Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Small Worlds

Aldon (who has definitely become an extended part of our community, along with Coturnix) pointed me to "I Love Colonscophy." It's good to know it's there if you need it.

I'm never any good at finding the cool sites, but I thought about what I'm working on or thinking about at any point in my day, and went looking for some like-minded bloggers. I played field hockey in college, which is one of those sports that's useless once you're out of school, but I did find some others interested in the sport. My Humanities class is reading "When Bad Things Happen to Good People," which led me to the Velveteen Rabbi. The kids are home, so when they finish beating each other up, they can enter the mind of a leading guru of the seven-year-old boy crowd, Captain Underpants. Yes, it's as gross as it seems. Right up there with one of their other favorite hobbies, pickin' boogers (check out the Kids FEMA Rap). Now Sparky is scratching at the door.

So what does this prove? That there's a Jack for every Jill, that at any given moment, if I want to connect with like-minded people and chat about something -- just about anything -- I can find a community in the blogdom. If that fails, I can try to create one. So even though I blow a little hot and cold on the blogdom, I gotta say: how cool is that?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Response to Joe -- Exactly!

Blogging gives us the best of both worlds: informal discourse, PLUS a captive audience. Look at Michele's "cocktail hour" post. We get to chat, connect, feel like we have some cyberfriends, but no one traps you in a corner discussing his colonoscopy, sneezes on your food, or rattles her ice cubes then says, "Excuse me, I need another drink." It's a feeling of connection, without all the awkward body language.

My Personal Thoughts

Colin raises the issue of the "personal" nature of blogging in his "other" blog.

That's one thing that's bothered me about our attempts to define a blog aesthetic. We've at least toyed with idea that blogs are "personal," and I don't agree. Some are, and some aren't. The dictionary defines personal as "private." I would define it as "of an intimate nature." Whether a blog contains personal details seems irrelevant to me as to whether it works.

Many interesting ones DO have an informal tone -- but that's not the same thing. I like blogging because I feel less constrained to filter and manipulate the voice of my inner self -- so what I write is often closer to the voice in my head than most other written work, which is edited for tone and audience. That is some of the most "personal" writing I do, but I don't write about personal things much. Except late Thanksgiving evening, high on turkey.

So while I admire my colleagues like Brett and Bill who are so free with the details of their lives on their blogs, it ain't me. In fact, if I did try to give more personal facts, my writing would sound more constrained because I would feel uncomfortable.

It all comes back to authenticity. If the authorial voice rings true, because it seems to genuinely reflect the writer, then the blog is more appealing. Compare Dooce (a cool person I'm probably too nerdy to hang out with) with Wonkette (a total facade, in my opinion). So how do we define authenticity?

To borrow from a Supreme Court justice discussing porn: "I don't know how to define it, but I know it when I see it." We may have trouble consciously differentiating the true from the trumped-up, but we can sniff it out in an instant.

Maybe lack of authenticity has a place -- after all, many people, not just horny men, like Wonkette. But do you really believe you're getting the "REAL" woman? No, you just don't care. But if Colin started being overly personal, it probably wouldn't work as well, because he's a person, not a persona.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

On Writing and Blogging

I teach writing. I teach college student, lawyers, law student, elementary school students, high school students, just about anyone who is in my classes or asks me for tutoring. It's a great gig. The best thing about being a writing instructor is that I get to know my students so well. For anyone to write halfway decent, they have to turn off that little voice that says, "This is stupid. You can't write. No one wants to read that. Everyone will think you're an idiot if you say that." I thus encourage my students to write what they feel, with lots of detail from their lives, without regard to that little voice of censorship. As a result, many of them open up to me on paper in ways that they would never dream of in class. My best writers are often mute in class.

I think it works because they write it, and then they hand it in to me. I go home and read it. They don't have to say it to me, and watch my reaction. They don't have to listen to me say something back, something that could be hurtful, demeaning, or irrelevant. Instead, they just have to read my comments on their writing, and usually then discuss them with me. Because of this process, I think my students find it easier to really express themselves on paper.

I think blogging has the same benefits. We get to say what we feel in writing. No one interrupts us, or makes a face, or counters with a story about their own lives because they want attention. We get to get it all out. Then, yes, maybe someone will comment. But it will be in writing, not with a snotty tone and the rolling of eyes. But if we don't want to read the comments, that's okay. It's not rude if we don't reply, and we don't have to stick our fingers in our ears if we don't want to know how others feel. But it feels good to blog, because we get to express ourselves as fully and completely as we want. And no one interrupts. Or walks away. Instead, we get to write it, so it feels full and permanent (even if only in cyberspace). I think that's a good thing.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Feeling lonely

First of all, Happy Thanksgiving. I send this to you late Thanksgiving evening, full of turkey, gravy, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, etc., etc. I'm in Slingerlands, NY with my family, having a lovely holiday. I just checked in with our class blog, and then checked over my blog, and realized that I haven't made a post in an entire week, and we haven't been "assigned" any blog-reads since last class, either. Although I am happily basking the family glow here in the greater Albany area, I miss the comradery of our class, and also knowing that Nile Blogger is out there in cyberworld, reading, commenting, and posting. I guess I miss Nile. Hmmm. I've been wondering if I would continue blogging once class was over. I didn't think I would -- mostly because it's time-consuming and somewhat unproductive...blogging away under an assumed name on a site no one really reads. But I do miss the process, and the persona. So maybe the need for self-expression that we discussed will keep me going after all. Maybe I don't always have to be productive.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Feeling stupid

I was prepared to write that I don't like vlogs very much. One of the joys of blogging is the click-hit-skim-link-off phenom. I frequently spend 30 seconds on a blog and realize that I don't like it. Kind of like a blind date. Fortunately, I can just click off the blog without having to make an illness, receive an imaginary phone call, or climb out the bathroom window. No harm, no foul. That's what I like -- the skim. No commitment.

So it's no wonder I'm not a vlogger. It's such a commitment. I actually have to sit still and watch something. I'm afraid to stop too early, because the good stuff might be at the end. So I end up watching MINUTES -- not seconds -- of video that, frankly, doesn't mean much to me. I miss the skim. I don't have the time or the interest.

Second, I'm not visual. They told us in teacher school that students have different learning preferences -- "VARK" -- Visual, Aural, Reading-Writing, and Kinesthetic. I am definitely Reading-Writing, with some Aural thrown in. I am NOT visual. So given the choice, no surprise I prefer to read, rather than watch.

Plus the stuff I watched was mostly pretty dull and self-indulgent. Yawn.

Then I met THE MAN as Colin calls him. He was completely compelling. I actually watched his video because I wanted to, not because I felt like I had to wait until the end to see if there was actually any point. I especially like when he described calling his wife, although I can't say why. I also agree with his point: vlogs seem much more commercial than blogs. And our media does seem to be controlled by Big Brother in many ways, as http://www.colinmcenroe.blogspot.com/. This is one of the last public forums that I can say "fuck you" without getting arrested or losing my job. Can't say it on TV, in the newspaper, the radio, or standing on a box in West Hartford Center. I think They will attempt to control the Internet and blog discourse sooner or later, too. Unfettered discourse is simply too threatening.

But I'm feeling stupid. First, for pre-judging vlogs based on my own VARK prejudices, and for not being as deep and thoughtful as the Man (who reminds me of someone in our class). Second, for not having a firm grasp of what quotidian alienation is. So I'm looking forward to class.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Okay, got it working (sheepishly)

I saw Jerry...I like that he's selling T-shirts on his blog with his first posting. Everyone on the comments think he's hilarious. I see the creativity, but to be honest, no LOL. And I keep thinking, who is this guy? This must be more than "Jerry," unless Jerry is a filmmaker, because this looks to be commercial work (the memorabilia was a clue).


I have been trying to view these blogs for a hour and a half, and I can't get them working. What the %$#@! I have downloaded repeated updates to my media player, and I can't make them work. I think my laptop is going to explode. Vlogs are stupid. That's all I can say.

(Okay, I'll try again tomorrow).

Am I the only one who didn't know this?

It just struck me how much blogging is like emailing: the informal tone, the faux intimacy which got so many employees in trouble (way before anyone was Dooced). We forward interesting things to our friends, much like the way we link in our blogs. Often we get lulled into thinking we're composing harmless little thoughts, only to be surprised when someone unexpected replies because our email got send to or read by an unintended recipient, just as we're sometimes shocked when someone randomly comments on our blog. Blogging is like emailing on a grander scheme.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Back in the saddle

After being sidelined with an eye injury for a week, I'm back with a vengeance. I can now spend more than 5 minutes on the computer without getting a massive migraine (I hope). I have some ground to make up on the religious blog issue, and I have been pondering the role of the religious blog since last class (and wasn't it a fun class? Thanks, Colin, for letting us all get out of our comfort zone).

One of the big tasks for religions (and political parties, apparently) is KEEPING its followers (minions, whatever). We talked about proselytizingand whether the blogdom was appropriate for that. It seems, though, that the more obvious ground for blogs is to stay in touch with one's followers, and offer solace, comfort, a sense of caring, on a routine basis. Blogs are perfect for that, as they can be written in a very personal, intimate way and yet reach thousands, millions. Much more effective for reaching members of one's flock than the traditional one-to-one contact. This site, for example, seems to post daily readings much like my grandmother's Daily Word devotional that she read every day. This one similarly is a "daily devotional" type site.

The Daily strikes me as being daily God talk...kinda goofy, but interesting, quirky topics. This is one of the few religious sites that does seem like it's about dialogue and not preaching.

Overall, though, I didn't find much in the way of the daily "I'm thinking of you, here's a thought for the day" kind of religious blog. To me that seems like a very useful tool for a preacher. I can see the announcements in the church bulletin..."Keep in with us every day, not just on Sunday, by going to www.preachersblog.com." Let me know if anyone finds that!!!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

I just looked at Anvil and Fire, and I love that John's post prompted a reaction from John Rush. He probably has one of those programs that identifies who is linking to his blog. It's now pretty impossible for us to remain anonymous and quietly monitor the blogosphere. Even as we observe it, we change it. Isn't that the essential anthropological conundrum?

As for John Rush, he responded judiciously to John's comments and seemed appreciative of what could have been construed as criticism. I'm not sure, honestly, how to comment on these Christian blogs. I have such issues with organized religion, and I cannot fairly judge them (can anyone?). Anvil and Fire is actually a refreshing change after all the political blogs of last week. Rush is trying to calmly and fairly ponder some of life's deeper questions. Pretty far cry from the frentic pace of "I gotcha" that seemed to prevalent last week.

After thoughts

I've been pondering the question one of my brethren asked me during class when I said that I write only for the class: "Your friends and family read it though, right?"

Well, no. They don't know that it exists, and I'm certainly not pushing them to read. I have a blog for one of the classes I teach, and my students read that -- but not this.

Why not? This is a question that has continued to nag me through out this course, not just about me but about others. I am carefully controlling who read this. Why? Well, in part to keep it about blogging for this class. If I start introducing others, I will inevitably start changing the tone and content, however unconsciously, to meet their expectations. Or I will feel constrained by the fact that they are reading it, and start to write self-consciously. That is because (head hangs in shame) I care about what others think. Yes! That must be why, otherwise, what the heck, let 'em all read it, right? But as Holly says, "We are written by our blogs," AND I suggest, our blogs are written by us...the "us" we choose to be at that moment. I enjoy being Grad Student Blogger Girl. I don't want English Professor Person, Old College Friend, or Wife/Mother/Neighbor Mode to intrude. I know I'm not saying anything new, but it keeps buzzing around my brain like a fly: the beauty of the blogging persona, the appeal of the blogging persona, the versatility of the blogging persona. It's like going to a costume party: I can be whoever I want, as long as I keep the mask on. Lift the mask, and the persona is destroyed. I guess that's why I think authenticity is so important -- we need to stay in character.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Looking for Jon Stewart

I just watched the Daily Show, and there was a piece on the bird flu (very funny of course). We should recommend Flu Wiki to him...think he'd be interested in coming to the Wood 'N Tap next week? After all, he is kind of a poster child for pushing actual political discourse.

Somehow I ended up in Kentucky

While desperately searching for something interesting to read, I saw this. Perhaps we really are extolling the virtues of the Wild West just as it's starting to melt away.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

I tried, I really did

I went hunting for some calm, dispassionate discourse on the state of the world today. I hunted and peck, looked at Slate's blogs, Technorati, Salon, searched Google blogs, etc. With the Harry Reid move today (honestly, does it make any difference to anyone? Did it accomplish anything?), the dialogue has just gotten even more rabid, if that's possible. Basically, blogs on either side are trying to find newer, fresher, and more creative ways of saying, "You're an idiot!" "Oh really, well, you're a moron." I did find some useful info on TalkingPointsMemo, but I am suspicious that what I see as balanced and dispassionate might be viewed as incidiary by people "not like me" (i.e. bleeding heart liberal). There's one site I'd recommend because happily it doesn't take itself too seriously. But once again, I must admit to a certain inherent symmetry of political philosophy.

Are we up and coming yet?

I see that to be "up and coming," your blog has to receive between 50-100 hits a day. While I'm pretty sure I haven't gotten more than a total of 100 hits ever, our class blog may be hitting that mark, especially during the halcyon days of fighting with other blogs, when the comments were flying fast and furious.

I wonder if we're part of a newish genre of working class blog, that is a blog that exists to transfer a specific set of information to a set group of people. Our blog isn't designed to inform the general public or opine on current events -- it's a blog for a class, whose visitors (at least in concept) visit to perform a function (learn what we need to do).

But I digress...I think, as discussed by Clay Shirky, that there IS an A-list of blogs. To a certain extent, so what? Unlike a traditional marketplace, supply has little to do with demand. While many bloggers may try to garner influence, if they fail, it doesn't matter. It doesn't cost anything to maintain a blog, and a successful blog really doesn't yield any money. If I want to maintain a blog for no one other than myself, it really doesn't matter. It doesn't cost me anything. Unlike just about any other marketplace, I can't get pushed out -- at least not yet. Maybe someday it will cost money to do "this," it doesn't yet. I can therefore keep doing this as long as I want.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Back from Utopia

I just spent some time cruising around Wikipedia and Flu Wiki. While I tend to get very cynical when I read the political stuff, I'm feeling a little verklempt about the wiki stuff. It's seems like a world motivated by mostly "pure" intentions. When I consider the time and energy it takes to maintain a site like that, and to think that people do it for no other reason than a desire to pass along info...well, I am moved.

Look at Flu Wiki. From what I can see, its purpose is to inform and motivate. While motivating is "political" in some sense, the whole import of the wiki sites is different than other sites (are these blogs??), especially when they are contrasted with the Salon-type stuff.

I'm going to challenge myself, however, to suspend my cynicism and disbelief as I look through Salon and the other blogs this week. (Per Brett, is Salon not a blog? There does seem to be some bloggin' goin' on). Maybe my prejudices are preventing me from seeing how useful blogs can be. After all, they are everywhere, so they must be accomplishing something more than the dissemination of gossip and the creation of interest for interest's sake, right?