Cabinet of Curiosities (ca.1695) by Domenico Remps
Writing

A Cabinet of Curiosities

This is my 100th post in Breach. I wanted to celebrate it but of course I haven’t told anyone except Nikolas. It seemed so self-indulgent. Persistence is not in itself an admirable quality but only in the context of adversity, so single mothers and persons with debilitating chronic pain and pensioners on a monthly income of €450 deserve praise, but I had no grounds to celebrate. I was persisting in the absence of an audience, what was so noteworthy about that? “So don’t write,” my mother would say. But we all know that’s not an option.

The blog has been visited 33,000 times.  I suspect that’s not much traffic for a blog that’s been around for several years. And the numbers are deceptive. The majority came looking for pictures. A couple of thousand alone were looking for Francis Bacon’s “Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion”, which I embedded in a post about the junkies in my neighborhood. An image of the Barberini faun, used in a post called Secret of the Thicket  that talked about sex in public parks (among other things), was also a huge draw, as was Joseph Beuys’ chalkboards.

A piece about geeks and freaks (and smart being sexy), which was triggered by James Franco’s acceptance into the Yale Ph.D. program in English, brought a lot of traffic, too, mostly because of the image of a louche Franco snoozing on a couch with an open book on his chest. My visitors came looking for answers to questions such as “how tall is James Franco” (9 visits) and for images with James Franco with a cigarette” (one even in Russian), “James Franco feet” and “James Franco tied to a bed”.  (It turns out he actually did appear once in a movie (‘Whatever It Takes’ )  tied to a bed in nothing more than a thong. All were disappointed.

I also disappointed visitors coming for “naked Greek men” (22 in all) and “shirtless German man” (really, where?!) and “sexiest man in the Muslim world” (yes, tell me!). There were darker visitors, too, the ones who were looking for “skinhead baseball bat” and “white power skinhead” and stumbled across a post on curating your profile for a social network site but luckily very few.

I am convinced that many of these visitors left without reading a line, scooping up the image they were looking for (as I have done on the sites of others) or quickly hitting the back button. I didn’t mind. It served me right for including the image in the first place, since few of the posts in which works of artists such as Bacon and Andreas Gursky figure, actually talked about the art. It was a different case with the Greek artists—their work was the starting point for the post itself. Artists like Savvas Christodoulidis, Maria Polyzoidou, Nina Pappa, Eftihis Patsourakis and Athanasios Argianas, the last in a post about tax receipts and blind dates of all things.

I think I disappointed these readers, too, because there weren’t enough images. But I was glad they came, for whatever reason.

But I never managed to write only about art. Or music or film. That’s the problem with all my posts, I think. Things keep seeping into these posts that don’t belong. I start writing about Nolan’s film Inception and memes, and wind up talking about growing up gay and Catholic (maybe not in that order) in an East Coast working-class city.  “The Convivium of the Castro” begins with a foray into the practice of music-making in 17th century Bohemia and then jumps to talking about the importance of friendship in building community. A story of an ex-lover who wouldn’t admit we lived together recedes and in its place begins a discussion of Thomas Demand’s photographs of three-dimensional 1:1 scale models of historically significant rooms.   Martin Parr’s donuts head a post that closes with a pair of high-school friends who don’t know they’re in love with each other.

I can see how these intrusions and the utter lack of focus in the topics I write about makes building a readership all but impossible. I not only seep, I sprawl.

My friend Natalie, who’s a poet and fiercely smart, sometimes writes what she calls braided stories, in which she deftly interweaves the personal and the political. Mine are more like a pair of pigtails.

Ironically, the post that has attracted by far the most visits, thousands, in fact, didn’t have a picture and wasn’t even something I wrote. It was a text I had translated from the German, an analysis by Petros Markaris of the roots of the current economic crisis in Greece. It also generated a lot of comments but it didn’t feel right to respond. I thought they should be having a conversation with Markaris, not me (in retrospect I see that I was rude in not responding, but I was a Web 2.0 neophyte back then).

The posts I thought were the most original (and ok, I think, entertaining as well) were the ones least read. “Don’t Cook Tripe for Friends,” a list of do’s and don’ts when giving a dinner party, was near the bottom of the charts. It might have sunk further were it not for the embedded reproduction of Doerstling’s painting of “Kant at table with friends”. And “Read Men’s Health”, a tongue-in-cheek discourse analysis of the men’s fitness mag, also saved from the basement cellar by a picture, this time of über-sexy Miguel Iglesias, who was a cover model for the December 2010 issue of MH Spain.

Of course by now these posts are buried deep in the archives and at times I don’t remember all of them. So before writing this text, I went back into the archives and reread everything I wrote and in the order I wrote them. It took me a couple of days.

There was a hell of a lot that could have been pruned of rephrased more elegantly (which often meant just more simply).  But there were also bits I thought were halfway good. Things that made smile (including an account of being ‘outed’ during one of my first Dutch lessons) and things that made me pause to think and sometimes things that pleased me (Some of my favorites are listed here, I shamelessly add).

I had written about art and books and design and politics, not all the time, naturally (ah, that seeping I) but enough so that the blog functions in some way as a log of the excursions my mind took. They were more daytrips than journeys, I fear, but they took me to places I’d ordinarily not have gone, like Anglo-Saxon penitential manuals (in a post about adolescence and Confession) and “taste tribes” (a look into Hunch’s 20-questions-find-people-who-like-just-what-you-life profiling algorithms). And that’s a reward in itself.

There were also people, of course. In fact, the blog was surprisingly crowded given my own proclivity to introversion. My brother kept appearing, which felt welcome, as did my ex-lovers, which sometimes didn’t, and my father, which was just complicated. There were also some curiously drawn character sketches and a longish portrait of a friend whose extreme philosophical views tested our relationship in ways both expected and unexpected. ‘Sketches’ turns out to be a good word to describe at least some of the posts, incidents, characters and musings that can be turned into something else. I was about to say “something serious”, but I think mean, “something focused”.

I once tried writing a blog with more focus. It was called What’s Left of Nathan. Each day I’d throw away something I owned and write about it. I lasted 29 posts. Even these texts, which were presumably all about one thing—the significance of objects in our lives—were riddled with diversions. I must have a serious attention deficit.

I know how you’re supposed to blog. Write short and focused texts on a specific topic that provide readers with something of value. Instead I write long, convoluted pigtail texts that can’t stay on topic because there isn’t one or because there are too many.

It’s not really true that no one reads the blog. Friends do. Nikolas has been reading me since I started four years ago, and Natalie has been a faithful reader as well. Both are also writers, the kind with published work, and they’ve been generous with their encouragement and support. Knowing they read me keeps me honest. I may have written clumsily but I trust never carelessly. At some point—it must have been when Natalie shared a link to my blog on her Facebook wall—that I began to have readers who follow the blog and who aren’t friends of mine. And I thank them for reading.  Or I should say, now that the visitors who’ve come for the picture are gone, I thank you for reading.

-/-

Image: Cabinet of Curiosities (ca.1695) by Domenico Remps

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Discussion

2 responses to ‘A Cabinet of Curiosities

  1. This is growing on me. I like braiding, blending…I like the implication hardly spoken that you know things we all know without having to mention them…that,for instance, everything written after the world knew of the holocaust will be different from what was written before, but that the actual facts need not be referenced. They seep in, right? Bad writing (bad painting etc) is without layers. So I who am interested in what historians may say about the time in which I live, would like to be able to detect the key words and combinations of words their enhanced computers will draw out to explain our understanding of the present and our expectations and apprehensions about the future.

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