Tuesday, October 07, 2008

How blogging has changed my life

UPDATE: Now including Josh of Thoughts from Kansas, whom I've also had the pleasure of meeting and had simply forgotten to include earlier. Sorry, Josh.

You just think I've revealed my identity . . . you still don't know which one is Scruffy.

(Image found here.)

A while back, Bruce of It Seems to Me . . . has tagged me to address the matter posed in this post's title. Bruce, by the way, is someone I've been reading for some time now. He usually blogs on matters of Christian doctrine from a wry-but-respectful, slightly left-of-center perspective; if you're interested in these sorts of themes and like good, careful writing, Bruce is your guy.

Thanks for tagging me, Bruce. Here are the specifics of the meme:

1. Write about 5 specific ways blogging has affected you, either positively or negatively.

2. Link back to the person who tagged you.

3. Link back to the parent post (L.L. Barkat is not so much interested in generating links, but rather in tracking the meme so she can perhaps do a summary post later on that looks at patterns and interesting discoveries.)

4. Tag a few friends or five, or none at all

5. Post these rules — or just have fun breaking them

Well, all right. My responses are below the fold:

1) Through and because of this medium, I have met a diverse group of humane, decent, intelligent people I would never have met otherwise, some of them in person. Directly as a result of blogging, I have met, in person, a political philosopher, a freelance writer/church planter in Kansas City, a journalist, a lawyer from Missouri, a lefty science-and-education wonk, and a local cyclist who clerks at a liquor store--and next week the Mrs. and I will be meeting a writer/editor in Mexico City. That list of course expands exponentially and extends to three continents as I think about the people I've met virtually. And though I never personally met Winston of Nobody Asked . . . , the news of his death this summer genuinely saddened me.

Corollary: I find myself regularly visiting other blogs whose subjects I never would have imagined I'd otherwise be especially interested in. For me, the primary example is Pam's blog, Tales from the Microbial Laboratory. Pam's two big subjects are gardening and science (she studies microbes found in coral reef environments). But Pam is such a patient and skilled writer that she ends up confirming the truth of something I tell my students: that if you write about what you care about in such a way that it shows you care, people will find value in what you have to say. The upshot: Pam has told me that in her job as a researcher she does little actual teaching; but, speaking for myself, I have learned much from her through her blog . . . and I've gotten some pretty good ideas for blog posts from her, too.

2) I won't claim that my writing has improved as a result of blogging, but I can say that my awareness of my writing has improved--and usually, as these things go for those of us who can say the same, it's my awareness of what bothers me about my writing. I've said many times and in various ways that, while I'm grateful for those of you who visit regularly, all I can see when I reread my posts is what needs improving. Though that awareness is a good thing, it does drive me to distraction: no matter how long I've fiddled with a post, it's usually the case that, no sooner do I click on the Publish Post button and read it again, I'll go back into the Edit mode to fiddle with it yet again. But then again, that's the lot in life of any writer, not just bloggers.

3) Not that I claim to be any good at it, but I think I'm a more careful observer of those things that that pop up here as subjects. I'm not sure if it's unequivocally a good thing to have in the back of one's mind that "Il n'y a pas de hors-blog;" but one thing it does do that is good, from the perspective of wanting/needing to improve my writing, is focusing my attention, of seeing/reading/hearing something and, in that instant, finding myself already trying out phrases, wondering what about this whatever-it-is might be of interest to someone not here and how best to establish that connection, etc.

4) Jorge Luis Borges, in his piece "Kafka and His Precursors," makes the claim that a writer can never know who has influenced him or her until s/he begins to write, and I have found that to be true of my writing here. To take one brief example: My field in grad school was 20th-century American literature and, to be sure, I fairly regularly make reference to those folks here. But time and time again, as I sit down to blog about something or other--it really doesn't matter what--the writer whose work and whose approach to that work most readily comes to mind is Thoreau. I certainly like his work well enough when I read it, and I love teaching the bits of it that I get to teach nowadays; but while in college and grad school I never even wrote a paper on Thoreau, much less made him the subject of my life's work. Still, until I started blogging I never would have guessed just how deeply ingrained in me Thoreau's example is. I mean, better Thoreau for you and me both than, say, James Fenimore Cooper, but I can't tell you how strange that feeling is to be blogging along and rereading it and suddenly realize it is just very low-rent Thoreau's journal-type stuff and where the heck did that come from???.

5) A meta-comment: in rereading the above items, I see clearly how they interconnect with each other; in like fashion, blogging has made me more aware of, and better able to see, the at times surprising interconnectedness of events and the ideas they give rise to. I certainly find value in that as I try to make sense of this world--the operative word here being "try," of course.

Well. There they are, for what they're worth. As for tagging folks, I'll let you select yourselves. I hope some of you will take it up; a little introspection every once in a while rarely hurts.


Pam said...

Very kind, thank you. It's always nice to be appreciated.

I don't often talk about my blog to my friends or lab group (or at least very rarely) - but recently, after a particularly chaotic week, a research specialist in my lab said that she was beginning to understand why I blog: that it was the only peaceful time in my day. I don't know whether that made me feel good or bad (probably both).

I think your comment that it shows how interconnected everything is - well, that's what I've realized. Like six degrees of freedom.

John B. said...

Thanks for your comment, Pam. It suggests to me something I also could have said: the idea of writing as play is something that blogging hasn't changed in my life so much as reinforced for me as a possibility.

So: 5 1/2 ways.