BLOGGING  WHAT  YOU  PLEASE

MANILA, January 11, 2006 (STAR) PENMAN By Butch Dalisay - Itís been just over a month since I started blogging (see the URL or Web address down below), and I think Iím beginning to understand what drives hordes of people Ė relatively few of them professional, trained, or even aspiring writers Ė to stake their personal claim on a corner of the Internet, and to use it as a diary, newsletter, pulpit, column, album, catalog, billboard, literary gazette, scandal sheet, wailing wall, digital warehouse, or any combination of the foregoing.

Blogs didnít happen yesterday; my friend and fellow Mac addict Adel Gabot had been doing a prototypical blog Ė and "electric journal," as he continues to call it Ė since as early as 1976. "I know a lot of you out there were yet to be born," Adel writes on his blog at http://www.livejournal.com/users/agabot/, which just happens to be one of the best-looking and best-written blogs hereabouts, thanks to Adelís skills as a photographer and a writer-editor Ė "but yes I started back then, on good old paper using longhand. Later on I would write using WordStar on an Apple II, saving the files on 5.25" floppies, and so on, and calling it The Electric Journal, its name today. I imagine theyíre somewhere in the old house, taken over by layers of mold and fungus. The salvageable ones are archived properly, but Iím loath to read them. Depressing stuff mostly. Depressing largely because the entries are naive and clueless, full of promise and hope, and in hindsight, disappointing.

"Of course there are gaps, some months long, when the futility of all my journal keeping would catch up. Then wracked by guilt, resume.

"Iíve kept a journal since 1976. My dilemma now is time Ė writing takes a lot out of me nowadays, and I feel like I have just enough writing energy left out of a day to do one personal purging. Of course not a lot of the gooshy stuff will come out here in the Online Edition of the Electric Journal. Just the less damaging, largely innocuous stuff. I once wrote a regular column in a newspaper for several years, and I imagine this would be a lot like that time in my life. My editors were nice enough to allow me carte blanche. So I wrote what I pleased. Well, here we go again."

Thatís the spirit that animates most bloggers, I think, and while it sounds more than vaguely self-indulgent, itís a candor thatís much more refreshing than the usual blather you get from governments, corporations, and even NGOs. (Here Iíll trot out one of my favorite quotations, from the novelist and 1993 Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison: "I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it." A more honest reason to write has yet to be found.)

If youíve come this far but have been too shy to ask exactly what a blog is and where it came from, let me reward your patience by saying that "blog" is a contraction of the phrase "Web log", the Web being, of course, the World Wide Web, or that part of the Internet most of us inhabit. Think of it as a public diary.

In the sense that blogs offer the casual surfer a glimpse into what sometimes try very hard to seem like ordinary lives (or otherwise try very hard to seem like extraordinary lives), blogs offer the perfect meeting point between exhibitionist and voyeur. That sounds sexy, and it is. No matter how high-minded a blog may look and sound Ė such as those brimming over with avuncular political wisdom Ė I still canít help thinking of a blog as a pose in a window, whether youíre dressed in a bespoke suit or a ratty towel (or even much less).

Lord knows I already have a million things to write, aside from the six or seven columns a month I do for The STAR and for other publications (that long-delayed novel, I know, but thatís not even what I mean; Iím talking about speeches, brochures, biographies, and academic papers), so why did I even bother to put up a blog, aside from metaphorically prancing behind the curtains in my checkered pajamas?

My first and admittedly corny reason was storage Ė students keep asking me for copies of past column-pieces or lectures (Iím not that hot; their teachers make them do it), so it helps to keep a digital filing cabinet for all these odds and ends. After I did this for a monthís worth of columns, I felt an itch to do something more, or even something else. So I came up with what Iíve been calling "Flotsam and Jetsam" Ė the title of a story by W. Somerset Maugham, one of my earliest influences, an anthology of whose stories I picked up at Changi on a recent flight back to Manila.

I wrote: "To give some value-added to this blog and to differentiate it from everything else I write and do, Iíll scribble occasional "just for this blog" notes Ė odds and ends that might find their way into some future column piece or story, but are best taken while fresh and on the fly."

And as far as I can help it, except for that brief quotation itself, Iíd rather leave that material Ė which tends to be even more personal Ė to the blog; I repeat myself enough in this column, already.

But whatís been more interesting about blogging is how itís led me to other blogs Ė some of them, again, much more interesting, better written, and more visually pleasing than others. Iím not even worrying about quality issues at this point Ė because, speaking of this point, blogging remains in that early-days stage of riotous exuberance, the closest thing the world has so far to a digital democracy (well, as "democratic" as you can get among folks blessed with a computer, an Internet connection, and an urge to bare all to strangers).

There are probably at least a couple of million bloggers around the world today, and you can generally sort them out into what I call rants, reviews, and rhapsodies.

The rants are the easiest ones to write, to read, and to dislike. (I could give you a few leads, but why spoil your day?) They tend to make one basic point: "I hate the world. I deserve better. Come to think of it, I hate you Ė and yes, I hate myself!")

The reviews we can sub-classify into political, techie, and literary blogs. If youíre a current-events type of person, check out the blogs of Ricky Carandang, the PCIJ, John Nery, and Manolo Quezon for fresh insights into the stories that make the headlines. (I wonít bother giving you the URLs Ė be a good Netizen and Google them. Now I can hear my Mom saying: "Ano Ďkamo?") The techie blogs will give you the lowdown on everything from iPods and PowerBooks (Jason OíGradyís "The Apple Core") to hotrods and Michelin tires (see Jalopnikís blog for his take on "Woman Attempts to Trade Pilfered Parrot for Vintage Car"). For even more ornery opinions, as only the literati can dish out, take a gander at "Grumpy Old Bookman" and "Blog of a Bookslut." (My oh my, it doesnít sound like a very friendly world out there.)

For friendliness we turn to the rhapsodizers Ė meaning the rest of us who can gaze at our navels all day and find in them not just the wisdom of the ages, but more material for next dayís blog.

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I know I just said that Iíll try not to recycle stuff from the blog for this column, but humor me this necessary response to a common question:

"Some of you have e-mailed me to ask why I donít leave or make space on this blog for comments by readers. To be honest, I did think about it; but in the end, I chose not to, chiefly because Iíve seen how nasty and brutish such comments can get on some blogs. (I know: ĎNasty and brutish Ė why, thatís human life, isnít it?í Sure Ė but this is my blog, not the office water cooler or bulletin board.) Really, Iíd much rather that you send me a personal message; I do appreciate and acknowledge (and even reprint) comments Ė generally in the same spirit that theyíre made. Iíll venture that most people who know me will describe me as a generally genial fellow whoís happiest giving out advice about fountain pens and Macs.

"But itís only fair to warn you that Iím not the Dalai Lama and can be surlier than my tomcat Chippy. When I (and about 9,637 other commentators) wrote a piece denouncing the US invasion of Iraq, I got a barrage of hate mail Ė which in and of itself is an occupational hazard I can live with or ignore. But when some particularly shrill Fil-Am wrote in to say that I had no right to comment on his Presidentís actions and that he was going to write his government to make sure that I never set foot on US soil again, I wrote him back to, uhm, suggest, not too delicately, that a projectile descending on his silly head might do him good. So there."

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E-mail me at penmanila@yahoo.com and visit my blog at http://homepage.mac.com/jdalisay/blog/MyBlog.html.


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