The Morning Porch, five years on

Today is the fifth birthday of The Morning Porch. I thought I’d mark the occasion by sharing some lesser-known facts about the blog and my daily writing practice.

1. You’d think that this discipline would have made me a better, more assiduous devoteee of the early morning hours, but if anything, it’s been the opposite. I was a very early riser when I started back in 2007, as my first entry attests. Now I sometimes sleep in so late, I’m lucky to get out on the porch before noon. In my defense, there’s no doubt that waiting at least for daylight, if not late-morning warmth, does give one a lot more to write about in terms of (for example) bird and insect activity. But I can’t really claim that’s the motive for my increasingly late-rising tendencies.

2. I was very skeptical about Twitter when it got started, and felt like a relative late-comer to the platform when I finally joined five years ago. I had two ideas in mind: use the 140-character limit to literary advantage, and use the novelty of what I was doing to spread interest in nature among ordinary internet users. For most of the past five years, I’ve been very poor about using Twitter to communicate, and for several years, I was barely on it at all, preferring the open-source alternative Identica. I still feel guilty about using a social platform for broadcasting, but I just find Twitter awkward for carrying on a conversation. Part of that is because:

3. When I’m not forcing myself to be concise, I’m actually very long-winded. Browse the first couple of years of Via Negativa if you don’t believe me.

4. And I guess the other reason I’ve never really taken to Twitter is I don’t own a mobile device of any kind, and therefore don’t use an app. I interact with Twitter exclusively from the web interface.

5. I am still not sure that The Morning Porch is a particularly good fit for Twitter. I do follow some other people who use Twitter for literary purposes, of course. (One curent favorite: British poet George Szirtes’ surrealist microfiction.) But my personal favorite twitter feeds are the humorous ones, the purveyors of pop-culture snark and whimsy such as KimKierkegaardashian and Your Life Coaches. Above all, I think Twitter was made for such displays of wit. Which is why I’m never too bothered by the occasional negative reaction to The Morning Porch: people accustomed to a steady diet of snark who encounter retweets of my posts must find the sincerity and attention to nature really jarring. I think I would.

6. I’m still inordinantly proud of the fact that my Twitter feed made a sports writer’s list of Worst of 2010 at the Gawker media site Deadspin. With fewer than 3000 followers at the time, it felt like a real honor, albeit a perverse one, to be singled out as the worst feed on all of Twitter! Evidently the dude thought my use of common names such as “mourning dove” was a literary affectation.

7. From the beginning, I’ve archived my tweets at a blog, but for the first couple of years, I used Tumblr. I migrated it to a WordPress installation to take advantage of plugins and features that give better access to the archives, such as tagging (which didn’t exist on Tumblr at the time) and especially the “on this date” column in the sidebar, which fills me with geekish delight.

8. Though I don’t really think of The Morning Porch as poetry, a lot of other people do, and I’m fine with that. At one time, I was part of an active community of poets exploring the microblog medium on Identica, where I coined the term “micropoetry” to describe what we were doing. The irony is that I don’t actually think I’m very good at haiku or other types of short-form poetry. Writing haiku is hard, and I’m not sure I’ll ever have the knack for it, though that won’t stop me from writing and sharing the things from time to time.

9. Writing The Morning Porch is as much or more about the writing than it is about the observing, but my most successful posts over the years have been those I’ve composed in my head, while sitting on the porch, rather than those I’ve composed inside at the keyboard. My usual approach is to try to stuff at least two observations into each post and rely on the relationship between them to do most of the literary work, augmented by as much alliteration and assonance as I can muster. If you go through the archives, you’ll notice that metaphors are very thin on the ground.

10. Apparently a lot of readers suffer from the misapprehension that I’m a good naturalist; I’m not. I was raised in a nature-loving family, so of course some of that rubbed off on me, but when I was growing up I was actually somewhat in rebellion against the family culture — especially what I saw as the obsessive compulsion to identify everything. I felt that assigning a name to a creature put it in a conceptual box that kept us from seeing it as it truly was. Also, I was very lazy about looking things up — and still am. But writing The Morning Porch has forced me to become more disciplined about it. So if you’ve ever wondered “How does he know all that stuff?” the answer is I don’t — not always. Many times I have an idea, or several ideas, and have to rush inside to consult field guides and the internet. And sometimes those names turn out to be poetic enough that a mere roll-call comes to resemble a poem.

11. I almost never use binoculars. I just don’t like them.

12. One of my biggest disappointments is that more people on Twitter haven’t followed my lead and begun tweeting what they see from their own front porches or stoops. Despite what I said above about preferring witty Twitterers, I’d also love to read other porch sitters, especially if they’re in urban and suburban environments filled with colorful specimens of humanity.

13. Completing five years of a daily journal may seem like an admirable achievement, but it doesn’t really compensate for the fact that to me, my front yard is a landscape of loss. Gone is the big, spreading butternut tree that once shaded it, the focus of an earlier, short-lived chronicle from the porch. It fell victim to a canker that threatens the very survival of the species. This puts me in mind of all our other tree species under threat from non-native blights and insects, such as the eastern hemlock (hemlock woolly adelgid), American beech (beech bark disease), and white ash (emerald ash borer) — all of them common trees here on the mountain. The dead elm tree recently truncated by Sandy was very much alive when I started writing the Morning Porch; it fell victim to Dutch elm disease and died in less than two years. It snapped off a few feet above the flicker nest-hole, which reminds me of that little domestic tragedy (nestlings eaten by a black snake) every time I look at it. The ornamental cherry beside the porch, now reduced to a tall cluster of limb-stumps, was also alive in 2007. It fell victim to a native disease, black knot. It was never a great tree, but I miss its messy sprays of blossoms in the spring, and the way it served as a bird-perch all year long. And finally, the dog statue next to the lilac, which may well mark the grave of some forgotten family pet from 80 or 100 years ago, was smashed when the top of the elm blew over.

14. I guess this doesn’t really qualify as a lesser-known fact, but: I really don’t get off the mountain much. So in a certain sense, writing The Morning Porch amounts to making lemonade out of a lemon. I suppose I could claim that some mornings, my porch-sitting feels more rewarding than a journey of a thousand miles. And it does! But many other mornings, it’s just kind of humdrum, you know? And at those times, I don’t feel as if I have anything especially original to share. But I do it anyway.

15. Doing The Morning Porch has made one thing very clear to me: I don’t take writing as seriously as many of my peers. When I discover, as I often do, that I’ve repeated myself and used the very same image or analogy for some critter as the previous time I wrote about it, I tend to be amused rather than depressed at the limits of my imagination. And I have no trouble acknowledging the truth behind the accusation that The Morning Porch can be a bit formulaic:

But it’s not just the product; it’s the process. And part of the process, for me at least, involves growing so sick of one’s own words, one lurches in a new direction from time to time and inadvertently produces something brilliant.

16. When I started, my goal was to keep it going for five years. I am not a very goal-oriented person, to put it mildly, so the fact that I’ve made it astonishes me. What I didn’t anticipate was that it would become a source of writing prompts for a number of talented poets, and that one of them would become a co-author at Via Negativa, driven by the much more impressive goal of writing a poem every day, no matter what. Luisa’s been at it for nearly two years now! That alone makes me feel as if I should keep doing this Morning Porch thing as long as I can. If nothing else, it will force me to get my ass out of bed before noon.

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23 Comments


  1. I think managing five years of anything is damned impressive, Dave. And I also admire your willingness / ability to make lemonade out of the lemon of sticking close to home a lot of the time.

    I suspect my earnestness annoys people on twitter sometimes, too. Too bad. :-)

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    1. I think earnestness is almost an expected trait in a rabbi (though I’m sure there must be wise-cracking rabbis on Twitter, too). Thanks for the kind words.

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  2. Happy fifth birthday, Dave! Here’s to the next five years…

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  3. Congratulations on five years, Dave. I don’t have a twitter account, so I have missed out on a lot of fast-pace 140 character riffs that flit through the app world without me. Somehow I seem to have drawn the line at laptops and wifi. I am a hashtag illiterate.

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    1. That’s a very good place to draw the line, I think. I would like to say that I’ve drawn the line this side of mobile phones, tablets, televisions and DVD players, but the truth is I’m poor and have to make choices; it has nothing to do with virtue in my case.

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  4. Well, I love the occasional repetition as well as your faithfulness, Dave. There’s something comforting to me about knowing you’ll go out there, no matter what, and see something, and tell me about it. But then I guess I’m a nature weirdo too, who continues to appreciate your virtual company in this odd place.

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    1. Thanks, Beth. Yes, come to think of it I’ve just been blogging about how much I like a certain genre of fairly repetitive music. Maybe repetitiveness at The Morning Porch is a feature, not a bug!

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  5. Like the bit about your impatience with the family penchant for naming the world.

    Interesting how much effect a small act, done faithfully, can have.

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  6. I think Marly’s last comment says it all. ‘A small act, done faithfully’ is a big deal in a world of short attention spans. So glad you’re not stopping.

    Your new commenting system means that, as on many other WordPress blogs, I have to use an alternative email address, not the one attached to my WordPress account, or my comment will not be processed – go figure.

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    1. Gosh, I’m sorry. Probably if you logged in at WordPress.com, that would solve the problem.

      I’d rather be using my native comments, but this system does an absolutely amazing job at stopping spam!

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  7. Happy birthday! Much is gone, but has anything held on despite all the odds? or improved?

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    1. Well, yes. From time to time, this beautiful British woman shows up to share the porch for a couple of weeks.

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  8. Five years is admirable, and as you said, it’s about the process. You inspired me to stick with taking a daily picture of the mountain I see every day as I go about my business, because, like you, I don’t get off the “mountain” (my suburb) that much lately. As for Twitter, I had no use for it 5 years ago either, but oddly, it has become a lifeline to local networks in “real life,” as they say. The weird stuff on Twitter and the oddness of broadcasting there, well, I take that in stride, as it has helped me grow thicker skin. I don’t think I could have started my daily blog without that.

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    1. Yes, I think you’re using Twitter right. And I love your Mt. Tam blog! What started out as an interesting exercise in seeing has blossomed into a multi-dimensional chronicle, I think. Mt. Tam seems to stand for a lot of things that have to go unsaid due to the public nature of the medium.

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  9. “The Morning Porch” inspired me to begin my ongoing (yet recently neglected) series I call “Morning Meditation”. I read you and Luisa every day.
    I have to say I love Twitter but I use it mainly for chatting with my friends and keeping up with local happenings. I’ll look for you there. Congrats on your five years – I’m not goal oriented either so it really impresses me.

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    1. Thanks, and thanks for reading. I’m glad to have helped spark something. As for Twitter, judging from what you and Maria are saying it sounds as if it can be really useful at the local level. If I didn’t live in such a conservative, rural area, I suppose I might try using it that way as well.

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  10. The Morning Porch restored my almost moribund regard for my own poetry. Thanks, Dave. Happy 5th year. Encore ad infinitum, I’d say. (;–P)

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    1. Thanks, Albert. It’s very gratifying to know that my words have helped you like that.

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  11. I just discovered you a year ago, Dave, but your site is one I visit regularly. Thanks for keeping up with its demands. Happy anniversary!

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