I had coffee with a good friend this morning, and we got around to talking about what the heck we are doing with our waking hours, aside from earning a living doing work that we are fortunate to have the opportunity to do. We all have a certain number of hours to ourselves each day and week—time that is spent with family, on personal interests and domestic chores, on civic and community matters, and so forth. How we organize and use that time is a big decision or really a series of continuing decisions.
I’ve been blogging with the rh.com team for about two-and-a-half years now. I arrived at this place thanks to an invitation from Dick Howe, the prime mover of this venture. I was intrigued about the possibilities when he asked me, having limited knowledge of the blogosphere. In 1997-98, when the Internet was just taking hold, then-UMass Lowell Profs. Charles Nikitopoulos and David Landrigan, Clementine Alexis of the Human Services Corp. of Lowell, and I attempted to get a community dialogue site going under the name Flowering City Forum. It was a crude attempt at blogging that didn’t catch on. We were trying to tap in to the energy from the Flowering City Charrette that had produced a 25-year vision for renewing the city’s natural and cultural assets. We saw the Forum as a community-building tool. Later, I sampled Daily Kos for politics and a few other national blogs, but in 2008 did not follow any bloggers regularly. I’d spent time with Christopher Lydon when he was associated with UMass Lowell for a while. He was promoting blogging as the new frontier and tried to combine it with radio broadcasting. I knew a little about what Dick was doing and had begun to read this blog. In addition to my abiding interest in the community, I was at a crossroads with my own writing, looking for a new way to go—content looking for a form, not unlike what happened when I headed down the poetry road at 20 years old. I was ready to try something new.
Fast forward to today. I remain fascinated by the possibilities of this means of communication. Blogging in some quarters is considered part of the “legitimate” media. Mainstream outlets have blog features. Countless persons have created their own blogs. It’s familiar to me as someone who grew up as a writer in the world of the small press. From mimeo’d, stapled poetry sheets handed around free to backyard letter-press operations of fine printers, the small press universe is diverse and made of entrepreneurs. Blogs and online magazines and newsletters are electronic versions of small press publishing.
My experience with this blog and the cluster of local blogs in Lowell has more than met the expectations that Charlie and I and others had when we launched the Flowering City Forum. Last night’s planning and development session at Market Mills that drew 50 people came out of the blogging network with a boost from local Facebookies. Local radio, cable TV, and the print media follow the blog-talk. Every day is a discovery. I never know what image of Lowell Tony Sampas is going to bring forward for the world to marvel at and enjoy. Contributors and comment-makers show up out of the blue sometimes. The familiar responders are like the regulars at the corner pub. It’s a sub-community of its own. The readership is remarkably large—we never mention the numbers, but our readers would be surprised at the total number of unique monthly visitors. I learn something every day that I check in, whether it’s something small or something big. I’m convinced that the activity is a plus for the city. This is a plane in flight that’s morphing into whatever it will become as it is rising. I still like what I’m seeing and how it feels, and I encourage others to get into the air.