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I’ve had a lot of conversations recently with other bloggers (as well as some committed non-bloggers) about the pros and cons of what this thing is that so many of us are collectively doing. So finding this quote in the “Up Front” section of the Sunday Times Book Review seemed well timed.

Leah Hager Cohen wrote the cover review ov The Mercy Papers by Robin Romm, a memoir about the death of Romm’s mother. The Book Review editors added this sidebar about Cohen herself:

Cohen has written extensively about her mother on her blog, Love as a Found Object, which she started in 2006 “in a state of serious mortification, giving in at last to my agent’s urging. I hated the ugliness of the word ‘blog’ and the kind of self-involvement I associated with blogging. But then I found myself wondering whether it could be a space for playing and working with the idea of my mother’s illness.” Cohen pointed out that Romm uses the metaphor of death as a boat trip, as the dying person floats away: “It’s funny because I often think of my postings as little paper boats. I launch them when I click ‘publish,’ and then they float off, beyond my control, perhaps to capsize or disintegrate. I find this loss of control only slightly scary, and vital.”

I resonate with a lot of what Cohen says. I hate the word blog–it IS ugly. And I remember when the self indulgence, “love me, love my dog, and every stupid detail of my life as well” impression of blogging drove me from engaging for several years. My feelings changed of course. Now I view this ever expanding, loopy, overpopulated cacophony of voices that is the blogosphere as an endless beach where you go to find the treasures that float in.

Cohen’s little paper boats work just fine with that image. In my mind I see exquisitely crafted, delicate vessels, with lights that flash on and off at night, filling the horizon with wonderment. And oddly enough, all that imaging brings me right back to some of my favorite lines in all of poetry (thank you, Wallace):

Ramon Fernandez, tell me, if you know,
Why, when the singing ended and we turned
Toward the town, tell why the glassy lights,
The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there,
As the night descended, tilting in the air,
Mastered the night and portioned out the sea,
Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles,
Arranging, deepening, enchanting night.

Oh, Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,
The maker’s rage to order words of the sea,
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred,
And of ourselves and of our origins,
In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.

boats

The most profound shift I have had in weeks: Reading the weekly email message from my friend Andrew. Fresh from a journey to Peru under the tutelage of his shaman Don Diego, his message to me this morning transmutated some part of his “beyond language” experience into a form I could breathe into and recognize from my own spiritual strivings.

I have had my moments when I have glimpsed these truths. Sometimes this sense of things comes to me during extreme experiences like trekking through a high pass in Bhutan, painting in an altered state of consciousness, or during a particularly intense sexual high. But for me the struggle is about how to keep this big screen image in focus, in vibrant color with full Dolby surround sound. Reconnecting with that feeling is my homing pulse, a longing that drives so much of what I do.

Here is an excerpt from A’s email. I’m including a particularly strong endorsement that he uncovered for blogging and expressive writing, something many of us have come to figure out all on our own:

The vine is incendiary, burning out the knots and stumps of ego, exaggerating, intensifying, ultimately undermining the compulsive grinding thoughts with which the mind relentlessly parses meaning, dissecting the whole into parts, then fractions of parts, ever further from understanding. Chuang-tzu said: “Tao is obscured when the eye fixes on little segments of existence only.” Tao translates as God or Providence or Meaning. To me it translates as Awareness.

I have misunderstood mystical union as the extinction of individual awareness, a death of self. But it is the opposite. Not a single memory is lost. Every particle of knowledge is held without emotion or volition in a translucent awareness. It is not about becoming one with God but instead a remembering that you are and always were God. The illusion of separation reflects a temporary partition of awareness. When that wall comes down, there is accretion of vast knowledge that before was veiled. No a shred of self is lost; the vastly greatest part of self is restored. Although such ideas as written seem abstract and fanciful, they are compelling as experienced. “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience,” said Teilhard de Chardin; “we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

Although I left for Peru uncommitted to continuing the weekly e-mails, I read in Scientific American that the act of sending these carrier pigeons is therapeutic, just what the doctor ordered.

“Besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery. A study in the February issue of the Oncologist reports that cancer patients who engaged in expressive writing just before treatment felt markedly better, mentally and physically, as compared with patients who did not. . . . Blogging might trigger dopamine release, similar to stimulants like music, running, and looking at art.”

Jeff Jarvis writes a blog called Buzz Machine that deals with blogging and the state of media practices. Like most bloggers, I am fascinated to watch the way the blogging phenom continues to propagate, morph and constellate. Jarvis’ blog is a good place to start if you want a catalog of opinions on where some informed types think this is headed and how blogging is interacting with other expressive forms.

This excerpt from Buzz Machine is by Andras Szanto (who teaches at CUNY in the journalism school):

The blogsphere today is more or less where the arts were circa 1975. It’s a realm of new opportunities, naïve expectations, and faux democracy. It’s smack in the middle of that euphoric moment that every innovative movement goes through before it makes its own peace with the status quo. Back in the seventies, it seemed everything was possible in the art world. Anything could be art and “everyone an artist,” as Beuys proclaimed.

But a funny thing happened on the way to this pluralist nirvana. Three decades later we are seeing an unprecedented institutionalization and commercialization of art. The entry fee into a successful art career is a $60,000 MFA. And while laissez-faire rules, aesthetically speaking, who can doubt that the artists being seen and heard are the ones who have the muscle of major galleries, presenting institutions, and distribution companies behind them. From the cloud of unbounded opportunity has emerged a new ironclad structure, no less selective and, in its own way, constraining than what had come before. To some degree, the very scale and openness of postmodern culture have mandated these new filters and hierarchies. And so it will go with the blogsphere. When the smoke clears, we will be back to listening and trusting a finite number of voices. We will depend on them, and we won’t have time for many more.

In the interest of full disclosure, Jarvis did not agree with Szanto’s assertions. His response to this excerpt was, “I’ll disagree. He assumes that there is still a scarcity of gallery walls. No, there’ll only be a scarcity of money.”

As always, it depends on your point of view. From where I sit, an oversupply of gallery walls is not the problem. (Could it ever be?)

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Empty Space, By Anne Hamilton