A blog may be the worst format ever created for telling stories.
Blogs, and all their descendants, like micro-blogging, image-blogging and social-blogging (e.g. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook) are structured in reverse chronological order. The most recent entries are at the top with older ones pushed down and down, made almost invisible through the accretions over time.
This is certainly easy to program and it is a great format for status updates, where mostly we want to know what is going on right now, the most current information.
The format, though, doesn’t have any way to require that readers understand the context of what is being offered, what has come before. It assumes that every entry is self contained, containing all that you need to know to understand it, so if you don’t understand it, well, the entry is just noise.
When we tell stories, though, we measure the current understanding of our audience and adapt the content to hit their level. We don’t tell the story to our very best friend in the same way we would to a stranger, don’t tell it to our peers in the way we would to a six year old.
Instead, we make people earn the stories by learning the stories, giving them more detail & delight as they gain context, a matrix to understand all the rhythms, nuances and forces at play beyond the simple actions.
We humans are symbol creating animals because we have learned to treasure meaning. Our big brains let us carry maps in our heads, not just maps of physical journeys but also maps of emotional ones, a deep sense of the terrain we have covered as we explored and matured. We can see the change of seasons, understand some of what lies beneath and even can create a good model of what will happen next depending on the choices we make.
Reverse chronological formats, though, eliminate the journey to focus on today’s postcard. They offer a quick snapshot of a moment in time, without any requirement to know how we got to here.
That makes them perfect for rewriting history, Whatever I said yesterday is just flushed away in the river of posts and now I stand here.
When we make choices that have consequences, those are always made in context, with the best information & tools we have at the time, no matter how flawed & limited they may be. The process creates a record, demands a context, is part of a complicated story.
The blast I offer today, though, in my reverse chronological structure, doesn’t need to respect any of that. It just needs to be pithy, fun and hitting. It can avoid truth for the more emotionally satisfying “truthiness,” just one more bit of dung to be hurled and then lost in the sea of such.
The newspaper is the first draft of history, and the cable news network is the first draft of the newspaper, but what does that mean when nobody is around to create the next drafts, the ones that offer context & connection, bringing it all together?
I have over eleven years of blog behind me and with that effort, almost no one who understands my story with any depth.
Once I was found by my then brother-in-law finishing a story to an empty room. My mother and brother had left in the middle of my story, not engaged, but this time I decided that I needed to finish it just for my satisfaction, even if no one was listening.
The experience of having no one listening was fundamental to me. It was the way things were with my Aspergers parents from as early as I can remember. I was emotionally distressed when my parents wanted to change some furniture built when my paternal grandfather came to stay in a way I had no words for. Somewhere deep, though, I knew that when I was five, Metro listened to me, heard my stories, loved me in an active & embracing way.
Telling stories to an empty room, well, that is what his blog has been about ever since I wrote that first post after a Thanksgiving where my sister was thanked for being who she is, such a lovely person, and I was thanked for everything I did to take care of my parents.
I needed to tell that story, no matter if no one heard it. In those days, no one read blogs, a trend that has only continued to grow as more content got pushed out and attention spans got shorter and shorter.
So much effort put into telling stories in a format that is really, really bad for building a bridge of understanding, a corpus of knowledge.
Where else, though, could I have said what I needed to say for myself? Every venue is bounded by the limits of the audience.
My sister works in visual arts, where you can quickly walk through a public gallery and quickly understand the pieces in your own context. Going to an open reading, though, demands you sit through others offering their own written work, whatever the quality or content. The experience can be, as I am sure you know, excruciating. Sure, you know you love something when you even love it when it is done without polish, naive or indulgent, but there is only so much bad storytelling that one can stand.
People happen upon this blog, pick a bit of what they are interested in and move on. They don’t have the time, energy, focus or interest to get context. We live in a fast world and the limits imposed on us are real. No matter how much I try to link material or the WordPress engine offers related posts, fast counts.
I don’t live in the text of this blog, though. I exist, as I first quoted here in 2006 on the one year anniversary, in the shadows my words cast. I am liminal, living in context & subtext, not in the text itself. That is just the scaffolding I erect, a reference that only makes sense if you remember what I posted on December 29 of last year.
I don’t need to fool people, to shape & reduce the noise into something they already understand. I need to smart, to be seen in the forms of the noise. What they see as noise, too much and too complicated, is where I exist.
A blog may be the worst format ever created for telling stories. Reverse chronology blips just don’t have much capacity to carry deep meaning.
Like democracy, though, I’m just not aware of anything better.