Thursday, May 26, 2005

staying true

This entry was originally posted on November 9, 2004 in the IT Kitchen:

From the genre corner…
There is a constant rule of advice given to new bloggers: stick close to your subject. Don’t dilute it by wandering around into other areas.

I don’t usually heed that advice, and frankly, I am not so sure that it is all that helpful.
If you are setting up yourself as an authority in your specific area (be it gardening or tennis or molecular biology) then perhaps it is good advice. If readers are coming to you for specific information, then the tone of your blog ought to have some discipline, some hardnosed focus.
But frankly, we can buy disciplined writing in books, magazines and newspapers.

Humans write blogs. Not titled authors. Not powerful publishing and media companies.
There is a warts and all feel to blog writing. Words get put down that include references to the fellow belching next to us at the coffee shop, to the jerk who cut us off this afternoon, to the kind fellow who stopped and helped us in a moment of need.

My own romantic fantasy is that blogs are equivalent of the 18th or 19th century journal, or the well-penned letter from one literate writer to another literate reader.

So while our focus or passion may be about one thing, we might include others.
The late great Henry Mitchell was the garden writer for the Washington Post. I don’t believe Mitchell started out as a garden writer, but he fell into it. Same for Katharine White (Upward and Onward in the Garden).

His garden writings were published after his too soon death. They are collections of his columns from the Post, and to read them is follow the seasons, and his obsessions and interests. He hated certain ornamental cherry trees. Didn’t see any use for them. Thought they didn’t belong in the landscape. He was ferocious about irises. At one point, he had thousands of them. He writes that he took a day off just to walk around his blooming irises, trying to appreciate those incredibly complex blossoms that only last a few days. They were superior to the everblooming, boring annuals that dominated many American gardens in the latter part of the 20th Century, and I am sure that he would agree that they were better than many of the new perennial cultivars that provide constant boring bloom (think stella d’ora day lilies ).

He also dropped in references to dogs. And to humans who make the choices that they make in their gardens. There is a roughness to his writing, but it is never silly, or hypey-fake, the kind of writing that Americans eat-up wholesale, particularly on television (think sit-coms or any words written by a local television newscast chatter, or for that matter almost any American DIY cable show).

There are garden bloggers that are much better than me at staying close to the topic of gardening. But even in their reporting on their gardens, I cannot help but appreciate the little bits of themselves, their frustrations and joys, their fears and understandings that they so generously share with me.

Genre blogs do not display the arc of a good long novel, or a series of tightly written and well-thought arguments. They are notes from a corner, maybe a small corner, maybe a big one. My own sense is that this little golden age of blogging won’t last—that new technology will come along making us radio bloggers or tv/film bloggers to the extent that we lose this odd, populist outburst of the written word. But until that day happens, may lots of them continue thriving.


Shelley said...

Luckily this one was preserved. Still hunting up other ones. Saddens my heart the backup was damaged.

Don said...

Shelley -- I always intended to save those posts but had not. Thanks again for the opportunity to participate in the IT Kitchen. You did an amazing and creative job in putting that together.

A pox on anybody who says different!