Friday, November 7, 2014

On Whittling, Pickling and Blogging

I am going to break character for a bit today.  I don't usually talk about blogging and, to be honest, I recently promised myself I would just sort of ignore the fact that I am indeed a blogger.  Honestly, I consider myself more of a memoirist at best, an archivist at least.  That's all fine and good, but the fact remains that what I do here is called "blogging" and the site that hosts my stuff is called "Blogger."

But what is this thing we do?  I'd guess the answer to that is as varied as the number of folks that do it.  I've just done an exhaustive twenty minute search in an attempt to define the genre.  Not so easy.  Basically, this seems to be the consensus, a regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style.  Simple enough.  As a contrast, this is what I found on the Urban Dictionary site, Short for weblog.
A meandering, blatantly uninteresting online diary that gives the author the illusion that people are interested in their stupid, pathetic life. Consists of such riveting entries as "homework sucks" and "I slept until noon today."  
Well, I can't really say that is inaccurate.

As I looked around today at the various definitions and references to "blogs" I found, it wasn't until I got to Wikipedia that the term was linked to business and commercialism and consumerism.  Blogs were not conceived as commercial entities, I think that is important to note.  Personally, I made a vow when I started doing this that mine would remain ad-free.  In fact, in the last couple of years, I have taken to telling folks, if it comes up, that I write a "non-commercial" blog.  I do this because many of the people who might come here have become jaded and annoyed by the commercialization of the internet and they are - I think justifiably - hesitant to even look at blogs because so many are so blatantly commercial.

I read a lot of blogs, mostly parenting blogs, and am increasingly turned off by the number of ads and sponsored content I see, even pop-ups and self-loading videos, more each week it seems.  Often, I can't even figure out where the content begins and the ads end.  On the other hand, I read dozens of blogs with unobtrusive ads or none at all and, even as I admit that it is to them I return again and again, I cannot say which is better, that's not up to me.

If you want to know the truth, I am taking a risk talking about this.  It may ostracize me from a community that I very much enjoy.  However, for every one overtly commercial blog there are probably dozens of relatively ad-free and sponsorless folks just writing.  Writing about their lives, their kids, their hopes and fears, joys and failures and it is them I wish to recognize, them I want you to consider, they who merit the kind of attention that stems from the heart and not the pocketbook.

When I was a boy, the grandfather of a friend of mine whittled chess pieces out of oak branches which fell into my friends yard.  I can see him now, either on the front porch of my friend Don's home or, in winter, inside a garage next to the house which was heated with an old coal-fired furnace.  Honestly, they weren't exquisite, in fact they were rough and simple but the lines were elegant and what I remember most was his concentration and, well, joy in carving them.  He died when we were in high school and the porch seemed so empty and the garage so silent.

I lost touch with Don when I went to college and tried to shed my small town roots and soul.  In recent years though I have seen him around a few times and I mentioned the carved chess pieces.  He told me that a few years after his "Pap" passed he and one of his brothers were hanging a new electric engine hoist from the joists of that old garage.  Over in a corner, out of sight, were about thirty hand made wooden boxes each containing a chess set, nestled in straw, waiting.  Most had names in them, names of daughters and sons and grandchildren and friends.  He'd carved each set for someone, hidden them away, a quiet gift, a piece of him.  My old friend, Don, cherishes his.

My childhood friend JB's mother, Mrs. B, canned, jarred or pickled just about everything that grew in our rural corner of the Ohio valley.  She made applesauce and canned beets and green beans.  She jarred pears and apricots and jellied strawberries, plums and grapes.  She pickled every imaginable variety of cucumber, sometimes sweet, sometimes sour, sometimes somehow both.  Tomatoes were sauced and stewed and put in Mason jars.  She also made an amber dandelion wine I've talked of before and Concord grape juice and bottled it all in small clip top bottles.

Year after year this amazing yield was placed on sturdy hand-made shelves, eight, maybe ten of them, which Mr. B had nestled in above the washer and dryer in a small room off their family room.  Each with a lip on the front so the jars could not be jostled off.  It is not the boiling pans of jellies and brine, not the pots and pots of sterilizing jars, not the hand grinder she used to mill the apples and grapes, not the acidic smell of stewing tomatoes or the tear-inducing piles of onions waiting to be pickled with ginger into an onion kraut or even the overbearing heat of it all that I remember best.  No, it is those larder laden shelves I recall so vividly, arranged so practically and beautifully on those hand-crafted shelves, a labor of love and commitment and joy.  God, they were a beautiful sight.

A hootenanny comes to mind.  It's a silly word, to be sure, but, when I was younger, it was what we called a group of guys and gals getting together, playing guitars and whatever was close by, singing and drinking into the late night.  We all frequently played together - this was in my college years and just after - but every now and again we'd have a party, call it a "hoot" and, well, it was.  But something else happened, something important.  We performed.  We nailed leads.  We remembered all the words.  We found evasive harmonies.  We looked each other in the eye, proud as we celebrated the songs and friends we loved.

Our collective songbook was mostly the folk and early rock we grew up on.  Songs I still play today, songs I bet all those guys still play today.  (Don't you guys... and gals?  It just occurred to me that maybe a dozen of those folks read this blog.  I told you it was something important.)  I sometimes wish they had been recorded, or at least chronicled in some way, a photo or a song list in a forgotten guitar case.  They weren't.  There are a few recordings of this or that, mixed and overdubbed on rudimentary cassette tape technology, embarrassingly crude and raw.  I don't really know where they are.  I wouldn't listen to them if I did.  But, sometimes as I belt out "This Land Is Your Land" I nearly weep at the beauty of those long ago singalongs.

I must, and do, have a point.  My friend Don's grandfather never considered making hand carved chess sets to sell them.  I knew the man and I am sure it never occurred to him.  In fact, only happenstance ever brought them to the hands for whom they were made.  Mrs. B would have never dreamed of putting up canned goods for profit.  She did it because she wanted a family fed, traditions followed and passed on, and a shelf of hope in her basement.  When my friends and I jammed out in a living-room or around a campfire back in the seventies and eighties we weren't doing it to be the next Pete or Joan or Woody or Bob, you know, for commercial success.  No, we were just making some beautiful music together.

When we make something, sing something, arrange something we made beautifully; when we make picket rail fences and fashion quilts from scraps and bake bread; when we write poems on scraps of paper and pen long love letters; when we create these things hoping not for the gold of reward but merely the quicksilver of memory, we are artists.

I have long loved folk art.  It is difficult to define and encompasses everything from the tangible paintings and sculptures and carvings of antiquity to the intangible traditions of the dying arts of craftsmen - the print-makers and the ironsmiths and mountain fiddlers and the cloistered poets.  It seems that every definition and explanation included the fact that that it was art by and for the people.  Music and dance and paintings and traditions that all bubble up from the very soul of us.  Art we are compelled to make and take in and art we intrinsically understand and essentially need.

I think blogging is a folk art.  Sure, there are times when it becomes a Fine Art, but the majority of those are from writers who choose the internet as their medium.  And yes, some blogs are designed and fashioned to be commercial exploits.  But, as I listen to fellow bloggers, I hear over and over again that their true and original reason for starting was because they wanted to create something for others, often their children as in my case, but for family and friends, lovers and like-minded souls as well.  Rarely, particularly for those who have been around a while, was a blog created initially and intentionally to make money.

Listen, truth is only a few people will have a look at this.  My reach is limited and my blog is an inconsequential blip in the wide world of blogs.  I respect and read a number of commercial blogs, I can hardly avoid it because a lot of great stories and wisdom are coming from them.  However, I do think that I get a lot more from a blogger who writes from his heart, about his heart, and through his heart than I do from one who is writing from his pocketbook, about things that clearly don't matter to him or her, and through a wall of ads and pop-ups.  Also, I think blogging is already on the decline.  I think in a decade or less it will be relegated to a "remember when" or a punchline on a late night talk-show.  Blogger, where I write, may someday start making me have ads, and I will no longer be able to afford a domain and a host, and I'll have to shut down.  But, it's all backed up, I could print it out tomorrow, place it on a shelf and hope that it finds its way.

So, you may be wondering why I have lined up these words today, words that may get me in trouble, words that may seem hurtful to some, words that may seem mean or discouraging.  Well, I want my fellow folk art bloggers to know that I am listening to them, that I admire them, that I cherish them as they will be cherished someday ... and, well, ultimately, that is my point:  Nick and Zack, I never even considered exploiting you in any way, nor did I.


Now, back to our originally scheduled programming.

Thanks for stopping by, I know for many it wasn't what you've come to expect around here.  I'll work on something else today as well. 


  1. I've never cared for the term blogger nor do I ever introduce myself as such. That said I have done more than a fair share of sponsored content over the years and not once did it ever feel like I was exploiting my kids, rather, it provided them opportunities that they would never know otherwise, many of which they will most likely cherish as some of their favorite childhood experiences. I'm okay with that. There is no shortage of sand to draw our lines in.

  2. Why do you think blogging is on the way out? More and more people are doing it. DO you think it is getting over saturated?
    You seem to be comfortable with where you are in terms of your blogging. I vacillate - sometimes truly hungry for big numbers and other times I'm content with where I am.