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Er, welcome?

Anyway, I feel I should eventually write something about something that isn’t connected to Lois McMaster Bujold. Not yet, though. Maybe tomorrow’s Pirke Avot session will manage to avoid a connection.

I don’t think it’ll surprise anybody that I am ambivalent about the whole issue of audience in blogging. I think the issue of audience is very important for me and my writing of any kind: who am I aiming for, how will that audience know it’s for them, how is that audience likely to interpret what I’m saying (and more importantly how I’m saying it), what response do I want from that audience, who am I likely to offend, how much do I care…

This usually works very well for me when I am writing instruction manuals and memos, although it does mean that I take a lot longer to do it than people expect me to. Ah, well. And when I’m writing a play (more accurately, when I wrote the play), I am both writing for actors, who I know pretty well, and for audiences, who perplex me. Even when I’m in them. But for that experience, I was fortunate to have my own personal dramaturge, and I let her stand in for my audience, and that worked for me.

When writing for this Tohu Bohu, however, I am (I said this before) ambivalent. Much of the time, I rely on my image of the Gentle Reader, who has been reading for some time (years, probably) and comments now and then, knows what I’m on about, is knowledgeable about the world and its wife, and is likely to give me the benefit of the doubt. Some combination of Chris Cobb (who is an old college buddy) and Matt Hulan (who I’ve not yet met). There are perhaps two dozen of y’all, and I am comfortable with you. I long ago decided that I didn’t want an a-list blog with hundreds of thousands of readers, not only because I am too lazy to do the work to get there, but because then something blog-related would occur to make me unhappy every damned day. The way things are now, only rarely does anything cause me any blog-related stress, and when it does, it’s usually a miscommunication of some kind and is cleared up quickly.


As a blog, it is open to the whole world. I try to keep in mind, as I write, that anybody could come and read, and that when I say anybody I do mean anybody, including any specific person. Ricky DiPietro could read a note here. Dick Cheney could read a note here. Evan Schnittman could read a note here. Whatever I say about those people is possibly being said directly to their faces. And that’s… intimidating.

Now, of course, most of the time, YHB can say whatever I want about somebody, and that person will not read it, and neither will their children, their spouse, their ex-lover, their mother, etc. And when I do a hatchet job, I generally do so on somebody who is sufficiently public that I feel my own attack will be lost amongst the far harsher attacks being leveled in other locations. And I have to say that I didn’t really think that Neal Asher had visited this Tohu Bohu, and I wasn’t at all sure that A. Lee Martinez had visited this Tohu Bohu, but at this point it’s pretty much certain that Lois McMaster Bujold visited. I mean, seriously. At what point of fame does the need to egogoogle fade? I do it every week or two, myself, but then I’m not famous at all, and this is only the third time that somebody I don’t know as a Gentle Reader has mentioned anything I’ve said. And, understand, I’m not mocking Ms. Bujold, or Mr. Asher, or Ms/Mr Martinez (I assumed masculinity or at least maleness, way back then, but that was based on nuthin’). Do you know how, when you’re a kid, you think that there’s some point of gruppness that indicates completion, but as you age you start to realize that you don’t get a grupp card on some birthday that indicates completion? You never really know if you’re complete until it’s over? I suppose fame is somewhat like that—Ms. Bujold knows that somebody is talking about her, somewhere, every moment of every day, the whole world around, but still… I was hoping the world wasn’t like that, somehow.


The point is not so much the famous people who I discuss here, fairly or unfairly, because even if it never occurred to me ever that Ms. Bujold would ever read anything I’d put into this Tohu Bohu, I do try to keep in mind that it is possible, and that famous people are still people, and ethical concerns come into play. That was made clear to me at one point when I read a thread at the old Baseball Primer about Barry Bonds and had a sudden horrific vision of his son reading it.

No, the point is that whilst I am writing for my Gentle Readers, and am (intermittently) able to keep in mind that any individual read could wind up here, I am utterly unable to keep in mind that a mass of people could wind up here. I don’t write for a mass of people. I can’t really imagine what it would be like to be the guy who put up the video of his baby’s laughing fit and had millions and millions of visitors, day after day for years. The idea of a sudden invasion by barbarian hordes scares the shit out of me.

And yet.

There’s no question that the arrival of dance (prone to laughter) at just the right moment was a terrific thing for this Tohu Bohu and for me. And Cat Faber is certainly welcome (any friend of Jed’s is a proverbial, here). And when the Online Encore game brought me fauxlore, that was wonderful. And Matt Hulan himself, and Dan P, both of whom have become pillars of our little, um, what is it that pillars are of? Porticos? Anyway, in actual experience, the introduction of new Gentle Readers to this Tohu Bohu has been a Good Thing, and the expansion from my Old College Buddies to a slightly wider circle has brought with it a lot of great conversation, as well as a wider range of actual experiences, which have served to set me straight on a bunch of things. All good.

And yet.

If you are new here, then, please don’t feel unwanted, and please be a bit patient if I seem defensive or hostile. I am ambivalent about the whole issue of audience in blogging.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Our Gracious Host is a very gracious host, indeed, and in such a way that he seems like he must be a reasonably pleasant fellow. For myself, I try to be a gracious guest and... oh, dear. Is that the time? I'd love to have another, but I really must, you understand. Right, well, then. I'm off.


It is interesting to reflect that all of Our Gracious Host's comments about audiences apply somewhat to the situation of comment writers as well, since the comment threads are just as public as the blog posts themselves, though perhaps their profile is lower. Since commenters have the luxury of responding to what the host writes, they/we also have the luxury of framing statements for a particular and given audience, the blog's host. When I comment, I imagine that I am addressing Our Gracious Host, mainly, or anyone else who happens to have posted a comment, and I assume that those listening in who have not yet spoken will enter the conversation, if they choose to do so, with an understanding that they are joining an ongoing conversation and abide by the ordinary rules of etiquette that cover joining in. This blog post reminds me that such an assumption is a vast oversimplification of writing anything in an on-line forum, where the context of any utterance can in no way be controlled. I hope nothing that I have written reflects poorly on the blog as a result of my conversational assumptions. I might perhaps have framed my comments in the racefail thread differently, had I thought of Ms. Bujold reading them, and I fear my remarks were among those that contributed the very small note of crankiness in her blog post about the thread.

Having recognized that my general assumption about audience is totally invalid, I would nevertheless guess that because of the strongly conversational tone of the blog and its comment threads, new readers who arrive, if they decide to become commenters, are more likely to speak as people joining a conversation than to take a different rhetorical stance. That certainly seems be the pattern so far. That creates more work for Our Gracious Host as host, but I hope that makes it unlikely that Vardibidian will have to moonlight as a bouncer.

On a completely different topic, I suspect that Ms. Bujold did not stumble onto the discussion of her work here via a random google search: given this blog's loose but real ties to the spec fic community, I guess it is more likely that someone who knew someone who knew someone who knew Ms. Bujold mentioned it to her, and she stopped by. TSOR does show that Tohu Bohu comes up as the third listing on a google search for Bujold and racefail, so it's certainly not implausible that she found the conversation by that route.

Yes, one of the things that has me eating my liver, here, is that I essentially invited my Gentle Readers to comment on a situation involving a book I was pretty sure none of y'all had read. And I did feel awkward about that at the time, but my desire to discuss the situation won out over that awkwardness—and I felt that the situation was more important than the specific book I had the experience with. Then I inadvertently exposed you to the criticism of Ms. Bujold in front of her blog readers. Which was always a possibility, and y'all could have taken that possibility into account, but as you say, the whole tone of the blog was working against it. And while in conversation with friends it's polite to respond to a discussion involving a book you haven't read, I can see how in that other context, it could come off as arrogant pontificating. I disagree with Ms. Bujold's description as sweeping assumptions by people who have never read my work, responding instead to the original poster's description of them, as it wasn't so much sweeping assumptions as GR's agreement to proceed along the lines YHB had set out. And I am not sure, even now, that I regret those lines, although of course I left out a bunch of stuff that I thought wasn't direct to my point.

I also tend to forget that I don't necessarily get to decide my original point is the point, even amongst GRs, and much less when the tables at this cafe are so close to each other.


No reason to eat your liver on my account!

And the flip side of your concern about inviting readers to discuss a complex critical issue in a work that they haven't read is that your decision to start the conversation, even though it had to be on those terms, has led to a lively discussion that has attracted the attention, to continue your metaphor, of folks sitting at nearby tables, who, when they have stopped by, have generally said something like, "Well, this is a rather insightful and definitely civil discussion of a complex issue." Certainly there have been failures of insight and civility, to which I have contributed, but surely some of those are unavoidable, and I would say your approach to starting the conversation and moving forward has been amply justified by the way it has developed thus far. Maybe it's that we don't throw very much food?

Aw, I missed all the drama. :( But you made cross-blogging drama! That should count for some kind of fame... ;) I thought your writings on Bujold were perfectly reasonable, and appropriately wrapped up in disclaimers. And your link to Maryann's explanation of how to write with diversity (as it were) was an excellent mirror to hold up to Bujold's work--in fact to anyone's, it's been in my mind as I've been reading lately. I didn't read the comments, but I'd be surprised if they were inflammatory.

But then, I've been reading Slacktivist's page by page dissection of the theology and writing of the Left Behind series for years now, and just about any book discussion seems polite after that. ;)

In the 14ish posts over at Tor.com where Jo Walton reads each of LMB's books (plus an interview to finish off!), I think she shows up to comment in most threads. I kinda picked up from other commenters that she is maybe a bit known for doing that. John Scalzi actually had a post once where he talked about the trickiness of showing up as an author to a discussion, that may interest you.

(Also, in the context of RaceFail, who could resist checking to see if anyone talked about your work?)

i'm a big fan of "i don't read reviews"

I want to comment more on this at some point, but for now just a tangential note--I just re-happened across Clay Shirky's 2003 article on Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality, which is mostly not directly relevant to what you're talking about, but near the end it contains this line about blog popularity:

Publishing an essay and having 3 random people read it is a recipe for disappointment, but publishing an account of your Saturday night and having your 3 closest friends read it feels like a conversation, especially if they follow up with their own accounts.

Not a direct response to your notes here, but seems indirectly connected.

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