Bloggles the Mind

Very often, I will come to the Starbucks in Renon to blog. It’s on the street level of a brand new mall, has a wide, airy outdoor seating area which seems to be located in a sort of ‘wind channel’ flowing from the beach to Denpasar such that one can stay cool and fresh while he works, and the staff members are super-friendly, providing the opportunity, often enough, to chat rather than write.

Perfect, so far.

The only problem is that WordPress itself often gets in the way. There seems to be a particularly malignant feature, hidden somewhere in the dark, inscrutable caverns of the program, that logs you out every time you log in and try to view your site. There is a fix for this, though apparently only temporary, but the trouble is, fixes don’t stay in my mind from session to session, and thus I am obliged to search again for the fix on each occasion.

If this is not the monkey wrench currently jammed in the gears, it will likely enough be something else. Each little difficulty – a simple matter for the computer savvy user – is a major stumbling block for me. I’m not saying that there is anything particularly wrong with WordPress. I’m saying that there’s something wrong with us as a couple. My wife would know what I mean.

So it happened today, as with other days, that I spent a considerable amount of time wrestling with the program so that I might actually get to the point where I could write something, and by the time I could actually write something, my latte was almost gone. And who can write without a latte?

One cannot help but miss the old days when a writer’s tools consisted of a piece of paper and a pencil. There’s not a lot of shuffling and arranging to do. The meaningful struggle is right at hand – namely, to put words on paper.

I expressed this sentiment to my friend, Chippon, a software engineer, who was at the house yesterday and had kindly agreed to take a look at the blog and see what might be done in the way of improvements. He simply stared at me, dumbfounded, at the mention of paper and pencil, at the suggestion that this could be, in any conceivable way, better than a powerful word processing/blogging program.

So I watched as he flew back and forth between screens, in and out of plug-ins, registered and verified and clarified, and I learned … well, almost nothing. Although I did gain a greater understanding of how perfectly clueless I am. One has to be good at something.

“You’ll get used to it,” Chippon encouraged. “It’s just a matter of knowing your way around, getting accustomed to how things work.

I’ll start on that. Right after I order another latte.

To Begin With

Two things I know about myself, now more distinctly than ever before, are that 1) I am a writer, and 2) I am not a software technician. It has been a particular challenge, therefore, to clumsily roam through the process of setting up a WordPress blog with Bluehost hosting. This is not to say that these maneuvers are so very difficult to accomplish by the vast majority of users, or even in the deft hands of most 12-year-olds in this day. No. It is to say that I bring a singular sort of incompetence to nearly all areas of modern technology, from the i-Phone to the laptop, from Facebook to gmail, from the cable TV controller to the electric can-opener.  I’m more of a manual can-opener sort of guy.

Back in high school, one-hundred years ago, give or take, my English teacher might read one of my compositions to the class as a shining example in the use of the language, while my shop teacher would hold up my latest project as a classic example of how not to do things. In art class, every piece of pottery that I fashioned became an ashtray, whether it wanted to or not. In my drawings, I never really moved beyond the stick figure.

This is the technical aptitude I bring to webhosting and blogging. So please bear with me.

The irony, of course, is that the entire purpose of blogging (for me, anyway) is to share ideas and experiences primarily through language; but as one sets up WordPress, the shape of the page, the outward appearance and the underlying machinery, the stage settings threaten to usurp the role of the players. One trembles at the idea of common words marring the beauty and complexity of the platform. It is rather like spinning a fine piece of pottery, firing it and painting it and adding an appealing glaze, only to scrawl Fido on the side with a magic marker and set the carefully crafted vessel before the dog at dinner. Surely, the container was made for something better.

Interestingly, and rather coincidentally, I recently read the marvelous introduction of contemporary Japanese writer Haruki Murakami to his first two novels, Hear the Wind Sing, and Pinball. In his introduction, Murakami describes how he first decided he should write a novel, and then how he went about the task. He had always loved reading, but knew very little about the conventions of writing a piece of fiction, narrative ,theme, dialog, and so on. Night after night, at his kitchen table, Murakami worked on the first draft of Hear the Wind Sing. Upon finishing, however, he re-read the novel and found it, quite honestly, rather stiff and tedious, even boring. Discouraged but not defeated, Murakami decided to start over again, this time telling his story in English rather than Japanese. His ability in English was rather limited, confined to a world of short sentences, circumscribed by a modest vocabulary, and yet his gut feeling was that he needed to find something original, inventive, outside the preconditioning of his native language. Having finished his version in English, Murakami then set about translating the English back to Japanese, bringing along something new and crisp and rare, like a traveler returning home from a foreign shore, the same, yet changed. And so it happened that he found his more complete self, and his voice as a writer.

You can’t judge a book by its cover, but readers are, in our tech savvy time, inclined to be influenced by the instantaneity of handsome appearances in an online blog. To me, therefore, although writing is everything, it is also nothing if it goes unread. For that reason, I will do my utmost best to maintain the comeliness and functionality of the container itself while still leaving it open to the air, such that I may climb out freely and then back in, bringing something new and nutritious, so to speak, to the fine container provided by WordPress.

As the reader will have noticed, the blog is entitled My Practical Paradise, subtitled An American Life in Bali. It is the particulars of this life, and of various travels in Southeast Asia, that I hope to make the focus of the blog, whether it be descriptions of places, or events, or cultures, or slice-of-life episodes.

And I will have more to say about this in the post coming up!