Last week when I was in Saratoga Springs for the New York State Summer Writers Workshop, Phillip Lopate quietly mentioned that for a year he wrote a weekly blog in the American Scholar journal. He quietly mentions everything so I thought I might have misheard this. Phillip Lopate said he wrote a blog? He used first person “I” and the word “blog” in the same sentence? Mind you, I am pretty sure he said “wrote a blog”; pray God, he didn’t say, “I’m a blogger.” First and foremost, Phil is a writer and must stay true to that for the earth to continue its orderly revolution around the sun.
Late last Thursday night back in my dorm room, after the 8 p.m. reading and reception that lasted until 10:30, I googled Phillip Lopate. And sure enough, there is a hit for Phillip Lopate and American Scholar. I recognize it. I had seen it in prior searches but had assumed that the American Scholar had only mentioned Lopate in an article. I didn’t click on this hit when I saw it earlier. There’s just enough dirt left under my fingernails and farmer’s tan on my arms to give the American Scholar a curt turn of the head. Accompanied by an eyebrow raise and eyeball bulge, not to be confused with an eyeball roll.
I landed on the last entry he wrote from that year-long commitment: On Keeping a Blog -- A Farewell. I was relieved to see that his sentiment about that genre mirrored much of my own. I would never blog. No, for I may send weekly emails, and I may post my weekly writing on my website, but I shudder when I am placed anywhere near the word “blogger.” Admittedly, that reflex has settled a bit over the last couple years, for I know it’s hard to put a finger on what I do. I spent nine years trying to identify myself, and for the brevity of what I write and the frequency I ship it, I could certainly be labeled a… well, you know.
Within Phil’s only blog post I’ve read thus far, one name he used for such writing was essayette. What a precise word. And, it’s so freshly minted that my spell check is having fits with it. I love when that happens – I prefer it to happen with one of my own creations, but I get the same devious smile on my face with this one as well.
I have privately, thoroughly defined these terms – blog, blogging, and blogger, such that I can use the format of the genre without being fully committed to what I perceive to be its true definition. First, the format of a blog is to post something short on a website and send a note to subscribers telling them it’s there. Yes, that fits me and the musings I write. However, my tribe of subscribers is quite ornery. I’ve sent many of them personal musings via email for nine years, and now, to get them to go to my new beautiful website to read each week’s musing is impossible. They have no problem opening my emails, but they see that click to “Read More” on my website as an invitation down a rabbit hole. And they are people with real lives who do not have the time to scoot down a rabbit shoot. I love their orneriness. Their allegiance and feedback have been gold coins in my coffer for many years; they can do whatever they like – preferable that doesn’t include clicking “unsubscribe.” I love them all equally, but if someone who has been a quiet reader lets me know that a specific musing spoke to them, their confession gives strong credence to my occupation.
Second, blogging. Very close to the definition of blog. If I wrote the definition, it would be to create a blog. And then you would have to scurry back to blog to see what that meant.
Then comes blogger.
Marketing guru Seth Godin calls for people to ship. Don’t wait for perfection. Ship. Ship into the world and good things will happen. Through the genre of blog, I do just that – a weekly shipment of what I write. And there’s the key difference between me and this outlet. I do not self-identify with the noun “blogger." I am a writer. I do not make a living blogging. (Sadly, I do not make a living writing either, but that’s a story for a different time.) I have refused from day one to run an ad on my website to make money. I refuse to bastardize my site and interrupt my words with attempts at profit. If someone takes the time to come to my site and read, so shall it be. Without interruption or pop-ups that reflect what they last searched for on google or some bandit ad in the middle of a musing.
I see now, after reading Phillip Lopate’s blog post on the American Scholar’s website, that I’ve been too narrowly defining blogs. Lopate’s essayette was published without the interruptions I mention above. I have some reading to catch up on in back issues of the American Scholar.
Call me what you like. Whether through age or practice, I’m pretty thick-skinned. And ornery. So if you say, “I read your blog post today!” I will process, “I read your essayette today!” And hopefully, we’ll both be content – you with what you read and me with the fact that you took the time to read it.
P.S. Sometimes I imagine getting characters together in a particular setting just to watch and to listen to the interaction; then I start willing it to happen with specific details that must play out. This morning, Phil Lopate is on the ranger with my dad checking fence lines in the timber where the cows graze – and the ranger is powered by an electric golf cart motor so that my dad can hear Phil and actually converse. And, Dad has his hearing aids in. They are talking about common sense. And cows. I’ve always loved fairy tales.