That’s the number of posts I’ve written here on this little blog o’ mine. I don’t often do much housekeeping because I’m so focused on the themes I’m writing about, but when I saw that “199” pop up on my dashboard after I posted my interview with Bill McKibben the other day, I thought this would be a great opportunity to reflect on my journey as a blogger in these here internets and what it’s meant to me as a writer, journalist, activist, and human being.
So please allow me to go back in time a little, recount some of the most memorable moments of the past four years, process how it shaped my thinking and being, and see how it might guide me on my way forward.
The Early Days
It all started on January, 27, 2009 with my first post entitled Directions have Consequences. It happened to be during the same post-election time we find ourselves in once again, right after President Obama’s historic rise to the American presidency. The Zeitgeist felt like a big shift in consciousness was taking place, asking us all to step up and be part of this change we wanted to see in the world.
I finished my first post with this paragraph:
On this joyous moment in human history I’d like to share my direction, sew my little patch into the quilt of ideas, ink the feather that tickles my divine sweet spot. From geology to astrology, from history to mystery, from agriculture to active culture, from government to enlightenment, from art to the heart, I will roam in the spaces between and orbit on the cycles around. I serenade the gift of paradox and transcendence, I strive so I can let go, allow myself to be wise enough to take action. I raise my glass to the mutual inspiration of the political and the spiritual, the resonance of the active with the creative, the union of soil and soul. Time to evolve.
You can tell I was all over the place. I didn’t have an all important issue to rally around or catchy shtick to focus on, but I felt like I didn’t need to. I’ve always been a pretty interdisciplinary denizen, and I’m usually more intrigued by how different pieces connect and interact than by the individual pieces themselves. Thus the “Ruminations from the Spaces between Soil and Soul” tagline.
I also wasn’t itching for the spotlight, as I had been playing in a rock ‘n’ roll band for ten years prior, a constant struggle for self-promotion that was slowly winding down. My dad had passed away the previous summer, and in the fall I had quit my job as communications director for a bamboo flooring manufacturer. Change was in the air, and I was longing for quietness and reflection to make room for new seeds.
There weren’t many specific things I was aspiring to, but on a soul level I knew what I wanted, which wasn’t necessarily new for me but more a conscious affirmation of what I’ve known to be true and worthwhile ever since I can remember: I wanted to be free, untamed. I wanted to be creative, be inspired and inspire. I wanted to dive into waters as deep as I could find. I wanted to be of service, have a positive impact on this world, if not change it. On a vocational plain, I wanted to be a writer.
It’s not that I wasn’t a writer before — I had always entertained Chemystry Set fans with wordy songs and quirky newsletters, had done a lot of travel writing for magazines like Global Rhythm and the SF Bay Guardian, and my book, Dancing on the Brink of the World, a collection of short stories delving into each of the 12 astrological archetypes, had just been published. I was, in fact, secretly hoping that within a few months of blogging I would have collected enough material to be cranking out another one. This blogging thing would be a great laboratory for new ideas, a stepping stone toward my grand opus.
Well, the first part turned out to be spot-on, the second one . . . not so much.
As I thought I would, I went all over the place. From tech-weary diatribes like Blaspheming at the Altar of Technology to “politual” jams like We’re All Deathers, from travel and farming stories like I shook the hand . . . and then it fed me to end-of-the-world prognostications like Things not to do in 2012: Cancel your 2013 appointments — we’ll find out soon if I was right 🙂 — I began putting stuff out there, just having fun with it. While I didn’t get any closer to finding that one compelling storyline that would justify my putting another book into this world, it was much less grandiose yet perhaps infinitely more valuable offerings that began to appear with each click on the “publish” button.
Telling a Story
I realized pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to be a super prolific blogger, with multiple postings a day, to feed people’s seemingly insatiable appetite for new information in this digital age of short attention spans (200 posts in 4 years adds up to about one post a week). There’s plenty of that already, and as I mentioned earlier, I didn’t care about getting lots of traffic. As strange as it may sound, my heart was yearning for less traffic, but more (e)motion. I was drawn to more reflective as well as investigative pieces, finding good story lines, and immersing myself in them. Most importantly, it was refreshing to talk about others instead of tooting my own horn for a change.
As I became more involved with my old friends at Ecocity Builders, the stories began to unfold in real life right in front of my seeing eyes. From the incredibly inspiring Village Bottoms community and their struggles Part 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5 to the Ecocity World Summit and intrepid cyclists of Istanbul, being able to blog about it in real time enabled me to tell these raw stories in all their immediacy and with a freshness of mind that I would never have been able to convey if I’d have had to pitch them to magazines and wait for an answer.
The Power of Visuals
The Power of Visuals: Touring the Village Bottoms community
Doing these kinds of documentary-style accounts unveiled another gift that I may never have recognized were it not for the blogging format: The power of visuals! I’ve always enjoyed using visuals to tell a story — back in the day I would shoot slide film on my travels and have a slide watching party every other year — but it wasn’t until digital cameras and the WordPress interface that I was able to weave photos into the written word almost in real time.
At first I thought I was just being lazy, taking shortcuts around descriptive prose to trick the demons of writer’s block, but the more I was using my own original photos to illustrate the stories, the more they complimented and raised the level of my writing. It was the ultimate case of “show, don’t tell,” inviting me not only to be very concise in setting up each visual situation, but to be much more attentive to the setting in which the story was unfolding in the first place.
It helped, of course, to have a partner who is a talented photographer and photo editor by trade, and living in a neighborhood full of character and vibrant street life. For example, in my Sunday Streets series the photos would literally snap themselves and the stories follow naturally. And it sure helps to have visual support when you’re trying to explain why Venice and Cinqueterre are such great models of sustainable urban design.
Bringing it Down to Earth
I’ve always looked at life as a spiritual quest, no matter what vehicle or language you choose to discover your view of the universe. I’m not exactly sure why, but from a pretty young age I’ve been drawn much more to the wealth that resides within us than worldly treasures. As a 14-year old about to be confirmed, the only section of the new testament I could relate to was, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul.” In college, while everyone else was preoccupied with acing their multiple choice tests so they could score a high-paying job later on, I was devouring Jean Gebser’s “mutations in human consciousness” thesis, Jiddu Krishnamurti’s “freedom from thought” revolution, and Arne Naess’ philosophy of “deep ecology.”
By the time I was 25 and had a few magic mushroom trips under my belt, I was pretty comfortable with things like impermanence, evolution of soul, and A Love Supreme. It’s almost as if I grew to be an old man at a young age, doing some of my soul homework before diving back into the fray of normal human problems like paying rent on time or learning how to communicate in 140 characters or less. But through it all, I’ve always stayed connected to the Earth, not only because it is such a breathtakingly beautiful and magical planet, but because I feel that no matter how lofty our spiritual aspirations and endlessly divine our souls may be, we are here in the flesh, with all our quirks and imperfections, having to figure out how to live together on a planet with limited resources.
So while I thought that perhaps my blogging would catapult me to new esoteric heights, each new post seemed to bring me further down to Earth. It became more and more clear to me that no matter how much love and forgiveness and compassion and hope for a collective shift in consciousness we put out there into the world, we’re still running up against some hard realities: 7 billion humans, rapidly depleting resources, growing urban sprawl, soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, increasing carbon emissions, and on and on. Instead of God’s plan I found myself more intrigued by urban planning. Soul paths turned into bike paths. Birth charts slowly gave way to Zero Drafts. As Buddhist teacher and author Jack Kornfield so aptly puts the quest for enlightenment: “After the ecstasy, the laundry.”
A Laboratory of Ideas
As I kept delving into themes from zero waste to renewable energy to community banking to the value of street food, my writing and storytelling became more fluent, confident, and refined. While I wasn’t worried about being too flowery and long-winded — because you know, this is my laboratory and creative canvas where I get to play and explore — I also began to think that some of the skill and insights gained might be ready for the next stage. I began submitting pitches to magazines and blogs, with an eye towards getting compensated, but also to be edited, fine-tuned, and shaped into a more polished documentarian and journalist who could take on assignments and write about interesting people and events while still waxing poetic.
I got my first big break when I pitched a story about ecocity pioneers to Yes Magazine and one of the editors pulled me out of their slush pile to ask if I wanted to instead write about Gobcobatron, a 200 square foot cob house in a Missouri ecovillage. Of course I said Yes!, and before I knew it, I was doing all kinds of assignments for them, interviewing scientists, artists, activists, lawyers, and most recently, Biomimicry pioneer Janine Benyus and visionary architect William McDonough for a feature story entitled From Soap to Cities, Designing from Nature Could Solve our Biggest Challenges. I landed some hits with Grist, worked my way into a series of in-depth articles for Alternet, and got turned onto Shareable by my real life writer friend Hannah, who I met at a Grist party. I turned a trip home to Germany into a story about Goldman-Prize winner Ursula Sladek for Resurgence Magazine and a solar-powered church for Sojourners.
I started to think that I could be a professional writer, thanks to all the practice and confidence I had gained right here on this little blog.
Learning the Tech Ropes
I’m no techie at all. In fact, I’ve been known to blaspheme at the altar of technology. However, this WordPress thingie grew on me pretty fast. Out of necessity with my band, I’ve had to deal with websites since the clunky dark days of webmasters and incomprehensible style sheets. Signing up for this blog quickly showed me what was possible. I was delighted to be able to use a website like a word processor and just focus on content with WordPress.com, but I soon realized that there was a whole world of web design made easy with WordPress.org.
While I stayed with the free WordPress.com platform for this blog, I quickly became more confident to venture into more “designy” waters with some other projects that had been itching for a facelift. I started out doing a web page for my old creative companion Tuber Creations, and from there it just kept on coming. I helped Deb set up her business site, then was hired to do the sites for International Ecocity Framework & Standards and my favorite Indian restaurant, Aslam’s Rasoi. Most recently, I set up the new website for an exciting new non-profit organization, Friends of SF Environment. It’s really quite amazing what a little bit of blogging can lead to!
We’re All in This Together
Though not impossible to do, it’s not too much fun to write in a vacuum. Just as with any other creative endeavor, it’s nice to get feedback from time to time. Blogging provides a great platform for aspiring writers to exchange ideas, encourage each other, and build a community around themes you’re passionate about. That’s exactly what happened to me. As I continued to throw stuff out there, other bloggers would show up, leave comments, give encouragement, challenge me. The ones that seemed serious, passionate, fun, and kind, I began to follow and participate on their blogs. Some of them, like Notes Along the Path, Artist at Exit 0 Riverblog, or Back to Basics whose work I love and respect so much, I’ve become good friends with. The connections I made at Daily Kos, for example, led to the interview with Bill McKibben.
A word to the wise for aspiring bloggers: It’s tempting to get caught up in the horse race aspect of popularity, especially with the “Like” button WordPress added a couple of years ago, as well as the internal graphs and statistics you can look at to see how many “hits” you got for each post. If your goal is to monetize your blog and get advertising money, sure, that’s something you have to think about and work towards. Or if it just makes you feel really good to have hundreds of “Likes” under your post, there certainly are ways to make that happen.
Personally, I’ve found that one meaningful comment is ultimately worth much more than a whole mosaic of “Likes.” It means that the person actually took the time to read your post and is honestly interested in engaging, whereas many “Likes” often pop up the second you post, signaling that the person is only interested in boosting their ratings by getting you to “like” them back, regardless of anyone’s content. I usually still check out the link and give a “platonic Like” back, but unless something really catches my eye I don’t further engage. The internet can quickly become a huge nutrition-free time suck if you don’t learn how to distinguish between attention-seeking buzz and meaningful content and interaction. For me, it takes a lot of time and effort to write a post, so I try to be conscious and discerning with the little time I have to browse, honoring those who put a lot of thought, effort, and creativity into their posts.
Onward in to the Future
So what happens next? Now that I’ve reached Mount CC, where do I want to go with this blog? What changes do I want to make, if any?
Well, the short answer is, not very many.
For a while I thought that maybe I should scale it up, make it into a magazine, feature other writers. Perhaps get some advertisers and make it into a more commercially viable enterprise. But the more I think about it, the less I want to give up the untamed wildness this little corner has afforded me. It’s pretty much free-range, with no editorial rules, scheduling pressures, or internal politics. It’s just me, raw, unfiltered, and occasional, and I like it that way.
So while the realities of having to eat and pay rent as well as my own aspirations to play a bigger part in shaping the direction of our human experiment on spaceship Earth will be reflected in a soon-to-come facelift to my professional Sven Eberlein site, this here World of Words is going to remain my “wildwrite” sanctuary. I do want to add a photo library and a few other little nuggets, which will probably entail a switch to WordPress.org and a new and better looking theme.
But the vibe will remain the same: curious, experimental, idealistic, open-minded, bold, unshackled, flexible, fun, and kind. One of the next 200 posts might even hold the key to a book proposal.
Did I forget anything?
The digital floor is yours…