Saturday, November 05, 2005

Viewfinder BLUES: One Year In

WARNING! The following passage is one of those narcissistic anniversary postings so easily disparaged by the non-blogging public. If rambling critique and half-baked introspection isn’t your idea of a good read, check back tomorrow. Otherwise, the navel gazing begins in five seconds. 5..4..3..2..1...

A False Start

Back in June of 2004, I stumbled onto Blogger, chose a template and named it Viewfinder BLUES. After dropping in a couple of short stories from my stash of drivel, I sat back and waited for the magic to happen. When it did not, I promptly forgot about it and went back to contributing to my favorite message board, emphatically underwhelmed by what I’d even yet to hear referred to as ‘the blogosphere‘. But four moths later I revisited my dusty little shelf and quite by accident, hit the ’Next Blog’ icon in the right-hand top of the screen. Great Gutenberg! With the twitch of the fingertip I reeled through a universe I never really knew existed, an endless stream of homemade web-pages screeching thought and opinion on subjects as diverse as the internet itself. The speed of it all blurred my vision and as I rubbed my eyes to regain focus, I considered the implications: free and friendly software like this had already enabled the citizenry to join the conversation, if it hit critical mass it would change the face of communication, or at least be the most significant development in The Media’s history since the invention of the printing press. Or maybe not. Whatever the case, I was reinvigorated - manifestly destined to forge a place on the web for my own particular point of view. Since that momentous day, precisely twelve months have passed.

Kindness of Strangers

Much to most people’s surprise, I am not the least bit technically adept. My brain spews over-baked prose at a frightening clip, but don’t ask it to read an instruction manual. I’d rather summon a 700 word epistle on the joys of electricity than change a light bulb, rather re-categorize my library than reprogram my cell phone. Thus, my launch into the blogosphere was with my typical lack of schematic acumen. Luckily, I ascended into a most promising patch of local cyberspace. Through the magic of Google, I staggered into my first aggregator - a site understandably entitled Greensboro is Talking. There, a mysterious figure named The Shu graciously aided me in my quest, quietly answering my quizzical e-mails and turning me onto a true gentleman with the meekest of monikers, Patrick Eakes. Patrick pointed to the bearded fellow in the paper, and soon I fell in with the revolutionaries. No one was more surprised than I when I attended the first of many meet-ups, coffee house rendezvous with poets, geeks and madmen. These monthly summits soon congealed into a scene of sorts and before I knew it, a whole bunch of new friends were reading my work and sharing theirs. Recently, these insatiable communicators attracted far-off pioneers and local attention with a landmark symposium, ConvergeSouth - an inaugural conference sure to be dissected, embellished and best of all, repeated. I can hardly wait.

With the Help of Weaver

Not only has push-button publishing introduced me to intriguing strangers, but its helped me get to know some familiar faces a whole lot better. Many of these were co-workers, people I passed in the halls who, suddenly privy to my late night thoughts, now stopped to talk. More than a few of them have reciprocated with excited dispatches of their own, proving that its far easier to start a blog than keep one going. I’ve enjoyed reading every word of it - even when they only number in the dozens. But this paragraph isn’t about output analysis, its about saying thanks. Aside from my lovely bride, who openly abides my electronic mistress, Chris Weaver deserves my unending gratitude, for this fellow shooter/blogger/auteur has saved this flimsy craft from crashing into the horizon more times than I can count. Whether he’s uncovering errors in my source code or tweaking a difficult non-linear edit, the Mighty Weave has hooked a brother up time and time again. Why exactly, I don’t know, but if you like this site do me a favor and go visit tvphotogblog himself. Just don’t ride shotgun in his news unit without strapping in snugly. The man races through the breakdown lane of life, logging each breakneck mile with the same clever, affable vibe - whether he’s hurtling toward a gory plane crash a Nascar race or a Taco Bell drive-thru. He is Southern Photog: Defined, and a true Friend of the Show.

Habits of the Obsessed

Enough of my accomplices, let’s examine the mechanics. At the outset of my experiment, I vowed to file a post EVERY DAY. This was easy in the beginning, when I was pulling pieces from my collection of b-roll rants. This material; idioms, allegories and anecdotes compiled from a year or two of message board binging set the tone for what I wanted to blog about: the Perils of Electronic Newsgathering. But when that well went dry, my stale repository turned into a live blogcast and I was forced to log quality time with my keyboard, the very reason I started this site to begin with. Since then, I’ve averaged five posts a week, mostly composing screeds in the midnight hours or early morning light, sometimes on my laptop in the den, but mostly in my upstairs lair - the one filled with nautical knickknacks, dusty hardbacks and broadcast bric-a-brac. When I write, I often enjoy Guatemalan coffee, Kentucky Bourbon, the electric Blues and the squawking, large-billed bird that sits atop the old dead tree outside my window. I’m a great speller, a vociferous reader and a lousy typist. My wife calls me ‘Peck-Peck’, a most dubious nickname based on the clickety-clack sound emanating from my late night sessions. Having learned never to ignore The Voice, I tend to work in furious spurts, usually hitting ’Publish’ without the first revision. Sometimes I delve back into the text to tweak phrasing, but mostly I leave it alone once its online. This, I hope, helps to explain the many misspellings, deluded second references and twisted metaphors that populate my prose. Hey, you get what you pay for.

A Dearth of Dead Presidents

Speaking of funding, I’ve studiously avoided spending money on my yearlong obsession. Minus the purchase of my now-battered digital camera and a monthly DSL bill, I’ve dropped no coin on Viewfinder BLUES, determined all along to do it all on the fly. Instead, a recent check of $5.24 hangs above my flat screen, profits reamed from the AltMedia101 advertising scheme I have a small part in. Like a framed dollar bill at a Chinese Buffet, said check represents the beginning of my empire and I thus have no plans of ever cashing it. Sorry, Roch. As for content analysis, I ain’t done much but most of my postings do fall into a few basic categories. Most are picture safaris, visual souvenirs fresh from the daily hunt with narratives fresh from my burbling brain-pan. These are the easiest to write, as they are impressions only hours old. Harder to conjure but equally rewarding are the recollected epics-in-waiting I’ve managed to record, virtual transcripts of half-forgotten tales I’ve recounted over crime tape or cocktails. By far though, the biggest readership spikes have come from the occasional ’think piece’ I’ve posted, partly due to the work’s timeliness but mostly due to my habit of pimping out the work I’m proudest of. Much of the rest is comprised of thoughts wrapped around a particular link, easy enough fodder for a guy who surfs 40 to 50 different sites pretty religiously. In the future, I hope to master the daily quote, occasional cartoon and Top Ten list, as these things translate well to title-based linking. Speaking of numbers...

Stats and Spikes

If you’re still reading this, you’re either really bored or still fairly intrigued. If it’s the latter, I’d advised you have that condition checked by a trained physician. For now though, merely adjust your safety goggles, as we are entering the Site Meter Zone. It’s an amazing tool, really - one that allows me to track my readership quite closely. At this sitting, there have been 43,278 visits to my site, barely a ripple in the cyber-sea, but respectable numbers considering a year ago the only people reading my mind were the hearty denizens of Currently I average 125 hits a day, though I have logged mind boggling spikes of a few thousand daily readers, once after uber-blogger Jeff Jarvis linked to my essay, ’Birth of the Personal Journalist’, on his well-traveled site ‘Buzz Machine‘. I enjoyed another dizzying 24 hour tally when a Hungarian website featured ‘my ‘Maximum Overdrive’ video one day, proving the delightful sight of cameramen scrambling for cover transcends all language barriers. Geographically speaking, most of my readers hail from the same continent, but a few clicks on the Site Meter tells me I have regular readers in Chile, Kuwait, Warsaw and inexplicably, New Zealand. For a guy can still remember floundering on a seventh grade world map quiz, this is pretty heady stuff. Of course my favorite aspect of traffic analysis is knowing what website my readers leave to get to mine. This tells me what links live and which ones die on the vine. I’m especially delighted to report an uptick in Google hits, visits resulting from someone typing in ’Lenslinger’ and hitting search. If I can increase these instances by a few million, I might finally be able to swing that speedboat.

More To Come

Until such time, I’ll keeping swinging a camera by day and babbling about it by night. It’s quite the paradox: As a blue-collar schlub who dreams of leaving the workaday woes for literary greatness, my primary muse is the job I love to hate. In other words, if I ever do escape this thankless gig, what the hell am I gonna write about…gardening? Not likely. Maybe one day I’ll conquer the world of fiction, but for now, I can't remember the last novel I read. I’m far too busy, scanning blogs, scribbling phrases and indulging my notebook fetish. I’ve thought for years now about getting published before I turned 40. At 38 and 9/12ths, I’d better get crackin’. For now, I plan to keep on plugging away, propping up a title I always thought would be the name of my memoir, not some amorphous blob cloaked in pixels and vinegar. Oh well, it beats my earlier attempts at meditating on page. For years I only half-listened to the crusty commentator in my head. Sharing my inner narrator with others in this living compendium has been one of the most rewarding acts of creativity I’ve ever managed to stick with. It may never line my pockets with silver, but it’s already paid off in more ways than I can mention. If nothing else, being a photographer known primarily for his writing is a pretty deep kick in and of itself. Thanks, as always, for reading...