Blogging Alone

Okay you people. Your feedback on yesterday’s post hijacked my before-coffee musings this morning and carried my keyboard fingers in another direction than the one I overheard them talking about all night long. And I tend to give them free rein and let them go where they will. They often know better than I do about such things.

I have other thoughts than these as I attempt to sort out what I want to be when I grow up as a citizen-writer-activist-parent, but some of my disappointment with the blog in recent years is its increasing failure to be for me an agent of community.

Yes, there must be readers who read but don’t comment, and I know many of you now for years. I sense your presence. But I see my site visit reports and know that the majority of “visitors” got here searching for some random combination of words, a result increasingly likely when after ten years there are so many thousand words used at least once.

It occurs to me that maybe my sense of emptiness comes from the increasing lack of connectedness that the blog once provided. While I have become far more engaged in my flesh-and-bone neighborhood and the Floyd community, I must need more. I must feel, even yet, like I’m “bowling alone.” If interested, take a look at the “Lonely American” in Utne Magazine from which this quote is pulled.

Americans in the 21st century devote more technology to staying connected than any society in history, yet somehow the devices fail us: Studies show that we feel increasingly alone. Our lives are spent in a tug-of-war between conflicting desires–we want to stay connected, and we want to be free. We lurch back and forth, reaching for both. How much of one should we give up in order to have more of the other? How do we know when we’ve got it right?

And while I deeply enjoy writing about the daily ordinary and especially about nature and landscape where the words come without effort, I feel compelled more urgently every year to be able to articulate the complex issues we face together, locally and globally, and to look together for solutions.

That kind of post takes considerably more time and energy, and there especially I don’t want to provide fodder by lapses of logic, by inflammatory language or by lousy grammar and poor editing to the “other side” which is increasingly looking for good works to punish among “tree huggers” and other do-gooders. And it is these higher-cost pieces that seem to fall on deaf ears. I’m trying to “get it right” and find the balance between writing to community and writing towards my personal projects. I have just so many quiet mornings, just a fixed number of future keystrokes left in these old bones. How do I find an acceptable, satisfying if not supercharging balance?

For those still hanging on, I found a 2006 piece I wrote on “social capital” and small communities like Floyd. You see the comments, the discussion, the engagement following the posting of this piece to this blog six years ago. It felt other than today’s for sure. And sorry, though I tried to think once that it might be, Facebook just does not feel like my solution to this conundrum. Maybe there isn’t one?

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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 believe my writing skills to be excellent, based on a lifetime of top grades in formal advanced education and accolades in the business world and when I used to write on my blog. Having said that, I’ve discovered, for myself at least, that visual imagery and simple poetry are the highest form of communication, and perhaps convey as much spirit and as much power to change the environment around me as the most articulate, well written essay. Perhaps there is a reason that the great spiritual masters of all time, Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Lao Tzu, and others left little if any written word.
    The image included with this post is beautiful and in my opinion has more potential to open “the other side” to “our side” than argumentative words with supporting documentation. The mind and heart are closed; facts are irrelevant. The only way to penetrate is through imagery and poetry, which opens the heart and the mind follows.

  2. Thanks for sharing that, Fletch, and your words only reinforce my greater passion these days for focusing on the book (“A Floyd County Almanac”) more than the blog.

    I also think that the reason for the effectiveness of poetry and imagery is that they are distillations from direct experience and from the heart. So it is in that voice that I am working to tell a personal story that, hopefully, will resonate with people and perhaps communities.

    I’m thinking of the possibility of connecting the words in the book to images, maybe in an abridged pdf coffee-table-type book. Also this particular writing rhythm and voice will lend itself to an audio version. So I’m focused on imagery of all sorts, and hopefully some poetic written and maybe spoken prose as well.

  3. Fred, you seem to be longing for the web back before the “busy-ness” took over. The web (and the world) of 2006 are gone. Back in that day we all actually visited each website we read. That made it easier to comment. It also gave you a visual record via your stats of the size of the community that was gathering on your virtual front porch each day to “sit a spell”.

    I don’t know about most, but, my daily dose of fff comes in via Google Reader. It doesn’t do anything for your site stats, but it gathers everyone I used to “visit” in one place as they publish…No checking in over and over on blogs that no longer update regularly. Do you use Feedburner Fred? Using Feedburner I know that my rss feed catches twice as many requests as my page does.

    I also have my blog published via Amazon on the Kindle. No two way conversations, but knowing that there are some folks out there that are paying a subscription price to read my muses each month helps keep me going.

    Besides all of the above, I personally would miss your daily blatherings as I drink my coffee. I consider you part of the morning gang at my own personal coffee shop.

  4. You are already acting locally, thinking globally, Fred. Your well informed mind is excellent guidance for the actions you and others are taking in your local community. I know writing is your passion, however, so you need to find an outlet, perhaps again locally. The many efforts your community is undertaking need a good communicator, and you can certainly provide that. That said, I plead once again for you to continue to provide your blog readers with good links and good writing, especially of the type that you say is so effortless for you. If it is truly no bother, please, please do it!!

  5. Hi Fred, it’s been a long, long time since I was once one of that community you – and I, for that matter – miss so much. I gave up the writing struggle when I found I that the things I might want to address seemed just too big to tackle in a couple of paragraphs, and I lacked the writing stamina to deal with them properly. As for reading, these days, like so many others, I access Fragments through Google Reader (for what it’s worth, you still figure in my top ten reading stats!) so I’ll be just another invisible passer-by.

    I retired from full-time work a couple of months back, and I’ve been toying with the idea of trying to rebuild some kind on online community – the deeper kind of connection that grew out of those early days of blogging – but I sense that the world has moved on and those pioneering days are gone forever.

    The bottom line, I guess, is that I share some of your frustration, but I don’t know what the answer is either. But this seemed like a suitable moment to hold onto one last remaining thread of that old connection.

  6. Yes, Andy, I think you might perhaps extend back almost if not all the way to the “Ecotone” days–a community-building phenomenon that only a few will remember and I am not encouraged to resurrect in requiem and remembrance.

    I know your participation at Fragments extend into the first book’s alchemy among a host of contributors and editors.

    I’m feeling, as you and others our age might be, a sense of irrelevance and marginalization by stereotype if not by message because we’ve slipped beyond the peak of the curve for age among digital socially-active partipants in today’s web.

    There may or may not be a place for such as the likes of us on this part of the web anymore. Time perhaps will tell.

  7. Still reading you via Reader and still writing myself – BUT I too miss those days now so long ago when the ‘sphere was like a village

  8. We’ll hang in there with you, Fred, regardless of the path you choose. I hope you won’t abandon Fragments, but if you need a hiatus from time to time – we’ll understand.

  9. I wonder what a “successful” (or “satisfying”?) blog community would look like? I know a lot of us long-time bloggers hearken back to the “old days” when readers commented more, but I’m not sure the “good old days” were as idyllic as nostalgia might suggest.

    Yes, I used to spend a lot more time blogging and commenting on blogs in the “old days”…but that online time came at the expense of other, real-world forms of community. I’m not sure, in other words, I’d want to go back to who I was and what my personal life was like when many of my closest friends were blog-friends. These days, I simply don’t want to spend that much time in front of a screen.

    I think we sometimes expect blogging to be something it isn’t. Online community isn’t the same as face-to-face community, and the online attention span simply isn’t the same as other, more intensive forms of reading. If I’m going to read a serious, extended, thought-provoking discussion of Issue X, I’m probably going to prefer reading it in some sort of print (or ebook) medium. (For instance, I find my attention wandering if a New Yorker blog-post is more than a few screen-lengths long…but I have NO problem engaging in a long article in the actual New Yorker magazine.) Whether we like it or not, the medium DOES make a difference. I don’t “curl up with my laptop” the way I curl up with a book, magazine, or my Kindle. When I’m surfing online, my time–and thus my attention span–is limited. When I’m reading offline, my attention isn’t as divided.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong in devoting one’s deepest, most serious thoughts to the books one writes, then using a blog as a way of publicizing those books. I think it’s okay, in other words, to let books be books and blogs be blogs. They’re not the same, so expecting readers to react to them as if they were is probably doomed to failure (and a guaranteed source of frustration).

  10. It isn’t blogging as a whole that I feel compelled to move back now from but the posts that are most important and pithy in the grand scheme of things–at least in my view of the world.

    Every time over the years I’ve veered in that direction, readers have scolded me for departing from my “true voice.” Now they just rush past such posts entirely (or so it seems for various reasons, feed readers being one).

    So I’ll spend that time doing something else, and post about bugs and buds and spuds and seasons and such when the spirit moves. And it will. I’ll confine my focus to the local.

    But I probably won’t expect to use the blog to talk about the book this time around–not until well towards completion at least. Writing about writing does not connect.

  11. I still think a couple of the things I wrote for Ecotone rank as some of the best writing I ever put on my blog. I sort of miss that push to write something a little bit deeper. Left to my own motivations, I tend to revert to pity one liners on Facebook and Twitter.

  12. As one who fairly regularly now comes & reads, but rarely comments, I need to say that I very much appreciate your blog. It gives me hope — hope that I have found lacking the last few years. (A now very favorite Dillbert cartoon says that “I want my unwarranted optimisn back.” I can relate to that. Your blog helps me realize that it really isn’t, at least not all of it, unwarranted.) So, I thank you for that.

    I will appreciate this blog for as long as you post it — taking hope from it, but also using much of the information that you post. But, I also recognize that you need to do what is best for you at this time in your life.

  13. Sometimes I feel like the old codger in these parts, having written for one web site or another since 1994. In fact my oldest web site celebrates its 18th anniversary on Oct. 1.

    No doubt the web has changed. It’s less a community and more just another outlet for commercialism, bet it a promotional venue for big business, a propaganda arm for government and politicians or a revenue model for writers — both established and aspiring.

    For some of us, the shift has brought a return to old-fashioned, face-to-face community: Conversations over coffee and breakfast each morning at the Blue Ridge Restaurant, social interaction on the street, the joy of actual conversation without the impersonal filter of technology. Social networking is based on the conceit that others find our ordinary routines and random thoughts interesting but that too is now superseded by the domination of sites like Facebook by political propaganda and opportunism.

    So much for today’s rant. In about an hour I will climb on my motorcycle and ride 230 miles to Richmond to sit down with other motorcyclists to discuss a legislative agenda for the upcoming session of the Virginia General Assembly. No voice mail, no conversations via Twitter, no tele or video conferencing: Just a face-to-face exchange of ideas.

    Face to face. Maybe it’s the next big thing.

  14. “Face to face. Maybe it’s the next big thing.”

    Yeah, I like that. Reminds me of T S Eliot:

    “We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.”

  15. I’m always here, but seldom comment any more. There are too many blogs to read and when I add that to Facebook time and Pinterest (which is addicting), I simply don’t have time to comment on everything I read.

    I do miss the give and take of blogs as they used to be, but I fear that will never return – thanks to Facebook and Twitter (which I have successfully avoided, so far.)

  16. All I can add is that I read your blog via Google Reader and I doubt that your visit counter gets any updates from that source.
    I still have my blog but I add very little to it on a regular basis.
    My vision is so bad, I just can’t do it anymore.
    Then, there is the fact that I’m losing my dexterity and typing comes very difficult to me anymore. I’m training my Dragon Software right now. It’s a stubborn, dumb dragon. (think of Yosemite Sam cartoons and it comes across funny to myself. ) Voice recognition software.
    I went a little nuts and decided to work on a book I started many years ago. When I was done transcribing the manuscript I had completed so far, it totaled 35 pages. Now, the really hard stuff is needed. Creative writing is not as easy as some think. I really like what I’ve got so far and honestly think it would make a great movie if it was to be completely somehow.
    Anyway, I’m out here Fred. Reading most of what you post.
    I’m on facebook but it’s not going anywhere. I also try to gather with some friends at a local greasy spoon for some face to face conversation. It’s enjoyable, the food is good but it’s hard to get any consistency with attendance. Sometimes there no room at the large table and other times, I’m all alone, doing the Cryto-quip in the newspaper to pass the time. No one said life after retirement was easy. Perhaps I should take credit for it.

  17. Yo Clarence!

    I’m dusting off Dragon Dictate again, with the right hand surgery coming up Oct 11, that I can only hope will be as successful and worth-it as the left hand a year ago April.

    Did you ever tame your dog? I can’t remember how that ended. We still have Gandy and have come, mostly, to an understanding. I wish she didn’t bark, didn’t so enjoy finding socks and panties, and digging holes anywhere it strikes her fancy. But she is who she is, and she’ll live out her life (or ours) here.

    Good luck with the “really hard stuff” on the book. I have to set daily goals and set up some kind of accountability with myself or I’ll find reasons to watch a movie, etc–the easy stuff–instead of the tough work of moving forward on a sustained basis.

  18. Sorry to say we had to return that dog to whence she came.
    She was just too much dog for us to deal with.
    Destroying furniture and keeping us bleeding was not a part of he deal I had agreed to.
    Instead, we rescued a twelve pound mixed mutt that fit us well.
    His name is Sarge. He is much better off here with us than where he had been… staying in a crate most of the day and night. He is loud and territorial but he’s welcome addition to our little group. Here a place to see some pictures of him if you are interested. Glad you worked through your problems with Gandy. Do the deer, bears and other wildlife complain about all the barking? I didn’t think so.
    I know whatever you decide will turn out for the best. I’ll be watching and reading the results friend.