Wednesday, July 05, 2006

My half-year in books and bikes

I'm inspired by Stefanie and Danielle who have posted about the first half of the year -- what they have read and accomplished -- to think about my own state of affairs. In two major parts of my life, the parts I write about here, namely books and bicycles, this half-year as been about trying new things: blogging and racing. There are some parallels between the two, now that I think about it: blogging is in no sense a competition like racing is, but they both are ways of "going public" with the things I do. I'm putting my reading ideas out there, and I'm displaying my riding abilities (or lack thereof) to the world. All this, I think, is good. I'm most definitely won over by blogging -- I've had no end of fun with it, and the only problem I see is that it can take up so much of my time I begin to pay less attention to other things like, say, my job. And racing -- I feel a little more ambivalently about this, partly because of yesterday's racing debacle, where I witnessed so many crashes -- before the rain began to make things worse -- that I decided not to risk my life and took a safe little ride by myself out on the road instead of racing. But when I do race successfully (by that I mean, finishing a race or at least riding most of it), it's great fun.

I'm still figuring out the possibilities of both blogging and racing. My experience of the litblog world so far has been nothing but positive, but I was intrigued to read this post by Dan Green from The Reading Experience, where Dan is considering various claims about what blogs can and can't do, including claims that blogs don't foster real, substantive conversations about academic, intellectual, literary subjects. I admire Dan's sense of openness about the possibilities of blogs; the defense he makes of blogs as still open to shaping and defining -- blogs aren't a set form and we can make them what we want them to be -- strikes me as exactly right. One of the things I've enjoyed most is when an idea gets passed around from one blog to another -- like a meme, except not labeled as such -- such as this little meme of a half-year summing up or discussions in posts and comments on how and why the teaching of literature too often turns people away from reading. I have a sense of a real conversation going on, and it's one that doesn't end immediately, but can go on for days or weeks. The Slaves of Golconda site does this as well -- it encourages an on-going conversation and debate about a shared experience of reading. And why can't individual writers return to a topic again and again, developing and refining their thoughts on the topic, possibly with the input of commenters, and thereby, over time, say something in depth and meaningful? If people are concerned that blogs with their regular posts privilege the new, it doesn't have to be that way.

Dan also talks about people who complain that blog "conversations" carried on in comments quickly devolve into fighting and name-calling and divisiveness. I guess this happens a lot in the "big" blogs, the super popular ones that get the most readers, particularly the popular political ones, but in the smaller blog worlds I inhabit, I see a sense of friendship and openness rather than small-minded fighting. Those who characterize the blog world as a place trolls inhabit, a place to score points and pick fights, should perhaps pay less attention to the sites everybody reads and more attention to the smaller outposts of the blogosphere, where they are more likely to find a community of people who write about what they do because they love it and they want to share it.

And as for racing -- perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not, I've found a sense of community here as well. My racing experience may not be typical or representative of what other people have seen, but for the most part, this experience has been more about sharing an enthusiasm than trying to beat other riders. I'd love to be able to ride faster than those other riders, but, in the end, what really matters is that we are all out there riding.