Monday, May 11, 2009

It's a Blog, Blog, Blog World

When I was sixteen, my teacher encouraged my parents to enroll me in a writing class. My high school was small and didn’t have its own writing program, so I signed up for a course that was offered to all the area high schools—an online Creative Writing class.

At the time, an online class, especially at the secondary school level, was virtually an unexplored concept. As a matter of fact, at sixteen, I had never been on the Internet in my life. Ever.

It was different. My “classmates” were people my age, mostly from different schools. Definitely not people I would ever have met or thought I had anything in common with in other circumstances.

But here, in this little private forum, was an entirely new world. My teacher, Virginia “Ginny” Little, was unlike any teacher I’d ever had in my life. She encouraged conversation and discussion rather than testing and grading. We graded ourselves at the end of the semester, by writing a paper explaining why we felt we deserved the grade we had given ourselves.

On the surface, the class seemed easy. Too easy. All we ever did was write back and forth—someone would discuss music and lyrics, another person would bring up current events. All we had to do was participate in the discussion.

We each had our own “folder,” where we could share our stories and poetry. It was in fact my very first blog. We would be given a loosely based assignment, post it in our folder, and everyone was open to comment. We learned how to critique fairly, without being unkind.

The first year, I was intimidated. It seemed as though everyone was smarter than me, far more clever and witty and daring with their responses and writing.

But I was drawn in. Through the intimacy within our forum, the freedom we had to talk, discuss and debate as adults, and the creative energy flowing through the wires, we became friends. I found myself thinking in ways I’d never considered before—about religion, politics, the writing process, and getting a truly unique perspective on the world.

And it was the world.

Ginny had a vision, and she brought us all into her fold. She had friends all over the world, and she networked everywhere for our class, for us. We had a student from Switzerland in our class. Visiting authors from England.

And then she brought in a friend of hers as a visiting author from Australia, and he understood us and what were about. He believed in us. He talked to us frankly, he showed us how to consider other opinions—think “outside the box,” cliché as it is, it’s true—and quite often he shocked the hell out of us.

His name is Dirk Flinthart.

The next year I signed up immediately for the class. And the year after that, when we graduated from high school, a handful of us stayed on with Ginny and Dirk for the new classes coming through.

These classmates became friends, close friends—we still stay in touch, although we now live all over the world. We’ve had weddings, divorces, children, death, and sickness. We’ve shared in each other’s ups and downs and though we’ve moved on with our lives, we still have that connection.

Throughout the last decade Dirk went from being my teacher to my mentor to my very good friend. Two years ago I was at one of the lowest points of my life. My marriage was crumbling. I hated my job. I hadn’t truly written in years.

One night, when I felt desperate and alone, I wrote Dirk an email. I went on and on about how unhappy I was, and as usual Dirk responded in his thoughtful, kind and truthful way. What I remember most, however, was that he encouraged me to check out his journalspace page. This was in response to a comment I’d made about how much I missed the intimacy and sharing we all had in the Creative Writing class years ago.

I didn’t know what a blog was, really. But when I read Dirk’s journal, it all came back to me. I set up my own account. At first I was intimidated, and let it sit for quite awhile. Then one night I decided to try. At this point my marriage was all but technically over. My husband would disappear, and sometimes I didn’t see him for two or three days. I started to suffer from insomnia and I was so ashamed, I didn’t feel like I had anyone I could tell.

So I wrote. Clumsy, awkward posts. Sometimes I’d try to be funny, to cheer myself up. Other times my posts were sad. But I didn’t care, really. I cannot tell you how it felt to be writing again. It was like that song—“Since You’ve Been Gone” (fine, laugh at me. I would.)—with the lyric “I can breathe for the first time.” That’s how I felt. It was such a rush, it was such a relief, it was the first time I’d felt like me.

Everything around me was dying, but here, I started to feel alive. And go ahead and laugh, it’s cheesy, I know, but it’s true.

When I was in college I had a professor tell me to give up writing. He’d smirk every time I shared my piece in workshop. He told me I was awful, and the kiss-ass grad students would poke their heads out of his ass just long enough to nod agreeably with every word he said to me.

It was a devastating blow, and I took him at his word. I did stop writing, and decided to focus on getting married and having kids.

When I wrote on journalspace, that all began to fade away. Because I’m not writing to get into grad school. I don’t write for that professor. I don’t write for my ex, or Ginny, or even Dirk.

I write for me. I write because it’s the only time I ever truly feel alive. I write because it makes me happy, it makes me laugh, it makes me cry, it makes me think. I write because it’s a wonderful secret I carry around with me everywhere I go.

The world is unkind. People bring you down, people try to make you believe you are your job and then they yank it away from you. People tell you you’re nothing if you don’t own this or collect that. You’re meant to believe everything’s a competition and you have to keep up. And I feel that pressure, all of it, every day. As do all of you, I’m sure. But when I write, or when I think about writing, or dream about stories, or imagine ideas—everything else stops, all the anxiety starts to fade to black.

That’s why I do it. That’s why I’m here. I love to write. I love the community here. I love to learn about all of you and your lives. I love and appreciate all of the feedback I get (more than you know!), and I love to give feedback to all of you.

So thank you Ginny, for getting me on this path. And thank you Dirk, for always encouraging me and being my friend. And for introducing me to the world of blogging AND all of your mates here, now my Twitterbugs.

And thanks to all of YOU, who read and comment on my stuff regularly--that is so cool. You have no idea how much I truly appreciate it.

So, now, you're turn--why did you all start blogging, and did anyone nudge you into it?


jennicki said...

Whew! That was a long, rambling, sappy post...I blame the meds. ;D

Nautilus said...

Every author I have spoken to says that they write because they want to and need to. They do it for themselves first and others second. It sounds to me that like them, you need to write too.

Like many, I created an account just so I could comment on other accounts.

I started posting purely for my own amusement but I have continued because I find writing about things helps me clarify my thoughts.

I tend to have a jumbled, ADHD type brain and rarely finish a thought, writing about them makes me complete the thought.

There are heaps of things I have written entries for but never posted, just to get them straight in my head.

becomingkate said...

I started blogging in 2004. I was about to start a LDR with my (now) husband and needed a place to record the drama, lol.


Pls tell me more about what it was like to be a 16yo schoolgirl - that is why I joined JS!

Chez said...

This was well-done, Jen. And,'re not the only one who listens to Since You've Been Gone and identifies with the lyrics. Ha!

When did I start blogging?.....I don't have a goddamn clue. Honestly. I would go through spells as a kid when I'd write journal entries in a notebook, and then look back on them and cringe (my great love for my fourth grade boyfriend, Brandon, who later turned out to be gay...oh, my life).

Blogging online was a new thing entirely, but I liked it. I liked the feedback. I've kept my entries more or less to myself for awhile now, because's better that way. For a lot of reasons. But I've found that, more than anything, blogging helps me deal with my emotions. When I went through my first bout of depression in high school, few things truly helped. But being able to get my feelings down on paper....that was HUGE. And to this day, it's my first resort when I'm feeling sad or angry.

To sum it up in two words - it helps. That's really all I can say about it.

Chez said...

Wow, Chez. Enough of your yapping!

Dr Yobbo said...

I've always written, since I was able to string a sentence together. Making up and telling stories was what I loved to do, almost entirely for my own amusement, though when people actually show an interest in my stories (fiction or otherwise) I'm disproportionally happy - this all fits the usual profile of a writer as Naut points out (the ADHD thing I can also empathise with!)

I'm kinda post-JS in terms of how I came to be in this space - my blog started in mid-'05 (originally as an email sort of thing) but basically as a means of having a one-way conversation with my old mates in Australia after I moved to NZ with my soon-to-be-wife. I missed those bastards like an array of holes in the head, and one of the things we used to enjoy was talking rubbish about sport and making each other laugh. So it started like that but just evolved. Getting sort-of 'adopted' by the ex-JS community was a happy moment of pure chance I think - some of you started dropping by and commenting - mostly the boozy blokey types (appropriate to the content!).

I've never been great with putting Actual Personal Stuff into my blog, other than historic stuff - stories from five-plus years ago, living in Brisbane or Sydney. It means I seem to be constantly pining for a better or more exciting time in my life - which isn't actually true, but the stories are easier to make sound cooler or funnier.

Basically, I write to make people laugh. Mostly myself.

uamada said...

I have blogged at various places intermittently for the last couple of years. I even had one here for a year. I wasn't really looking for interaction, just writing practice and the opportunity to be able to google myself (or rather my online name). I had similar experiences in my high school, that you had at Uni, with people telling me what i was writing was no good (something i blogged about in part a few weeks ago).
My blogging never really carried on much past the first couple of months, as much as i wasn't looking for them, the lack of any commenting (beyond spam) made it tedious. Then i found JS, through The JB link. I read a couple of his posts there and oneday decided to leap out to the JS homepage and see what was there. It was like a light turned on. Here was a place, where people seemed to be writing for the sake of writing. Initially I only followed regular commenters on JB's site (of which you were one). I joined when i read one of Natv's post and wanted to comment, like everybody else. My first comment. On the same day I did my first post. It wouldn't have really bothered me to get ignored. JB linked to it from his blog. People commented. I got an ego boner (I think Moko was my first commenter, so he gave me a boner). I did other posts.
I didn't really join in to be a part of anything. But that's what happened. I don't have a huge number of followers and even fewer regular visitors, but it was people like you, your brother, Flinthart and a huge (huge) number of others that made me stay and keep blogging. Just for practice. And i'll probably stay as long as people read my posts.
One of the most popular posts i have ever done, was about me going grocery shopping. There really is no accounting for taste.

Barnesm said...

Great post jennikki

"why did you all start blogging"

- to meet hot babes like yourself

Girl Clumsy said...

Jen - wonderful story!

First point I must make - your lecturer? DOUCHEBAG. Of the douche-y-est variety.

I love the fact you seem to have encountered some of the biggest arseholes in the history of the Modern Arsehole Era and yet you remain positive and high-spirited, with a great sense of humour about yourself. That's a pretty damn impressive achievement.

I began the Girl Clumsy blog in 2004 to document an O/S trip the Wah and I were taking. I posted intermittently for a year or so, about work things, the odd emotional self-indulgent piece, you know the drill.

2006 I used it to document our big six-month trip O/S - and I still refer to those pieces when I want to do travel articles etc (of course, my freelance career at the moment is virtually DOA).

In 2007 I decided to try to make the blog more of a interesting place to visit. I experimented with formats, and did my first ever "writing challenge" - basically I forced myself to write something everyday for a month leading up to my birthday on October 13.

Then do you know what happened on my birthday? I met John Birmingham, because NatV had brought him into the studio for an hour-long chat about blogging. After going out to say hi and attempting to not be a red-faced fan girl, he and NatV both encouraged me to join J-Space, which I set up as a secondary/mirror site to the Blogger one. I never commented as often or as eloquently as the Big Burgers, but it was so fun discovering that community.

Then, bang, end of J-Space, but still here I am, talking crap, shooting shit, and generally hoping people will comment to make me feel popular. ;)

Finally, blogging put me on the track to get to do "Felafel" at the theatre - that has been the most brilliant creative project I've been involved in, and it sends shivers up my spine to think that if it wasn't for the online kindness and support of Birmo and Squire Bedak (who I met through J-Space), that never would have happened.

Blogging = awesome.

(Apologies for length!)

Birmo said...

"When I was in college I had a professor tell me to give up writing. He’d smirk every time I shared my piece in workshop. "

He was, what we call in the trade, a fuckwit.

Also a failure. If he was any good he wouldn't be getting his kicks smirking at vulnerable young ladies in class. He'd be whooping it up on his gold plated hovercraft, with the Bunnies and the disco ball and the mountains of blow. He'd be touring the world, when he wasn't lounging around his mountaintop HQ. He'd be livin' large and smirkin' at worthless, widely unread podunk perfessors with tiny penises and delusions of adequacy.

But he's not livin large. Is he?

He's just a loser, while you are one of the best writers of short form personal memoir I've ever encountered.

Lou said...

Great post Jen. My answer to your question is in my post of yesterday. I was looking to connect. Not in a hook up kind of way - in a global village kind of way.

Flinthart said...

Allow me to second the inimitable Mr Birmingham's statement of support, Jen. You paint me as a nice guy; maybe I am, but not that damned nice. The first thing I tell anybody who has a half-assed urge to write is something like "If you can live without it, then do so."

You're highly articulate. And when you're not self-conscious about your writing, it's extremely frocking good. The trick is learning to do on demand what you do naturally. It's like riding a bike: if you spend too much time thinking about it, you fall off. Just do what you already do, and you'll be fine.

Your college prof: Birmo nailed him too. I'll add one more thing, though. The quality of short story work coming out of US college workshops is... well, technically they're okay. But in terms of genuine feeling, ability to engage, strength of themes, power of ideas, true passion -- it's pretty much shit.

If your college prof felt your writing wasn't up to the 'academic standard' of creative writing -- breathe a sigh of relief. You've dodged a bullet. It means there's a chance your work has real life, energy, depth and meaning.

And I like reading it.

yankeedog said...

I started so I could meet women from Michigan. :P

Like more than a few who visit here, I started blogging after reading Birmo's 'Weapons of Choice'. His old journalspace site was printed there, so I checked it out. First it was reading the comments, then adding comments, then meeting people (electronically), then setting up my own blog. I've met some good folks here over the years.

Incidentally, I pride myself on single-handedly lowering the collective IQ on the Burger by a good 30 points. It was a tough job but someone had to do it.

Jen, I've found most of your writing here to be at times humorous and poignant. You do the writing thing well. Keep with it.

Steve said...

I started blogging in 2005, after a friend encouraged me to check out J-Space. I did it because I wanted a place to rant about stuff. It took a while to realize I really didn't have anything to rant about.

I had done some blogging in a way, by way of doing a beer review website with a friend, so short-form writing was something in my wheelhouse, sort of.

My grandfather was an excellent storyteller, so I used JS to write some of the stories he told us over the years. My father inherited that gift, and when he died 2 years ago, I continued the JS page as a means of writing down some of these stories I was told over the years, and adding my own experiences as a father, husband, brother, son, etc. This way, 50 years from now, when they look at my obituary, my kids and grandkids will say, "wow, hard to believe he was the same guy that stole the "Missouri State Line" sign in college.

By the way, your professor was a douchenozzle, and if it's any consolation, he's still teaching kids how not to write, and his grad students start every conversation with, "Will this be for here or to go?"

Melissa said...

Hey, Jenny. Great post. Like you, I have always loved to write, but when I was in a college writing class, I began to think that I didn't have much writing talent. There was a girl who wrote amazing stories, and when I read her work, mine felt like drivel. I stopped writing. I used to keep a journal, but after I had kids, I stopped doing even that, and I felt the loss. I used to have a whole world of characters floating in my head, talking to me, telling me their stories (I am sure only writers understand this!), but it all just stopped. I missed that. Starting a blog was a way to resurrect my writing. I know people are reading it, so I feel compelled to post almost every day. That holds me accountable. I am hopeful that soon I will begin doing more writing outside of my blog. It is nice to be writing again!

Simon said...

I hadn’t even heard of blogging until, in late 2003, a woman I knew on a games forum told me she’d set one up on Journalspace, asked me to read it, and suggested I try it myself. I did, naturally.

To me it was both a place with a great community spirit where I could meet people online (I have social phobia and am almost housebound), and where I could write. I never had any aspirations to be a professional writer, but Journalspace gave me the chance to write short, hopefully amusing satires, do crudely suggestive Photoshop jobs, and of course read and comment in others’ journals.

Journalspace also provided me with what you mentioned of your online writing class – contact with other civilisations, mainly the US, and I have learned more about US culture and its sometimes startling differences with Europe’s than I learned in a lifetime of reading books. I still chat online with a few of the people I met there, both for company and the occasional serious discussion. It was a great shame when it folded.

To add to what Birmo and others have said, having a university professor not like your writing is meaningless, unless it’s to correct your syntax by pointing out that, despite its common usage in the US, “…it’s cliché...” should really be “…it’s clichéd…”, as cliché is a noun. But people who point out things like that are a pain in the arse too, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

I actually find it hard to understand why people should want to study creative writing formally – it’s something that comes from both innate talent for storytelling and a basic knowledge of English that can easily be gleaned from reading other people’s books. I have many times had people tell me that they’ve been to an art, photography or writing class and learned that the way to succeed is to find out what the teacher likes, rather than develop any of their own skills.

You are, as I’m sure you’re aware, an excellent narrator of anecdotes, whether they be sad, funny, or a mixture of both.

Knifeboy said...

I started blogging on JS as a part of my therapy. My psychologist highly recommended it. I found JS through a contact at a great depression community site called Wing Of Madness. For five years I poured my guts out in JS and it becamse a big part of me. Then we all know what happened- Poof!

Incidentially, I also had a college professor, a "big" published poet, who encouraged me to stop writing. The bastard. I was a freshman and honestly was still writing high school level angsty juvenilia, but I needed help, not admonsihment. I didn't listen to him, and I'm glad I didn't.

Actually, I find most of your writing inspiring.

Killjoyaphrodite said...

Jen - what a beautiful post. There is never a day when I don't think about those days in some way. You have such talent - I'm so glad you're still writing.

I've been blogging on and off since 2003, usually stopping for a while because I got busy (which is a nice way of saying I was scared) and starting again when I'm inspired or just need an outlet. I love the community you can find, blogging online. No boundaries - it's incredibly freeing.

jennicki said...

Naut: You should post those entries! I'd love to read them!

becomingkate: Very cool! But what's an LDR?

Lerm: Oh Lerm, someday I'll share. I think I even have my old school uniform around here somewhere. Catholic schoolgirls are the best.

Chez: I was singing Since You've Been Gone all day. Solely to get Lady Gaga's crap "Poker Face" out of my head.

Writing is good for the soul. So's booze, though.

Dr Yobbo: "Basically, I write to make people laugh. Mostly myself."

Me too. :D

I love using the internet to keep in touch with all of my out-of-state and out-of-town friends, also. It's a godsend.

uamada: That is sweet! I loved that. And I totally remember your grocery store post, it was fantastic.

And I am not in the least surprised that Moko gave you a Bob's Steel Erection.

Barnesm: I'm blushing. You are too sweet. I bet you say that to all the lady bloggers.

Girl Clumsy: Thank you! You are such a sweetheart! I'll have to back through your older posts and read about your overseas trip...sounds very cool!

Birmo: You have made my day. No, my year. I've been walking around with a big ass goofy smile on my face all day. Thank you. You are too, too kind and crack me up.


Lou: Thank you love! Now I'll be off to read your post. :D

FH: Thank you, thank you. You ARE a nice guy, and I'm sorry I just revealed your secret. If you want I'll just tell people you're a big ol' meanie pirate.

YD: LOL at that one! Thank you thank you! And love being a "burger" with all y'all.

Steve: You are awesome, and always make me laugh. Thank you!

Melissa: Thank you! I KNOW you are a great writer, please keep it up!!! My dad always told me you were great at it, and I'd love to read your stuff!

Simon: Thank you!! I always enjoy your comments. Even when you're correcting my syntax (that sounds kinda naughty. I like it).

Knifeboy: I find it so interesting that a psychologist would recommend blogging as therapy.

And thank you for the kind words--and I am so glad you kept writing! I do love reading your posts.

Killjoyaphrodite: Thank you, chica. I loved that time with you guys, and I'm so glad we've stayed friends all these years. And I am SO HAPPY you're blogging!!!! :D

jennicki said...

Sorry about any typos--my "O" key keeps getting stuck.

Chez said...

I'm not even gonna lie right now, I LOVE that Poker Face song. No joke. But hopefully we can agree that ANYTHING is better than Big Girls Don't Cry by Fergie.

Chaz said...

Jenn what an amazing piece.

I blog because I'm a shy person and this is the only way I say things..

Dr Yobbo said...

What an awesome post - from all concerned. Yet the thing I keep dwelling on and coming back to is this, and excuse my bluntness - how the f__k is ANYONE, particularly some clown who's been existing in a self-perpetuated anti-reality bubble for years on end, entitled to tell ANYONE to give up or stop writing, just because their way of expressing themselves doesn't fit with their own narrow, stereotyped, pigeonholed parameters? You may as well tell them to give up talking to people, since they don't agree with what they say. Flinty, Birmo and others have characterised the man correctly. He is excrement, and he should be relieved of his position forthwith.

Amanda said...

An LDR is a long-distance relationship. (Only one more day of sucky LDR-ness for me and my fella! Yippee!)

Great post, btw. :o) Can't wait to see you!

hughesy said...

I'd never have thought of it till I read Birmo's, and figured that as I had a book to promote, I could use the blog to up the advance.

When Jspace crashed, I thought, that's it, the web can get stuffed. But by then, I knew all of you, and I missed the interaction and, quite frankly, the humour - jeeze you're a funny pack of pricks.

Anyhoo - I do it for the contact with people with big brains and big hearts and man, they are as rare as rocking horse droppings out in y neck of the woods.

Love your work Jen, and for goodness sake - BEWARE MEDS! They are a social plot to make you conform, to make you feel OK that the world is fucked. Their function is to slap your soul down.
Take care.

Anonymous said...

wow. i really needed to hear that - and the courage to the unemployed post - thanks much.