A Gardening Year

The adventures and misadventures of an heirloom gardener

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A Gentle Plea for Civility on my Blogiversary

Three years. Other than marriage and motherhood, I can’t think of another personal commitment that I have kept for so long. Even in my first post I wondered how long I would be blogging. Back then, I didn’t think of it as blogging. This was supposed to be my garden journal. And I have used it as such, constantly looking back to previous years for information on weather, plantings, bloom times and a few personal incidents of which I knew I would want to have a record.

Each January, as I review the prior year, a theme always emerges. The first year, I noted that whereas I had begun the year writing solely for myself, my garden and my writings had attracted an audience. My second year of blogging saw me stretch my wings to join the larger world of gardening through both volunteer efforts and a paying job. The theme for this year is what I learned about blogging and bloggers.

I lost focus this year. Re-reading this past year’s posts, what jumps out at me is that very often I was writing for an “audience” and not myself, as originally intended. There are a lot of “Look at me! Aren’t I great?” posts. I need to make a real effort in 2008 to get back to my original intent to use this space as a garden journal.

Along the way, I learned that I have been committing a serious blogging faux pas for years now. Apparently, it is considered proper etiquette to comment in response to readers’ comments. At first I panicked. Remember, I was writing for an audience. I didn’t want to lose that audience. My self-worth as a gardener and as a blogger was wrapped up in the proper care and feeding of my audience. My problem was (and is) that I just don’t have the time to compose thoughtful replies to each and every comment on this blog. I don’t have a Mr. Wonderful to help out around the house and garden. What I do have are two paying jobs and two volunteer “jobs” leaving me almost no time for blogging and commenting. After much soul searching, I have decided to accept the scorn of the garden blogging community and not answer each and every commenter.

And there is scorn. It can be absolutely terrifying. Will any of us ever forget the public vilification of the garden blogger who had the nerve to use her blog to make money? Reading bloggers’opinions of her “indecent” act, I felt as if I was being flayed. Where did all of this venom come from? As gardeners, shouldn’t we reserve our wrath for targets that truly deserve it like Purple Loosestrife? Or deer? Although intensely interested in politics, both local and national, I stopped reading political blogs long ago because of the very same viciousness. I hope that I will not have to stop reading garden blogs, also.

Yet another lesson this year is that garden blog readers feel that they have a right to dictate the content of the blogs that they read. If it is a garden blog, then the only permissible topic is gardening. Anything else is strictly forbidden and may incur the awful wrath of the garden blogging community. Who gave readers this right to tell me what I can post? It’s my blog, not theirs. I could understand their point if they had paid me a subscription fee to read about gardening on my blog and suddenly I started blogging exclusively about my cats. Yes, outrage would be appropriate. Money should be refunded. Gardening teaches us that a monoculture is not healthy. Diversity is much better for the environment and the gardener inhabiting that environment. The same principle can and should be applied to blogging. A garden blog can be mainly about gardening with interesting detours into the nooks and crannies of the author’s life and thoughts.

Despite all of this, I have been assured that garden bloggers are nice. They are not at all like those nasty extremists who inhabit the political blogiverse. Really? So I should have been happy to read on a garden blog recently that as a user of Blogger, I am a “loser” blogging in a “ghetto”? Ouch! There has to be a better way to express that thought.

I enjoy reading Garden Rant. The Ranters choose their words carefully. They are able to discuss controversial topics and not hurt anyone. They even inject humor without wounding. Their commenters are another story. In an effort to out-rant the Ranters, the comment section is shrill, nasty, mean-spirited, and judgemental. I know that what the commenters are aiming for is “intellectual” and “rapier wit”, but the result is more “schoolyard bully, posturing on the playground, trying to intimidate the little kids”. Anyone reading those comments could be forgiven for thinking that garden bloggers are just as bad as extremist political bloggers.

My plea then, is this. Before hitting the “Publish” button, stop and re-read what you have written. Better yet, read it out loud, share it with someone whose opinion you trust. Best of all, have someone read your post/comment out loud to you, substituting your name for the subject. Many times, words sound very different when you are the target rather than the author. If, after all that, you feel that your post/comment is fine the way it is, then post it. I’m confident, though, that you won’t. Instead, you will thoughtfully re-write it, tone it down a bit, find a “kinder, gentler” way to express your feelings. We are, after all, gardeners. We nurture, not destroy.

The theme for my gardens this year is “Back to Basics”. After all my failed experiments last year, I want to start over. I want to go back to my roots and plant lots of zinnias and marigolds and cosmos. Rather than exotic effects, I want lots and lots of flowers. The same holds true for this blog. I need to get back to my original purpose.

This is my garden journal. I post in it from time to time. Usually about my gardens, but occasionally about other topics. Everyone is welcome to read it. Everyone is welcome to comment on it. I won’t be able to answer each and every comment. That doesn’t mean that I don’t value your comments, merely that my commitments do not allow me the time to compose the thoughtful responses that your comments deserve. Anyone who takes the time to read and comment here deserves better than “Great comment! Thanks for stopping by.”

* * * * * * * * * *

The title of this post was inspired by one of my favorite books, A Gentle Plea for Chaos by Mirabel Osler. I knew nothing about her when I read her book many years ago so I was unprepared for the death of her husband at the end. I’ve been haunted by this book ever since.


At 1:52 PM, Anonymous Christine TX said...

I have been reading your blog for about 6 months-I enjoy all the entries, I agree, this is your blog, write what you want-no one is forcing us to read this. Have a Happy and productive New Year.

At 2:22 PM, Anonymous Tracy said...

Well-written and well-presented. I really liked what you wrote about discovering that you had an audience and changed how and what you wrote after that - it's an experience we all share. I enjoy mostly lurking on your blog, and look forward to reading about what you're growing and whatever else you may decide to write about in 2008!

At 8:34 AM, Blogger Carolyn gail said...

Congrats on your blogiversary. Your post brought out a lot of issues and I share most of your feelings expressed in the post.

Happy New Year. I hope 2008 will be a better year for you.

At 10:21 AM, Blogger Beverly said...

3 years hard to believe;)I completely understand where you are coming from. I haven't been posting lately because of lack of garden content. Time to get over that and start writing about what I think and feel and not what I think everyone expects to read on a garden blog. Heres to New Years and New Beginnings. Happy 2008.

At 7:17 PM, Blogger Apple said...

Very thought provoking. Maybe there is a cycle to blogging, many of my thoughts are similar to yours. I'm not sure what direction my garden blog will take this year. Looking forward to your gardening thoughts in 2008.

At 2:46 PM, Blogger Sarah said...

Congrats on 3 years! I really enjoy reading your blog and look forward to your 2008 blogging year.
Happy New Year!

At 9:29 PM, Blogger Carol said...

Happy Blog Anniversary, and I look forward to what you plan to post in the future. "Back to Basics" is a great theme for a garden. Sometimes we have to do that, just to find our way again. Clear out the clutter, get rid of the weeds, widen our beds, go back to the tried and true flowers. Yes, back to basics is a wonderful idea.

Carol, May Dreams Gardens

At 12:24 PM, Blogger Yolanda Elizabet said...

Happy New Year to you and the kittycats and congrats on your third blogiversary!!! Excellent post, well written! Like your new theme for this year! Happy gardening and blogging in 2008!

festive purrrs from the Bliss team to your kittycats!

At 8:39 PM, Blogger Wicked Gardener said...

I know that I don't get remotely the same amount of comments as you do, but I've really been astonished how nice many of the bloggers have been. I even consider some of them friends (well sort of, in a cyberspace kinda way. I'm not crazy . . . yet.) I hope all of the mean bloggers stay away from you and me in 2008!

At 8:12 AM, Blogger Naturegirl said...

Extremely well written and presented!
I love what you wrote here:
"A garden blog can be mainly about gardening with interesting detours into the nooks and crannies of the author’s life and thoughts."
I find these detours make the author human..makes me relate more to the author and besides it is our own individual blog!! We blog about our garden and gardeners have feelings deep feelings...and a life outside of gardening!!
I for one feel blessed in having met you because you took my hand and introduced me to Garden Voices and with it came a world of new friendships that I never thought possible!My kitties also have met friends!!
Wishing you much inspiration as you continue another year of blogging!
hugs NG xo

At 12:31 PM, Blogger Bev said...

What a wonderful, thoughtful post! I think you are "right on," and I wish I could offer as nice a reply as Naturegirl (one of my favorite bloggers), so I'll just say "ditto." I love your back to basis idea and look forward to forthcoming posts.


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