Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Blogging From The Other Side of the Keyboard II

Two years ago I wrote a blog about blogging from the blogger's perspective. It dawned on me that today is the four year anniversary of my first blog entry and that invites some further retrospection.

At the time I last wrote about blogging, I wasn't sure where I was going next. Over ninety blogs later I've written about interviews, artwork and reinvention. I've begun to write on more personal subjects as well, elderly parents, my father's death, my mother's adjustment to being on her own. Jewish identity has begun to play more of a role also.

The scope of this blog has grown with me, expanding with each new exploration. The conventional blog wisdom is that one should carve out a niche and explore it thoroughly, attracting a clearly defined audience with a particular interest. I soon learned that didn't work for me. What I've discovered is that my niche in life is a broad one and so is this blog. Many things interest me and one interest soon leads to another. I write about many of them.

One option to allow for focus would be to compartmentalize into different blogs, one on art, one on family history, perhaps one on the personal, addressing the precious and often difficult time with aging parents. Much too complicated for me, the thought alone brings on a severe case of writer's block. I need to just let it flow as I live my life and respond to it.

I find that this period in my life is about breaking down the walls between my various pursuits, finding the common threads that feed them all. We spend much of our work life creating separate compartments, labeling ourselves by our career and separating work and play. This time for me is about merging interests, combining work and play, rejecting labels as limiting in their definition. Instead it is about discovering wholeness and learning to live an integrated life. Hence a blog that comes from the whole person.

While multiple topics allow me to write with greater frequency, they do make it more challenging to define an audience. I am hopeful that many of my readers have a broad range of interests and are open to exploring with me. The growth in readership seems to support that.

When this blog began, I was three years into the process of personal reinvention. I had left a career in finance to explore the things I was passionate about. With less of a focus on income, I had the flexibility to follow directions that intrigued me to see where they led. For me it has often been a process of personal discovery, an exploration of how life unfolds in interesting ways if you can give it the room to breathe. And yet, sharing the personal is often difficult as there is always the sense of being exposed, a challenge for a private person. I still sometimes swallow hard before I press publish, but I find that those are the blogs that receive the greatest response.

I began my blog when I was heading off to the Vilnius Yiddish Institute and beginning an exploration of my family ancestral towns. Over the past several years I've documented travels to Belarus, the Ukraine and Poland, home to my ancestors, as well as Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and even France, all with a perspective on Jewish heritage. While I was not writing in the early stage of my family history research, those giddy days of new discoveries, there were still many discoveries that got documented in these pages.

My family history exploration soon morphed into an artistic exploration. I first exhibited a series on family history shortly before I began this blog. That in turn took me into a series on how Lithuania deals with its Holocaust history and the prewar Jewish community of the Polish town from which my grandfather came. More recently I have written of the interview series with Jewish elders that fueled my current body of work. I began to tell the stories of these explorations, both the stories within the artwork and the story of the creation of the artwork.

As I explored family history it took me into the topic of Jewish identity, something that wasn't a part of my life for many years. I became interested in learning more and have found my recent involvement in the Jewish Artists' Lab a valuable resource in this exploration. And of course, I write about it.

I find myself reflecting on the broad range of activities in my daily life that are the engine for this blog. They are as varied as what I write about. Within a recent week I spent an afternoon with my friend Dvora. Dvora grew up in the same Polish town as my grandfather and I am currently painting some of her stories from the Holocaust. I think of her as a guide of sorts in life as well as a second mom. I attended an Artist Lab, spent a day at the studio painting and a day at the archives researching Jewish history in Minnesota. In between I read an amazing book by a former attendee of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute on how Lithuania is coming to terms with its history. This stew of friends, artwork, research and reading finds its way into what I write.

Story is central to everything I do and write about. That is driven home to me when I consider the activities that I didn't mention above. I spent a day advising on an investor presentation for a new business venture and many hours in nonprofit meetings. Surprisingly these activities use many of the same "story " skills that I use in the spheres of which I write. When I was advising on the investor presentation, part of my role was to help craft a technical subject into a story. How did this part of the industry evolve? What were the impacts that led to this product? How does the story of the entrepreneur weave into the broader story? When I presented financials at a board meeting, I told the story behind the financials rather than make it just about numbers. This is how I integrate my life, by finding the story in everything that I do. And at its heart that is what writing a blog is about, finding the story and sharing it with you.

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