A Five Year Blog Retrospective

This was too much to post as a comment over on Nameless Creek as a followup to a recent “allegory about blogging“, and perhaps a topic with which other bloggers might identify. Thanks Gary, Andy and others for your thoughts as I grapple with the purpose and end of blogging. Here I attempt to give voice to my vacillations pro and con about writing every day to this one-in-a-billion journal.

I feel such a strong ambivalence, not wanting merely to add to the noise of an increasingly bloated world of ego and opinion while having a self and point of view that wants to see the light of day.

I feel increasingly irrelevant in a world where more and more people are better qualified to discuss anything I would think to post. At some point, saving your own words is like saving barbershop floor clippings after a haircut. Yes, it’s yours. But of what value is it?

I find, for good or ill, that blogging satisfies too many of my creative urges–to the extent that I don’t have enough motivation to spill those energies over into anything concrete: a book, a magazine article, a for-real professional-quality gallery of images, a radio essay. Maybe that’s okay. Sometimes I think so. Lately, not so much.

I don’t want the blog to become a mere broadcast, and yet it feels far more monologue-ish and pushed compared to the multi-way, collaborative “front porch” it did at one time. There’s still a point to using the blog as a simple repository for future reference or posterity (of uncertain value for either). But again, it seems a sad one-man band keeping time when nobody’s dancing.

For the first three years of Fragments, I would have told you that there was at least one, usually more, reinforcing connections made through the blog every week–a new reader who was also a writer or editor; someone with connections in SWVA who felt reunited to place through the images on FFF; a “place blogger” who quickly became a kindred spirit and friend; a journalist, producer, photographer, writer, etc who was interested in or coming to Floyd and wanted to establish a relationship. Lately, not so much. None, actually.

For some of these deficiencies, I give myself credit. The teaching at Radford, the return to the PT clinic, the writing of the book, the marketing and promotion of the book, the Floyd Press regular column, the various other projects–all this has diminished my energies and focus for blogging. And rss readers put distance between me and the blogs I read in that way, and between those who read mine by newsfeed. There is a level of anonymity that didn’t use to be there.

And some of the loss I feel is simply the nature of the beast, the nature of something become routine that once was innovative, cutting-edge and unknown. Heck, folks: five years of doing anything every day is a long time!

Above all, I don’t want to become a blog that blogs about blogging.

Well, there you have it. I am my own worst enemy. And I apologize for this public navel gazing, and do so just to let you know I’m still home, still listening for the next traveler to pass down our slow road, still excited about this world-connection we have at our fingertips, and still just as confused as the rest of you about what all this means and where it is leading us.

What odd times we live in! — Fred

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I wonder how many other readers, like me, are out there but you’d never know it. Readers who like to read what you’re thinking. Who like to read about the details of the land around nameless creek–the plants, animals, weather, etc. And about your comings and goings in the world. Readers who like to inhabit other’s worlds for a bit each day. It’s blogs like yours that I read every day. Yes, five years is a long time. But I only discovered you about a year ago, so you don’t seem that ‘old.’ Hope you will feel like continuing.

  2. I have no answers, Fred. Right now I’m struggling (or, actually, not struggling) with the balance between having a life and having an online life. In the past, blogging (and the sense of community it fostered) was a solace when times were tough and lonely…and these days my offline life feels full (sometimes too full!) and busy (definitely too busy…)

    It’s hard to remember why you’re doing something if you weren’t 100% clear why you started to begin with…and even if you knew/know all the motivating why’s, things change over time. It’s not like any of us are married to our blogs: the world won’t end if we stop, so that leaves a big question of “why continue?”

  3. I started keeping a Web site to learn new things, like how to write html and use css. Over time, I learned a little about what sorts of writing I genuinely care about, and whether or not anybody else is interested in my favorite topics. I’ve been self-publishing for more than two years, and nobody is watching, but that’s OK. I don’t know what I’ll learn next, but as long as it keeps surprising me, I’ll keep going.

    I started reading your blog about four years ago, and if you’ll promise not to be offended, I’ll tell you something I’ve noticed about your posts.
    (If you’re going to be offended, stop reading. Stop, I say.)

    You used to play more. You’d write whatever you wanted, and not think ahead, to what it was “good for.” If you wanted “hair clippings,” you’d save them. As you started to take your writing more seriously, you stopped playing (at least out here where we could see you).

    Now, there’s no reason you have to play in the front yard if you don’t want to, but maybe you’re not getting enough playtime anymore. That will make Jack a dull boy, after all. I’d recommend some frivolity, laziness, silliness…perhaps a spring tonic. Maybe you just need a mess of ramps or sassafrass tea.

  4. I would feel a huge loss if you stopped.

    I wonder if a mature blog is like marriage – more silence but a closeness?

  5. Fred, I think I can agree with both Lorianne and Rebecca here. You have grown in your writing and now you are aware, more than when your blog began, of the images you are writing with your words. That’s tough to live up to when it’s “just for fun”.

    Also, the fact that five years ago you were using your blog to fill time that once had belonged to an employer and now was your own had a lot to do with the tone and content. Then it was the blog trying to articulate a life, now the life is trying to articulate the blog.

    And,like Rebecca said, maybe you just need a good dose of spring…tonic or otherwise. I hear the government used to have a good recipe for dandelion wine they would send out…though come to think about it, this admin probably classified it.


  6. I think the magic of the blog four years ago, Rebecca, came from not having any destination, purpose or discipline whatsoever in mind when I woke up each morning. My work was simply to become immersed in the energy and light of each day. And so when those first two unemployed or underemployed years of this kind of pointless innocence had passed, I realized that this was a rare and not-to-be-repeated chapter in my life. The fragments of writing that came from it were special to me–perhaps would be to others–and the idea of the book was born.

    I don’t expect to recapture that sense of play, of wide-eyed expectation or mindfulness these days, no matter how much I would like to. Life has moved on, and brought me that connectedness with my real neighbors-down-the-road in just the way I hoped it might. But those new commitments have taken something away as well, and there’s a sadness in the wanting of a thing beyond our grasp but still in our memory.

    And too, I sense there’s something that could come from this medium, something that I, that we could make of it that eludes us. Me, at least. I think Rob Paterson is onto something with his Trusted Space inquiries. There’s more potential to blogging than ego-display and opinion-mongering. I think about those who have commented on Foolish Farmer or “5 years blogging” and each of you has a strength, a unique voice that comes through in your writing, images and posts-as-a-whole.

    But is there some way we can better focus our strengths in this gigantic verbal party-line we have going here? Is there something we could achieve collectively that we can’t do separately? There for a while, the Ecotone community was such a super-organism to me and a few others.

    I think another part of my current angst is the guilt that should I “play” at Fragments in the mornings when the news from all corners of the world is so dismal, I feel like I’m burying my head in the sand. But if I vent my frustrations, become righteously indignant, pound the podium for the cause of environment, peace or sustainability, I’ll only be disappointed when there is no or precious little response, agree or disagree, from blogging passersby.

    Truth is, I feel the sap rising; I’m very UP, not DOWN. I have the sense after a long, barren winter, that something’s just beyond the horizon that I can dive into with my whole heart, with pen and camera, as blogger and local citizen. Don’t know exactly what that might be. But I feel it coming, and this ramble about blogging futures comes from the need to clean house here, set my sights, be sure I have my priorities in some kind of order.

    I’ll blog, one way or another. It is too much like breathing to stop. But how often, and about what–that seems just now to be up in the air.

    END OF RUMINATION. We now return you to whatever it was that took up column inches at this weblog previously. And happily so. — THE MANAGEMENT

  7. I don’t know Fred, but maybe part of what is missing for all of us is this back and forth of ideas. I know I throw things out and wonder if I’m just talking from my…you know what I mean. Having the two way conversation working is a big difference.

    When I first started, I began two blogs. One was dedicated to my political rants and ravings, because I didn’t want to put anyone off when I really let loose. As time has gone by I have tended not to spend my time there as much…I find I don’t even obsess over much that happens in Washington these days.

    It’s kinda’ like what will get done will happen out here and not there. I get the feeling that there is a whole new grassroots thing trying to birth out here. I don’t know what direction it may be heading. I keep looking at the different online communities, but every one of them seems to have something lacking from my way of thinking. Oh well…

  8. For those people who want to read about national issues and the daily news, there are other places to get that and other blogs dedicated to that.

    The value your writing has for me is allowing me to see things in a light I might never imagine for myself. Your views of nature, your love of and respect for place and sense of history are valuable to me. I don’t expect to come here and read about current events (except in Floyd) and God knows I don’t want to read anything else about the war or Bush or government in general. I love it when you talk about your dog, your wife, your home and your communing with nature. Please consider staying with that, Fred. I would miss you a lot if you left us.

  9. fred- i’m glad you are sharing all this with us, and even as a new blogger….i understand. i feel, in a lot of ways, i am where you were in the beginning. when i first started reading your blog, i could SO relate to your experiences in those first several years when your life took a drastic turn. mine- not quite as drastic, but different. and your writings about goose creek stirred so many memories and recollections in me of growing up on our farm in kentucky. i realize that in a year or so, when my son goes to school….and i go back to work or finish my schooling, my blog probably won’t be the priority it is now…or it might change it’s shape or purpose.

    but, you probably ARE headed in a different direction and realize it, as you seem to be very in tune with the ebb and flow of your life. in your reply to rebecca and gary, i think you might be feeling the stirrings of it….of something bigger…. i want on that bandwagon if it comes along. i feel the same about my blog…i don’t want it to be just rantings or my opinions…i want it to have some kind of purpose, too.

    i’m interested in seeing where these new stirrings take you….please do let us know.

  10. Fred
    I certainly hit the wall about 2 years ago. I had found my voice as a result of blogging. A voice that I lost as a boy. But there was then something missing.

    I too saw the dysfunction in the world. I had talked about it endlessly on my blog. But this seemed not enough.

    We are about the same age. I will be 60 in a couple of years. I began to feel that I had to act and not just talk.

    I have chosen two areas in which to act. First of all in my place – where I live. My bet is that the only way to change the world is first to change myself and then to help where I live become more independent.

    The second are is in public radio and TV. I got into that by accident but now I see its huge potential.

    It is to help local communities build the internal trust so that they too can act and become indepedent.

    I am off tomorrow to St Louis where I will be working with KCET, the local TV station – whose leaders want to shift beyond providing good programs to providing a voice for all its people and a place in which they can act.

    I see that I am not alone. More and more “Mature” bloggers are feeling as unsettled as you and more and more of them are connecting to act.

    Many also see that acting locally is the best place – where they can have the most impact.

    My bet is that while the 19th and 20th century were all about the nation – that the 21st will be a return to the local community – to the Tribe – where life is actually lived and where we have given up nearly all our power to outsiders who do not care for us.

    I am hoping that if I live long enough – that PEI will be largely energy self sufficient. That we will have a community approach to parenting and hence to education, that we will rely less on pills for health and more on the support that we can find in our community to live better lives. That we will grow a lot of our own food and so on.

    Any community can do this.

    My sister lives in Toronto. 70 of her neighbors are coming together to install solar panels on their roofs. They will in effect have their own power station.

    I “hear” that this is waht appeals to you as well – am I hearing you correctly?

  11. Ask not why you feel down in the dumps. That is a painful and ineffective way of trying to remedy the situation you find yourself in.

    If fact, the asking of such questions spins you down and down a long spiral of self recrimination. There are countless ways to self-flagellate. All are non-productive.

    Turn the process around. Instead of dwelling on past losses, create in new directions! Morale is based almost entirely on production, not the other way around.

    If you would just go out and cut wood for several days, you would find the beginnings of a cheerful satisfaction. If you were to follow that by finding someone else you could help and working like mad to see that they were helped, your mood would lift even more.

    Take an item off Ann’s honey-do list (I am sure she has one) and do it with a flourish. You might find that life is returning enough to write about the process.

    You are an excellent writer. Just remember that writing about yourself and your feelings without the goal to help others can become a self-fulfilling fugue. Consider what the product is when you write about how dismal life seems. Who benefits? Is there a lesson to learn? A path to avoid? Misery shared is misery compounded, if there is no inspirational lesson to be learned.

    The changes in our environment, (hemlocks dying, wooly algid increasing) can paralyze you or spur you into action. It’s really up to you. We can observe as spectators or get in the game and have an effect.

    The dead trees on the road can be observed and mourned, or cut up and disposed of usefully. It’s all in how you want to spend the coming years and decades.

    If you want to survive the next few decades with sanity intact, figure out how to use your considerable talents to help others. Amazing things will happen.

  12. i have never been a daily blogger, but i write every day. mostly with a pen. sometimes i even transcribe what i wrote thusly to the screen. i admire your willingness to share so much of what you write with the public –to me that takes an enormous amount of bravado. thank goodness you have the skill to go along with it.
    fragments is a touchstone for me as well as a connection to the part of the world from which spring my roots, and i always find something here to appreciate.

    do what you will, fred. you must first please yourself. but never doubt that there are those of us who are grateful for your daily expressions and explorations. the more intrepid of us will find a way to continue that if you ever do choose to move on to other means of expression.

  13. Rob, you certainly understand very well where I’m coming from. And I’d like to think that, with the help of the Floyd online community of bloggers, we can bring together our local food, energy, culture, health and entertainment resources in a way similar to what seems to be happening on PEI.

    There are many similarities, as Floyd County, too, is somewhat INSULAR and apart from the mainstream as PEI is a real island. I’m following closely where you lead with your efforts, and those within your sphere at NPR and beyond.

  14. So here is yet another perspective…

    For awhile I have been preparing for my move to Blacksburg – no longer working at a job, but working on prepping my city home for sale by renovating the basement and other rooms. As I have been experiencing this slow road home, I’ve enjoyed a more fulfilling approach to living, and as a result I have found myself visiting my “support blogs”, most importantly Fragments, less and less (sorry!).

    Then came the call… My former CEO, who is now with a pressure-packed NYC venture firm, called (actually when I was in Blacksburg prepping the new place) and he wanted me to do “a little work” on a deal that was in process. What the heck I said, the duration was going to be short and the money would help pay for some more tools to work on the houses. BAM! Quickly came the pressure packed 16 hour days… and suddenly, here I am, visiting fragments, finding it to still be the salve for my troubled soul it has so often been.

    See, its a matter of context, or in my case, a matter of opposing forces….

    So here is my pop-psych theory…

    Early on, you deliberately got small for your internal journey, and you listened to each signal from cyber space. This year, you externalized, and have in contrast been on a tear – the book, the job, the promotions – and your signal to noise ratio is not so clean any more. The signal from cyber space does not move the needle like it did…

    The blog is an important instrument in your orchestra. But there are some orchestral pieces where other instruments, such as promotions at public functions, drown out the gentleness of the blog piece.

    I’m not really capturing what I mean but I think you get the drift…

    And from a selfish perspective, I will implore you to keep it up. Don’t stop now. I will go crazy without it!