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Why Blog? Here's Why.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Lawn ornaments, Zick style. You know, skulls, scattered bones, busted watering cans. Everything's better with BlueBirdies on it. I'm pretty sure my reader demographic knows the Blue Bonnet Margarine jingle. I still sing it on the rare occasions that I buy margarine. And I buy Blue Bonnet, because everything's better...

It's a THING, as John Acorn likes to say. I'm still sitting back, slack-jawed, at the response. Breaking 60 comments on one post? Can't be happening here. That's for the Big Fish, the hyper-connected bloggers with dendrites snaking into every corner of the Net. Or so I thought. Being honest about the self-indulgent and frankly egotistical side of my blogging smoked out a lot of people who wanted to chime in. Mostly, you were being kind, and trying to make me feel better about what boils down to a completely insignificant (and probably imagined) slight. But many of you were intrigued, I think, that I'd drop my virtual pants and admit that I'm a craven feedback hog at heart. And what about you? If we're honest about it, why else would we post our thoughts and pictures? Why not just write it all in a locked journal and throw away the key? Certainly, hearing feedback from appreciative people isn't my entire motivation for blogging, but it's a powerful one.

Why write, if you aren't trying to please your readers by doing so? I don't care if you're writing gorgeous poetry or hateful spew---you can't tell me you don't care what people think of it. If you make the effort to post it, you've demonstrated that you care. By posting it, you're hoping to reach a reading audience; otherwise, you wouldn't put it out there. And I'd submit that you're hoping that audience likes it. Thoreau, for all his indifference to social convention, hoped somebody would treasure the scribbled product of his hermetic lock-in at Walden Pond. Audubon gloried in painting birds beautifully, and was crushed when critics attacked the animated poses of his birds. Sid Vicious peered out through slitted eyes, gauging the reaction to his snarls in the mosh pit. Though I know little of him personally, I can assure you that Rush Limbaugh hopes his audience likes the particular brand of llama-gob he belches up.

Aside from blatant ego-stoking, I use blogging as an illustrated, archived record of my life that, as it grows, is becoming, if I may say so, flippin' OSSUM to look back on. Diving into the archive instantly transports me back to forgotten events and feelings, both good and heartbreaking. I used to keep a document, running to hundreds of pages, called "Nature Notes." Every day, I'd update it with arrival and departure dates of migrating birds, who's singing, what wildflowers are in bloom, the first toad trill of spring, that kind of thing. I knew I'd experience these astounding things and just as quickly forget they ever happened if I didn't write them down.

When I started blogging, I gave up my Nature Notes. Every time I mourn its demise, I slap myself and say, "Zick. You are archiving the most bodacious nature notebook anybody ever saw!" I've substituted the jottings of a few minutes a day with over an hour of careful journaling, complete with a photographic archive. Would I ever organize my thoughts and photos like this if I didn't have an audience I was trying to please? I'll answer that with another question. Will I ever take the time to fill those baby scrapbooks in the closet with birth announcements, photos, locks of first-haircut hair, and taped-on teeth? Snowball's chance. Maybe if somebody kneecaps me. The time to do that has come and gone.

I have you to thank for getting me to clean up my journaling act, to learn to work with a decent camera, to stretch my brain and heart to produce something I'm proud of, five days a week, two years running. I can't think of anything else I've done that faithfully, except eat.
It takes soft mud to give you deer dewclaws.

Writers have to write. It's how they process the world, chew it into chunks they can swallow and digest. If writers cease to write, are they still writers? Blogging, though it's often disparaged as hasty and careless jotting, just another way we "dumb ourselves down," needn't be any of that. A blog is as good as you decide to make it.

I use blogging as a proving ground for essays and ideas, as a cooker for themes in my writing. The intense reader response to a post about the hunting of sandhill cranes spawned two chapters in the book I'm writing--essays I have been trying to squeeze out for almost a decade, essays I never thought I could put into words, much less a book. Suddenly, they were necessary--not pretty or lyrical, but essential. It took a community of nature lovers and, interestingly enough, hunters to show me how to write them. Everyone who reads this blog loves birds, deer, and bunnies, but not quite in the same way. I'm glad for that, too.Some of you are thinking, How beautiful! Some are thinking, Perfect lungshot! You're all welcome here. Please check your guns at the door.

Blogging makes me live larger. Blogging makes me want to experience new things for more than just a momentary thrill. Just as seeing a new bird is more fun with a friend by your side, life is more fun to experience when you go at it with the intention of interpreting it, presenting it to friends. I'm a whole lot more likely to say yes to any diversion, any curious experience, than I was before I started blogging.

If you want to have an interesting blog, it helps to lead an interesting--and interested-- life. Asking people questions about themselves flings doors open to a big, bright and insanely fascinating world. How did Charles Kurault keep coming up with his gentle, moving stories about obscure but remarkable people? How does Ira Glass keep producing This American Life, a show so riveting that, should my kids interrupt while I'm listening, makes me wave my hands around in the air, pleading for silence? Reporters like Kurault and Glass ask people questions about themselves, and the rest follows. In blogging, I pretend I'm working for a small magazine that gives me complete creative freedom, sending me on any assignment I wish. Small detail: Cash flow's not so good. I haven't seen a paycheck in two and a half years. I haven't quite figured out how to approach the boss, but I'm pretty sure she likes my work.

So it's a two-way street, and I get just as much as I give, in the warm glow of your approval and the sparks of your ideas. I have no idea where this train is headed, but I'm hanging on, grinning like a raggedy hobo, as the scenery whips by. Thank you for the virtual cards and letters, the bunches and bunches of roses you have laid here at my door.

20 comments:

And the people in the choir all said--amen, sista, preach it! preach it!
Amen.

... but I'm hanging on, grinning like a raggedy hobo, as the scenery whips by.

I've posted on reasons I blog but never considered myself to be a grinning, raggedy hobo hanging onto the side of a train until now.

I'm with ya sista. You crack...me...up.

I meant to comment the other day but life got in the way. I am *so* glad you blog. I love that you include stories of your family and "ordinary" life because it makes you real and approachable. I've been to other nature blogs and heh - some are okay, but many leave me lukewarm - I think because they kept it so much to the strict subject of the blog that you felt you knew nothing about the author, and well, I can get that from a magazine. I've learned so much by coming here to visit you, and I *love* your bird photos - so keep going! You brighten my world every time you post!

Julie, I'm glad that you blog, too.

My sweetie recently asked me how I came to like your writing so much, and I realized that it all started with an article you wrote for BWD-the one about the phoebes and the snake. I don't know if anyone remembers it, but it just about blew me away. He read it and had the same reaction.

Yeah, well, Charlie Kurault, one of my journalistic household gods, led a double life, so it stands to reason he had more access to sources and story ideas than most. But I know whatcha mean.
If anyone deserves a wider audience, it's you. And yeah, everything's better with blue birdies on it, whether they're Blue Birds, Blue Jays, or Indigo Buntings. (But I'll take butter from grass-fed cattle instead of margerine, please.)

I love that you are so honest Julie. We all want the feedback, but as you so beautifully wrote, it's so much more than that. It's a part of us, and our lives... condensed to help us learn, remember, and cherish the beauty of our day to day lives. Meeting new friends like you, as a consequence, is icing on an already pretty delicious cake.

Amen to Donna and Mary, Katbird and Jayne! I couldn't have said it any better. We all know we are blessed to have found you and we loves ya! You go girl!

I can only add to the discussion by reminding you, Julie, that it was your comment to me last April that started me blogging.

I look more closely at things now and ask more questions--it has made life richer for ME.
And as much as we perform for an audience, the lessons learned by looking more deeply into nature are greater than each of us may ever really know.
MY hope is that this passion that runs through so many is caught by many more!

Like the crowd that gathers when one person stops on the sidewalk to point at the sky...may it grow!

Your work is a catalyst.
Your blog a table to gather 'round.

I have been drawn into the blog world by many of your mentioned reasons to blog. However I have a concern. I wonder where all of these writings will go? How long will it last? Will they be here as long as I want to go back through the blog and see them?? Will I wish after several years that I was still putting this all into journals I can hold and savor? I just love blogs but I am still leary. Worried that all might end up in the crash of blogdom. Do you ever have these thoughts? Am I the only one that ever thinks of this?

Spot on, Julie.

Hats off to you Julie I think you hit the nail right on the head. When I started writing for a corporate blog I touched on the fact that bloggers write to get a response from their readers and as such even a corporate blog needs to be entertaining to a degree. How else can you engage people who have very little time to do the essential things, let alone reading a blog. Well I got a LOT of negative feedback saying that there is no room for entertainment in corporate blogging and looking for feedback is counterproductive. I still disagree with those opinions and your honesty regarding this matter is refreshing and again I tip my figurative hat to you.
I started bird blogging to see whether I would enjoy it and the last couple of months have been a blast. Much like you, blogging has forced me to look for new things that I could share with my audience, hoping that they would get as much of a kick out of the topic as I do (and in turn leave a quick note). Not all of us are professional writers, but blogging gives people a glimpse into the life that we lead. I hope that one day I can share my thoughts as eloquently and honestly as you do - bravo.

BTW - I see that your blog remains a well deserved consistent top 10 performer on the nature network - well done.

Why do we blog? Good question. For me, I thought it would be a good way for my out of town family and I to keep in touch. Unfortunately, my older sisters are not very computer savy and have probably seen my blog one or two times in the past year!

Even though I get very few comments, I luckily have the stats counter so I KNOW other people are reading the blog. I try to bring a smile to others faces, bring attention to an issue I believe is important, hopefully, without being too preachy about it (don't go to wild animal circuses).

The old notion if I can get one person to open their eyes on an issue that they otherwise would never have thought about, my day is made.

Oh, and for the fear of losing all the blog writing posed by Lisa, I think Mary printed out her blog once to show her father. I think that's a great idea.

Lisa's comment on "losing it all" in cyberspace worries me, too. Over a year of my life is out there in 290-something posts, floating around in the blogosphere.

Dudes,

I'm checking on the blog backup thing. Must give my Web Wizard time to ponder and respond.There has to be a good way to do it. I, too, fear losing it all. That would suhhhk.

Birdie, that essay about phoebes and snakes made it into Letters from Eden. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I think it's called Baffling Phoebes, and it first appeared in Backyard Bird News.

Catbird, I prefer to pretend that CK was a saint, because my dad revered him above all others. Andy Whitman had a terrific discussion on his blog some time ago on whether we need to like an artist (or his or her way of life) to love the product. If you haven't checked out his blog, Razing the Bar, see the links in my blogroll. Brilliant writer.

Nina, I'm so humbled and thankful to have helped inspire such as you. Wishing you thousands of daily hits, and knowing they are coming...

JZ

Zik:

I never understood why your blog was like a open diary for others to read and then I met some folks who know you this past fall and they told me that you and your family treat others like family and you are a very open person.

I admire that and now I now I understand that your blog is way of introducing people to your home and property. You love to share your rural life to others. I especially love your art posts!!

Some day we might meet and some day I would love to have you or Bill speak at the Sax Zim Winter Bird Festival that I organize. We had our first festival last weekend and had 150 people. Everyone saw the Northern Hawk Owl, Am. 3-toed & Black-backed Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadee, Gray Jay, Hoary Redpoll, Common Redpoll, Snow Buntings and so much more!

We would love to have you some day and next year we are expecting 250-300 people!! Hopefully next year we have owls -- err Great Gray Owls & Boreal Owls!

Mike Hendrickson
Duluth

If you didn't blog, we would all have to come to your house to find out what was going on with C.B. and the clan, what birds had arrived, to find out if your hummingbird had returned and what the Swinging O's were performing next.
I don't think your septic would hold up.

Here's one way to backup your blog into one file: http://help.blogger.com/bin/answer.py?answer=41447

It involves quite a few steps and you may want to walk it though with a techie close by. There are also several backup utilities out there, but most (if not all) require some software installs.

Julie, I'm new to blogging and new to your post, but as a wanna be nature writer discovering blogging has opened a whole new world to me. Like you, I have loved nature all my life, and I've kept a journal for more years than I care to reveal here, but once I started blogging and people started visitng my site, it was like a fire being lit under me, a flame burning in my heart. I hope it never goes out for either of us. Thanks for this excellent post!

My humble little rose joins the profusion.

I smiled when you mentioned the baby scrapbooks languishing on a shelf.

That's what I love about your writing. Following you is like watching a swallow work a field, a lawn or a pond.

It shifts directions constantly taking your breath away with the careening flight.

One moment I'm a little choked up and as quickly you've got me guiltily chuckling.

Roses, Julie . . . . many roses.

"I'm a whole lot more likely to say yes to any diversion, any curious experience, than I was before I started blogging."

Amen, sister, again! Isn't that a neat part of it all? I thought it'd be good to practice writing between "real" pieces, but now it's like we blog to live, and live [more fully] to blog.

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