If I’ve Told You Once, I’ve Told You a Thousand Times
You must not judge what I know by what I find words for.
— John Ames (in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead)
Given the heavy themes of recent posts, it occurred to me that perhaps we could use some lighter fare around here. I could, at any rate. And what better way to accomplish this goal than to compose a self-indulgent and nakedly hubristic piece to celebrate the one thousandth post in the history of this blog? In the (quite likely) event that this prospect does not set your heart alight with anticipation, you are welcome to click away now.
It was a damp, dreary Vancouver evening in January, 2007 when I pressed “publish” for the first time on this blog. I was a graduate student at the time, and evidently imagined that I had more words to spill out into the world than were finding their way into my academic writing. A few people had encouraged me to give blogging a try, but initially I was far from convinced. Part of it was because I wasn’t entirely persuaded that I had anything useful to say. But even deeper (and more selfishly) than that, I was probably worried by the more likely scenario—that while I might convinced that I had useful things to say, the Internet would not share this opinion. Even though I told myself the things that we all tell ourselves—“even if I’m writing only for myself, that’s enough!”—I had little interest in taking my place in the long line of folks hammering away on their keyboards for the benefit of six people.
I don’t know what it was about that particular dreary, rainy Vancouver evening that convinced me to start a blog—I was probably avoiding a paper or something—but eventually some inspiring thought like, “What’s the worst that could happen? If worse comes to worse, I can delete it after a week” managed to lodge itself in my brain. And so I picked a dull, white template on the WordPress site, affixed my name to the top header, and wrote my first blog post. It was a rather pathetic and typical “first post” kind of thing. You know the kind, right? The “hello world, here I am, here’s why I want to write, here’s what you might expect, and here are half a dozen pre-emptive apologies/excuses that I can appeal to when I pull the plug on this thing a month from now” kind of thing. I cringe when I read it now.
But the craziest thing happened after I pressed “publish” for the first time on January 19, 2007. A few people actually read it. And they actually left a few comments. And they were mostly pretty encouraging. And they told me to keep at it, that they were even looking forward to what I might have to say. And so I did. Keep at it, that is. I wrote about stuff I was reading for my studies, about current events, about things I thought about on the bus. I posted book reviews and quotes from authors that I liked. Occasionally, I wrote about sports or music. Later, when I became a pastor, I began to write about my work, about what it’s like to inhabit this strange role in a post-Christian landscape. I told stories about the people and things I encountered in my daily work. I began to develop a bit of a rhythm of writing—usually 2-3 times per week—and increasingly, this little blog came to become an important part of my life. It helped me process experiences. It helped me wrestle through what I thought about difficult issues. It gave me a connecting point with real human beings who were thinking about similar things.
And now, WordPress tells me that I have kept at it to the tune of nine hundred and ninety-nine times since that first post. It seems like a pretty incredible number to me. One thousand posts. That’s like 800 000 words or something. It makes me feel kinda wordy. Or old. 🙂
So, what have I learned over these nine years and one thousand posts? Well, I’ve learned that blogging is a limited medium. And that Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman were absolutely right: the medium really does shape the message. The Internet seems quite easily and naturally to devolve into a giant shouting match where everyone is constantly clamouring over one another to be heard over the noisy din. There are so very many words out there jostling for space in our increasingly inattentive brains. It can be so tempting to always need to have something to say about everything, to drift into a kind of mindlessly reactionary approach to writing.
But I’ve also learned that blogging can be a wonderful tool for connecting with people in real-time about issues that matter and that people are thinking about. Blogging can give ordinary folks like me the opportunity to get ideas out there. It can (and has) led to all kinds of other writing opportunities. It has given me the chance to get my writing published in various other forums and publications. It has been a vehicle through which to promote good and important work, to raise awareness about vitally important issues. On a purely professional level, blogging has led to relationships and conversations and opportunities that probably would not have come about otherwise. It can be a delicate dance, balancing the negatives and positives that the medium affords, but it’s one that I’ve convinced myself is worth pursuing.
I’ve also learned a few things about myself. I’ve learned that it’s good to take a deep breath and a bit of time before responding to comments. I’ve learned that I am instinctively pretty defensive about what I write and that I need to be open to hearing some pretty basic things (things like, oh, I don’t know, that I could occasionally be wrong!). I’ve learned that it’s pretty easy to allow my identity to be tied up in how I am perceived out there, and that I must constantly war against this. I’ve learned that numbers and stats and shares and likes are not necessarily very reliable indicators of the merits of any piece of writing. I’ve written some dreadful crap that has gotten plenty of hits; I’ve also written stuff that I’m rather proud of that languishes in relative obscurity.
I’ve learned that I love to write. In my more ambitious moments, I even have the temerity to claim this as my primary “vocation” in the world. Words matter a great deal to me. Words move me in profound ways—in ways that, well, in ways that I don’t often have words for. Writing is about the only mode or task that I have ever felt entirely “at home” in.
I’ve obviously learned a few things about people out there in Internet-land, too. I’ve learned that (some) people can be stupid and reckless and cruel and careless. Obviously. More importantly, though, I’ve learned that (many more) people can be wonderfully kind and thoughtful and decent and inspiring. I’ve learned that human beings have a hunger to connect with other human beings about things that matter—things like love and truth and hope and God and freedom and meaning and humour and grace and mercy and salvation and redemption and all kinds of other things. I’ve experienced the gift of other people, even if in a limited way, on this blog. I’ve been the recipient of love and care and kindness here. And I am grateful.
Whew. This is getting rather long. And melodramatic. I should probably stop.
So, this is the part of the “blogging about blogging” post where I thank you for reading. Those two little words—”thank” and “you”—don’t quite seem adequate to the task. They don’t really convey all that I mean when I express my appreciation for the folks who read what I write here and contribute to the conversation. I was talking with someone the other day about how it’s tough to make money writing these days. And it is, obviously. But I got to thinking that if kindness is a kind of currency, then I have surely received far more than I deserve over these last nine years.
So I say those two words again. Thank you. A thousand times.