Finding ‘Narrative,’ ver. 1.2

Candyce Canzioneri took this photo of the woods along Alum Creek, Westerville, Ohio

Blog reading has displaced some of my discretionary reading. It’s probably one reason I don’t follow the news as closely anymore. Writers must read what others in their genre are doing, though I’d been posting for almost two years before I started actually reading blogs. Bloggers often impress me greatly. One writes so elegantly; another seems so delightfully concise; another has such colloquial snap. Like any writing done well, a deft blog post is much harder to do than it looks.

But I read blogs now not just because I am trying to do better as a blogger in the narrow sense. I’m hooked by the notion of someone hanging it out there, trying to make sense of his or her chosen domain, while presenting a pleasing or stimulating or unified persona. When I have a little melt down, when I wonder which self I’m trying to present here, I need to read more of my fellow scribes. For beyond using sentences well, what they’re doing is delicate, this crafting of a public self, an avatar for their qualities of X, Y, and Z.

At base there’s T.S. Eliot’s haunting, immortal question in Prufrock: how to prepare a face for the faces that you meet? In cyberspace, we prepare that face in print. It’s a performance, yes. But a mask that reveals, too.

And yet, when I look at my WordPress report on the search terms that some use to find Narrative, I know other readers have other motives. My review, some time ago, of T. Corragesan Boyle’s The Inner Circle must have sent this person here: “iris milk + Kinsey.” And the search “evolutionary psychology global warming” astounds me, since I did join in a brief post those two disparate topics into an odd, obscure union.

Clearly some seekers want help with assignments: “fourth grade narrative essay on nat turner”; “why did nat turner murder”; “summarize the book by vivian gornick ‘the situation and the story’”; “what insights about the writing process have been sparked while developing your narrative essay? what ignited them and what impact have they had on you and this essay?”; “good sentences to make essay impressive.”

But it appears teachers are looking too: “narrative nonfiction books for first grade.” And writers, maybe, or more students: “adverbs used in a narrative essay.”

And, once again, in the imponderable category: “money made man mad”; “crazy narration of personal blog”; “who is annie dillards audience”; a search for “nerrative”; “the same fear that has caused me to push coretta away back in grammar” [school?]; “what was learned in the updike’s story with the word flat?”; “examples of good narrative stories someone gets trapped”; and “jessica naim truthful lips.”

I have no idea what the last means, don’t want to know, and wonder why in the world that person was referred to my blog. Last but not least, the Amen, Brother category: “we construct a narrative for ourselves, and that’s the thread we follow from one day to the next.”

A related issue: When I post, WordPress suggests “possibly related posts (automatically generated).” Sometimes the reason is clear (I’ve written about an author named recently in someone’s else’s blog) and sometimes it’s mystifying.

In either case, I’ve discovered interesting blogs that way. When I reviewed Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir, WordPress linked me to Disillusioned Librarian Blog, a Canadian on books . . . and the disillusionment of being a librarian. While I couldn’t ascertain the reason for the link to my post, I added its RSS feed to my Google page.

It was nice while it lasted; now it appears to be defunct, the librarian having stopped posting almost exactly a year ago. Aren’t abandoned blogs spooky? Like a house someone walked away from. All the lights are still burning, and it’s unlocked, so you can wander around inside, but no one is home. It’s creepy, and you just know there’s a story there.


Filed under audience, MY LIFE

13 responses to “Finding ‘Narrative,’ ver. 1.2

  1. Scribbly Jane

    What interesting insight into the world of blogging. I too find it fascinating to see how & why people link to my blog (so glad you did and vice versa). When I want a break from writing I treat myself to a few minutes surfing my favorite writing blogs and always come away with a smile or having learned something. I started my blog to create a platform for when I finish my book, but now it has evolved into a useful exercise to organize my thoughts on writing, similar to journal entries. Somehow knowing there are other writers wrestling with words out there makes sitting alone at my desk a less lonely pursuit. I feel bolstered by the supportive community we have in the blogosphere.

    • Thank you, Beth. It has surprised me the sustenance to be drawn from blogs! I don’t know if I would have realized this until I started writing one. The other way round is probably better, but the end result is the same.

  2. theexile

    Writing is an extenstion of the self, or least one aspect of us, one persona. My blogger persona is supposed to be literary, but sometimes it becomes much more personal, writing essay-posts on my personal life/writing life, especially when the real world interferes with the creative self.

    I find it fascinating the searches I get, too. “inside a body” comes up often because I experiemented with a long multi-post essay on my experience with an appendectomy, the only time I’ve ever beeen hospitalized.

  3. I have no idea how I came across your blog, but I’ve had the feed saved for a short time and have been enjoying your posts.

    I just love how this form has taken off – I am mad about the personal story, and I believe everyone should have the chance to tell his/her own for all kinds of reasons. Blogging is a wonderful format for that. It also gives one the chance to interact with like minds and to define/re-define/re-invent the self.

    I don’t usually get much response from my creative writing students (memoir, creative non-fiction) when I encourage them to start blogs. Mostly because they want to get immersed in traditional publishing or they want to be the next J.K. Rowling or somewhere in between. Most of them can’t see any tangible benefit to blogging, despite my arguments that it gives them exposure, practice, practice, practice, a platform on which to explore creatively, a forum on which to develop one’s voice and hone craft, a place – and an excuse to journal, and with a growing bloggerly audience – the motivation to write more. There is that trap of wanting to be a great writer right away and to be paid handsomely for it, and forgetting that in order to become a better – even good – even great – writer, you have to write a lot.

    I’m fortunate – I have a job that has extended slow periods mixed with extended crazy ones. I use the slow periods to find more bloggers. I can’t get enough of us.

    Loved this post!

  4. Oh, you must know I can relate to this post so well. One of the great aspects of having writerly friends in the blogosphere is that they tend to actually understand and be interested in what we are doing, plus it is exceedingly unlikely that they will ever knock on your door or show up hoping for dinner. (Low maintenance, high return friends: incredibly valuable to my well-being as a person who spends a lot of time alone in my study in the woods scribbling.)

    My biggest reason for sometimes quitting my blog is the knowledge that some members of my family read it. I fear it confirms their suspicions that I always was, and still am, a self-centered little prima donna!

    But then I get over myself, and continue this most pleasurable pursuit.

    • In my experience, Beth, family may kindly subscribe but do they read? I feel sort of bad for once urging or wanting family members to read mine, now that it has become what it is, a writerly thing, as you say. And blogs are an acquired habit for me, so if they don’t follow any others they likely don’t “get” the thing even if they do read it. Sort of like expecting family to get a memoir, I guess, if they don’t read that genre, either.

  5. Daiva Markelis

    Great to get back to reading the few blogs that I do. Winter was tough–lots of snow here in Central Illinois combined with lots of work. And I can’t work on snow days. I feel obliged to read for pleasure and to knit. I love your blog, Richard. You have great taste in books, and your own personal writing is nuanced, colorful, personal. I’m struggling with the fact that I may not be a born blogger, that I may become a spooky non-presence on the internet. Then again, not blogging gives me more time to work on lengthier projects and to treat myself to reading the few blogs that I do read.

  6. “Aren’t abandoned blogs spooky? Like a house someone walked away from. All the lights are still burning, and it’s unlocked, so you can wander around inside, but no one is home. It’s creepy, and you just know there’s a story there.”
    Richard, this is a fabulous image. I love it and am going to just let it hang in my head for a while. I read this post earlier in the week and am just now getting around to commenting. I appreciate all of the points you make here and am quizzical myself at some of the bizarre paths by which people find my blog. Almost daily now at least one hit comes from someone typing, “Emma Peel.” As in the case of that post and others that pop up based on the presence of far more tangential words, I’m sure the reader wonders, “what the heck?”
    Do you know of any studies or rhetorical analyses of personal blogs? I think it would be fascinating to study, but at this point I would be perfectly content to read someone else’s astute observations. I fear I am starting to drive some of my colleagues a bit crazy with my obsession with this topic.

  7. Hi Mary. I am not aware of any scholarly blog studies, but surely many are going on. You might use Academic Search Complete or such a service to search. I bet you would be inundated!

  8. Great post. I’d forgotten the T.S.Eliot quote. Identity–obsessed with it at the moment. And great comments here as well. Wish there were some LIKE buttons like on FB : )