Thursday, November 29, 2007

If a Blogger Posts in the Forest, and No One Reads Him, Did He Really Have Anything To Say?

Well, it finally happened. Less than a week after I started posting to Muley's World again (after an eight-month hiatus), one of my old blogger friends, for some inexplicable reason, dropped by and discovered my return.

I told her in answering her kind comment that I wasn't sure how long I would be "back" because I wasn't exactly sure why I resumed blogging in the first place. I still am not, so I'm going to try and figure that out by writing this.

I started Muley's World and wrote my first tentative post way back in May 2005. It was done totally on a whim, after a friend who had a Xanga told me how easy it was and I found out that she was correct. It was easy and fun, and didn't require lots of expensive equipment, leave stains on the carpet or lead to social diseases or flatulence.

When I began Muley's World, I knew almost nothing about the blogosphere. The only blog I visited on any sort of regular basis was Dawn Eden's, and I didn't have a good idea of just who made up the blogosphere and why they had signed on.

I got into blogging for what I now see were wrong reasons, at least given the prevailing two-way, social, chatting-over-the-back-fence nature of the blogosphere. I have been a writer since my earliest days, and writing -- whether the result was a story, a column, a poem, a song lyric or a play -- was always an invigorating and challenging activity for me. I wasn't one of those strictly discipined and motivated people who can make themselves write every single day and always keep a significant long-range goal in mind for what they produce. I just like to write. In the same way some people love to work crosswords or fashion a gourmet meal from scratch, I enjoy the challenge of stringing random words together to make something greater than the whole. It's a puzzle I enjoy solving over and over again -- can I take this one absurdly simple idea, or this somewhat humorous picture in my mind, and expand it well enough to make a cogent, readable and (hopefully) humorous piece of prose out of it?

It was in this mindset, then, that I began Muley's World. I saw this blog as a wonderful new toy. Somehow, for absolutely no cost, I had been offered my own newspaper or magazine, to do with whatever I wanted. There were no boundaries at all! I could write essays, short stories, poetry, critiques, autobiographical memoirs -- heck, I could even type out my grocery lists -- and then publish them for an audience that conceivably could include readers in every country in the world. Wow! I was brimming with ideas and couldn't wait to get my words pixelated on the page.

Of course, I hoped that people would somehow find their way to my site and read what I had written. They soon did, thanks in part to a gracious, totally unexpected and wildly ego-stroking promo by Dawn Eden on her blog, and I was most pleased with the way things were working out. In the space of a few short weeks I had gone from being a somewhat frustrated wannabe writer to the owner and editor of an online publication that was attracting notice across the country. (In a small sense, of course -- no need to cue the John WIlliams orchestral score to begin here).

It didn't take me long, however, before I discovered that the blogosphere was a bit different than I'd first imagined it to be. I learned that blogs are expected to be quite communal little creatures. By blogging, you are in effect asking people -- strangers -- not only to read what you write, but to give you feedback on what you write through comments left after each post. If you simply read those comments, but do not return the favor by visiting the blogs written by the commentors and leaving comments of your own, you stand accused of being a (gasp) "lurker," a person who is considered to be as slimy and creepy and downright nasty as that ominous term implies.

In other words, if someone writes a column in a print publication and you read it without immediately mailing off a letter to the editor, you are considered normal. However, if you read that same author's columns online without once leaving a comment, you are considered a lurker who might just as well be peeping into the shutters of adolescent girls' bedrooms around bathtime.

Now, I am as social as the next person (well, almost), but I also have a huge shy, private streak. I didn't get into blogging as the means to a social end -- to meet women (I'm married) or to find a publisher (not actively, at least) or to discover new soulmates or beer buddies. I just wanted to write, and, as a secondary goal, to see if what I wrote might by some wonderful luck be interesting to anyone else. That's all.

I think of myself as a kind, caring and fair person, however, and I could understand why neglecting to even visit the sites of people who regularly visited mine, much less neglecting to read their pieces and leave comments in turn, could be viewed as selfish and unfair. I mean, after all, if I want you to visit my site, shouldn't I return the favor? Isn't that the Monroe Doctrine? Or is that the Geneva Convention?

And so I did visit. Often. As more and more people visited Muley's World, my blogroll got larger and larger, and I began rolling up into the driveway of the sites of my newfound cyberfriends on a regular basis. I learned a lot and laughed a lot, and got to enjoy stopping in for chatty, witty téte-a-tétes.

After a while, though, all of that cyber surfing started to feel less like an enjoyable hobby and more like a job with lots of overtime. Checking my site, reading any comments left, leaving responding comments on my site, then visiting the sites of the commenters, reading their new posts, leaving new comments, checking on my previous day's comments to see if those had been replied to and leaving a set of follow-up comments if necessary -- as that routine grew to encompass more than 20 blogs a day, I started having to steal time from work and family to keep up with it all. And, like it never had before, writing began feeling like a chore, an obligation, something I had to do or else I would let people down.

So I stopped. Cold. Twice.

Now I'm back, wondering why. Am I like an alcoholic who has been sober for months, wanting to test whether he can have a few teensy weensy sips of light wine each day without ending up in the gutter again? I haven't even told my wife or my friends that I've begun posting again at Muley's World -- that's how unsure I still am about all of this.

I do know one thing. I can't get back to that incredibly time-consuming whirl of blog-checking and drive-by commenting that I was on before. I don't think that means I never want to trade thoughts with my wonderfully sharp and funny cyber friends. Why deny myself that pleasure? But I don't think I can let that aspect of blogging guide what I do. To keep writing (and to keep sane) I think I need to adopt the philosophy that I will best serve my friends by hopefully writing things they might read to add a laugh or a provocative thought to their day. Period. Anything that I might be able to do beyond that will be gravy.

[A SHORT INTERMISSION. THE LOBBY REFRESHMENTS COUNTER WILL BE OPEN FOR 10 MINUTES. PLEASE DO NOT BRING SOFT DRINKS BACK INTO THE BLOG.]

I'm reading back over what I've just written and it all sounds so smug, so incredibly selfish. "I am such a writing talent that you should feel honored and lucky just to have the chance to read what I deem you are worthy to read." But I assure you that is not my intention.

You know what this blog is for me? Above all, it's not a vehicle to allow me to attract praise, but a tool that motivates me to get off my butt and do what I know I really want to do down deep inside, which is write.

If I get what I think is a great idea or a funny scenario in my head, and all I do is chuckle to myself about it and then resume my daily drudgery, then it's gone forever, and I've remained a lazy and flabby writer wannabe. If, however, I know that I have a blog that hasn't been updated in a while, I am motivated to take that small idea, chew on it, ruminate on it, let it spur my imagination to flex its muscles, and then let it lead me running to the keyboard to see if I can somehow corral all the wild thoughts flying around my mind into something cohesive and understandable. It's an incredibly fun test of skill that I never get tired of.

Then, after I have completed whatever piece I have written, if I think it's something worth sharing, if I think it's something that might be of value to someone else, then I have this wonderfully convenient thing called Muley's World where I can throw it in and let whomever wishes look at it. They can like it, they can hate it, but either way, it now exists in tangible form and I've had fun creating it.

This, as you see, is not at all the traditional model of most blogs, which seems to be basically "tell me about your day and I'll tell you about mine." Frankly, recounting most of my days would probably bore even your dullest friends and relatives, but maybe I can conjure up enough goofiness in my imagination to make all of you smile.

If there is anyone still reading this (and that is a highly doubtful proposition) I apologize for this very atypical Oprah-like confessional from me. I don't as a rule like to make my navel-gazing public. But more than anything, I wanted to wrestle with the issue of why I am blogging again to try and find the answer in my own mind, and if sharing some of that process with you in print has left you cold (or approaching REM sleep), I apologize.

I am glad to be back -- whatever that may mean. I thank Emma and any other longtime Muley readers who want to stop by, and I look forward to doing my best to return the favor from time to time. Above all, I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to stop talking to myself in public places and once again have a socially approved outlet for my malady.

7 comments:

Kate said...

There are social blogs, and there are writer's blogs. Darn fewer writer's blogs than social blogs, however much some of us wish we had the discipline to be wordsmiths. In any case, please do write! I enjoyed Muley's World before (although I didn't comment much) and won't feel at all hurt if you never visit my blog, which is at this point pretty much a social apparatus anyway.

So, yeah. Welcome back. :-)

Muley said...

Kate--

Good to see you again! It's like Old Home Week here at Muley's World. I'm going to get down the photo album and put on a pot of coffee. Thanks for your kind words, and I will be visiting you soon. However, can you send me your updated blog address, either by e-mail or by posting another comment? This screwed-up Blogger reply page has text running on top of your link, and I can't click it to get to you.

Kat said...

Welcome back Muley!

I hear you...I go through spurts of deleting all the blogs in my RSS feed because I get so overwhelmed with keeping up with them all. I also go through seasons of not commenting on other blogs. And yes, I've taken a complete sabbatical or two.

I think it all makes for a better blogger.

Stephanie said...

Okay, so I noticed that you had been "back" when you first posted again because I have that sneaky Google Reader that prevents covert posting. I just didn't get here to comment on your return because that stupid NaBloPoMo is killing my will to live.

And didn't you have an every flavor bean post but now I can't find it? I totally wanted to comment on that one. Or maybe I'm imagining it.

I better get some sleep; it's a bad sign when I start hallucinating blog posts.

sarahgrace said...

Muley, I'm glad you're back. In this highly social atmosphere, it is nice to read some real writing every once in a while.
I've always thought about posting one of these "why I blog" posts, but I don't have it all figured out yet. It's a wonder I manage to post at all! Ha ha.

Muley said...

Kat, Stephanie and Sarah--

Thanks for all the welcoming comments. I know we all go through periods of being allergic to blogging (well, maybe not Emma), but I think I have been a little worse than most. I've probably had only a couple of handfuls of posts in the last 18 months or so. In the blogosphere, that's akin to being dead and already decaying in your grave. But you're only dead until your next post, right?

Inkling said...

I'm glad you're back too--I'm not, exactly, and I completely sympathize with both your reasons for and against. Can't make it a lifestyle--has to be an impulse, not a duty. Good luck with it this time around . . .