Friday, July 13, 2007

Why blog?...or courting the coincidental reader

This will be the last post from Lege Cap Ferret and probably from France, unless I can squeeze one in from the hotel or a cybercafe in Paris while we're there. I'm taking a break. Don't know for how long...

I started this blog back in the spring of 2006 primarily as a vehicle for sharing information about La Grande with my exchange partner, Cecile. I posted photos of our house where she would be living and of our neighborhood and the high school. That initial exercise allowed me to glimpse the potential a blog had for creating and maintaining a kind of personal memoir. I say personal and not family only because it's me who posts material on this blog and thus even though it is often a family record it is always sifted through my own perspective.

It became an obsession for me here in France, a creative outlet where I could continue to develop a writing practice and in the process try to document our life here. My work post was typically the kitchen counter top. I got used to typing on my feet, sometimes for hours. I was often oblivious to the activities going on around me and at times I presented a bit of a problem to Beth and the kids who were tempted always to believe that I was present there in the kitchen when I was, in fact, often elsewhere.

Photography became an unexpectedly essential element of my creative process. It's gotten to the point where I now enjoy working in both directions, from the visual to the textual and vice versa. Posting photos sometimes was a way to put something up quickly without having to spend too much energy or time composing. I tried to find a rhythm of posting several times a week but only occasionally was I up to creating longer entries.

There were times, however, when in the process doing a quick photo post I'd see the images suddenly in a different light or a couple of images would suddenly speak to each other, and then I'd find myself being led my the photos in a direction I hadn't contemplated. Other times I merely inserted photos, often of the kids and/or Beth, to give readers something pleasant to look at, eye candy if you will.

It's sort of amazing how much mileage we've gotten out of our Canon A75 Powershot digital camera. I wish I could post a picture of the camera itself. For a month or so it has been showing signs of serious stress. First, the hard shell case is starting to come apart. There's a gap almost 1/8 of an inch wide, you can actually see inside the camera on the top left corner (I covered it with scotch tape) seems like you shouldn't be able to take pictures with it like that but it's still going strong.
Lately, I've added some bells and whistles to the blog by posting video clips via Youtube. Most recently I've learned how to embed clips in the blog like the one at the end of this post...easier and more fun for you hopefully.

I also gave myself permission to move back and forth from the personal to the professional. The line dividing these domains is always somewhat blurry. Here however it has been nearly erased. Coming to France was like putting our family in a lifeboat. For a good long time we only had each other. My forays into work at Lycee Nord Bassin were things I needed to report first to my wife as part of our collective effort of getting our bearings here and then also to the extended family and friends.

Later, as time passed, I began to forge a professional identity here. I began to imagine that perhaps my colleagues might be interested in some of what I was experiencing and thinking about. At that point I began blogging for a wider audience. At a certain point I began hearing from colleagues at work here in France saying that they had looked in on the blog. Originally I had imagined that my colleagues in the US might be readers but it seems that the reverse has been the case more often than not.

For me it was a matter of playing the cards that Fulbright and the French dealt me. Beth's story by contrast is largely untold in my blog but it is definitely one that is worth hearing. Her particular challenges were enormous and they required her to get up each day and create out of whole cloth a situation for herself. Her achievements were in and of themselves quite remarkable. I am quite sure that there are several households here that will guard for a long time to come souvenirs, both tangible and intangible, of her presence here.

I can think of easier places in the world to set about trying to do this than France, and there were times when she and I were exasperated by the reserve and the traditional, conservative attitudes and practices that serve to keep outsiders on the outside. Her French was a boon to her though and it allowed us to move as a couple amongst the people here. It also forged between Beth and I an even stronger alliance.

According to my blog account I will have made almost 300 posts by the time we leave France. Poems, songs, personal essays, dialogues, sketches, reportage, narratives, photo essays, news and artifacts, anecdotes...It's safe to say that I have written a lot and I would be very shocked if there is anyone out there who has read it all. My own mother said to me during one phone call earlier in the year, "Kevin, you certainly do write a lot of words." She meant it in a good way, of course, as in, my you are prolific, but for others perhaps less constrained by the bonds of unconditional love, the length of certain posts has perhaps been off putting at times. Using the blog as a space in which to think out loud carries with it certain challenges and problems for reader and writer alike.

One of the occupational hazards of being a teacher for as long as I have been one, is the tendency to believe that what you have to say should be perforce of great interest and value to others. The positive side of this syndrome is, I hope, a fervent and hopefully contagious desire to engage with people, with events, and with ideas.

I'd be lying if I said I was indifferent to whether or not I had readers. In fact, one of my struggles has always been how to scratch that itch to write and also find an audience, even a single reader, with whom to connect. People who know me and who work with me have had to endure and politely field my awkward solicitations. I have tried submitting manuscripts of short stories and poems...

In the process of creating this blog I became aware of readers via the Comments eldest daughter Erin, and my colleague Charles were easily the most consistently present respondents but there were also my parents and siblings, Missy and Adam, Jerry, Sharri, and here and there an LHS student like Jesse, Micah, Katlin, and later on some LNB students like Benoit, Fanny, and Ysoline and colleagues like Francis...they were few in number but very important to me. A few others have responded via email or even in person. Perhaps there were other readers unknown to me but my own sense of audience I must confess was sometimes rather vague...a blog is a little cocoon inside of which you can pretend to be alone while simultaneously feigning transparency to the wider world.

Whether the wider world is looking in your direction is another matter altogether. To quote Conan O'Brien's comic insult dog, "There's three people watching this, Sam, Harold, and a guy in traction at the hospital who can't reach his remote...oh wait a minute, Sam just nodded off!"
So far that harsh thought has not deterred me from sending things out...I'm not sure whether this will change when I get back to the states. Maybe I'll go back to a more low tech approach and just start leaving odd manuscripts lying about for random people to pick up and do with what they that I think of it, that reminds of a Finnish film Beth and I saw a few years ago in which there is a scene at the end where a poet surreptitiously inserts his handwritten poems into cereal boxes on the supermarket shelves and leaves it to fate to marry his lyrics to some random bleary-eyed breakfast eater.

When nobody asks you to write and you write anyway, you sometimes end up doing things like that...leaving manuscripts casually on the kitchen table, stuffing them in cereal boxes, posting things on the internet...courting the coincidental reader.

It's time for us to dance offstage - a little music please...


Anonymous erin said...

I found myself dreading the winding down of this blog as you return to the US, but then I hoped that maybe you'd continue to share your daily insights, milestones, adventures, etc. For as familiar as most of us are with LaGrande, I cast my vote in favor of your continued postings! And yes, some of us did read every word. Much love and giant hugs to you all!

4:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in New Zealand. My daughter is in Bordeaux on a year long school exchange.

Unfortunately, although she tries hard, she is not the greatest communicator of daily life in France. But I found your blog and have followed it since Xmas time.

It has been a great comfort to me and has given me a wonderful insight into the school system and the daily life that my daughter is experiencing.

You write so eloquently. I shall miss you and your blog. Thank you.

9:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kevin, I've loved being able to keep up with your family this year. Even though you were halfway around the world, you guys stayed a part of our lives. I really hope you keep posting occasional stories about your adventures.

See you soon!

9:58 PM  
Blogger kc said...

Dear coincidental reader,
Thank you ever so much for making your presence known to made my heart (and maybe even my baggage!) a little lighter.

10:31 PM  

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