Thursday, June 14, 2007

Bloggers' Love of Language + Generosity = Something Ineffable

2004 really wasn't all that long ago, but it seems like ages. I first started blogging that summer, partly to deal with my anxiety about the upcoming election, and partly because I had been sick and couldn't do much else. It seems appropriate at this particular moment-- a transitional one for me-- to mention a few bloggers that I met when I first started at Salon. Not only because of the theme of community-- first there, and now here, although that is true-- but even more because each of them has an immense love of language and storytelling.

Although there were a lot of bloggers who were generous with their time and encouragement to other newbies, these four stand out for me: Birdie, who began her first blog, Beauty Dish, in order to track her experiences as a single mother selling Avon; Sam, whose blog, feral, underwent many transformations before it's ultimate end; and Dick Jones, whose Patteran Pages includes poems, reminiscences, stories about his days in rock and roll (which didn't really end all that long ago), and photos of both his older and youngest children, all glorious examples of offspring; and perhaps the most unusual of all, Mark Hoback, of Fried Green al-Qaedas, and once of The Virtual Occoquan (now on hiatus), and more recently of The Aristocrats.

Birdie tells the very best stories of anyone I know. She would consistently have her readers refreshing their screens all day long-- sometimes for days at a time-- waiting for the next unbelievable episode in her life. What made her stories so wonderful was partly her sense of adventure and her ability to turn anything into a story worth telling, but also her openness to life itself and her ability to say yes. It also didn't hurt that stories worth telling kept happening to her... like the night when an unknown person rang her doorbell in the middle of the night to alert her that they were leaving a potbellied pig (named Frank E. Bacon) with her because they knew she loved animals. (All of this information was conveyed in the note attached to Frankie.) Or the curious customers she met while hawking Avon: the naked lady, the lady with the monkey who needed conditioning lotion, the very content married lady who had discovered an unusually satisfying use for the firming cream, and on and on. Some rainy day, or any day when you could use a laugh, try and read through her archives. You'll probably find something that will make you laugh and cry. Especially, if you come across the story about her younger Trekkie son and the Pledge of Allegiance. We also had virtual parties in Birdie's comment pages, complete with graphics of food, beverages, and sometimes costumes. That's one advantage of Salon's strange comment editing boxes... if you know how, you can post a picture of something yummy. In the comment box. Something we can't do here. Or in most other comment boxes, for that matter. And the after-party clean-up only looked bad; it really took no time at all when everyone pitched in.

Sam's blog was one of the most linguistically stylish I've ever had the pleasure to read, her use of language the most impeccable and free of cliches. She had a successful career as an editor, but at heart may be more of an artist. Sam has lots of stories and adventures, too, though not usually as light-hearted as Birdie's, due to her different circumstances. In Sam's daily posts, you might find a poem, fresh that morning from a dream or her psyche, or oftentimes a description of the natural sounds, along with the sights and scents, on her walkabouts in rural Northern California. I haven't found any other blogs with such soundtracks, or more properly... sensetracks. Of course, there would be the requisite posting of animal pictures, but on a grander scale, with sequential photos of both Sam and her brother, Brian, accompanying those of their amazing menagerie of animals: numerous dogs and cats, itinerant boarding visitors (e.g., a large turtle with a dour personality), and two llamas. Sam has since been busy trying to make a go of a bookstore, and has created a much-needed and beloved center for booklovers in her small town, but its success has been complicated beause she has had to move the business-- while caring for her autistic brother and an extended family of friends, both two-legged and four-legged-- sometimes just within blocks, 3 or 4 or 5 times. Maybe 6. I've lost count. Ai yai yaiii... only a true-blooded Capricorn like Sam could have accomplished as much heartbreaking work as she has in the few years I've known her, while fulfilling all of those other obligations.

Dick Jones was one of the first two people to leave a comment on my Salon blog, Bread Crumbs-- on my second post-- the one with an illustration for R.L. Stevenson's "When I was sick and lay abed," and the accompanying poem, posted because I felt that was how GWB thought of our military, like some toy soldiers he could play with whenever he felt like it. Getting to know Dick was a refreshing respite (redundancy needed for emphasis) because he lives in the UK, and was perfectly willing to read or listen to political diatribes against the current occupant and his administration, even when he didn't know all of the parties involved. And you could always count on him for a pithy one- or two-word epithet to fit the occasion. Dick's blog posts are varied. He is an accomplished poet who writes from the intersecting axes of his memory and dreams and history, both his family's and his country's, especially WWII. A few years older than I am, he has far more courage, given that he is the doting father of not one, nor two, but of three toddlers, the youngest of whom has just had her first birthday. You'll have to look at his blog yourself, or you won't believe me when I say how gorgeous they are. And their older siblings look pretty great, too. Dick's blog is also a good place to look for a good joke (especially for comparisons of US and UK humor) or a fitting quote.

Mark Hoback's blog scared me a little at first, and I wasn't sure I wanted to add a name like Fried Green al-Qaedas to my blogroll, since we still didn't know at that time what the Patriot Act really meant, or what the DHS would be looking for. Nevertheless, I girded my loins and added the link. Mark posts some of the most pointed and biting satire anywhere, good enough that his work, especially his graphics, have sometimes been used by other bloggers without citation. [A big no-no in my book.] And yet, he was unfailingly generous in collaborating with me, photoshopping images when needed, most notably for an online "dialogue" between Ayn Rand and Jesus Christ, with a very familiar-looking alien calling them to account. Occasionally he would use something I had written for the Virtual Occoquan, his online literary review of some of the original writing on Salon blogs. If I had to name only one piece of Mark's that was my favorite, it would actually have to be a series of posts he did with tiny photo images of some very famous people speaking the words he dared to put in their mouths. The cast included Peewee Herman and his genie, Jambi, as well as Reese Witherspoon, George Bush and Laura, most of GWB's administration, and the current North Korean dictator, who had a nefarious plot that involved kidnapping you-know-whom. The photos he used were so perfectly dead-on that I would have to laugh out loud while reading each new episode. I asked Mark to extend the story line to get us through the worst of the administration. I don't recall the last date, but it may actually have been last fall.

Certainly there are many other bloggers whose work I like and admire. You have only to glance at the Bread Crumbs' blogroll... but these four people fed my spirit in a special way during a time when I was recovering from a chronic condition, and couldn't do much else but surf, blog, and post political rants and diatribes. Except for Mark, they mostly posted other things, which may be why they were so important to me then, as I look back on it. Every diet needs a bit of variety, especially a political one.

Most importantly, each one of them consistently exercised the highest respect for language and for saying what they wanted to say with integrity. Because of them and the others I met there, Salon was, and still is, in a way, a kind of "wetlands" for blogging. But, except for a handful, most of those original bloggers have left Salon for other environs.


certifiedprepwn3d said...

I am not familiar with any of those blogs - but I am familiar with that learning curve/ educational progress through the edges of our new jungle; that there are paths, and ways of going.

Karen M - you have a gift for seeing and valuing! [Most of my early time with blogs was an exercise in impotent and jealous seething at what others were accomplishing - had to learn to love and then create for myself and then share, but it was difficult for me]

Karen M said...

Thanks, Certified'!

I didn't say it was easy for me, either. ;~) Only that these four were extra-special.

[That Salon software-- Userland-- is/was a bear!]

Anonymous said...

Karen, what a surprise! I'm not sure that I recognise the individual being described, but I'm enormously flattered by the characterisation.

Dear Sam. Much missed. Did she ever initiate the email updates that she promised as a post-blog way of keeping us all up to speed with her life & times?

And of other Salon & ex-Salon bloggers, Mark's still going strong. I always recognised & appreciated his extraordinary talent for parody, but, as with many of your references & Rayne's, I know nothing of the dramatis personae nor the various scenarios in which they feature.

Birdy flourishes yet, as indefatigable & unstoppable as ever &, as with your account of Mark, I concur entirely.

And you're hanging in there too with this very promising-looking blog, which - as so many ex-Salonistas quit the blogosphere - is both comfort & encouragement.

mark h said...

I just came across this - it's hard to keep up with Karen. Thank you for including me in such good company. I look forward to reading the lot of you.

Karen M said...

Hi, Mark!

I'm glad you stumbled across us. I would have dropped you a note at some point, but have mostly been trying to keep up here, and with the comment threads at GG's blog. (Do you frequent it, too?) And then there are those other two places that I'm trying to pay more attention to.

I just opened up your profile and noticed that you have something new, too, "Bloggers for Dennis."

Anyone reading this comment should check it out. One must walk a very fine line in order to both praise & parody someone, and still be sincere. "Bloggers for Dennis" might be a rare example.