Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Place Called Blogsville (Part III)

The Neighborhood
It’s amazing to me how slow the first half of the recently-completed first decade of the new millennium seemed to pass, versus the last five years, which appear to have evaporated right before my eyes.

Forever ensconced in the midst of that decade will be the three-year period between 2004 and 2006, when I discovered blogging and The Neighborhood was in full swing.

The ‘Hood was in a town we called Blogsville, in a country known as Blogger.com.

We all moved in at about the same time, discovering each other en masse; visiting each other often, attending each other’s parties, and generally, having the time of our lives together.

That strip club I mentioned earlier? There was nothing salacious or untoward going on there; just a bunch of wonderful stories from a guy who managed a strip joint in Florida.

Life at TJ’s Place was one of Blogger’s most popular sites of 2004, and as such was constantly listed on the homepage’s ‘Blogs of Note’ section. Naturally, newbies to Blogsville would visit to see what was going on, and subsequently, a lot of us ‘met’ each other there in the blog’s comments section.

Kevin, the blog’s author was an incredible writer. Despite what you might think, his stories were extraordinarily human in focus and compelling beyond belief. His blog served as the focal point of our neighborhood.

TJ’s was the ‘Motherblog,’ the first of what I liked to refer to as one of the ‘party blogs.’ Those were the places you could always count on finding a ‘live commenting’ gathering in progress on most nights. It was fun. We learned a lot about each other, were introduced to their blogs, and many of the friendships sparked — both ‘cyber’ and ‘real-life’ — have lasted to this day.

It was all so new; so different; so cool. We grew close; very close — some of us, too close.

We all told our stories, shared our lives, revealed our secrets, and listened while others did the same.

There were disagreements, friendly spats, and all-out wars. There was friendship and there were breakups. There was laughter and there were arguments. But much more; there was encouragement; substantiation and confirmation; hope and belief in one other — and thereby, ourselves.

But just as happens in those of brick & mortar, our online community’s resident’s life-circumstances changed; and unfortunately, after only a few months, our little Blogsville neighborhood began to collapse almost as quickly as it had formed.

Kevin, by his own admission, ‘burned out’ by August 2004. Another popular blog, The Abysmal Life of Crayon, also checked out that month. Over the next 2-3 years, more and more folks were showing up less and less.

Some left the neighborhood altogether; others became all but inactive in the group conversation; some just ran out of things to say, or refrained from being so open as to reveal information that might be passed on to outsiders.

In recent years, the neighborhood has almost ceased to exist. Oh people still own the houses, but they’re rarely home. They don’t come out on the front lawn to talk nearly as often as they once did in the old days; they pretty much keep to themselves, occasionally raising the window to throw out a few thoughts from time to time, but seldom are there others around to listen.

The neighborhood has indeed coalesced; those who have remained active have their individual friends that they hang out with, but the block parties are no more.

Just like Real Life?
It’s amazing how closely the dynamics of my old virtual neighborhood have followed that of the physical cul-de-sac I lived on, in Franklin, TN from 1994 to 2007.

Back in ‘94, when our subdivision was brand new, we started like a house afire, and now 16 years later, only two families among the eleven originals on my old block remain.

At last report, I heard that my former physical neighborhood is now comprised of 25% rental properties. For the majority of the original homeowners, it was their first home. Most of them have since ‘moved on up to the East Side,’ so to speak. The neighborhood hasn’t gone completely to pot, though; it’s still a tidy, middle-class ‘burb neighborhood, but it’s definitely lost that new-‘hood smell.

And that’s life; we’re all responsible, but it’s really no one’s fault. It just happens. Same thing applies to my Blogsville neighborhood. It was a phenomenon in the lives of those involved; a phenomenon that had a shelf life which none of us could foresee.

Yet in some cases, the bonds have remained firm. In my case, one of those in particular required some real-time face-time to become immutable.

LA Stories
Something else was different five-or-so years ago: the economy. I had a good job, gas prices were relatively manageable, and somehow, I had considerably less month at the end of the money most of the time.

My Dad, who still lives in Southern California, is in his mid-eighties and 5-6 years ago I had the money to go see him often. I made it a point to get out to California at least once a year. In ’04, I made it twice; once in May ― just before I started blogging, and a second time in August ― not long after having been swept away by it.

Along with seeing my Dad, I had additional motivation as well: to see my friends; the real-time pals of my youth who have always been a big part of my life and desire to make the numerous visits to SoCal that I have since leaving the area in 1992.

Before heading out on second trip to the ol’ homestead, in August, I decided to throw out a fleece and pretty much blindly arrange to meet someone whom I barely knew, but had recently begun running into often in Blogsville.

Michael agreed to meet me for dinner in Santa Monica and we instantly connected. We’ve remained pretty close friends ever since.

The Light’s On, But There’s Nobody Home…
But within a year of that trip, things began to change. The economy, from my standpoint, anyway, began to tighten. By 2006-07, my job security was creeping onto tenuous ground. Fuel prices went sky high, as did most everything else; at the same time, Michelle and I were buying a new house and adding a third more money to our previous monthly mortgage payment.

While I can’t blame the stress I endured at the hands of the economy, I certainly can say that the uneasiness I felt about my job security had an effect on my writing. I lost confidence in myself on a number of levels. I went from someone who had absolutely everything going his way to just another scared, middle-aged Boomer, suddenly out of touch with a rapidly-changing tech world. To say it took the wind out of my sails would be an understatement.

I found myself staying later at work, studying coding technologies in my spare time that I now had to know, both at work and on the weekends, and experiencing the numb, burning sensation on the back of my neck that makes you feel like you want to just burst out of your skin.

Meanwhile, back in my Blogsville abode, I sat and stared out the window most of the time; too stressed to write, too scared to really talk about what was first and foremost on my mind — my real-time job. I tried, though; I came close to breaking trough a couple of times, but for the most part I was writing more apologies for not posting than I did writing many substantive posts.

People would try to tell me not to be so hard on myself (thank you, Brighton), but in reality, I was really trying to apologize to myself.

Next: AJ 2.0
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