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The Future of This Blog

I have been brooding about this for months. Mostly the interior argument went like this:

On the one hand: maybe it's time to quit, for various reasons (see below).

On the other hand: I'd like to keep it going through 2023 at least, to make it a full twenty years. And I do enjoy it. 

I have a couple of major writing projects in progress, and the blog is a big distraction from them. Always, at least in the back of my mind, I'm concerned about the next post, whether or not this or that is worth writing a post about, writing about it, and so forth. I'm a slow writer, and very easily distracted--I suspect I could be accurately diagnosed with at least a relatively mild form of attention deficit disorder. So even a short and straightforward post is likely to engage my attention for longer than it should. And to keep me from making progress on those big projects. 

Secondary reason: one of the big reasons I've kept it going for so long is the conversation, and there's a lot less of that than there used to be. Blogs have been out of fashion for quite a few years now, and so-called "social media" has a lot to do with that. There was a point where Facebook became really popular, and at least some of the people who used to comment here migrated there. And, I suppose, Twitter and whatever else takes their fancy. 

But on the other hand: I like doing it. I have this compulsion to write. And the conversation, though not what it used to be, is still worthwhile. So-called social media doesn't really seem to have a lot of it. I used to see a fair amount of it on Facebook, but as a great deal of it was about politics, people would get into raging arguments. And then a few years ago it seemed that most of them just gave up on that and withdrew. So, somewhat counter-intuitively, blogs, or at least this blog, can still serve that purpose. I say "counter-intuitively" because Facebook and Twitter require creating an account, which they try to insure is really you, and, for the former at least, involve creating a circle of "friends" with whom you can converse, whereas anyone who stumbles across this site is free to comment on it, anonymously if he or she prefers. I can remove comments, of course, and ban persistently obnoxious people, but I've only done the former a few times and the latter never. 

So I'm going to stick with it, but with a change. I'm going back to my original procedure, and only post once a week. That does not mean, however, that I'm reviving the Sunday Night Journal. Those posts were little essays that were often fairly clearly planned and carefully written. The weekly post from here on (until or unless I change my mind) will be more casual, perhaps a series of not-necessarily-related remarks: a weekly miscellany. I've already written most of the next one, which I expect to finish up and post this weekend.  

My thanks to all who have read and contributed to the blog over the years, both as readers and participants.

In case you're interested, here is the very first post: a review of the last installment of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies. I have not watched the new Tolkien-based series on Amazon, and don't intend to. Apart from the question of its quality, fidelity, and so forth, I just don't want Hollywood images crowding out those of my imagination.

Would Anyone Care to Test This?

Besides a useful search function, another thing that I've sometimes wished I had for this blog is a simple way for readers to be notified of new posts. Now that I've given in and set up Google search, the first point is taken care of, and I may have found a solution for the second in a service called follow.it (their capitalization). The form below is supposed to allow you to enter an email address, click "Subscribe," and thereafter get an email for new posts. I think it works but I would be interested in having others try it and let me know if it works and if there are any contra-indications. One thing I'm not sure about, for instance, is whether it requires you to register with follow.it. I was already registered when I tested it. If it's useful, I'll tailor the colors etc. of the form so that it fits the rest of the blog and put it on the sidebar. 

One possible negative is that it seems to send an email for new comments as well, which could easily be annoying. That may be something I can restrict on this end, I don't know yet. 

Get notification of new posts by email:

A Quick Question

I'm supposing that this will only be seen by people who read the blog fairly regularly: do you ever use the sidebar links to other blogs, the bit labelled "Elsewhere"?

I never do, and it hasn't been updated in I don't know how long, so that I don't even know if the sites referred to are active or for that matter extant. So I'm thinking about getting rid of it and wondering if anyone would miss it.

About A Blog

Rob G asked the other day whether there would be another 52 Somethings feature in 2017. The answer is "I don't know. Maybe." 

For the past couple of months I've been giving a lot of thought to the future of this blog, asking myself whether I should continue it or not. Here follows the internal debate. Scroll down past the bullet points if you just want the conclusion, which is helpfully labeled "Conclusion."

Arguments against continuing:

  1. It does not have a lot of readers. Never has had, and I think there has been a decline over the past couple of years. I don't have very good statistics, just an average number of page views per day. Over the life of the blog (on Typepad), which began in 2010, that number, as of right now, is 168.43. I don't have any way of knowing how many people that represents. If I assume that every person visiting the blog views at least two pages per visit, that's roughly 85 people per day. It could be many fewer, if the average visit involves more than two page views. And I don't have any way of knowing how many of those people are the same person visiting multiple times per day. Of that number of visitors, some not insignificant percentage is people who got here by searching for something that isn't very typical of the blog's content (Getting Started With Kierkegaard gets a lot of hits), and so are probably not going to return. And anywhere from maybe five to fifteen every day are me, checking in, making comments, and so forth.
  2. Conversation has lagged over the past couple of years: less of it, fewer participants. I think Facebook probably has something to do with that. Maybe a lot. A few years ago I read something in the tech press claiming that Facebook was replacing the web for a lot of people. I think there's something to that. Facebook is weirdly addictive and captivating and there are always conversations going on, though in my experience not usually very satisfying and often unpleasant ones.
  3. And actually sometimes it's more interesting to throw things out on Facebook where they'll be seen by people who don't read the blog and are likely to disagree. I have an unfortunate urge to correct anything I read that seems totally incorrect or unfair. If I preach here, I'm mostly preaching to the choir, but others need the benefit of my wisdom, too. And sometimes I find myself posting the same thing here and on Facebook.
  4. I'm not posting as much, and what I do post is usually fairly brief and relatively lightweight. The main reason for this is that my writing energy and attention are going elsewhere, mainly into the book I'm writing. Related:
  5. It's a distraction from the book. I have a lot of difficulty concentrating--sometimes I think I have ADD--and the need to keep up a reasonably steady stream of posts distracts me, yet frequently does so without actually resulting in anything appearing on the blog. "I should post about that. No, it's not that important. Well, maybe I should. No, it was a current event and now it's too far in the past." Or: "I should post about that. Ok, here's a start...never mind, it's too big a topic for a blog post." Or maybe just "I should post about that...never mind, it would take too long." And the 52 Things series adds to that: I'm often not sure whether I'm going to have anything, which is distracting in itself and also means I have to think about what I can write about in a hurry, and how to make time for it.
  6. I have too much to do. Not supposed to, now that I'm mostly retired. But I'm still doing some work for my old employer. I spend most of the morning working on the book, and in the afternoon usually have an hour or two of their work, and I'm trying to take care of most of the meals (only fair as my wife still has a full-time job), and there's a lot to do around the house, most of which doesn't get done. All that pretty well eats up the time. My difficulty focusing on one thing at a time means that if I have five ten-minute tasks to do, it will take me not 5 x 10 = 50 minutes to do them but at least a hundred, while I start one, then switch because another suddenly seems more urgent, and on and on.

Arguments for:

  1. Yeah, there's less conversation, but it's still good and I still enjoy it, and would really miss it if I didn't have it. And it's way less likely to turn unpleasant here than on Facebook.
  2. The 52 Things series, in spite of what I just said, has been very enjoyable. And I've learned a lot. And very consistently the day the 52 entry appears gets significantly more traffic than others, frequently getting close to 300 views or even a little over.
  3. I still want to comment on politics and other passing things, and really more often than not I'd rather it not be on Facebook, where it's likely to offend some people. On Facebook things hit you in the face (if you're not familiar with it, the normal setup is that you get a steady stream of updates from all your Facebook friends: so-and-so "likes" this, so-and-so posted a link to a news story, etc.). If someone posts something that really irritates you, you see it, unless you block that person altogether. So it's sort of obnoxious to post things that you know are going to offend or anger some of your friends. Whereas no one sees my blog posts unless they come here deliberately.
  4. I want and need some feedback on the book. I need an editor, actually. But for that you need a publisher, and I can't pursue that unlikely possibility and still get the book written. So I've been planning to post some excerpts here and solicit your opinions and advice.

Conclusion: Ok, that's four arguments for continuing and six against, therefore...I'll continue. The decisive argument is simply that I want to, never mind all the reasons against. So, that's settled.

However, I'm going to change things. I'm restarting the Sunday Night Journal. That may seem a little crazy in light of what I've just said. But it's going to be pretty much all I post, unless we continue the 52s, which I'll get to in a moment. And it's going to be different from its earlier incarnation. I tried to, and frequently did, make each of those entries a coherent and carefully written mini-essay. I'm putting that kind of work into the next book now. The new SNJ will be less formal, and more of an actual journal: comments on current events, books I've been reading, music I've been listening to, and that sort of thing. I won't be doing the substantial reviews that, for instance, Craig Burrell does so wonderfully. (There are about half a dozen books right now that I've wanted to discuss, but haven't because I didn't have time for that kind of review.) My hope is that this weekly feature will be a catalyst and focus for conversation. 

Since I was thinking of posting only the SNJ, I considered not posting anymore on this blog and creating a new one called the Sunday Night Journal. But I think I'll just stick with this. I may want to do other posts occasionally. (I would like to revamp the design for this one, but probably won't get to that for a while.)

So, about the 52 Things. I sort of thought there might be little or no interest in doing another one. But if people are interested, sure, let's. I'd like to do it a little differently, to keep it from being a problem for me. Whatever item we pick needs to be one for which I can rustle up something quick in the event that no one else does. I won't bother trying to set up a schedule, for instance, since so far it's started falling apart by halfway through the year or so. You can just send me things, and I'll post them. If I have multiples available on hand at any time, I'll post them in order received. If I don't have anything, I'll write something. Simple. Here are some possibilities that I've thought of:

52 Classical Music Works

52 Pop Songs

52 Albums (Pop or Classical? Or separate them?)

52 Poems

52 Books (Novels?)

I have enough of any of these stored in my head that I could easily write a few paragraphs about a couple of dozen of them over the course of a year, though of course I would hope I wouldn't need to. My contributions would tend to be brief, but that doesn't mean others' need be. 52 Poems would be a bit of a problem because it can be time-consuming to format a poem for web reading, so let's don't do that one this year, if at all.

So, what do y'all think?

By the way, about the book: if you were reading here several years ago (2011?) you would have seen bits of it posted as SNJ items. It's sort of half-spiritual-autobiography a la Surprised by Joy, and half cultural history-criticism. The working title was--well, still is, I guess--War In the Closed World. But that may change. I'm considering Weak and Afraid, after the eccentric (to say the least) musician Ross Johnson:

I'm weak and afraid--and it's a lifestyle that's working for me.


Glitches, Maybe

Tomorrow, Saturday the 2nd, I'm hoping to do something that's about five years overdue. I think it was 2010 when I moved this blog from Blogger to Typepad. I have a domain name, www.lightondarkwater.com, which still points to the old blog, though if you go there it redirects you here. I need to point that URL to this blog, and if nothing gets in the way, I plan to do that tomorrow. Those changes can take a day or so to propagate all around the net. So depending on how you go about getting here, there could be some odd behavior till things settle down. 

New Blog On the Block

Toby D'Anna, who is among the people planning to contribute to the 52 Authors project, and in fact will lead it off with a piece about Flannery O'Connor, has started blogging (again, actually, but the other one was some time ago). It is excellent, and although I've gotten to a point where there aren't really very many blogs that I read regularly--half a dozen, maybe--this has become one of them. It's called Onto the Search, and here is his introductory post, published the day after Thanksgiving.

Happy 10th Anniversary To This Site

The first Sunday Night Journal was unveiled to an eager public in January 2004. Here is a link to that month's archive; the very first post was a review of Return of the King (the movie). The posts appear latest-first, so that post is at the bottom. I think I had put up some sort of "Hello World" announcement, probably including the assertion that it was not a blog, at the end of December, but I'm not sure. At the time I intended to publish only the one weekly piece.

For the first couple of years it was a very simple web site done with hand-coded HTML and CSS. I got tired of maintaining that, and also decided that I really wanted to have comments, and more casual posts, so I started a blog with Blogger. I believe that was in June of 2006. In 2010 I moved it here from Blogger. Soon after that all the previous comments were lost, which is too bad because there were some great conversations there and I'm sure future historians would have been fascinated by them.

It was actually only last year that I finally got all the stuff from the first two and a half years posted here. Wonder how many words there are in the whole shebang.

Is TypePad mainly for women?

Or are most bloggers female now, or what? As you can see from the URL, TypePad is where this blog is hosted. They recently redesigned their own web site. The new look struck me as feminine, but I didn't really give that any thought until I had logged in to it a number of times and finally stopped and noticed the content of the page. "Crafts, food, style"? And every one of the blogs displayed on the page is by a woman. I don't care--it's a good service and I'm happy with it--but it seems a little odd. Surely it's not accidental. You don't get the same feel from the WordPress homepage.


A Convert

One never has time to read everything on the web that looks interesting. Well, that's almost a pointless thing to say, like observing that you can't drink all the water in a river. Anyway, one thing that I've thought looked pretty interesting but haven't ever read very much is a blog called Unequally Yoked, which Eve Tushnet sometimes discusses, and which appears to have begun as a forum in which a couple, one atheist and one Christian (the gal and the guy, respectively), attempted to understand each other's views in a dialog. I guess one reason I didn't follow it was that it's somewhat over my head intellectually--seems to be a good bit of philosophy-major-type stuff. (For instance:

I could hypothesize how a Forms-material world link would work in the case of mathematics (a little long and off topic for this post, but pretty much the canonical idea of recognizing Two-ness as the quality that’s shared by two chairs and two houses, etc.  Once you get the natural numbers, the rest of mathematics is in your grasp). )

Well, the atheist has converted: here's Eve's post about it, from which you can get to the atheist's announcement of her change. It's that same old story, the one we always love to hear:

I believed that the Moral Law wasn’t just a Platonic truth, abstract and distant.  It turns out I actually believed it was some kind of Person, as well as Truth.  And there was one religion that seemed like the most promising way to reach back to that living Truth. 

I wasn't at all surprised. On the few times when I did read the blog, it seemed to me that she understood Christianity far too well not to come over. Say a prayer for her; I always worry a bit about converts, that their enthusiasm will wear off, or that the questing energy which brought them in will take them out again. I don't know why I don't just look at myself for reassurance on that score; one of the very few good things I can say about myself is that it would take torture to get me out of the Church. (By the way, I think she and the Christian parted company a while back.)

Speaking of converts, Dawn Eden has a new book out. Here's some discussion at Patheo.com. I plan to read it, though the subject is not one that I have any particular connection with, just because she wrote it.

Janet's Three Prayers, and one or two other things

I'm in the middle of trying to write a book review for today's Sunday journal, but wanted to go ahead and mention that Janet Cupo, no doubt the most frequent commenter here from the beginning (and the Janet of the Undead threads), now has a blog and it's off to an excellent start. It's called The Three Prayers, and I will leave it to you to click on the link to learn what the title refers to. 

Also, I wanted to mention, for those who recommended it to me, that I watched Get Low last night, and thought it was extremely good. The only very significant thing that seemed wrong about it was the complete absence of God from the funeral, the actual one. A preacher of that time, especially an African-American one, and for that matter most of the present time, would have been talking about Jesus a lot. It hardly needs to be said that Robert Duvall's performance is great, as are those of most of the other actors. I particularly liked the Alabama boy, Lucas Black.

And while I'm at it, here is a gallery of beautiful images of darkness and dawn, courtesy of Hearts of Space. 


Best Favorite Favourite Films of 2011...

...over at All Manner of Thing. Very much worth your while if you haven't already read it. I have to pass along this comment about The Voyage of the Dawn Treader:  "I love the book, and had high hopes for the film, all of which were dashed into little pieces, swept into a little pile, and thrown overboard." All too accurate, I'm sorry to say--well, maybe not the high hopes, as mine were fairly muted--but an accurate verdict.

More Bad News for (Some) Bloggers

See item #7 on this list of formerly popular dead-or-dying web sites: TypePad and Blogger. TypePad is where this blog is hosted. It does seem pretty obvious that Twitter and Facebook have grown at the expense of blogging. However, there is something amiss with the picture painted by this article. It says that "the streamlined blogging tool WordPress.com" has continued to grow.

I don't know where they got the "streamlined" idea. I've used all three of these services, and I don't think WordPress is any simpler or easier to use than TypePad. Blogger is probably simpler than either, overall, if you're content to use their standard layouts. So why would WordPress be doing better? Because, compared to TypePad, it's just as good, and it's free (or very cheap if you want more ability to customize their designs), whereas TypePad is not. And compared to Blogger, it's better, and also free.

But that doesn't explain why WP blogs would get more traffic--regardless of which platform is superior, I can't imagine that readers decide which blogs to read based on their platform. One doesn't sit down at the computer and go looking for WordPress blogs. So either WordPress is somehow doing a better job of publicizing blogs hosted there, or it has attracted bloggers who have attracted bigger audiences.

It's Antarctica Month!

I've been meaning to mention this for several days: Craig Burrell has declared February to be Antarctica Month at his blog, All Manner of Thing, in part because "February is dang cold," (and he lives in Canada, so when he says it's cold he doesn't mean the temperature will dip below freezing for a day or so). Already, a little over a week into it, he's put together a lot of fascinating information, presented in his usual elegant way. Click here to go to the first entry, and from there you can proceed through all of them via the link at the upper right corner of each post. Unless you're already an expert on the subject, you'll probably learn a lot. And you'll enjoy it (that's an observation, not a command).

Sunday Night Journal — June 12, 2005

Distracted from Distraction by Distraction

The phrase is Eliot’s, from the Four Quartets. I’ve always thought there was a certain amount of jive in Eliot’s work, as much as I love it, and until recently might have offered this line as an example: does it really say anything more than “distracted”?

Yes, I think it does, at least if you make that second “distraction” refer not to the abstraction but to the presence of specific distractions. It refers to a condition of being so distracted that you are no longer conscious of being distracted, or don’t remember what it’s like not to be distracted, and I think I’ve been in that condition for some months now. I only realized it when I was asked to contribute to the so-called “book meme” in which bloggers list the books they own, the books they’re currently reading, and so forth. (I dislike the term, partly because I don’t think the term “meme” really conveys anything useful and partly because the “book meme” doesn’t actually seem to meet the rather vague definition of a meme.)

But whatever you want to call it, I did participate in this listing of books (and posted it on the Caelum et Terra blog), and it caused me to realize that it’s been many months since I actually read an entire book. Last Christmas my wife gave me a copy of Wendell Berry’s most recent novel, Hannah Coulter, and I got about halfway through it before the holidays ended, I went back to work, and a flood of more pressing concerns pushed the novel aside. Before that, I think it had been some months since I read Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the last book I actually read all the way through.

It’s not that I don’t read. In fact I often feel that I read too much and am unable to let my mind cease absorbing data and enter a more reflective state. But what I read has been for some time now almost entirely journalism, both in print and on the Internet. I have several books in progress, but they go untouched for months because more ephemeral matter seems, partly because it is ephemeral, more pressing. Some of the journalism is very good, like the Chesterton Review. But even there I’m not reading primary sources; I’m not reading much of Chesterton himself, and there is much that I would like to read before I die.

I’ve always had trouble concentrating, and almost every aspect of my life seems to encourage that fault. My job involves technically demanding tasks which demand extended concentration and yet requires that I be available for interruption at any moment. Comparing notes on this with a co-worker, I found that we had each arrived at a similar state: that even when there is no interruption or distraction present, the constant expectation of it makes concentration extremely difficult.

That same syndrome has now spread into my off-work time. I don’t pick up a book because I know I won’t have time to get deeply involved in it before I have to do something else. So I go off and read someone’s blog instead, absorbing one two-or-three paragraph bit after another, getting involved in discussions which will be forgotten in a few days. Or I read one of the too-numerous magazines to which I subscribe.

This has to change. I’m going to start making the book—at least one book—my highest reading priority, and work in the journalism and blogs only after spending time with the book. It will mean cutting down on my Internet time, and possibly letting a magazine subscription or two lapse. Well, so be it.