At long last -- nearly a year after I left The Kennebec Report -- I return to write more about what's going on in Maine.
The reasons that I took such a long break are varied, and you can probably guess some of them: "busy and tough school year" would be one of them, but then aren't they all. I always disappear from the Web around grading time at the end of term, as some of you have pointed out to me. But this year I just didn't feel that I had the energy or wherewithal to write regularly. Obviously, I now feel differently.
The biggest reason would be: I Bought A House. Actually, I bought it last November, and you'd think that buying a house and working on fixing it up to my liking would provide lots of fodder for a blog. You would be correct, of course, provided that working on a house (in addition to "busy and tough school year") would allow the time to actually do this. I intend to write more about home ownership, gardening, and settling in for a long haul, beginning with an essay titled something like "Zen and the Art of Wallpaper Removal." I have plenty of topics, believe me, but for the last seven months I've mostly wanted to rid the house of the country decor that the previous owners so thoughtfully left me.
A last reason is that I haven't read a lot of other blogs in the last year so that the conversation hasn't been, well, a conversation. Many of my friends have abandoned their own blogs, much to my regret, and I suspect that the reason is what might be called the Facebook Factor. Rather than writing about their lives, they instead are doling it out in little update snippets on Facebook, the website that ate the universe, along with pictures and requests for "friends," which may or may not include actual friends.
I am guilty of this as well. I've spent a lot of time on Facebook, and I have to admit that I sort of like some of its features. It's put me in touch with lots of people from my high school, for example -- people I haven't spoken to in nearly thirty years. In all fairness, however, there is a reason for that. When we graduated from high school, we saw no need to stay in touch; and now, three decades later, we've discovered that in many cases we have even less in common now than we did then, other than we went to the same high school.
I'm feeling over Facebook, though, not only because "friend" is defined so loosely. I simply cannot accommodate this level of information about people I care about, much less people I really don't care about. (Which raises the issue of why are they my Facebook friends, then? A question to which I have no ready or convincing answer.) By way of example, I very early on, after setting up camp in Facebook International Park, had to block all posts from a friend (oh, that word again) who is clearly menopausal. She posted an emotional update about hour or so, and the mood swings were something to behold. She sits at a computer desk for most of the day, and I would guess that her job isn't earth-shattering because she has lots of time to spend telling Facebook World about her excellent cup of coffee at Starbucks that morning, or how cute her dog is, or that she's just "tired."
I'm not the first one to ask the obvious question here: do we really need to know everything that we get on Facebook? Of course not, and yet the whole platform is in fact addictive -- seeing who knows whom, discovering that your networks are far, far more pervasive than you ever imagined, learning trivial but potentially interesting things about people you care about, and seeing how well people you don't necessarily care about have aged. I can't claim a holier-than-thou attitude about Facebook, and in fact it has allowed me to be in touch with my Guam friends very well, as well as all of my far-flung grad school friends. And my Detroit friends. And my Portland and Boston friends. And so on, and so on.
And yet. I don't like doling my life out in little snippets without a lot of context. There is something to be said for actually taking the time to write real prose and think about what one is saying. There is something to be said for reflection, something that Facebook is a notoriously poor platform for. Unless one starts a conversation and comments on someone's status, assuming that someone else comments, and someone else comments on that comment, and so on. It happens a lot, but I don't read threads very much because it requires ever more clicking.
With my blog, I liked that fact that I had a small but loyal readership--mostly people I know, of course, which is fine. But not always; Swedish readers found my posting on Midsommar Fest from two summers ago, someone from Toscano Design commented on my essay on the SkyMall catalog from a year ago (he loved it, for the record, and made a copy for all the designers there to read.) You never know who will stumble upon you in Blogland, and it's partly the randomness that occurs here, as well as the fact that real prose in a blog gives you a sense of person far more thoroughly than a Facebook profile does -- makes me want to come back here.
I've been debating, on and off, deleting my Facebook profile altogether, though I'm told that it's difficult to do; Facebook doesn't want you to go. This debate was inspired in part by reading Naomi S. Baron's Always On (Oxford University Press, 2008), a study about some of the implications about always "being on," that is, online and available. It's not all bad, necessarily, but it's not all good, either; more specifically, Baron suggests that we have a lack of control over our personae that we present on the Web. I do feel that with a blog I have more control over how I present myself, and paradoxically more control over who reads my stuff because so fewer people know I do this, care that I do this, or even read it at all. It's not my control, exactly; it's just that I choose to have a smaller (much smaller) audience.
I don't think that I will be deleting my Facebook profile; if anything, the world has taken up social networking with a vengeance, and Facebook has now become one of the ways that I know about local events like gallery openings, historic preservation initiatives, and so on. And there have been some delightful perks. My students in my spring Renaissance literature course created a hilarious Facebook page for the class titled "UMA Renaissance Lit: A Treasure Trove of Knowledge," consisting of nothing more than out-of-context sentences that were uttered my me or my students in the course of a typical class period. (Some of the snippets are extremely odd, and perhaps only funny to an insider, but look it up and judge for yourself.) But I am glad to have come to a decision to return to writing real prose and reporting from the Kennebec Valley on a quasi-regular basis. To old readers, forgive my absence; for new readers, welcome; for all readers, enjoy.