The Power of Community

I spent the first twenty minutes of writing this blog post babbling on about my recent change of mind about photography.  Is it an art or is it merely capturing what is already there?  The classic create versus capture argument.  I went on for 412 words before I realized that it was all mundane babble.  It was on approximately word 413 that I realized the real significant thing that I was feeling.

It has been my attempt in these blogs to be as forthcoming as I can possibly be.  I’ve shared some deeply personal thoughts and in some cases I’ve been applauded and in some I’ve been deeply scrutinized and put rightly in my place.  I want to be utterly and completely ME in here despite the fact that many, many people I will never meet read what I have to say and many people that I work with every day do too.  I daresay that in some future time a potential employer will read my work and use it to judge my fitness for a new job.  There’s a fair bit at stake here.

What I think is vastly underappreciated about the world of the online is just how much of an impact it has on the writer.  Certainly every writer wants to have an impact on the world outside.  We want to change the planet, to bring new ideas to the fore and make people think… or laugh… or… whatever.  We want to exert our influence outward.  Sometimes though I think it’s missed just how much that outside influences us on the inside.  As of this writing there are hundreds of people who subscribe to this bit of tattered tripe that I call a blog.  WordPress tells me that you’re out there.  If you count Facebook followers, there are thousands of you and every one of you has a voice that shouts loud and clear in my head.

For example… the last time I went out to wander and photograph downtown in the dark, all I could think about was some comment from the photo blog in which someone admonished me that there was “no excuse” for missing a shot because of lighting in this day and age.  Whenever I start to write a new entry on the writing side of things, I think about the blogger who asked if I’d edit their novel once they were done.  There are constantly images of other people’s photos flashing through my mind when I’m out shooting.  The world has an irrefutable and immeasurable influence on everything I do.  I constantly think to myself, “how will I represent this event in my writing?”  I’ll admit openly that I’m utterly and completely obsessed with my own acts of creation online.

All that said, the knowledge that people are watching and reading both motivates me and holds me to a higher standard.  I feel in some odd way that I “owe” you more.  That because you’ve hung on for all this time that I should absolutely bust my ass to do well and bring you knowledge and inspiration and whatever else these blogs provide.  It’s a lot of pressure to be sure but it’s also wonderful in that it gives me an excuse to try to be better.  My creative outlet has an audience that it wouldn’t have otherwise and hopefully as a result it improves by virtue of your feedback both passive and active.

I was asked long ago by a wise person to explain why I bothered to blog at all.  He challenged me to explain why I spent so much time and energy preparing content for an audience so disconnected from me.  I’d like to hope that in a perfect world I could actually build a friendship with those in my audience but ultimately I know that’s unlikely.  The possibility that I will crash on one of my reader’s couches for the night while I’m passing through town seems vanishingly remote.  However, despite the lack of free lodging, I can say with confidence that your participation makes me better and wiser at whatever it is I do online.  You contribute the one thing that I can never get on my own, an unbiased and honest view of my own work.  I’m hopeful that as the decades pass the partnership will be ever richer and more profitable for all involved even if I’m not lucky enough to spend the night on any of my reader’s sofas.



Filed under blogging, personal

32 responses to “The Power of Community

  1. unklehookd

    You know, man, I hear you. I, too, like to hear people’s comments and advice, but truly, I started out writing mine for me. The fact that people latched on is great, but this is MY outlet, much like I’m sure your photography, and your blogging, is. I’m not trying to preach, but the “higher” standard you set for yourself, should be all yours. We are merely your audience, and unlike Broadway, you can’t be cancelled due to a bad review, so don’t lose yourself catering to the “lighting” nazis.

    • Rob Slaven

      Good advice certainly. My own standards are generally absolute perfection so it’s hard for me to meet that standard. I’m probably better off trying to satisfy the whole world than myself. 🙂

  2. Some fine sentiments here, Rob. I think it is good that you are willing to write 412 words and then scrub the lot. I write more in a stream of consciousness vein and sometimes don’t know what my theme is until I am finished. You always seem to have a theme and a purpose, written with passion and generally good humour. I struggle to keep pace with you but I do enjoy your writings.

  3. Hi Rob. Interesting to read your thoughts on being “disconnected” from your readers. I might have disagreed with you a few months ago. I previously blogged for about 4 years (prior to when I even owned a camera) and I really felt that I knew, to some degree, my readers. But, it was because I cultivated an on-line relationship with them. I even met a few them, including one who lives in Germany but was visiting NYC at the same time that I was.

    In the last 6 weeks I’ve gone from 2 followers to over 60, which delights me. However, I have no idea who most of these people are nor any clue why they might like a post I have. I wonder: “Does the ‘like’ simply mean that the person read my post?” It doesn’t mean that to me, but I wonder if anyone even reacts to the words and images. I only begin to “know” someone who reads my blog when he/she begins to communicate with me. But you can’t do that with 60 or 600 or 6000 followers. I suppose this is why, on your other blog, you may not have known why people like the Ivy photo but not the Embrace statue at the IMA.

    I still like the “likes”, but I think that I’m going to make an effort to comment more on posts I like.

    • Rob Slaven

      It’s a good point. Clearly a situation of quality versus quantity. It is important to choose carefully what you follow and what you spend time on. So much input and so little time.

  4. The question, why blog, I ask myself almost daily. For me there are layers of answers. The first and foremost is I know it is an addiction. I know I want to know who is stopping and what are they saying. Second, I do love the fact I am challenging my creative self on an almost daily basis. And third, I really love sharing the beauty in the world! I find beauty in your photos and thought provoking words in your posts.

    • Rob Slaven

      Thanks, Bonnie. Bringing some small joy to someone is about as much as I can ask for.

    • Bonnie, I empathize with your desire to share the beauty of the world. At times the beauty almost seems wasted if you don’t have someone to share it with. (We are after all social creatures.)
      I also applaud your appreciation for challenging yourself (and the challenging of yourself! ; ). If we’re going to be here, why not try to better at it? (What “it” is isn’t really all that important, provided it’s not mass murder or equally horrific.)

  5. I only started writing heavily in my blog this year, but I can tell you I have felt more peace in the last month than I’ve felt for a long time. I actually look forward to writing and telling stories again, a passion that went away long ago. My blog gives me an excuse for all the research I do with no purpose in mind, just following a curious thread, and reading that others are out there digging into their personal histories, our culture, and current events makes me feel like I am part of a community.

  6. Just do what makes you happy. This is most important.

  7. I was surprised you spoke of disconnect. I have been part of both garden blogging and design blogging and both have generated real friends. The garden bloggers meet each year too, this year in NC. But… the photo bloggers do seem to have a great disconnect and I am not sure why. I am really impressed that you scrapped a post because it did not meet your high standards. It say a lot for your superb writing ability and the fact that you have a large following. I am always entertained here. I love your perspective on things.

  8. Rob, I truly enjoyed this post. I “connected” with it, if you’ll allow me to steal your theme a bit.
    I certainly started blogging (just a very short while ago) for my own peace of mind, as gonzotopia mentioned. But there certainly is a hope for creating some kind of connection. And I think your being affected outside of the blogosphere, in your real world pursuits, indicates your integrity and desire to connect. Without either you would have no reason to be affected by readers’ comments when taking a photograph or crafting a post. But you DO care, and so the artist is influenced by the audience.
    I’m glad to have come across The Tattered Thread!

  9. havepenwillscribble

    Rob, discovery through writing is a time consuming exercise!

    I see something of myself reflected back in your explanation of why you write.

    Your observations about the writers voice in your head also remind me of something John Gardner, the teacher and writer, wrote of turning over in his head, even as something was happening, how he might capture the experience in writing.

  10. Pingback: Why I Blog: Seven Reasons | kateschannel

  11. Val

    It’s predominantly because of these sorts of feelings that you’ve expressed so well in your post that I’ve deleted many blogs. Too much for me to live up to ‘in my head’ so to speak. Some people are able to take the pressure that they feel others expect of them through blogging and some aren’t. I still find it hard to do, despite seeming to find it easy! Good for you (and I mean that most sincerely) for having the courage and desire to keep going. (But don’t let that put more pressure on you!)

  12. Thank you so much for stopping by my blog today. I know what you mean about busting your ass for your blog. I have self-imposed deadlines and I personally feel responsible for meeting them just in case that one reader was looking forward to whatever random post popped into my head that night.

  13. Interesting post there. I’ve been pondering a lot lately about this sort of thing, the various people who read my blog, or that I’m linked to in various other ways on Twitter, Facebook etc. The reason I’ve visited your blog today is because I happened to notice that you and I had ‘Liked’ a couple of the same blog posts elsewhere, so I thought “Well here’s a guy who likes what I like, maybe I’ll like what he has to say”. And I do, so you have another follower…

  14. As a new blogger I really appreciated this post. I dithered for quite awhile about even starting a blog — but then decided to just plunge in, write it and see what happened. I’m still “seeing” …

    Thanks for this post, and for liking one of mine.

  15. Hi, I read your post and one of Aesop’s Fables came to mind. The Man the Boy and the Donkey, the moral is; Please all, and you will please none. Thank-you for sharing.
    Peace & Good Health
    P.S If you’ve never read this fable, here’s a link:

  16. A typical blog naysayer response: ‘He challenged me to explain why I spent so much time and energy preparing content for an audience so disconnected from me.’ Those blog naysayers know not of what they speak. Blogging is an awesome way to connect with like-minded people, more so than, er, Facebook. (Pssst – I was once a blog naysayer, and my family says I have a little Facebook addiction problem.)

    So thought-provoking: ‘Is it an art or is it merely capturing what is already there?’ As someone with an art background and appreciation, I ask myself this question a lot when I go to museums. If I’m looking at an Andrew Wyeth painting, I’d have to say, yes, it’s art. I think good photographs are art – as with painting and drawing, there’s an art to composition.

    Love your blog – thanks for reading mine!!!

  17. I just love how community exists in so many forms (while with family, friends, out shopping, online, etc.). That’s what your writing highlighted for me. We are connected to others always, even when alone. Through our energy, thoughts, and feelings, we are community. We get to decide how we show up. And thanks for showing up and sharing with us here!

  18. I’m a relatively new blogger and I really appreciated this post. The input can
    really stick with you and on the one hand I’ve enjoyed this, it’s opened up
    my world. But in an already hectic world, it can add to the craziness and I
    find that my mind needs to be quiet to create. For me, just sharing the stories of the things I enjoy or find fascinating makes blogging rewarding.
    I appreciate the comments, but ultimately, it’s the forwarding of the beauty that exists that makes me happy.

  19. Some of the most notable artists throughout history have had a difficult time marketing their artistic endeavors while alive. Does a person write because they have something they think is important to say or do they write because they like to hear the sound of their own voice? Does it really matter? Does the musician make the music or does the music make the musician? And is the musician that played his or her heart out to an unresponsive crowd any less impressive than a superstar lip-synching to a sold out venue? Does the image make the photograph or the photographer make the image? Does it really matter whether a striking photo was pure luck or the painstaking work of a professional that has stalked and planned out the subject and the landscape? What makes anything art or accident? Better yet what determines art as quality? What is reviled as insignificant or deemed vox populi by today’s standards can see role reversals as history trudges along its winding roads. I think the listed above of Aesop’s Fable of the Boy, the Man and the Donkey, is one of those tales to live ones life by. If you try and please everyone you end pleasing nobody, including yourself.

  20. You liked a post on my very new blog – that’s why I am here, commenting. Connectivity is a beautiful thing. Increasingly I find it hard to work out what is good or bad or even if that distinction can be made so it’s nice to get feedback from the great unknown out there. It eases the pain of my limitations.

  21. Forgot to say, thank you.

  22. havepenwillscribble

    Art Dad, today I saw your comments and was inspired to visit to your site.

    Mr. Slaven, without doubt, has excellent judgment.

  23. Pingback: Writing for Self vs. Audience | kateschannel

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