Today is Via Negativa’s first birthday! It hardly seems possible. I am trying hard to remember what I had in mind when I launched her into the world one year ago. I think I had very little inkling of what I was getting into. I had seen only a few, political and links blogs – and none of the popular ones, either. Diary blogs, philosophy and religion blogs, literary and nature blogs were all beyond my ken. I had no concept of blogrolls and little understanding of the importance of linking.
I did know that I wanted primarily to generate original content, but as I recall, I envisioned brief (!) essays and lengthy quotes from printed sources. To the extent that I had a motivating idea at the beginning, I believe it was to write some sort of anti-blog, a post-ironic website devoted to Nothing – hence (in part) the name. After a few weeks, I developed a firmer sense of direction and crafted the Apologia that I still link to, though I think a re-write is long overdue. A few more weeks, and I stopped worrying about whether a given post “fit.” The notion that, “Hey, it’s my blog, I can put up anything I want!” quickly proved intoxicating.
Except that it wasn’t just my blog. From the beginning, I had a strong conception of this as its own thing, an organic whole made up of (as it turned out) very disparate parts. But one thing I didn’t understand when I got started was the importance of comments. Hell, it took me a good two weeks just to figure out how to add a comments feature. In the meantime, I stumbled more or less into the present blog neighborhood, I think from following a Blogwise or Blogorama link to the cassandra pages – always a good place for newcomers to get their sea legs. It turned out that comments threads at blogs were unlike message boards in one, important respect: they were respectful. At least for the smaller and less political blogs, flaming seems to be quite uncommon, and more importantly, the quality of the exchanges is often quite high.
This, I soon decided, is what reading was meant to be: a mostly solitary yet still communal, almost campfire experience, where a reader’s response can prompt new insights from other readers and from the original author, too. As a more-or-less Serious Writer I had always believed strongly in the need for new forms of interaction between audience and author and among authors and texts. In addition, I have a longstanding interest in finding ways to re-invigorate literary culture with some of the methods and emphases of oral traditions, such as communal authorship and the ability to extemporize songs, stories and everything in between.
In the blogosphere, all of this now seems possible. One good way to overcome the tyranny of the secondary text/experience, it seems, is to greatly expand the number and accessibility of primary sites. My most unexpected discovery was the extent to which I would connect with other blogs and other bloggers, and the intensity of some of the friendships that formed as a result. It turned out that there was an astounding number of impossibly talented and/or fascinating people writing with verve and passion about things that matter. I discovered food bloggers, travel bloggers, photo bloggers, audio bloggers, poetry bloggers, birding bloggers, Buddhism bloggers, model airplane bloggers – you name it. It remains a source of wonder to me that I can log onto Bloglines any given morning, click on one of my subscriptions at random, and read something as good or better than anything published in Orion or The Georgia Review.
Of course, there are peculiarities about this blog neighborhood that distinguish it from the rest of the blogosphere, where different sets of values may apply. A few days ago, I spent an hour or two reading some of the hipper weblogs and came back to my own feeling slightly abashed. “Look at all this rampant sincerity!” I muttered to myself, scrolling down the main page of the Via Neg. But perhaps, I thought, the problem isn’t sincerity per se, but the fact that it’s mixed in with cynicism, humor and outright silliness in ever-varying proportions. Can’t I just find one predominant mood and stick with it? And I knew, of course, what I would want that mood to be: grave, vatic to elegiac, spiced with flashes of irony. I would have to rein in my enthusiasm for things I like. Gushiness is never cool.
Well, it ain’t for nothing that I have a lengthy Rabelais quote right under my picture at my geocities site. See, Rabelais was The Man. In his one, gargantuan book he found room for everything: not just the bawdy and scatological humor that everyone remembers, but social commentary (including a serious proposal for a commune), philosophy and religion, word lists, recipes, all in a spirit of provisionality and experimentation that few other literary authors have managed to emulate. Then there are the myth cycles of certain indigenous peoples, which employ a similar mix of genres, moods, voices and levels. To hell with gravity and consistency! Long live the melange!
This would probably be a good place to do one of those Year in Review things, but I’m not sure where to start. Besides, the “High Points” links are there for anyone who wants to take a core sample – though some of V.N.’s more memorable posts, such as Conjuring Place, the Bathroom Poems, Hot Raccoon Sex and How to Make an Egg Salad Sandwich, aren’t included. My two personal favorites among all the things I’ve written for this blog so far are the poems In the Ice Forest, from last February, and From a Distance, dashed off in one draft last July.
I could go on and on about how much blogging has changed and improved my writing, but you’ve probably heard it all before. One of the few things, if not the only thing, I’ve written about blogging here is the essay Hanging Gardens, from last May, where I compared bloggers to paper-making hornets for some reason. (I had the devil’s own time trying to find it just now, so you better all go read it! The Google Search bar doesn’t always work when you’ve got too much content in one place, it seems.)
The main thing I want to say is THANK YOU to everyone who’s been a regular reader, whether or not you’ve ever left a comment.
Last Saturday was the final day of regular rifle deer season in Pennsylvania, so not wanting to risk interrupting the hunt, I confined myself to a walk down our mile-and-a-half-long driveway and back. It was about 40 degrees out – just cold enough to require a knit cap.
Down near the bottom of the hollow, right in the middle of the driveway on a level with my nose, I found a small spider with a spot of yellow in the middle of a thin, brown abdomen. She was spinning a web.
I couldn’t believe it. For a month or more, every time the sun shone strongly I’d go walk in the woods and see if I could still see strands of spider and caterpillar silk hanging from trees and bushes, and sure enough: the woods seemed as interlinked as ever. I had chalked it up to the resilience of webs spun much earlier in the summer or fall, but now I wasn’t so sure.
She was climbing up a very long anchor thread leading from the edge of the road to an overhanging hemlock branch. The silk was virtually invisible, so my first impression was of this strange, small being crawling upside-down through the air. I watched her inch her way back up to the branch, and would have watched longer if I hadn’t had to hurry back and start supper. It didn’t seem like a very good time or a very auspicious place to start a big new project like that. On the other hand, I guess someone has to prey on all those January mosquitoes!
But maybe it wasn’t about prey at all. Maybe it wasn’t even about the web. Who knows?
Two days later it was snowing.