Opponents of wind power often argue that ridge-top windmills are an intrusive eyesore, an obvious sign of human encroachment in an otherwise natural landscape. This past Saturday, on my way to watch the Keene Swamp Bats play (and lose) a ballgame in Rachel‘s neck of the woods, I passed a roadside cemetery along a sleepy stretch of Vermont’s Route 8 where inhabitants weren’t visibly bothered by this artificial impediment to their eternal view.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about views and The View…not the daytime TV show, but The View of my world that I share via this blog. When I started keeping a blog back in December, 2003, I didn’t post photos; instead, I started Hoarded Ordinaries as a place to showcase my writing. At the time, I started blogging with a vague notion of making HO a “place blog”: an online site concentrating on sites and what it means to be “sited” in a particular place. Somewhere along the way, my focus on “sited-ness” became a fixation with sight: an attempt to show you, in word and image, what it’s like to be Where I’m At on any given day or at any given moment.
And there’s certainly not anything wrong with any of that, but…
A handful of posts around the blogosphere (as well as the natural ebb and flow of my own life) have led me to question my vague notions of what I’m doing with this blog and The View it offers. Over on Via Negativa, a blog which began right around the time HO did, Dave recently remarked about the difference (or lack thereof) between blogs and the mainstream media:
The blogosphere has been billed as an alternative to the mainstream media, but in many ways, it�s just as superficial. The emphasis remains on speed rather than accuracy, sensationalism rather than nuance, and two-sided conflicts rather than the full complexity of life as most of us experience it in our daily lives. Even for us non-political bloggers, there�s a great temptation to simply post our latest snapshots, with a few accompanying sentences of breathless prose, and move on to something else. To try to see anything more fully, to observe it attentively and then take the time to describe or depict it with as much care and effort as we can muster seems almost counter-cultural. But if the bloggers I tend to read have anything in common, it might be precisely this, that they are dedicated to documenting what Barbara Brown Taylor refers to as �alternate reality.�
The sentence that hit painfully close to home was Dave’s observation about “us non-political bloggers” and our occasional over-reliance on form rather than content. It’s quick & easy to slap up a snapshot and say “I’m done blogging for the day”; it takes a bit more time, care, and attention to detail to craft a meaningful post that actually says something.
In my early days of photo-blogging, I justified my “quickie” photo posts by telling myself they were like postcards: although we all love to receive long, carefully-crafted letters, it’s also great to get short postcards that assure us “The weather is great; wish you were here.” In my mind, a frequently updated blog is more valuable than one that only occasionally posts new (albeit carefully crafted) material: in the blogosphere, frequent snacking seems to be “healthier” (and more popular with readers) than the bloggish equivalent of occasional elaborate feasts.
In skimming my recent posts, though, it bugs me that I’ve been heavily relying upon postcards more than letters: now that it’s summer, I tell myself, I “should” be writing longer and more “meaty” posts. That I have the time to write but largely haven’t been suggests to me at least that there’s something else going on: why is it, for instance, that I’m dragging my feet when it comes to returning to my writing blog and am completely inert and lifeless when it comes to my meditation blog?
Blogs, like lives, have a natural ebb and flow, surging to unanticipated high-points at some moments and shrinking to shocking shallows at others. Just this week, Annette announced she was pulling the plug on her award-winning personal blog–a site that’s about four months older than mine–in order to focus her offline time on a PhD and her online energy to a business blog. It strikes me (and others) that three years marks a kind of turning point in many bloggish lifespans: after three years of faithful posting, you’ve presumably found your voice and are starting to ask “what next?”
As if Dave and Annette didn’t already give me enough to think about, the calendar is giving its own sort of nudge: this weekend is the Progressive Faith Blog Con down in New Jersey, where I’m scheduled to lead a Saturday morning meditation service and break-out sessions on the Buddhist blogosphere and blogging meditation. Although I’ve plenty of experience leading meditation sessions, the thought of mixing and mingling with folks who actively blog their religious convictions has me a bit stymied: as I’ve discussed before, Hoarded Ordinaries isn’t an explicitly “Buddhist” blog even though, yes, I’m an actual Zen teacher with all the qualifications to make it so.
Today Rachel blogged about ministry, that sense that we’ve found the One Thing (or perhaps a patchwork of things) we were put on this planet to do. I guess what I’m currently grappling with–or continuing to grapple with–is the question, “What is my ministry?” We Zennies don’t talk much about “ministry,” but we occasionally talk about Right Action, Right Livelihood, and the Right Direction that leads us to ask “How can I help this suffering world?”
In the time since I disbanded the Zen group my ex-husband and I used to lead, I’ve been sitting with a specific question: what exactly is a Zen teacher without any students? As a senior Dharma teacher in my Zen school, I’m the Zen equivalent of a Christian deacon: a lay clergy-person who is trained and qualified to lead practice, give consulting interviews, and otherwise help newer practitioners. And yet without a group to guide–without a group to guide me–what good am I making of an otherwise empty credential? In a word, what good is a lay clergy-person if she has no congregation, no ministry?
As much as I try to tell myself that my coaching is a kind of ministry, I still have the nagging sense that I could be doing more, that my recent reluctance to Dig Deep here on HO points to an underlying sense that I can and perhaps should be doing something different here. Although I have no intention of hanging up my bloggish hat, I’m beginning wonder whether I might resurrect several other hats, making a conscious effort to blog more about meditation and spirituality, about books, about writing and creativity…about, in a word, the Deeper Things that I’m really passionate about.
A teacher ain’t nothing, it seems to me, if she ain’t teaching, and I’ve let myself spend far too long scribbling bloggish postcards while there are more meaty matters to attend to. In a world where people are driving themselves crazy looking for spots of tranquility, why have I kept relatively quiet about my meditation practice: am I loathe to proselytize, or am I simply too scared to step into my own expertise, hiding instead behind some Zennish excuse of “beginner’s mind“?
I don’t expect The View here at Hoarded Ordinaries to change drastically in the days to come…but I am starting to question my own perspective of that view. At a certain point, every writer asks herself, “What do I have to say that’s unique to my background and expertise; what do I have to say that needs to be said?” On the one hand, I don’t want to become a cliche-spouting windbag who pontificates about Zen and creativity; on the other, I don’t want to hide my spiritual light under a bushel. I guess these days I’m trying to watch which way the wind is blowing, trying to admit that everything, blogs included, change over time, with there inevitably being a time to be silent as well as a time to speak.