The State of the Blog

Well this month marks the eighth year of personal online journaling I've been working at here at randallfriesen.com and while there have been some lovely high's there have also been some post hole digging lows. As I think about it, 8 years is a long time, like going to school from grade one to grade eight or being married eight years or having a baby and eight years later they are in grade three learning times tables. I really never saw it coming, but I am a bit of a stubborn one and I don't give up without a fight. If I'm in, I'm in deal with it. So I seem to be in this blogging thing for the long haul.

The goals of this blog are still mostly the same as they were on day one. To simply live out my life and the stories of my time here on this orb in a way that was honest and real and not voyeuristic or self pitying. That has proven to be much harder than I ever thought it would be. Honestly. When you are going through a dark patch its hard not to slip occasionally into a dab of self pity and wallow. I really never wanted to wallow, and that's the truth. So there have been times I've erred in what to say or not say, as I've tried to be who I am, without too much emotional baggage thrown in.

Honestly.

When I began the blog I had pretty much my own life. I had a wife and four kids (well, I'm still with my first wife so that's a plus.) I had a house and a tired van (The Velvet Fog) and a mortgage and I worked at a church, Gateway Covenant Church. We were embedded in a community in the East Flat in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and we were a part of that community. As a part of that community we had kids in school, we shopped in the local shops and we served and participated in the life of that community.

As such I was invited to write as often as I wanted for the city paper and I would occasionally be called up for my opinion on some piece any one of the Saskatchewan Newspapers might be writing about. Once in a while a distant relative or friend would call me up and mention that someone on the radio had been reading my blog or it had been mentioned on TV. That was kind of fun. I remember when someone from the church who had previously been very negative about my online writing called me up excitedly and told me how pleased they were that my blog had been read from by their favourite early morning radio host at CKOM. They became strong supporters. Or when my father in law called to tell me my blog was being talked about on the Gormley show. For many, in ways I have yet to understand, it affirmed the work or validated it and thus my time with it was justified.

I think even better than those kinds of things was being approached in malls or at the Calgary airport or other public places and being asked if I was "that guy" who wrote "that piece" that had helped so much. Those kind of moments made it feel like the work was well worth it. It made it feel like Saskatchewan was one big small town where everyone knew each other and you were all regular people who were each moving through life as best you knew how.

It frightened me and stimulated my ego to look at my stats in those days and see that there were 500-600 hits a day, which is in some respects a very small number. But to me each number was a face and a name and an expectation I had to deal with. That provided a few growth bumps along the way but I basically settled it by not looking at the stats any longer. For the most part that quieted things down for me.

Easily the best part of this blogging thing has been the relationships I've made over the years with people who have become dear friends. I was starting to think of listing them, but so many of my friends now were started in this place that I can't risk overlooking someone. Not only were there friends from the town and city and province and nation I lived in, but friends were made abroad. Friends who we would travel across the world to see and be with, and friends who would travel the world to come and see us. These people have become very dear to us and many times I've grieved at the distance between us when a good sit down with them would be just the thing to set life right. Sounds like September will see another good friend travel the globe to come to the field to be with us for a holiday, and we are so looking forward to it. Yep, people on the other end of these internet pipes are the solid real reason I love this space.

Of course there were also those who have been known in the blogosphere as trolls; people who would come on and leave ignorant or hurtful comments. People who would take issue with other people and think that the anonymity of the internet would allow them the privacy to say whatever they wanted and then run away. Most of those comments I was able to catch and delete or I would just trace their ip address and shut down their access to the blog.

But then there were those who would just disagree with my or others opinions, and feel strongly that we were so wrong as to need to be accused and corrected, to the point of verbal violence. I've been called some amazing things and been accused of some great heresies by people I had considered christians. Those moments took any joy I had received right out of the writing process. Much of that came from people I had understood were self declared followers of Jesus. Whether they were or not is not my business I suppose, but dang sometimes it really hurt.

The years progressed, the kids grew up, we got a second vehicle, and there was much to write about. Sex was often a fun topic to toss out there and watch people's reactions, (especially our kids...). I often found that if I would share some deep personal thing I was going through that someone would email and just encourage me that even the sharing of my journey was a help to them because they were in the same patch at that very moment. Not only would letters come from individuals but they would come from spouses who would sneak out to clandestine computers in libraries to email me and tell me that their spouses or teens read my stuff and to keep it up because the ones they cared about were changing and finding hope and God and all that. I really came to see blogging as preaching with my life sort of thing. It wasn't the kind of preaching that was all vocal and about some guy at the front of the room we were all suppose to listen to because he knew more than us. I saw it more as preaching from one among many, preaching with my life and my choices.

And so the day came when I received more hits than at any other time in these eight years. For some reason the stat counter keeps records of these things and that Sunday in October 2008 the numbers were over 900 hits for that day. I resigned from Gateway and Prince Albert and Saskatchewan. A part of our story was that God was calling us to be a part of a rural church in a Field in Alberta, and so in an act of obedience to the One we serve, with a desire to keep preaching with my life and choices, we packed up and moved.

In terms of the blog it hasn't been an easy transition for us.

So much of our life that had been previously shared in this space had been a life that we had created for ourselves in Prince Albert. The work that I did at Gateway was incidental to life, just a small part of it. What I found in moving here was that the place I moved to and the work that I did and the reason we moved and the house we live in and the cars we bought and the friends we are establishing and the community we live in, are all about the work that I do in a church as a pastor. That's not a failure of the people (church) that I serve but more about the nature of moving to a rural community. The result has been that really everything in our lives is a part of what we do in this community. Because of this fishbowl context, I don't yet have a life apart from the community.

And if you add to this that our kids are moving on and we are entering that tricky patch of life where we are just three and soon will be just two, well that feels like the blog has really taken a hit, content-wise. I just peeked at the stats for the first time in a long time and they show the shift too, being down to half of what they used to be. That doesn't trouble me, it more confirms my sense of what we were a part of back there, and reminds me of the new realities and opportunities we face in this new land.

I am working hard to fit in but it just takes time, I know that. And we are working to establish a life of our own, but I've come to understand how much one values belonging to a town or city's own story being written out one day after another by people who are a part of that story. There are not a lot of town politics to take shots at here in the field, kind of thing.

It's a different way of living here in this wide open space that exists inside a fishbowl. There is so much this place has for me, so very much this land wants to give me and bless me with and I am just grappling with ways to receive it. Fumbling about with opportunities that are new to me and ways that seem so different to learn. That fumbling has been reflected in the writing that happens here. Should I write this or that and how will it effect the fishbowl we live in here? How can I not embarrass the field people so they don't have to explain my ignorance to the broader community of the fishbowl. It's an amazing small ecosystem around here.

Perhaps I would do well to post the daily grain prices and the amounts of rain we got last night...

:)

Indeed these are strange times we live in but yesterday as I stood in the yard with the big sky over me and I looked up at the stars there was such an overwhelming sense that God and this place have so much to give me and that those things will come as I learn to live well in this space, on this land. Theoretically that should be reflected in this space too.

As I consider the State of this Blog I go back to my original intent:
"...I really enjoy seeing the Internet redeemed. By that I mean that this can be a place where God reaches people’s hearts, – He communicates with them. And one way that happens is through honest stories. Stories of lives lived out, one day at a time. And that’s all I’m trying to do here."


That's all, really. I'm not after a book deal or a better job. I've already impressed the girl and documented the four offspring enough to make them require counselling. Sometimes I miss the Saskatchewan connection but I don't so miss the numbers of readers. I love the friends and pray for the enemies. I pray for the readers of this space especially as they go through hard times when they loose their way and are hurting because of life and choices and such.

I've been nominated again for the canadianweblogawards.com. This year it looks like three categories for me; Art & Photography, Lifetime Achievement (for weblogs created before January 1, 2005), and Religion, Spirituality, & Philosophy. While those are nice, I think I more appreciate things like a comment left by an old or new friend. An email telling me that something helped them through a rough patch. A visit from an internet friend. Or even the many of you who come here each day and are content enough to read and then continue on with your day, in silence here. I think those things are cool.

The State of this Blog? A bit of a low patch after a higher patch wherein one is constantly learning new ways and things about themselves and struggling to find words that give those feelings legitimacy.


Oh, and thank you to all you readers out there who lovingly take the time to tell me where to stick my apostrophes. I love you too.

:)


Comments

  1. When you started this post I thought you might end it by closing up shop. I was surprised at the sudden panic I felt. "Dad without a blog?!?! Such a thing could never be!"

    But then you didn't do that, so I feel calm again. You'd better keep writing, if only so I know you're still alive.

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  2. :)

    Interesting response.

    For you I'd write till there were no more words.

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  3. The seasons are changing again. And it seems that you are taking "stock of the farm" so to speak. I thought you were going to say, that's all folks too ... So glad you didn't.

    You have helped me in many ways afar in the field. Your advice has helped me make some really difficult decisions, but they are made.

    You should keep writing. I enjoy reading about life in the field.

    Jeremy

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  4. Well, you've certainly increased your word count average ! I hope you don't feel under a tyranny of expectation (from yourself as well as all your readers) when you ponder what to blog. Writing from the heart seems to work - and your own instincts should be the guiding force, not anyone elses.

    Oh, and the occasional oblique namecheck to friends keeps the warm fuzzy glow alive !

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  5. Good heavens. 8 years.

    Who'd a thunk it?

    It's been good riding with you, my friend, through the sunny and rainy patches.

    You have done a remarkable job with the blog, keeping it personal, yet at the same time never being objectionable. It's an extremely difficult tightrope to tread, but I've not seen you fall off yet (now THAT is tempting 'fate' ;) ).

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  6. Thank you for your thoughtful and honest piece, Randall. Like Johanna I had the horrible feeling at the start that you were going to stop blogging. In a funny way, it feels as if you have been a quiet friend to me all through the years when I was having health problems and having to retire early. It is a comfort to know there is someone there who cares about readers and takes the trouble to get to know them. I've had the experience of meeting readers from far-flung places and it is very special.

    As you know, I've been pondering similar questions about what my blog is for, and it feels like God is saying - go ahead and this too, will be a ministry. So thank you for sharing. Happy blog anniversary. Every Blessing Freda

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  7. Thank you all for the lovely anniversary gifts. They look wonderful up on my virtual mantle and I smile whenever I look at them.

    :)

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  8. Enjoy your blogging, Randy. It's one of the few I do read regularly. I'll say it again, I would just love to be living in your field yes, I would!

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  9. Hey, thanks for writing. I'm still learning about writing, about blogging, about pastoring, and other things (like parenting and being a good all around guy), and it seems you've done most of those things and seem moderately successful at them. So I read, I'm challenged and encouraged and such, but I hope you know that I pray. For all that I read, and then some.

    As I once saw on a bumper sticker... keep on keepin' on.

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  10. Yep, I took a deep breath there too as I saw the title. I can't imagine the blog world without your words of real wisdom.

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  11. I still come back here, just to read - somewhat to keep up on you & Lauralea and the kids (even though I only know you all slightly), and often to have my thinking provoked or my faith challenged & enlightened.

    Your line in this post about finding a life for yourself apart from your new community struck me....

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  12. Yes son, you`ve come a long way. I remember those atrocious spelling marks and your intense dislike for composition. You`ve done well . keep it up!!

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  13. I'm glad you're "keeping on"!

    You have become such an integral part of so many lives. Your words are kind of like my first cup of coffee in the morning...calming and invigorating all at the same time. Thanks for the many times you have offered wisdom...and I have taken it...like that first sip.....

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  14. awww...the first 2 comments made me cry.

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  15. Congratulations on eight years of blogging. You continue to be an inspirational role model.
    I find that Facebook has reduced my blogging. There are only so many hours in the day, and firing off a Facebook status update is so much easier than writing a blog post.
    I also find that I check my friends' blogs less often (I'm seeing this post 5 days after you wrote it), so I'm one reason your stats have declined.

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  16. I agree Phil. It feels like I don't check other blogs much any longer. Maybe once every week or so, but that just seems to be what it is.

    I don't like facebook and I only go there when I'm forced to because someone has used it as an email contact software and I need to read it. Then I go and email them in response.

    Twitter is, well, just twitter and it doesn't do much for me either.

    Maybe we're not blog virgins any longer so we vet what we want to say so much that it's not really us any longer. Some blogs turn into inspirational sayings or quotes stations, and some blogs just rant and rave about whatever is stuck in the authors craw. Both of those are not too much fun.

    But yeah, busy life too.

    I've also found that adding the face to face to reading a blog really helps make me a regular. Since I've moved out of PA, reading the blogs make the people seems so far away and not a part of my life any longer. It's weird.

    But yes, there have been changes in the blogging world it seems.

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