Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Long Blog Entries and Disproportionately Long Titles for Relatively Short Entries

Looking through my past blog entries, it occurs to me that they are typically quite long.

The present entry is a deliberate attempt to buck that trend.

Thank you for your support.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Why Blog? Part 2 of 2

In Part 1 of Why Blog?, I took a general look at some of the factors and motivations that might be involved in blogging, or in my case, lack of blogging.

Now in Part 2, I will take a closer look at a few of my favorite blogs and bloggers, attempting primarily to discern in some way their purpose and style:

Five Cent Stand - I can't say enough good things about Seth and his writing. He is extremely intelligent and educated, and very well-rounded in arts and humanities. It appears to me that his blog is the "personal thoughts" or "further discussion" portion of Five Cent Stand, his music/ministry endeavor. In all honesty, his writing is entertaining and thought-provoking enough to stand on its own (meaning, in my opinion he could be an author for a living, in addition to his work as a musician and/or minister of the Gospel).

(Actually, now that I think about it, that last bit is true of the other four bloggers I'm writing about below also -- they could all write professionally in addition to their chosen professions or vocations. So let’s just say “that goes without saying” at this point, in regards to every one I’m reviewing. Sorry to write an entire paragraph in parentheses -- is that considered an acceptable practice?)

Anyway, back to Seth... so my guess is that because he is well-read and well-rounded, and has an audience which is a combination of personal friends and fans of Five Cent Stand, then he writes in a manner that speaks to that audience. He never seems to be lacking in creative inspiration, and he is well-versed in many areas, so I'm going to say that in his case, it seems like writing comes naturally and flows out effortlessly, constrained only by the fact that he actually has a life and can't spend all his waking hours at the computer.

I'll summarize this blog as being a variety of stories and writings by an artistic genius who has extra creative energy to expend, who enjoys the community, encouragement, and spiritual synergy that blog interaction involves.

The Secret Life of Kat - Kat is also very well-educated and well-rounded, but writes from the perspective of somebody who holds (in my humble opinion) The Most Important Job in The World. I'm referring, of course, to being a Mommy (not to redesigning Shaun Groves' website). She chronicles daily life as a Christ-follower and a Mom, and has lots of additional goodies like music reviews/recommendations and great computer technical tips. It seems to me that Kat started out just writing her thoughts in a daily-journal style, not even sure if she'd even have an audience of more than a few people. Over time, she seems to have gotten more comfortable with the fact that she does indeed have a larger audience, but has managed to retain the candor that is the hallmark of her writing style. It's thought-provoking, touching, and heartfelt.

I'll summarize this blog as being a candid daily journal of life as a Christian parent, with a lot of extra tips and information, as the writer explores other areas that interest her.

The Cachinnator - I'm now up to my third blogger review, and I'm noticing a pattern already. I was going to say "and speaking of very well-educated and well-rounded individuals...", and realized that this is true of all my favorite bloggers. I’m not exactly sure what that means -- should I broaden my horizons and read BL0gZ ritt3n by D00dZ who Rite m0rE liKe ThiS?

Anyway -- the Cachinnator is yet another fine example of a multi-faceted, well-rounded, and highly educated character who can seemingly blog at will on a fascinating variety of subjects. Overall, he majors in humor, but clearly has an astonishing grasp on a wide array of subjects that are amazing, amusing, entertaining, and thought-provoking. It seems to me that his target audience is a wide variety of acquaintances that he has made through various artistic, academic, charitable, and ministry endeavors – clearly, he has led a very exciting and interesting life, and has traveled a lot. A lot of his blogging is written in the style of an online version of a standup comedian, who enjoys interacting with his audience. He deals with some very serious subjects as well, but clearly is very optimistic, affable, and fun-natured – someone who is able to lift spirits and bring encouragement to his readers.

I'll summarize this blog as being the exploration of a bold array of subjects, touching on a wide variety of interests, all while having a lot of fun by interacting with the blog audience in the style of dialogue that one might hear from a standup comedian at a club (though unlike a comedian at a club, the outcome of the dialogue is often quite inspirational).

Letters from Kamp Krusty - Brant Hansen is apparently a DJ at a radio station in South Florida or something. I mean, he really is, I’m not trying to sound like I doubt that or anything. But I don’t live anywhere near South Florida and have not heard him on the air there, so I honestly don't know much about what he does, or if he's really a super-famous local celebrity or something. (Although I swear a couple of months ago I was driving around here in the Nashville area and heard him on my local WAY-FM station, which leads me to believe that either they have a guest-DJ exchange program, or they let the broadcast signal from one area get sent to another at certain times, or something. Hopefully I’m allowed to say that, and not giving away some dark trade secret or something).

Anyway, back to my blog analysis -- I love Brant's blog. It's a little hard to classify it, though. He's an amazing writer. His style is quite unique. He's a bit sarcastic, and very humorous, but not in a traditional sort of way. He's self-deprecating, but in a light-hearted and fun way. There's a tremendous amount of truth and wisdom in what he writes, but he communicates in an unusual way.

I guess you just have to read it for yourself to see what I mean. I highly recommend perusing the archives from his previous blog host (Xanga) as well -- there are a lot of gems there.

I get the impression (from some recent comments he made on his blog) that until recently, Brant didn't think he had much of an audience reading his entries. So I’m not sure who his perceived audience was during all the time he’s been writing – I’d assume he figured it was just a few of his personal friends and maybe some radio fans. But I think he must have utilized one of those web traffic analyzers and discovered that he actually has a pretty good-sized audience. I’m not sure that the “perceived audience” in Brant’s case really affects his writing much, anyway. He writes like a daily columnist for a small-town newspaper, and looking back through his archives, he has always written consistently with that same style.

I think I'll summarize this blog as being in the style of a daily column, with a slightly sarcastic and offbeat sense of humor, dispensing wisdom and goodness without being schlocky or sentimental.

SHLOG - To me, Shaun Groves is the mac daddy of bloggers. Seriously. The quality of his work in this medium is second to none. He knows how to have a lot of fun with it, and keep it in perspective, but he also excels at using the available resources it provides to truly connect with his audience in a way that is, quite frankly, cutting edge for the industry he's in. He's open and honest about his own life, talks with complete transparency about the realities of the business/vocation he is part of (Christian music and ministry), is tremendously gifted as a writer, and is not afraid to ask hard questions, challenge stubborn orthodoxy, and encourage wrestling with hard issues.

One would naturally assume that his audience is expected mostly to be people who know of him primarily as a Christian musician, and for a good many people that may be true. But I know of many Shlog readers for whom this is not the case – including myself.

In terms of his target audience, Shaun probably has an advantage over many bloggers. I say this because I believe his base audience is probably quite large, and as a result of the natural synergy of the internet (meaning, lots of people link to him and his audience continues to grow) he can make entries that encourage participation and thought, he can get a good feel for his audience’s reaction to ideas he has (instead of “flying blind” or guessing what his audience wants), and he can cover a wide variety of subjects and always be speaking directly to somebody in his audience.

One final and interesting thing about Shlog – all of the other bloggers I reviewed above are in some way connected to Shaun, either through a direct personal relationship, or as fellow Shlog readers and commenters (or both). I think this speaks volumes, both about the type of audience that Shaun attracts, as well as the high quality of his work, which can keep so many people from so many different backgrounds interested and participating in an online community.

I’ll summarize by saying that Shlog is a strongly ministry-oriented blog, and a very well-balanced look at a wide variety of subjects and ideas, with uncommon transparency and bold, unflinching honesty that both challenges and entertains the audience.

So there you have them. My long-awaited reviews of a few of my favorite blogs. I hope that if you read any of these blogs regularly, or if you are the writer of any of these blogs, that you’ll let me know what you think of these. I may be completely wrong in my impressions and opinions, or maybe I’ve even made you view these blogs from a slightly different perspective.

Remember, my goal here was to compare and contrast different styles of blogging, different ways of interacting with the blog audience, and different attitudes and approaches to what the perceived purpose and use for blogging is. Did I succeed in any way? Do I have a better idea of how to find my own blogging voice, and how to approach my audience, real or perceived, when I sit down to type out my thoughts from now on? I guess time will tell...

Sunday, August 20, 2006

I Dream of High School

I'm forty-one years old. That means that for more than half of my life, I have been out of school. I never went to college -- I spent my time after high school working a variety of jobs to try and support my daughter (yes, I became a parent very young, that's a whole other story), and I spent six years in the U.S. Army. I did take a few college courses while in the Army, but to me, that's not anything like actually "going to college" like many folks do.

My guess is that even for those who went to college, high school still stands out as unique and pivotal among the various time slices that combine to make up our life experiences. Looking back, it certainly did for me.

Although it was a time of intense inner turmoil for me, it was also a time of relative stability in my life. I spent four consecutive years in the same giant honeycomb of a building, faced with often intense and seemingly meaningful social interaction with many of the same kids who I had watched grow up beside me for several years. But now those kids had social standing, and strong personal identities, and an image carefully sculpted for peer consumption.

I have no regrets, because what I am today is in some way the sum of my decisions and life experiences. But I do wish I had done a lot of things differently. I had a lot of opportunities, and I was supported and surrounded by a lot of love at home. At the risk of sounding like I'm boasting (though I'm not, except boasting in my Maker), God gave me a mind which could have taken me anywhere, and allowed me to be or do anything I chose -- if I had just applied myself. Academic endeavors came easily to me, and even with no studying or effort, I cranked out A's and an occasional B (usually from classes that included completion of homework in the grading scheme).

Socially, I was more of an outsider than anything. I never participated in extracurricular activities or clubs, never made it into the really cool or popular social circles, never got invited to the big events that were the buzz of the day. I sort of enjoyed being a mysterious outsider, and I often befriended kids that didn't quite fit in, or were more preoccupied with being anti-social than social. For a few years I also hung out with the party crowd ("party", of course, being a euphemism for a variety of mischevious and even dangerous activities that did not involve wearing silly hats or eating cake), and that became a big part of my identity, both personally and in the minds of most of my classmates. Frankly, I kind of liked that the other kids thought I was a little dangerous, associated with long hair and rock music, a rebel and a freak. I could run circles around most of them academically, but they couldn't reconcile that fact with who or what they thought I was. I was a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. (Okay, I'm lame for using that phrase, which Churchill originally used to describe Russia).

By my senior year, I had undergone a radical personal transformation when a long, intense, and (to most of my classmates) unknown quest led me to Jesus. I spent most of my senior year carrying a Bible around in school and trying to convince people of the importance of the discovery I had made. But irony being what it is, by this time my reputation was set in cement, and most of my classmates regarded me as a doped-up, long-haired rock musician who had no idea what I was talking about. I think that most of the people I knew, except for a few of my closest friends, put no serious credence in my apparent conversion experience.

As I would imagine is the case for most people, I never saw or heard from most of my classmates again after we graduated. When I looked through one of those "find your classmates" web sites a few years ago, I realized that I really didn't know very many of my classmates very well. There was a very small inner circle of friends who really knew me, and then there was Everyone Else. We had all spent a lot of time, energy, and effort trying to impress Everyone Else, and in the end, took very little notice of what Everyone Else was actually doing.

Which brings me to the whole reason that I started this entry. I awoke this morning with a dream still fresh in my head. Most nights, I either don't remember what I dreamed about, or I've forgotten it completely by lunchtime. But the dream I had last night, has been a recurring dream for many years, in some form or another. It's not identical or repetitive each time, but the theme is always the same: I've gone back to high school to do it all over again. Even though I blend in, and they don't know who I really am, I'm older than all the other kids, and have learned lessons that none of them have learned yet. I have an edge over all them, and am there not because I have to be, but because I want to be. I know that I've already graduated and gotten my diploma, so there's no pressure on me to actually complete any classes, or even show up. I can leave at any time and return to my life after high school. And yet in this dream, I still attend each class faithfully, and look just like all the other students.

This dream usually includes some of the fears and anxieties that many of us had during that time -- the bell rings and I can't even find my locker or remember my combination, or I forget which class I'm supposed to be in or which period it is, or I don't have that big term paper that is due today.

Honestly, I have no idea why I have this dream. I'm sure a psychologist or some other trained professional could slice, dice, and analyze it with certainty, within mere moments. I'm not sure that doing that would make me stop having this dream anyway. In truth, I don't think I should be going too deep to discover the meaning behind this -- it's just a dream, no more real or important than dreams that I'm flying, or dreams that I'm riding on a train through a strange landscape, or whatever flickering images my mind sees at night.

But while I'm thinking about these things, and while the subject is fresh in my mind, I suppose that it doesn't hurt to try and learn something from my thoughts. You would think that the one lesson we should all learn as we get older is to make the most of the present time, because at some point in the future, we're going to be looking back on the present time and viewing it with older, and hopefully wiser, eyes. I think it's worth asking ourselves -- are we making the most of every moment we have right now, or are we more concerned with what Everyone Else thinks about us? And in a few years, will Everyone Else even remember our name?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Why Blog? Part 1 of 2

As somebody who has clearly not been able to get into the flow of creating my own new blog entries very often, I have decided to ask myself (and hopefully anyone kind enough to comment on my thoughts) why it is that we blog in the first place. My hope is that by having a logical and coherent purpose or goal in mind, I can stay focused on the task long enough to actually write here on a regular basis.

I'm going to shamelessly plug (and attempt to analyze) a few of my favorite bloggers in the process, because each of them is fairly prolific at this whole blogging thing, and hopefully I'll come to some sort of conclusion as to whether or not there is any value in doing this, and if so, why I can't seem to get any momentum behind my own blogging.

I think I'll admit right up front that part of my problem is that I'm both a perfectionist and a horrible procrastinator. I feel inspired, begin to write, proofread, edit, proofread, rewrite half of what I've written, proofread, and then edit some more... and that's just the first paragraph. By the time I've tried several variations on a given theme and then scrapped half of what I've written, I've mentally and emotionally exhausted myself with the subject matter, and lost the original thought or inspiration that got me started in the first place. So I save my thoughts as an unfinished Draft, and the procrastinator part of me kicks in and says "I'll finish this later".

I know that I can put together coherent thoughts, and that I can write with reasonable clarity regarding those thoughts. I am almost as prolific while being a blog commenter (on some of my favorite blogs, which I'll look at in Part 2) as the bloggers themselves. Perhaps this is because I have read something written by someone else with a specific theme or outline, and now have a defined space in which to convey my thoughts. When I have too many subjects in mind (or perhaps no subject in particular), I lose focus and end up with nothing at all. Does that make sense?

This brings me to the next point, which seems to play a big part in blogging (or lack thereof) -- the target audience. This is where there's likely to be a lot of variation from blogger to blogger, and perhaps why I find it so hard to get started. Who am I writing for? Am I keeping a personal diary or journal? Am I talking to a group of my closest friends and sharing personal information? Am I talking to "the public" on the internet, and hoping to say something meaningful to anyone who happens to drop in? Will certain baseline assumptions about myself, my audience, or my world view undergird my entries, or will I have to write about each subject as if to a complete stranger who knows nothing about me or my subject?

This is no small consideration when composing a written work. It affects not only the contents of the blog entries, but also the writing style and grammar. It affects whether the writing should be folksy and plain, or formal and proper. It affects whether I talk a lot in the third person, or write just like I would if I were sitting face-to-face with a close friend.

Perhaps I'm overthinking this. Perhaps I should just write stream-of-consciousness with minimal editing, and see what comes out. But for me, that's easier said than done.

In Part 2, I will run through the blogging styles of a few of my favorite bloggers, and attempt to view them with a very unusual approach -- that is, not a critique in the same manner that you normally see written works critiqued, but as an attempt to understand how and why they blog, and what their target audience (or perceived target audience) seems to be. So stay tuned.