Five years old

Five years old on Monday, I was taking a lunch break in my office in the Unitarian Universalist Society of Geneva, Illinois, a stone’s throw away from the little stone church building built by Unitarians in 1843, just a few years after the Illinois frontier had opened up after the conclusion of the Blackhawk Wars. I had spent the morning looking through old church records, to what end I no longer recall. On my lunch break, I decided to start a blog on AOL’s now-defunct blogging service. Being a peripheral participant in geek culture, of course I had to name it “Yet Another Unitarian Universalist Blog,” although I soon dropped the last word. The only person I told about it was my partner Carol, yet within a couple of days several people in the congregation had discovered my new blog, and the blogger’s collective at the old Coffee Hour site had reviewed my first post. Something interesting was happening here: religion had expanded into the digital realm. And there I was, one of the people exploring this new landscape.

It’s been a wild ride since then. Here are some of my favorite moments from the past five years:

  1. I was asked by Peacebang to serve as an example of a poorly-dressed minister when she was interviewed by Mainstream Media about her “Beauty Tips for Ministers” blog. Alas, my photo didn’t make it into the published interview.
  2. I attended one of the Boston-area UU blogger’s picnics, where I got to meet a couple of blogger spouses. They were both very nice mild-mannered people.
  3. Upon being introduced to me at a denominational gathering, a woman said, “Are you really as mean as Mr. Crankypants?” She looked frightened. I was completely nonplussed, and made some halting reply that did nothing to reassure her.
  4. I have had several entertaining online arguments with my older sister, bouncing back and forth between our two blogs.
  5. Commenter, fellow-blogger, and friend E recently took me to task in a long phone conversation for willfully misunderstanding J. D. Salinger in a post (she was right, of course, not that I admitted that while we were talking).

I started out thinking that blogging was just another publishing medium, like letterpress or photocopying. Then I began to understand that social media like blogs are more than a technological means for getting my words and ideas out to a wider public; they are really a way to carry out a larger conversation than can happen face-to-face. Recently, I have begun to understand that really all writing and publishing are forms of social media: when Richard Steele published The Spectator, his letterpress-printed words opened up a broader conversation; when zines started using the new technology of photocopying, they too were opening up a broader conversation; blogs and other online publishing platforms use new technologies, but the ultimate goal of a broader conversation remains the same.

For those of us who use online technologies, the real challenge now is to raise the quality of our writing. We bloggers need our Steele and Addison — or better yet, the blog equivalents of Mark Twain — people who write good prose and who have something to say that’s worth saying. We bloggers need someone who will raise the standard for the rest of us. Maybe the blog equivalents of Richard Steele and Mark Twain are already publishing but I haven’t seen them. Most bloggers write prose that’s either precious, cute, tainted with the contemporary workshop aesthetic,1 confused, rushed, or just plain bad (I tend towards the latter three). Currently, we read blogs for the information, not for the quality of expression.

I plan to write this blog for at least another five years. I hope that five years from now I will be able to point to several blogs written by great English prose stylists. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be one of those writers.


1 See: David Dooley, “The Contemporary Workshop Aesthetic,” Hudson Review, Summer 1990, no. 259.

11 thoughts on “Five years old

  1. Jean

    Cool. I’m number four. I like that.

    And now that the challenge has been raised, I shall endeavor to become a blog writer of great style. Or at least a good stylist. I do cut my own hair these days. Does that count?

    I like your blog a lot. Especially when Mr. C. appears, when you made small films, your cultural analyses, and the recent appearance of conspiracy theory on your blog ( I know, I know, it was Full Frontal Irony, still, it was very good).

    Keep at it!

  2. Dan

    Jean @ 1 — The recent conspiracy theory post was not ironic. I’m telling you, there’s a real conspiracy going on out there. I’ve got all the details right here, but there’s these guys, they’ve been following me, so quick let me in before they — ARRGH! Stop! [krbbl! bddt! smksh!] Ow! Ah! they–

  3. Jean

    Dan? Dan? Are you there? Dan? Uh oh. There *must* be something going on! Someone on the west coast go bring Dan a pound of free range garlic — And Soon! It’s the only thing that will help!

  4. Bill Baar

    Guess we’ll have to add another plaque at Church to commemorate the moment.

    So how exactly is tweeting going to fit into your push for careful essays?

    Seems to me the technology is leading us more to the moments: short, rapid, and often.

  5. Jean

    ……………..dannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn? dannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn????

    they’ve got me too.

    and Owen.

    and they’re making us watch FOX news. it’s terrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrible

  6. Dan

    [Whew! Narrow escape from the Evil Forces of Conspiracy….]

    Bill @ 4 — “So how exactly is tweeting going to fit into your push for careful essays?”

    Tweets need to look more like haiku, and less like stream-of-consciousness crap. But Twitterers will need to realize that it’s actually more difficult, and takes more time, to write well in 140 characters or less.

    Jean and Owen @ 5 — They’re making you watch Fox News? Hey, better that than making you listen to Garrison Keillor. At least Fox News is funny.

  7. Owen

    Dan! We got away! But they left huge piles of the local newspaper. It’s way way worse than Fox news. So I am going to PEE on the newspapers! Yay me!

  8. E

    I look forward to another five years of wonderful writing. You have been a great inspiration for me in blogging and in reading and thinking.
    ps I love Mr. Crankypants too, and I know when I am talking to him and not you.

  9. PeaceBang

    LOL! Oh, Dan. I believe it was the white gym socks with the Geneva gown that earned you the phone call. Better a ministry with Dan in his knee socks and ponytail than a ministry without him! Here’s to YAUUB!

  10. Dan

    Peacebang @ 9 — Actually, I believe it was the 70s style aviator glasses and the bad hair. (My robe is an alb, which matches my white gym socks.)

  11. Owen

    Dear Ms. Peacebang: I am going to nip your ankles if you make fun of my Uncle Dan. I LIKE him a LOT. He plays fetch with me until I fall down. It’s GREAT! And I like his socks too.
    Love, me, Owen

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