A friend commented recently that most blogs are solipsistic and not worth the time required to read them. I didn't feel she was commenting on my work, but I did find myself trying to determine what the value of writing is when readers easily dismiss one's efforts—or fail to recognize one has made any at all.
Some years ago, a writer said that after he was published, he went from being unknown to being mediocre. Given the choice, he concluded, he would have preferred the former. Is this the fate of most of us who write: to disappear in a world of mediocrity once we have a few readers—or, rather, have had a few readers?
And is a blog only for the writer, equipping him or her with a sense of audience when there is none of consequence? Providers such as Squarespace (which just introduced version 7 of its platform) try to enhance the reality of audience, readership by allowing blog keepers (if I may) to amass statistics on site visitors. Using what Squarespace calls metrics, keepers can get some sense of who their readers are. This reminds me, though, of a criticism of a methodology of particle physics I once heard (probably while watching Nova on PBS). A scientist said that bombarding particles with energy and charting their trajectories was as productive as putting a kangaroo in a dark room and bombarding it with tennis balls. Yes, some kind of information is yielded, but not the kind that is truly useful—or wanted.
On those days when the metrics tell me no one has visited this site, I feel let down, yes. I also feel I have let others down by not being interesting, intelligent, charming, or entertaining. On those days when the number is 1, I wonder if my own visit—on another computer—has been tracked. Of course, IP addresses are listed in the logs, but these can be deceiving I've learned.
And then there are those days (today for example) when I've made modifications to the site and my own IP address is listed half a dozen, or ten, or fifteen times. This is not supposed to happen I'm told (the program is not supposed to count one's own visits), but it does. Though the IP address does not match that of the computer I'm using, I know it is mine because it appears for every page I've modified.
When I come across the blog of a writer who is entertaining—because he challenges me to think differently or because she evokes sweet remembrances of things past—I'm delighted. I realize my notions of what is possible—and what has to be—have become stale and limiting. I've written about two such blogs: those of Charlottesville writer Gary Mawyer and Karen, his wife, a retired attorney. Shops, gardens, auctions, books, travels—these become departure points for adventures of the mind and heart. Here is an excerpt from one of Gary's first posts, "Sandstone and the Gulfs of Time":
Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Book of Sand” is one of my favorite stories. In this story a fictional Borges purchases at fabulous price a mystical book with an infinite number of pages—a frightening Lovecraftian artifact which despite its measureless length must rationally enclose an unimaginable middle page. In the end he hides it—from himself, as much as anyone. Strangely enough, there really is a book of sand, divided into folios of outwash and deposition. While the full scope of the real book of sand is utterly beyond the scale of human life and indeed beyond the scale of human existence as a species, we actually can turn some of the pages—they make great flowerbeds—although, like Borges’ narrator, we find ourselves limited to the parts we think we can understand and maybe invited to wonder what we are, after all, in terms of such gulfs of time.
Michael Schmicker, a writer and investigative journalist, started corresponding with me after being referred by a mutual friend for some editing work. I have looked at his Google+ blog and like the buffet-style format. It is reminiscent of Facebook's layout but is not cluttered, confusing, and riddled with advertising. Though it may be difficult to determine the chronological order of entries, he writes frequently enough that the reader doesn't feel lost in a timeless space. Going down the columns is instead pleasant, like doing a leisurely hopscotch. Also, Schmicker is a good amateur photographer, capturing mainly clouds (he belongs to a group of cloud watchers and recorders), and often pairs his images with literary quotations (Antoine de Saint-Exupery and Rabindranath Tagore, to name a few sources). This is not a new technique, of course, but Schmicker has a light, deft touch and the synergistic effect is sometimes more complicated than it first appears.
Before I end this post, I want to comment on the header image for creative trouble. Eddie Aikau was a beloved surfer, lifeguard, and Hokule‘a crew member who was lost at sea while attempting to get help for his shipmates. The local saying "Eddie would go" memorializes the fearless, large-hearted way he lived. There have been many takes on this saying, my favorite probably being "Mom would go." I changed it a bit, imagining Aikau diving into the biggest manuscripts, unafraid to do what needs to be done.