.: bloggers on blogging --> fred first
Bloggers on Blogging, May 2006
Fred First started Fragments from Floyd, as a private blog in March 2002, going public in April of that year. After a two year hiatus of "living fully at home", in 2004 he returned to part-time work, teaching Environmental biology, Anatomy, and Physiology at Radford University and doing physical therapy with a private practice clinic. His first book, Slow Road Home ~ a Blue Ridge Book of Days, "celebrates of a year of intentional living immersed in the personal and natural history of place."
Fred, 58, has a BS in General biology; a Masters of Science with a major in vertebrate zoology and a minor in botany—both from Auburn University in 1970 and 1973 respectively; and a Master of Science in Physical Therapy in 1989 from University of Alabama at Birmingham, his home town. He lives in Floyd County, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwest Virginia—"a county with 14000 residents, and only one traffic light". He and his wife Ann live on "80 rugged acres on the headwaters of Goose Creek" with their Labrador Retriever, Tsuga.
What is the first weblog you read?
I think it must have been Chris Pirillo's—and he was promoting these blog things as a way for families to collaborate when planning vacations and such. I tried this. Nobody else in the family wanted to play.
What about that blog appealed to you?
I saw in that blog the potential of the medium for the first time: the fact that you could type like on a word processor or email, but then instead of hitting save or send, you hit PUBLISH—and created something permanent that instantaneously was universally accessible.
Why did you start your weblog?
Complex answer. I knew that my job, and perhaps my second career, was about to come to an end. I was being harassed into a resignation and was angry and frustrated and needed to talk it out, but there was no one to listen. In this way, the blog was cathartic.
But then—and this marks what I consider the real START of the blog—in early June I wrote a piece (Summer Lightning) about my ambivalence, feeling sad and disappointed with how I had been treated by "professional" peers but at the same time excited at the possibilities of a deeper grounding in the where of my life. I posted it to Fragments, and soon I got an email telling me how powerfully that person had felt my words, and how it had touched them and given them hope. I wanted and needed to reach other people then, to build community, because we live in a very physically isolated place and I was further isolated by my newly-unemployed status. I think that this was my core need—to listen to others and to be heard, and to make a difference, to be a part of something.
What is your site about?
“ I think this was my core need—to listen to others and to be heard, and to make a difference, to be a part of something. ”
I have tried very hard to make the daily writing about whatever was touching my mind and heart at the moment. It has been a difficult 4 years to remain passive and neutral about things I hold dear, including the physical health of our people and of the planet. But the blog readership does exert a kind of pressure by expectations that I will stay true to my most consistent and authentic passions: the often overlooked beauty in small things, small moments right where we live. It is a blog devoted in large part to nurturing an awareness of wonder in the everyday, or to see the humor or pathos in those days. I do swing wide sometimes, but usually eventually come back to focus on the here and the now: the pace, place and pleasures of simple country living.
How has your site changed over the years?
Not much, appearance-wise. I drive this machine, I don't go under the hood. I do change the banner images regularly, and have posted well over 500 images on the site over the years. It is a very seasonally-adjusted blog, and my moods and writing, as well as the images, shift with what's in bloom, the weather, and the birds I hear over the click of the keyboard.
There is a flow of change that is related to who's visiting and commenting. Some cohorts of blog guests during a period of time have stoked my inspiration and encouraged me to think and write in new realms, other groups don't have this effect—I see that looking back over the archives. For a while, the idea of living in place was very prominent, and the Ecotone was conceived and flourished for a year. Then, as these things do, it became spam infested and languished, and Fragments changed because of that. It has changed, too, when (often because of the blog) I've taken on new responsibilities in the community, professional and otherwise.
There is a kind of gyroscopic correction that goes on when visitors come to a blog with expectations. My blog became "branded" in its first year as a quiet place free from discord, a refuge of sorts when so many blogger voices of the day were brash and strident. Should I veer from this quiet center—as recent politics and environmental and public health issues have demanded I do—I am scolded by readers to "not disappoint" in the words of one commenter. And I feel compelled to change as world events change, and at the same time, to hold firm to my commitment to wonder, reflection and an eye to detail too often missed when we become angry or fearful of things beyond our control.
Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I think that would make me mad.
Here's the exact quote from the commenter I mentioned, found in my archives just the other day:
"Fred, I have enjoyed your fine articles about life in Floyd...but you will lose me with political discussions, especially if the ideology is the same as Sen Byrd. Please don't disappoint."
Yes, I bristled. I had a little conversation in my head with this commenter, and jotted it down:
My purpose in maintaining this weblog is neither to mollify your political itch or to avoid "losing" you as a reader. If you find some opinions on this page are contrary to your own, please give them careful consideration for the merit and truth they might contain, or failing that, you can maintain your rigid points of view and find many blogs that fit them nicely. Have a nice day.
Of course, I never sent it. But I thought it, and wrote it down, and my blood pressure probably came down a notch.
Do you have a background in writing?
I've always had some technical mastery over writing, and been a lover of language. But until the blog, all my writing had been cold, objective record keeping. A long-time photographer, I learned early on with the blog that one could take pictures with words and I came to enjoy savoring compositions of texture and light with the eye, then working to convey that mood and emotion with language. In the blog readership, I suddenly had an audience for the daily prose and prattle and this was like being able to show a new friend all my photos hidden in albums otherwise unseen. Writing to an image has been an unrealized desire for years; the blog was the perfect medium for "images in words and pixels" as I describe Fragments.
“ Writing has become habitual, necessary and beneficial, and I can’t imagine that I would have persisted in it, had it not been for the weblog. ”
And I learned in June of that first blogging year that my words had a power to effect change and do good. It blew me away the first time a reader told me how much impact something I'd written had had for them, turned their thinking around, gave them hope or courage. I vowed to "write every day, write from the heart, and write what you know" because it became important for me, a novice writer, to become a better word photographer. Writing has become habitual, necessary and beneficial, and I can't imagine that I would have persisted in it, had it not been for the medium of the weblog and community of support and sharing that it entails.
How often do you update?
Daily, unless I'm out of town, and twice or more each day when I feel like it. Frequency and word count are definitely related to the other things that are going on in my life, and I've written fewer words and fewer posts per day since I started back teaching in August of 2004.
How much traffic do you get?
Something like 200 visits, 300 page views, pretty consistent over the past year—not a huge crowd, as blogs go. I get relatively few google hits, don't know why. Have changed keywords, etc, but I seem to be under the radar. See Technorati answer.
What is your blog's rank on Technorati?
My stock was once pretty high on Technorati—something like 1200 or so, and under 500 in the TLB ecosystem. Then, the site was hacked, I totally disappeared from TLB never to return, and have crept up to something like 11,600 now in Technorati. I'll confess, in the past 18 months with life becoming busier than I'd like it to be, I've been a poor reader and commenter of other folks' blogs, and its no wonder the worth or influence of Fragments measured in these ways has fallen. I don't measure its value to me in such ways, though, but sometimes get discouraged that there isn't as much community and interaction at Fragments as there once was.
Do you make money on your site? How?
I have not sought to profit from the blog in the past. In the past month, I've used the blog as a front end pointing toward a wiki for the book, and have a paypal button on that site.
Which tool do you use? Why?
I used NoteTabPro to create blog posts because it provides a permanent record of each post I can search for links, phrases, and topics. It allows customizable boilerplate html for inserting images and the like. I use Movable Type because a few years ago when I was having problems with my Blogger.com site, MT was the way everybody serious about blogging seemed to be going. As I said, I don't do much tweaking, and am a dependent parasite on the skills and knowledge of friends for fixes and changes.
Has your weblog led to any other opportunities?
Wow. This could take pages, but I'll try to be concise.
Early on, at my wife's insistence in that early period when I was thinking that writing might turn out to be a new force and outlet in my life, I sent in a piece to the local NPR station that hosts a weekly essay every Friday. It was accepted, much to my surprise, and I've just recorded my 16th essay. This gets a regional audience, and has increased my confidence and visibility as a writer in our county. In December, 2004, I was asked by the local newspaper editor if I'd be interested in writing a biweekly column on subjects of my choice. The Road Less Traveled has been a regular feature since then (complete with my mug) and has been well received. I've been asked to serve on boards of directors in several places and offered other community involvement, based on my writing "expertise".
And finally: it was at the end of the first year of writing that I met a gentleman-scholar who read my work, believed in me as a writer, and encouraged me to think about compiling my journal writings and other things into a book. With some detours in 2004 because the teaching opportunity came along, Slow Road Home is my recently published book that arises almost exclusively from writing for the blog, radio or newspaper—all of this about the sense of wonder and bond of belonging that has come from discipline of daily writing to my online journal, Fragments from Floyd.
Why did you choose to create a wiki for the book instead of a blog or static website?
Two reasons: simplicity and security (and also possibly laziness).
First, the reason I used the wiki is my comfort with the simple wiki language (plus a wee bit of HTML) and with the free version of pbwiki in particular after using it as a communication base for my biology classes over recent semesters when I was teaching. I don't have a history as builder of web pages of any sophistication (as I have said, preferring to drive the car, not tweak it's parts) and the wiki allows even an HTML-and-CSS light-weight such as myself to instantly add images, links and especially to create collateral pages that can be made conspicuous and easily accessible in the wiki sidebar. It's not the most graphically rich page (though the pbwiki proprietors are making improvements all the time) and someday I may want to do more with the book website using Dreamweaver or somesuch. But right now, the wiki is the greatest return for the investment of my time and makes the essential information about the book available to those who might be interested.
The second reason for choosing a wiki over a webpage is security and reliability. In all likelihood, a web page about the book would have been housed in the same place as my Moveable Type blog—a server that has been maliciously hacked, rebuilt and modified a number of times over the past six months. I trust the wiki will remain free from the sleazy types that look for vulnerabilities and open doors for comment and trackback spam or more sinister intrusions into my pages. I would like it if I didn't disappear off the radar during this first year of the book's availability, and maybe the wiki will last.
How do you choose items to write about?
“ Just before I began blogging, my grandmother died, and I realized I never knew her stories. I wanted my family to have some of mine. ”
I think this process has evolved as my personal situation has changed during my blogging life. In the first year, a good bit of my writing came from a desire to simply tell my story to myself, to re-examine my roots, in a sense. I found that my kids had heard but not remembered my yarns and blarney about my childhood, the snake stories from my college biology years and so on. Just before I began blogging, my grandmother died, and I realized I never knew her stories. I wanted my family to have some of mine, so there was that motivation. I reverted, too, in that time to being someone who looked for beauty and deeper meaning from nature, and so my blog readers became like field trip students in a way, and the choices of subject matter were as varied as what was blooming, nesting or crawling just outside my window.
In the second year, with my stories told, I began to transition into more of a photo-blog and blog about place. I had an epiphany during this sabbatical in that, while I felt rootless, I came to realize I had always lived in or near the southern mountains—I was Appalachian and was a son of the Mountain South. Blog posts reflected my love of the mountains and nature, as did the photography of that period.
When I started back teaching, my choices for posts came from current events, environmental concerns and bits of interesting natural history and ecology that I ran across in my preparation for class.
So the short answer is: if it interests me, it's fair game for a post. I keep a little list of jots in my HTML editor with possible subjects, URLs and clips for future posts, and I never get close to depleting that list.
Did your class read your blog? Or rather, did you tell them about your blog?
I didn't make a point to tell my classes about the blog, but a few times, I had a post up on Fragments that was related to our classroom topic of the day, and pointed the "air projector" toward that, and we discussed it on the blog, on the classroom screen. I gave them the link if they were interested in clipping the url of the topic, which some were, because it might appear one day on a test.
A few realized it was a "publication" of mine, and was about current and local events, photography, nature, and maybe even about them. So some returned, as my visit meter showed, and a few even stuck around for the long haul. I still get emails from a couple of students—one, an aspiring writer in my biology class; the other, a gal in my anatomy class who fell in love with our dog and the photography; she still leaves comments on Fragments from time to time. But mostly, I compartmentalized the blog from the class. And with great effort, I resisted talking very much about my frustrations trying to teach "the world's most interesting subject" to largely indifferent freshman. (A few of whom ultimately came to life.)
How long does it take you to write an entry?
That's all over the map and it depends on the source and destination for the writing. If the post has come from my early morning browse during cup-of-coffee #1, then I might cut and paste a quote, add a comment and a link, and publish—done in an eyeblink. If the piece is the core of what I think might go on to become a radio essay or newspaper column, I start those in Word, give them a file name, and come back to them over a few days.
“ It’s important to find a balance between time spent blogging and time spent living so that there is a world of experience to write about. ”
I look at Sitemeter stats and know the average reader stays in the page for less time than it takes to read 400 words, and if I've written 800, then I feel like my poor ol' momma used to feel on Thanksgiving day, sweating over a hot stove for hours for her family to devour her hard work in a few minutes. But like momma, its not all about the eating; there's joy in the preparation. It's important to find a balance between time spent blogging and time spent living so that there is a world of experience to write about.
Do you have a formula for writing a winning entry?
Gee, I don't know that I've won anything yet. But then, I'm the judge and I suppose I award the prizes. Formula? I'm not that structured. I have the benefit of feedback from readers, and measured by that outcome, a post "wins" when it says something in a way that makes a person re-examine their own way of seeing or thinking about the world. If, at the end of reading a post, a reader has an AH! a HA! or a Ha-ha, then I've succeeded. That happens only once in a while. Lots of base on balls, not so many out of the park.
Do you ever write to deliberately provoke a reaction? Any tips on how to do that?
I think especially if you can anticipate who your readership will be (if you have fairly faithful return-reader base) you can press hot buttons if you want. I generally (but not always) stay away from saying something in such a way that I come down hard on one side or another of an issue. When dealing with a topic that will not be universally agreed upon, I try to voice my own questions on both sides of the issue rather than seeming too cock-sure of myself, to keep my sense of humor and not take myself too seriously. I'm not a ranter, as a rule, and chose more often to evoke thought or reflection rather than to provoke.
Are you fairly accurate in predicting which of your entries will be widely linked?
I honestly don't make those predictions, and especially lately, don't get widely quoted or many trackbacks. I do know that the number of comments is sort of inversely proportional to the word count, complexity of the language and time I've spent ruminating over the subject. Many of the pieces that pleased me most in terms of personal satisfaction of saying something fairly well have gotten zero comments—which at first used to sting a little, not so much any more.
If I want to boost comments and trackbacks, I can predict with reasonable certainty that I can do this with a picture and a little piece about the dog. I've had readers ask for "all Tsuga, all the time." I think we have a winner: the all-dog-blog. (And let's just have a little biology lesson here: our dog's name comes from the genus of the eastern hemlock, a tree species that, to my great dismay, is disappearing in my recent lifetime from the eastern forest, victim of an imported aphid-like insect, the hemlock woolly adelgid. End of lesson.)
How many hours a day do you spend online?
Putting on my physical therapist hat: too much, from an ergonomic standpoint. I spend a couple of hours in the morning, even if I'm going to work that day. The computer, because it is integral to so much of what I do, holds a pretty tight command over my time inside. For the past six months while getting the book ready, I've been tied to the computer most of the time I'm in the house, honestly. With spring full upon us and the book completed, I'll have a more balanced life of mowing, gardening and getting next year's firewood under cover.
I once set myself a goal of reading a book for an hour for every hour writing; of exercising a fifteen minutes for every hour at the computer; of reading other people's and interacting with other blogs and bloggers for the same amount of time I futzed with my own. I have failed utterly to do any of this, but it sounded lofty.
How much time each day do you spend on your site?
Hmmm. I generally have done what I'm going to do on Fragments by 8:00 in the morning. I don't do very much unstructured browsing; it can become an incredible time-sink, and there are so many intentional destinations I want to go with a particular question or interest. Again, I keep a list of things I want to research—some for the blog, more just because I'm curious.
When do you blog?
I'm most definitely a morning writer. (It's 5:20 a.m. right now.) My day usually begins around 4 in the morning. If I'm not working that day, I will try to stay focused until around 8:00. I often have an early post (before 6) and a later one, toward 8. In the first year, I often began ruminating about the next day's post the evening before. I'd rough out a topic, struggle with it, hit a brick wall, and go to bed. During the night, some kindly elves would have spun my straw into golden threads (well, maybe more like polyester) and I'd be able to breeze right through and finish the post easily over coffee before the wife left for work.
How does your day job affect your weblog?
I used to blog a lot about my biology teaching topics in those recent semesters when I was back in the classroom. I wrote often about global warming and about the public health disaster that is avian flu (starting back in November of 2004)—which ruffled the feathers of nay-sayers who accused me of being a sky-is-falling blogger. (Er, uh, I would point out that this bit of sky is still falling, isn't it? But I shan't go there.) Where was I?
Right now, I'm back in a physical therapy clinic two days a week. There are issues of confidentiality that make me keep those conversations and personalities and stories compartmentalized apart from the blog. Perhaps some day, I'll weave this experience into a bit of writing for which I will not be sued. But right now, other than usurping a considerable bit of my energy, my day job is quite separate from my blog writing.
Would you like for your blog to be your job?
I considered this back when I didn't know what I was going to do for a living, thinking I'd never go back to either teaching or PT (and have since gone back to both!) But no, I wouldn't want to have the pressure of appealing to an audience to make a buck. I'd much rather just speak my peace, keep my tiny cadre of reader-friends plus a few random google searchers, and keep the blog the way it is. On the other hand, it would be nice to earn some income from writing, which in a tiny way, I am.
“ I like that balance of blogging for free, but earning from it the intangibles of community, self expression and personal growth. ”
I pay for my monthly DSL from the tiny check I get for the Floyd Press column every month; and I may end up in the black with the book. We'll see. And in a way, the blog feeds into so many other kinds of networking and opportunity, it can't be separated from "what I do." I like that balance of blogging for free, but earning from it the intangibles of community, self expression and personal growth. That's a pretty good income, I think.
How many weblogs do you follow?
Doh! I've quite fallen through the cracks in this category of late. I have had about 50 blogs in my list, on average, and I used to try to catch up with all of them at least once a week, never all of them every day. Here again, I find it pulls me in so very many directions to find a dozen threads I want to respond to, but not really have time to do justice to an informed comment or email to the blogger. I think other bloggers face the same issue when they visit Fragments. We are all tending to become overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of worthwhile blog sites that dilute our attention to smaller and smaller stays, more shallow involvement with the ones we visit. But I digress.
How do you find new weblogs?
More by chance than by design, but usually within a topic-bloggers site—about birding, about place, about the southern mountains. Since blogrolls are like attracting like, that's a pretty good place to look for kindred blogs, if I'm feeling like I need yet another dozen great folks to read. I've confessed I haven't been guilty of very wide reading or adding blogs to my list, but this is likely how it would happen.
In your reading, do you actively seek out differing points of view? How?
“ I think it’s important for us to test our own opinions against the strongest arguments we can find that oppose us, and be ready to change our minds if the preponderance of evidence is against us. ”
Again, with my blog more about place and nature, opinion and viewpoint don't form a large portion of my web log's topics as a rule. I do have readers from time to time that disagree with me and send links that support their points of view, and if I have time, I will usually follow them. The matters of global warming/climate change and the "end of oil" come to mind. Those are highly important matters about which I've voiced an opinion, and I've wanted to see the best arguments on the other side of the issue; same with avian flu and the "recent unpleasantness" over in those "I" countries. It's not hard to find voices on both sides of any of this, and I think it's important for us to test our own opinions against the strongest arguments we can find that oppose us, and be ready to change our minds if the preponderance of evidence is against us. It's hard not to hold to our cherished points of view with a white-knuckled grip, but it is also dangerous.
Do you have any can't-miss sites?
If I have time to browse blogs, lately I'm more likely to do so among the ones that have sprung up close by. Four years ago, I was the only blogger in the county, one of a very few in this end of the state. Now, I have a good half dozen blogger-friends here in Floyd County: Doug Thompson at Blue Ridge Muse, David St. Lawrence of Ripples, and poet Colleen Redman at LooseLeafNotes to name a few. I often learn something about local events in their pages that effect me more immediately than reading blogs from other far-off places. So I suppose I consider them among my must-reads.
What steps have you taken to gather an audience?
I could tell you what steps I think should be taken, but then I'd have to tell you I have mostly failed to take them in my recent blogging efforts. I've been more about sustaining a consistent presence than growing a reader base. That may change now that I'm not teaching (part time teaching is full time work!) and now that I have some new experiences coming up in the process of marketing and promoting the book.
What do you think makes a successful weblog?
I think a successful weblog will have at its helm an empassioned, consistent and responsive person who has a lot of energy for his or her topic and audience. Build it well, and they will come.
What is your advice for a new blogger?
Find your voice. Don't try to be all things to all people. Trust your gut. And remember the old bromide: write every day; write from the heart; write what you know. Write without hope, and without despair. Enjoy discovering what you think by seeing what you say. Count on the kindness of strangers to help; there is real community out there. You'll be amazed. Return a kindness for every one received. Explore new places, join conversations, learn from every site you visit and make it part of yours. Persevere. Take breaks from time to time—a blog free day, or week, and come back fresh.
How has your writing changed since you started blogging?
Some of my writing has become more intentional and pragmatic. I have the little newspaper column due every two weeks, so have had to write to a deadline, which is an interesting pressure.
I have to say, as a brand spanking new writer four years ago, I told myself that the way to gain writing muscle was to do some "lifting" every day. And sure enough, I find that what used to take me hours to say often comes much more quickly now. So I don't anguish quite as much, type a little faster with my thoughts, and have a better understanding of language and communication pitfalls to avoid. I think I have a better understanding of how reading on screen is different from reading in a book, and parse my paragraphs and language a bit differently than I did as a novice. I don't know if that's good or bad, but it seems to be happening. I also am evolving beyond the 700 word essay length, and hope in the future to begin having more lengthy and complex thoughts on things, and have some of that find its way to paper. I'm writing more and more to places other than the blog, and that takes away from what ends up there versus what goes into a future piece far longer than the average blogger dwells on Fragment's front page.
Before you began blogging, did you consider yourself a writer? Do you now?
I would never have thought of myself at all as a writer before the blog. I anguished terribly over calling myself a writer in those early blogging months, though I knew that was where I wanted to go. And I found some peace by telling myself this: "If a man carries a gun into the woods looking for game, he is a hunter, even if he comes back with nothing in his pouch. In the same way, you are a writer. You go out into the world looking for your quarry every morning. You may or may not find it or it may be small with not much meat. But if you go into those woods, you are a writer." So in this sense, yes, I'm a writer: one who practices a certain way of framing the world in words as a way of celebrating it, making sense of it, holding it up to the light.
How many hours do you spend on offline media?
Well let's see: television is easy: zero hours. We had satellite service here for a while—the "Crappy Forty" package. I opted to spend the money for DSL instead (yes, even here in the hinterlands!) and we've not had TV since 2003. (In my stay-at-home slipper and bathrobe year, I became quite a fan of the Gunsmoke reruns, and commenced to tawkin' like Festus Hagan. So it's probably a good thing we pulled the plug.)
Other offline media: I'd guess maybe 3 hours a week listening actively to music and another three listening passively (while driving, boxing books, etc); 2 reading magazines, and 2 reading books—3 if you count the one in the Porcelain Library.
Does non-Web media contribute to your blogging? To your other writing? How?
Radio has a good bit of influence. Our deep valley filters out all radio stations except two: the local NPR station and their channel for BBC. I often post my take on something I've heard there, and most times, can put up a link to audio files on the NPR site so the reader can go listen to what I've heard.
We get only a couple of magazines, as I suffer great guilt holding a weekly that was recently part of the Northern Coniferous Forest. Orion Magazine is a long-time regular read; and National Geographic, a gift from a family member, that I cannot bring myself to either cancel or throw away. We will eventually have to put more support under the back room where staggering stacks of yellow and black are stored, year after year after year....
Books: I used to read a lot, non-fiction mostly, as the real world holds quite enough wonder, adventure and entertainment that I haven't often ventured over into fiction. But quite honestly, since I began writing—and even knowing it is true that to be a good writer one must be a good reader—I've read much less since starting the blog. Part of that is because every time I sit down with a book whose subject I'm passionate or curious about, I find I can't read more than a page without rushing back to the keyboard to jot a note, search for a new term, or begin a rant triggered by the catalyst of the book. As I said earlier, I'm looking for better balance. Wish me luck.
Why do you blog?
“ I blog to better connect me with me, with you, with the me I’ll be ten years down the road, and with those who come after. ”
To which of the mornings over the past four years do you refer? Honestly, there are a lot of answers to that one, as if to answer "why do you speak?" The blog has become, in a sense, a kind of life process—a natural extension of my creative impulse, my social network, my inner conversation and outer expression, and so it's hard to give a single answer. I guess the common denominator answer would be that blogging has been a universal tool to record, share and examine my life outside the bubble that my remote existence would be without it. I blog to better connect me with me, with you, with the me I'll be ten years down the road, and with those who come after.
How has your weblog changed your life?
At the most basic level, the change has come from the fact that the weblog turned me toward writing as a way of "taking pictures." A blog post is a snapshot in words of a moment, a thought, a scene, a still life or landscape. Blogging was a natural companion to my long history of seeing the world through a photographer's eye. Writing (other than technically) has changed my life, and the blog was the medium that nurtured that transformation in 2002. I've always been thankful for the way my photographic eye has made me more aware of shadow and light, color and texture and form. Now, writing/blogging has made me attend to (and try to capture) these same features with words, so that even the little details of a mundane day take on a larger life, become prominent, note-worthy. The blog is my film.
Then there are the friends I've made, not a few of whom I have met, some coming to Goose Creek for a front porch visit. There are the opportunities I've had (doing the radio essays, writing for the paper, writing the book and such) and the visibility the blog has given this ordinary life in a beautiful place. The blog has become résumé, business card and life story, accessible with a mouse click. How could that not have changed my life?
With regard to blogging, what was your most memorable moment?
There have been long periods during which some new and amazing thing happened because of the blog. I wish I'd been keeping a list. Here's one spin-off that makes me grin: I left Virginia and gave up teaching in 1987, a career ended forever, I was sure. In the summer of 2004, a former teaching acquaintance heard one of my NPR radio essays (based on a blog post) at just the time the biology department was looking for someone to teach "environmental biology" at Radford University. "Hey, Fred First is back in the area. I heard him on the radio this week" my acquaintance told the division chairman. And so because of the blog that lead to the essay that was broadcast on the radio, I have, to my great astonishment, returned to teaching—ta da!
What are three blogs you think deserve wider recognition, and why?
Other than my own and yours, you mean? I'm going to be unable to answer that one, because as I've said before, I'm woefully out of touch with so many new blogs that have come along in the past year and a half since I've been busy with other things. I would hope someday there will be a better way to connect well-written and conscientiously-updated blogs with a potential readership. And this is especially necessary for those that don't move up in the ranks by talking about current events.
What are your hobbies?
Is blogging a hobby? I suppose in some sense it was, but has become more or other than that now, I think. And tinkering with the computer, generally, must be a hobby: I spend no small amount of time under the hood, tweaking for efficiency, stability and usability—a mildly-geeky greasemonkey. We have a large garden. We heat almost entirely with wood that I cut from our place or collect from windfall along the road or from friends, and these are hobbies of necessity. Writing the book, in the end, will probably turn out to be a hobby, as far as the IRS sees it. I think the endeavor has to make money to be called a business.
What is the most telling thing about you?
Telling? Meaning a small but apparent feature in one's personal makeup that points to a larger and deeper truth about who and what they are all about?
One characteristic about me that is more or less evident on the blog and the book is that I am readily amazed and often in awe of nature, human and otherwise. This reflects a genuine and life-long sense of wonder—an trait that has made me, at times, a successful biology teacher and which sustains me as a nature-and-place blogger and writer. And what this state of mind tells about who I am on a deeper level is that, since I was very young, I've had the haunting conviction that what we see, think, hear, and "know" is a shadow world; that there are layers and layers of reality and truth below the surface. Along with C.S. Lewis and other Christian mystics, I hold the sense that the physical world of nature is not accidentally laden with true metaphor, nesting dolls of meaning or beauty to which we are often blind or indifferent. Someone long ago said that, in wonder, is the beginning of wisdom. To quote one of my favorite authors....
We have so little time in the present and there is so very much to take in and share. There are wonders all around. From our everyday lives, these familiar things may seem unremarkable to us. But in these precious instants in time, if we keep our eyes open and our hearts ready to know it, there is nothing ordinary. From the Author's Note, Slow Road Home ~ A Blue Ridge Book of Days, by Fred First
Mac or PC?
PC, but I have Mac-envy.
Would you read your site?
Wait a minute. Are you messing with my head? Would I read my site if I weren't me? Or would I read it if there were two me's: one me to write it and another clueless me to stumble across it at random, not be aware of the first me who had written it, and judge it objectively and decide to read or not read as if it were any of a million other blogs? Would mini-me read it? Is this another way of asking "What would you think of yourself if you didn't know you?" I can't wrap my brain around this one, Rebecca. You skunked me, true.
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