Tuesday, January 15, 2013


My last post on this blog was nearly two months ago. That's the longest gap I've had so far in, what is it, three years? I am writing nearly every day, but it is all going into the book. The book? It's still plodding along like the dear little dogged thing it is. It says to say hello. But the issue I wanted to tell you about is, I can't seem to come up with anything to write about on the blog.

I have tried to come up with things to tell you, and I have come up with things, but they've all been the sort of everyday thing you tell the people you live with. Do you really want to hear about The Pickwick Papers (unexpectedly enjoyable), the new iPad (still in the it's-my-turn-can-I-have-it phase), the wonders of laryngitis (do not whisper; it makes it worse), circular knitting looms (anybody want a hat?), the undying love affair between cats and boxes? Of course not. At least not on this blog. It's supposed to be about something. I could start a "funny little things I think of every day" blog, but that would probably bring to an end the funny little things I think of every day. Besides, other people think of funnier little things.

There is exactly one thing I have noticed in the past two months that I think is worth mentioning here. It's about noticing things worth mentioning here. I keep a list of 30 some blogs that I skim every so often, using my ... button you push in the thing at the top of the window. The other day I was looking at one of those blogs, and the blogger said, "The other day I was looking out the window and realized this little thing that I'm going to tell you about now." When I read that, I realized this little thing that I'm going to tell you about now.

I'm not the only one running out of things to say on their blog. Lots of other people are seeking fodder for blogs and coming up with nothing but dregs, like little things you realize while looking out the window. Here's an idea. Maybe there is a limit to the number of witty yet profound observations any one person has in them about any one topic. If blogs are like serialized novels, why don't they end? And when they do end, why is it always apologetically done? Why should anyone need to apologize for being done talking?

The whole thing reminds me of marriage. In the first few days and weeks and months of a relationship (that is going well) you tend to have those long, soul-baring conversations in which you explore in detail landscapes of thought and belief and fear and aspiration, the kind of conversation where you get together over dinner and it's suddenly morning. But after a few years of married life, there is no point doing the same thing over and over, and time presses, so the ratio of reference to content increases. Sometimes I joke that after being married twenty years we can just say, "Honey, how about we have argument number twelve today?" Though in reality words never need cross the air: a gesture or glance, or even an object out of place, can say the same thing.

(And here I simply must insert a reference to Through the Looking Glass:
'We must have a bit of a fight, but I don't care about going on long,' said Tweedledum.
'What's the time now?'
Tweedledee looked at his watch, and said 'Half-past four.'
'Let's fight till six, and then have dinner,' said Tweedledum.
'Very well,' the other said...
The fight being more reference than content in that case as well.)

I'm starting to think the same thing happens on blogs. After you read fifty or a hundred essays written by anybody, you start knowing what they are going to say before they say it. Some of the blogs I used to read every word of I still look at, but I'm mostly just checking to see if they are still saying the same sort of thing they said back then. They are.

I am too. The other side of it is that, as a blogger, you start to get tired of explaining everything over and over. I've noticed that the longer people blog the more they increase their own ratio of reference to content. I do it too. Instead of spending paragraphs explaining a position, people just say something like, "Regular readers of this blog will know I advocate X." (Meaning, I don't chew my cabbage twice, so the rest of you can go look it up.) Maybe above a certain ratio of reference to content a blog has turned into ... a book. And guess what? Books end.

So, am I done talking? The real question in my mind is, am I allowed to say that? Why do I feel like it's not a blog if I end it? (That would ripple back through time, of course, so that it never was a blog either.) I've tried to follow "blog etiquette" when writing this blog (respond to comments, feed the blog, include links, feed the blog, fix typos, feed the blog), but I can't find any etiquette about how to stop talking gracefully.

So off I went to see my helpful friend Google. I typed "how blogs end" and got ... not a thing. "How blogs start" gets tons of relevant links. "How many blogs get started every day" also came up (unbidden but welcome). A search for "how many blogs end every day" got, again, nada. The only relevant thing I got was an article called, "Too Many Blogs?" It reminds me of all the junk in our garage that seems destined to follow us for life.

A search for "ending a blog" was more fruitful, with all of three relevant links. An I'm-ending-the-blog post said, "I regret closing the blog and I owe readers an explanation." Another, similar: "It's been a hard decision, but I feel it's time I move on to other things. Like an even better blog!" (So, not an ending at all.) Elsewhere, a blog post gave advice on "options available to bloggers who have decided to end their blog but who don’t quite know how to do it." Why the stigma?

You've probably noticed how most people end blogs: they don't end them at all. They just post less and less frequently, with an increasing ratio of apology to content, then fall off entirely and stop trimming the spam. Eventually the whole thing ends up looking like a secret garden, abandoned and overgrown. I'll bet you've stumbled onto a few of these abandoned blogs on the web; I have. I usually back out quickly, careful not to disturb any ghostly cobwebs. In their day these blogs were happy, healthy places. Could they not have been put to rest with more respect?

And why do people consistently use the language of life and death to describe blogs? Why do we say a blog has "died"? (I just did, without meaning to, when I said "put to rest with more respect.") If a blog is over, if a person has got to the end of what they have to say about a topic, hasn't the blog succeeded rather than failed? I guess you could ask the same question about a person's life. If a person has got to the end of all the years they had to live, have they succeeded or failed?

So far the web has been all about growth, but life is never only about growth. I wonder if there are more societally healthy ways to move past the initial growth stage of the web than we are using now. Like ritual. Don't you think it's strange that we have rituals around starting blogs but none around ending them? What causes the atmosphere around blogs to be so fixated on starting and growing, but never ending? Is it some sort of collective denial that we might run out of interesting things to say? Is it fear of the ultimate drop-off in posts that is coming to us all?

I do have one hypothesis. Most books are written by one person, and we expect books to end. Magazines and newspapers, however, are rarely written by one person, and we don't expect them to end. What if the one-author blog is a misplaced confusion of writing into the space of collaborative, systemic endeavor, in which an expectation of continuance makes sense? What if two distinct species of writing have become confused?

What? You say. Do you really think nobody should write a blog unless they write it with other people? What about the opportunity blogging brings to the individual to be heard, to speak about unpopular topics, to break from tradition, to leave herd mentality behind? I'm not countering any of those things. What I'm saying is that maybe we need two sets of expectations about blogs, or two kinds of blogs, or two words for blogging. One should be for institutions populated not by individuals but by roles taken on (and then passed on) by individuals. Such a system could indeed last a very long time, and often does.

A separate word and set of expectations could then apply to the individual blog, which would be understood to come about because a specific person had some specific things to say about a specific topic. Such a blog would naturally come to an end when the person had finished saying the things they had to say (and we would no longer pretend that any one person had an infinite number of things to say, though a revolving membership certainly could). Then when the individual blog came to an end, we would not say it "died" but would say it was completed. Or that it succeeded. Why not? Think of the guilt dividend.

I will end the post with an appropriate joke.
A head walks into a bar and asks the bartender for a drink. After he is finished, bang! a torso appears. So the head asks for another drink and after he finishes, bang! arms come out of the torso. So the head asks the bartender for another drink and when he has finished, bang! legs appear.
The head is thinking, ‘Hey, this stuff is great,’ so he asks the bartender for one more drink for the road and bang! his whole body disappears.
The bartender turns to him and says, ‘You should have quit while you were a head.’
Postscript: dinner, bath, turn using the iPad, maybe not in that order. I feel a rising need to stand in the way of a probable event while I still can. For some reason I have never been able to fathom, I often have the following conversation.
Me: I'm dealing with this issue right now. Isn't it interesting? What do you think of the issue? Isn't it interesting?
Well-meaning lovely people: I'll help you, person in distress.
Me: I'm not in distress, I just think this is interesting.
Lovely people: I'll help you, person in distress.
Me: Sigh.
It's like I have this big "Save the idiot" sign stuck to my forehead. So, if your hand is poised to add a comment saying something like, "Don't stop blogging! We like you! You can do it! Have confidence in yourself!" Stop: think: then tell me what you think of blogging and how blogs end and how we talk about that and what that means about ... anything you like, really. Just not about me. (No offense intended to the lovely people, who know who they are and how lovely they are.)


Murali said...

i have heard novelists say the exact opposite,something like "after i started writing the novel, i no longer had control on the narrative and it had acquired a life on its own, and i happened to be there to watch it, here is a record." the novelist only intently listening.

deal with groan zones (crude i know but that's what i call it) an example when participants run out of things to say with a neverending silence in the meeting room, look to others and inside themselves to voice the next direction shifting idea/opinion/story. facilitator silently waiting.

as a reader i can wait

Cynthia Kurtz said...

Murali, thanks so much for the comment!

I'm not sure what you said is the opposite of what I said. I said that the things any one person has to say about any one topic naturally come to an end, and we shouldn't expect them to go on and on forever. You said that novels take on a life of their own. I agree: But they still stop talking eventually! I've never heard of anybody who wrote a novel that lasted their entire life. Except maybe Proust, but that's more because he died early than because he wrote long.

Agree about the "groan zones" (great term) and the necessity of respecting gaps and waiting patiently for what is to come next. But sometimes what does come next is so different from what came before that it doesn't make sense to call it a gap. I think the word I'm looking for is closure. There isn't enough of it on the web, I think. Only when we end can we begin. Or something profound like that.

Great talking to you! Thanks again!