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December 15, 2006


I have no answers here, just some inklings toward ideas. I'm reminded of the Author's Note at the beginning of Annie Dillard's collection of essays, Teaching a Stone to Talk in which she says something to the effect of, "These essays aren't supplements to my real work; they are my real work." Although Dillard's written book-length nonfiction, a novel, and a collection of poetry, she still sees essays as being "real work" in their own right. There needn't be a competition between long & short work: it's all work.

And in the same vein...I'm a huge fan of May Sarton solely on the basis of her journals. I've read one of her novels and was under-impressed, and I've not read her poetry. In my mind, Sarton's journals are "enough" to establish her as a worthwhile author: in my mind, it doesn't matter what she's talking about in her journals, it's the way she talks about it that makes it worthwhile.

I'd say the same thing about the journal-keeping authors I admire: Thoreau, Merton, Woolf. I don't see why a blog should be any less literary than a journal, and I don't see why a journal should be any less literary than essays, or essays any less literary than books. It's not what you say or even what shape the saying takes: it's the style of the saying, and the craft behind that.

I remember the first time I ever posted a blog entry; it felt just a little like I was yelling something into a misty abyss. I never tire of the delightful surprise I feel when it isn't just my own echo I hear back - but rather a chorus of other voices chiming into that deep unknown - somehow, creating those connections you touched on.

I like your analogy about blogging being like a sketch. It is. It's experience jotted down in the rough and outlined with interaction.

I've been thinking about these issues a lot lately, both because I'm approaching my third blogiversary in a few days (though I started posting essays to a Geocities site right around March, 2003!), and also because a widely read tech blog is sponsoring an essay contest on blogging, and I've been reading the entries he's printed so far. Most are pretty poorly written, and none have addressed the rewards and challenges of blogging as we know it. If you can expand this into 1000 words, I'd encourage you to enter: See Weblog Tools Collection, http://weblogtoolscollection.com/archives/2006/12/13/essay-competition-extended/
and http://weblogtoolscollection.com/archives/2006/11/13/wltc-blogging-essay-competition/

I didn't say what I was thinking, did I? Well, this morning I jotted down in my little notebook that blogging has taught me how to pace myself and focus on one piece of writing at a time -- but has also weaned me from my bad habit of worrying pieces to death and/or trying to pack too much meaning into each one. Because I try and post something every day, six days a week, I've learned to be a little more easy-going, I think. And though I don't always post poems, I do think I've become a better poet as a result of this blogging practice. As the Billy Collins paraphrase on the front page of Poetry Daily says, "The urge to tie a poem to a chair and torture a confession out of it lessens when poetry arises freshly each day."

Thanks for the comments thus far, Lorianne (yes, I agree - it's all "work" and it all has merit); "Me" (it's nice to have your thoughts here! - glad the "sketch" metaphor resonated for you) and Dave. I'm not sure this essay would qualify for the contest since I'm publishing it myself - maybe I'll write the organizer and ask him/her. This one is in three parts and weighs in at 2400 words or so.

I like both the Annie Dillard quote and the one about the freshness of daily poetry, and I'm sure it is true about writing daily as well - you just don't worry about it so much, and you also don't fret about intimidating blank pages - you just write, and nine times out of ten, something emerges that tells you something about yourself as well as indicating some thoughts worth sharing. I remember you leveling that criticism of overworking to your own writing, Dave, but it seems like you got over that one quite a while back.

Great post Beth, and great comments.

I'm interested that you wonder whether you have anything new to say about "place." Dumbfounded, in fact. When I read Cassandra Pages, which I've been doing almost daily for well over three years, I never think "oh. right. she's writing about place now." Place always informs your writing but it's never an answer to one of those horrid British exam essay questions, "Place is important in the work of Beth Adams. Discuss." It's what makes it such GOOD writing about place. It's your life, lived in three places through time and memory and walking (or riding!) to the bakery. More, say I. I for one will never tire of it.

Of course I LOVE the sketchbook analogy and it reminds me, in the chaos of today before the Christmas Bird Count tomorrow, that I should make a little room for some sketching...

This is all relevant and timely. Forgive me for not commenting more, I'm in the throes, as you know. I'll be interested to hear what conclusion, if any, you come to.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.