Last night at what amounted to a superb evening in Lafayette with great music by Mitch Reed and Bryant Tarrant and company at the Saints Street Inn, we found ourselves in the midst of the position of knowing almost half the people in the restaurant, most of whom were not in the restaurant but were spilled about its patio, on its deck, and in the neighboring shop’s yard. It was a lovely time, time I mostly spent hanging out with the kids because they were, as they revealed to me, building a trap for leprechauns, but when I did find myself in adult conversation it was with a wide range of adults.
One of those conversations was with my mother and my friend Liz, who were talking about what they were framing as two different kinds of people: those who were interested in a wide range of things and those who were very focused. Both confessed, I believe, that they felt they tended to be interested in a wide range of things. My mother, who has the advantage of now being retired, felt that it worked to her benefit in that there was always something drawing upon her imagination. Liz, who is one of the brightest people I know and exceptionally well trained in a number of disciplines, is someone who alternates between enjoying her ability to move across multiple domains and feeling somewhat overwhelmed by this ability, at least that’s my sense sometimes when she furrows her eyebrows.
I confess that I was more than happy to listen, but then they turned to me, because they are both generous and curious people, and my first response was: well, that was why I blogged. I don’t think I planned to say that. I don’t think I really thought about it all before I said it. But I said it and it was, I think, exactly right.
I work in a business where a tight focus, to the detriment of being at all interesting outside the few dozen people in your sub-sub-field, is a weakness. If you are lucky, then maybe you have a few hundred people in your subfield, or in your field itself, who at best occasionally follow or know of your work or who, more likely, are vaguely aware of your piece of the overall “field pie” — if I may be allowed to mix the conventionalized agricultural metaphor with a tried and true metaphor. *Mmmm* … pie.
It could be that I am constitutionally curious. It could be that I am curious as a way of avoiding doing real work. It could be that I find the things to which I am drawn are all part of a larger pattern that I will, I hope, one day be able to discern.
Whatever the reason, I enjoy reading widely, but I also know that I cannot write widely, not as widely as I like. And so I blog in order to write a little, to fix with a scribal pushpin a small piece of the world that I have found interesting.
I do it mostly for myself, but I also do it a little bit for my daughter, in hopes of one day pulling a good chunk of it into a book that she can hold in her hands and know that this, too, was her father.
Sure, I would like it to be the same flexible medium that is this site, but two things provoke me to think of it as a codex volume. First, this site is up for as long as I pay the rent to keep the software that runs it on the servers of my web hosting service. (A Small Orange is quite good, but I don’t think philanthropy will allow them to keep their doors open for long.) Second, I guess I imagine that a volume will be a more permanent keepsake. Thus the turmoil of technologies that is the internet is perhaps a bit too much like life itself, ephemeral.
That’s all the *why* of blogging. What about how? Well, as I have already noted above, I use A Small Orange for my hosting, but if I were going to choose a free option, I would probably choose WordPress.com and/or Tumblr.com. I think WordPress is the better citizen, making it easy to port your data elsewhere, but Tumblr is the more rich infrastructure, *and* it has the social media bit built in.
I have seen professionals who use either service. I don’t know what the expense is of running a site through Tumblr, if any, apart from registering a custom domain name, which is not required, but desired by many. (For example, I have both `johnlaudun.wordpress.com` and `johnlaudun.tumblr.com`, both of which are free but both of which bear somebody else’s name in the URL. I want people to be able to type in simply “johnlaudun” and arrive at me, which is why I own johnlaudun.com as well as johnlaudun.org. The `.com` address resolves to this one, the `.org`.
My friend Jason Jackson uses WordPress.com, but I don’t know how much of their professional options he uses, and thus how much he ends up paying for a year’s worth of hosting. I happily maintain a small account on A Small Orange for $60 a year, plus another $20 for the two domain names.
I have used a variety of blogging software over the years, but in the end I always come back to Mars Edit, which allows me a variety of conveniences and the ability to post to my own WP site, WordPress.com, Tumblr, and Blogger, all from the same application. I have in the past used MacJournal for this, which works wonderfully well if you tie it to one blog, and which also allows you to keep a private journal, or private entries alongside the public entries. Fantastic application. I am not using it at present because it lacks easy syncing between the Mac and iOS versions. For that reason, and perhaps that reason along, I am currently using Day One, which I confess I also love for the beauty of its interface.
Where’s the line between blogging and journaling and/or keeping a diary? I don’t really know. I tend to write publicly when I want to think about something out loud and I hope to have an interlocutor or two stumble by and give me some feedback. I write privately often for much the same reason, but typically the issues at stake are either too personal or they have to do with other people, and I don’t want to drag their good names through my own personal mindstorm. When I have occasionally strayed into this territory, I have been remonstrated, usually kindly, but remonstrated nevertheless. In most cases, I prefer the relationship to the writing, and so I no longer air anything that resembles laundry anywhere near the interweb.
Having done all that, have I realized my fame and fortune by publishing this site? Do I wish I could turn my obsession into a career the way Merlin Mann has or my tightly-clustered focus into a widely-read site like John Gruber has? Well, yes, but then I would have the very thing that I started out saying is why I write here, which must amount to something like eclecticism.
So fame has eluded me, and I don’t mind. For a while I had several hundred people who read the site, or at least checked it, everyday. It made me so anxious that I stopped writing for a while. Most of them went away. The readers who remain do so for reasons that are largely unknown to me. Why would anyone care what fascinates me? What I want to remember to think about a few weeks, months, or years from now? What my pet peeves are? I have no idea. I can only hope that it is part of that profound human desire for connection, for human connection.
Do I write for human connection? If what I said to my mother and my friend is true, then I do write for connection, if only to connect the disparate dots of myself. I hope the drawing that eventuates out of this is interesting. Here’s one more dot.