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Monday, July 26, 2004

The 52nd St. BUMblebee

I’d like to share a portion of an e-mail I sent to one of my favorite journalers. I had mentioned this person’s writing in a post a while back, and had made a small reference to the fact that his site had been ‘dark’ for a while.... meaning he hadn't posted a journal entry in quite some time.

Out of a clear blue sky, he e-mailed me to apologize for not updating. There were mentions of deadlines… obligations… age. I was floored!

One of the wonderful things about blogging/journaling is that you don’t have to meet anyone’s expectations… there are no schedules! If inspirations strikes… you write. If life happens… you enjoy it (or endure it)… and then if you feel like sharing… you write about that, too. But in my mind it was just plain wrong that this talented journaler felt an obligation to write. Where’s the fun in that?

Since that time, I have seen a few of my regular reads making similar excuses for taking time off, or posting late, or for not having anything worth sharing… so I decided to turn the [slightly cleaned up] e-mail that I sent to that long-ago apologist into an open letter to anyone feeling pressure to write:

*****

“First off, you don't owe me, or any of your readers an explanation or apology. That's why it's called a personal journal/blog.

Say it with me: PER SO NAL!

I assume it is as therapeutic for you to write, as it is enjoyable for me to read. But ultimately, that’s not what one would call a symbiotic relationship, because I'm not giving you anything back.

As a reader, I'm taking, enjoying, and checking back daily for more good stuff to take and enjoy. You, on the other hand, are taking time out of your real life to write wonderfully entertaining prose... not a quick or easy feat.

Since you took the time to write, I'll share a true story that should clarify my point:

When I was still living in the states and working in Manhattan, I used to have a morning ritual. While buying my coffee, I'd buy an extra cup and danish for a friendly BUMblebee who usually camped out in an alley off of 52nd street... near the building where I worked.

He was a grizzled old guy with random teeth, and an alarming lack of motivation. I singled him out for this little act of kindness because he stood out in stark contrast to all the aggressive panhandlers I encountered during my commute.

Over the first few months, while we drank our coffee and he munched his danish, he shared a bunch of disjointed (and often conflicting) stuff about who he was, and how he had arrived at his present station in life... and I fancied I had earned, if not his trust, than at least some small measure of his esteem for having taken on this small kindness.

One day on Tisha B'Av (the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av is a fast day, but work is still permitted), I was almost to my building when I realized that since I was fasting, I hadn't bought anything to give to the BUMblebee (as I had mentally come to call him). No problem... I figured I'd give him a couple of bucks and explain the situation, and he'd understand.

heh...um...nope.

He gave me a long, loud harangue on pride... and how he's hungry... and where is his damned breakfast! It wasn't pretty. I was so ashamed at my bad treatment of this guy that I turned and started walking back towards the coffee shop.

However, after a half a block I started thinking about the relationship that I had allowed to develop. I was doing all the work, and he was yelling at me for not bringing him his damned breakfast. Granted I had created certain expectations by doing the same thing on a fairly regular basis. But had I truly obligated myself to this guy to the extent that I should be shamefacedly marching back to the coffee shop?

On the spot I decided that our relationship, such that it was, was entirely of my creation and it was mine to continue or dissolve at my whim. It made me feel good to give him that small kindness each morning, but if time, or money, or 'whatever' precluded my being able to do so... I felt that I had the right to opt out.

Now, I don't know you... but from the level of your writing, I see that I don't need to use pictures or sock puppets to explain the connection between the 52nd street BUMblebee and your readers (myself included), right?

You don't owe me breakfast. I love it when you show up, and it probably makes you feel good to provide the goods. But it is entirely up to you when or IF you continue doing so. I'll be right here in my alley when, and if, you drop by with a coffee and danish.”

*****

To those of you who create the stuff I read… Thank you for writing. I appreciate it more than you will ever know.

To those of you who will be fasting on Tisha B’Av (starting tonight and ending tomorrow night), may your fast be easy… and may Tisha B’Av next year be a day of celebration instead of mourning.

Posted by David Bogner on July 26, 2004 | Permalink

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I should be writing on my papers. But you guilted me into a comment [nahhhh!].

1] that's the common misunderstanding with blogging. People don't get the 'community' meaning. Too many see themselves as journalists who have to deliver stuff no-matter-what. Plain wrong.
2] people still don't get the diversity aspect of blogging and instead think they have to make their blog be this or that model. I miss the individuality and self esteem.
3] I'm not sure if I got the 52nd part right...can you please engage the sock puppet? =)

Eeeexcellent conclusion before today's fast!

Tzom kal lachem & lechol Beit Israel

Posted by: mademoiselle a. | Jul 26, 2004 1:06:11 PM

Sock Puppet: OK, David called him 'The 52nd St. BUMblebee' because:

a) He made his 'home' in an alley off of 52nd street in Manhattan.
b) He was a Bum (or 'Urban Outdoorsman', for you Politically Correct people)
c) His fuzzy, unshaven appearance reminded David of a bumblebee.

Posted by: David | Jul 26, 2004 1:28:54 PM

thank you. you reminded me of something very important.
sometimes i actually feel a little blog-pressure, sometimes i worry if my posts are little too... full of themselves (i do tend to boast about my kids alot) but wait -- its MY blog.
i don't need to be clever, or controversial or funny or well informed.
whew.

Posted by: Lisa | Jul 26, 2004 3:21:33 PM

Lisa... contrary to what I wrote in the e-mail I just sent you, your blog is often each of those things. But you are right... one shouldn't feel obligated to perform.

Posted by: David | Jul 26, 2004 4:11:54 PM

The thing is, an expectation is created in a ritual.

Your bringing breakfast every day created the expectation that it would be there, right, wrong, or indifferent, so it was of your doing. And while yes, you have every right to stop at your whim, or to change the schedule, or whatever, you're no longer alone in this ritual. You're the giver, BUMblebee is the recipient.

The same thing applies to journals/blogs. By writing on a regular basis you leave something there. Readers come with the expectation of finding something. If you do not want the expectation then you wouldn't be writing in the first place.

(OK, or something. I'm sick and my head is stuffed up and I'm not thinking clearly, but I hope I got my point across.)

Oh, and another thing. About Tisha B'av (and thank you cuz now I know how to spell it).... growing up whenever my mother wanted to stall something and you'd ask her when it would happen, she always said next Tisha B'av. Since we never actually knew when that was she was safe. I have a phone call to make after this post. Ha!

Posted by: beth | Jul 26, 2004 8:32:09 PM

"The thing is, an expectation is created in a ritual"

So what you are saying Beth, is that by writing according to a particular schedule that suits me (I usually write early each morning), I am obligating myself to continue doing so even when I want to sleep in or skip a day?

And getting back to the BUMblebee... When I left that job and moved to Israel... did I walk away from an ongoing responsibility?

You and I normally see eye-to-eye, but I have to stick with my original thesis. I admit that an expectation is created by doing something in a predictable manner... but an expectation is a long way from an obligation. Your last statement is where you really lost me:

"If you do not want the expectation then you wouldn't be writing in the first place"

The flaw here is that I write when it suites me... and I publish when it suits me. The fact that I write and publish on a fairly regular and predictable basis has nothing whatsoever to do with the reason I am writing "in the first place".

On a lighter note... I'm glad I was able to clear up the whole Tisha B'Av issue between you and your mom. From the sound of it you were able to call in a lot of delayed gratification. :-)

Feel better.

Posted by: David | Jul 26, 2004 10:41:57 PM

David, I'm not getting into the whole social responsibility and expectations thing because I admit to not being quite comfortable with your analogy between blogging and having provided a homeless person with coffee and a danish every morning.

Nevertheless, Tzom Kal!

Posted by: jennifer | Jul 26, 2004 11:40:06 PM

Good post. Something I pesonally needed to read - I did not post today, and I usually post every Monday through Friday - and I was feeling guilty!

Thanks!

Posted by: Gail | Jul 27, 2004 1:48:12 AM

Jennifer... you and Beth are a couple of very bright people, so I have to sit up and pay attention if two such people from very different backgrounds /geopolitical realms felt uncomfortable with aspects of my post.

However, my original question to Beth is one that I would ask you as well: Are people who are 'creatures of habit' obligated to continue acting in a consistent manner?

I think we all have a social responsibility to help the homeless... some do it directly and others through their tax dollars or private contributions to advocacy organizations. But that has nothing to do with the point I was making. Whether I work for the money to buy a homeless person breakfast or work on writing a blog entry... it is MY WORK, and MY CHOICE. The reader and homeless guy are not ENTITLED to a handout of either food or words.

There was also a more subtle message that people seem to have missed: I gave the BUMblebee breakfast partly for my own selfish benefit...meaning I got a nice feeling by doing it. Anyone who gives charity is familiar with this 'generosity rush'. The same can be said for writing for an appreciative audience. I get a lot of pleasure from writing for its own sake... but I would never suggest that I didn't enjoy the fact that people come back day-after-day to read.

Sorry to carry on so long. As always, whether I agree with you or not, I appreciate the fact that you took the time to share your views. However, now that you have left a comment, I'll expect a comment on EVERY entry from now on! :-)

Posted by: David | Jul 27, 2004 9:53:20 AM

Thank you, sock puppet!

*****

This is funny. I think that charity has nothing to do with running into obligations, and even rituals are not meant to become the matter of obligation. Because we have a free will and are free to choose.

In my opinion, it wasn't Mr Bee's right to shout for one day receiving money instead of kind and some company, especially when his explanation was his hunger, rather than his need for some company and open ears. So, what's the problem? Obvioulsy, Mr. Bee's wanting is of different nature than what he complained about?

There is some truth in a saying we have "Offer them your little finger, and they'll take the entire hand.", and situations like these throw me into endless inner monologues. There I am trying to be good and help someone out on a short distance on their heavy path, and I get shouted on top when I want to continue my own path in life.

It is hard to put in words, but the problem, I think, is with others who cannot accept that in life, none of us hold a subscription on endless love, charity and devotion coming from one and the same person.

A possible reason, on an afterthought, might be the fact that every human is afraid of being alone out there? Rituals and redundant action gives us security and the feeling of protection, shelter...[compare religious rituals]. Isn't it funny; everyone strives for individuality [we're all unique], but when it comes to it, we seek the company, the ritual, the feedback of others to state that we're indeed still accepted and part of the whole society thing. And if we're not...then please show me how many change opinion in order to fit social standards again.

Am I being very irritating?

Posted by: mademoiselle a. | Jul 27, 2004 1:19:18 PM

Irritating? No. Interesting? Very.

I can't tell if you agreed with my original thesis or not (perhaps I'm light-headed from fasting), but I enjoyed (and agreed with) the points you made.

Posted by: David | Jul 27, 2004 1:44:31 PM

where do we expect to encounter "the face of G-d?"

:)

Posted by: Prunella | Jul 27, 2004 4:22:59 PM

OK, finally checking back in...not ignoring you.

When you do (OK, I don't mean you personally, perhaps I should say when *one* posts) on a regular basis it creates an expectation by your readers that something will be there. It's just human nature. And I think that is part and parcel of why when journalizers normally post regularly and then don't, feel the need to "apologize" for not doing so. They feel the inner pull of the expectation that was created.

I never used the word obligation, that was your choice of words.

Let's look at it this way: you come home from work every single night at precisely 5:15 and every single night your lovely bride has the children washed and cleaned up and sitting at the dinner table and a hot delicious gourmet meal is placed on the table for you all to enjoy at precisely 5:30. That happens every single day for a year. You with me? OK, then one night you come home at your usual 5:15 and find that the house is a shambles, the kids are covered in mud, and there's no dinner. You're a bit surprised, no?

You fully had the expectation that the kids would be clean and dinner would be on the table, right? That this happened every single night was never something you agreed upon, it just happened, out of the goodness and kindess of your wife. So you have come to expect this.

That is my point.

Posted by: beth | Jul 27, 2004 7:25:15 PM

by writing according to a particular schedule that suits me... I am obligating myself to continue doing so even when I want to sleep in or skip a day?

Obviously, because I've been clicking over here like a mouse on the crack-pellet switch hoping for a post, when I know in my head that it's midnight there. ;)

Anyone who expects a post from you every day doesn't understand blogging. The whole reason we're different from columnists is because we have an outside life to color our opinions and perceptions. You have to live it to share it.

Anyway. The good news is, when you decide that you need to take a break, lots of people usually come out of the woodwork to tell you how great you are, instead of yelling at you.

Posted by: Tanya | Jul 27, 2004 11:24:32 PM

Beth... OK, point taken... although I'll have to take your word that a scenario such as you described, with gourmet food and freshly washed children could actually happen! :-)

I guess what I should have said is that it is a shame that by creating expectations in others... we often put ourselves in a position to feel obligated. I, for one, do not want to feel such an obligation towards my writing. It just so happens that lately I've had a lot to say... but there have also been weeks where I've only posted once or twice.

Anyway, thanks for clarifying things.

By the way, how are you feeling... any better?

Tanya... "I've been clicking over here like a mouse on the crack-pellet switch hoping for a post"

You're killing me! I think I just got my first blurb for my future book jacket!

Posted by: David | Jul 28, 2004 12:14:05 AM

I knew my analogy would hit home. Ha. My husband comes home to gourmet dinners and homework done every day (in his fantasy life).

Here's another one on expectations...a true story btw: The entire time my father dated his second wife (about three years) she was very glamorous, including the daily application of false eyelashes (it was the 70's, OK), every single day, including weekends. The day after they got she put those false eyelashes away and never wore them again.

Many years after their divorce, when mentioning a minor marital issue of my own to my father, he brought that up. He really loved her in those eyelashes and was always a bit disappointed that she stopped wearing them.

A daily activity created an expectation and when it stops, because hey, I do it for me, not you anyway, it affects others, whether you like it or not.

How and I feeling you ask? Well my voice has never sounded sexier--feel free to call my voicemail to hear it. HA. I'm feeling better though, and a bit more clear headed. Thank you for asking.

Posted by: beth | Jul 28, 2004 3:16:09 AM

I have a facination with bees and would love to find a beehive and give it a kick because in Taipei it is believed that any disease from VD to computer virus can be cured. Please write me at: [email protected] if you can help.

This will cure me of problems!

Nikki

Posted by: Nikki | Aug 28, 2008 1:14:55 PM

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