Clearly, WordPress encourages its bloggers to actively engage with and accrue new subscribers, notifying us of likes, follows, consecutive days of postings, etc.; and, to my mind, there’s no metric easier for us to highlight than our subscriber counts. Having said that, while I want to mark the growth of this blog, I am not especially interested in my subscriber count, per se.
In this first year of mine on WordPress, I’ve come across blogs with many, many more subscribers than I have. Some blogs have tens of thousands of subscribers; some blogs have even more. It would seem that gaining subscribers is an industry for some, and there are some experienced bloggers out there who accept payment for guidance on how to follow in their footsteps.
Nevertheless, I have noticed something peculiar that many such bloggers with large followings have in common: They boast of high subscriber counts, but their blog posts generate almost no meaningful human interactions. And this is common, even among those who promote themselves as advisors for hire.
As for me, what I have come to most look forward to are the comments that you, my friends, post in response to my poetry and reflections. This is what most drives me. While I am certainly very proud of having reached 2,000 subscribers on ‘The Skeptic’s Kaddish’, my motivation to create content would drop precipitously and perhaps disappear altogether, if not for all of our lively discussion threads… and it only takes a handful of regular correspondents to leave me feeling fulfilled… feeling as though something significant is transpiring here.
So, to all of you, and especially to those of you who take the time out of your lives to challenge and encourage me, I want to humbly say, “Thank you so much, Friends.”
Some thoughts on blogging
Based upon my limited (one year) experience
For those who would like to read on, I am going to share several thoughts about blogging actively and nurturing meaningful human interactions on our blogs:
While I don’t prioritize my subscriber count, it does, by virtue of probability, remain very significant. In other words, if increasing numbers of people are exposed to my ideas, it would follow that increasing numbers will be moved to respond with their own ideas;
Increasing the visibility of one’s blog is essential for this purpose; and writing compelling content is not enough;
One must take the time to interact with other bloggers on their blogs (likes, comments). Really, this is no different than ‘in person’ friendships; why should others be motivated to pay attention to you if you express no interest in them?
Also, it requires a great deal of time investment. Is this important enough for you to devote yourself to nurturing such relationships?
Having said that, I’ve noticed that the more subscribers a blogger has, the faster his/her subscriber count tends to increase. Likely, this is because having a high subscriber count is a clear signal to others that one’s blog is worth following;
I’ve heard it said that people who are in committed romantic relationships are especially attractive to others because their existing relationships are proof of their desirability. Blogging relationships are like that too;
Reaching out to and connecting with bloggers who have fewer subscribers than you is a very good idea. First of all, this builds a sense of community for all of us. Second of all, your support for smaller blogs is all the more meaningful to those writers precisely because not many others provide it; and they may very likely be moved to engage with you in substantive discussions;
Don’t stretch yourself too thin in reading other blogs and interacting with other bloggers. We are all finite beings, and we must seek reasonable balance. Better to have a few close blogger-friends than many superficial relationships;
While interacting with others on their blogs will draw them to yours, only your content will draw them back again. In other words, you must have compelling content. You must have something meaningful to say, and you must be able to convey that well to others. What is your your reason for blogging? What makes your blog uniquely interesting?
I've been writing poetry for nearly a year;
Poetic forms beguile and, oh, so fascinate me;
After all, they shape our intended connotations
no less than our very words do, and they're so
much fun to play around with. Perhaps
I should try my hand at a sestina.
I've heard tell that one famed sestina
took its tormented composer more than an entire year
to craft so now I'm wondering if, perhaps,
such a project would simply be too much for me;
I mean, let's be honest, shall we? I'm not so
adroit as to evoke especially suggestive connotations.
Still, I could avoid attempting any especially nuanced connotations
entirely if I were to write a true sestina
for the very first; and my readers are all so
kind that they would surely forgive my first-year
clumsiness and continue to shower me
with loving support regardless... well... perhaps...
Really, now that I consider it, perhaps
I shouldn't be so worried about artful connotations
in the first place. They don't really become me,
nor my very direct poetic style; and any sestina
of mine would thus be likely forgotten within a year;
so why worry myself so?
Maybe my first sestina will receive bad reviews. So
what? If the final result is indeed ungainly, perhaps
I could attempt to produce one that's more elegant next year;
I could continue honing those subtle connotations;
I could become a virtuoso of the sestina!
Perhaps, some day, burgeoning poets would speak of me...
No! It shouldn't matter what others think of me;
Exploring poetic forms is something I do for myself, so
if I don't derive pleasure from constructing a sestina,
if the process is unfulfilling, if the words grate on me, perhaps
I should abandon pretentious wordplay; failed connotations;
unflattering attempts at cleverness... at least for another year.
I've never formally studied creative writing, perhaps,
but I have long and deeply pondered the manifold connotations
of the word 'poetry' this year.
When I step back and think about it, the blogosphere seems such a strange realm; and I’m old enough to have grown up without the Internet so I have perspective on this. Still, one need not have been born before the Internet era to be struck be the notable differences between people’s “in person” relationships and “online” relationships.
For example, what would it mean to have an anonymous “in person” friend? Here on WordPress, on the other hand, it’s entirely normal that some of the people that I interact with most regularly are anonymous.
Also, for most who do not blog anonymously, there necessarily exist limits as to what we can comfortably post because our blogs are public. Would we write publicly about difficulties in our romantic relationships, careers, childhoods, etc., given that our loved ones, coworkers, and friends could read those posts?
Indeed, while I certainly believe that meaningful relationships can be birthed, developed, and sustained online, we must consider how much we actually know of our “long distance” friends. given that we have, essentially, no access to their lives other than the glimpses they grant us. What are they like offline? What are we like?
On the other hand…
Speaking personally, I tend to feel disconnected from many of the people I interact with in person, largely because my head is often very much in the clouds. So many others seem to be focused on practical, earthly matters that wear me out.
Despite my skepticism regarding anything supernatural, I find conversations about belief, the history of religion, the sociology of religion, etc., very stimulating. Also, politics – deep political analysis fascinates me. And, of course, poetry – the exploration of the human spirit and reality filtered through the human eye.
In a sense, therefore, when I think about this blog on WordPress, and when I find myself wondering how well it actually reflects who I am despite all that I omit from it, I feel that it actually reflects much of the real me. This is where I thrive, in the realm of words and concepts, which lend themselves to introspection, poetry, and musings. These are the kinds of interactions I wish I could have with people “in person” – I’d love for all of my conversations to be over images and verses.
Really, as I consider this further, I feel that one cannot possibly know me very well today without taking an active interest in my Skeptic’s Kaddish. Here is where I explore life’s meaning.
Recently, I’ve been watching a lot of movies online, which I haven’t seen for many years. It amazes me how little I remember of them; in many cases, it’s as though I’m watching these flicks for the first time all over again. Among them has been a popular cult classic, which I watched years ago (in 1998) when it was first released: ‘The Big Lebowski’.
This movie is full of hilarious moments and running gags.
One of these is that of supporting character Walter’s (John Goodman) commitment to his Jewish conversion, which he underwent back when he married his ex-wife. This character is a right-wing veteran of the Vietnam War with an explosive temper and propensity towards violence (he probably suffers from PTSD); and he is also, unexpectedly, as he puts it: shomer fucking Shabbas!
From a Jewish perspective (mine), one of the elements that makes this so hilarious is just how accurate Walter’s description of traditional Shabbasobservance (I pronounce it ‘Shabbat’, btw, as it is pronounced in modern Israeli Hebrew) really is. Have a quick listen to this Jewish Supercut of the Big Lebowski below. For those of you who haven’t seen this movie, the word ‘roll’ in this context refers to bowling, which is the main character’s recreational activity of choice.
Walter: I DON’T ROLL ON SHABBAS! … Donny:How come you don’t roll on Saturday, Walter? Walter: I’m shomer Shabbas. Donny: What’s that, Walter? Walter: Saturday Donny, is Shabbas. The Jewish day of rest. That means I don’t work, I um, don’t drive a car, I don’t fucking ride in a car, I don’t handle money, I don’t turn on the oven, and I sure as shit DON’T FUCKING ROLL! Donny: Sheesh Walter:SHOMER SHABBAS! … Walter:Shomer fucking Shabbas! … Donny: Hey Walter, if you can’t ride in a car, how do you get around on Shabbas—
Shomer fucking Shabbas!
Yes, really: We don’t flip light switches
Living in Jerusalem, as I do, it’s entirely normative to observe Shabbat. The weekend in Israel falls on Friday and Saturday (Shabbat begins at sunset on Friday), and most who do not observe Shabbat have at least a general concept of what it is.
In principle, I would describe Shabbat as a day during which those who observe it refrain from engaging in physically creative activities (although procreation is encouraged). We aim to avoid causing physical changes to the world and focus ourselves, instead, upon spirituality, family, and the intangible.
The specifics of the restrictions that apply to the traditional Jewish observance of Shabbat were developed by our sages throughout the course of many centuries, and they are based primarily upon those physical acts that were necessary for the construction of the portable Tabernacle, which God instructed the Israelites to build after they had left Egypt.
Without getting into much detail, the Sages determined that there were a total of 39 categories of physical labor that cover the many restrictions of the Sabbath. One of these 39 categories is: the lighting of a fire, and another one is: the extinguishing of a fire.
Now, modern technology, and electricity in particular, was a game changer for the rabbis. When electricity entered people’s homes, the rabbis had to decide whether or not to permit its use on Shabbat, and ultimately the accepted mainstream ruling in the Orthodox Jewish community became that a spark of electricity is like a spark of fire, meaning, for example, that it is forbidden to flip light switches on and off on Shabbat.
Of course, from a scientific perspective, this is nonsense. Electricity is not fire.
A popular idea is that creating an electric spark is like lighting a fire, which is halakhically prohibited on Shabbat. Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman recounts that he was approached by young rabbis who asked him, “Is electricity fire?” The renowned physicist responded that electricity is not a chemical process, as fire is.
Regardless, this religious ruling took root and remains the norm today among the vast majority of Sabbath observant Jews. I do not flip light switches on Shabbat; I do not use my phone; I do not use my computer; etc.
I don’t blog on Shabbas
The lived experience
Growing up as a secular Jew, I knew nothing of these Shabbat-related norms, which is why it strikes me that some of you may find this intriguing. Actually, I first began thinking about writing this blog post after creating a Twitter account for myself in order to publish daily micropoems in 2021. After all, January 2nd was a Saturday:
To be honest, I am not interested in getting into the nitty gritty of Jewish religious law. Rather, I simply want to provide a sense of what our lived Shabbat is like. We have many religious restrictions, but the one which I think would be the most obvious to an outside observer is the limitation on using electricity.
From a technical perspective, it is very simple: instead of flipping light switches on Shabbat, we set timers for all of the electric devices and appliances that we need. Lamps and fans are set to timers, for example, as is our electric hot plate (‘platta’ in Hebrew) for heating up food for Sabbath meals. The food itself must be prepared before Shabbat but can be warmed up on the Day of Rest. Essentially, we cannot cause physical changes on Shabbat, but if we set timers before Shabbat, that’s kosher because the cause of the physical change occurred before Shabbat. Simple, right?
But providing you with this technical illustration is not my reason for writing this blog post. What I really want to do is describe, briefly, the impact of this lifestyle upon our family life.
Like many of you, my wife and I spend most of our days behind computer screens; also, our six-year-old loves watching Disney movies and other videos, having screen time with her extended family in Russia and the USA, writing prose and poetry on a computer, and playing the video games installed on her children’s camera (clever marketing idea, right?).
It’s not that we don’t do other things; it’s just that our telephones and computers occupy a tremendous amount of space in our lives. And – they serve to separate us from one another because we often end up interacting with our electronic devices instead of interacting with one another.
On Shabbat, on the other hand, we spend all day together (especially this last year of global pandemic when we haven’t gone to synagogue and haven’t been invited to friends’ Sabbath meals), and the quality family time is priceless, especially from a parenting perspective. We play card and board games, read books, horse around in the bedroom, etc., and I am certain that this unplugging is very healthy for us all. Of course, we do all get to missing our shows and news websites during those 25 hours every week, but I cannot think of many other facets of traditional Jewish life that have come to be so relevant in this modern era.
The sages who ruled against using electricity could not have foreseen this 21st century reality, and I still disagree with the logic they employed in issuing their religious rulings against it. However, truth be told, I don’t really care about that at all. Shabbat, as I have come to know it and live it, is one of the best parts of traditional Jewish life for me.
I had an unexpected flash of insight the other day regarding the following themes:
My Jewish identity
Living in Israel
Blogging on WordPress
My Jewish identity
While I only encountered Orthodox Judaism and gradually began to adopt a religious lifestyle in college, I have always strongly identified as a Jew. If I were to sort the many facets of my identity out into a hierarchy, I would put the label ‘human’ at the very top. My second tier would include: ‘brother’, ‘father’, ‘heteronormative male’. ‘husband’, ‘Jew’, and ‘son’ in no particular order.
For several reasons, the many strictures of religious Jewish life have always appealed to me. In part, I feel that I am simply being outwardly true to my core identity by presenting myself as a Jew publicly in the most apparent way possible.
Mind you, I began college more than twenty years ago; and my religious journey has had many ups and downs in the many years since. There were periods when I reverted to a secular lifestyle, and there were periods when I managed to convince myself that the God of the Torah existed and strived to follow His laws to my utmost accordingly.
I have been up, down, and all around on the spectrum of religious Judaism. However, throughout those years during which I turned back towards secularism, I always missed the outward trappings of traditional observance. The personal inconveniences of keeping strictly kosher, keeping Shabbat traditionally, praying thrice daily, etc., never bothered me ~ it was, rather, always a question of the extent to which any of these practices actually mattered.
Nevertheless, it’s important to note that while I never minded the demands that traditional Judaism made upon my life, I did find myself wishing that my religious lifestyle wouldn’t create such barriers between me and all other human beings on earth who were not attempting to live a traditional Torah lifestyle.
Living in Israel
Not religiously comfortable for all Jews
From a religious perspective, Israel is not necessarily a comfortable place for all Jews to live.
For political and historical reasons, the Chief Rabbinate is Orthodox, rather than heterodox (Conservative, Reform, etc.), and its religious monopoly over Jewish life operates with the full weight of the government behind it. For example, Jewish weddings performed in Israel outside the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate are granted no legal status (and civil marriage does not exist). Also, the Chief Rabbinate’s state-empowered religious monopoly grants it the exclusive right to certify Israel’s food establishments as “kosher”, unlike everywhere else in the world.
Also, questions of Jewish status are decided by the Chief Rabbinate for religious purposes. This decides whether or not citizens of Israel can get married in Israel at all, where they can be buried when they die, etc., etc. Therefore, Israeli citizens whose mothers are not Jewish, as required by religious law, are considered “not Jewish” by the Chief Rabbinate, and they cannot legally marry Jews in Israel without first undergoing religious conversions under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate (even if they are secular).
Religiously comfortable for me
While I 100% oppose these infringements and all others on freedom of religion in Israel, the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over religious Jewish life does not much inconvenience me on a personal level because I happen to live an Orthodox lifestyle (my wedding, for example, was conducted through the Chief Rabbinate).
Also, while I have explored and flirted with non-Orthodox religious communities, they do not feel like home to me personally. Therefore, as the vast majority of Israeli synagogues are Orthodox, my religious preferences are not marginalized in most public prayer spaces. Further, even when my commitment to my religious practices vacillates, it is always fluctuating on the spectrum between Jewish secularism and Orthodoxy, both of which are mainstream in Israeli society.
All of this is to say that I feel very at home in Israel from a religious perspective. Kosher food is – and kosher food establishments are – abundant, synagogues are available everywhere, the national holidays are my own religious holidays, etc., etc.
Living here in Israel (especially in Jerusalem) dramatically lowers the religious barriers between me and all the other people around me.
Blogging on WordPress
I have been increasingly enjoying the sense of community that I have discovered here on WordPress.
Bloggers from around the world share with – and are supportive of – one another, and for the first time since moving to Israel I have been feeling significantly less divorced from global society, which is predominantly not Jewish.
The unexpected insight that I had last week is that our virtual WordPress community grants me something not entirely dissimilar from that which living in Israel grants me: a sense of normalcy.
Of course, I am aware this comparison has many flaws. For one, every blogger chooses whom to interact with on their blog and on other people’s blogs. My virtual community is entirely self-selected and filtered according my preferences… and, of course, writing and reading blog posts is a far cry from in-person interactions… but… well…
The blogger sat before his screen
Pressing his fingers 'pon the keys
Eyes staring back towards the sheen
Familiar stiffness in his knees
By moonless night he saw himself
Glasses reflecting man-made light
Books stretched behind him 'pon the shelf
Twink-twinkling stars, thin halos bright
Floating about through bits and bytes
As neurons 'lectric pulses shot
Red sparks burst into boundless lights
'long wires, twisting, burning hot
He could not feel his back upright
Nor hear the beating in his chest
His wireless mind saw sight 'pon sight
And data points did swift digest
Each word he formed drifted through space
Networking ev'ry flitting thought
White narrow beam lit faceless face
As curious new signals wrought
Beeps sounded from the motherboard
Seat empty basked in flickering gleam
Lines flowing forth would stay unheard
For none could hear the soundless scream
Today, for d’Verse’s “Open Link Night”, I’d like to share a poem that I wrote last September, less than half a year after creating this blog.
This poem is one I am fond of, but I would probably have given it a different title if I had written it today because to me it feels somehow disconnected from the verses below it…