David Rodeback's Blog
Local Politics and Culture, National Politics,
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Readers, Rewards, Attachment
Reflections about the rewards of blogging, gratitude for readers, and a newly-discovered attachment.
Two days ago I announced that my future blogging will not include, as my past blogging has, a concentrated effort to analyze and explain issues of American Fork municipal politics and government. Yesterday I interviewed myself about my decision. (Was that wrong?) The interview rambled somewhat, touching on other topics along the way; interviews do that. The short version of my explanation is, I need -- or at least choose -- to direct the time I've been spending at this to other projects. I didn't say what those projects are. It's not that they're deep, dark secrets; I just like to wait to mention things until there's something substantial to mention.
Maybe I'm making too big a fuss about myself, but that's the beauty of blogging. I can say what I think, and you can read it if you want to -- or not, if you don't. In any case, before I dial back my efforts to be a big part of the local discussion of local matters, I need to thank some people. I'll talk about my readers in a minute -- some of whom I hope will keep reading my blog, even if it pays less attention henceforth to the small city many of them call home.
I mentioned briefly yesterday that my commentary on American Fork has required a lot of background work, and not just attending meetings. Much of that was communicating with people one-on-one, especially government officials (elected and otherwise), or reading documents they supplied. Never -- as in not once in over five years, by my recollection -- have I found an official unwilling to discuss a local issue with me, either in person, by phone, or via e-mail. For example, it wasn't just one member of the American Fork City Council (MFCC) who would talk to me about things; it was all of them. At least some of them did more than explain: they actually cared what I thought about the issues I took up. Candidates, too, have generally been cooperative and encouraging, when I've tried to gather and present information about them and their views, though they knew I might eventually be passing some sort of judgment on them in print, or had already done so. In return, I've tried to be fair as well as candid, to keep off-the-record discussions off the record, and to say good things when I found relevant good things to be said.
In case you're wondering, no official ever told me anything he or she shouldn't have about business conducted in executive sessions, or anything like that, and I didn't probe much into those areas.
To the extent that I have accomplished anything positive over the past several years in American Fork, it is very much thanks to these cooperative sources, who were mostly helpful and friendly, too.
Ah, the readers. They are very much the point of it all. The ones who comment intelligently deserve special praise, but I appreciate all my readers. It's not that the others comment stupidly; that simply hasn't happened at my blog. The others don't comment, or say their piece in person or in a private e-mail.
Here are a few accumulated thoughts about readers.
Early in my blogging career, a long-time American Forker and now-former elected official confessed to me that he had discovered my blog while surfing the Web in the middle of a sleepless night, and had awakened his wife with his laughter. His wife confirmed this. I don't know anyone who dislikes hearing of readers' enjoyment, especially when prompts their laughter was intended to be funny. But enjoyment is only one form of engagement. (Couples therapy is another form -- or perhaps consequence -- of engagement, I suppose, but I'm not taking the blame or footing the bill for that. Married folk read my blog at their own risk, like everyone else.)
From time to time, someone writes to tell me how wrong I am about something. I have usually disagreed, but have appreciated the communication and have published it, where that was the writer's intention. Disagreement is an important form of engagement.
During election cycles in particular, I've heard from candidates and their loved ones who say they generally enjoy reading my blog, and they agree with some of what I say about the candidate, but find me too critical sometimes.
I? Critical? I suppose everyone who knows me would believe that. In such situations I've invited them to write their rebuttal for my guest blog, but they have never done so. Alas.
Readers have confessed to me that they've spent far too much time at my blog, when they should have been doing something else -- in some cases, their own blogging. I don't feel terribly guilty about that. (Is this reducing the competition by diverting it? Did I contribute to the recession by reducing worker productivity?)
A reader once told me something like this: "I get all of my news from your blog." That scares me a little, mostly because I see the need for healthy discussion of diverse views. I myself have a diversity of views on some issues, but not on enough issues to qualify me as someone's sole source of news or commentary.
I've heard from a few government officials over the years that my arguments on an issue have swayed their own thinking, or at least refined it. I've never disliked hearing that. There is virtue in raising awareness and fostering discussion, no matter what stances people take. But I certainly have also wanted and intended, at times, to influence officials' thoughts and actions. I haven't been shy about that intention.
Generally, my favorite feedback is the kind that says my efforts are achieving their intended civic purpose. I've lost count of how many readers have told me that they finally understood an issue and its significance, or another side of an issue, after reading about it in my blog. Or, better still, they've always felt they should be involved in civic activity, especially locally, but it wasn't until they read my blog for a while that they felt sufficiently informed or motivated to do so. (Score!)
A few times, last year in particular (but not just last fall), I have written on the occasion of a hero's death. Most of the responses to those efforts were not published as comments, because they were private. Some of them were even sent in the regular mail, not electronically. I keep and treasure these. They are more than ample reward for a few hours' writing, even if the writing happened in the middle of the night, when more sensible folk were asleep.
My readers are all above average, and I do not take them -- you -- for granted. Thanks for reading.
A More Personal Note, or A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Blog Post
Eleven year ago, the Rodebacks moved to American Fork from central New York. American Fork became the place where I lived, because it was near the place where I worked. In some measure, it was the place where I had to be, as opposed to the place where I wanted to be. Like many thousands of New Yorkers in recent decades, we left a place we loved because we had to, for economic reasons.
In the intervening years I've made some fine friends among the people of American Fork, and I've worked in several capacities to try to improve my neighborhood and city -- not so much because I was emotionally invested in American Fork, but because I happen to love freedom and good government. I learned along the way that American Fork has considerable virtues. But I could relatively easily have transplanted my sentiments and activities to another community.
I cannot foretell the future. The way life tends to go, I could easily find myself living elsewhere someday, entirely by choice or mostly by necessity. But the nature of that prospect changed for me last fall. You might think that six years as an LDS bishop would have been enough to produce firm ties to a community, but my congregation is so transient that attachments are understood to be tenuous, and are not necessarily dependent on geography.
It was last fall, during the season in which I was writing such words as, "I didn't know that a marching band could inspire such thoughts," and "If there is such as thing as tears of grace, perhaps that is what they mostly were tonight." I found I had adopted a new attitude toward American Fork. It was -- is -- something like this: Why would I ever want to leave? It's still not hard to imagine future reasons for leaving, but . . . why would I want to? There is a community here, a fine one, even if we don't have enough (or very good) sidewalks or a good bookstore. Somehow I got attached and only lately discovered it.
To be sure, this is not a reason for quitting the local blogging, nor do I present it as such. It is rather the opposite, and it makes me a little more wistful about the change.
There. I feel like I've just about finished tying up loose ends. On my checklist there remains only some chatter about the place of blogging in our politics. That discussion is coming soon.
Copyright 2010 by David Rodeback.