25 things about Via Negativa

Bum with sign: 'Blog Ate My Homework'

  1. Almost every year, I think Via Negativa’s birthday is coming up on the 20th. Every year, it turns out to have been the 17th. The problem I guess is that I think of the first post as having been in late December, although it was really the middle of the month. So given that I can’t even remember that much, I can’t vouch for the complete accuracy of everything that follows.
  2. My gateway drug to blogging was Yahoo Geocities. I still have a webpage there, which is usually the second result for a Google search of my name. And I haven’t touched my proto-blog there, the page of essays I wrote in 2003, originally sparked by the invasion of Iraq. Note that the brief apologia at the bottom of that page already contains the germ of my blogging ethos:

    [M]y most memorable prose, I think, has been written on the run, or off the cuff. It’s fairly disposable–but maybe that’s the point. As long as it biodegrades in a timely manner. And gives off a pleasant fragrance, thanks to all the spirits of the invisible wild: yeasts, molds, fungi, bacteria. Whatever works.

  3. When I started blogging, I didn’t anticipate any need for comments. (And the original Blogger/Blogspot didn’t have any; you had to hack in a Haloscan commenting system. Which, in early January 2004, marked my second CSS/HTML hack, after learning how to code links for the sidebar.)
  4. When I started blogging, I didn’t think there were any other bloggers covering religion, philosophy, or poetry. The first such blog I found — by using a blog directory (Blogarama, I think) and looking under “philosophy” — was the cassandra pages. Five years later, I remain close friends with its author, Beth Adams, and co-edit qarrtsiluni with her.
  5. “Via Negativa” is probably not the best name for a blog. Not for this blog, at any rate. I quickly dropped what I had thought would be my primary focus — religious agnosticism, broadly defined — but kept the name because regular readers had already gotten used to it. I decided that if the name tended to weed out people who avoid any hint of negativity, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Being near the bottom of most alphabetized blogrolls was a bit more of a problem.
  6. I started my very first side-blog in 2004 — Dead Raccoon. It was also my first microblog, though I’m not sure the term had been invented yet. It consisted of almost daily absurdist political bon mots, filled with cynicism and black humor. I killed it after a few months, because I realized I didn’t have very many original political insights, and most of the time I really don’t know what I’m talking about.
  7. The indirect successor to Dead Raccoon was a cartoon called Words on the Street, which began as a text-only feature called Diogenes’ Tub. The idea to make it into a cartoon came from a reader who at the time used the pseudonym the Sylph (and who was also, I believe, Via Negativa’s very first commenter, though all those Haloscan comments are gone now). A big part of the reason for doing it originally was to break up the text — Via Negativa had virtually no other illustrations until I started taking and posting photos in 2005. Diogenes the bum still puts in an appearance from time to time (as at the top of this post).
  8. My first two years as a blogger were my most ambitious in terms of average post length and number of series. (I’ve subsequently been able to put most of the latter into fully functioning series, with archives in chronological order, thanks to the fantastic Organize Series plugin for WordPress.) What happened I think was that I had a certain number of ideas I had to get out of my system. Once I did so, I noticed an unexpected real-life side-effect: I began to feel much less of a compulsion to turn every conversation into a lecture or a harangue. I’m not trying to claim that that impulse has completely gone away, but I believe I’ve mostly broken the habit.
  9. I began blogging an epic poem, Cibola, on January 3rd 2005 and finished it up six months later. Those posts were interspersed with almost-daily Words on the Street cartoons as well as my regular blog posts. I think I scared off a lot of readers that year. Nowadays, I do just as much stuff online, but it’s spread over several different sites.
  10. Via Negativa is part of an informal “class of 2003,” which includes a number of blogs still in my blogroll. Blogging first hit the internet-using mainstream that year, I guess, and the war made a lot of us look for a bigger soapbox. My first meet-up with other bloggers was in New York City in February 2005, where we convened to see Christo’s Gates installation in Central Park. I blogged it, of course. So did Lorianne and Leslee, not to mention Diogenes.
  11. I moved off Blogspot on April Fools Day, 2006. My main reason was the lack of categories, which I dearly wanted in order to make my burgeoning archives slightly more accessible. I think it was at least a year and a half later before Blogger finally introduced categories (“lables”). It was hard to leave more than two years’ worth of comments behind when I moved. I really felt bad about that.
  12. One of the irritating things about Blogspot is that it doesn’t retire domains when someone deletes a blog. So cyber-squatters snatch up newly cleared domains like mine in order to take advantage of the incoming links, even if they never put up more than a single post. And if they then encode instructions to search-engine bots not to spider their site, the Internet Archive Wayback Machine will restrict access to all its archives of one’s own site. Moral: Never delete a Blogspot blog. Clear the archives if you need to, but keep at least one post there redirecting visitors to your new site.
  13. Since April 1, 2006, Via Negativa has been hosted free of charge by my cousin Matt Albright, who grew up nearby but currently lives in Silicon Valley with his wife and three daughters. Matt bought lifetime server space for a website some years ago, but has never had time to put up more than a CV for himself. My dad’s site, Peaceful Societies, piggybacks on Matt’s website as well.
  14. Matt’s also the guy who got me into digital photography when he sent me his old camera in late February 2005. I had blogged about an icestorm, and he wanted to know what it looked like. The Via Negativa readership at the time was divided about whether the addition of photography would be a good thing, but eventually I think they all came around.
  15. My first Blogger blog used a template with the sidebar on the left, but within six months I switched to a right-hand sidebar and it’s been that way ever since.
  16. I’ve been on-again, off-again with stats counters, which means I really have no idea how many people have visted Via Negativa over the years. I seem to average about 10,000 page views a month. The best month for which I kept records clocked in at just shy of 30,000.
  17. I am still routinely surprised that anyone stops by here at all, though. Sometimes Via Negativa readers even make me things and send them through the mail, which astounds me. At times, I like to tell myself that blogging makes me a useful and productive member of society. But probably the reality is that Via Negativa and my other online projects are a drag on the economy, by helping diminish the productivity of office workers.
  18. I passed my one millionth spam comment at the beginning of this month (see the counter at the bottom of the page). That’s since August, 2006 when I installed the Akismet anti-spam plugin. I’m told that’s a pretty meaningless figure, but so too are a lot of the other metrics that bloggers use to try and assess their blog’s value or importance. Via Negativa has gotten 9,392 legitimate comments since moving to WordPress. (That figure includes my own responses, though.)
  19. I’ve written some 1,138,000 words in 2,270 posts (not counting the 218 Smorgasblog posts, since they’re just quotes). That’s the equivalent of ten or eleven novels, I guess.
  20. Aside from Cibola, I’ve made two e-books of poems that originally appeared in Via Negativa, Shadow Cabinet and Spoil. I’m not real crazy about either one of them; I just enjoy creating websites.
  21. Via Negativa posts have been translated into foreign languages twice that I know of. Blogger Agustin Fest translated Should poetry be open source? into Spanish, and Poetikon translated the first half of Poem for Display at a City Reservoir into Norwegian. Very very flattering.
  22. All my work here is licensed under a copyleft statement designed to permit everything except taking my work and claiming it as your own, or preventing other people from modifying something that you have made from something here. Creative remixing is just another form of translation, as far as I’m concerned — something to be welcomed. I also decided a while back not to care about the scrapers who take fragments of text from Via Negativa (along with tens of thousands of other sites). I don’t understand why some bloggers get so worked up about that.
  23. The relative lack of focus on personal stuff here has less to do with any desire for privacy than the plain fact that I bore myself. And as a poet, first and foremost, I am more interested in self-mythologizing anyway.
  24. Blogging has had a really positive effect on my writing. Even though I’ve been writing and publishing poetry since I was seven, my poetry writing has become much more fluid and sure-footed over the last five years, I think. I’ve written more than 540 poems and translations for Via Negativa, and in the process have grown much more comfortable with sharing relatively unpolished work. And I’m fond of telling people who wonder why I blog that as a poet, I have found a much larger and more varied audience online, through blogging, than I would get in most print journals — to say nothing of the ability to interact with readers. I’m also pleased with some of the prose I’ve churned out, as well as the posts combining photos and text which are perhaps most typical of the non-political blogging medium.
  25. Fewer than half a dozen Via Negativa posts have ever included numbered lists.

26 Comments


  1. Congratulations on all the years, Dave. And thanks for the leadership!


  2. Thanks for the history, David. As a new reader, it helped me connect more with your view and voice. I enjoy your dry humor and collections of often-missed details.

    I wonder if you could do something with those 1,080,297 Spam comments. “Something Posing as Meat” would make for a catchy epic poem, no? Or at least a helluva list post.


  3. You’re such a dude, Dave, I’m glad to know you :)


  4. Moral: Never delete a Blogspot blog. Clear the archives if you need to, but keep at least one post there redirecting visitors to your new site. (#12)

    That’s what I did with my Blogspot. In fact, I didn’t even clear the archives, but the last post leads readers to my blog at WordPress. I think because I was never an established blogger (never really had a focus), I lost readership(?) in the process. Not to mention I haven’t blogged much since I got a (teaching)J-O-B.

    I found you sometime in late 2005, through writing circles here in SC. I’ve been enjoying Via Negativa since, even though I don’t comment much. I’ve also enjoyed the Plummer Hollows blog, being the tree-hugger I am. It was wonderful to get a visit too! (I think your inclusion of photography has been great – and because of you, I learned about the macro setting on my camera!)

    I also enjoyed this history of your online voice.


  5. Happy belated blog-day, Dave. Although I’ve been reading you from the almost-beginning, it’s interesting to see this retrospective: there’s so much I’ve forgotten. You’ve been a busy blogger over the years, and I admire that tenacity.


  6. 26. Via Negativa is learned, funny, surprising, often beautiful and often moving – a rich ongoing reading experience than no printed publication could ever equal. Thank you.

    I confess to being one of those who comes here when paid work is particularly boring, but I’m sure the smiles and deep thinking thereby incurred boost my productivity more than the interruption slows it.


  7. Happy belated blogday, Dave! I can’t remember at which point I found your blog and got hooked – probably in 2004 sometime. I do remember leaving a comment, tentatively, unsure of myself as a new blogger, and finding your welcoming response. The main draw here for me is your writing and unique perspective, but I also appreciate your generosity to your commenters. Your encouragement of people in their creative work elsewhere around the blogisphere is invaluable (I guess that would be point #27 or #28). So… thanks for being here. I can’t imagine how my whole blog and blog-related experience would be without you.


  8. Re: #8. I almost stopped blogging after two years in part because I had said it all, had gotten it all out of my system. Then I came up with a new reason for blogging. I don’t remember what it was, but it kept me going until I didn’t need a reason.


  9. Happy anniversary, Dave.

    I found you because of rock flipping, an event I was first made aware of by Gin Petty, one of Kentucky’s most talented craftspersons. http://ginpetty.com/

    The first post I remember reading was your open source post. I was impressed by that because I agreed with it and you don’t see too many people arguing that way. I’m glad to have the reminder to revisit it.

    I keep coming back because I like the way you write, the way your mind works, and your videos of porcupines and other exotic mountain creatures (like tree-climbing ground squirrels).

    I’m glad to hear that you’ve got some good out of all this, too. Hope you’ll stick around. You enrich my life. (Though I guess Wendell Berry would tell me to get away from the computer and enrich my own damn life.)


  10. Jean’s #26 addition up above speaks for me. Enjoyed reading about the evolution of your online writing. Agree entirely with your observation of online poetry being read by a larger and more varied audience. I feel the same way about writing about nature online. Before putting anything up on my previous websites and current blogs, I had written a lot of material which is or has been in various print publications. I can say without any reservations that I’ve experienced much greater enjoyment from online writing due to interaction with readers. Anyhow, happy belated blogiversary.


  11. Happy Blogday! I consider that blog time is virtual, and therefore there’s no such thing as a late blogday post, or a late blogday greeting.

    I’ll always be chuffed that I was one of Via Negativa’s early adopters (“I knew him back in the day!”)

  12. Dana

    More numbered lists!

    ;)


  13. Happy blogday, and many happy returns. How wonderful to have it associated with the solstice, albeit a little off-kilter.

    I think I started reading your blog in 2004, and of all the blogs I follow, yours is the one I have read most faithfully the longest–I don’t think I’ve missed any posts since I started following it, although sometimes I’ve had to read a dozen or so to catch up.

    I really appreciate all your comments on my blog–you were the first to let me know that somebody out there heard me.

    Thanks!


  14. Belated happy blogiversary, Dave! Your blog was one of the first ones I got to know when I started in early 2004, and I’ve never stopped reading. I’m always impressed by how much work you put in doing so many other blogs as well, and how encouraging you are to others. #24 regarding positive aspects of blogging is very true for me too. The connections and friends help to keep me going when sometimes I feel as if I’m just repeating myself.

  15. David Harmon

    Happy Blogiversary! Funny how all that history accumulates….

    At times, I like to tell myself that blogging makes me a useful and productive member of society. But … a drag on the economy, by helping diminish the productivity of office workers.

    No contradiction here… the fabric of society is far more, and more important, than “the economy”. “Man does not live by bread alone”, and all that!

  16. David Harmon

    PS: Looking down the “Words on the Street” cartoons, I note that the June 16th, 2005 entry seems to have been replaced with a link to Imageshack.

  17. David Harmon

    … And indeed, there’s quite a few more further on. Just to clarify, these aren’t links to images on Imageshack, just links to http://www.imageshack.us.


  18. Thanks for the kind comments and well-wishes. I’m grateful to all of you for being here, long-time readers and newcomers alike. A few responses…

    Ken – Even after a million spam, I’m still occasionally capable of being amused by some of them. The trouble is, so many are so boring and repetitive. The email spam I get is actually more interesting. Which isn’t to say a spam epic doesn’t have a certain amount of appeal.

    Jo – Actually I think I’m a bit of a jerk, but I appreciate your good opinion.

    Gina Marie – A job is such an impediment to blogging, isn’t it? :) I’m sorry I haven’t been keeping up the Plummer’s Hollow blog lately – it was becoming a bit much. I will try and get my brother Mark to blog about this year’s Christmas bird Count, though.

    Lorianne – Coming from the queen of tenacity, that means a lot. Thanks. Your example has been a real inspiration over the years.

    Jean – I’m awfully glad you think so (in reference to both your paragraphs). I hope it’s true.

    leslee – Thanks for saying that. I’ve really appreciated your online companionship – a calm and clear-eyed presence and a voice that grows stronger and more resonant with each passing year. I’m flattered to think my own words and example might have contributed to that in some way.

    PeterI don’t remember what it was, but it kept me going until I didn’t need a reason.
    Ha! Well put. Yes.

    Sherry – Darn, I can’t believe I left IRFD off this list! Starting that was certainly something I ought to add to my C.V., should I ever write one. I had forgotten that’s how we “met,” though – cool. Thanks for sticking around, and for staying online despite the objections of Mr. Berry, who is wise about so many other things.

    bev – That’s interesting to hear you say that about nature writing. My mother has always gotten a lot of fan mail, but that’s because of the markets she’s written for: a local newspaper for many years, and then the PA Game News. Game News readers are still letter-writers, some of them. But national magazines – you’re right, hardly ever a reaction. Of course, online magazines can have comments, but most literary magazines choose not to, for some reason. At qarrtsiluni, I think the ability to interact with readers is one of the major selling points for authors, especially those without blogs.

    dale – Blog time is definitely different, that’s for sure: it passes more slowly in some ways and more quickly in others. Five blog years feel like fifteen or sixteen people years, don’t they?

    Dana – Never!

    Rebecca – I was? Cool. I tend to think I don’t comment nearly often enough… Anyway, thanks for reading, and also for writing the kind of melange blog I most enjoy. One of these days I’m going to have to talk my banjo-playing, insect-collecting brother into taking a drive down your way, and we’ll drop in on you. I’ve yet to see the southern part of the Mon.

    marja-leena – Repetition is virtually impossible when you’ve been blogging this long, I think. But as I was saying to Peter the other day, it’s not that I’m repeating myself, I’m working within a fugal structure! Yeah, that’s it.

    David – RE: “the” economy, I couldn’t agree more.

    Yeah, I know about all those missing WOTS cartoons. I almost added a point to the list about image hosting sites, actually. The take-home message would’ve been: DON’T USE IMAGESHACK! If it’s not a site you have to register for, you can bet that sooner or later, your files will disappear to make room for others.

    I would replace those missing images if I only knew which ones they were. Maybe I can figure it out from the file extensions. I should really host them all here; they’re only a few KB each. The ones in Photobucket are probably secure.


  19. Happy blog anniversary, Dave! I’ve derived much enjoyment during the past couple of years from your posts, poetry, and photography.

    And thanks for your comments over at my place! I agree that the comments are one of the factors which make blogging enjoyable; a community of like-minded (more-or-less) commenters makes posting a pleasure.


  20. Happy days, Dave, sorry for my late addition to the congratulations. Yours is the most positive of all possible Negativa Vias and long may it continue to stir the eyes and the mind to greater awareness. A very happy Christmas to you and yours.


  21. Dear Dave. Possibly the most creative, most dedicated, most supportive, most whacky blogger on the net. Certainly that I know of. Happy VERSEary. And many many happy returns.


  22. Larry, Natalie, Lady P – Thanks for the well-wishes. You guys are the best! *snif* (No, I haven’t been hitting the eggnog. I mean it.)


  23. Happy blogday, Dave! In blog years, you are venerable.

    I like that I never know what I’m going to find here, but know it’ll be something interesting, thought-provoking, maybe in some unexpected way beautiful, expressed through your unique voice.

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