Wednesday, August 26, 2009

An apology for bloggery. (Warning, it's a long one, with no pictures...)

' Stirring suddenly from long hibernation,
I knew myself once more a poet
Guarded by timeless principalities
Against the worm of death, this hillside haunting...'

Robert Graves again, 'Midwinter waking'.

It's not midwinter, but late summer, turning; not the wolf, who really bites, but the dog - torpor, apathy, doubt and weariness of spirit. And I don't know, and certainly don't call, myself a poet. 'Poet ' to me is a descriptor like 'beautiful', a desirable thing to be, a compliment to be paid to others, but certainly not something one could or should apply to oneself. I write the odd poem. I seem to remember Paula, she of the House of Toast, who is a poet and practises medicine, saying something along the lines that writing poems for pleasure is no more being a poet than sticking Band-aids on your kids is practising medicine, and who'd argue with that?

So, no, I don't know myself a poet. What I have awoken to again with joy, what I know myself to be, is a blogger. Nothing more, nothing less.

It doesn't have quite the same ring, I know. Indeed, the gawky, geeky ugliness of the word 'blog' as any part of speech, is one of the things that does us a disservice; how are we to take ourselves quite seriously in such a ridiculously named activity?

We all know the uncomprehending, mocking way non-bloggers enunciate it when you mention it to them, and the consequent shrinking withdrawal we feel in the face of it ( but take courage, fellow bloggers 'blessed are ye when men shall revile you...'!). But there it is, the word has stuck, even attempts to restore the original and slightly more graceful 'weblog' have failed. Blogging, it's what I do.

And I think I'm going to go on doing it, at least for the foreseeable. There's been quite a lot of discussion around some of the blogs I read, from people who have been doing this very, very well, for a lot longer than I have, about what it means to them, and where they might be going with it, suggesting that perhaps it's had its day as a form, or expressing their personal reasons for needing to move on or change. Some express serious disillusion, some a lack of inspiration, some pragmatically, and with reason, blame the season, some relative newcomers, like teenagers who have just discovered sex, say they cannot imagine a time when they don't want to do it with the enthusiasm, energy and regularity that they do at the moment. I don't know how I'll feel about it when I've been at it twice as long as I have now, but rather than contemplating joining the voyage into the west just yet, I've decided I'll stick around.

It's not like it was, I admit. A little less than three years ago, when I first started, I used to creep downstairs at 6 am of a winter morning, wrap up in shawls and dressing gowns, light a fire if I was really spoiling myself, bring Mol's cushion over next to me ( a habit she still insists on whenever I sit down to the computer ), plug-in the old dial-up, and I was as happy as I've ever been. I had to resolve to stay in bed on Sundays so Tom didn't feel like too much of a blog widower. It went on like that for quite a while, almost like being in love, as the song goes. And I started visiting more and more other blogs, and those people started to come and read and look and say nice things.

You see, and perhaps you know, the part of me that reflected and observed and wrote and made pictures had been starved for a very long time, and now it had something to feed it. Perhaps that's the wrong metaphor. Rather, it had amassed material but there was nowhere for it to go, nothing to do with it, no one much to see it, so the faculty to make something of it was undeveloped. I scribbled in notebooks, drew and painted from time to time. I'd written something resembling poems on and off for years, but never thought of submitting anything anywhere, which was probably just as well. Apart from letters, the odd thing I showed Tom, or rarely a friend, a picture I might stick on the wall for a time, and I suppose home-made teaching materials or gifts might count, nothing I made ever really saw the light of day. And frankly, looking back over it, much of it was simply crap, because I, at least, need to hold the things I do up to the light in order to evaluate and get any better at them. I'd had the camera and been taking photos for about six months before, but was quite uncertain of the point of what I was doing.

Because, in the end, like most people, I need affirmation. Not worldly success, not to be outstanding or saleable, but, as a dear friend said, to have it put up on the classroom wall. And to get a star for it too, is nice. But I always had the idea that unless what one did was outstanding and/or saleable, there was little point in doing it, except 'for one's own pleasure', which for me was always an uncertain area which failed to be fertile enough ground. Like the tiresome Wordsworthian namesake I grew up with, I was 'a creature there were few to praise...'

But no, it's not quite like it was. (But what is? is of course the obvious corollary to that...) Sleep tends to be a more attractive proposition than screen and keyboard at 6 am now, and while I probably spend more time on-line than I did then - not least because broadband makes that more feasible - less of it is on my own personal blogging. Mostly because the wonderful, talented, sensitive people who come and read and look and say nice things, thoroughly deserve to have me to go and read and look and say nice things to them, and if I don't, they won't come and look and... etc Which is exactly as it should be, because another thing about this medium, or the way most of us do it, is its reciprocity, and its positivity. A non-blogging occasional blog-reader said recently, something like 'Don't you get tired of all that niceness, all that 'great post, well done' stuff?'. Well, no, actually. Naturally, a well-thought out evaluation, coupled with a sincere sharing of the reader's own experience, is even better, and I get plenty of those too, but if people just have time to leave a pleasantry or encouraging word that's fine. Rudeness wouldn't be, but then I don't really post much that's contentious enough to generate any. What I do get tired of is people I've come to care about getting hurt and driven out by trolls and nastiness, but that's another story, happily an infrequent one, but at all is too often.

So, it's the recognition that got me hooked, the feeling that what I was doing pleased people. Anyone who says they blog purely to please themselves is, I fear, being rather disingenuous. That of course comes with a downside: the tension between pleasing people and your own self-expression. The kind of blog that develops gets determined somewhat by its perceived audience. This bothers me less than it did; I've come round to the idea that writing and illustrating pleasant and informative pieces which encourage people to want to come on holiday in this area is probably more appropriate here than exploring dark and difficult areas of my psyche and experience, which are rather more limited anyway. I get satisfaction from one of my elderly students coming into class with a grin and saying 'I liked the one with the butterfly on the man's bald head!', or the knowledge that my family are keeping up with what's going on in my life better than they were ever able to before. I think I can keep a generally pretty and cheerful blog without compromising my integrity, but I credit anyone who cares enough to read here regularly with the emotional maturity to be able to cope with a certain level of discomfort without my having to feel too responsible for them.

(On this subject: a while ago, another blogger I read, who is generally chatty and funny and upbeat - dogs, kids, flowers, all the kind of stuff I'm happy to feature - expressed, quite elliptically in a list post, pain and disappointment over an aspect of her life, which was quite distressing to read, but which it seemed brave to be so honest about. However, some her commenters were obviously so discomforted that she clearly felt obliged to redress the balance by writing a positive list, to reassure everyone it was OK really, to which one commenter replied in terms of 'Ah, that's better, now I can feel the love'. That kind of obligation to be nice and keep everyone feeling happy and comfortable should not be required.)

But it isn't only that I'm drawn off elsewhere which has reduced my blogging drive. Perhaps some of the backlog of material I had to draw on, that compulsive urge to release pent up creativity, has been used up. I'm not sure though, to some extent I actually feel I've still got too much potential material, and it's selecting from it that's the problem. I carry the camera less, in the knowledge that I have folders and folders of haphazardly edited pictures using up memory already. Writing this, I am beginning to feel bogged down by my own volublity, and doubts are creeping back about the point, or pointlessness, of what I'm doing, what is worth keeping and what needs to be struck out. I know very well from my own on-line reading and from the responses I get here, that short is beautiful, and, certainly with me, short with pictures is better still. It's not about limited concentration span, it's simply about limited time. The screen is not really the place where I want to read at length, there are books for that, and I have rather returned to reading more from the page, which was rather abandoned in those heady early blogging days.

And I am slow. A post like this takes ages: a pile of longhand scribble, added to as and when I think of things, perhaps a Wordpad file, then composing in that silly little Blogger box. If I'm using photos, the time to edit, export and upload them, reorder them in HTML... I am not one of those fortunate, and clever, ones who can construct a cogent and articulate blogpost in my head the car, keep it there, and write it out in one go in between sundry other bits of multi-tasking any old moment when I get home, with no more than a bit of sprucing up. Furthermore, my typing is dreadful. And always I'm aware that I'm presuming on people's time expecting them to read it, and justifying that expenditure of time becomes harder.

I am still, frequently, discouraged as much as inspired by the excellence of others.

Some things about my life have altered too. We had lived in a state of unfinished simplicity in our house for a long time; at the beginning this was quite close to squalor and privation, by the time I started blogging it had evolved to reasonable comfort and room-to-move, but our living environment was still Spartan and provisional. The advent of this slim folder of light, and its attendant wandering digital eye, its potential for creating, for words and colour and the examination of my experience, was not far short of a life-saver. That state of affairs has changed, quite suddenly it seems over the last year or so; surfaces can be covered with colour and textile, pictures and books that I've not seen for ages are emerging to be framed and hung and shelved and enjoyed again, some new ones added. Life is expanding in other directions again. My paid work too, looks as though it may be taking some new directions. All this brings me away from the computer.

This falling away, the wandering off of the blogging daemon, the dulling of that first, intoxicating, opening up of creative potential, so that it seems to shrink and become illusory, can be hard to bear. I know some for whom it is very, very painful. They are, I think, among the very best, because they are exceptionally sensitive and talented, have found very deep things in themselves, have given enormously, but as bloggers and as human beings, they are the ones who never feel themselves good enough. I wish it wasn't so.

Some, like the one or two members of my family that I badgered into giving it a try, see that, while it is an interesting idea, they are not prepared to commit the time and energy required, and drift off early. Others blog quite intensely but then come to question the sense they have that all experience has become potential material for the blog, and fear that they are losing something of life's immediacy, that the blog monster is always looking over their shoulder, whispering 'And how would you blog this?'

I've wondered about this. But now I wonder if perhaps you can't turn that blog monster round, and make that kind of self-consciousness into a more useful self-awareness, that it can serve you rather than you serving it, as a part of the examined life. Blogging has certainly served to make me far more acutely, constructively aware of many things. I know now that I will not, and do not want to, turn everything into blogfodder. But the drive to turn the raw matter of life into art, (and that's not a word I use easily), is that so bad? I don't know, I don't know.

And a couple of those people that I know, who've quit because they feel the blog-monster is gobbling up their life like this, have cleaned their palettes, reassessed their priorities, and come back again, having simplified and narrowed their way of working, reduced their obligations, banished their trolls if necessary, and are doing it better than ever.

It has its limitations as a medium. But, without wishing to be too platitudinous, I do think that only by recognising and accepting the limitations of things, or people, or anything, can you let go of expectations, and with them disappointments, and begin to come into what can be gained from, learned and loved about them. I find now the blog has become a little less important, I'm able to relax about it and perhaps enjoy it more. While I still find myself wandering back rather too quickly after posting to see if anyone's commented yet, I don't break my heart if they haven't. I'm prepared to write this post of a length that's bound to put some people off, because I want to. I'm very pleased that I always resisted the temptation of the stat-counter, and hardly ever even check how many profile views I've had now! And my other blog is there as a discipline and an antidote to blogger's neediness; I write it most days and keep to a word count, its scope is strictly limited. If anyone wants to join me on a walk they're very welcome, but I don't expect it.

Sometimes I feel like I'm fiddling while Rome burns, in that I seldom write about the wider world, but I have to recognise my own limitations too, what I can and can't do, and I don't know that fiddling's better or worse than hand-wringing.

And, for me, there is so much to love. I don't want to twitter or do Facebook; if blogs like this one are getting old fashioned, clunky and ponderous, then so much the better, I'm very happy to be in an evolutionary backwater, thank you. The mixed-media, neither-fish-nor-fowl nature of it suits me, a bit of this, a bit of that, mixing photos and poems and anecdote and banality as and how it comes.

The colour, the interest, the community and contact, the confidence in myself and in what I love and am capable of, which I have found and will continue to find here has enhanced the way I go about the other things that are growing and coming, or coming back into my life. Many of the books and music and other things I've got piling up to enjoy and explore have been discovered through other bloggers. And though some of the friendships come and go, and that's fine, some of them have become more important than I can say, and will continue to be. Even the new work project that's on the horizon is with another blogger.

One of the marvellous things I've found through all this is qarrtsiluni. Naturally, if being recognised and pinned on the wall and given a star is important, there's no better place for it to happen. However, I submitted nothing for the last edition. This was, I realised, because I was too involved in exploring the stuff I brought back from the Chartres trip in May, and I didn't want to be distracted from that, and to rob what I was doing here in favour of something elsewhere. This time, for their Words of Power edition, I set off for the Seven Saints Chapel, where, I discovered, the Saints have been replaced! I got some good pictures, and if they accept any of them I'll be delighted of course, but part of me was slightly disappointed that it meant breaking up material for what would, I thought, make a good photo essay here.

That made me happy. Yes, going on and getting approval in a wider world is great, but what matters most, I realised, is what I do here. My garden, here, under the Box Elder tree, I'm cultivating it. And as September blows in, in the last week of August as it often does, and the first yellow leaves whirl to the ground, and into my heart an air, and I feel alive again, that's where you'll find me. For the foreseeable.
(I've supplied no links and named no names here. Most of you know who you are, I think, my dears.)


marja-leena said...

Don't apologize for the length, Lucy, for I think this is a marvelous piece of writing, (something I always envy as you also wrote). I read this with head-nodding and recognition of so many things I also feel, yet love this medium greatly in spite of its flaws - like life itself, isn't it? So, I'm very glad you are staying for the foreseeable, it makes my staying that much more pleasurable and rewarding. Onwards....

Zhoen said...

Oh, that was lovely. Like a good nourishing meal after too many days just grabbing a bite.

Epistolaries? Diarists? We are all voices in the choir.

Catalyst said...

Oh, Lucy, don't leave. 'Twould be like a dagger plunged into my breast. (Where the hell did that come from???) This is a well-stated essay on the problems, as well as the pleasures, of "bloggery." (And you're right - that is a horrible word.) I doubt there is a blogger of some time who has not gone through this same questioning of one's intentions, meaning, or manifestos. But at the risk of sounding like a fawning faun, may I just say that you are one of the best. Your photos and writing are top of the line. And we need that. And you.

apprentice said...

I'm glad you are staying put Lucy, I come here when I need a top up of something worthwhile. I would miss you greatly.

HLiza said...

When you write beautifully from the heart, who cares about pictures and the length..I'm surprised too that I followed every lines, marveling at your sincerity and accurate choice of words..and the richness of it. I too feel attached to the blogworld; especially my own blog as it develops things I had never imagined I will do 30 years ago. I found my love in taking pictures here..but the best thing is it's a medium for me to release words that had been trapped in my mind for so long. I've tried Facebook but it doesn't give me the satisfaction. I no longer write to please others now ans just like you I don't watch my stat counter anymore. I don't know how long I'll be doing this..but I hope the friendship that I've made along the way will survive.

herhimnbryn said...

Every word, read.
You have described blogging just as I see it too. Like any urge to create, the desire to post on a blog comes and goes.
A dear friend (a non blogger), calls my blog an 'online journal'. That's how I see it too. Some days there are regular entries and sometimes not.
And I like having some of my 'work put up on the wall', the odd gold star is welcome too.

The Crow said...

What you have written (and well, to my thinking) could have come from my heart, Lucy. You have touched - well, more than just touched - you have opened and explored at wonderful length subjects I've had flitting through my mind of late.

Others have already responded with the best lines I could have imagined, so I will just say you are one of the treasures I have found and - selfishly, perhaps - want to hang on to for as long as possible.

So glad you are here and that you do what you do.


Rouchswalwe said...

Life is short.
This is part of the reason I decided to try my hand at blog writing almost a year ago. And you, sweet Lucy, were one of the first to welcome me to the neighborhood, so to speak, by leaving a comment in my mailbox. I have discovered that the place is filled with characters ~ overwhelmingly kind, thoughtful, mature individuals from whom there is much to learn. Making time to correspond with such intelligent and full-hearted folks seems a worthy course of action. I can't help but view this as a sort of letter writing ~ as a sensible and enjoyable way of sharing observations and ruminations across great distances. Lucy, you write of a desire to cultivate your garden under the Box Elder tree. I cherish my walks, long or short, in that lively garden.

Lucy said...

Oh what a fraud I am. I came straight here first thing in the morning thinking, maybe one or two... eight comments on an overnighter!

As the big fat lady at the end of the Morecombe and Wise Show used to say, you're all lovely lovely people and I love you all!

Roderick Robinson said...

Well, there you are: the doubts, the speculations, the exploratory rockets, the half-drawn (sometimes fully drawn) veils have brought about the heartfelt comments of people who apparently get up even earlier than I do - darn! Blogging like gardening and theosophy becomes a reactive part of our life, merely a wider extension of those on-the-corner conversations we have where we say something and hope to hear something in reply. Since you have virtually defined the blogger's mindset I can only add one thing: I confess I look for the echo, hoping that I've touched a familiarity out there. Sometimes I've blogged for approval and this always turns out to be wrong. One sets out one's stall; the words should be mute and non-manipulative. One runs the risk of being ignored, as one should. No one has the right to a response though I have to say some people come close...

The Joined up Cook said...

Affirmation strikes a chord. Well, actually a great big gong.

I like visiting my statcounter to see where my readers come from.

I had a guy based in India with an east European name come and read my one and only poem and sing its praises this morning.

The concept of that happening absolutely enthralls me.

Quite set me up for the day to think that someone so far away should be able to do that.

Keep blogging. It is a unique way to communicate and so diverse.

Unknown said...

I very seldom read anything of any length on the screen, which is why I like short blogs and lots of pictures. That is only to say that I have just finished reading your account of bloggery from beginning to end, without my mind wandering once. How well and with what detail you establish your identity! I have the same inhibition about using the word poet to decribe myself, but let me help you by saying that your blog is full of poetry. There must be a better word than "blog" better suited perhaps to contain the glamour of "poetry". But for the time being, blogger, blog on.

christopher said...


Consider this a bright star for your wall. A very good piece indeed. I just went through the change. I knew it would come. The old commitment is gone in a matter of days and now I am closing ranks behind it's loss, not knowing what comes next yet. If I think a little I can tell stories on how some things lead to other things and how organic it all is. Stories are good but only go so far.

On How It All Changes

It happens just so.
Sudden hard right turn staggers
the world as it was
and I mutter down
the new path, wonder what's up,
why is the old, old?
I can't put my heart
back where it was even to
save my entire life.


In little ways and bigger ways this is really the story of my life.

Fire Bird said...

I love your honesty, beautiful writing, and keen eye. Thankyou for this. Though very far away from it all right now, I recognise much that you say. Many mixed e motions accompanying...

Setu said...

Lucy, I think that what makes a difference among blogs is that special ounce of talent mixed with empathy possessed by a creative mind. It is what confers interest to a blend of words and images, which, interwoven by somebody else (by a mere average "blogger") would sound quite dull. You have been given a fair amount of talent and empathy, thus you offer us the perception of some bright epiphanies sparkling amid routine, some "je ne sais quoi" or "presque rien" (as Jankélévitch would say)that make life definitely worth living. Thanks for that!

Dave said...

This was a great look at the personal creative blogging experience. Yeah, the honeymoon period has passed for me, too -- but my blog and I have settled into a comfortable, happy, long-term relationship. If I need to recapture that thrill again, I simply start other blogs on the side. :)

As for qarrtsiluni, you are really a model contributor in the sense that you fit almost perfectly the image Beth and I have of who we'd like to publish and have guest-edit -- not that we have anything against the more ambitious, academic writers we also publish. But we started as an outlet for blogging writers and artists, and we cling to the hope that those kind of folks will remain our core audience.

Anil P said...

It is the pressure of keeping up that can weigh one down. Starting down the road it is surprising how quick matter builds up behind the pen, seeking to push it at a pace it cannot quite keep for, it values its pauses.

Somehow blogging is like moulting, shedding skin for a new one, each time lightened by the one offloaded and energised by the one newly acquired.

Lucy, visiting you is like a necessary pause on a journey, to admire the landscape, sometimes of the mind, before continuing onward.

Lucas said...

I find that this gripping post touches the very nerve of blogging. In a way it deconstucts the simple joy of first experiences and takes us forward to a wider perspective. In another sense it tells it how it is.
I thank you for this post and all the variety and depth of your posts and poems and photographs.
Long live the forseeable!

Rosie said...

blogging is a many splendoured thing.
.. the pleasure for me is in the variety of voices and the meetings of minds.

Dave King said...

I don't know what you think you have to apologise for. You are to be congratulated. You have found your way - even if only (only?) for the foreseeable future. You write well and inspirationally. I keep veering between the two, not quite knowing which is North and which South. I envy you that. Every blessing to you and to your future blogging and anything that may come after.

Lucy said...

And again, thanks.

I'm not sure whether anyone comes back to read comment replies, especially when I've left it this long! But thanks for all the responses, and compliments. You really are the most wonderful, diverse, thoughtful bunch of people, and I appreciate you taking the time. I value all your different approaches, and the different stages you're at. I'm sorry I don't get round to all of yours often enough, which is one of the reasons I'm sort of apologising for I suppose.

(- only actually the title was 'apology' in the old sense, a justification of or making the case for, as in Philip Sydney's 'Apology for Poetry' so 'bloggery' was a kind of pun on that, what with me not being a poet and blog being an ugly word... oh well. Crappy puns and self-indulgent allusion are something I probably really ought to apologise for ...)

Lucy said...

That should read either
'one of the reasons I'm apologising'
or else
'one of the things I'm apologising for'

only I've deleted and re-pasted this twice already to correct repeated words and bad grammar so I'm not doing it again!

(Anyway, if I put an extra comment in it looks like I've got more, not that we care about such things...) ;~)

CassandraBeth said...

Lucy, everything you've said here rings so true for me, too, but you've put it all into words I've never quite found, with a straightforward honesty that touches me deeply.

Thanks too for your kind words about qarrtsiluni, and your generosity in sharing images there that you might otherwise have posted here. Your photographic work for the magazine has a unique quality - I'm thinking of that collage for the Apocalypse issue that I chose for the cover of the print edition, for instance, or the cabbage butterflies on the blades of the wind turbine - that comes not just from your photographic eye but from your particular intelligence and consciousness behind it. Your way of observing the world and then presenting it to us again is yours alone, and yes, maybe it won't be recognized by millions but never doubt that it touches and shifts those who are fortunate enough to see and feel it. I'm glad you plan to stay around these parts. Me too!

James said...

I really liked this post. I went through this about a year ago and almost gave up blogging after 3 years. Instead, I took a break and came back without the blogligations the blog had created. I also discovered qarrtsiluni (and some other sites) so coming back to it was definitely good for me. I find, too, that in blogging I learn deeper the things I want to know. Thanks again for this post.

Bee said...

Dearest Lucy,

I read this so very closely, and I wish you could know how often I was saying "yes, yes" in my head --about just so many aspects of blogging that you describe. Like you, I feel like blogging is my true medium . . . although I do leave it for days, even weeks, at times (when I travel; when I'm with guests; when I need a good long reading jag). I've always wanted to express myself in some capacity -- but I need some feedback, and want NO competitive grinding attached to it. Well, I'm just going to start repeating what YOU said so well already.

You were one of my very first blogs and I still have a sense of grateful awe about that happy stroke of serendipity.

Dale said...

You just seem so very suited to this medium. There's something very comfortable and solid about Box Elder -- it gives the illusion of having been here forever. Your voice is very steady and clear, unworried, unhurried. The very opposite of that anxious Facebook chittering.

I don't think I'll ever stop blogging, not voluntarily. The luxury of being seen and heard by thoughtful, kind, interesting people is not one I can imagine forgoing. I've had one or two friends in sogenannt real life who have done that for me, at times: but in blogland I have -- what, twenty, thirty? -- there's almost always someone there, to reflect back at me some queer sidelight, to agree or to contradict or to supplement. It's wonderful. I can't imagine that being a famous writer would be any more satisfying in this way: I expect in fact it would be much less.

Lucy said...

Thanks again.

Beth, I didn't really mean I minded sending them to Q, I'm always pleased as Punch when anything's accepted!

James, hello and welcome. Your blog is really great.

Bee - yes, I'm happy to be without the competitive grinding too. Yes there's a danger of things becoming a bit too mutually admiring and anodyne, but really, so what? I think we mostly do quite a good job of setting our own standards and improving what we do, without having to be putting each other down. I'm glad I mistook you for my niece too!

Dale - you're one of the people who make me certain of just how excellent blog writing really can be, and it's heartening to know you find it so rewarding. Thanks for the kindnesses, and I'm glad you're sticking around too.

JamaGenie said...

Hi Lucy,
In answer to your question on Sat's Child, I sometimes link-hop from other people's blog rolls. I know this was the post that got my attention, in House of Edward's blog roll perhaps? Or from David's McM's authorblog (if you were a POTD). At any rate, I gave it a Thumbs Up on StumbleUpon so I could find your blog later to feature in a Flea Market Saturday or a Monday Mishmash. I do enjoy your writing!