The joys of blogging
I began this blog nine months ago, motivated by the same reason most amateur painters paint. They paint, not with any intent to exhibit or sell their paintings, but for the sheer pleasure of painting. I was a journalist for 40 years and I like to write. But because of deadlines and other professional pressures, writing for a living was not consistent with recreational pleasure. As a retiree, however, I figured that writing as recreation would be different, and it has been.
I don't play bridge (much to my bridge-playing wife's disgust) or other card games. I played golf many decades ago, but found it a bore and quit. My favorite form of recreation was always tennis, which I began playing as a teen-ager. But my athletic career ended a few years ago after replacing both my aortic heart valve and my right hip and becoming unwilling to tolerate the constant pain of arthritic knees and bursitis/tendinitis in my right playing shoulder. (I never got a clear diagnosis about the shoulder from my orthopedic specialist, even after arthroscopic surgery.)
So what can an old man do for recreation that will produce both pleasure and at the same time exercise my brain cells? I discovered blogging. When my wife complains about the time I devote to it, I argue that blogging is an antidote to senile dementia.
While I share the motivation of the amateur painter who paints simply for pleasure, I would like people to read the stuff I write. I wondered who if anyone would ever see my commentaries on current events and my autobiographical ramblings. So I dumped my blog web address on friends and relatives to assure that at least someone would be exposed to the material.
To promote the blog, I've begun to add my blog address after my name when sending e-mail messages. There are dozens of Internet sites enabling bloggers to maximize exposure to their web pages. Unfortunately, however, I am a technophobe still intimidated by computer complexities, and I rarely succeed in latching on to those sites.
I did get a batch of potential readers by authorizing a Montreal-based online magazine devoted to Jewish issues, "The Gantseh Megillah" (roughly translated from Yiddish: "the whole deal"), to publish any of my blog postings that might be of interest to them..
The online magazine ran a piece in which I wrote that Yiddish is "becoming obsolete like Latin." I received an angry complaint from one reader that I was exaggerating the threat to the language's survival. After an exchange of e-mail messages, she toned down the criticism, conceding that there was some truth to my claim and explaining that she "saw the glass half full while I saw it half empty."
To my astonishment, other strangers out there are reading my stuff, as comments increasingly show up on my blog. In some cases, it's obvious how the writer discovered my blog. A gentleman in Oregon, for example, typed the name "Panagarh" into an Internet search engine and up came my blog. During World War II, I had been stationed briefly at a U.S. air base in a tiny village by that name in eastern India.
I mentioned that in a memoir about my military experiences. The man in Oregon had been an Air Corps pilot stationed at that base. We have since become geriatric pen pals, exchanging messages on politics, religion, medicine, and life in general. We disagree on many issues, but our exchanges have been stimulating and amiable.
I have also developed a geriatric pen-pal relationship with a 78-year old Holocaust survivor in Ontario who, as a teenager, escaped from a Nazi/Slovak labor camp and joined a partisan band fighting the Germans. While browsing the Internet for blogs, he encountered "Octogenarian," and wrote to tell me that he was soon to become one himself and that, as my blog showed, we shared many intellectual interests.
In most cases, however, I am puzzled how the writer found my blog. I was pleased and surprised to hear from a young correspondent who spotted my piece, "Islam's Judaic roots," and wrote that she "liked [my] blog...and wants to be a journalist someday."
My criticism of the Bush Administration and its decision to invade Iraq brought a volley of criticism from "Anonymous." I discovered the source only when a cousin, a retired Air Force colonel and the only known Republican in my family, sheepishly confessed that he was the anonymous critic.
But "Midwest Mad Man" agreed heartily with my observation that while the President had sent volunteer troops into combat in Iraq, neither he nor any other high-level Administration official had family members serving in the military. "None of the politicians want their kids anywhere near the disaster," he wrote. "But it's cool to send the others."
A blog posting entitled "Reflections on a 61-year old photo," dealing with my wartime experiences in India, produced the most gratifying comment a blogger could ever want. It came from a California lady who uses the Internet moniker "Sierrabella." The photo shows me and eight young Army buddies standing in our underwear in front of a volley ball net. With the picture are personal details I still remember about each man. "This is the best written essay I've yet come across in 'blog' world." she wrote. "Thank you!" Sierrabella made my day.
Responding to my message thanking her for her generous compliment, she suggested that I post the actual photo on my blog. When I told her I didn't know how to do that, she graciously e-mailed me instructions that were far more helpful that the instructions provided by the blog server. After I succeeded, she wrote: "Hurrah, you posted the photo!"
Another admirer is a lady rabbinical student in California who requested permission to use something that she had read on my blog. Did she really think I would object to such a kind inquiry? She then posted this message on an Internet web site: "I found a lovely blog recently, Octogenarian. If you are interested in Israel, Jews in America, and/or common sense, I recommend the writing of this retired journalist."
There is indeed joy in blogging.