Two years of Weblogging

This week I’ve had a weblog for two years. Two years – not necessarily one of the old timers, but not one of the new babes, either. I’m a middle aged blogger. That’s a lowering thought.

I started with a Manila site that I had the hardest time trying to figure out because this weblogging format was so weird for a person who had been doing regular web sites for so long. Following Manila was Blogger, finally moving over to Movable Type. I’ve also played around with Graymatter, and Bloghorn, as well as Bloxsom.

Two years. My first year was relatively quiet except for a few technology squabbles with Dave Winer and John Robb. Most of my writing then was about technology. Rarely had any comments, but comments weren’t the norm for weblogs before 2002. Anonymous comments were never allowed; you had to register at Manila.

Weblogging was different that year – no one had heard of weblogs, and we were definitely under the radar of most of the world. I didn’t weblog consistently during the first year because I was working at a Dot Com for part of the year and had no life. When I wasn’t at the Dot Com, most of my energy was spent on my books and on my main web sites. Boy, those were the days.

I met Chris Locke relatively early in that first year, but managed to survive the experience. HaHa, just joking Chris. Life was a lot different for Chris then. He’s had some rough times between then and now. It’s good to see that he’s seeing the light now. Let’s hope it’s a real light and not a flashback.

Chris Locke introduced me to Sharon during that time, and it was Sharon and Chris Locke who talked me out of quitting when I shut the weblog down in November, 2001, I think it was. I have officially quit twice, and come back. Does this make me a weblogging junkie? A born again weblogger? A ghost?

I met other people in the first year including that sexy, noisy, passionate, angry, lovable, big bear of a person who I am proud to call ‘friend’: Stavros the Wonder Chicken. Stavros got his start in MeFi, but we still love him in spite of this. He used to write under Waeguk is Not Soup – isn’t that the name, Chris? He shared a difficult and profound experience with us last year: the loss of a close friend to terrorism. His writing was and is eloquent and sensitive, and so very real.

I also met Jonathon Delacour in my first year, meeting him over a phrase, no less – Doing a Dave. What a way to meet another person – over doing a Dave. I met Jonathon the first week he started his weblog, back when it was using the Radio stylesheet before he went black with tiny font. Always elegant, Jonathon’s an amazing writer, especially his Japanese posts, which are my favorite. He’s another good friend (well, when I don’t dump on him when I’m in a pissy mood).

Other people I met in that first year have quit weblogging. I still check their old sites from time to time.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to meet new friends in the second year, talking on the phone and via emails, not just in comments. People like AKMA and Margaret, Dorothea, Allan, and Loren. And then there’s the folks I met through Chris Locke like Gary and Jeneane and Halley and Doc and Steve and Denise and the Toms and Fishie Boy and Happy Tutor and Frank and Mike. Ruzz and Bumr and Rev and Monica, Kaf, Larry and Ryan, Dan, Karl and Doug, Shannon and Phil and Bill and Liz and … You, have all enriched my life. You’ve also been a pain in the butt sometimes. But then, so am I on rare occasions.

And weblogging – this second year, everything’s changed. Remember Dvorak and his comment on cats, about one year ago? He wrote:

Generally speaking, these postings are fascinating, since they often have serious elements of Hyde Park corner blather, besides blatant exhibitionism and obvious self-indulgence.

Whatever the reason for the Blog phenomenon, it’s not going to go away anytime soon. The main positive change: far fewer cat pictures.

Remember Tubby the Cat? The quizzes? Googlewhacking? Those were the days, weren’t they? All of a sudden now, weblogging is News. Capital ‘N’ news. Serious stuff.

For instance, NBC news just had a story tonight on warblogs. They did a Google search on the term ‘warblog’ and mentioned that over 300,000 entries show up. They showed the Google results, and PapaScott, you showed up in the results! Did you know you were on national US TV tonight?

Before it was cats. Now it’s war. I’m not sure this is an improvement. The intimate little party, the golden age when we could write unemcumbered by the real world is over. Knock, knock. The world wants in.

Anyway, two years doing this stuff. Rah.


Comment-free weblogging

I don’t think there’s a person that hasn’t pushed weblog commenting more than myself. The conversations, the discussions, the fun we’ve had has been a treat and a joy and a revelation. Lately though, I’m finding that comments are a mixed blessing. I’ve had a lot of problems with anonymous posters, particularly nasty anonymous posters. (Don’t bother looking for them – I’ve deleted most of them, and blocked their IPs.) In addition, the comment spammers have been stopping by daily now, not to mention the folks getting here on Google and saying the most bizarre stuff.

(Is it just my imagination, or are there a lot of school kids using weblogs for their homework, now?)

I’ve been thinking about taking comments down for a time now, but I hesitated because I don’t want to shut down conversations. Through these conversations I have met people, friends, who I have come to cherish, and that’s been a gift, a true gift. But then I look at Dorothea and she has conversations and connects with people all without comments, and I think maybe for now, this isn’t such a bad thing.

My altered attitude about comments has a great deal to do with the war and the stress it generates; this in addition to some personal worries and the stress they’re causing. Mostly, though, this has to do with me wanting to do something different with my writing. I have found the number of comments I get is inversely proportional to the type of writing I would like to do. No matter how confident you are – and I’m not – this is a bit discouraging.

So, temporarily, I’m turning weblog comments off. This is not a reflection on current discussions – just me wanting to take a breather is all.


Weblogging as surrogate for action?

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

In my last posting, I was told by a couple of people that my writing the letter to the radio station was basically a useless exercise. Instead, I was given a couple of different options, both of them related to Doc Searls – Doc, are your ears burning?

The first option, from Tom Matrullo is a change in marketing strategy. Let’s boycott the advertisers who advertise on the networks that show biased news. Well, that’s cool, but that pretty much means we don’t buy anything. Doesn’t it? Still, I’m willing – where do I sign up?

The second was from Rahul, and his solution was to create a blogging network of news, giving people at the locations a satellite phone and a weblog and have them provide news. Okay, then, Rahul, what do I need to do?

Marketing and media. And I’ve been told I don’t really understand either of these – or, more accurately, that my understanding “differs”. Well, that’s true. I haven’t read any media or marketing books, such as Cluetrain (a natural one to bring up since Doc’s name is being tossed about).

I’m not against these solutions, but it seems to me that they’re ‘talk’, with no associated action. When these same people tell me I’m powerless to make a difference with my small action, but give me alternatives that are nothing more than talk on a weblog, well, then I get unhappy. Being told we’re powerless only leads to apathy. Chit chat among our little weblogging circles isn’t going to make war go away. Tell me, what can I do?

We who fight this war go about our business. We talk about academics and art and technology and relationships, and these are good things to talk about, and I love to read them. I love to read what you write. I write about these things, myself. But I still want to make a difference. I want to make my voice heard outside of this weblog. This weblog isn’t enough. So I wrote the letter to the radio station. It wasn’t a big act, it was a tiny, tiny act, but at least, it was an act. How is this useless?

Have we become so sophisticated that we no longer even try to make a personal difference? Have our weblogs become nothing more than surrogates for action?

I have one question – if you’re against the war in Iraq, what have you done today to express this disagreement outside of your weblog? What have you done today to be heard?

Just Shelley Writing

Death of a Moth

Years ago I worked in a large modern building with dark grey glass doors and windows. One morning when I was out smoking, I noticed a bright spot on the wall next to the door: a white moth, with soft, furry body and silvery antennae. It was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen—delicate and fragile, highlighted by the darkness of the glass and granite building. It was held there against the wall by a grip frozen in death.

I was reminded of this moth when I read W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz with his references to moths; subtle symbols of the lead character’s search for the truth of who he is, like the moth’s obsessive desire for illumination regardless of the cost. And in the book, memories are tipped out into words forming stories as fragile as the wings of a moth preserved in a jar:

None of the containers was more than two or three inches high, and when I opened them one by one and held them in the light of the lamp, each proved to contain the mortal remains of one of the moths which — as Austerlitz had told me — had met its end here in this house. I tipped one of them, a weightless ivory-colored creature with folded wings that might have been woven of some immaterial fabric, out of its Bakelite box onto the palm of my right hand. Its legs, which it had drawn up under its silver-scaled body as if just clearing some final obstacle, were so delicate that I could scarcely make them out, while the antennae curving high above the whole body also trembled on the edge of visibility.

In college I was introduced to another story featuring a moth, Virginia Woolf’s essay Death of a Moth. In it, Woolf writes about a moth flying about a window pane; its world constrained by the boundaries of the wood holding the glass. The moth flew from one side to the other, and then back again, as the rest of life continued ignorant of its movements. At first indifferent, Woolf was eventually moved to pity of the moth:

The possibilities of pleasure seemed that morning so enormous and so various that to have only a moth’s part in life, and a day moth’s at that, appeared a hard fate, and his zest in enjoying his meagre opportunities to the full, pathetic.

The moth settles on the window sill and Woolf forgets it until she notices it trying to move again, but this time its movements are slow and awkward. It attempts to fly but fails, and falls back down to the sill—landing on its back, tiny feet clawing at the air as it tries to right itself. The author reaches out to help when she realizes that it is dying and draws back, reluctant to interfere with this natural process. Somehow in the brightness of the day, the power of death was seeking this moth and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it.

Still, she watched the moth as it fought against the inevitable:

One could only watch the extraordinary efforts made by those tiny legs against an oncoming doom which could, had it chosen, have submerged an entire city, not merely a city, but masses of human beings; nothing, I knew, had any chance against death. Nevertheless after a pause of exhaustion the legs fluttered again. It was superb this last protest, and so frantic that he succeeded at last in righting himself. One’s sympathies, of course, were all on the side of life.

However, after the moth had righted itself, in the instant of its victory, death descended:

The moth having righted himself now lay most decently and uncomplainingly composed. O yes, he seemed to say, death is stronger than I am.

In Woolf’s essay, the battle between life and death is somehow seen as both pathetic and noble. Pathetic because death will always win regardless the desire for life; but noble in how one faces death — on our back, defeated, or on our feet and in dignity.

Another essay, also called Death of a Moth by Annie Dillard, is often compared to Woolf’s essay, most likely because of the similar titles and subjects. Unlike Woolf’s moth, Dillard’s meets its end much more dramatically—caught within a candle’s flame, it’s body on fire, which Dillard details in unsentimental detail:

Her moving wings ignited like tissue paper, like angels’ wings, enlarging the circle of the darkness the sudden blue sleeves of my sweater, the green leaves of jewelweed by my side, the ragged red trunk of a pine; at once the light contracted again and the moth’s wings vanished in a fine, foul smoke. At the same time, her six legs clawed, curled, blackened, and ceased, disappearing utterly. And her head jerked in spasms, making a spattering noise; her antennae crisped and burnt away and her heaving mouthparts cracked like pistol fire. When it was all over, her head was, so far as I could determine, gone, gone the long way of her wings and legs.

Compared to Woolf’s moth, with its quiet dignity and brave fight against death, Dillard’s moth was caught in a torment of fire and died violently, one could almost say grotesquely. Death isn’t veiled in the struggle; isn’t seen through the same type of grey silken glasses worn by one of Sebald’s characters to mute the landscape when he paints. Death is stripped bare, exposed in all of its hideous indifference.

Yet where Woolf’s moth leads one to accept death, to embrace the nobility of death, Dillard’s moth flares out at death, defiant, and unaccepting. Its death says to me, “I do not go willingly, I do not give up on life easily. You must rip it from me and I’ll fight to hold it.” In the end, rather than form a noble and dignified corpse, Dillard’s moth becomes a second wick, causing the candle to burn that much brighter:

She burned for two hours without changing, without swaying or kneeling-only glowing within, like a boiling fire glimpsed through silhouetted walls, like a hollow saint, like a flame-faced virgin gone to God, while I read by her light, kindled while Rimbaud in Paris burnt out his brain in a thousand poems, while night pooled wetly at my feet.

I was more moved by Woolf’s moth, but Dillard’s moth is the one most vivid in my mind and in my memory.