Eating Quicksand, and My Words

Posted on July 17, 2010


I resisted blogging for a long time. I even made fun of the word: blogging. It seemed to describe the sound you’d make if you were drowning in quicksand. Even worse was the term blogosphere. I’m not sure why, but I pictured a huge glass ball splattered with mud. I still do, actually.

The truth is, I resented the whole thing. I’d go to an online newspaper or magazine to read about an important event and there would be a report by some blogger. Often, the article would be riddled with grammatical errors, causing me to think smugly, “I guess anyone can be a writer these days.” Smugly and correctly, in that anyone can call themselves a writer these days. But that’s always been true. The writing profession was, until a few years ago, not a sphere but a giant pyramid. The top of the pyramid was reserved for the real writers, the professionals, those universally-acknowledged to be gifted. It was, in many ways, a closed club. You could break in — every generation has had its own class of inductees — but it took a lot of persistence and a lot of luck, and even then you could easily spend your life writing for nobody. Which meant that farther down the pyramid, there were excellent writers we never heard of, and whose work we never got the chance to read.

Of course there were also people calling themselves writers who were terrible at it. They couldn’t put together a coherent sentence and had little to say that was interesting. They almost never broke into print, and that was one of the advantages of the pyramid system: readers missed out on some good writers, but they were rarely subjected to bad ones.

Fast forward to our century, and the blogosphere. Much of what I described in the two previous paragraphs has been flipped around. We bump into bad writers every day. And if you’re starting to resent that term, I’m sorry, but just as there are bad dentists and bad trumpet players, there are bad writers. The good news is that we’ve discovered what we suspected all along: there are many more good writers than we could have ever bumped into before. Many of them are still creating books produced by traditional publishing companies, and I hope those never go away. But many others occupy the blogosphere. They’re working hard at their craft, creating wondrous experiences available to anyone willing to do a little searching. (They remind me of those eccentric artists who spent their entire lives building and polishing some secret monument to their own creativity — places such as Opus 40 in Saugerties, New York, or the eye-popping creations of Modern Earth and Land Art. If you were lucky, you could occasionally see some of these amazing sights on 60 Minutes or in a photography magazine, but for the most part they remained unknown to most people.)

I have been blogging for just over two months. In that extremely short time, I have bumped into — stumbled upon, somehow — some incredibly good writers. These are people who spend little of their time on self-promotion and much of it on working their craft. They’re producing something important and valuable, and in some cases quite beautiful. I’ve been humbled by their work. I’ve also found myself feeling grateful that I surrendered to the inevitable, found my little door into that big glass ball, and have myself become one of the tiny specks of mud in the blogosphere.

Here are ten of the creative and gifted people I’ve already been fortunate to find. Each of their blogs has been more than eye-popping: they’ve been mind-popping. Yes, we’re harassed every day by spammers and scammers, dishonest people taking full advantage of the nearly-universal connection the Internet has given them. That harassment, I suppose, is the price we pay for access to the other side of humanity, those who spend their time creating something good, and gorgeous.

It’s a small price to pay, I now freely admit.

Big Happy Nothing
These posts are written by Amiable Amiable, my first blogging buddy. (We co-coined the term bluddy, or blud. I say co-coined because neither of us wants to take the blame.) She uses blogging to instantly transport herself and her husband to far-away places around the globe. These electronic out-of-body experiences are filled with breathtaking scenery, exotic wildlife, well-researched information, and the perfect photo or video clip. A.A. sometimes stays home to give us an insightful glimpse into family and community life. It’s all a great adventure, and always a big happy something.

The Task At Hand
Linda Leinen’s blog has a subtitle: “A writer’s on-going search for just the right word.” Her posts are masterpieces of writing (and I don’t use that word very often.) Themes are wide-ranging: sailing, literature, nature, history. But those simple words can be deceiving, because Linda always finds a way to take seemingly disparate strands of life and weave them in unexpected and beautiful ways. Her posts are illustrated with intriguing photos and drawings. And they are always, it seems to me, written with precisely the right words.

Charles Paolino’s Blog
Reading Mr. Paolino’s posts is like wandering around one of the Smithsonian museums. You just never know what you’ll find, but you’re sure it will be fascinating. His interests are wildly eclectic, and in many ways match my own — baseball, Lincoln, Einstein, The Honeymooners, history, books, politics, movies, science, travel — but his ability to write about them in fascinating detail far exceeds my own. Mr. Paolino’s posts have already accumulated into a book in my mind, and I hope to see them printed and bound on my bookshelf some day.

The Happy Freelancer
Heidi Turner is a professional writer whose wonderful skills and gentle approach combine for a comfortable course on how to write, and how to make a living at it. Her posts explore all of the avenues leading to writing success, including how to relate to editors, whether to join a writer’s group, how to generate ideas, where to find work, and much more. Heidi is one of the few experts I know who’s out there helping her competition — for free. I recently discovered she has a second blog, Tripific, about travel in the Canadian and American West.

Cooperstowners in Canada
When I first investigated Kevin Glew’s blog, my hopes weren’t high. It was about baseball, yes, but with a focus on Hall of Fame players who either grew up in Canada or played for one of its two major league teams. How much material could there be? Quite a lot, it turns out. Coupled with Kevin’s thorough research and excellent writing, his storytelling skills produce enjoyable reading on all topics related to the Toronto Blue Jays and Montreal’s former Expos. His commentary is sharp, but fair, and there’s a nice balance of history and current events.

Es*sense: Esmaa’s Sense of Things
If you love gardening, cooking, outdoor adventure, and all things Colorado-natural, you’ll love Esmaa’s blog. But I have to warn you: There is so much here, you may never find your way back. Countless articles on how to grow, prepare, and store fruits, vegetables, herbs, and homemade beauty products. How to get the most out of your greenhouse, how to build your own hanging garden, how to use land most efficiently, and on and on to topics I could have never imagined. Beautiful photos, helpful videos, and a sense of humor, too. Go see.

I’m Just Sharing
This is one of several blogs created by T.T. “Mitch” Mitchell. There are plenty of nice human beings who write blogs, and plenty more who can give you all the advice you’d ever want about emerging technology and how to use it to attain your goals. Mitch is both. He’s a sensitive and funny man who happens to know a ton about social networking and online marketing. He’s written books and conducts workshops, but he gives much of it away for free in this goldmine of a blog. He also speaks his mind on politics, health, gadgets, and pretty much everything else.

The Science Essayist
As she describes herself, “The Science Essayist is Meera Lee Sethi, an inquisitive nonfiction writer and part-time skinner of birds.” This is another of those blogs that offers up a new surprise with every post. Each is written with clarity, startling insight, and humor. And while most topics are, at their core, scientific, Meera invites us to watch over her shoulder as she views them through a wide assortment of lenses. She’s one of those geniuses who describes herself as though she were one of us. The result is exhilarating, enlightening, and wonderfully human.

What Gives 365
I discovered Betty Londergan at my local bookstore last year. Not Betty, exactly, but her amazing book, The Agony and the Agony: Raising Your Teenager Without Losing Your Mind. I’ve told Betty that her funny and informative book has already saved our teenaged son’s life (and our sanity) several times. But there’s much more to this woman than great writing. Since January 1 of this year, Betty has been donating $100 a day — every day — to charitable organizations and other worthy causes, many at the suggestion of her readers. Visit her blog and be inspired.

Mirrored Images
Julia Harris is a writer and editor who loves the English language, and who uses it masterfully to describe and comment on her life and the world around her. Whether she’s inviting us to listen in on her interactions with her husband and two sons, friends, extended family, total strangers, workplace, general environment, or the state of her health, Julia treats every topic with brutal honesty, intelligence, and humor. She has a sharp tongue and a heart of pure gold, and appears last on this list only because she’s my newest favorite discovery.