June 23, 2007

Flat

Warmth

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.

22 comments:

Kyla said...

I loved this post, jo(e). Every bit of it. You said it all so well.

Lilian said...

AWESOME post! I hope to become a three dimensional person for you someday too :). And actually, in spite of the fact that reading blog posts allows for a very limited and perhaps "flat" view of a person, for me the people whose blogs I read are very real and I feel like I know them quite deeply (depending on the person and the style of posts). I love it when I get to meet fact to face with them, but for me these meetings have been going quite seamlessly. The "virtual" is actually real when it comes to people who blog candidly about their lives.

When I met Cloudscome, for example (and we did talk quite a bit about you then :), we felt like we were old friends, like we already knew each other so well.

This medium definitely changed my life for the better, it filled this great void that I had after I left my country and all my friends to become an expatriate here. And I totally agree with you that blogs "have dimensions that have yet to be explored."

flutter said...

I LOVE this.

lizardek said...

Excellently well said. I've been reading (lurking) your blog for quite some time now and really enjoy the way you look at the world and the way you share it.

BeachMama said...

Jo(e) you have such a gift of words. You did describe blogging so well. I saw a woman sunning herself along a canal in our city and it made me think of you, he hair was the same and she looked like you, from the back of course because we have never met. I find it funny that I think of a lot different bloggers everyday when I have never met them in real life, one day perhaps.

As for the airconditioning... we have now had it for two years and I still don't like it. I hate the way it makes me feel to go from cold to hot and hot to cold. I never used to have problems getting hot in the summer, but now if I have been freezing for most of the night then I die of heat the next day. We have in our car now too it is a terrible thing this a/c makes it hard to enjoy the wonderful warmth of summer.

my15minutes said...

As a southerner, of course I'm latching on to the idea that you were in the south, and wondering where?! You cracked me up about putting on fleece for the AC. :-)

cloudscome said...

One thing I hate about my job is the air conditioning. Because of all the computer heat it runs even in winter. By May I am swearing in frustration at being constantly cold. I have to sneak out the computer lab door sometimes to bask in the heat of the sun on the stone wall. YAY for summer heat!

I love this post about blogging as medium. Creative non-fiction is my favorite kind of blog to read. I think you have the perfect balance of enhanced realism, depth, humor and dialog. When we met last summer Lillian and I had fun sharing our connection to your blog and to each other. She filled me in on some of the backstory of your life that I had missed. Isn't that amazing, how I feel I know you better because I made friends with another blogger who reads you too?

zhoen said...

Well put. Yes.

Busymomma66 said...

It sounds as if you had a wonderful time at the conference!

Isn't it amazing about blogging. It's like telling a story around the campfire with all the people of the world commenting and questioning.

jo(e) said...

My15minutes: If you follow the link to Friendly Green Association, you can figure out where I was. I am now wondering if maybe I was somewhere near you.

Lilian and Cloudscome: I like that I was at your blogger meet-up, even though I wasn't there physically. That's one of the cool things about blogger meet-ups. First, you talk about your own backstories, and then you talk about blogs you read and bloggers you've met. It's kind of like running into someone you met in high school and talking about all the people you know in common and what they are up to these days.

julieunplugged said...

I love the photo and realte completely to the AC phenom. We were in university buildings at OSU all week and literally women and men were shivering visibly (and leaving the rooms) to get warm during sessions. Somehow out here no one understands what "temperate" means. :)

Anyway, what I loved in this post is the exploration of what the reader brings to the text. This was new to me in grad school but so easily seen in blogging and online communities. I've easily met more than 30 Internet friends and have Internet contacts working for me that I've never met in person.

Reading Facebook and how kids communicate is yet another way things are changing. I hope to blog about that and I'd be interested in your thoughts, too, since you interact with this next generation in your own family and with students.

Love your writing.

Julie

Rana said...

Well, I think you've finally hit on a way to get more conversation in the comments! ;)

(What, exactly, it is, I'm not sure. Talking about your readers? About blogging itself? AC?)

As you know from our conversations, AC is so ridiculous as it is generally used. I appreciate being cooler, but... somehow it is unthinkable that it might be set at something reasonable, such as 80F when it's 90F outside. Heck, now that it's summer, when we get a chilly day - which my summer-adapted body defines as "less than 75F" - I want to go inside to get warm!

btw - if you'd like a smaller-kb version of that picture, it would take no time at all for me to make one and send it to you. (Since none of the pics I uploaded at the conference were edited, as they since have been - I'll try to remember to send you the link to the online versions, too.)

jackie said...

We have two small window AC units for our bedrooms, and only use them at night, and I can't tell you how many people here in Mid-Atlantic Crabby State think we're completely nuts! Granted, our area gets more heat and humidity then upstate NY does, but I just don't like constant AC. The air is staler, dryer, and so artificial feeling. Also, it cuts me off from the weather and the seasons, which I truly dislike.

I find myself referring to certain bloggers as "friends" in real-life conversations, even tho I've never had a blogger meet-up (am trying to remedy that!). I'm also surprised whenever a RL friend says, "yeah, I saw that on your blog.

my15minutes said...

Yeah, you were about 30 minutes away. :-) I live in the City About Twenty Miles West of the City You Were In. :-)

Aliki2006 said...

Excellent, excellent post--I love the idea of "flat" vs. dimensional--so true. I wish I new more dimensional bloggers...

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

I just glanced at the photo before reading your post. Since I'm used to seeing you from faceless, I didn't think twice about the photo. I was struck by how tan you are, though!

Anjali said...

I am amazed at what the world of blogging has done for me -- new friends that I would have otherwise never known. Who could ask for more?

ccw said...

This is a beautiful post! I am in awe of the way you always seem to find the perfect words for describing things. Your posts are such a treat to read.

undine said...

Lovely post.

Sarah Sometimes said...

Yes, all of this is very interesting, but what I want to know is . . . are you really wearing nail polish in the photo?

purple_kangaroo said...

I love your blogging style, and the way you word things.

I love that you're comfortable enough with yourself and your friends to lay flat on the ground in public like that. Wonderful.

jo(e) said...

Sarah Sometimes: Nail polish? Of course not. I've never worn nail polish.

(I am now looking at the photo to see what you are talking about. I guess it's the way the shining off my fingernails.)