The Thoughtful Blogger

 

Have you ever analyzed what blogging means to you and how it influences what you write? You could learn a lot. Recently, I did just that for Esther Prokopienko, a grad student at the College of Saint Rose. Researching both the act and platform of blogging, she incorporated the following answers into her research and posted the resulting paper, The Scholarly Writer/Blogger: A New Discursive Space, on her own blog, Esther’s Space.

1. How long have you been blogging? Why did you choose to begin? Do you notice any changes in your writing/thinking process from before you were a blogger to now, as an active blogger? Do you use blogging as a way of thinking through ideas? How do you use the different mediums (journals, blogs, livejournals, etc) for thinking and writing?

While spending a great deal of time overseas as a flight attendant (1997-2001), I had begun a blog of sorts, The Lincoln Street Chronicles, to keep friends and family updated on my personal activities and observations. I’d also share pre-digital, scanned photos of my layovers. That primitive HTML site was hosted by Geocities and I would add entries to the top of a free, single and static web page. There was no mechanism for readers to enter comments, but I sometimes posted interesting email replies under the main post. I certainly wasn’t the only person doing this, but I suspect that blogs, as they are known today, stemmed from this type of “web logging.”

I have been blogging officially since January 2007 when required to do so for a college literary theory class. Transitioning to a more sophisticated data entry system and the access to an extensive, searchable catalogue of Google Images added for multi-layered meaning was quite exciting. After I resigned from flying, my writing had become private again, hand written within various small, decorative journals. I had forgotten how much I missed my online interactions until assigned my first class task, to write an introduction about myself, a task that included a carefully selected picture of a toilet.

I thought, initially, that the informal style I used to record thoughts and feelings about places I had visited would not translate well to academic theory analysis. I was wrong. I quickly realized that it was the perfect tool to express my frustration with my lack of quick and easy understanding. In fact, while venting about how difficult Bakhtin?s theory was to grasp upon first reading, I had a bit of fun creating dialogue as if I were speaking with him. His picture looks down upon my own as he encourages me to take another look at what he has to say. When I do, I gain more understanding and share that understanding with my classmates. In this and later posts, I draw parallels between the material and various pop cultural phenomena such as Madonna?s affinity for sparkly things and Star Trek’s arch enemy of assimilation, the Borg.

Creating written content, through blogging or any other kind of writing, forces me to engage more thoroughly with the material. Fleeting thoughts must be carefully molded into cohesive ideas. In my mind, because blogs are designed for a wider audience than that of a private scholastic paper read by a single professor, the inherent design infuses an added responsibility to entertain (or at least engage) a larger audience. It also adds importance, when presenting interpretations publicly, to ensure accuracy. To get sloppy is to risk public humiliation on the world stage. This is the additional pressure of academia in the blogosphere, a place where unknown professors are looking for lesson plans, students are looking for clues in order to grasp difficult topics, and, in the case of a particular international literary journal that pirated one of my posts, editors are looking for material to publish.

2. Describe what you write. What makes the blog an appropriate avenue for exploring your topic? Do you have a separate personal blog and a more academic blog, or are they one? Do you think of your blog as a personal space, or as a space to engage in discussion with others?

The majority of my blogging tends to focus on class discussion topics or to stem from assignments. As my collection grew, I decided to make this a repository for all my academic writing. I have since added and back dated assignments from other classes in order to keep a mind-expansion record of sorts.

To talk of academic writing alone would only portray half of the story. At some point, after talking with two friends about the first and last time I ate haggis, I pulled an old journal entry from that day, posted it to my blog and shared the link. When I first did this, I knew that classmates would also be able to read about my adventure. This was the day I discovered a use for categories and tags, an easy way to delimit the personal from the scholastic within the same blog. From then on, Daily Drivel became the category of choice for anything personal.

The terms “personal space” and “blog” are incongruous to me. The fact that readers from all walks of life and from all over the world have the ability to comment make this space public. In fact, I have learned to limit the presence of my personal snippets, or at least writing that is meaningful to me, thanks to the advent of Google AdSense. It seems that the new trend for “entrepreneurs” is to steal posts from other blogs, post them to their own site, sign up with Google AdSense and have Google place topic specific advertisements in their sidebars. When people land on these sites and click the sidebar ad, the blog thief capitalizes on writing that is not their own. This has happened twice, putting the onus on me to prove my identity by sending a copy of my passport as well as the original site of authorship prior to Google shutting down the culprit. Apparently blogging is no longer enough. Now one most police their posts as well.

3. When writing a blog post, how do you imagine yourself as the writer? How much of your writing is “real you” and how much is a portion of you- writer you, blogger you, academic you?

I have heard this question asked before and still don’t know how to reply. I do not picture myself compartmentalized in such clear terms. My humor almost always enters into my academic writing, for better or worse, so that could probably be read as “the real me” shining through. Since the academic scope of my writing is based in deep-seated curiosity, even that is “the real me.”

What I can say about writing, in any format, is that I am far more confident using the written word than I am with engaging in the messy act of unleashing my ideas verbally. I am more apt to express my actual thoughts in writing than when under the gun to speak in public, a task that strikes terror into the depths of my soul. In fact, when speaking, I often cannot find those words most important to conveying my idea at all.

4. When you are writing, do you imagine an audience? Do you know your audience personally? Has your blog provided opportunities for you to meet others with the same interests? Have you ever consciously chosen to write/not write something because of concern over your readers? possible responses? Do you ever use blog feedback to generate new blogs?

My audience, beyond my classmates, is typically envisioned as a big, black void. Brave confidence in writing only goes so far when I never know what is coming at me from the dark recesses of the internet. Some expert can come along and tell me I?ve got it all wrong, which I would actually welcome, but I am careful not to write much about politics for fear of a giant slamfest. My political opinions are only now becoming part of the majority point of view. The past eight years have been a different story.

I broke this political silence recently when I received a friend?s response to my Facebook tagline that sparked a political discussion. Moving the discussion from one platform to another, I transferred it to my blog and kept my correspondent-in-crime anonymous. This would be the closest I have ever come to generating new posts from blog feedback.

Post inspiration is most likely to come from my in-depth comment on other blogs rather than blog feedback. When I receive a comment, of course that sparks conversation. I simply tend to keep topic conversations confined to a single post, sometimes replying with as much as an essay-length response rather than breaking out a new post.

5. What are your blog stats? What is an average number of visitors to your blog per day? What areas of your blog are the most popular? Are there particular topics that elicit a higher readership? How has your readership changed over time?

My most famous blog post of all time is called “Foucault, Foot Lickers, & 7 Foot Sex Symposium.” This post is a Foucaultian interpretation of a college faculty reading in which one essay examined how wrong the fetish of foot-licking seems to be while another explored the ways housing a seven foot tall painting of a bikini clad couple for a friend changes one’s life. Both essays had, in my mind, proven Foucault?s point that in all the ways we try to avoid talking about sex, a discourse is thus created.

Search terms for this particular post are less than academic: foot lick, foot licking, lick foot, licking feet, lick feet, feet lick, feet licker, sex foot, sex feet, feet sex, foot sex, footsex, and so on. 2008 has yielded 2,736 hits for this post alone, up from a measly 300 from May-Dec. in 2007.

Close seconds include posts on Cindy Sherman and Linda Hutcheon, both of the postmodern persuasion.

Oddly, political posts get the fewest hits so perhaps it’s time to shelve that unfounded fear of a slam fest from folks who disagree with my views. Good to know.

Will the Real Harvey Pekar Please Step Up?

American Splendor, the film

Available on Amazon

From the beginning of Berman and Pulcini?s American Splendor (2003), we are presented with many versions of Harvey Pekar:

  • A comic strip frames Harvey Pekar (Daniel Tay), an uncostumed kid on Halloween in 1950. When asked what he?s dressed as, we learn that this kid is no super hero. He cranks off, ?I?m Harvey Pekar. I?m just a kid from the neighborhood? and storms off with the voices of kids mocking his name in fading echos.
  • If memory serves correctly, we hold that same external comic frame and fade the content to actor Paul Giamatti walking that same street?playing the film?s character “all grown up.”
  • A voiceover of the real Pekar tells us Harvey Pekar is also a real guy and we eventually meet that guy in a sound studio being interviewed, documentary style, by Shari Springer Berman.
  • Interspersed are comic renditions of the character talking to us in bubbles, telling us about who he is.
  • Giamatti thinks in bubble text at the supermarket where the idea for American Splendor was born.
  • We meet?the comic renditions?of Pekar again at the the train station when Joyce Brabner (Hope Davis) arrives for the first time.
  • Later, we get clips of the real Pekar on ?Late Night with David Letterman.?
  • Giamatti?also stages Pekar?s volatile GE/NBC blast on the same show.
  • Last but not least, we see one more permutation when Giamatti acts repulsed while watching a play about Pekar played by Donal Logue when the voiceover adds that he, the real Pekar, wonders how he?ll feel seeing Giamatti play him in this movie.

The genious mix of reality and fiction is?enough to make my head spin…

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Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle

Algonquin Painting

In Brian Gilbert?s Wilde (1997), we discover the early nature of Oscar Wilde?s fame (played by Stephen Fry) from a conversation between the characters of Ada Leverson (Zo? Wanamaker) and Lady Mount-Temple (Judy Parfitt):

Lady Mount-Temple: I know your friend is famous, Ada.
Ada Leverson: Notorious, at least.
Lady Mount-Temple: But I don’t understand for what.
Ada Leverson: For being himself, Lady Mount-Temple.

Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dorothy ParkerIn Alan Randolph?s Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994), this type of fame is said to be true of Dorothy Parker (Jennifer Jason Leigh) as well. The repetition of this notion (in?these and other?films)?suggests that writers have a?larger-than-life personality and high social profile in addition to the work they produce. While we know this to be untrue, particularly?since writers lead much of their lives behind a desk?writing about subjects other than themselves, only those eccentric, dramatic?and often tragic figures?lead lives worthy of having films made about them. Unless we look beyond the film portrayals, what an audience is left with is the notion that all authors must experience adventurous escapades to craft good work.

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Objectivity: A Question of Perspective

In reference to whether or not the gonzo journalism of Hunter S. Thompson as portrayed in the 1997 film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas offers any kind of objectivity, my classmate Catherine Dumas says:

Hell yeah, a lot more that the journalism that we get on a daily basis through our media. A lot of our media is controlled by some Australian dude, Rupert Murdoch.

While I tend to agree with Catherine on some level, I think we need to start with whether or not objective truth exists before answering this question.

Truth is constructed via the gathering of facts and means nothing without the connectivity of those facts through narrative. Since narrative is always written from a particular point of view, there can be no objectivity without the influence of culture whether it be race, gender, political affiliation, sexual preference, etc. That said, I say no form of writing offers objectivity. Regardless of any stated effort to achieve it (the phrase “fair and balanced” comes to mind), journalism is used to persuade the public toward a particular viewpoint.

Has anybody seen “The Myth of the Liberal Media: The Propaganda Model of the News?”

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Rocket Fuel for Thought

Fear and Loathing in Las VegasLet me strap on my lizard tail, take a few hits of adrenachrome, and scrawl for you my musings. [Moments later?] Whoa. Right on. Here we go.

The question: Substance abuse… Writing fuel or writing substitute?

I say fuel.

Granted, the stigma of alcoholism and addiction adheres itself to the stereotype of writers. What drunks! What freaks! What introverts plagued by the pain and suffering of their own humanity! Sure, we?ve had a few of these throughout history. But really, doesn?t Poe?s addiction produce some amazing literary results? Writers, often referred to as seers, don?t necessarily like what they see. To observe the human condition at a deeply personal level can produce extreme depression, particularly when the writer sees no way out of the social confines that trap him or her. Think Oscar in?Wilde. Addiction, even when detrimental love is the drug of choice, becomes the fuel used to examine the world around him. Narrative requires conflict, and those who are deeply conflicted have a great deal of material to work with.

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Fear and Loathing Sounds Off

Having read the chapter on sound rather than film editing for April 3rd (DUH), I have formulated these ideas with our viewing of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in mind. On one hand, this puts me ahead of the game by writing a week in advance, and yet I am also a week behind by missing the freshest corresponding film material made available to class. Please pardon.

Fear and Loathing in Las VegasI found an original script of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and have included the first portion of the first scene below. Highlighting the sounds mentioned within the text, they include everything from the wind, car tires, music, screeching bats, characters screaming, news, voiceovers and narration. This montage of reference to sound doesn?t include what might be assumed by the action, from slamming car doors and trunks to crinkling plastic and popping tops of bear cans. (Although, in the 70s, these were pull back tabs, they still popped from the pressure of carbonation.)

To illustrate what a sound editor might consider, I marked the direct reference to dialogue in red, narration in green, prerecorded music and news in blue, and implied sounds in orange. In doing so, I found it eye-opening to see just how much editing and mixing is involved in such a short span of film. This, by no means, covers the full spectrum.

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