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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

What This Baby Can Do

My beautiful baby sister said the most brilliant thing the other day, and since she last updated her blog in June, I told her I was going to steal it and use it here. (Go ahead, tell Mom. Crybaby.)

We were talking about what's been happening with Notes this past year in terms of readership growth and publishing opportunities, and I was saying how it's still such a new medium, and how I believe that most of my target audience has yet to start looking online for what I put out here (writing), because the mainstream perception of blogging is still so narrow (which should make you feel very avant garde—feel free to put on a black turtleneck and affect a strange accent the rest of the day).

And then my sister said, "Well, it's probably like when photography was invented. Most people thought of it as a novelty or just a technological tool. Nobody understood for a while that you could make art with it."

It is the perfect analogy. I keep turning it over and marveling at it from every angle.

Take a scroll down the Technorati Top 100, supposedly representative of the most popular blogs on the internet . You'll see lots of technology sites, lots of how-to's, some politics, a sprinkling of humor and gossip. It's more like glancing through USA Today than, say, the New York Times. Now, there is some fabulous, well-crafted content on that list. Dooce is on that list. Lifehacker is on that list. I don't intend disrespect for the list, or any site on it. This isn't about the list; it's about what drives the list, what the vast majority of blog visitors are looking for: information and entertainment. Utility and novelty. 

To come back to the photography analogy, our Alfred Stieglitz moment has not happened yet. Or rather, I think it's happening, but it has yet to emerge from the relatively small parlor club that is the blogosphere and into the public gallery of mainstream consciousness. I think for the most part, readers who seek evocative writing for its own sake don't expect to find it online. Yet.

When I began Notes, I didn't think of myself as part of blogging culture. I had seen (it would be a stretch to say "read") exactly two blogs. This was just something to do on the way back to print, a medium that was friendly to life with small kids. I had zero expectations attached to it. Looking around, I saw no reason to cultivate any. This blog is short on controversy and long on introspection. I've never expected to be one of the rockstars (though I've gotten to know some of them—I think I might be the Loudon Wainwright of blogging).

I hung onto that sense of being a part from, not a part of, until about the middle of this year. A couple of things converged to push me off the fence. One was becoming aware of how much I got out of the instant feedback from readers. My extroversion has always been a major stumbling block between me and sitting still long enough to do the work. When I hear from you, it's like high octane fuel in my tank. Going to the computer to write no longer feels like confinement to solitary.

Going to the Blogher conference last summer was a big leap. In the space of 48 hours I went from "I don't think I belong here" to "These are my people." I know that anytime I mentioned that I was going to a blogging conference, my offline friends were picturing a geek-meet in somebody's basement, but that was as professional and as creative a group of women as I have ever encountered, and I was proud to be in their number.

More and more, I see writing online that's easily the match of anything like it in print. Except there isn't really anything like it in print, and that's the point. Just like photography can't be equated with painting, even though they are both visual; blogging can't be equated with print, even though are they both written. It's a unique medium, and it has to be judged on its own emerging standards.

One of the speakers at the conference, Penelope Trunk gave this interview with my friend Stephanie, where she talked about being very critical of early blog writing, only to have a mentor tell her that she needed to cut people who were developing the new medium a little slack, because they were doing something no one had done before. I don't think this medium still needs a handicap, but I do think we are still making it up as we go along, still seeing what this baby can do. And it's incredibly exciting.

On the days when I've written something here that I'm proud of, or when another blogger's writing tears me open with its beauty, or makes me envious of its poetry, or pushes me to write better —well, it feels a little like this:

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Blogger island sweet said...

because (for no particular reason) i only read women's blogs i think of us all as 19th century women sitting in our parlours writing letters. some of the most amazing writing of "real life" with little recognition. but that's ok. we know...

1:19 PM  
Blogger Stephanie Roberts said...

There is something wonderfully dangerous and ambitious about this method of communication/expression as your video suggests. Yes, it feels good to help broaden the definition of art.

1:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I started my own blog I was embarrassed to tell people. It felt like mental masterbation and there I was hairy palms out, exposing myself to the world. But more and more I am feeling comfortable, justified, a blogger in an emporium of Good Vibrations. I hope to be able to attend Blogher this year, a swingers party of bloggers. I am getting a little uncomfortable with how far I'm taking this metaphor :) so I will just end by saying how very much I love reading your work, your art.

2:21 PM  
Blogger Charlotte said...

I'm a lurker, turning up to say I love your blog and read it regularly. I've always admired your commitment to quality over quantity and may take that up as my own goal for next year.

As a non-North American, though, I have to add that I don't get BlogHer. My blog is listed there, but I haven't found it an extremely useful place for social or any other kind of networking. A large percentage of my blog-friends are North American so it's not that I'm speaking a different language. Maybe my personal blogosphere gives me the support, interest and fabulous reading that BlogHer gives you. Or maybe I need to visit a conference and have my eyes opened.

2:30 PM  
Blogger Kyran said...

Charlotte, I hate to admit it because it's so very uncool, but I am a "joiner", so I was predisposed to like blogher, as a concept. I was reading and commenting on the blogher website long before I attended the conference.

Still, I would encourage anyone to attend, and bring a spirit of "what you put in is what you get back". I not only made a lot of terrific and influential contacts, I made wonderful friends and had a blast.

3:57 PM  
Blogger Deb said...

Just as the choice of medium doesn't define "art" I don't think art has anything to do with your subject or your tools. Humor or "entertainment" can be art, and can fail as art, just as more serious content can connect or fall flat. Deconstructing the culture and reconstructing it to provide a distinct perspective is entirely relevant as an artistic approach and in fact is needed by a culture in order to advance. Many analysts think it is popular with the masses because it communicates, and is the most egalitarian of forms. It is also particularly suited to blogging--on the fly, to the minute, contemporary deconstrution. But it is always dissed, just like Chaucer's bawdy tales, or Swift, or early Pop Art, by the cultural elite.I guess what I'm thinking is that Snark is Art, too. (Hey, I should make that T-shirt.)

I love that you are inspiring thinking about these things.

4:04 PM  
Blogger /\ said...

i used to get so angry reading anecdotes about famous writers and their antics. i am envious not because of their fame and talent but simply they got to hang out with other writers, the bastards! the first real selfish thrill for me in this medium was having someone leave a comment along the lines of, 'I never comment here because I am intimidated by this group of people,' and I thought, oh yeah, now I AM THE BASTARD.

the writing, the instant feedback, yes, but that 'these are my people' feeling that you mention, that is it for me. to have broken bread in real life with so many of them is as futilely describable as art, as well.

5:54 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Although I'm a guy and thereby (I'm pretty sure) in the minority here, I do think you are helping to define the art form. Please continue. We'll keep reading.

8:46 PM  
Blogger chickadee said...

i agree that the instant feedback is such a motivation to continue writing.

i enjoyed your post here and the comments as well which are things i have thought about too.

btw, i came here through the good housekeeping thing. great job on that. i always wonder how bloggers end up there.

12:54 AM  
Blogger Jena Strong said...

Hi Kyran -

Just discovered your blog via Meg Casey. Reading your post and looking at your poems I feel a kindred spirit - short on controversy and long on introspection. The experience you describe at the Blogher conference has me so intrigued; I am wondering if I may be standing on the edge of blogging becoming more, or leading to more, or at the very least forging some real relationships and connections, online and off. Makes me realize how hungry I am for this conversation.

Wishing you a beautiful new year and looking forward to reading Notes to Self in 2008.

xo Jena

9:11 AM  
Blogger Julie @ Letter9 said...

Your baby sister is kind of brilliant, huh? I go back and forth about how I see my own blog -- as a writing exercise for myself, as a way to connect to specific readers, as an interesting way to find a new audience, as so many other things. I also go back and forth about whether blogging is, for me, something that captures a moment without much thought (a snapshot) or whether it is something more planned, more substantial (a portrait).

Nice analogy.

12:11 PM  

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