Judi’s excellent post about blogging and the complicated dance of dealing with the community, the readership, and the comments struck a chord with me. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with this medium ever since I started blogging over five years ago.
Like Judi, I started out on AOL. “Coming to Terms…” hit the ether in September of 2003, just a few weeks into AOL’s foray into the Great Blog Experience. Only, back then, we called them “Journals.” Hence, the name, “AOL J-Land.”
I don’t know exactly what I expected when I first decided to post my thoughts in a public place. I wasn’t thinking of communicating with family or friends or people I knew. In fact, I was in a peculiarly family- and friend-less space at that time in my life. I just had so much…stuff…going on inside me that writing in paper journals that no other soul would ever read was more frustrating than cathartic. Presented with a chance to put my angst somewhere that some other person—any other person, stranger or not—might read, I knew I had to go for it.
Not long into the experience, it became obvious that Journal Land was so much more than just a bunch of anonymous essays broadcast into cyberspace. That sneaky little “comment” button stole up and threw a lasso around us. It created a “give and take” situation that I don’t think any of us anticipated. Quickly, and almost against our will, we became a community.
As Judi says, the “Official” Journal-land community was often a turn-off. There were the movers and shakers, the flamboyant graphics fans, the writer wanna-be’s… There were the pillars of the community that monopolized as many aspects of the J-land experience as they could grab, only to burn themselves out, lose interest and disappear in a very short time. Since I never have been much of a “joiner,” that stuff didn’t bother me, at least not to the point that it drove me out of the neighborhood.
And, oh yes…there were cliques, just like there are in any large community. There was an elite group of J-landers who seemed to feel they owned the place, and it was not a group that was open to just anyone. That was a bummer; and in the early days, it bugged me. But, soon enough, I found myself with a small corral of friends, and I got enough peripheral attention from the larger community that I felt, for the first time in a long time, that I really belonged. I was nowhere near the middle of things. In fact, I was, like the Sun, out toward the edge of one of the spiraling arms of the galaxy. Still, I snuggled into my niche and was happy there for a long time.
So blogging, for me, started out as therapy and ended up a citizenship in a community that stretched across the country. But it also had another side benefit. I rediscovered my muse. I realized that, though I’d been writing for nearly forty years, it had been nearly half that long since I had written anything even remotely worthy of being read by another human being. I had been my sole audience since I left high school and Creative Writing class. Understanding that I now had readers made me step up to the plate and write. Not just the whiney, angst-ridden crap I had been scribbling for years. But actual essays that had meaning, made sense, and communicated something of myself and my beliefs to other people. It was heady stuff.
And with that realization came the addiction to hit counts and comments that is the ball and chain that comes packaged with every blog. Let’s face it, if we didn’t want people to read, we would not be taking advantage of this amazing, free public forum. But when you find yourself logging on to your blog several times a day just to see if someone has read or left a comment, it feels unhealthy, self-absorbed, even sad in a desperate sort of way. I struggled with those feelings for years. In fact, I still struggle with them.
The landscape of the Land of Blog has continuously changed and evolved during the five years I have dwelled therein. AOL J-land, for all that it was a safe and comfortable place, tended to reward one’s less cerebral efforts. Memes, quizzes and personal drama got tons of hits and loads of comments. While a topical political essay would generally go over like a fart in church. Which of us who has been blogging for awhile has not lamented that our best work—the stuff of which we are fit-to-burst proud when we hit the “post” button—gets the least notice? Frustrating as hell for those of us who fancy ourselves something more than 21st century pen-pals. I went so far as to start “spin-off” blogs—meant as places for me to post my best work without the anguish over hit counts and comments. And I have to admit, even this plan has met with limited success.
This past October, AOL decided to shut the doors on Journal Land forever. Who knows why? I kind of thought that it was because the J-land crowd was not going to spend gobs of money on electronic toys, games, and other faddish crap that makes the 18-to-35 age group the most battled-over demographic on the internet. Evidently, we were even immune to the old-fart ads they chose to inflict upon our blogs back in 2005. We weren’t a profit center. So we got the axe. Our community was just that disposable.
During and just after the period of final exodus, the community seemed to go through a revival. People were reading, commenting, commiserating. I caught up with folks I had not heard from in years. I began to think perhaps AOL had done us a favor. But in the months since, the community has dwindled and all but disappeared. For me, anyway. Perhaps, once we were thrown for good and all into the great big world of Blogger, “Coming to Terms….” could not compete.
I came to realize that, though I love blogging and will continue to write somewhere in the ether, (“Women On” seems like a pretty decent place, eh?) “…Terms…” was intrinsically, if peripherally, part of a community that no longer exists. Much as I wanted to believe it was about the writing and not about the readership, I found myself more and more loath to go there as the community fragmented and dispersed into the ether. And so, a couple of days ago, I wrapped up “Coming to Terms…” with these words:
I sweated and cried and toiled over my keyboard for hours when AOL decided to shut its doors. The race to save the blog took energy I did not have and could not spare, but it was essential. But I know now…though the blog is saved, though five years of essays are here, many of them are meaningless. Silly, even. Because they tell the story of getting to know and being a member of a community that no longer exists. "Coming to Terms…" was a unique part of a unique place. And now that the place is gone, "…Terms…" has lost its purpose.
It's possible I will start another blog, under another name, where I can re-establish that theme of writing to get the demons out of my head, and taking the chance that someone might read. But I can't wrestle "Coming to Terms…" back into that mold. It is way beyond that, an entirely different entity than it was when it started. It is not a place I come to be alone.
Blogging, like everything else in our super-charged high-tech society, continues to shift and morph…at a rate with which I can barely keep up. But I shall try to soldier on, because, for all its annoying idiosyncrasies and frustrating rewards, the Land of Blog is the best place for me to continue doing something I can’t NOT do. That first beloved blog belonged to a different time and place… It was time to close it up and move on to the next episode in the series.
So, here we are. Where do we go from here?