It feels like I’ve known Rachel Barenblat, AKA the Velveteen Rabbi, forever… but actually it’s only been since 2003, when she and I and a bunch of other people got bit by the blogging bug. She recently got in touch with a few of us who, like her, have kept it up all these years, wondering if we’d like to participate in some kind of celebration of (at least) 15 years of blogging. We used a Google document to share some thoughts in response to an initial question, “Why the hell am I still blogging?” Here are some excerpts from our discussion, jointly blogged here and at Blaugustine, the cassandra pages, Hoarded Ordinaries, mole, and of course Velveteen Rabbi.
Rachel: Writing is one of the fundamental ways I experience and explore the world, both the external world and my own internal world. I think it was EM Forster who wrote, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” Blogging as I’ve come to understand it is living one’s life in the open, with spiritual authenticity and intellectual curiosity, ideally in conversation or relationship with others who are doing the same.
Dave: At some level, it’s easier to keep blogging at Via Negativa, the Morning Porch, and Moving Poems than it is to stop. Basically I’m an addict. Writing poetry is fun for me — entering that meditative head-space required for immersion in writing. As for the social aspect, I’ve been in, or on the periphery of, several distinct blogging communities over the years, and at one time, we all commented on each other’s sites, but with the rise of social media, most blog commenting went away — and I’m not entirely sure that’s a bad thing. Writing and responding to comments did take up a lot of my time ten years ago, and now that I can scratch that conversational itch on Twitter, or in real life with my partner, I’m OK with most interactions on my blogs being limited to pings. But I must immediately qualify that and admit that Via Negativa is a special case, because for well over half its existence now I’ve enjoyed the virtual companionship of a co-blogger, the brilliant and prolific poet Luisa Igloria, and a small number of occasional guest bloggers as well. I wouldn’t say I’m competitive, but Luisa’s commitment to a daily poetry practice has definitely forced me to up my game. Then there’s Mr. Pepys. My Pepys Diary erasure project grew directly from sociability: my partner and I wanted to read the online version of the diary together, and I worried I might eventually get bored with it if I weren’t mining it for blog fodder.
Lorianne: I am not attached to the medium, but I am attached to the message, and the process of creating/sharing that message. There has been a lot of hand-wringing among bloggers over the “death of the blog,” with long-time (and former) bloggers worried about attention divides between blogs and social media. Where do “I” live if I post in multiple places: on blog, in a paper notebook, on social media? For those of us who do all three, the result can be confusing, distracting, and frazzling…or it can be creative, collaborative, and synergistic.
Dale: I didn’t really expect ever to have readers, so in a way, having readership dwindle is a return to the early days… I’ve outlived some of my personas — I’m no longer recognizeably very Buddhist, and my politics have morphed in some odd ways. I don’t think I’m as salable an item as I used to be :-) But the inertia, as Dave said. When I do have something to say and my censor doesn’t step in, the blog is still where I go. It’s been home for fifteen years: my strand of the web… The community that was established way back when is still important to me, and still a large part of my life. And there’s still a lot of value in having a public space. The act of making something public changes it, changes how I look at. I become the viewers and the potential viewers. It helps me get out of myself. It helps me work through my favorite game of “what if I’m wrong about all these things?”
Natalie: Why the hell still blogging? Not sure I am still blogging. I put something up on Facebook whenever I feel like saying hey, listen, or hey, look at this. Then I copy/paste the post to Blogger where I keep Blaugustine going, mainly out of a sense of imaginary duty. The idea that there are some real people out there who may be actually interested in some of my thoughts and/or artwork is undoubtedly attractive, even necessary. I live a mostly hermit life and don’t get much feedback of any kind. But my interior life is very active, all the time, and having a tiny public platform online where I can put stuff is really helpful. To be perfectly honest I think that’s about it for me and blogging at present. I don’t do any other social media, it would all take too much time which I’d rather devote to artwork.
Beth: I think a lot of it has to do with a sense of place. My blog is like a garden or a living room that I’ve put energy and thought and care into as a place that’s a reflection of myself and is hopefully welcoming for others.. The discipline of gathering work and talking about it coherently has been extremely good for me and for my art practice. And I’ve also really appreciated and been inspired by other people who do the same, whatever their means of expression. There’s something deeply meaningful about following someone’s body of work, and their struggles, over not just months but years. In today’s climate of too-muchness and attention-seeking and short attention spans, I feel so encouraged and supported by the quiet, serious doggedness of other people like me!
inspired by “Sweet exiled words: two poems by José Luis Appleyard” translated by Natalie d’Arbeloff
when we were gathering the bitter-
leaf and stopped to play, throw rocks
to coax the spirit of the old baobab
into generosity, beg it to drop one
of its itchy-covered pods down from
the heights that we might break it
open, feast upon sweet-sour powder-
coating on its seeds, when hot breeze
carried first phrase from the drum in
our direction, we would freeze, tilt
our heads to listen for the repeat,
dama gazelles we were, catching scent
upon the wind, waiting for the repeat,
confirmation and instruction, goatskin
rhythm telling us which way to run
goatskin scraped free of hair, scraped
to translucence, soft thick parchment
stretched upon a narrow-waisted body,
hollow carved of wood and secrets,
stretched and threaded with leather
laces waiting for the compression of
the drummer’s upper arm, vocal cords
to tighten, loosen, flex the speaking
surface so the striking mallet could
write words in the language of the drum
each phrase held a message, repeated
and repeated, tonal speech encoded
into total speech, decoded by the body
of each hearer, heads tilted to receive
and suddenly we are stotting, feet
inscribing jubilation in hot sands:
the chieftain’s daughter, she is to
be married, there will be a wedding,
there will be a feast, there will be
rice with black-eyed peas and chicken,
and we all are welcome, welcome, we
are all invited to come and offer
blessings, come and dance in circles
for their union, come and dance our
thanks to those who’ve gone before,
thanks for continuity, dance for them
a prayer for peace beneath their roof,
a welcome for the children yet to come
Note: The talking drum was still an active means of communication between and within villages when I was a child; Natalie’s translations brought back a sense of loss and longing, memories of listening to their messages, knowing their meanings as a child without remembering learning them. I chose the dama gazelle for this poem because it has become critically endangered in the Sahel due to modernization and loss of habitat.
Don’t wrap your frame
in other fabrics, disguise
yourself with fig leaves,
don’t paint your face
before you face the world
in the morning; scrub it.
Don’t yield to pressure
to impress with who and
what you are; instead,
unlock the tinderbox
and find the spark, discover
what’s within you that’s
awaiting recognition. Take
your skeleton, grant it
permission to emerge
wearing no more than
flesh, remove the drapes
you’ve used to cover up
the mirror, release it
from its hook and tilt it,
for a moment dare
to catch your own
reflection, be lit by every
flicker and gleam.
After/inspired by the following poems on Via Negativa: “Arguments with destiny: 14” by Luisa A. Igloria, “False Idols” by Kristen-Berkley-Abbott, and “Portuguese error” by Oswald de Andrade, trans. Natalie d’Arbeloff.
poem ending with lines from Natalie d’Arbeloff’s
translation of “Motivo” by Cecília Meireles
Bamboo can be food, its tender shoots
stripped and swirled in flavorful hot
oils in a basin of well-seasoned steel.
It can be nourishing, bamboo.
Bamboo can be a habitat, a refuge
of tall green pillars, camouflage
safety, welcome shack with shade.
It can be sufficient home, bamboo.
Bamboo can be long tubes, dried
and cut, angled beneath the splashing
of the fountain or the roof, accepting
in its hollowness, directing water’s journey.
It can be a flowing pipe, bamboo.
Bamboo can be lumber, cut and dried
and tied, a fence to keep the garden
safe at home, a ladder for the beans
and roses climbing upward for the sun.
It can create a paradise, bamboo.
And yet, the ones that speak, when they
speak of bamboo, they do not talk of
new growth in loving terms, slanted braids
in glazed ceramic pots, their overlapping
angles secured in ribbon-gold —
it can be beautiful, bamboo —
but rather of a war, of daily sweat,
of stomping each new shoot
that emerges in the yard, of broken
mowers, of heavier metals, of
trying new solutions to repel
this invasive enemy, bamboo.
Nourishing, sufficient home,
a flowing pipe, a paradise,
this lucky-braided beautiful —
it is not welcome here, bamboo.
But those who listen can still
hear it whisper as it grows:
I sing because the moment exists
and my life is complete.
And one day I know that I’ll be mute:
— that’s all.