What an embarrassment of riches I am receiving! For someone who tries to be humble, this is becoming a bit much, and I hope you'll bear with me for a day or two longer while we celebrate blogging and ten years of The Cassandra Pages.
Teju Cole needs no introduction to readers here; we are, as he notes, dear friends, and I am enormously proud of and happy for his success as a writer, photographer, and thinker. Without The Cassandra Pages, we never would have met, and my own mind and eye would not have developed in the same way. Throughout my life, I've been attracted to, and sought out, other creative people whose thinking and work challenged me to do my very best. From the past ten years of blogging, Teju Cole and Dave Bonta have been at the absolute pinnacle for me. When those intellectual relationships mature into deep and enduring friendships, as they have in both cases, I know I've received one of the greatest blessings of life.
Now you are 10! I remember how I first found you: through Google, which is the way anyone finds anything these days. I had googled “Nabokov,” and landed on Steve Dodson’s blog Language Hat. From the links on his side bar, Cassandra Pages was one of the first that I went to. And once I came here, I stayed.
It wasn’t a great year, 2003. It was a sad year. In February and March, we were all helplessly counting down to the mass murder about to begin in Iraq, watching with horror as the men in charge made up their minds to reshape the world, and to reshape the evidence to suit that purpose. Then the war began, and the terrible news began to pour in. It pours in still.
In the midst of all that, I think we all looked for those things and those people that could speak in a thoughtful, subtle, and prophetic voice to our predicament. We didn’t need more news. We needed presence of mind. I know that this is why I read so much poetry in the past decade, and it’s also why I came to value Cassandra Pages, not long after you began writing here. You used words, images, and experience in ways that set the darkness echoing. Whether thinking about civil rights, a bowl of figs, a journey to Iceland, or a painting by Duccio, you were never lazy or glib or unkind. Through your writing here (and later, through our friendship in the real world), I learned to be more thoughtful. And through you and the way things branch out on the Internet, I found many other like-minded friends, like Dave Bonta at Via Negativa, Natalie D’Arbeloff at Blaugustine, and so many precious others.
Ten years. You’ve done a lot of writing in that time, and so have I, and we’ve written a lot to each other, hundreds of pages, though it seems not at all enough for all the things we wish to say and (to be honest) all the things I need to learn from you. Thank you for being one of the first, and one of the very best, readers of Open City, and for the many times you hosted my writing right here on this blog. I even have my own category in the side bar here, an achievement of which I’m inordinately proud.
Cassandra Pages is still one of the best things on the Internet. You don’t have to do it forever, but it’s a wonderful space, it has blessed many people, and long may it live.
Jean Morris, who lives in London, is also one of my closest blog friends. She is a gifted writer and translator and an excellent photographer. We have always shared a love of contemporary film, art, and books, especially world literature in translation; a Buddhistic approach to life and daily practice; sadness and sensitivity about world politics; and an abiding friendship on and off our blogs, of which Jean has two wonderful examples: Tasting Rhubarb, for words and photography, and Trail Mix, where she posts daily "small stones" in a steady practice of observation and writing.
Beth, I no longer remember the time, I realise, when Cassandra didn't live in my computer. A decade is a long time, a fair chunk of our lives. I no longer remember exactly when or how or why, idly web-surfing one lunchtime in the office, I began to read blogs, quite how I found my way to a few voices that felt like those of friends. They were speaking of politics and spiritual practice and literature and music. They were there day after day, sharing bits of their inner and outer lives. They were voices of writers and artists, of concern and kindness, of radical alternatives to the noise and greed and violence I saw and heard every day in the news. They were there in my computer and they stayed and I was hooked, and so began a new dimension to my own daily life, of fellow feeling, conversations and friendships across oceans.
Cassandra Pages was one of the first and has been at the centre of this, warming my heart and sparking my thoughts with your intelligence and eloquence, your fierce and compassionate caring for daily detail and the wider world. Blogs were up close and interactive, not like reading a book or a newspaper, and soon your talents for writing, for art and design, were not only delighting my mind and eyes but helping to revive the creative impulse that, like so many, I'd lost touch with in adolescence.
I no longer remember a time when a little of you didn't live in my computer, in my mind and heart. I hope you'll be there for a long time to come.
And then there is Dave. I hardly know where to begin to speak about Dave Bonta, whose wide-ranging, quirky interests and brilliant writing fascinated me from the beginning - fortunately his work is known to most of you so I don't have to try to describe it! In addition to so many other intersections - poetry, philosophy, religion, to name just a few - perhaps what Dave represents to me the most is the wilderness. His knowledge and love of the natural world, and his immersion in it, bring me back to my own roots as a girl of the woods, of the "limberlost," as it were. Now that I've become a city-dweller, I miss that every day, but Dave brings me back there. Our many-year collaboration on qarrtsiluni was a great pleasure and labor of love, and a project of which I'm very proud.
When I started blogging in late December 2003, the only blogger I knew
in real life posted links to articles on politics with one-line
commentaries. I'd heard that there were also such things as personal,
diary-like blogs, but was told that they were full of mindless minutiae —
I was determined not to write one of those! A librarian's son, I did
the logical thing and consulted a blog directory (remember those?) and
the title of a blog in the philosophy and religion section caught my
eye: the cassandra pages.
When I clicked through, I found an author with a distinctly epistolary voice who also functioned as the hostess of a virtual salon, a place buzzing with conviviality. Beth's blog in early 2004 was a major node in a large, informal network of down-to-earth intellectuals, bloggers such as Dick Jones, Lorianne DiSabato, Rachel Barenblat, Dale Favier, Chris Clarke and many others using mysterious, lower-case pseudonyms: languagehat, commonbeauty, butuki, qB... It was a revelation. Beth's own voice was a perfect balance of wisdom and vulnerability, and her willingness to engage critically with religion — as well as with the arts and literature — did more to shape my own conception of what blogging could be than anything else I encountered online in those first, formative months. Her reports on the newly elected Bishop Gene Robinson in January 2004 sparked lengthy, thoughtful conversations in which an especially diverse collection of political and religious free-thinkers took part. I felt as if I'd come home.
Adding to the impression of homey-ness were warm colors and a smart design, and, yes, a willingness to glean insights from the far-from-mindless minutiae of daily life. The fact that the cassandra pages has maintained a consistent design aesthetic for an entire decade is astonishing, but it testifies to the maturity of its author's voice and vision. It's an oasis of consistency in an online world where blogs are regularly abandoned, change names or URLs, or at least undergo a major design overhaul every year or two. Blogging itself has gone mainstream since then, and the apostles of online utopia have moved on to champion social networks, where corporations rather than individual writers set the tone. Most of the blogs I read have become quieter places as a result, but the friendships forged in those early years endure. In fact, one of them has blossomed into a romance, years after we first met in the comment threads at Language Hat and the cassandra pages, so it's no exaggeration to say that Beth's red, black and white blog changed my life.
It was also fun to watch those initial blog posts on Gene Robinson blossom into a book published by a major literary press, which seemed to kind of set the pattern for other bloggers in our ambit who used their blogs to explore new ideas with a community of like-minded writers, thinking through a variety of creative and spiritual projects: art exhibitions, books of poems, a critically acclaimed novel, monastic and rabbinic ordinations, theatrical productions, online journals... For me and I think for many others, the cassandra pages led the way. Long may it prosper.