Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: blogging (page 3 of 11)

Are Blog Commenters “Real” Writers?

A few weeks ago, there was a raucous argument online over the unimportant question of the day — are bloggers “real” writers?

I have my own thoughts about this, but I’m all about spreading the love, so for all practical purposes, I edge towards saying “yes.”  If you write, you’re a “real” writer, whatever that means.  A “professional” writer might be a better writer, but then again, there are a lot of shitty books published about cats.

The problem is the word “writing,” which like “blogging” is too broad and meaningless.  A doctor is a doctor, but you don’t want a pediatrician doing your heart surgery.  Blogging is a new art, and a singular discipline.  A good blogger might write a boring book.  On the other hand, I have read blogs written by novelists that bore me to tears.  These professionals  just don’t “get” the community aspect of blogging, or the soap opera-ish, episodic nature of a personal blog.   No writer can write anything.  Screenwriters are considered the low end of the writing totem pole, but both Hemingway and Fitzgerald took stabs at screenwriting, with awful results.  Every art form is different.  A play is performed live.  A movie uses editing.  Blogging is writing.  But writing isn’t blogging.  And really — who cares?  The whole conversation reeks of insecurity.   I’m not ashamed to say I am a blogger.  I’m ashamed to say I make NO MONEY blogging.   But I am proud to blog.   I love it!

When we talk about “real” writers, I’m assuming we are all thinking about someone like Jonathan Franzen, a guy who writes BOOKS you can buy in a store.   Of course, I only mention him because other bloggers are talking about him, which just proves that blogging is all about immediacy.

Yeah, I hear you.  Blogging is exactly like writing.  For every person who says that blogging is real writing, I wonder how many times you have gone into my archives to read my “writing,” as if my blog was a collection of short stories.   Never!    Gotcha!

In some ways, bloggers are not “real writers,” in that blogging is just plain different.  Bloggers use links.  Links are as revolutionary as editing in a movie, and completely unique to the online experience.  You never see links in a traditional novel.  Imagine a novelist describing Doctor Zhivago’s house, and then including a link to a photo in Flickr.  Bloggers play off of one another, like improv players.  Someone writes an angry post.  Two hours later, someone writes another post responding.  Blogging tends to be topical and immediate, like my name-dropping of Jonathan Franzen.  “Real writers” write in isolation, their beards growing gray as they toil over their masterpiece for ten years in an abandoned cabin in the woods.  And here is the real big difference, at least according to me:  most bloggers allow COMMENTS!  Not too many “real writers” allow comments on their novel, unless you are one of those crazy readers who scribble notes to the author on the side of the page.

“WTF?!  Are you saying that his wife is his OWN SISTER?! You are a perv!”

If you want to feel like a “real” writer, shut down your comments and let your beard grow.  If you want comments, and enjoy the adoration, you are a blogger.  Be happy.

Of course, as times change, so will our ideas about “writing.”  In ten years, all books might have “links” embedded, as we read them on our Kindles.

Which brings me to the real point of this post — blog comments.  If you are one of those people who shook your fist and shouted “Bloggers can be REAL WRITERS!,” I have a another question for you.  “Do you consider commenting to be real writing, and if no, why not?”

I do.  I consider my comments an integral part of my post.  The comments on one of my posts can be more interesting than my post.  They are very important in humor blogging.  Have you ever read the comments on The Bloggess?  They are hilarious.  Her blog would not be half as fun without her comments.  Jenny and her commenters FEED off of each other.  In fact, their relationship is so strong, I think she should SHARE all of her advertising dollars with her commenters.

I see many bloggers complaining about a lack of comments.  They usually blame Twitter and Facebook.  I say, it is your own fault.  You don’t respect comments as “real” writing.  You consider stupid one-liners on Twitter as “writing,” but the comments on your blog as an appendage to YOUR brilliant post.  Is it any wonder that there has been a brain-drain from the comment section to the Twitter stream?   There has already been a book on Twitter Wit?  Can you imagine a book of blog comments?  Can you imagine anyone getting a sitcom deal or book deal from a blog comment?  Of course not.  No one really respects the blog comment.

The first lesson I learned at film school is that the auteur theory of film-making was hogwash, created to fulfill the need for critics to analyze a movie in the same way that they would a book — written by one author.

We tend to view our blogs under this same “auteur” theory, dissing the community aspect of the medium.    Of course, this doesn’t stop us from pimping our blog posts on Twitter, or constantly networking.  Blogging is not only writing.  It is part circus, part Borg.

I write my blog.  It is my words.  But during my five year writing journey, I have been guided by YOU as much as by my own life.  YOU have been part of my experience.  We all have been part of each other’s blogging life.  This is what we mean when we talk about this “community.”  If we all just want to write on our own and think of ourselves as “writers,” then let’s drop blogging and write our books.  But if we are going to blog, we should embrace “blogging.”

I am not a good commenter.  I am more comfortable talking about my own life, than reflecting on yours.  I consider this a fault.

Commenting is a skill.  It is real writing.  I greatly appreciate smart comments.  For the longest time, I have wanted to come up with some sort of blog award, solely for comments, something that would undercut the typical “Best Blog of All Time” idea, a concept that would embrace the community, not just the individual blogger making believe she writes in complete isolation.  Perhaps by enobling the comment as an art form, as “real” writing, we can energize commenting again.  Wouldn’t it be great to see a session at a conference where the speakers doesn’t suggest ways to “get MORE COMMENTS” but instead — “how to write more meaningful comments on the blogs of your friends?” — taught by some of the best commenters amongst us.

If I actually started a Commenting Award, my personal nominee would be Headbang8.  When he comments on one of my posts, he takes my topic to another level.   This is, despite the fact that I rarely comment on HIS blog, mostly because he lives in Europe and isn’t in my usual circle of friends.  I can tell that this isn’t a reader who has zoomed though 100 blog posts in one morning.   He has actually thought about the subject, and when he writes a comment, I consider him to be a collaborator on the post.

And just to show how much he means to me, I will now share all of my advertising dollars with him.

Here is one of his recent comments on my post about my “big ears.”

Americans are plastic people. Often, in the best sense of the word.

Live your dream. You want to be an astronaut? Sure! A doctor? A scientist? A millionaire? Anybody can be anything they want to be. I was born in a log cabin but grew up to be president. I was once a football player and now I’m an actor. I was once a cheerleader and now I’m a movie star. I was a Catholic, now I’m a Buddhist. Live your dream. If you don’t, you have only yourself to blame. You didn’t try hard enough.

That sort of thinking spreads to your body. If I have only one life, let me live it as a blonde. You can shape your body. If you’re fat, it’s your own fault.

I once worked on the advertising account of a product that had to do with teeth. My god, what baggage teeth carry! If your teeth are bad, it’s a marker of poor discipline (did you brush right as a child?) or social class (could your parents afford braces?) or old age (yellow = old and decrepit). People around the world shake their heads in amazement about an American’s obsession with his smile.

Amidst all this obsession about be-the-best-you-can-be, it comes as a comfort, from time to time, simply to say “I am what I am”.

That’s what your tribe is for. The people amongst whom you feel comfortable. Who know your experience. The people with whom you can let your hair down.

Generally, we are born into a tribe. Few of us change ourselves to be part of a tribe to which we don’t naturally belong. We see or find people like ourselves. And discover that though we may differ, the thing we have in common makes those other differences unimportant. That’s a source of great serenity, self-confidence and strength.

The big-eared. It may seem slight to build a tribe around. But it was enough to make you feel bad about yourself growing up. It had an effect on you.

These wing-nuts, these head-kites, these flesh-made Flying Nuns, these Basset Humans, these Dumbos are your people, Neil. Embrace them. Love them. May you never have to grow your hair long, ever again.

Now THAT is “real” writing. In a comment.

Indirect and Authentic

(this is a post that is completely rambling out loud with little direction, but I’ve been hearing the term “authenticity in blogging” used a lot recently.  It was even the the subject of the final keynote at a recent woman’s blogging conference, as presented by Karen of Chookooloonks and Brené Brown.  “Authenticity” is one of those terms that makes me uncomfortable, especially because I don’t really understand it, and you’ll notice that this post is a little edgy when I discuss it.  But I am also self-aware enough to know that when something makes me uncomfortable, there is usually a reason I am fighting with it.  So, I hope if either of these two bloggers end up coming here, they don’t think I am being a downer in questioning the idea, but being authentic in taking it seriously, in my own way.)

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OK. A “dating” question for women, single or otherwise.   It is all hypothetical, and has really nothing to do with dating, and more about the subject of directness and authenticity. If you’re a straight man, put yourself in the man’s part of the scenario.  Unless you are gay, and then you’re on your own.   Or change the gender.

Hypothetical situation: You’re a woman.  You’re at a bar.  You’re single.  You’re wearing your best dress and sexy shoes.   I approach you.  Or some other studly guy approaches you. But let’s assume it is me. Which encounter would be more endearing and/or successful?

1) Me (indirect and inauthentic): “Sure is crowded in here tonight.  Must be the World Cup game on the TV.  Didn’t realize that there are so many Brazilians living in LA.  You into soccer?…”

2) Me (direct and authentic): “I was looking at you from across the room. I don’t usually say this to a woman immediately, but you have a nicely-shaped ass.  I’m hanging out at this hot, noisy bar, hoping to meet someone, and I’ve picked you out of everyone else here tonight.  I would like to get to know you better. Boy, I am nervous asking you this.   But that ass!  Wow!  Would you want to go to the Chipotle next door and talk?  I know it is only a fast food joint, but I’m a writer and not making a whole lot of money, so I’m hoping that isn’t a big concern to you. What do you say?”

Should I use approach number 1 or approach number 2?

Of course, this is a rather silly example. #2 borders on the rude, even if “the guy” is being more “authentic” in his dumb reason for going over to the woman, and even more direct with his request to leave and go to Chipotle. Why spend a half hour talking about the soccer match when it is all just small talk?

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I frankly think the best approach would be somewhere in between the two. I think we need directness AND artifice to effectively communicate with each other, especially in the beginning of a relationship. And I’m not just talking about male-female relationships.

When brands online start talking about being “authentic,” I say bullshit.   Social media is hardly authentic.  We speak to each other in 140 characters. Very few people come out and directly express their motivation.  I know when I write dialogue in a script, the biggest sin is “on the nose” dialogue.  I know that what people say and what they mean are usually two different things.   Sometimes they don’t even know WHAT they want.  Very few people come out and SAY what they really want other than James Bond villains wanting to destroy the world with a solar deflector.

I respect those who want to protect their privacy or business interests, but since when do we call that “authenticity?”  How can there be authenticity when there is also so much selling and promoting.   The very concept of marketing or advertising or “giveaways” involves artifice and manipulation, much like a woman wearing make-up before hitting the clubs.    When consumer product brands sponsor “green” events, they are usually more concerned about good publicity than the cause.   More power to them for doing good, but not terribly “authentic.”  Food stylists making McDonald’s hamburgers looking juicer is artifice.  Clever copywriting is artifice.   I find it odd that as the internet becomes more and more about business and social manipulation, people advancing their careers by touting community, writers feigning interest for connections, more and more people are discussing authenticity. Is it really THAT complicated to be authentic? What does the word authentic mean? Authentic to others? Authentic to yourself?

I once wrote a post about Dunbar’s number, where a scientist theorizes that we can only deal effectively with 150 people.  Doesn’t that mean we are being inauthentic to the thousands of followers we all hear gurus touting on their blogs as a way to show their influence? Why do we want them? If we really cared about helping others, like so many writers like to say, why don’t we just go into nursing?

Here is an authentic advertisement for McDonalds: “Hi there. We are in business to make money. People love our burgers. We know they are not healthy for you, but you like ’em, right? And no one complains when your kids run around and make noise, right? And we are pretty cheap, if you go for the dollar meal, right? McDonald’s. We are authentic (except for the doctored photos of our burgers).

Art can never be authentic. It can strive to be an authentic representation of ourselves. We can be authentic. But very very very few of us  get anywhere close.

By the way, you all have nice asses.


via the fabulous Schmutzie!

P.S.  Just read this post over.  I know it makes very little sense.  And I am using the term authentic all wrong.  Sorry.  My blog.

P.S.S.  Juli from Wellington Road just made an excellent point via IM about the dating scenario that made me see this post in a whole new way.  Talking to that woman in the bar about her ass is just crude,  and not authentic, especially since I would never say that anyway.   The differences in choices  #1 and #2 are about the politeness of the words.  The authenticity comes into play with the ACTION.   #1 could be more authentic if the goal is to get the woman into bed, and this is how I seduce a woman.  #2 could be all bark with no bite.   I might be just shooting into the wind, with no real confidence or adherence to my goal.   My words might be brash and tell it like it is, but I would not be authentically striving for my goal.   The alpha man is not about how strong his words are, but how effectively he takes action.   In the second scenario, it reads like I am trying to sabotage myself.  By acting so blunt, I wonder if my REAL intention is to get rejected so I feel bad, because I am neurotic, or whatever.

I guess if your goal is to become a popular blogger, you are being authentic if you stick to your game plan.  The same can be said if you want to write a novel and are using your blog as a calling card.   I was misusing the term authenticity.  I was expressing the term in the traditional way, where authenticity meant removing the mask in relationships to others.  It appears that the term “authenticity in blogging” means something else — discovering your goal or your purpose and staying true to that path.  It is more about personal journey than community.

Do these two versions of authenticity conflict with each other?

The Walmart Mom Question

Today, as I received yet another email about this post I wrote last week, I understand what it must feel like to be a politician after a story is leaked to the press that YOU DID inhale during that one time you said you smoked pot in college, and now you have to pose  at a press conference, your conservatively-dressed wife at your side, your hooker girlfriend as far away as possible, as you strongly condemn all forms of drug abuse and promise, if elected, to start a new WAR ON DRUGS.

In politics, these leaks always come from an old roommate still pissed at you for stealing his girlfriend twenty-five years ago.  In blogging, proof that bloggers are mostly idiots with no career potential, we LEAK THESE INCRIMINATING STORIES ourselves!

Of course, as blogging becomes more professional, bloggers are growing smarter and more media savvy.   Let me re-phrase that.  Some bloggers are growing smarter.  As we become brand enthusiasts for Kraft and Walmart, we move beyond just telling stories about our lives.   We become representatives of something bigger than us.   A company or a cause.  And that is great.  But it gives me pause.  I wonder if I would have written my post, or many of my posts, if I was a brand ambassador for Nintendo or Sony?  Would my writing feel stifled?  Would there be any repercussions for writing about my past real-life actions?  Is my image, and what it represents to the company, more important to the company than my “real” self?  Is this what the exciting field of social media is all about, turning us all into one-dimensional avatars, the online equivalent of air-brushed celebrities,  so we can effectively market products  to each other?  No wonder why social media mavens love Twitter.   Marketers can speak to many at once, without really interacting with anybody.

Frank Rich, in one of his last NYT columns of 2009, named Tiger Woods as his “person of the decade” because he symbolized everything wrong with a decade where branding, PR, and illusion became more celebrated than the reality outside.  Frank Rich sees the decade as filled with con men, “influentials” eager to bamboozle their gullible victims.

The men who played us for suckers, whether at Citigroup or Fannie Mae, at the White House or Ted Haggard’s megachurch, are the real movers and shakers of this century’s history so far. That’s why the obvious person of the year is Tiger Woods. His sham beatific image, questioned by almost no one until it collapsed, is nothing if not the farcical reductio ad absurdum of the decade’s flimflams, from the cancerous (the subprime mortgage) to the inane (balloon boy).

Enron?  The Housing Market?  The Stock Market?  Baseball players with monster steroid bodies?  “Reality” Television?  Bernie Madoff? That was the decade. The blogosphere mirrored this fakery as marketers, SEO, and PR experts became our gurus, promising us big bucks and millions of followers, but mostly making themselves well-known by writing about marketing.

For six years, Tiger Woods was the multi-million dollar advertising face for Accenture, the big consulting firm.  While this firm has nothing to do with golf,  Accenture liked having their advertising campaign revolve around “high performance,” and Tiger Woods certainly fit that bill. The firm just didn’t realize how “high performance” he was!

Accenture is “a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company,” but who cared about any fine print? It was Tiger, and Tiger was it, and no one was to worry about the details behind the mutually advantageous image-mongering. One would like to assume that Accenture’s failure to see or heed any warning signs about a man appearing in 83 percent of its advertising is an anomalous lapse. One would like to believe that business and government clients didn’t hire Accenture just because it had Tiger’s imprimatur. But in a culture where so many smart people have been taken so often, we can’t assume anything.

After Mr. Woods confessed to infidelities, Accenture had a PR nightmare.  They immediately purged all record of Tiger Woods from their existence.

On Sunday, hours after Accenture ended its sponsorship deal, the golfer’s face was replaced by an anonymous skier on the company’s home page. His name was scrubbed almost completely from the rest of the Web site. The company’s advertising campaign is about “high performance,” and Mr. Woods “just wasn’t a metaphor for high performance anymore,” a spokesman for Accenture, Fred Hawrysh, said.

By Monday afternoon, Accenture staffers had swept through the company’s New York office and removed any visible Tiger posters. The next day, marketing and communications employees around the world were asked to turn in any remaining Tiger-emblazoned posters and other materials. Accenture marketing employees did not respond to requests for comment about the Tiger purge on Wednesday.

This was a relationship based solely on business, not unlike so many of the “friendships” we have online, where we follow and unfollow each other daily, depending on the direction of the wind.

So, basically  — Can a Walmart Mom write a post about the time she stole some jewelry at Walmart when she was 17 and still remain a Walmart Mom?

If I start sleeping with a high class hooker, do you want to hear the stories about my adventures, or do you want me to hide them from you, so that I maintain my good “brand.”

Do I know any of you at all?

The Story

Two weeks ago I went with Jen Lee to this Moth Storytelling Slam downtown. It took place at a small venue downtown, so audience members and storytellers were lined up for an hour before the show, in the freezing cold, just to get a seat. As Jen and I waited, she introduced me to her friends. She is a semi-regular. During my conversations with some of these storytellers, I was amused by the sub-culture that has grown up around these “slams.” As bloggers, we’ve become so used to chatting about WordPress and plugins, gibberish to outsiders. Well, every sub-group has their own insider lingo.

“You going into the hat tonight?” some hipster guy asked me.

“Huh?”

He explained to me that those who wanted to tell a story put their name into a hat, and ten storytellers are randomly chosen.

As he spoke, he gave me a aggressive look, ready to pounce on me if I said, “Yes,” as if this was the storyteller’s equivalent of a new blogger arrogantly thinking he was going to make as much money as Dooce in his first year of blogging. I assured him that I was just a visitor to this strange storytelling world, which eased the tension.

The line for the show was snaking around the block. There was a hodgepodge of social activity going on — networking, flirting, competitor bantering, cold stares, and camaraderie, while the intense loners stood apart, practicing their stories on a mini-recorder, praying to God that they be picked to present their story that night, catapulting them to literary success, allowing them to quit there job selling bathroom plumbing at Home Depot, and enabling them to give a big “f**k you” to all the less-talented wannabees on line next to them.

Sound familiar? Exactly! Like an invitation-only party at BlogHer.

Finally, the doors to theater opened and we were let in out of the cold. Jen and I found good seats. As the show began, I could feel a nervous tension in the air. The MC, a storyteller himself, pulled a name out of the hat and that individual was invited to come to the front and tell his story. Since no one knew who was going to be picked next, those waiting for their name to be called were always at the edge of their seats. The female storyteller in front of me, dressed in the 1970’s Annie Hall look, was tapping her foot the entire evening, waiting for her big moment, like a teenager waiting for the phone to ring to be asked to the prom. Sadly, the boy never called. At the end of the night, she was the first one out of the bar, on her way home to sulk.

Each night of storytelling revolves around a new theme. The subject is broadly defined, so the storyteller can almost mold any story into the current theme. The night’s theme was “cars.”

Smart writers know that there are two genres that always sell — sex and coming of age stories. Or both. It didn’t surprise me that the first five stories contained these elements, whether it was a story about a woman losing her virginity in the back of a 1970 Mustang or a man’s having a remembrance of the family trip to Disneyworld in the Chevy Nova.

The sixth reader to be picked from the hat was an Asian-American man of about forty, with black cropped hair. His story was different than the others. He began his story by telling the audience that when he was in his thirties, he worked in Silicon Valley, slaving away for twelve hour days. One night, as he was driving home, he had a heart attack. He then proceeded to tell us all the specific details of what it feels like to have a heart attack. He described the tightening of the chest, the discomfort, and the fear.

I found it extremely difficult to listen to his story. I could feel my own chest tightening. Suddenly, there was a cry for help. An audience member, just five rows ahead of us, a fiftyish man with his family, had slumped over in his chair.

The MC ran to the microphone.

“Call 911! Call 911! We need a doctor,” he shouted.

Everybody fumbled with their phones, because the MC had made us shut them off when the show began. There were no doctors in the house, since the audience was mostly thirty-ish writers with soul patches, but someone ran up to the slumped man and relaxed his shirt.

I should remind you that the venue was jammed. Audience members were sitting in the center aisle. If the fire department had seen the way storytellers had to climb over people to reach the front stage, the entire venue would have been fined, or closed down.

“Everyone in the center aisle has to leave,” said the MC. “We need room for emergency.”

“I’m calling an ambulance!” cried someone in the first row, his phone dialing.

The audience in the center dispersed. Since Jen and I had our seats, we remained seated. The Asian storyteller hid in the corner, horror on his face, wondering if his Moth Slam story had just killed a man.

After ten minutes of chaos, the slumped man sat upright, like a zombie awakening from sleep. As the emergency workers entered the theater, the newly-awake man stood up and said that he was OK. The audience sighed with relief. The formerly-slumped man was now red-faced, not from illness, but from embarrassment. He walked over to the stage and asked the MC if he could say a few words to the audience, including those who were re-entering from outside. The audience was confused, wondering if this was some sort of stunt. But it wasn’t.

“I’m sorry to scare you,” said the man. “I fainted. This was not the first time this has ever happened to me. Whenever I hear stories of people in pain, I become so sensitive to their pain, that I begin to feel the sensations themselves and stop breathing. I once fainted in the middle of church. When this storyteller started telling his story about his heart attack, I had a feeling that this was going to happen, and I tried not to listen, to think about something else, but I could hear his words, and I felt compelled to listen, and as he described the pain in his heart, I felt a pain in my heart and — I’m sorry. Maybe I should go home.”

The audience clapped, and the fainting man left. The Asian storyteller returned to the stage and continued with his heart attack story, but the magic was gone. None of the remaining storytellers could match the real life drama. The fainting man both proved the power of storytelling — his intense reaction to another’s intense story — and WAS the best story of the night, because it happened in front of our eyes.

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This little true life tale encapsulates — for me — blogging during 2009. We all put our blog posts into the hat, hoping that they get noticed by others. We listen to each others stories. Some tell funny stories. Some tell sad stories. Some stories are more popular than others. Some of us are not community-oriented at all. Some of us just tap our feet, waiting for OUR chance to be on stage so we can tell our story. At times, we are confronted by real drama — like having someone collapse right in front of us — right in the middle of our story. It is times like these, that we put aside our competitiveness and bickering, and offer support to those who need it. And then, there are those moments that overwhelm us, when we get so involved in the lives of others that we feel dizzy and faint.

The only solution for that is to apologize to everyone, take a breather, and come back refreshed.

Writing, Reading, Laughing, Caring, Overwhelmed. That was Blogging in 2009.

See you in 2010.

Delurk 2009: Keep on Rolling

Hey, Reader, Jump Aboard
Come Aboard My Train
We Travel at the Speed of Light
In Snow and Mist and Rain

Woo-Hoo, Feel that Mighty Engine
Woo-Hoo, See that Hot Steam Rise
Nothin’ Stops this Baby
When This Locomotive Flies

You hear that Whistle Blowing?
The Wind Breezing through your Hair?
This Train Will Take You Places
Without Going Anywhere!

All Aboard the Citizen!
It’s Quite a Sight to See
So Tell Me Your Name, Darlin’
Cause the Ticket’s Always Free

Step aboard and introduce yourself to the other passengers and/or hobos. Monday will be the first sign-up day for The 2nd Annual Great Interview Experiment.

Insecurity and The Online Community

Note, 10PM,  Sunday Night:  I was going to take this post down because… I’m not really sure why.  At first, I thought I would take it down because it was a boring post about blogging, and I promised myself that I wouldn’t write about blogging so much.  I’m no sure I even care that much about the subjects I bring up.  Am I trying to get attention from other bloggers by bringing up dramas in our community?  Not really.   I’m more embarrassed by the post than proud of it.  Even the thesis of the post is a little forced — I don’t feel  very insecure in the online community.   I have made great friends here  and I have wonderful readers.  People seem to like me.

So what the hell is this blog post about?

I’m not sure yet.   But as I am reading your comments, I am realizing that no one is addressing whatever is in my mind.   So, this post seems odd to me now.   It is something deeper that blogging.   Maybe it is about my place in the world, and I am just using blogging as a way to explore this theme.    Maybe it is safer to write about blogging than other issues in my life.

I leave this up, not because it makes any interesting statement about blogging, but because it gives you some insight into how my mind operates on a Sunday night in October.

The Post —

I was going to write a post about my insecurity and self-esteem issues today, but the thoughts of putting that to paper made me feel like throwing up, so I decided it wasn’t a good day to write that post.   Hey, but at least I started exercising!  (#2 on my To-Do List)

Then I was decided to write a post about how we all use the term “community” online.  Whenever I want to avoid writing about my life, I turn to the blogosphere for blog fodder.  Clever, huh?

I asked myself these questions:   What exactly is this community online?  How does it work?  What is it doing for me?

Then I decided to combine these two topics — insecurity and community.  Two for the price of one.  What a bargain!

OK, let’s begin.  Insecurity.   I think most of us are insecure.  Some more than others, right?  If you a person with no insecurities, then you are probably a… psychopath.  As humans, we want to overcome these insecurities.  We NEED to overcome them if we want to accomplish anything or become successful in life.  One effective way to combat this is to search for support — a family, or a community.

Make sense so far?

This begs the question — how healthy are our communities online if it breeds so much insecurity, jealousy, and trolling?  While it is natural to point the finger at the idiots who are out there poisoning everything, I am an Obama-voting liberal who looks inward.  I believe we should throw criminals into prison, but at the same time, we should look at our society as a whole, perhaps even finding ways for rehabilitation.

Every single one of us can give a million examples of how online life can breed insecurity.

I can already hear your response:  So what?  Life breeds insecurity.  It is part of human nature.

That is true.  That is why we tend to look for communities in the real world that work for us, where we feel comfortable and secure.

Is your community online doing this for you?  How about for others in the community?  Is there such a thing as a real online community?

Let me first mention this Broad Summit that occurred last week.  Thirty popular female bloggers met for a sponsored retreat at some hotel in the wine country.   Some women were upset by the appearance of elitism at this invite only event.   I’m not going to try to be controversial as Anna was in her post, but I find it hard to leave a good controversy alone, even if I tap around the issue!    But don’t worry, one day, I will write about male bloggers and some drama — I promise!

Here it goes —

Perhaps it is a good idea to create a mini-community within the larger community as a whole.  We all have friends that we feel  closer to than others.  We all want to be considered important in some way, if not as bloggers, than writing books, or being the best fireman in the city.  But, we all know how jealousy can rear his head.   If you read the comments on Anna’s posts, it is textbook drama.  There are accusations of jealousy.  There are angry denials.   Let’s face it, jealousy and envy are human emotions.   Great books have been written about envy and jealousy.   We need to be somewhat aware of the potential for jealousy and envy, in the way that we don’t put our hand in the lion’s cage at the zoo, and then be act shocked when we have  one less finger.

Now I am friends with a couple of those women who went to this exclusive blogging retreat.  I am proud of  their success.   I almost didn’t write this post, worrying that one of them would hate me.   These women have all worked hard for their success, and are talented bloggers.  But I’m not really talking about this retreat.   I am talking about all of us and what we want “blogging” to be about.  Are we just going to imitate the model of old media, or are we going to celebrate the fact that everyone and his mother can start a blog in five minutes?

It didn’t take a Sigmund Freud to figure out that this retreat idea was going to create uneasy feelings in a certain sector of the online community.  No one wants to feel that others consider themselves “elite,” even if it is true.  Or at least when it is done in a public manner. It just draws too much attention to status.   It is like showing up to church driving a Lamborghini.  And clearly that wasn’t the intention of this blogging summit.

Enough about that.   I have much of the same feeling for all many of our online activities that we probably could do without — those bullshit blogging awards, for instance , which are mostly popularity contests.  Or live tweeting who you are eating lunch with at a conference.  (why doesn’t anyone ever eat lunch with anyone boring or “not awesome” at these conferences?)

I have insecurities, so I am assuming you do too.  Yours may not be about blogging, but for some, it is.   Boo-hoo.   Who cares, right?   But, If we are going to consider ourselves a community, and TALK about it all the time like it really exists, then we should try harder to think about the others in our neighborhood.  All of us.

Think — What would Mr. Rogers do?

This is not to say we shouldn’t self-promote.  I can’t wait to tell you how wonderful I am.  I’m going to pimp Kate Inglis’ book next week, and I haven’t even READ it yet!  We help our talented friends.  We all know how this works.

BUT — back to the community.  Are we a community or not?  I join a community because it serves a common interest.  Every time I read about a conference, half the sessions are about promoting oneself and getting more readers.  Of course that is important.  I am not stupid.  But this is primarily a model for the business world.  If that is the type of online world we want, then let’s openly admit it.  Coke and Pepsi don’t hang out at the same bar, trading stories.  We are competitors.

Example:  A friend of mine was trying to create a blogging event and asked another blogger for advice on how to get a sponsor for a car.  The other blogger, who was lucky enough to get hooked up with GM during some BlogHer promotion, didn’t want to give her any names or contact numbers, concerned that the new blogger might hone in on her territory.

OK, I understand that… in the context of the business world.   I might have had the same concerns.  Again, I am not an angel.  But if we are going to pose as if this is a “community,” we should act more community oriented — whatever that means.

On the other hand, I am also having thoughts that go in the completely opposite direction.   Perhaps, I should just start thinking of myself as a writer and you as my audience, without considering myself as part of something bigger online.   My self-esteem would have nothing to do with others, and my main priority would be to keep myself in business.   Maybe that is more professional… and “successful” thinking.   I’m no angel.

Who is My Audience?

I know this is a dumb post, but something has been bugging me all morning about the way I approach my blogging and online life, and I will continue to procrastinate all day unless I just type this out. I am seriously going to make a conscious decision not to blog about blogging, since it is so tedious. But if I am really going to be honest about my life, this is now a big part of it, so I write about it.

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There are moments in human history where there is a fundamental change of paradigm. First, some guy believes that the world is flat, then he gets on a boat, grasping a compass in his hand, and all of a sudden, he goes, “Holy crap, the world is round! WTF!” and his life is never the same. I had a blogging moment like that two days ago when I read this comment on Twitter —

“Your audience is not just your peers. It’s anyone able to google whatever it is you’re writing about.”

The comment came during a online comparison of blogging with other forms of media, such as magazines, movies, and television. We were talking about the FTC decision to fine bloggers if they weren’t transparent about the freebies they received for review.

“Don’t they do this sort of deceptive product placement in magazines and TV shows too?” someone asked.

I made the observation that blogging is different than movies and magazines because I considered my audience to be my peers. If I direct a movie and it plays in your local theater, I assume the audience is there for entertainment and to eat popcorn. I don’t view my audience as fellow filmmakers, unless this event is an industry screening on the Warner Brothers lot.

But maybe I was wrong? If blogging is nothing more than a writing group or a hobby for me, and industry screening, schmoozing with my peers, than what makes it any different than any hobby, like golf or tennis? I would never waste my time playing golf for hours EACH DAY! Should I start viewing my “audience” in a broader sense, so I can feel that all this “work” has some practical value?

I can honestly say that up until now, I have considered my audience to be a very small group of people. These include old friends, commenters, and those who stop by once in a while from Google Reader or their blogroll. I’m sure there are many who come here who I don’t know personally, but for the most part, I figure that I am already following you on Twitter or Facebook. Why else would you come here? Do you even understand what I am talking about when I mention Sophia’s name? Why would you want to read about this guy living in his mother’s home? I operate under the assumption that 4/5 of my hits each day — the bulk of my “readers” — are porn-seekers, Russian marketers, or those who arrived at my site by mistake and will never come back again. I don’t imagine big-shot tech writers or the editors of The New Yorker are secretly reading my blog. My daily views, according to WordPress stats — in the 1000-1200 range, have remained consistent for at least three and a half years. Perhaps this is the reason I have always been such a stick in the mud over advertising. Who am I trying to advertise to — Schmutzie and Ms. Sizzle and V-Grrrl and Danny from Jew Eat Yet? This is my audience. Other bloggers. Nice bloggers who sometimes leave comments more interesting than my post. Perhaps I should view my blog differently — as a product, like a magazine, in competition with YOUR magazine, battling it out in the marketplace. Maybe a paradigm shift is good for me, as well as all of us. Why believe in Adam and Eve when the facts support evolution? Why not just see blogging as the same as magazine writing, book writing, TV show writing — where the aim is to capture an audience and succeed. Why do so many of us see our blogs as so “small” and personal, even if they are small and personal? When people ask me what my blog is about, I usually mumble, “It’s just a personal blog where I ramble on about stuff.”

I know I am not being very clear here, and I am too lazy today to fully explain the wheels spinning in my brain. I have real work to do, and can’t spend too much time playing golf. I probably just think too much, because whichever paradigm I try to align myself with, I have more questions. If blogging is really about self-expression, why is so much attention given to “the best blogs” or “the best blog posts?” If that is the standard, then blogging is a writing competition.

You send out mixed-messages. Write for yourself. But don’t write too much for yourself, and no one will read it. Write well and you will receive love by others. But try to be popular because that is the only way anyone is going to know you exist. Your audience is your peers. Your audience is the general public and you are in competition with your peers for their attention.

Do you see your blog as a personal journal which you write in public, sharing it with your peers, other talented writers, OR something more akin to product placed on the market, in competition with others?

Don’t Stop Believing

It is Midnight, the last day of September. My September journey is over. In the beginning of the month, I agreed to blog every day of September, and if I did, a certain female blogger would tell me her bra size. It was a noble cause and I fought hard till the very end.

One of the things I learned on this blogging journey is that you end up writing a lot of bad stuff when you blog every day. But I also learned something else. There is a truth to these bad posts that you don’t always find in polished work. Most of us are filled with anxiety and fear. And this sneaks out, like a sly fox, when we least expect it.

Unfortunately, my journey this month was not a success. I missed two days this month, where I didn’t write. I didn’t know this until I glanced at my archives. I’m not sure how this happened. I screwed up. I will never find out this blogger’s bra size.

But maybe it is better. Lately, I have been feeling down about blogging. But with the Holy Grail still out there, calling my name, I must continue, like the Knight who vowed his unrequited love to Guinevere.

“Don’t Stop Believing,” she says to her loyal Knight.

The Journey remains. Just not every day, cause blogging seven days a week really sucks.

Virtual Blogging Conference – Day One – “Being Practical”

I was reading some of tweets from a recent blogging conference, and the tidbits of expertise sounded pretty trite.

“Find your tribe.”

“Comment freely.”

“Give to the community and the community gives back.”

C’mon, we all know that shit already. I knew that stuff when I was blogging for one week.

I remember during BlogHer, when Amy and I were doing our storytelling session, a new blogger stood up, asking an earnest question. After hearing the two of us talk for a while, she wanted to know if she was “writing her blog wrong.” This freaked me out, because I had just spent the last fifteen minutes “explaining” the rules of good storytelling, and I suddenly realized that this woman had actually LISTENED to what we were saying and was taking it seriously, as if we actually knew the definitive answer to the question, “What makes a good story?” I found myself getting pissed off at this woman. Couldn’t she see that Amy and I were nice people, but ultimately frauds?

“Don’t listen to what we are saying,” I told her. “If you follow what we tell you, you will write a crappy blog. You need to listen, understand it, and then say, “F*ck you, I’m doing it my way.” Then, you will have a good blog.”

Of course, I didn’t really believe that either. So much for being a good teacher.

Lately, I’ve been thinking more about the practical aspects of writing online rather than artistic ones. Let’s face it. Having a personal blog just doesn’t bring in the chicks as much as it used to. I met these bloggers last week, and there was little interest in personal blogging. Most of the talk was about book deals, blogging conferences, blogging summits, marketing opportunities, and staffs of writers on blogging magazines. Half of my blogging friends have moved away from their personal blogs to primarily write elsewhere. They are smart. Everyone needs money to live, including bloggers.

I have no complaints. Blogging has been good for me. I like my personal blog. But for many of us, especially if you have some ambition, it is not enough. Most of my writing for pay has nothing to do with blogging, so it has been a vanity publication for myself. Am I the only one who is noticing a growing lack of respect for the old-fashioned “blogging for self-therapy?” Even mothers, who used to say they blogged for “community,” now say they are in it for commerce. A mompreneur is cool. Blogging because you are lonely at home is kinda pathetic. Male bloggers have the most pressure. What male blogger hasn’t been asked by his buddies —

“So, dude, how much do you make on your blog?”

“Uh, nothing.”

“So, why are you doing it?”

“It is a creative outlet.”

“Man, if I had all that free time, I would at least be watching porn and jerking off!”

“I don’t really consider writing my blog as “jerking off.”

“I see. What you are saying is “Blogging” IS a code word for jerking off. I knew it! That’s cool that you can be home and jerk off. You had me there for a second with that blog writing shit. No real man is gonna be working for no money unless he lost his dick down the drain.”

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Today, I will be running a Virtual Blogging Conference on this blog. There will be only one person attending this conference. His name is Mike.

Here is Mike.

mike

YOU — all of you who have come to this post — have been hired as speakers at the conference. There will be no pay, but free virtual potato chips will be available in the lobby.

Today’s session is titled “Being Practical.”

Our job is to help Mike.

Mike just started blogging last week. He is a nice guy. He has a funny and likable writing style. He lives in Tulsa. He writes about his wife and his dog. Sometimes he writes about the funny things that happen at his office, where he is a graphic designer.

As a blogger, he has a goal. Within one year, he wants to have an extremely popular blog, make at least 500 dollars a month in ad revenue, win a blogging award, be written about in the New York Times, have an article published in the Huffington Post, be a keynote speaker at BlogHer, have a book deal with Random House, get a free trip to Disney World to blog about my experience, be followed by big-shot tech blogger Robert Scoble on Twitter, and gotten drunk with the Bloggess and French-kissed her at a Christmas party.

You may not care about any of these things. But Mike does. And he has paid good money to come to this conference. Our job is to figure out the best way to help him accomplish his simple goal. Seriously. In the comments.

It’s the Journey, Stupid

I will be posting every day for the month of September. Let me warn you ahead of time. Many of these posts will be bad or lazily-written. I will have no time to be clever. I realize that this will be sabotaging my “brand” and my name, but sometimes we have to sacrifice everything for the greater good.

Why will I be posting every day for the month of September? Here is the uplifting tale —

I was kvetching on Twitter, as I frequently do, saying that I had lost my blogging mojo. There were many factors at play, causing this state of mojo-less — personal ones, disenchantment with the blogging world, the trauma of attending BlogHer, and a lack of focus.

After I wrote this “tweet,” some nice woman from one of our fine Southern states, sent me a message that struck me deep, like a Confederate knife into my abdomen. This nice woman was not a long-time reader of my blog or someone I knew that well, just a concerned citizen, but her voice from the darkness was a lifeline of reason and compassion. She said, and I paraphrase, “Shut the f**k up and just blog every day for the month of September.” I’m not sure if she used those exact words, but those are the ones that I heard.

I know some bloggers try to post each day as a writing exercise or as a challenge to themselves. I don’t care about that. The last thing I want to do is clutter my template with one of those “I Did Namblopomo Last Month” (National Blog Posting….). In my opinion, that is not a inspirational goal. Call me old-fashioned, sexist, patriarchal — but I can only visualize one true reason for doing anything:

“If I post every day for the month of September, will you tell me your bra size?” I asked.

She said yes, without a hesitation. Southern women are confident, and don’t play games. I am learning that.

I had my motivation. My muse. I said it was an uplifting tale!

Was it wrong for me to ask for this request? I don’t think so. Great literature, from Homer to Cervantes to Shakespeare, are filled with tales of men going out into the world to achieve an impossible task for the honor of a woman. Why else do the f**king impossible task?! Right?

And yes, I want a pay-off at the end. I am a man. I figured that asking for her bra size was extremely personal, but not outrageous in these modern times when women post about their vibrators, a 2009 equivalent of the thirteenth century knight asking the maiden for a locket of her hair.

Some of my male blogger friends were all, “Dude, you sold yourself short. You should have held out for a topless photo!” These men clearly do not understand what a muse is all about, because they have spent more time reading Penthouse letters than Ovid. Asking for a topless photo would be sleazy and TOO practical, undermining the beauty and poetry of the JOURNEY.

And yes, this is a journey. And yes, there will be a prize at the end, if I can fight the demons and sirens and fight the windmills and battle the Trojans and accomplish all of my tasks. The prize will be a satisfying one, a key to the unlocking of a woman’s deepest and precious mystery, but it is also a pointless one. And THAT is the point. I had lost my blogging mojo because I was in search of a reason – a practical point – for writing this blog, and the answer is — there is none. The journey exists on its own. There should be no prize. But, alas, I still needed one, even an illogical one, because I am a weak man, a soldier without a war, an athlete without a team, a priest without a God. I needed a muse. And soon I will know her bra size.

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