Friday, May 2, 2014

Post #100: What's a blog for?

I've been at this blog for over a year now, and this post means I've reached the milestone of 100 posts. It has been a great experience, and now I wish I'd thought of it sooner. It's given me an opportunity to reflect on things I've read, to respond to developments during an exciting time in the history of Cedar Rapids, and to sort out my own ideas while storing them for possible future use. In my first post I said my motivation was to keep track of and reflect on the reading I was doing on place during my sabbatical leave. Since then I've expanded to include issues of public policy relating not only to place, but to how people live in places. I'm pretty determined to keep the blog away from personalities, partisan advocacy and scandals. I relish the freedom to keep the focus on the issues that I think matter to people, and to respond to day-to-day events only when I find it useful.

The rewards of the blog have been great, full of unexpected (mostly good) surprises. Writing and thinking about these issues has gotten me into a stimulating public conversation with Ben Kaplan on the Cedar Rapids Gazette's "We Create Here" site. My University of Illinois friend Katie Kennedy used one of my posts in her American Government class at Northeast Iowa Community College. My high school classmate Bill Peregrine, who is now an organic landscaper in Washington state, has re-connected and offered several thoughtful comments on environmental issues. Locally it's stimulated conversations with Niles and Sophie Ross, Chris and Eryn Cronbaugh, Anne and Paul Salamon, Matthew Burrier and others about the present and future of our town. And writing a blog makes me feel connected with others I know who blog, even people like the yarn artist Kathy Guttosch (Twist and Shoutand poet Margo Grills (Weshjook's Words), whose subject matter is far afield from politics and place.

I liked e-meeting Theora Kvitka, an artist from Chicago, when I asked permission to use one of her cartoons on the blog. Weirdest exchange was with someone from an organization whose columns pooh-poohing climate change appear regularly in our local newspaper; when I criticized this practice, he responded with a comment the next day. His organization's radar is impressive, even if their argumentation is not. The experience reminded me to be ever-mindful that what I post has a potential audience. I was thrilled each day to see the page views go up and up for a post I did on Blue Zones, until I realized that the views were probably by robots. I have no idea why robots were hitting on my blog, or on that particular post, but I trust they're better robots for it.

As I enter the second year, and the second set of 100 posts, I've been pondering a few issues. Maybe these questions will answer themselves in time, but if anyone has any insights now I'd very much appreciate hearing them.
  1. Are there opportunities for new directions for "Holy Mountain"? One idea I've had for this summer is maybe once a week profiling towns around here.The economy, poverty, inclusion and the environment will remain major foci, and I'll still cover developments in Cedar Rapids, but are there places that have successfully addressed these from which other places could learn? Are there issues, or other aspects of these issues on which I could say something original and helpful? 
  2. Should I be doing something with this? Beyond the blog, I mean. I must have written 25,000 words during the past year... maybe 30,000. I have no idea whether any of them are fit for other eyes than yours, or how to find out, or whether it would be worth the effort to get them there.
  3. Are there things I need to learn about blogging itself? Are there advantages or disadvantages to Blogger versus other blogging sites? For getting the word out, I've been announcing my posts on Facebook about once every week or so. Could I do better, or more? I really don't have much entrepreneurial instinct: I found during a brief public career as a folk singer that writing songs, singing and getting up in front of people were easy compared to promoting myself. 

For the record, these are the most viewed posts I've written, as of when I'm writing this:

  1. "Am I Blue," 14 June 2013
  2. "No CR Casino... Now, What?" 17 April 2014
  3. "Third Places in the City of Five Seasons?," 14 July 2013
  4. "Cedar Rapids Development News," 21 April 2013
  5. "Please Rise, Remove Your Hats, and Pay Attention to This Commercial," 1 May 2013

This Blue Zones event at Coe College was attended mostly by humans. My blog report was read mostly by robots.
And the least (i.e. if you've read these it should be easy to prove you're not a robot):

  1. "A Holiday Tradition," 24 November 2013
  2. "The Parking Dilemma," 31 July 2013
  3. "Nothing Says Community Like...," 13 January 2014
  4. "Who Is My Neighbor?" 10 July 2013
  5. "Halloween 2013," 1 November 2013
Coverage of Christmas at Brucemore did not exactly light up the blogosphere
That's it for this self-indulgent celebration of a blogging milestone. No more naval-gazing until #150, I promise!

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