Ten years ago today, I hit the little blue “Publish” button that sits off to the side of my composing page here on the WordPress blogging platform. I’d actually finished most all final preparations on a long day’s Christmas Eve, keeping my designer/technical person on the phone an unconscionably long time from across the country as we worked through countless—and, of course inevitable—last-minute glitches and tidy-ups. (Thanks, Randall!)
Then I waited till after the holiday to post it. I figured it would only irritate potential readers to debut a blog requiring their attention in direct competition with the celebration of a messiah figure’s birthday that is tended to heavily by billions of people around the world.
That post on December 27, 2012 ran a lengthy 2,336 words in what was essentially a literary review of the novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson’s life work. I apologized for its length in a note to lead things off, but not for the fact that it included no pictures and long paragraphs that may have been heavy sledding for some readers.
As thoughts, sentences and paragraphs finally start to cohere, it’s rather like modern supermarket aisles where one approaches a darkened, refrigerated section whose lights magically glow themselves on as you draw near.
In the following days, an old friend and journalist colleague of mine sent along a note asking, “Hey, how about some photos to break up all that text?” (Thanks, Joan!)
Feeling like Homer Simpson whacking his own forehead in a “Why didn’t I think of that!?” way, I went back in (oh, the wonder of digital publishing and the ability for after-the-fact editing!) to add photos a few days later, and I have kept up the practice of curating and adding gorgeous photography ever since.
If you’d care to, you can still see the result of that initial effort (and the nice photos I later added) here.
Meanwhile, I’ll go looking for another nice photo to break up this particular sea of text, which I promise will not run to 2,336 words.
Since you haven’t been counting (neither have I), a few figures, which I just looked up.
A total of 512 posts over 10 years amounts to an average of 51.2 posts per year, almost exactly in line with a rhythm I didn’t plan on but soon found myself settling into of one post per week, four per month, usually on weekends when I have a better shot of carving out the large chunk or two of time I typically need.
(I also suspect weekends work better for readers, and contrary to what some writers claim is utter nonchalance about whether human beings actually read their work, I’m quite fond of readers and very much appreciate their own efforts in this little project of ours…)
The literal time I spend per post is most always in a range of 8-15 hours, though that often doesn’t include the preparatory reading I may do for weeks, months, or a near lifetime’s worth of immersion in, say, the works of Marilynne Robinson, T.S. Eliot, Walt Whitman and others whom I have felt privileged to be able to discuss here.
As I type these words, WordPress informs me one or another of my 512 posts have been viewed a total of 248,319 times, for an average of 24,831 per year. Readership has grown steadily but not dramatically in eight out of the 10 years, from 28 views per day in 2013 to 121 per day in 2022.
Countless blogs and other websites around the world consider that a bad hour, but their authors are after far different fish than I am.
Most heavily viewed post by far: an analysis of poet Li-Young Li’s “From Blossoms” way back in June, 2013, with 13,190 views. Not a close second: a 2014 discussion of Albert Camus’s short story, “The Adulterous Woman,” viewed 7,274 times.
And no, I simply cannot believe that was more than seven entire years ago.
Rounding out the Top 5: A 2015 analysis of the Walt Whitman poem, “This Compost” (6,168 views), and then two song analyses: “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (5,596 views, 2014), and the second in my “Brilliant Songs” series, launched in March 2018 and now totaling 34 songs, Dawes’s “A Little Bit of Everything”, with 5,367 views.
Today, “Brilliant Songs” and various poem analyses almost always lead the daily count as people from around the world Google a particular work for more information.
I can always tell when some piece has been shared to someone’s friends or assigned to students by a teacher, because a song or poem that generally gets four or five daily views suddenly picks up 30 or 40 for a few days’ run. Fun stuff, that.
All right, that’s it for numbers. No, wait, one more set: People who don’t know the blog but hear it mentioned typically ask, “What do you write about?”
The Top 5 answers:
Politics/Culture (surprisingly!): 137 posts. Then Personal Reflections (116), Religion/Spirituality (107), Music (95), Poetry (89).
Of the latter, 21 poems are by myself, which rather astonished me. I would have guessed closer to 10.
O.K., so on we go. More pressing for me always is contending with the question: “What exactly am I trying to do with this thing?”
But first, another photo, just to keep you gazing and scrolling along…
I’m periodically given to musing that if the publishing world hadn’t experienced the earthquake it did as the digital wave started rolling toward it in the late ’80s, and if incompetent management hadn’t run us completely into the ground before that wave struck with any real force, I would now be completing my 35th year as editor of my then-hometown weekly newspaper, the Santa Rosa “News-Herald.”
It was in many ways my dream job, allowing me to cover local politics down in the trenches of city council, planning department, water board, and the other seemingly dull activities that actually have greater impact on a given town’s daily life than anything happening (or more often, not happening) in Washington D.C.
Add to that regular arts coverage, occasional dining reviews, the opportunity to work with a talented, devoted staff, and a regular weekly editor’s column in which I gave myself permission to range far afield from standard journalistic constraints, and I felt wholly in my element.
Weekly newspapering let me draw on my academic background of political science (undergrad), psychology (graduate) and theology (more graduate) while also requiring—not that I didn’t love it, because I did—that I live and work and think on street level, engaging with all manner of characters, concerns and stories in my town.
The focus, in other words, was profoundly, unremittingly human (yep, sometimes all too human…).
Much else came and went after the “News-Herald” shut down. Magazine editing (health & fitness, the environment, wine, bitcoin), medical newsletters, a decade with an ad agency (Thanks, John!), two more decades running my own communications firm as the helter skelter of the digital revolution finally tsunami’d on shore.
The constant: my brain always in overdrive, deadline piled upon deadline of a never finite project list, rarely any time to just sit and think in a hard and sustained and eventually freeing way about things passing in front of me, thoughts through me, inspirations just over a horizon like a dream in which I could never quite catch my bus all decked out in streamers and heading for the beach.
So 10+ years ago, I thought I might try to catch that bus via a blog “focused” on the humanities—books, religion, arts, culture, and eventually politics (a certain president forced the issue).
All of which is just about the most gauzy and unfocused “focus” one could possibly conjure for a blog.
Conventional blog wisdom says to pick a very small slice of this very large universe—Appalachian folk music, say, or New Hampshire state politics or newborn blankie knitting or 30-minute dinner recipes—and then pound the hell out of it, seeking to know more about it than but a handful of other human beings on earth.
Then selling advertising to support the whole enterprise.
I can say without regret that has never been my gig, and bloody likely never will be.
Journalists are by and large generalists, most of them scratching insatiable itches of curiosity about every living thing under God’s sun. And as my journalist’s soul turned to blogging, that curiosity for me also turned inwards, with one of the chief purposes (and rewards) coming from sitting down not so much to tell people what I think about thus and such, but instead to find out what I think.
Most of the time, I don’t really know. Oh, I often have an inclination, to greater or lesser degrees, but rarely more than that. And sometimes not even that.
It’s more like I find my thoughts returning to some problem or phenomenon or poem or song or book theme that has me wondering, feeling distressed or confused or inspired or challenged by it.
And I’m not sure what’s underneath it all, how it might affect me or anybody, what it might say about life today or tomorrow or yesterday.
But I have a feeling it might somehow, and that that “might” is worth exploring.
Finding time to sit down to all that, with all that, remains a huge and pure joy, a true voyage to a vaguely outlined but intriguing land, replete with unknowns, internal and external discoveries, and slow-drip adrenaline rushes that last for, oh, 8-15 hours.
It’s rather like modern supermarket aisles where one approaches a darkened, refrigerated section whose lights magically glow themselves on as you draw near.
As thoughts, sentences and whole paragraphs finally start to cohere from the jumbled, inchoate semi-mess I most always start with, I realize there are precious few places I’d rather be on earth.
And to think it took me only 1,638 words to get to that in this, Post #513 of who knows how many more.
To those still reading: a simple, humble but whole-hearted thanks for coming along. You know who you are.
And to those who say something about it either in the Comments section below or in personal conversation or correspondence: You help me think there might just be a #514.
Check out this blog’s public page on Facebook for 1-minute snippets of wisdom, poems and other musings from the world’s great thinkers and artists, accompanied by lovely photography.
Deep appreciation to the photographers! Unless otherwise stated, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing.
Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) have long graced the rotating banner at top of page.
Library books and bench photos by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact: email@example.com
Beach shore and garden railing photos by Andrew Hidas https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewhidas/
Here’s to 514 more posts!! Your blog is a delightful gift that I rarely miss! I trust the “ Long and winding Road” keeps on rolling my brother!
Andrew, when I first heard you speak about Albert Camus at Santa Rosa’s Unitarian Universalist Church, I was delighted to feel as though I were back at Williams College, listening to a favorite humanities professor shining a light on a new way of looking at the world. Thank you for the gift of your intelligence, curiosity, energy and generosity to share so frequently your wide ranging musings. Keep ‘em coming, buddy!
Congratulations, Andrew! I have marveled at your consistency with this blog and your lack of desire to monetize it when you certainly could have. You are a super talented writer and I like to think I learned some from you over the years of working together.. at least enough to know when I’ve read something awful (and when it comes from a client of mine, I have a chance to fix it.) I miss our commiserations and brainstorms but am happy that you have found a weekly (wow, weekly!) way to share you voice with the world.
Keep it going Andrew. Never fails to be insightful writing. Sometimes God-smacking poignant. Always worth reading.
Also, as you can see, I am terrible at figuring out how to comment, and instead, “replied” to one of your readers, lol. :-)
I asked you many years ago why you posted, and this was your answer then and now: “with one of the chief purposes (and rewards) coming from sitting down not so much to tell people what I think about thus and such, but instead to find out what I think”. Your very thorough and thoughtful posts have helped me do precisely that.
Many thanks, Kevin; I always look forward to your thoughtful, often wryly amusing extensions of the thinking I do here. Impossible to overstate my appreciation for the extended conversation we’ve carried these many years.
Al: ahhhh yes, Camuuuuuus….A shared affinity on that, and so much else. I should put you & Kevin together more purposefully!
Karen, I miss our creative collaborations as well. They’re at least half the fun of any given project, sometimes more than others, depending on how much client-induced commiseration/sympathy was required on top of the collaboration! And that inadvertent reply to someone else’s comment? Done it myself, more than once! Thanks for this kind note.
Jamie, that’s a high compliment from you, and I will hold it dear and close to me. Thank you.
Gerry, I very much remember that question you posed in the long ago and almost mentioned it in this very post, given how much food for thought it provided me—a whole feast, as it were. I wound up not quite being able to fit it in above, so I’m glad I could personally thank you for it here. Sometimes the best, most acute questions are the simplest and most direct. Happy New Year, and here we go again!
Yes, here we go again. Could you please write about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity? I bet you’d have something to say, and I’d want to read it. 8-15 hours is a lot of time, and an amazing amount to focus on one thing. I’m not even sure I can do that anymore. I’m glad you can. I especially have enjoyed the songs, the ones you write about and also the ones you randomly post at the end sometimes. You have introduced me to many, many musicians I hadn’t known before, and whom I love. Thank you for your thoughtful take(s) on the world. They are much appreciated.
Since the inception, I have appreciated your thoughts and take on all things literary and artistic. I generally do not value the opinions of my peers, but you have always been the exception. Through you, I have been encouraged to examine all sides of an argument, and accept that all of us (except the MAGA crowd) have valid reasons for living. I have been impulsive and snarky at times, only to be tempered by your reason. Thanks for that!
Please keep it up. If not for me, for the other loyal followers finding value in your musings (That would include my wife!)
Greetings, congratulations and bows of thanks to you, my friend and esteemed former editor. I appreciate all that you put into creating your blog posts. The ones that move me to tears are your personal stories: Ellis Island, Shenzi, Kai, just to name a few. Thank you for sharing this gift of yourself with so many of us. It’s a reminder of the continuing presence and importance of goodness, truth and beauty in our lives.
p.s. please feel free to edit, just for old time’s sake :)
Jeanette, I’m going to run your Relativity idea by my genius nephew physicist and see if anything he says about the matter makes the teeniest lick of sense to me. Please don’t hold your breath, though! Meanwhile, thoughtful readers make all the difference in helping me stay on course and make sure I tidy or spruce up anything that feels half-baked or worst of all, dull. Thanks for being one of those readers!
Moon, how very unimpulsive/non-snarky of you! (Though I must say I can usually appreciate those qualities as much as the next guy, so long as they reflect an underlying wit, which you possess in abundance.) Thanks for the encouragement to keep on keepin’ on; I take that very seriously.
Mary, what a delight to see you here. Thanks for mentioning those particular posts. Part of my long-running debate with myself is how much of my very own life experience and thinking gleaned from that I should share here, as opposed to writing ABOUT other’s lives and ideas. I much more often try to anchor this blog into explorations of great or particularly creative authors, composers, etc. (there being so many of them…). But I do think the posts that stretch me into slightly unfamiliar or at least wobbly terrain, ironically enough, are the ones where I plumb the depths of my own experience and muck around trying to find their truest truths, their sometimes difficult takeaways that may resonate with others, given how much, in the end, we share in common, and how much we do recognize and accept in each other—the good, the bad, the compromised, the ultimately redemptive. And after that long sentence that could no doubt use an editor, I’ll close by saying what a pleasure it was editing as thoughtful and serious-minded a writer as you were and remain today. I mean a real, visceral pleasure, very akin to the writing process itself. Not QUITE as much fun, but close! So all best to you & yours, and please do keep stopping by here as the spirit moves…
Thank you Andrew and congratulations at ten years. Even though I had but a minuscule role in its creation, it’s paradoxically one of the most significant contributions of my career. Everything else I’ve worked on is ephemeral. Here’s to another ten years A!
Well your role sure didn’t seem minuscule back then, Randall—I remember hangin’ on for dear life as we worked through the launch! All best to you in 2023, and we’ll have to await the roll of the dice and countless other variables regarding another 10-year run!
Reading this caused me to check the numbers on my lonely little blog. I was surprised – since starting it in 2004 I’ve written 649 posts, 646 of which were posted. I guess I should go find the 3 that weren’t and see why. I keep thinking surely there must be some other blogs I’d enjoy reading, but I rarely find one. So keep writing, please!
Whoa, Harry, that is a long stint; I believe just about the longest one I’m personally aware of, so major props to you for that. Takes a certain kind of doggedness that I am well aware of and appreciate greatly. What I’m also well aware of is the countless number of blogs I come across in researching one topic or other, and the post shines enough to have me click on the home page, but the most recent post turns out to be from three, five, eight years ago. Was good while it lasted, but eventually peters out, with almost never a “This is my farewell blog” entry to note it. Tells me the writers probably didn’t even know it was ending, and it just faded away, “not with a bang, but a whimper” (with apologies yet again to T.S. Eliot…).
I also appreciate your stopping by here when you do, and do take your encouragement and example to heart. Keep on yourself there, my man!
In truth there have been some long pauses in there, and I’ve sometimes wondered why I keep it. I guess in some ways it’s like a little cabin in the woods that you don’t visit as much as you’d like, but you can’t bring yourself to give it up because it’s a little place that’s just yours.
It is now well over a month since this post, and I have just now read it. As is common for me, I am drawn to you and your thinking and feeling at times in my life when I, for various reasons, turn to reflection and introspection about my life. This has been true throughout the many decades of our friendship— a relationship for which I am blessed and truly thankful. You have brought meaning and depth to my life since our adolescence. Blessedly that is still true into our seventies and will be the case for as long as we are both living. You shared with me years ago, and long before your first blog post, that you write because it is how you explore what you think and feel. I was a college faculty member at the time and, among other things, was teaching a freshman course in critical thinking. I shared your insight into yourself and your writing with my students thinking that it would somehow resonate with them and inspire them in the written assignments of the course. I was new to college faculty life and still harbored the notion that college students could be excited by ideas and intellectual exploration. My exhortations and encouragement rarely took hold and I was fortunate that the call of administrative leadership came before I completely burned out in view of the students. I often wished that more people, students included, could be exposed to you and your thinking. The world would be served well being exposed to your thoughtfulness and intellectual energy and curiosity. Much later in my career I served as the president of the small public liberal arts college where my 20+ years in higher education occurred. As president, one of my ceremonial responsibilities was to annually select a commencement speaker. I was able to corral two governors, CEOs, and a poet. The person that I believed would best represent the kind of human I most wanted to introduce to our students was you. Lamentably, explaining that my friend is a powerful thinker and brilliant communicator that I believed represented the very best of what students should aspire toward was just not a strong enough “credential” to include in an introduction and explanation to celebrity/credential-starved constituents. But damn, I shoulda done and you woulda been the best ever. If I were still teaching I would assign your blog. If I were still president I would recommend it to faculty (though that might unfairly dissuade them from reading it!)
I’m with Kevin and the others. Ten more years! Ten more years!
Dang, Jay, I KNEW I should have gone on to get that properly credentialed PhD! (Actually, I’m not so sure I would’ve done so well within the straitjacket of academic jargon, but if it would have landed me a spot on your graduation rostrum, it may have been worth it…)
I’m humbled by this, really I am, and glad for both our friendship and the many ways we have kept one conversation or other going over these, lo, 57 years now, by my quick count. And for the past decade now, including this forum, in which I am grateful for your attention and insights that always manage to throw more light onto the subject at hand for both myself and my readers. Mazel tov, pal! Fifty-seven more years!