June 23, 2007
I'm not used to air conditioning — I don't have it in my home, my car, or my classroom – but on the small southern campus where I was staying last week, almost all the buildings were air conditioned, even the dorms. It took me a while to get used to the idea of putting a fleece on when I went into a building, instead of the reverse. The main building had these wonderful stone steps that absorbed the sun heat, so when I came out of the building, shivering, I'd find some of my friends and then lie down on the stone to get warm.
"You've gone flat," I heard Rana say one of these times, as we gathered in a clump on the steps and I collapsed on the stone. (I didn't know, actually, that she was taking a photo – she's quite sneaky with the camera.)
Rana knows me primarily from blogging, so it seemed entirely appropriate for her to see me going flat, back into two dimensions. We had been talking about the ways in which our readers see us. Some readers just see what's on the surface of a blog post, some read between the lines for the depth, others engage with the blogger in the comments, some hold conversations with each other in the comments without ever returning to the surface, and some dredge the muck to find stuff in the post that the author never intended. It's an interesting dynamic, more interactive than most texts.
And I suppose much depends on where the reader is coming from. I can imagine that my friends at the conference (like Artist Friend who was in this photo before I cropped him out) could look at me lying flat on stone steps and know that my lying on stone to warm myself comes from years of swimming off rocky islands in the icy cold River that Runs Between Two Countries. He can read my body stretched on the steps as me feeling comfortable and at home, at peace amongst friends. A stranger might glance at me and think only, "She must be tired."
Back in my college days, when I attended fiction-writing workshops, we'd talk about what the reader brings to the text, and how that affects which parts of a text might resonate with the reader. But the readers were always these hypothetical readers, no one we'd meet in real life. Blogging has bridged that gap between writer and audience.
Readers leave me comments or send me emails, often asking for more of the story I am telling or letting me know when something confuses them. Artist Friend, who is both a a character on my blog and a real life three-dimensional friend, sometimes responds in my comments. My kids' friends will joke about stuff I put on my blog. Heck, my Dad will send me emails, telling me not to use swear words. I get hate mail when I dare to write something feminist, such as a critique of Club Libby Lu or an analysis of what it means for parents to dress their little girls in sexualized Halloween costumes.
When I began my blog, I felt I was writing for strangers, these pseudonymous people whose blogs I read, but since then I've met more than 30 bloggers in real life. Many of the people I interact with in the comments are no longer faceless two-dimensional readers, but real life people I've talked to and shared meals with and hugged. I've gotten used to friends saying, "Oh, I read that on your blog."
At the panel we did on blogging at Friendly Green Conference, someone pointed out that blogging is not a genre, but a medium. There are all kinds of genres within blogging. I like that distinction. And I continue to wonder how the medium affects the genre. I am writing creative non-fiction most of the time when I blog, and the interaction I've had with readers does change what I write. I've had scientists send me an email if I get a fact wrong, and I've had family members do the same with any personal history I include. And too, blogging has changed my style. I use more humor and more dialogue than I had ever planned, simply because my readers like it.
Blogs themselves tend to come and go – I am always taking blogs off my blogroll because they've ceased to exist and adding new ones – but blogging as a medium seems to be getting more and more accepted. My parents, in their seventies, check Ianqui's photoblog every day to see shots of Big City Like No Other. Friends send blog addresses in holiday cards. When I read creative non-fiction at Friendly Green Conference, I didn't hide the fact that I was reading blog posts; I even kept the pseudonyms instead of changing them. Even those of us who write about connection to place, that is, the Friendly Green Folk writers, are increasingly doing it in a virtual medium.
Blogs exist on a flat screen, but I am beginning to think they have dimensions that have yet to be explored.
Photo credit: Rana, of course.
Posted by jo(e)