Tag Archives: blogging

Water and Fire: Metaphors I Blog By

Contrary to Marc Prensky‘s popular binary, I don’t see myself as a digital native, or a digital immigrant.  Rather, I am a reluctant, reformed Luddite, washed gasping onto your shining silicone shores of technology because the formerly lush pre-technology terrain has ebbed and eroded beneath my feet.  So I used a laptop as a life-preserver and floated across the digital divide, trying not to drown.  No, I am no digital immigrant, one who came here by choice following the dream of electric sheep and your Statue of Technology’s gleaming beacon, a flickering iPod held aloft. 

I am a digital refugee. 

I don’t speak the language. 

I plead digital asylum. 

But now that I’m here, I’ve come to discover that, just as there are activities that thrive in the face to face world—or, worse, “F2f,” the shorthand for what used to be called interacting, talking, or being human—there may also be opportunities that technology creates that are not pale imitations of personal contact or just more expensive versions of previous, now obsolete technologies like paper, paint, or vinyl.  Rather, there may be whole new avenues to travel, channels to explore, waters to drink. 

Two weeks ago I wrote about the things I learned after six months of blogging, focusing on how I felt to get page views and to view how readers viewed me.  And that was interesting and enlightening for me in a kind of techno-sociological way, my time-traveler’s view of my strange new home in the future.  So on the surface, the least blogging has helped me see are the ways in which I can now easily and frequently incorporate images, video, and links into posts.  It’s plenty fun and entertaining for me (and, I hope, others), which I do not denigrate.  

But it has also helped me to learn more about the creative process, something I was very interested in well before six months ago.  I started this project with the hourman concept—one topic covered in sixty minutes of writing, and, as I’ve said, I’ve mostly stuck with it.  But what I haven’t discussed is what I’ve done with that writing time.  It has occasionally been linear, the way students are forced to write essay exams in school, or the Alice in Wonderland approach: “Begin at the beginning…  and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”  But mostly, while I may spend the hour composing, I spend the day, or sometimes week before, composting, to borrow the metaphor of writer’s writer Natalie Goldberg.  Before I even sit down, and before I start the clock, I already have my topic, my angle, even if it’s vague, and preferably, my way out.  I’ve always believed in the importance of endings—one of the things I try to emphasize to my writing students is that you can’t tack on a conclusion.  Perfunctory, fake conclusions sound like this: “In conclusion, here’s what I just said.”  But now, I take them even more seriously.  Like a good war, a good piece of writing needs to plan its exit strategy before it even begins.  

But I also now build the link and image searches into my writing process as well, so that I’m not simply writing for an hour, then looking for apt an entertaining images or videos, or deciding in the editing and posting process which terms or ideas would benefit from or be bolstered by a missing link.  Instead, I Google as I go (possibly sing to “Whistle as I Work”?), and often enough, something that I see online gets me rethinking what I’m working on right then and there.  Blogging allows for a less hermetically sealed approach to writing: not the frustrated, isolated Artist on a mountaintop, quill and parchment in hand, awaiting divine inspiration—nothing that I’ve written would merit that kind of pretention anyway. But rather, writing online, using online tools, for online readers, has challenged the digital native/immigrant/refugee metaphor’s very foundation.  John Donne knew that no man is an island.  But every link, piece of writing, image, reader, and writer can become part of a vast digital island chain, a sweeping archipelago connected by legions of lightspeed Google ferries.

In addition to challenging the pseudo-Romantic cult of the lone writer, blogging has also challenged my romantic idea of creativity. Too often, we imagine writing can be blocked, as though it were a physical and terrestrial thing.  But if creativity is water, it flows and resists blockage.  Yet water may not be the best metaphor now, since water can indeed be dammed.    And while people do refer to writer’s block when they can’t produce, I don’t think that blockage is really the best metaphor for creativity or lack thereof either.  Nonwriters don’t get blocked; only writers do.  So what writers mean is that their creative process is like agriculture: it is capable of being grown, harvested, and exhausted.  We can overfarm and deplete our imaginary crops or clearcut our creative forests, leaving a fallow period of, we hope, restoration and germination.  We hope the ideas will come back, but we never know.  So when I committed to one blog post per week, I wondered how soon I might, shifting to another familiar metaphor again, burn out.  But instead I’ve come to think of the writer’s ideas as fire.  Yes, Plato, Prometheus, and Jesus beat me to this metaphor, but I think it’s a crucial one: rather than thinking of ideas as blocked vs. flowing, or developing vs. producing, we can think of them as a flame.  When we take from the fire, it does not get any smaller.  With the right conditions—air, kindling—it can perpetuate itself indefinitely, producing and reproducing at any rate.  You can’t put out a fire by taking from it; rather, that’s how you make it grow.  Creativity can operate in this way, too.  It does not need to burn out at all.

Yet even the fire metaphor falls short in describing what I’ve learned.  The commitment I’ve made to writing this blog—a commitment that has no obvious benefits, no product to push, no money to make, no political agenda, and no foreseeable purpose at all—is a reminder of the cliché about life being about the journey and not the destination. 

A little trite, though, so let me update it: life is about the journal and not the desperation.   

Time: just under an hour.  And I didn’t have this ending planned at all—it came as I wrote it. So much for what I’ve learned.

 

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Five Things I’ve Learned from Blogging

 

I published my first blog entry on December 4, 2011, or a little over six months ago. I felt like I needed a personal outlet for writing, since I spent the majority of my writing time typing comments to students on their writing and our class discussion boards. The only other writing I did was work email and slow-paced academic research and writing, at the rate of about one 25-page-ish essay per semester.  Facebook one-liners weren’t enough, and I felt like I had Things to Say.

But when and how could I do it? I decided to set the one hour rule to keep the blog from taking over my time.   I haven’t always stuck with it—in fact, more than half of these entries went at least a little over an hour, and that’s not counting some of the time (more on that next time).  But since then, I’ve written 32 entries, or about one per week, most of which were at least 1100 words, on a wider variety of subjects than I’d planned.  I even liked some of what I wrote.

As of now, I have about 20,000 page views: about 15,000 through my WordPress site, and another 5,000 or so that I’ve gotten from cross-posting everything in Open Salon.  I didn’t have any idea how many views I’d get when I began, but I dare say that 20,000 is way more than I imagined for six months. It’s no Charlie Bit My Finger or Harry Potter Puppet Pals or the singing Gummy Bear, with their hundreds of millions of views, but then again I made people read.

Ignore this picture. It’s just search engine bait.

For this entry, then, I want to share some of what I learned about blogging, the internet, and the numbers behind the scenes.

1)      Facebook works. I’ve had almost 2,000 views from Facebook. In truth, 2,000 is closer to the number I imagined I’d have by now—that is, from friends and friends of friends, not strangers.

2)      Yet I got most of my views from strangers, through search engines.  I had not been thinking about search engines, yet they provided over 9,000 referrals.

3)      Most of these views were from Google Image. The vast majority, at about 8,000. The funny thing is, I only originally included images because I could. It would be fun, like using a toy, to find and include images and, shortly after, captions, which turned out to be one of my favorite parts of blogging.   The images were what separated the blog posts from writing in a black marbled composition notebook, as I did during my teens and early twenties.

4)      But it’s not like a journal, because people can see you.  I was shocked that my piece about Metal Evolution was even noticed by—let alone linked to—Banger Film’s social media. That day gave me my highest number of single-day views, 511.

I was even more surprised when last month, the singer and bassist from The Arrows, the group who originally wrote I Love Rock n Roll and whom I compared unfavorably with Joan Jett, read the post and wrote me an email! Here it is exactly as it appeared, including the weird margins:

jk-

 I found your personal attack on me amusing,

(in your Jett – tongue in sphincter sycophant piece)

 especially after looking at your photo.

  

Since your attack on me was personal

I will respond accordingly.

 

It doesn’t matter what you think.

When you look in the mirror you

still have to see that face of yours.

 

Fact. I inspired Joan Jett in 1976 when she

saw me perform the song on TV and that’s

far more important to me than impressing

you, who will never be anything or do anything

of import except criticize people who have

accomplished far more than you ever will.

 

Good luck,

Alan M.

I was not going to respond, because I could not think of a reason to.  But then I asked myself, what would be more interesting, responding or not responding? And that became my reason:

Alan, if I may,

I’m just flattered that you read and responded to the piece. It was absolutely not meant personally. I never considered the possibility that anyone I wrote about would ever see it.  I have nothing but respect for someone who has written such a great and lasting rock & roll song.

Best,

Jesse  

I have not heard back, but then again I didn’t expect to become pen pals. I still stand by what I wrote and am still shocked to have gotten a message.  Elvis, also criticized in the same post, still has no comment.

5)      Yes, people can see me. But I can see people, too.  OK, not really. But in addition to seeing how people found the blog—again, usually via a specific search engine—I can also see people’s search engine terms.  The ones with the most views correspond directly to the likely image search—Where the wild things are (over 700 views) and a lot of permutations of Peter Pan (peter pan, piter pan, peter fan, peter pan disney, peter pan cartoon,  peter pen, peter pan characters, pan peter, and more). 

Hey, if it worked the first time…

 It’s nice to see that at least a few people probably found exactly what they were looking for in one of my posts: searchers for “conventions of time travel movies,” “death cartoon on regular show,” “protozombies,” “finn and link,” “symbolism in Mad Men,” “is don delillo alive or dead” and “hunger games hunger artist” were probably surprised that someone actually wrote about something like these topics.  And a dozen or so people were actually looking for this blog (hourman blog, the hourman blog, jesse kavadlo, jessekavadlo wordpress)!

But a few people probably did not find what they were looking for—even though ALL these searches registered more than one view, so they must have found or liked something. Here are a few other search terms that somehow led to views:

80’s metal chicks pin-ups  (must have been very disappointed), kava addiction (taken here because of my last name?), i’d rather enter the hunger games than go to school on Mondays (?), a normal person’s reaction to sparkly vampires/jack sparrow (??), you mad i do what i want loki t shirt (???), krampus sex (I don’t want to know), miss piggy in bondage (you thought krampus sex was bad).

And lots more.

 

Vixen. Too little, too late for that guy looking for 80s heavy metal chicks, but here is it.

Since WordPress added the feature late last February, I have also been overwhelmed by seeing the view’s country of origin.  Not only have Metal Evolution and the mean guy from The Arrows read my writing, but so have people in 128 countries, including Gibraltar, Mongolia, Korea, and 225 views from the Netherlands.  I’m huge in the Netherlands! 

Thanks!

I nether saw that coming six months ago. Thanks to everyone who’s been reading.  I hope the non-bloggers have learned something, and bloggers may recognize some of what makes blogging so interesting.

 Next post: what I’ve learned about writing and the creative process.

Time: one hour. I set out to write a Ten Things list but ran out of time at five. Typical.

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Versatile Blogger Award! Plus Seven Things About Me

Last week, the blogger Cookaholic Wife sent me this Versatile Blogger Award!

 

According to the Pay it Forward-slash-chain letter explanation, The Versatile Blogger award “is a great way to introduce different bloggers to each other and to promote quality blogs that awardees and their readers may not have discovered otherwise.”

 
The rules of this award include
1. Thanking the person who gave you this award.
2. Include a link to their blog.
3. Next, select 15 blogs/bloggers that you’ve recently discovered or follow regularly.
4. Nominate those 15 bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award.
5. Finally, tell the person who nominated you 7 things about yourself.
6. In the same post, include this set of rules.
7. Inform each nominated blogger of their nomination by posting a comment on each of their blogs.

So the easy part: thanks, Cookaholic Wife.

 
And here are 7 Things About Me:
1. I hate multitasking when it comes to writing or work. I like to start one thing and finish it, or alternate between two tasks, preferably tasks that I would probably procrastinate, like grading papers and doing dishes. This way, when I switch, it feels like a break. Then I switch back after a while and it feels like another break.

2. Yet I love multitasking at leisure, like watching a movie and eating ice cream—only and always Ben and Jerry’s—at the same time, while I’m reading a book or magazine and holding, and occasionally playing, the guitar on my lap.

3. For most of my formative years—say, 13-21—I had no idea that I would be anything other than a rock star when I grew up; the guitar has been on my lap for decades. Yet I’m totally OK with not becoming famous now, because if I had become famous when I wanted to, at 20ish, I probably wouldn’t still be a famous rock star now anyway, and I wouldn’t have gone to grad school or met my lovely wife during that time because I would have been too busy being a famous rock star. So everything worked out.

4. It’s funny how often people say “Everything worked out” when, technically, it didn’t.   

5. Similarly, most people say that things work out for a reason, according to plan, or according to fate, or destiny, or karma, yet they also believe that they themselves have free will.  If pressed, I’d say that I prefer not to believe in any kind of fate but that I’d rather not have to decide.

6. Of course, if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice. But that’s not really a fact about me. That’s a fact about Neal Peart.

7. I have, unfortunately, been multitasking while writing this quasi-blog entry. I hate multitasking when it comes to writing or work.

Newly discovered fact: it turns out that I’m congenitally incapable of writing 7 Things About Me in any remotely sensible manner.

 
15 Bloggers to Pass This Along To
thepollyannafragments

havepenwillscribble

Wings Of A Giant

gonzotopia

fiercelyyours

thegoodbadpeople

themagnificentsomething

koshergranola

pomegranatesandhoney

alkavadlo    

OK, this isn’t 15.  And I guess I’m related to two of the bloggers (which doesn’t change their quality). I’ll follow up with more soon.

Thanks! Back with a brand new real post next week.

Last: Hey!  Now that I’m officially Versatile, I’d putting out a call for the Comments section: Is there any topic you’d like to see analyzed in this blog in 60 minutes or less? Let me know.

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Why Hourman?

Two of my favorite contemporary books, Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, in the character within a character The Watcherwoman, use clocks and time as a central motif of mortality.  I can’t go a week without another clock-as-metaphor contender—for example, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.  But go back further in time and meet Hourman, an obscure superhero created in 1940 and occasionally brought back as a supporting member of various super teams.  He was a scientist (see also: Flash, Iron Man, Spider-man, Mr. Fantastic, Ant-Man, et al) who invents a miracle drug (named, um, Miraclo; see also: Captain America, Cloak and Dagger, Luke Cage, ad infinitum) and, of course, tests it on himself (see: Dr. Jekyll, Beast), presumably to avoid the IRB paperwork.  The drug grants boring entry-level standard with the vehicle superpowers (super strength, super speed, super endurance), but—here’s the twist—only for one hour. 

The Hour-Man!

A few things interest me about this character. First, his powers are essentially framed as a deficiency—the super lasts only an hour, unlike Superman, who’s always super, rather than against regular people, to whom it’s an hour more super than they’ll ever get [said in sassy tone].  The other thing, though, is his decision to go with the name Hourman, which seems pretty stupid for a scientist.  He’s essentially advertising his weakness: “Hark ye, villains of the world! Just wait it out; I’ve only got a good hour in me,” as if  Superman called himself Kryptonite Man (the name a villain would later take pretty much just to screw with Superman’s psyche).  Later writers would also turn Hourman into a Miraclo junkie, kill him off, bring him back, reboot him, and make him time travel (last one: fair enough with the name), same as everyone else in Hollywood.

Think of how different Hourman is from Sixty Minute Man, from the 1951 song.  The names are nearly identical, but whereas Hourman has powers for ONLY an hour, 60 Minute Man has powers prowess for a WHOLE HOUR!  

There’ll be fifteen minutes of kissin’

Then you’ll holler “Please don’t stop” (Don’t stop!)

There’ll be fifteen minutes of teasin’

Fifteen minutes of squeezin’

And fifteen minutes of blowin’ my top

I’m still amazed at how explicit the song is for its time.  Also, how awesome.  But taken together, Hourman and Sixty Minute Man  present a nicely double sided pair and image—an hour is on the one hand never enough, but it can be, um, a fine, long time as well.  And so that’s my operative image for the page.  

I’ll be writing about popular culture—books, movies, music, and television—for no more than one-hour sittings, and I’ll try to keep track of the time.  Writing this blog for me is really an experiment in process, like the freewriting exercises created and espoused by writers like Peter Elbow and Natalie Goldberg.  Except my goal isn’t words on the page as much as expressing a particular idea for a particular amount of time.  The point of my hour is not to force me to produce, although it’s that too, but also to force me to stop.  Writing time is like dog years—you sit down to spend ten minutes tweaking and realize that seventy minutes have gone by.  For something that I’d write for publication, I could spend an hour on a page, or a sometimes rewriting or re-punctuating a sentence. Hell, I’ve spent an hour just rereading something I’ve written without making any changes at all.  So that hour is both a self imposed limitation as well as an endurance test.  And when I take less than an hour, which I hope to for this entry and maybe others, I’ll indicate the time at the end.

So maybe you won’t turn into an addict, or holler don’t stop, but maybe you’ll return for another episode.

Time: 40 minutes, not including getting the basics of the blog formatting down. That took forever.

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