My Table In the Town Square: Why I’m OK with being a blogger now

The internet is, quite simply, the new town square. Nothing more and nothing less, and in that square, there are utter idiots yelling at the tops of their lungs about crap, but there are small tables surrounded by people having true, powerful discourse. There are people handing out pamphlets. People on soap boxes. And then there are people strolling through, feeling a bit more alive, a bit more connected just by observing.

BlissChick has unwittingly become my muse of late. The above is her comment on yesterday’s post about self promotion, the strange necessity that we creative types have to come to grips with if we want to be heard about the chattering crowd.

Photo by Nathan Berry
Prague Square by Nathan Berry

She paints such a brilliant picture – I can see myself in this square. I want to be one of those people sitting at one of those tables, engaged in the sorts of conversations that change lives. The talk would be so brilliant that my companions and I can tune out the blowhards and the fear mongers and the endless trails of paparazzi fueled gossip.

At the same time, I remember thinking that this is a great metaphor, but I’ve never been a part of a town square like that, at least not in this country. In Europe I think I have been one of those passersby, enlivened by watching the locals acting out their lives in one of those bustling public spaces. Here in the States, however, those town squares, if they exist at all, may fill up for the Fourth of July parade, but otherwise remain a little forlorn, no longer the heart of the community.

It seems like the Internet came in to fill a serious void that we may all have been experiencing for quite a while. How long has it been since we lived in lively villages where expression and relationship ruled the day?dsc008212 Part of me wonders if those places every really existed, until I recall our friends’ more than idyllic village, Dornburg in eastern Germany. There, it might have become a wee bit claustrophobic, but it was incredible to walk the narrow lanes and know that everyone knew everyone else’s name.

Somehow I think I had myself convinced that blogging and all this virtual communication was somehow suspect, that this new means of communication had somehow stamped out a more vivid personal set of interactions. I worried that it was a pale facsimile of something better and more pure that once existed before. In fact, the ways that people communicate has always been in flux and rather than being the destructive force, the Internet gives us new ways to talk to each other that never would have been possible in the confines of a tiny town square. (I never read this book, but the title comes to mind when I start dipping into the topic of isolation and disconnection in American society.)

I know that none of these are new revelations, but one of the main functions of this this blog is help me really understand what might have seemed so obvious but which needed closer examination so that I could truly know. After months of writing in this space it is probably strange that I am only coming to peace with this practice now, but I suppose everything has to blossom and take root in its own time.

What can we do to make the conversations that we have on these far-flung flickering screens come to life in our offline worlds? How can we breath life into all of the community spaces we inhabit?

Self Promotion: The Blog Versus the Big Box Store

The ever brilliant BlissChick sent me a note with some suggestions that might help me bring more readers to my itsy bitsy corner of the virtual world. She made some great points in a gentle and generous fashion that have really set me thinking about everything from my blog platform to my means of expression (long tangly sentences anyone?).

It also got me thinking about self promotion.

A chat with a friend today brought this phrase to my attention. At first it seemed like a real turn off. A bizarre behavior exhibited by salesmen who constantly passed out business cards.

When I realized that maintaining a blog and trying to increase readership is one big game of self promotion I started to feel a little sick. What have I been doing? Selling myself like some tattooed contestant on Rock of Love?

Of course, we engage in self promotion in countless ways – writing a resume, creating a Facebook account, telling others about our trades as healers or carpenters or pastry chefs. There are famous authors out there who wrote in isolation, only being published posthumously, but they are few and far between. Now, the artists and writers we know are also clever business people. If one enjoys recognition for her creativity it often means that the creator is engaging in some very conscious practices aimed at attracting an audience.

When I finally absorbed the shock that this Girl Who Cried Epiphany wants to engage in some self promotion of her own, I could follow my friend through a conversation about the way that this online world is shaping our vision of community.

As a 29 year old who came of age when AOL chat rooms were cool places to be, I don’t have a real perspective on how the Internet has shaped the way we engage in our passions and communicate our interests and talents.

  • What do we gain and what do we lose by typing daily snippets aimed at eliciting immediate responses from strangers rather than shaping a novel that, even if it published, promises to keep readers at arm’s length?
  • Was the spiritual quest more powerful when it was about solitary contemplation and some thoughts jotted in a journal rather than these endless field notes written not just as a record of personal experience, but as a product of some kind to be devoured by others?

Before I go spinning off to ask a million different questions sparked by this train of thought, I must return to this discussion of this grassroots movement to get our ideas and visions into the public sphere.

Is it a little frightening that we live in a culture where everyone needs to broadcast his or her stories, be they about last night’s pub crawl or the antics of the pet chihuahuas or a successful meditation session? Yes, I think it is – if we are just obsessed with spewing the unprocessed content of our lives into the electronic world as a substitute for actually being present.

BUT, I think there can be great power found in this ability to craft our lives and passions into narratives that help both writer and reader understand a little more about what it means to be human, if we do it with a liberal helping of consciousness.

My friend made the great point that, in this age of consumerism, as we watch the rise and fall of the big box stores, blogs and this non-commercialized version of self promotion is actually incredibly healthy and necessary. Bring on the Etsy sites and the late night scribblings – it is our best (and cheapest) way to stand against a monochromatic culture that is sold in bulk at a Black Friday sale.