Writing is like whispering. A breath of an idea swirls; we release it in a wisp of language too soft to hear, too delicate to survive the literal world’s breezes. No matter the subject or genre, written words represent the triumph of optimism over common sense in almost the same way that prayer does. To true believers, the secret chapel of pages in a drawer feels just as holy as the colossal cathedral of the blockbuster bestseller.
Yesterday, I listened to a group discussing blogs. I learned that a primary goal of blogging is to build a huge following. There are proven strategies for doing this. One can link and network, cross pollinate, tweet, do Facebook ads, and comment on larger sites. Many more ideas were probably mentioned after my mind had drifted off to some lovely meadow. It was more than a consensus, really, it was the underlying belief system. Blogs exist to grow in readership, much as an investment portfolio exists to increase itself. What good is a blog read by only a dozen people? It’s a curiosity, almost an abomination. By extension, within this philosophy, the value of language can be measured by the number of eyes that view it.
Obviously, there’s some truth to that. If people don’t buy my books, I’ll have to spend time doing something besides writing to earn money. No one wants that.
But writing feels more like playing music to me. Ninety percent of the time, I play my guitar and sing my songs to an audience of zero. Some of that time is mere practice, maintaining chops, trying to improve. But most of the time I play because I like to do it. I like the process and I enjoy whatever music manages to occur. Sometimes I practice outside.
Once, when I was playing at the Sawhill Ponds east of Boulder, a black dragonfly the size of my thumb landed on the tip of a tall grass nearby. It seemed like the bug was listening. One could argue that I misinterpreted the expression on his hard black face, but that’s how it felt. So I played music that felt appropriate for an insect audience, thinking that, if I have a guardian angel, I bet he looks just like that. A massive, clunky helicopter of an bug. Amazingly, another dragonfly joined him, then another. Before long I was singing to the choir, but it was a peculiar looking choir of dark primeval angels.
Other times, while camping, deer have ventured to the edge of my campsite and stood still, ears up and alert and listened for several minutes. I’ve exchanged tunes with birds dozens of times. Once I whistled an odd back and forth duet with a hawk while I was walking toward him. He was actually standing ahead of me on the path, working some bit of food. I couldn’t duplicate his screeching call, so I whistled a slow minor tune. I got within ten feet of him while conversing before he casually walked a few feet to one side so I could pass him. He never did fly away, but actually followed me for a while. Squirrels in my back yard seem to pay special attention, but I always suspect they are only looking for a snack. They just don’t seem culturally advanced, somehow. Still, their rapt attention makes me feel a bit like Francis of Assissi. I’m not real fussy about my audience.
Occasionally, a human will hear me. I told one of my neighbors to let me know if my practicing bothered him. His reaction surprised me. He said that, whenever he hears me out in the back yard in the evening, he goes out onto his patio and sits there listening. We’ve been neighbors for a long time but rarely talk. A tall wooden fence separates our properties and I try to sing quietly. I never really considered than anyone might hear me. Turns out, sometimes we have an audience we don’t know about.
I like the image of my old neighbor sitting on his patio beneath the stars, sipping his beer and listening to some amateur folk music. At least I prefer that to the idea of developing a marketing campaign to build website hits, improve google rankings and grow my demographics.
Sure, I’ll probably have to do that at some point. But for right now, if anyone ever reads this, I’m happy to think that I’m whispering alone, a quiet voice in a lonely room. Or a guy strumming softly beneath the summer stars. If you want to sip your beer and listen, that’s cool. If not, it’s still a lovely evening.