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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Beach shore and garden railing photos by Andrew Hidas https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewhidas/