Thursday, February 2, 2012

Blogging For Comfort's Sake: Pasta e Fagioli

Why do people read your blog?

I've been asking myself that question a lot lately.  Not so much because I have an inferiority complex (though at times I'll concede that point, too), but more because before I post anything, I tend to give a lot of thought to the reaction (or lack of reaction) from my readers.  And now that I'm across the chasm that found me many of my first followers, I've been wondering (read: worried about) what would happen if I don't write enough what brought people here in the first place.  Because even if this place is my space (oh, we are punny today), the reality is that it's a very public space, and having no one comment would sort of be like going to Times Square, standing on an upside-down trash can, and tell everyone that the world was going to end, while humanity marched past me, thinking that I was a nut case.

I've also been thinking a bit about what makes people blog.  Does anyone remember the .plan, that silly little unix file that was like the proto-blog?  Lordy, the things we put in our .plans.  They were not short commentaries on our whereabouts.  They were funny, sarcastic, silly ASCII animations ... but they were mostly all about us.  And then there was the fact that you had to "finger" them in order to read them.  Yeah, that's not innuendo to an 18 year old college student.

Then someone I knew got LiveJournal.  Browsing LJ was like reading people's diaries.  And who doesn't like reading a good juicy diary?  It's like being given permission to look in people's windows at night.

Somehow, around the same time, blogging became political.  And so the blogging world, in my mind, split: the personal bloggers who were still writing journals, the people who were known for their stance on The Issues, and the people who were somewhere in between.  More recently, companies have gotten into the act, creating what feels to me like yet another kind of blogging, something more like the agora for industry.

A long time ago I wrote that any blogging is advocacy, because we can't help but talk about what makes us passionate.  I read somewhere, though (feel free to help me with the reference if it was one of you!), that one of the cardinal rules of a successful blog is to give your readers something, some kind of take-away ... something that will help them solve a problem for themselves.  Certainly, that's how political and corporate blogs operate.  But personal blogs?  I started mine for several reasons, but it was never originally to give back ... it was more for the same reasons you make yourself a big pot of soup on a cold winters' day.  For comfort.  Is that narcissistic?

Over the next week, I'm hoping to do a short series of posts about blogging and communities, my thoughts about followers, and my thoughts on (micro)blogging overload, and I'm hoping that you'll all weigh in.  People have posted about this hundreds of times before, but something about February has made me feel more existential than usual, and I hope you'll be willing to play along.  Tell us: if you blog, why?  If you don't, why do you read blogs?  Why are we here?  And what is the question for which the answer is 42?

Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta And Bean Soup)
adapted from The New Basics Cookbook

1 lb. dried white beans
1/2 c. olive oil
1 1/2 c. chopped onions
3 T. minced garlic
1 t. dried oregano
1 t. dried basil
3 bay leaves
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 28 oz. can tomato puree
10 c. water
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 c.  ditalini or other small pasta (I used stellini, because they're fun)
3/4 c. chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
freshly grated parmesan cheese -- for garnish (optional)

Soak beans overnight in cold water, covering them so that there's at least 1 inch of water above them.

When you're ready to cook, heat the oil over medium heat in a large pot.  Add the onion, herbs, and spices, and saute about 10 minutes, until the onion is beginning to become translucent.

Add the tomato paste and puree, and cook another 5 minutes.  Add the water, stir gently, and cook over medium, partially covered, for another 20 minutes.

Drain the beans and add them to the pot.  Reduce heat to medium low and cook for another 2 hours or so, until the beans are tender.  Add the pasta and cook according to directions on package, until it's tender.  Stir in the parsley.  Serve with grated parmesan cheese.
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  1. I am a personal blogger. I blog because it's the best way I know to work out things. I have built my little microcosm of followers over the years, and my blog feels like a comfy corner where I can write about me and my experiences and get some input when I need it. I have about 150 views a day which is plenty for me.

    I started another blog - one more geared to running - and when the Sandusky coverage came out, I wrote a political post. And plugged it into my Facebook account.

    And holy cow, the internet is a really, really REALLY big place. It was so scary, actually, to have all these people all over my space.

    I sort of ran away from it. And came back here to my comfy nook. Where I can safely write, largely unnoticed.

    I read blogs because I like the people who write them. I like reading your blog because I LOVE your recipes (Aloo Mattar, here I come!) and I like the way you approach motherhood and, well, your life. :)


    1. I love the way you write, actually. I can hear you working out things as your posts unfold. :)

      My nook is comfy, too. I love the people who visit here (you included!) But you know, it's funny ... it's hard not to create some arbitrary measure of success for it ... I think I've been programmed to measure success since childhood ... something I have been thinking about since your last post.

  2. What a thought provoking post. And it touches on some things that I've been thinking about as well.

    Recently I was looking back on my old posts and realizing that they were, well, boring. Really, really boring. They were just lists of what I was doing, what my life was like. Its a wonder anyone read me back then, I certainly wasn't "giving" them anything. In the past year I feel like I've started writing pieces with purpose, or at least a topic that I'm tackling. I'm trying to give my readers something, at the very least something to think about, at the most maybe a new outlook on a topic. It is more and more important to me that I at least offer that.

    I don't want to go back to the days when my posts were just general stream-of-consciousness summaries of what was going on in my life. I'm also finding it harder and harder to read blogs that have a similar focus. I just have a hard time committing to them like I used to. Right now I'm looking for posts that either make me laugh or present something familiar in an unfamiliar way or just make me think about things (like yours do!).

    I keep coming back to your rhetorical question, is it narcissistic to write a blog. I laugh because it must be, right? I mean the whole exercise is about hoping people will give a shit about you and what you have to say. Well I guess that isn't always true, sometimes it's about purging and sometimes it's about pain and many times it's about support. But there is something inherently narcissistic about putting yourself out there like that. It's like people who think they are interesting enough to be on reality TV. The funny thing is, we almost always declare that they are interesting by watching their shows. So I guess we're the assholes in that situation, not them.

    Anyway, I guess I'm not saying much of anything here, just putting my thoughts out there without a message of any kind. Sorry about that. I guess I will end with this: I started my blog because I needed to work through the pain of my loss and then the anxiety of my pregnancy. I kept writing during the first six months of my daughter's life because I just needed something, anything, to stay sane. Now I write to get myself thinking, to reflect, to push myself, to practice writing, to be a part of a community. I actually think now my blog is as much for my readers as it is for me, and that is a huge shift. I'm not sure how or why or when it happened but I'm much more invested in it now than I was then.

    I don't know if I even realized all of that until just then. Thanks for making me think of it. ;)

    1. I like this, Esperanza. I think I, too, have become more invested in writing now that I know people are reading. But you know, it's not just any random person that makes the writing meaningful. It's the quality of the reader that counts for me. More on that in another post, I think. :)

  3. This is really an interesting topic--I contemplate it often, especially since I started my blog exclusively for corporate wellness clients...but then found other bloggers I liked, and it just became a little different. I do ask myself on an almost daily basis why I'm doing it. What the heck is the point? Sometimes I know the point very clearly, and other times I don't.
    I can say that when I get emails from readers who appreciate something they've learned from me about wellness, it reinforces that it is worth it for me to put out there the things I know---to help people. My dissertation used a methodology called Narrative Inquiry, the use of stories to "experience the experiences" of other people. Ultimately, to live, tell, re-live, and re-tell stories is how we live our lives...and blog reading weaves right into that process in a new way (compared to the pre-blog era).
    I read blogs because I love connecting with people, and I love people's stories--and because I like blogging to be two-way. Commenting back and forth creates friendships...and really, I think that might be what life is all about in some sense. Connections with amazing people make a difference in quality of life.
    I enjoy your blog---you're a good writer. You think deeply and meaningfully, and you write thoughtful posts and bring up interesting topics. Your recipes are appealing too.
    I wonder where the blog world will evolve to over the next several years!!!

    1. Lisa, I love the Narrative Inquiry methodology. I did my dissertation using qualitative methods, specifically, phenomenological interviews ... making meaning out of the stories people told. It sounds similar to what you did. And I think that's what I love about blogging, too ... the narrative quality of the ones I read. Thanks for helping me to see that!

  4. I initially started my blog after being inspired by others from the IF community. I wanted to also share my IF history and the hope that others would be inspired by my journey and how I got to hold my baby in the end.

    I honestly had this grandiose idea of having an Australian version of Mel's Stirrup Queens blog as it seemed to be needed in this corner of the earth. Alas, I returned to the work force and my priorities steered in to another direction.

    Most days when I do find the time, I post as either a reflection on something in my life, a shout out to a person or group that need support or to say thank you to, a record keeping for my son when he grows up and to share my mum's Greek recipes (also as a record keeping for myself - like an online recipe book) Your blog inspired me to do that.

    I'm looking forward to your Feb posts - should be quite interesting to read. Thank you also for continuing to read and comment on my rare posts!

    1. I think you've done a lot of giving back, too, though. You've raised awareness for lots of important issues in your recent posts. That's one of the things I like about your blog ... that it's not just one-dimensional. :)

      And, I happen to love spanikopita!

  5. I'm really looking forward to your posts. You're one of the most thoughtful and thought-provoking bloggers that I know. This discussion is especially interesting to me, since I just (as in about 3 minutes ago) posted my decision to take a break from Love Life Project, my first blog. While I started blogging to nurture my writing, it appears that somewhere along the way it turned in to an excuse not to write. I hope that I'll be able to maintain the connections that I made, but I know that it will be much harder without the back and forth with other bloggers. I think that the most important thing is to just stay true to ourselves as writers and as people. Can't wait to read your thoughts over the next few weeks!

    1. Interesting. Some people I know blog their novels-in-progress. It keeps them honest. ;) But you're right ... the commenting loop and keeping up with the community sometimes makes the actual writing more difficult.

      I'm glad you're still going to post to Clay Baboons, though. And I still think you've got at least a short film in you, if not something longer. :)

  6. I am just getting caught up on a lot of my blog reading, and I just read your last 5 or so posts all in one delicious sitting. It was not unlike having a thoughtful conversation with you over tea. :) Totally enjoyed myself, I did. :)

    And know what I especially like about this particular recipe? That pretty much everything can come from my pantry. I love when you can make something so wholesome and tasty from such basic ingredients.

    One of the things I enjoy the most about your blog is that it's not entirely ALI topical. I love that it has that undercurrent of understanding, that in crossing that chasm you've brought a great amount of wisdom and compassion with you. Though you may not necessarily blog about the things that first brought you to blogging, they (at least to me) are very much present.

    I love the support and comments I get from other bloggers, and I'd be a big ol' liar if I said that I didn't derive validation from them. BUT, I blog for myself. I blog to get it all out on the page. One pattern I've noticed about my blogging is that I sit down in front of my keyboard with a troublesome, nagging thought, and by the time I hit "publish" I've arrived at a whole new understanding about that particular problem or issue. It is undeniably therapeutic to string together words (much like you do ingredients in a recipe) and finish with something much grander than its parts.

    Happy to get caught up with you! X

    1. *blushing* Thanks, Trinity! I'm glad that you feel the undercurrent is still there ... I definitely think I have a perspective I wouldn't have had if I hadn't been a part of this community.

      It sounds like a lot of people write to think through a problem or a question ... maybe that's why my writing comes easier when I'm more angst-y? Hmmm ... and that's how I used to write essays, too. By the time I was done, I figured out where I was going with my ideas. :)

      Very glad you stopped by. I'd have you for tea any day. :)

  7. I guess I blog because I'm a writer, but work makes me too tired to really focus on my own writing. When I blog, no one expects focus and I don't expect recognition so it works out fine. I started out on Livejournal but I knew my LJ friends were not the sort to want to hear about pregnancy or babies when that time came, so I whipped up a blog that was specifically about those things. Of course, at that point, I basically stopped writing on Livejournal. Who has the time? Blogging has been a great outlet for me, through pregnancy... in the NICU and when coping with life with a preemie... and coping with going back to work.

  8. I love pasta e fagioli. :)

    1. I started my blog because I wanted to help other people who were in my situation. There was a distinct lack of information about RPL at that time (or at least it seemed so to me). I thought if I posted something that made one person ask a question of their doctor that led to treatment or helped them find an answer, then that would be good. I also thought it might kickstart my creativity.

    2. Why are we here? I have no idea. If you are asking the question why are blogs here, then I think it is the desire to connect with other people, or tell us a story. I don't know.

    3. The question is what is the meaning of life? Answer - 42.

    Looking forward to reading your upcoming posts. Now I am going to go and catch up on what I have missed lately!

    1. PS. Would agree with everything Trinity said. She said it so much better than I could (or did).

  9. Gah! Blogger ate my first comment!

    Firstly I wanted to say that I love pasta e fagioli. Also that I agree with everything Trinity said - said so much better than I could.

    To answer your questions:

    1. I started my blog in order to find other people in my situation (there weren't many on forums etc then) and also to help people who might be searching for information. I thought that if I could uncover answers it might help others. Even if it just meant finding the right question to ask their doctor. I also thought that blogging would give me a place to write and kickstart my creativity.

    I have read a lot of blogs in my time, but now I mostly read those of whom I think that I would really be friends with IRL; those that I have really connected with.

    2. I have no idea.

    3. The question is - what is the meaning of life? Answer - 42.

    1. Thanks, Andie. So a combination of offering answers/awareness and practicing your own craft ...

      I read people I'd like to have over for dinner (like you). But I wonder about the Big blogs sometimes, too ... how they approach followers, and community ... more on that in another post.

      And, for the record ... was it how many roads must a man walk down? ;) I can't remember what happened once they re-created earth and put Arthur back in his house ...

  10. I started reading blogs in the IF community because they made me feel less alone. Then it was suggested to me to start blogging myself. I still don't think I am any good at it, but I do it to let everything out and just share my thoughts and feelings. When people started reading I was shocked! I still am. It feels great when someone says I helped them or they connected with something I wrote, but if that doesn't happen it doesn't bother me much.

    1. I think you're good at it. :) Your writing invites empathy, so it's good for you AND for other people. Hm, that just made me think about something that someone else said about blogging in general and personal/professional development ... thanks for weighing in!

      (And: I love your blankets.)

  11. I read blogs essentially because I'm nosy; I keep reading blogs if they're well written and they make me laugh, or think, or say awwwww or yumm.

    I write ostensibly for writing practice, as my tiny little private "job" to keep me accountable and give me something that's just mine. And because secretly I want to be famous.

    1. *laughing* ... I'm nosy, too.

      Funny thing about the writing "job," though ... writing a blog *does* keep you accountable, doesn't it? Even though there's no real monkey on your back ... I've always done better with additional external motivators, myself. ;)


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