Why do we do this?

A few days ago I was with a group of people and conversation turned to blogs/online journals, and a non-blogger asked what the attraction is. Someone said he liked to write to get things off his chest, and the non-blogger very reasonably responded “But why would you want to do that in public?” At the time, nobody came up with a decent answer to that, but I’ve been thinking about it since, and wondering, why? What is it about blogging that’s so attractive to so many people?

Actually, now that I think about it, it was that exact question that led me to starting my first diary here. It was back in the early days of blogs, and I read an article somewhere about this interesting new phenomenon on the internet, where people were posting their private thoughts in online diaries that anyone could read. A search led me to deardiary.net, where I discovered that one side of the fascination of blogs was the sheer voyeurism of reading the private thoughts of strangers, but I still didn’t really get why someone would want to write one. So in the spirit of enquiry, I decided to start writing one myself.

In fact, I’ve just gone and searched out my first entry in that diary, 30 August 2001:

OK, so I’ve got a week off, and there’s all sorts of useful things I should be doing around the house, I’ve got an essay to write, and as for the garden… let’s agree not to mention the garden. So, what have I just spent most of one of my valuable days off doing? Sitting at the computer reading the diaries of strangers, and am now joining this mysterious online world myself. No idea why, but I read an article on these shared diaries a while back, and it sounded a fascinating idea – lots of people sharing their own private soap operas. Of course, I didn’t bother actually going looking for any diaries until this morning, when for some reason I thought I’d check them out, typed “diary” into the search engine, and several hours later… here I am!

I remember the idea of total anonymity was really interesting to me at the time, and I made a conscious decision at the beginning of that diary to reveal as little about myself as possible, and find out just how private it was possible to remain, while at the same time writing honestly about your life. Although I was a bit coy about explaining that in my first entry, which goes on:

I suppose at this point I’m supposed to introduce myself, but I don’t think I want to – I’d prefer to let you figure it out all by yourselves. I’m sure I’ll let plenty of details slip as I go along. Anyway, if I tell you everything up front, what’s going to make you want to keep reading – my life isn’t that exciting! If you really can’t cope without knowing all about who, what, where, and why I am, then you have my permission to use your imagination (just as long as you imagine me to be a nice person!).

Two days later, when I got my first comment (from Rudyshoes – remember him?), I discovered one of the biggest attractions of blogging – the sense of community. Suddenly my diary wasn’t just being sent out into the ether – it had real live people reading it (although it’s obvious from the above extracts that I had a sense of writing for an audience from the start). And then when Rudyshoes invited me to his forum, where several other deardiaryists hung out, my diary was no longer a monologue to strangers, but part of an ongoing conversation with friends.

And ironically, I think that in the end became its downfall for me – the anonymity that had first interested me in the idea of blogging seemed wrong as part of that conversation, yet I felt I couldn’t drop that anonymity, because my diary was still public, and I’d written too many of the sorts of things you can only say in private (like comments about the people I worked with). I suppose I could have made my diary friends-only, but by doing that you’re excluding casual reader who drops in to glance at your diary – the very way I met my DD friends in the first place. After about a year my diary entries began to drop off, as I found the struggle for anonymity more and more difficult, and by 2003 I’d completely lost interest – entries were coming months apart and becoming increasingly cryptic.

So what did I learn from the exercise? For a start, that the two main attractions of blogging, anonymity and community, aren’t entirely compatible. And that that sense of community is possibly what we’re all seeking when we start writing an online diary – whether it’s a circle of friends to share our lives with, or just someone to agree with our rants, blogging needs (and assumes) an audience.

Having learnt these lessons, I took a different approach with my FutureCat diary. Instead of trying to stay completely anonymous, I decided in advance which parts of my life would be public property, and which would stay private. As the main point of my new diary was to talk about Bookcrossing, there was no point in trying to keep my location private, because anyone looking at my bookshelf would immediately see that I live in Christchurch. And anyone looking at the pattern of where I release books could probably get a fair idea of where I work, and which suburb I live in. And although I’m careful never to reveal my real name, either here or on the Bookcrossing site, for anyone who knows me in real life there’ll be enough clues in this diary for them to figure out it’s me writing it. So rather than hiding behind anonymity, I write assuming that people I know might be reading this, knowing it’s me writing it. So I don’t write about my private life, or personal stuff about my friends or family, or comment on my employer or my colleagues (you may have noticed I try not to mention work much at all, in fact). When I do want to share any of that stuff with my DD friends, then I write a friends-only entry.

And strangely, restricting myself like that has actually freed me up a lot. Instead of always worrying that I’m going to give away some crucial detail, and having to come up with new and more complex psuedonyms and disguises for recognisable people and places, I can write freely about what I’ve been doing and where I’ve been going, and feel confident that if anyone I know does stumble across this diary, they’re not going to read anything I wouldn’t tell them to their face.

Hmm, I seem to have veered off the subject I started with: why people blog. Maybe that’s because I can really only answer the question of why I blog, and I’m not even sure I know the answer to that one…

(Incidentally, I made my old diary private, so there’s no point googling the above extracts to find it – you’ll just have to wonder for ever exactly what it was I said in there that I didn’t want people I know to read :-p)

20c books

We had a lunch meetup today at a cafe in Riccarton. Otakuu was supposed to be in town this weekend, so we’d organised the meetup to coincide with her visit, but unfortunately she couldn’t make it. Oh well, hopefully we’ll see her in Dunedin in a few weeks, anyway. Lytteltonwitch, non-fiction, and awhina and meerkitten were there however, and we had a very pleasant lunch sitting in the sun outside the cafe.

I gave In a Strange Garden back to lytteltonwitch so she can release it on the Dunedin trip, and passed on the copy of Somebodies and Nobodies by Robert W Fuller that boreal had given me for awhina. And awhina and lytteltonwitch had both brought along books for me: awhina gave me a copy of The Unadulterated Cat by Terry Pratchett that she’d found in a second-hand shop (not realising that I’ve already got a couple of copies – but that’s ok, it was a lovely thought, and I’m sure I’ll be able to find it a good home), and lytteltonwitch had thought Ratha’s Creature by Clare Bell (a science fiction book featuring cats :-)) sounded like just my cup of tea.

After lunch, I released Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt and Expensive Habits by Peter Mayle on nearby tables, and then we wandered down the street to a charity bookshop that always has a well-laden 20c table.

The two elderly women running the shop were amused (if slightly bemused) by lytteltonwitch’s request that they look after Ballycumber while she browsed, and then were even more amused when we started bringing armfuls of books up to the counter. Every time one of us came back with more books, they’d say something like “that’ll keep you busy”. By my count, I ended up buying 56 books, and I’ve got no idea how many the others bought. Most of the ones I bought were just Mills & Boons with amusing or appropriate titles that I’ll use for themed releases (I’m certainly not going to read them!).

Of course, now I’ve got to actually register them all…

Do you know where your stop-cock is?

This entry should really be sub-titled “Floods and other biblical-style disasters”. Ok, maybe not a disaster as such, but not exactly the sort of thing you want to wake up to. Which of course is leading up to saying that that’s exactly what I did wake up to. Not inside the house (thank goodness), but in the back garden.

I got up this morning, and went into the kitchen. It was quieter than normal, so as I walked towards the sink to fill the kettle, I noticed a sound I might not normally have heard over the traffic and other noisinesses of city life – the sound of water running through the pipes. My first thought was that the bathroom tap was probably running (it needs a new washer, so sometimes starts running again when you think you’ve turned it off), so I checked, and it wasn’t. A quick check round the house, and all the other taps were off too. Which meant it must be outside. We hadn’t put the sprinklers on last night, because the forecast was for rain, so I was a bit puzzled, but thought maybe the neighbours kids had been playing round with the tap or something. So I got dressed and went outside to have a look. Which was when I discovered the flood.

A bit of background is probably necessary here. We’ve been in this house about five years, and we’re still discovering its idiosyncracies. One of the weird things we discovered early on is that the tap in the back garden has an extra outlet with a short length of hose hanging off it. The outlet seems to come out of the pipe before the tap, so the tap doesn’t control it, but no water ever came out of the hose. Later, as we were making changes in the garden, we discovered more of the same sort of hose running under the lawn to the back of the garden (where it looked like there used to be a glasshouse), and figured out it must have originally been connected to that tap and been used for an irrigation system in the glasshouse. Anyway, as the hose didn’t seem to do anything now, and the tap worked normally, we didn’t pay it any more attention.

I bet you can guess now what was causing the flood. Yep – water was pouring out of the short length of hose that had been dry for all those years. Obviously it had been blocked by something, and the blockage had for some reason shifted last night, and was allowing water to pour out. Ok, so I knew what the mysterious sound was now, but I didn’t know how to stop it. Turning the tap just made water come out of the tap as well as the hose, and there was no other tap to be seen. The walls are brick, so it’s not like there could be a tap behind the wall or anything. I ran inside and woke up MrPloppy, and got him to confirm that the tap didn’t turn the water off, and there wasn’t any other tap (I was starting to think I was going mad by this point). We’re guessing now that originally the hose had had a tap at the end (presumably inside the glasshouse), and that it became blocked, so someone had cut the hose at the house end looking for the blockage, but hadn’t been able to unblock it so just left it as it was, with the cut end of hose dangling – but right now the immediate problem was to stop the water – not only was it causing a flood, but we had almost no water pressure inside the house.

This is our first house, so we’re still learning all those grown-up skills of home maintenance like how you turn the water supply off (why don’t they teach you that sort of stuff at school???). I vaguely remembered hearing one of my more experienced home-owning friends mention a stop-cock once, so I seized on that idea. “We need to turn off the water at the stop-cock” I told MrPloppy, proud of my practicality in a crisis.

“Ok, where do you find the stop-cock then?”

“Um… somewhere? Maybe it’s under the house?”

So we looked under the house. This is not an easy operation, because the access to the underside of the house is through the bottom of one of the wardrobes. First you need to remember which wardrobe it is, then move all the junk sitting in the bottom, then lift the carpet, then finally (after realising it’s actually in the *other* wardrobe and repeating the first few steps), lift a few loose floorboards to reveal a space that might just about be big enough to squeeze through if you were incredibly skinny. Luckily MrPloppy is incredibly skinny, so he stuck his head down through the hole, and shone a torch around.

The stop-cock isn’t under the house.

Next thought was to look under all the sinks. I was pretty certain I’d never seen any extraneous taps under any of them, but by this stage I was ready to beleive there were parts of the house I’d never seen. After all, there was suddenly water pouring out of places where it hadn’t before – maybe taps would appear just as mysteriously. Of course, it wasn’t there. Neither was it anywhere outside the house. We even checked the papers from when we bought the house, in case there was a plan or something that showed its location, with no luck.

I remembered another plumbing-type term I’d heard someone mention – header tank. I knew header tanks are used to increase the water pressure, which means all the water must go through them, so that seemed like a likely place to find a stop-cock. And I knew the header tank was in the attic, because last time we’d gone into the attic we’d discussed what that large tank thing in the corner was. Getting into the attic isn’t as complicated as getting under the house, but it still involves getting a ladder from the garage, setting it up in the very confined space of the laundry, removing the ceiling panel, discovering the torch’s batteries are about to run out… Eventually MrPloppy made it up into the attic, and I stood on the top of the ladder giving directions as he precariously stepped from joist to joist, trying not to step in the wrong place and fall through the ceiling. The header tank, as it turned out, didn’t have a tap at the bottom as I’d hoped, but it did have a tap at the top! MrPloppy turned it off, and then we discussed how long it would take for the rather large tank to completely drain so that water would stop coming out the other end… I went and turned on all the taps in the house in an attempt to speed the process, and in the meantime, the flood in the back yard was growing ever bigger.

While we waited, we went back out to look at the gushing hose. We’d already tried blocking the end, but the pressure was too high – that would have to wait until the water was off. We thought about clamping the hose somehow, but we didn’t have a strong enough clamp. And then MrPloppy did something so simple and obvious it should have been our very first thought: he bent the length of hose over. Which of course constricted the hose, so only a tiny trickle of water could get out. Problem (at least temporarily) solved! We tied the hose in place so it would hold for today at least (there was still a little bit of water dribbling out, but not enough to cause a real problem for now), and tonight after work we’re going to go to a hardware shop and try and find a proper cap piece to block off the hose permanently.

Of course, by this time I was well and truly late for work (and hadn’t even had breakfast or a shower yet (other than an involuntary shower while we were trying to block the hose!)), so I rang my boss to apologise, and we turned the water back on so I could get ready for work – I was only two hours late by the time I made it in…

I haven’t had any panicked phone calls from MrPloppy yet, so I’m assuming our temporary measures are still holding, and hopefully tonight we’ll be able to effect a more permanent fix, but at least some good has come of this adventure: we’ve learnt where to turn off the water supply to the house πŸ™‚

My first century

When I started this diary, part of the aim was to spread the Bookcrossing word a bit. And it looks like it’s working. One of the stats that is recorded on your Bookcrossing bookshelf, along with things like how many books you’ve registered and released, is your “tell-a-friend referrals” – the number of people (or distinct IP addresses, which is what it actually counts, I think) who’ve clicked on a referral link (like the ones above in this entry) to take them to Bookcrossing.com. Before I started this diary, I didn’t have any tell-a-friend referrals, because I don’t tend to use signature files in emails or forums, so this diary is the only place I have ever put referral links. But since I started this diary just over a year ago, there’s been a small but steady stream of people clicking on the links I’ve put in my diary, and my tell-a-friend referral stats have been slowly growing. And today when I went to my bookshelf to journal a book, I discovered that it now reads 100! So that’s a hundred people who’ve visited Bookcrossing.com just because they read my diary!

Actually, what I’m most impressed by is the fact that that means that at least 100 people have actually read my diary!!! So hello to all those people I didn’t know about!

I finally got round to completing my entry in the Cat Journal this morning. The Cat Journal is a blank diary that libertine101 started – it’s travelling around cat-loving bookcrossers as a bookring, and each person who receives it fills in a few pages with tales and photos of their cats. I’ve had it for quite a while, so I was starting to feel a bit guilty about not passing it on quicker, but everything seemed to be conspiring to stop me printing off the photos I’d taken of the cats – the computer the photos were on wasn’t the one connected to the printer, and the network decided to stop working for some reason, and then once we got that fixed the printer was out of ink anyway… add to that a number of incidents of sheer forgetfulness, and I’m starting to look like a bookring hoarder πŸ™ Anyway, I finally printed them off this morning, and wrote some appropriate accompanying text, so now I’ll be able to pass it on to the next bookring participant, KiwiWonder. And she’ll be at the NZBC Convention next month, so I’ll be able to hand it straight to her, instead of posting it up to Auckland.

Currently reading: Long Hot Summer by Barbara Anderson

Invisible Pizza

It being a Friday night, and neither of us feeling much like cooking dinner, we were lazy tonight and rang for a pizza. When the delivery guy arrived, he took the pizza box out of his thermal bag thingy, went to hand it to me, and then paused with a puzzled look on his face. He shook the box a bit, then opened it – and it was empty! The delivery guy was very apologetic, and raced back to the shop to get it (and the really funny part was that he still handed me the box first, even though it was empty!). They’ve messed up our order before, and given us different toppings than we asked for, but this is the first time they’ve forgotten the pizza altogether!

After thinking I’d need an expedition to the second-hand bookshop tomorrow for more bookcrossable books, I came across a box of books tonight lurking under the desk. They’re a mixture of books from the library booksale, some lytteltonwitch gave me, and a few I picked up when someone at the university was clearing out their bookshelves, and I’d put them aside to be registered later, and completely forgot about them. Anyway, I spent a few hours this evening slogging through registering them, and now have another 30-odd books I can release (although I still have to give them labels etc – that might be a job for tomorrow).

Progress report on the topiary cross-stitch:

Le Clan de L’Ours des Cavernes

It occurred to me as I was walking home last night that I haven’t done any ordinary book-releasing for ages. I’ve done mass releases, and release expeditions – loads of those special types of releases, but none of the spontaneous, happen to have a book in your bag and walk past a good spot, everyday type releases. And there I was, walking through a park, with park benches everywhere just waiting to have a book put on them, and the only book I had with me is the one I’m currently reading (In a Strange Garden by Lloyd Chapman, which I couldn’t release even if I had finished reading it, because I’ve promised to give it back to lytteltonwitch so she can release it at Seacliff). I used to *always* carry one or two ready-to-be-released books in my bag, just in case I came across somewhere to release them – I really must get into the habit of that again.

Of course, the first step would be to get some more books registered – I do have a box of books that are registered and labelled up ready to go out into the world, but in the back of my mind they’re kind of reserved for the Dunedin convention, so I’m reluctant to release them before then. I think a visit to the 20c table at the second hand bookshop might be in order soon, to stock up on releasable books. Hmm, I wonder if MrPloppy feels like accompanying me on an expedition over there this weekend…

I did release a couple of books this morning, though. Looking in my ready-to-release box last night, I saw Le Clan de L’Ours des Cavernes and La VallΓ©e des Chevaux, French translations of Jean M Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bears and Valley of the Horses which I’d found at a booksale in Akaroa when we were over there during the Convention last year. I’d bought them just for the novelty of finding French books in Akaroa (which was originally a French colony), and had intended to release them in the French department of the university (where I thought they’d at least have a chance of finding a French speaker to read them). But like so many things in my life, I’d had the good idea, but then never actually got round to executing it. So this morning I put them in my bag and made a point of changing my normal route to work so that I’d pass the French department, and dropped them off on a table in their foyer. Hopefully they’ll be of use to someone – or at least some light entertainment to a student struggling through the great works of French literature! (And of course, now that I’ve released them, I’m suddenly thinking “I should have kept them and released them in the backpackers in Dunedin”…)

Dinner with the boreals

Boreal and Mr Boreal are in Christchurch at the moment, so she PMed me on Friday to see if we could arrange a meetup. Sunday night looked like the only possible time, so I contacted the local Bookcrossers, and despite the last minute organisation, we managed to get together a small meetup (me, the boreals, Alithia, and lytteltonwitch) at a Chinese restaurant near where the boreals are staying. A pretty good meetup (despite the best efforts of the restaurant to spoil it with poor service and mediocre food), and I think boreal found it helpful, because she had lots of last minute worries about the upcoming BCNZ Convention, which she’s organising, and lytteltonwitch and I, being old hands πŸ™‚ at convention organising, were able to give her a few suggestions, and more importantly, reassure her that she and her team really are doing the job well, and haven’t forgotten anything as far as we can see, and that the convention really will be a roaring success.

The boreals had stopped in to visit otakuu on the way past, and she’d given them a few books to bring up for us. I got Expensive Habits by Peter Mayle and a really lovely book of cat paintings (which wasn’t registered). And of course, I passed on a few books at the meetup: The Impossible Ride by Louise Sutherland, One for the Morning Glory by John Barnes, Lightly Poached by Lillian Beckwith, and Star Wars: Cloak of Deception by James Luceno, plus I released Old World Encounters by Jerry H. Bentley as we were leaving the restaurant.

After the meal, we retired to the boreals’ motel (which was right next door – that was how we’d chosen the restaurant) for coffee and more chat, and lytteltonwitch handed over her top secret contribution to the convention (all will be revealed on the Saturday night – all I can say now it’s going to be a great enhancement to the general fun!)

The countdown to the convention has begun…

Chick Flicks

I got some really interesting responses to yesterday’s entry – maybe I should be philosophical more often…

However this entry is not going to be at all philosophical. Instead, it’s going to feature movies and chocolate πŸ™‚

“Chick Flicks” had its inaugural movie night last night. We went to see Mad Hot Ballroom, which is a documentary about a programme in New York where schools in disadvantaged areas give ballroom dancing lessons to their grade 5 (I think – 10-11 year olds, anyway) classes, culminating in a city-wide dance competition after 10 weeks. The programme’s been running for a few years, and is having amazing results, giving the kids self confidence and self respect, and in some cases totally turning around kids who were on the edge. The documentary was filmed in a similar style to that one about spelling bees (which I’ve completely forgotten the name of) – it followed several classes from the first lessons through to the final competition, interspersed with interviews with the children, their teachers, and their parents. But there was less of that uncomfortable feeling of ultra-competitiveness that the spelling bee documentary had, probably because the kids were competing in teams rather than individually.

After the movie, we went to the restaurant in Rydges (which I still keep calling Noahs, despite the fact it hasn’t been called that for years) for coffee and dessert. Rydges is a very posh hotel, so I was dreading what the prices in their restaurant would be like, but they were actually very reasonable – about the same as we’ve been paying at Cafe Bleu, in fact! Lytteltonwitch and awhina are in the Chick Flicks group too, so we were discussing whether we should have a Bookcrossing meetup there one month. The restaurant manager said if we wanted we could arrange a set menu (and set price) in advance, which could work out really well. So we’re going to discuss it at the next meetup.