . . who could ask for a better gift?

At 37 I am longing a little bit for change—I feel restless. No doubt change will come, though probably not in the form I expect. In the coming year I hope that, despite life’s constant pruning, with each new day I will endeavor—like the cherry tree—to put out fresh shoots and grow toward the light.

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welcoming (imploring! beseeching!) spring

Measure your health by your sympathy with morning and spring.
If there is no response in you to the awakening of nature,
if the prospect of an early morning walk does not banish sleep,
if the warble of the first bluebird does not thrill you,
know that the morning and spring of your life are past.
Thus may you feel your pulse.

—from the journal of Henry David Thoreau (1859)

Harsh words from Mr. Thoreau, but I will tell you this: I could not have more sympathy with morning and spring if I tried! But, my sympathy is cloaked with impatience—when will spring truly arrive? Even the plants are anxious, I can feel that. The iris and lily sprouts have popped their heads up out of the soil, but they’re unsure whether or not the time of growth has come. Most mornings they seem to huddle together in an attempt to keep warm. Even the chives are plodding.

I’ve been doing what I can during this protracted gloom, raking up the detritus of winter storms, pruning (hopefully correctly) our pear trees, checking on this, that, and the other thing in the yard. But, still, mother nature makes me wait. Perhaps the ‘early’ Easter is to blame for the dissonance I feel—the Resurrection has come but the world slumbers on, oblivious to the miracle that has transpired.

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Mandatum Novum

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Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos ut et vos diligatis invicem.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
—John 13:34

It is Good Friday, and the weather is enticingly warm. From underneath their shrinking blanket of snow, I can hear the plants calling to me. Without boots I trace the narrow strips of snowless earth, and find myself at the edge of the bed of winter wheat we planted in September. “Can these dry bones live?” I ask myself. I ruffle the half-grown sprouts with my hand and they feel alive, despite their worse for wear appearance. Fragile, but alive nonetheless.

Before I know it, I am fluffing up more patches of wheat, pulling out dead and decaying leaves that fell in the fall. I run and dig my rake out of a pile of bits and bobs in the garage, and scrape it gently across the surface until the whole bed shines from within with the green light of life. With each passing moment, I feel more alive myself.

In the distance I hear geese, and as they get closer I look up to watch them pass. Suddenly I am overwhelmed. I feel my throat tighten—sometimes spring does this to me. The geese are so beautiful, and seeing them return reassures me that renewal is possible in this world where it sometimes feels like everything is passing away. I feel warmth and light pouring out from me toward the geese, toward the spring, toward the plants slowly greening beneath the snow. It is laughably, joyously easy to love all of these things.

It is not so easy to love humankind—I have been painfully aware of that this week. As I prune the raspberries and claw the dead leaves from around their canes, I think about the Lord’s new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you. “But,” I protest, “I am not You. I do not know how.” I sit with that thought for awhile and then, in the stillness, the small voice says, “Love them like you love the geese.” Perhaps that is a good place to start.

in the woods // quadragesima

There are things you can’t reach. But you can reach out to them, and all day long.
Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing around as though with your arms open.
And thinking: maybe something will come, some shining coil of wind, or a few leaves from any old tree—
And now I will tell you the truth. Everything in the world comes. At least, closer.

—from “Where Does the Temple Begin, Where Does It End?” by Mary Oliver

It is February. It is Lent. We walk through the white woods, and the winter does not bite. The snow sags and melts, forming clear pools ringed with ice. A vole, running low, slips between two worlds and descends. Remnants of beech leaves curl inward and turn slightly in the breeze, resembling tiny wings when they meet. The bones of the world are heaped around us. The skeleton trees stretch up and out, hatching the gray sky with their dark branches as their roots tangle and sink deeper . . . into the dust from whence all creatures come.

And, yet, a voice on the wind is singing: Behold, I make all things new.

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