Pica posing with the last falafel - after we shared a vegetarian platter of Lebanese dishes at Basha. She's wearing her "Celestarium" shawl that she knit herself: it's a large circle that includes a picture of the night sky laid out in tiny pearl beads against the dark blue -- brilliant, and gorgeous.
A couple of weeks ago, we had a wonderful visit from Pica, co-author of Feathers of Hope, which also turned ten that very week. Pica and I got to know each other early in our blogging careers, and then became close through The Ecotone Wiki, a collaboration of writers exploring the theme of "place." Many of us have stayed friends, and continued to blog, for all these years.
Pica is a woman of many talents; in addition to being an excellent writer and editor, she is an avid bird-watcher and sketcher (she maintains a second blog, Bird by Bird, for her avian sketches) and a master knitter who has recently learned to spin her own yarn. Like me, she's still a bit of a hippie at heart, a do-it-yourselfer who's intrigued rather than daunted at the idea of, say, making a solar cooker and cooking the vegetables she's grown in her garden that way; she likes making things with her own hands. Right now she's in-between jobs, and to celebrate that transition she fulfilled a longtime desire, and took a trip by train from California across the country and back, to visit her mother in Maine, with various sidetrips to see friends along the way, recording her travels in a sketchbook.
Somehow - I can't remember exactly - we got onto the subject of personal appearance and getting older, and she told me that her sister in Maine had encouraged her to go to Sephora in Portland to get "a little help and advice". Sephora -- an upscale, hip cosmetics retailer -- has recently opened a shop in the center of downtown Montreal. I'd been inside and admired the packaging of the whole experience, but hadn't bought anything; however, to my complete astonishment, my husband had bought me several Christmas presents there, and raved about what fun he'd had beign helped by a personal shopper who asked him all sorts of questions about me and then recommended products for him to give me - all of which I loved.
"Let's go together!" Pica said. "Look, I was a Sephora virgin
until last week -- you'll see, it will be fun." So off we went, two aging hippies who are into looking "natural."
Well, they were both right: it was quite the experience. We walked into the black, shiny, mirrored store -- dance music was pounding on the speakers -- and some young beauty with a headset offered me a little shopping basket, but I said I wanted some help, so she said, "Sure! Please go over to the beauty bar and I'll call someone to be with you right away." The beauty bar is a mirrored, two-sided, free-standing, well, bar, with tall stools, and is loaded with brushes and tissues and applicators and all the tools of the trade. My personal consultant showed up, and asked what I would like. Taking a cue from Pica's prompts, I said I didn't wear make-up except for a bit of mascara and lipgloss, but was curious about a very light makeup that would "even out" my skin a bit, and about something to help under my eyes.
She took charge. First, using a brush, she painted my face with something called a primer which "protects your pores," so she said. Then she used two different types of a new type of foundation called BB creme, "very light, no oil in these at all" on the two sides of my face, to compare. Then "concealer" under my eyes, presumably to conceal the fact that I've been alive for 60 years and sleeping about six hours a night for weeks. Then powder, so the "concealer" wouldn't be revealed as shiny. Then some blush, since she had obliterated all the color in my face in order to "even things out."
Pica asked lots of interesting questions of our totally bilingual cosmetology pro, whose name was Amina. I mostly held still, amazed to be where I was, putting on my reading glasses every now and then to peek in the mirror.
Funny thing, I actually looked pretty good when she was done, and not "unnatural." And fortunately I made it out of there without spending too much money. When we got home and told J. what we'd done, he was completely disappointed not to have been along - with his camera!
Pica back in our studio, adding color to a pen sketch while I sketch her. This isn't a great likeness, but I like that it includes her starry scarf, travel bag, and her trusty folding Schminke watercolor set!
The really fun thing, though, was having such a lovely visit with a longtime blogger friend. We sketched together, and talked, and ate, and drank wine, petted the cat, and talked some more, and she even came along to two of the Holy Week services where I was singing, which was a pleasure for us both. Some people seem to feel that online friendships aren't real, or can't be as deep as face-to-face relationships, but that just isn't my experience at all. Reading one another's blogs and communicating by email for a whole decade makes me feel that I know friends like Pica better than many people I see much more often. And on the rare occasions when we meet up in person, it's just a confirmation that, yes, these are very real friendships based on trust, honesty, intimacy, shared interests, love, and commitment over the long haul.
(Posted inadvertently for a few hours yesterday -- the post below now contains the missing link to J.'s website.)
And finally we come to Jonathan, my love and life partner, about whose contribution to my life I can't really speak without getting emotional. I'm amused and delighted that just as I reach the ten-year point in my own blogging journey (which he has both patiently tolerated and helped over all these years, as I said in the comments, far too often waiting while I wrote "just a few more words," or even being the unwitting subject) he has started a blog of his own, with the very sensible commitment of posting once a week. He's written a little introduction there and put together a short slideshow of photos related to blogging and me.
Thank you, dearest one, for being you and sharing this crazy world with me, for cheering me up when I get down, for enlarging my life in so many ways, for making me braver and more adventurous, for always supporting me in my work and creativity, for being unafraid to truly know me and allow me to know you, and for being there, not virtually, but in the flesh, every single day.
First, I screwed up. For a few hours on Sunday, I posted a mention about J.'s slideshow without including a link - and he hadn't published the pictures yet anyway! So that post wll appear for real at midnight tonight, wth the proper link.
The final letter I got was from Ed Hawco, better known in in the blogging world as Blork, and to me as a true friend, excellent photographer, and a great chef. He is the partner of Martine Pagé, who wrote earlier this week, and they are close friends of ours in Montreal, and the longest-term bloggers I know; they started more than a year before I did, and were instrumental in organizing YulBlog, Montreal's blogger group and monthly meet-up. Like Dave Bonta, Ed has several blogs: a personal one where he writes (not often enough, IMHO) on various topics, including food, plus several photography blogs and a little-known blog of "snippets" from books he reads, for he is a prodigous and eclectic reader (scroll down to the following post for his 2012 book list!) The following is cross-posted on his main blog, so you can go there and check out the others too.The noise in the blogosphere has long surpassed the signal, which may explain the decline in relevance of the “personal blog.” Where once the platform was largely about personal writing and exploration, blogging now is a vehicle for competitive foodieism, personal branding, and all forms of marketing.
This shift was inevitable, so there’s no point in complaining about it. Fortunately, many personal blogs still soldier on, including this one (although in my case “limp” would be a better choice of verb). Some toil in obscurity, others attract a bit of attention by issuing screeds and rants. And then there’s The Cassandra Pages, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last week.
The Cassandra Pages is written by Beth Adams, who I’ve been privileged to know as a friend for much of that ten years. Martine and I met Beth when she and her husband Jon showed up at a YULBlog meeting some time around 2004. (It might have been 2003, or even 2005; I have a terrible sense of time past, a gift I inherited from my father.) She and Jon were engaged in a very slow process of moving to Montreal from their home in Vermont where they’d lived together for 30 years. I was attracted to them immediately, partially because their story was so different from the others at YULBlog, but mostly because of their genuine warmth, intelligence, and curiosity.
Since then I have had the triple pleasure of knowing them as friends, seeing Jon’s photographs, and reading Beth’s blog. Don’t go there for rants or shopping advice. Turn away if you’re only interested in tech noise or social platitudes. The Cassandra Pages is a ten year (and onward) personal writing space for Beth’s experimentation and expression, and for your reading pleasure. It strikes that rare note of being a personal blog – based on a life being lived and the observations made along the way – while remaining approachable and relevant to anyone who cares to read it. As with good memoir writing, it never comes of as being “all about me.” Rather, it’s about us; the “we” that forms when a writer connects with her readers, and readers see truth and thoughtful inquiry in a writer’s impressions.
Congratulations Beth, on 10 Years of The Cassandra Pages!
"It's a kind of more open writing that I have learned from watching you -- something that a few years ago I probably would not have written, and certainly would have been afraid to share with more than a few close associates. I now recognize that such personal writing can have a positive impact on people I never met, as well as deepening bonds with those whose lives already intersect with my own."
You are what you hold dear. I've held
in my hands five days a week, since 1997, a coffee mug with a Labview
logo. Labview is a computer programming environment, the product of a
Texas software company, designed to control instruments, record and
analyze data: the hands and eyes of a scientist, if not the mind. I use
it for everything. I learned to use it in Zuerich on sabbatical, when I
was afraid to collect data on a rickety computer and had the time to
retool myself and the lab where I was visiting, learning a skill I knew
would be useful then and later. How convenient to learn and make your
first horrible mistakes, writing your first clumsy programs for someone
else's experiment! I learned enough to run the experiment and became
proficient enough to rewrite my own lab's data acquisition programs when
I went back to Long Island. As a Swiss memento, I brought with me a
Labview porcelain coffee mug, left by the sales engineer as just another
piece of crass commercial swag.
A lot of science depends on coffee, as much as programming, so I made this coffee mug my own, and would have it with me as I went to seminars, meetings, or just in the office, constantly adjusting the caffeine trim required to threaten the secrets of Nature with exposure (empty threat, that). It is my responsibility to enforce the eating and drinking ban in the labs, and I do usually set a good example, reducing the slim chances of taking a sip from the wrong beaker by mistake. Like so many portable treasures, it has been repeatedly left behind and rediscovered days or weeks later after abandoned searches.
This was only my second scientific coffee mug, artifacts by which a career is measured. The first came from a hippie potter in Toronto when I was a grad student, and lasted through my years in Ithaca and on to Brookhaven. That one had an organic brown and white glaze, a silly thumb rest on the handle, and enough texture inside that the cream-colored pottery would gradually take on an interior patina that resisted soap and water, needing oxidizing chemicals appropriate to a chemistry lab to restore the bright interior whiteness, once every few months. The day came, as it must, when I dropped that mug, and I wondered how my career would be affected -- and if I would ever find the right mug to replace it. So when I appropriated this Labview mug in Switzerland, I thought I had found the totem for the next phase of my career.
But this morning, as I rinsed it out and was wiping down the outside with a paper towel, it slipped from my hands. Plenty of time passed, as it accelerated from the height of my waist, past my knees and toward the carpeted floor, for me to think back on all the coffee that has passed through me by way of this mug, wondering and hoping, not too optimistically, that it might just bounce and come to rest, rebuking me for my carelessness. But my long reverie came to an end with a crack and shattering into a few jagged shards and a splash of white porcelain powder across the blue industrial carpet, lightly padding the concrete floor.
I poured my coffee into a Long Island Symphony mug left behind by R. when he retired and finally left the lab, 10 years after I was hired in anticipation of his departure. But it's not the same. There are a dozen other mugs to choose from, but I need to apply more deliberation than just picking one and using it.
The real loss this morning, however, was that it was V.'s last day at the lab, after three fast years with us. The young scientists we select and nurture are really what delimit the epochs in our own careers, sharing problems and successes, hoping that they can find their way to a real job, and that we will have helped them do so, rather than leading them into a dead end project from which the only way forward is to start fresh, leaving behind years of endeavor. The old-timers here have seen change and mused that they had lived through golden days of science and wouldn't know how to start over in today's world. And they are probably right -- we wouldn't know how. But fortunately we don't have to, and those that do have to will do just fine, like V.
A few weeks later, G. sent me a string of responses he'd received from his colleagues who had read the story of his broken mug. Among them was this postscript to the story:
I've had an interesting assortment of responses from the ten or so people to whom I intentionally sent the original essay, as well as an amusing thread returning to me by way of my friend C., who forwarded a copy of my essay to a Labview engineer requesting that they might arrange to have a new mug sent to this hopeless friend of his:
I really do appreciate your arranging to have a new mug sent to me. So of course I want to confirm receipt and thank you. But I'm wondering if there is some higher intelligence playing with us, testing to see if I can acknowledge that it is time to move on. Your mug arrived, carefully packed and with no sign of abuse, yet after rinsing it out and pouring in my first cup of hot joe, there was a little clinking noise and a hairline crack became visible, the color of seeping coffee, from lip to base, inside to outside, on the side opposite the handle, as shown in the attached action shot of my desk.
The cameo mug shot on the right side of the photo is an even older coffee mug, made by an Ute potter in 1970, and it was undergoing a probationary trial when the new Labview mug arrived. It is handsome, but a bit small and the handle is hard to hold, but I've had it a long time without using it much, and it is growing on me.
Next time you are coming by our lab, do drop me a note and we can get together for a drink of something hot.Best,
Martine Pagé and her partner Ed Hawko were our first friends in Montreal, and -- as Martine describes below -- I met them through blogging! Martine (ni vu ni connu) is a screenwriter and editorial writer, and Ed (blork blog) is a technical writer/editor and excellent photographer; our friendship has grown a lot over the years and we see each other quite often in real life where we all enjoy cooking, eating, and good conversation. They both started blogging long before I did, so they are the real pioneers; Martine is considered a Canadian "expert" on blogging and internet media and often writes about those subjects for magazines. (She's also a real sweetheart, as you'll see!)
I met Beth before I started reading her blog, at a time when I was very involved in a Montreal blogging community. There were about twenty of us meeting in a bar on a monthly basis. Beth and Jon showed up one night and my partner and I ended up talking with them for a good part of the evening. I found them open, curious and easy to talk to. She and Jon had not yet moved to Montreal full time but after I went home and read her blog, I really hoped that we would share the same city one day.
We did more than that: we became friends, the kind that actually hang out with each other in person. I have met a lot of people through blogging and I’m often surprised by how different people are from the presence they project through their own writing. Not Beth! She’s as warm, calm and thoughtful as her words are.
Over the years, the Cassandra Pages have been “un moment de pause” for me, a way to stop time for a minute and take a second look at things that are familiar to me (the city of Montreal) or things I’m not at ease with (poetry, religion, in-laws…)
I always feel better about the world after I read Beth’s blog, even when the subject of her post is dark or sad. But best of all, after every visit I leave The Cassandra Pages with a deep desire to write. What an inspiration she can be! Of course, this feeling is immediately followed by nervousness: how could I possibly express moments, feelings, beauty, places and people as well and as steadily as she does?
It’s a silly thought, of course. Blogging is not a competitive sport. It’s about giving a platform to a great variety of voices that would not otherwise be heard. In the last few years, the blogosphere has lost quite a bit of steam (my 11 year-old blog included) and it can get pretty noisy. Through all that noise, 10 years later, The Cassandra Pages remain an oasis of calm and a place to reflect on things that matter. “Longue vie” to Beth’s blog and long live our friendship!
In Natalie's flat, London, 2011
Natalie d'Arbeloff - an absolute original. What can I say? Most of you know her already through her remarkable blog, Blaugustine, and her amazing work in many media, from the creation of artist books to constructions to comics to videos and easel paintings and printmaking, where she is, in my opinion, a real master. It has been a joy to know her in person as well as through her blog, and I look forward to being in her London flat/studio again before long, where we can continue our far-ranging conversation on life and art, and laugh together as we always do.
It was here on June 25th, 2003 that Beth mentioned me for the first time on Cassandra Pages a couple of months after I had started blogging as Blaugustine. But I think I must have found her blog before that and immediately sensed that we were on the same wavelength. In those early days of blogging there was this tentative exploration of the vast darkness of uncharted cyberspace, flashlight in hand, sending out signals and hoping kindred spirits would respond. Being recognised by a talented blogger was tremendously exciting and Beth's verbal, visual, intellectual and spiritual gifts were unmistakeable. From then on our connection strengthened via blogging and email so that by the time we met in the real world - New York, September 2007 - we already knew each other as well as if we had been friends for years. Through some blogging friendships you get to know a person by the way they express their thoughts and feelings before you see their physical persona and this filtered reality reveals more of who they are. Nevertheless, there's no substitute for face to face encounter and I've become aware that a talent for friendship is a major ingredient in Beth's abundant resources. It goes with empathy and attention to everything that surrounds her and precisely because of such acute sensitivity, I'm sure that sometimes there's overload and a need to retreat. One more reason to salute and celebrate ten years of Cassandra is that she has managed to achieve the difficult balance between giving your all and stepping back. I toast her next decade and many more!
Parmanu is a writer's writer, and this writer's perfect reader. As he says below, we read and admired each other's blogs for a while before making contact, and the post that moved him to write to me was a post I wrote about letter-writing. In the beginning of our correspondence we had the idealistic thought that we'd write real paper letters in pen and ink, and send them by, you know, the mail across the ocean, taking the time to write slow replies. It didn't work out very well, although we both have a few precious initial handwritten letters...somehow we both found the blank page too weighty. We went back to our email correspondence, and have kept it up, and have become close through this commentary on what we both write -- and think about -- for a larger public. I look forward very much to the day we'll finally meet in person. In the meantime, he is represented by a photograph that I keep in my desk, and I am represented by a print that lives on his bookshelf. His remarks here may well spur me on to make him a present -- you can guess what!
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.
I had been reading and commenting on Language Hat, which I greatly admired, for a while before Steve and I first met, which happened in New York City in February of 2004. That same day I noticed that the New York Public Library - in honor of the Hat humself, I'd like to think - was hosting an exhibition called "Russia and the World." Thank you, too, Steve, for the link yesterday on your blog - there was a real spike in my stats as a result!
Ten years? It seems like just yesterday that Beth started a blog so literate and humane and open-hearted that I was immediately sucked in, and quickly got my wife addicted as well; we felt so close to her and her husband that we invaded their home on our visit to Montreal in the summer of 2004, and as I wrote <a href="http://www.languagehat.com/archives/001531.php">here</a>, they welcomed us, poured good wine into us, and made such good conversation that we hated to leave. Her series of posts about her father-in-law (which I wrote about <a href="http://www.languagehat.com/archives/001605.php">here</a>) were so affectionate and affecting that I feel closer to him than I do to some members of my own family, even though I never met the man. Her stories about moving to Canada and learning the ways (and language) of her new city were often amusing and always thought-provoking. And she continues to be open to books, art, the life of the spirit, and above all her fellow humans. May she and her blog continue to grace this fallen world for many more years!
Maria Benet was one of my first blogging friends; we grew closer by working together on the Ecotone Wiki, a collaborative project in writing about Place via monthly themes; it began in 2003 and ended in, I think, 2005. We also collaborated with other online friends on a poetry anthology, Brilliant Coroners. Maria, a very gifted poet and essayist, has continued her blog, Small Change, ever since, as well as creating several other online projects; she's the author of a full-length poetry collection, Mapmaker of Absences, and A Month of Haiku, available as an e-book download.
Ten years ago, when Beth and I first “met” as we were both mapping in words the territory of the nascent blogosphere where we landed, I came across a quote by William Gibson, the cyberpunk science fiction writer credited with coining the term “cyberspace”:
“I’ve found blogging to be a low-impact activity, mildly narcotic and mostly quite convivial, but the thing I’ve most enjoyed about it is how it never fails to underline the fact if I’m doing this I’m definitely not writing a novel – that is, if I’m still blogging, I’m definitely still on vacation.”
It may be that for some of us in the ensuing 10 years of blogging a lot of novels and books we planned never got written. But plenty were written as well, among them Beth’s own Going to Heaven, (Soft Skull Press, Brooklyn, 2006) the story of Bishop Gene Robinson and the debate over ordinations of gays and lesbians. And while she was also “still on vacation” blogging, Beth, through reaching out to other bloggers, created Phoenicia Publishing, as a bridge between the best of the pixel and the inked words and images “that illuminate culture, spirit, and the human experience.”
Ten years ago, we were pioneers in “space,” often teased for the enthusiasm we had for how blogging was going to change the world. Ten years later, the world has joined us in throngs, and though the world itself doesn’t seem to have changed in all those way we dreamed of it through blogging, our explorations and collaborative inspirations have changed us. Ten years make for a lot of archived posts; but they also make for deep bonds of friendship that have endured, even if they first saw light in the illuminated screens in a world of pixels.
If blogging, as William Gibson had us believe, is being on a vacation, then I hope that “Cassandra” will keep enjoying hers for another 10 years and beyond, so that we can enjoy the conviviality that widened and deepened our worlds, off and online, through Beth’s explorations here.
Rachel Barenblat, who blogs at The Velveteen Rabbi, is another close friend who starting blogging about the same time I did. From the beginning we've shared many thoughts and learned from one another about our different religions, about spirituality, and the Middle East, and I know from personal experience that Rachel well deserves the honor she received in 2012 when she was named a "Rabbi Without Borders" fellow. I've been privileged to serve as her editor and publisher for two books of poetry; 70 Faces:Torah Poems, and Waiting to Unfold, her collection of poems about pregnancy and early motherhood, which will be published by Phoenicia in May.
Meditations on art and practice -- explorations of spiritual life -- essays and photographs illustrating extraordinary people and lives -- the interplay of shadow and light. These are some of the things I come to The Cassandra Pages to find. Many of the scenes I've glimpsed here have entered into my heart and my consciousness, and stayed there. I feel as though Beth's father-in-law (may his memory be a blessing) was a longtime family friend, although we never met. I feel as though I have walked the meditative and musical paths of Lent and Holy Week, although I am Jewish and inevitably experience those holy days from the outside. Beth brings a keen and compassionate ate to our world. I am grateful for ten years of The Cassandra Pages, and for the friends I've made and remade through its pages.
And there's a very thoughtful response to my blog anniversary post over at Lorianne DiSabato's Hoarded Ordinaries. Lorianne takes up a topic we've discussed often over the years: as writers and creative people, what is the "real work"of a lifetime and how does blogging fit into that definition?
Yes, we've arrived at a definite milestone: ten years of blogging, ten years since that momentous day in 2003 when, dismayed by the invasion of Iraq, and encouraged by my Icelandic friend and neighbor, Helgi, and my husband Jonathan (both more familiar with a new phenomenon, the weblog, than I was) I decided to launch something myself that felt more positive and hopeful.
Good Lord, I had absolutely no idea what it would lead to, or how it would change my life!
Some statistics...The Cassandra Pages was originally on Blogger. In the first 2 years, between March 20, 2003 and April 11, 2005, I wrote 731 posts - almost one a day. There've been 54,456 pageviews to date on that archived blog -- it still gets about 50 a day, almost all of them coming from Google searches.
After moving to TypePad in 2005, I've written 1603 posts, received 10,008 comments, and 541,965 pageviews. Visits are down from their highest point, some years ago, as they are all over the blogosphere; mine average between 180 and 190 per day -- and I'm grateful for every single one.
In the end, I'm not sure statistics mean much, though without the awareness of a steady stream of readers, and the development of relationships with many of them through the comments, email, and my own visits to their blogs, I'm not sure I would have kept this obsessive project (or is it a habit?) going this long.
On the other hand, though, what emerges is a body of work. It isn't conventional, or even graspable, and perhaps will be impermanent, but I know that it is, in fact, THE body of artistic work accomplished in my lifetime which most closely represents me. It's also taught me the most. Once upon a time I wasn't satisfied with that. Now, I am.
For as much as I sometimes have wished to be otherwise, I am not first and foremost a novelist or a painter, a writer of non-fiction books or a photographer or printmaker. I'm a reader, and observer, and an integrator, whose chosen form is the informal essay, illustrated with my own photographs or artwork, and whose perfect medium of expression is the blog. Being a blogger became an intrinsic part of my identity: like someone who works in watercolors or oils, I see the world and my daily life through an intimacy with this medium. It used to feel a bit weird, like constant translating; now it's so normal I don't even think about it, even though I've become a lot more choosy about what to base my posts upon. The change from pure writing to a greater focus on art has simply mirrored what's going on in my own life, too.
I'm a person for whom any artform is incomplete without relationship. This blog has given me that, too, in ways I never expected, and poured richness into my life in the form of friendships, discussions, online groups, collaborative projects from the Ecotone Wiki to qarrtsiluni to Phoenicia Publishing and so many others.
It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to say that while the world has hurtled toward heightened anxiety, clashing cultures, and greater misunderstanding, my own life, over the past ten years, has done the exact opposite, and continues -- through this medium, friendships, travel, and daily life in a big multicultural city -- to open up more and more. I hope The Cassandra Pages always represents that journey toward greater possibility.
As a celebration of these ten years, my friend T.C. offered to write a few words, and inspired by his kindness I've invited a few of the people who've been blogging companions and/or longterm readers here to contribute short guest posts, which I'll be posting here over the next days. If any of you would like to join the party, you are absolutely invited -- please send me your contribution at cassandra (dot) pages (at) gmail (dot) com. And I'd be especially delighted to hear (either that way or in the comments) from the quiet but faithful readers who seldom or never communicate with me: what I do here is just as much for you as for those whose speak up regularly, and I often have you in mind as I write.
Thanks for being here!
Perhaps it's ironic -- it's certainly poetic, as The Cassandra Pages enters its tenth year -- my partner and husband, the infamous J., has just started his own blog, as part of his professional website. Jonathan has patiently endured and supported my blogging obsession for a decade, and I'm happy to share a link to his new site, and encourage you to take a look.
As some of you know, Jonathan is a very fine professional photographer. The blog is built around his personal photos, but it's not a photo blog exclusively - he's using each one (they'll be published about once a week, he says) to explore and write about a particular subject. He has an unusual and creative way of looking at things, so it should be pretty interesting.
As for me, I'm reminded of a recurrent line in the book I'm reading now, a international espionage thriller called Istanbul Passage, by Joseph Kanon, where the Romanian spy keeps saying, "Turn the chess board. The game always looks different from the other side." Jonathan has always quipped that he reads my blog to find out what's happening in our life, but I will no doubt be rewarded with a different view of the same thing, from his perspective!