How Autobiographical?

Awhile back, I started out a fitness update with a passing reference to an encouraging sibling of mine who once told me “no one cares” about my swimming, cycling, and running.

That begs a larger question. What type of writing do readers, blog readers more specifically, find most interesting?

I’m not entirely sure, but I have some hypotheses. Think of the blogosphere in terms of a continuum with writers either off the stage altogether, on the stage’s edge, or center stage. Put differently, there are blogs focused almost exclusively on impersonal specialized content of some sort; other blogs that focus on the sometimes personal application of relatively impersonal specialized content, and blogs whose content is in essence the personal details of the author’s life.

I don’t read a lot of blogs, but here are a few that I do that represent fairly well the different points on the continuum. Each is wildly successfully at least measured by readership. Also interesting, Cowen and Trunk self identify as having Aspergers.

Example one, Marginal Revolution by Tyler Cowen, an economist. Written primarily for other economists, the content is sometimes a reach for me, which is nice. Cowen is scarily prolific posting several times a day. The main thing to note about his blog is he’s mostly off-stage. Sure he’ll ask for restaurant suggestions for where ever he’s traveling next, and he’ll summarize what he’s reading every few weeks (also scary, seemingly a book a day), but don’t look for him to write about whether he’s getting along with his wife or daughter or his non-academic interests.

Example two, DC Rainmaker by Ray Maker, a triathlete. I highlighted Ray’s blog recently. Written primarily for other triathletes, the content tends towards the science of triathlon training. His reviews of triathlon related electronics are the clearest, most detailed, and intelligently written up on the internet. He’s also an outstanding photog who sprinkles twenty or so pics in his three or four posts a week. Ray is my “stage’s edge” example. Two-thirds of the time he focuses in on all things triathlon. The other third, you learn about his worldwide travels (I’m guessing he does IT for the State Department), his fascination with sharks, his love of cooking and food, and “The Girl” who he was recently engaged to.

Example three, Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist. Penelope is the undisputed “center stage” champion. She’s successful I suspect for the same reasons the authors my writing students and I are reading—Esme Cadell, Sherman Alexie, and Frank McCourt—are: 1) She understands that not every moment in every day and not every day in every week is equally interesting. She’s skilled at teasing out from the details of her life “critical incidents” that encapsulate the most interesting elements of her life that also resonate with other people. 2) When describing and exploring the meaning of the critical incidents of her life she grabs readers by the collar by providing intimate details even when they are not flattering. Scratch that, especially when they’re not flattering. And there-in lies the third reason. 3) She doesn’t self-censure herself, instead she opts for authenticity, transparency, the unvarnished truth, pick your phrase(s). In the same literary vein, Tina Fey’s or Liz Lemon’s self-deprecation on “30 Rock” is pure genius.

So in essence, my sib didn’t go far enough. If I self-censure myself and churn out safe, vague, self-conscious descriptions of the personal aspects of my life no one will care for any parts of my personal life story let alone the swimming, cycling, and running chapters of it.

And in all honesty, three years in and I still haven’t figured out yet how to follow Trunk’s, Cadell’s, Alexie’s, and McCourt’s examples in this format. For example, I’ve consciously chosen not to write about the most personally significant thing that has happened to me this year. I’m not quitting though and I suppose this post is another step in the process of figuring where I want to sit on the continuum and exactly what type of blogger I want to be.

Where’s the Romance?

LOVE this guy’s blog; however, I shouldn’t profess my fondness for his blog that way because “You can’t love something,” moms says, “that can’t love you back.”

But as brilliant as Ray’s blog is, there’s something lacking. The same “something” lacking from online triathlon forums like this one—romance.

Not the candlelight hot under the collar type for which the word is normally associated, but the unbridled joy that sometimes accompanies moving outdoors in nature.

Ray, sports science companies, and other triathletes are turning triathlon into a science in which every workout is endlessly sliced, diced, and analyzed.

As a middle adaptor of the personal technology the tri-scientists obsess over, I’m not immune from their privileging fitness science over the aesthetics, art, and romance of swimming, running, and cycling. Consequently, when I run there’s a gadget in my running shorts pocket that bounces signals off satellites so I know precisely how far and fast I’ve run. When I cycle, I lean on my bicycle computer to determine what kind of ride it was based upon whether I achieved a higher than normal average speed.

But there’s no computer that can capture the beauty of a late summer lake swim when the water is glassy and the perfect temperature. No reason to try to measure the rhythm of a long, smooth stroke. No counting of strokes and no measuring of heart rate required.

Nor is there any gadget on the market that can capture what it’s like to run at dawn on golden leaf carpeted Northwest trails in October in a foggy/low light mix. Why even try to quantify how alive I felt last Thursday on my pre-dawn solo eight-miler around Capital Lake. The Capital Dome was lit up and the lake surface was bespeckled with reflections of the Deschutes streetlights. Spectacular.

How do you measure what it’s like to run under the lighting of a full moon or cycle with a friend along the Sound on an unusually warm October afternoon? It’s these experiences with nature and good friends that make me feel alive, not my average watts. And it’s these experiences that clear my mind and strengthen me for day-to-day life.

I’m fortunate to have a great running posse, but lately, since I’m in marathon-mode, I’ve been getting in a few solo runs each week too which has been nice. During one last week, I spent a few of the miles replaying an argument the Galpal and I had stumbled into the previous evening. Reluctantly, I had to admit that the video replay in my head provided inconvertible evidence that I was mostly responsible for the dustup. So when I walked in the house, I apologized. The GalPal was so taken by my (rare) selfless gesture, she violated her strict “no sweaty” hug policy. All of which set me up for a candlelight hot under the collar type of evening. And that my friends is what’s known as the “running romance multiplier effect”.

Credit me when you use it.