Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Downside to Blogging

Two things I saw this weekend converged in my mind and set off some flashing lights and sirens about the danger of blogging.

One of them was the description section on a blog I tripped over through my Google alerts. As is often the case, one of my alerts took me to a blog that had absolutely nothing to do with the subject I'd set up the alert for, but had somehow by chance combined the right words to get tracked. The author of the blog, the name and location of which I've already forgotten, said that she (or maybe he) was a writing teacher, and encouraged students to write often and dig deep, and the blog was an effort at doing just that. Or something similar.

The other was a very long poem on a blog with no page rank, one I never would have seen had a friend not sent me a link. Here's the thing: it was good. I don't like poetry all that much, and you've already heard my thoughts on how scintillating blogs are--I'm convinced you're not even reading THIS, because who would, and why? But this poem...I didn't do anything else while I was reading it.

If I haven't mentioned it before, I'm a chronic multi-tasker. When I'm emailing or IMing with a friend who says, after a time, "I have to get off of here and get something done" or some such, I'm always surprised. That might be a sign that I'm a very slow learner, considering how often it happens, but there it is. I'm shocked anew every time. Because I'm ALWAYS "getting something done" while I'm at the computer. I screen Google alerts and print articles for work between emails; I fold laundry and sort papers and pay bills while I IM; I have thirty or forty windows open on my computer at all times. So when I say that I sat here at my computer and read this whole very long poem without doing anything else, with a basket of clean laundry at my feet, without clicking the send/receive buttons on any of the three email accounts I had open or taking a quick peek at my bank balance to see whether the book order check had gone through yet, it means something. Nothing empirical, of course, but something about the impact of that poem on me, personally.

And that made me think that it didn't belong buried on a blog that wouldn't be easy to find if you didn't know the author. And that combined in my mind with that writing teacher's comment and made me think that maybe having such an easy outlet isn't such a good thing, not if you're a real writer. Because if you have a place where you can just write, straight into the template, and "publish" and be done with it, doesn't that sort of decrease the incentive to seek out a wider audience? Isn't there something more gratifying, in a backward kind of way, about just posting something on your blog than there might be about sending it out over and over again in hopes that maybe, six months down the road, someone will buy it and then publish it another three or six or nine months later?

There's definitely something to be said for writing more, in whatever forum. It's definitely habit forming, and the more you write the more it feels natural to write and the more you WILL write--or so I believe, anyway. But suddenly I'm wondering whether blogging doesn't provide something of a disincentive to publish, an easy way to dash off one's thoughts and make them available to the world without any extensive editing, without worrying about word counts and fonts, without research and rejection and (maybe most of all), without waiting.

Show of Hands...Who Remembers Bruce Cockburn?

I know that opening line is going to bring some angry commentary--or would, if anyone were reading this--because I remember how I felt when people made similar comments about Rick Springfield while I was writing my book, even though Rick Springfield HAD, in fact, taken a few years (or maybe it was a decade or so) away from the music industry.

Rick Springfield played something like 188 live shows that year, and the world seemed to believe he'd drifted away after "Jessie's Girl". Even now, I'm having a hard time steering myself back to the point without telling you all just exactly how many Top 40 songs Rick Springfield had after "Jessie's Girl".

Rick Springfield is a fairly prolific musician--I've lost count now, but he has 114 or 15 albums, I think, not counting comps.

Bruce Cockburn quietly blows him out of the water with 49. Yes, 49. So, "I remember him!" is a strange reaction, even to my own ears. But it's the one I had. You see, Bruce Cockburn is a landmarker in my life. I think that many musicians play that role for us. Bruce Cockburn isn't just a great musician and political activist, he's a symbol of vinyl LP's on my roommate's stereo after dinner in college and political debates far into the night, of speaking on campus and--just once--closing down a state highway.

He's a symbol of the instant connection I felt when my ex-fiance (a man I dated for five years but have now been friends with for 19) said women didn't know anything about music and I said, "My college roommate knows more about music than any man you know" and he said, "Does she know Bruce Cockburn?" I'm pretty sure I yelled "Bruce Cockburn is my favorite musician!"

I only saw Bruce Cockburn live once, at a little theatre-style place called The Riviera on the north side of Chicago. I was in law schoo in Champaign at the time, and I was in a little street-front record store (remember record stores?) buying "Big Circumstance" and the clerk said, "We're going to have tickets". Champaign was about 150 miles from Chicago, but I went right home (or back to the tiny twelfth story room that passed for hom at that point) and called my college roommate. It was an amazing night...the first concert I'd ever been to, I think, that made me turn to her and say, "I don't think I would have changed anything." She responded that she wished he'd done "Nicaragua," and he came right back out and did it.

That was life in the Bruce Cockburn days. Singing by the lagoon at night, covert political meetings, dinner always ready in the cafeteria and pre-paid. Even now, if you ask me at the right moment I'll name "Stealing Fire" as my all-time favorite album, but it's not in the CD player in my car.

And then last night, I sat down to watch a movie with my daughter--some cute little movie about a bunch of teenagers who set out to save burrowing owls from an evil corporation--and with the opening credits they served up "Wondering Where the Lions Are".

"This is 'Wondering Where the Lions Are'!" I said.

My daughter said, "Oh."

I sat up straighter, scooted toward the edge of the couch. "This is Bruce Cockburn!" I said.

She said, "Oh."

"Bruce Cockburn used to be my favorite musician," I tried.

She nodded.

"He's a big political activist. That's probably why he's in this movie." My daughter is all about charity and animals--I thought that might impress her. She nodded again and looked meaningfully at the television, where the movie had started.

"Tomorrow, I'll play 'Stealing Fire' for you," I promised. And she said, "Oh, good."

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Googling, Alerts, and Our Own Personal Clipping Services

Google is not a verb...Google is not a verb...

Sorry. Just felt the need to atone for a moment, for using Google as a verb RIGHT IN MY SUBJECT LINE.

Google hates that. And they're so right. As a lawyer, a person who makes her living based on intellectual property rights, and a staunch opponent of evolution in our language, I'm entirely, 100%, completely, without reservation against the misuse of Google as a generic verb. So much so, that I'm willing to commit radical redundancies in the previous sentence.

Here's my excuse: I really meant "Google", not "search" in a generic sense. And I always really mean Google, because the one and only occasion on which I lowered my standards to use a different search engine was the day my company's server couldn't access Google for a few hours, and then I complained loudly and often about how I couldn't Google and was forced to use Yahoo's search engine instead.

And, of course, I also share the same excuse employed (usually implicitly) by the rest of the population. "Google" is just a much cooler, clearer, more concise, more to-the-point term than "conduct an internet search".

Anyway, I do it a lot for work. All the more, I work to make sure that when other people do it, they find the many websites for which I write, edit, and plan content. I've also recently been encouraging a friend who has a very popular email humor column that she archives on her website to start thinking more about marketing and about getting her website noticed and her column more widely circulated.

With my mind so thoroughly in that groove, it came as a great shock to me the other day when my stepdaughter Googled "Tori Sanders" and "Switch" together and popped up a film trailer starring my daughter (this is great stuff! I know it's an unlikely combination of terms, but no one even TRIED to optimize this!) and my daughter was...outraged.

That's right. No one said "they could put her on Google!" She was dismayed to find that any old person could type in your name and FIND you. She knew the movie trailer was online, and that was fine, because no one saw it unless you sent them a link...or so she thought. The very thing that keeps most businesses from operating successfully online had apparently been her unconscious safety net.

And it is, indeed, a different world when you can "Google" an eleven-year-old and turn up results. I had another taste of that same "different world" phenomenon when a friend recently suggested that everyone should have Google alerts set up in his or her own name. With all the time I spend thinking about internet marketing and search and...well...Google...THAT had never occurred to me. I have several dozen Google alerts set up to come to my mailbox daily, still others as the items appear throughout the day. But none of them had my name on them.

I listened to all the reasons I should have a Google alert in my name. They made no sense to me. I couldn't see why anyone would need a Google alert with her own name on it.

But I set one up anyway.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

So it Turns Out My Sister Likes Us

I wasn't sure for a long time. I'm not sure why. It might have been the way she walked around singing that old Juliana Hatfield song, "I hate my sister" under her breath. And not so under her breath. It might have been the way I'd send her email back when we were both on AOL and you could see whether or not mail had been opened, and it would eventually drop off her her "new mail" list after thirty days without ever having been read. It might have been that comment she made to her ex-boyfriend about how she didn't want to hang out with me and my friends because we "talked about square roots and laughed".

I'll have you know that radicals can be very entertaining in their place.

Anyway, she started a new job a few months ago, and this past week it happened that she needed a ride to pick up her paycheck. Imagine my surprise when I saw a photograph of her and my daughter prominently displayed on her desk. Imagine my even greater surprise when her co-workers asked my daughter knowledgeable, targeted questions like, "How did your speech contest go?"

Okay, okay--I realize that all of the evidence thus far indicates only that she likes my daughter, but trust me. It's close enough. And she showed us all of the best art, the sacred old books (sacred not because it's a Catholic college library and many of the books actually ARE sacred, but because they're more than a hundred years old and demand reverence in handling even if they happen to be about the newly discovered health dangers associated with the common house fly), and the window from which you can allegedly see Chicago on a clear day. It wasn't a clear day, but it was a spectacular view nonetheless.

It was a little reminiscent of...well, actually I can't say exactly what it was a little reminiscent of. Was looking out the tower window into the distance a bit like climbing the art building on my old college campus twenty years ago? No, not at all. And yes. Did the old first-edition Mark Twain (who knew there were OTHER Tom Sawyer stories?) remind me that I'd put the first "classics" into her hands while she was still in elementary school? Not really. And kind of. Did watching her show my daughter her domain remind me of touring my own undergraduate campus with her? I'll bet you can guess the answer to that...or both of them.

I guess most of all it was a little reminiscent of being sisters, something we don't do enough of these days, while she's busy being a librarian and a girlfriend and I'm being a writer and a mother and the world keeps moving at such an amazing pace. But the truth is, I like her, too.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

What Exactly IS a Good Deed, Anyway?

It's a funny question, I know. We probably recognize good deeds in other people all the time. But it's a nebulous concept, at least in my mind.

Recently, I was charged with "doing a good deed for someone". The open-endedness of the mission troubled me from the outset.

That was more than a week ago, and I still haven't done it. I think.

You see, since that day I have given money to at least one homeless person, driven my sister 25 miles to pick up her paycheck when she was having trouble with her car, given away a reference card I've been carrying in my purse for years to a stranger, taken someone else's child to two half-day events at my own expense, bought clothing for a friend of my daughter's, and made a pie for my father. There may be more, but the problem is, I was going to do all of those things, anyway. Or at least, I didn't do any of them with the conscious thought of doing a good deed.

I think an actual "good deed" requires conscious thought, though that troubles me because I think the people who do the most good deeds are least conscious of them and find them almost automatic. And I don't seem to know how to plan one. I don't know the definition. I don't know where the line is. Does family count? How much time and effort does it have to take? Is it measured by what you put into it, or what the recipient gets out of it?

It seems to me these are exactly the kinds of things we're not supposed to be thinking about--and yet, catchphrases like "do a good turn daily" are with us as early as Brownies. Why didn't anyone ever tell us what a good turn WAS?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Why I'm Madly in Love with My Kid, Part 7648.3

After reading the comment to my post from a couple of days ago, I realized that I did, indeed, have something worth saying, "Listen up, world!" about.

It's not about my daughter's speech-giving abilities, though I'm more than happy to talk about those. It's about the "all I ever needed to know I learned in kindergarten" kinds of lessons that came out of my daughter's speech team experience.

You see, there was no "speech team". It was a competition. First, the competition took place in each classroom, and then the winners went on to compete against each other to see which one child would go on to the district speech competition. Only one of them would go on to the next level.

The very wise teacher who was in charge of helping them prepare not only worked with them on research, writing, and presentation skills, but she chose to work with them in a group. Before long, the kids were referring to themselves as "speech team", although no one had used that phrase TO them, and in fact, they weren't on the same team at all...they were each other's competition.

My daughter didn't win. She did a great job, but she didn't win. When one of her friends was announced as the winner, my daughter put her hands over her face and screamed liked the winners of the Miss America pageant used to do (is that still on?). When one of her friends walked away crying because she didn't win, my daughter followed her and came back holding her hand.

The principal gave a nice speech at the end about all of the skills these kids had learned--research and public speaking and all of that--but later in the evening my daughter said to me, "I thought of something Mr. P didn't mention about what we all got out of this. The best part was how we all became so much better friends and we all wanted each other to do good."

I was so overwhelmed I didn't even say "do WELL."

Blogging about Not Blogging

Blogging about not blogging, as I mentioned in my last post, has become very common. I'd be interested, actually, to obtain some kind of count on how many blogs out there are sporadically maintained primarily with posts about how long it's been since the blogger posted.

This morning, though, I had a revelation about the motivation not to blog (sometimes mistakenly interpreted as the lack of motivation to blog). I thought about a writer friend of mine--one who sends me a dozen or so funny emails a day--saying that she had nothing to say on her blog. I thought about the fact that I'm happily blogging nearly every day on my fake anonymous blog, and I never blog here. That I have a few topics to choose from every day over there, and have to think about what to write here.

Why is that?

Once upon a time I thought that the anonymity of the web allowed people to say things they couldn't back up or didn't want to take responsibility for or were afraid to admit in public, and I think to some degree that's true. But I think the anonymity does something else, too...something I hadn't considered. It removes the question "what was the point of that story?"

That question might be looming larger than usual in my mind right now, because recently a very close friend pointed out to me that my stories were always much longer than they needed to be. Undoubtedly true. I'm a writer. I stop and think during the stories that I tell--I suspect that I often digress into related 'backstory' I think is necessary to really paint an accurate picture, and so on.

But there's nowhere in the world that "why are you telling me this?" becomes more relevant than on a blog. On a blog, the story didn't arise as a part of a conversation. It isn't an answer to a question, or even just a means of passing time while sitting next to someone on an airplane. It's the blogger sitting down at his or her computer and saying, "Listen up world! I have something to say!"

Well, hell.

I don't have anything to say that's of that much interest, really. The early posts on this blog were observations that I thought might be useful to beginning writers, mostly. But I (like most bloggers, in my personal view) have nothing to say that warrants grabbing myself some cyber real estate and telling people I have something to say to them.

Why, then, am I such a prolific blogger on the secret anonymous blog? I think it's not so much that I don't want to be associated with what I say there as that I can't really see any purpose in saying it. Over there, I'm experimenting with search terms and traffic and linking--it's a learning experience, and the "purpose" for every blog post is that I have to keep it active and keep the topics varied in order to learn what I need to learn from it. I'm not writing for anyone to read, and I don't think about whether or not anyone IS reading it. I don't need to wait around for something that's worth saying, "Listen up, world!" for, because I'm not writing to be read, I'm writing for data.

And if you weren't doing that, weren't trying to market something, weren't relating a rare experience or a critical warning...well, how often do any of us tens of thousands of bloggers really have reason to say, "Listen up, world!"?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

I Just Posted Yesterday! Honest!

Okay, we all know I'm lying. And for anyone who just stumbled upon this page and didn't already know I was lying, a quick glance at the previous post will quickly reveal that I haven't posted since January 1. But since I (like so many other non-bloggers with blogs) begin so many posts with "I haven't posted in months...", I thought I'd hit hard on the denial this time and pretend I was a regular poster.

I have, in fact, been blogging pretty regularly, if you take into account my secret fake test blog for work, the seven actual blogs I and my contractors maintain for work, and my two religious blogs. We'll ignore the MySpace blog, since I only signed up for a MySpace account because my sister told me to, and I think I posted exactly four times on that one, all years ago.

This, however, is my "real blog", the one that's associated with my own name, the one that my friends know that I'm writing all that, I'm wondering whether that's why I never blog here! Writing on my fake secret blog comes pretty quickly and easily because--um--well--I don't have to think about whether or not I mean what I'm saying. It's more like thinking out loud, with some targeted keyword usage along the way.

So what, you ask, am I doing here today? Well, okay, I suspect that you're not asking that, because I suspect that you're not READING this, but if you were, you would undoubtedly be saying, "What in the hell is she doing? We're about three hundred words in, she hasn't said anything yet, and she just told us all the reasons she never blogs here."

Good points all.

Here's what happened, though.

Someone linked to this blog today. And I thought...well...if people are going to LINK to it, then I'd better WRITE on it.

Next time, I'll think up something to say.