This blog of mine on family history and stories from the past is just the latest chapter in my episodic writing life.
In the early days of online blogging, my mentor and pal, Griff Wigley (Locally Grown Northfield, Mountain Bike Geezer), seemed hell-bent on recruiting the world to learn to blog. First he offered in-person classes to locals on the finer points of choosing a platform and creating stories that were designed to not only inform and entertain, but gather more and more folks to be attracted to one’s work. (I believe the word “eyeballs” was often used to graphically illustrate the point.) I took at least two installments of his courses. At some point, he decided that he could reach more people by filming his presentations in a video format and I went for that approach as well. I was hooked.
It’s a bit sobering to realize that I’ve been using this form of expression and communication in a variety of ways for nearly 20 years. That’s half of my working life! I’ve been putting personal thoughts and experiences out there, but I’ve also been promoting organizations and causes as well as recording work-related activities.
My first crack at writing for an online audience was during my 15-year tenure as a board member and executive officer of the Northfield Downtown Development Corporation, a non-profit whose mission focuses attention on the need to strengthen and expand the core business district of Northfield, its downtown.
Starting in 2003 and ending in 2020 when my fourth term as a board member expired, I contributed event listings, meeting recaps, public policy reviews and other content to a blog known first as “NDDC News” and later as “Downtown Northfield MN.”
After getting my feet wet with the Downtown Northfield MN blog, I decided to create a platform for some personal thoughts and opinions. From 2007 – 2012 I posted these writings on a WordPress blog titled “How Come? If you don’t ask, you may never find out.” I took pleasure in calling out strange things that I observed in the public sphere. Why did an unpainted and splintered city bench sit for years in a very visible location and never get repaired or removed? Why did an online retailer illegally refuse to pay sales taxes to the various states and was never held accountable? Why did a commercial property owner whose location on one of the two busiest intersections in town fail to remove a 25-foot rusted sign post that no longer sported a sign? (It’s still there!) Why did a large, industrial building on a rail line sit abandoned and deteriorating for decades when the city was in desperate need of additional commercial property tax revenue? (They finally razed the entire site last year.)
I also sought to praise civic projects that I found creative, beautiful, and unique. One of my most memorable posts was one I wrote following a visit to the High Line trail in lower Manhattan with my family on a Sunday afternoon.
I learned to sail as a teenager when I lived in southern California. Being in control of a little 8-foot Sabot in the Newport Beach Harbor was about the coolest thing that I had ever experienced and was the beginning of my life-long love affair with the sea. However, I didn’t buy my first boat until I was in my 50s and didn’t begin sailing on a regular basis until a few years after that.
As with my other pastimes, I needed to write about some of my experiences. That was the motivation for a blog titled “In and Out of the Wind “ which I began in 2010 and ended in 2015. I’ve sailed multiple times on Lake Superior and I’ve sailed across the North Sea and into the Atlantic Ocean. My current sailing locale is Lake Pepin, a 30-mile-long section of the Mississippi that is half in Minnesota and half in Wisconsin. (My wife and I have sailed on Lake Pepin for the past six years. I’ve written about every outing we’ve taken during that time, but never published any of it. Hmmmm.)
For nearly all of my life I have found the simple act of riding a bicycle to be invigorating and joyful. When I was a kid I didn’t really dwell on what it all meant, I just experienced it as part of everyday life. When I became an adult, it gave me the freedom to travel widely and into places I would never have thought to go if I had to arrive by car. It was exhilarating!
It didn’t surprise me that I began writing about all things bicycle on a Facebook page as well as in a blog. I titled both of them “Bike Northfield” and actively posted from 2011-2015. I would like to still be contributing to those streams, but I began having back issues in 2015 and was forced to stop riding as a result. I hoped it would be temporary, but it’s persisted and nothing I’ve tried has made it possible to get back in the saddle. However, last year I bought a recumbent bike and that may be the ticket to ride again. If it works, maybe I’ll start blogging about my new geezer-biker status.
I started my career as a bookseller and there was a time when I thought that would be the entire scope of my working life. But that’s not what happened. During the last decade of my career, my tasks ranged from soup to nuts, literally! Among a plethora of other things, I had responsibility for the food service at my institution as well as the installation of major security systems on campus. During the phase that involved the planning and expansion of our door access network, I decided to document my work with yet another blog. A Door is a Door is a Door was short-lived, but I enjoyed showcasing our work and highlighting both our successes and frustrations.
Vintage Band Festival is a non-profit organization that presents summertime programming that celebrates brass and wind band music in an outdoor setting. It was founded in 2006 in Northfield and has produced multiple events showcasing bands from Minnesota, bands from across the United States, and international emissaries from Europe.
In 2012 I starting managing the VBF website, a job which included writing stories for the news blog. Unlike my other writing, this work is 100% focused on marketing and distributing information about fundraising and event details. Not surprising, the writing dovetails with other social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It’s also the most seasonal of my work, ranging from bi-weekly entries in the winter to daily postings in the summer.
I’ve been doing serious genealogical research for nearly as long as I’ve been blogging. My Ancestry.com family tree has more than 3,500 people in it and I’ve created two other family trees that aren’t from my lineage. It was only a matter of time before I started animating all this information into a narrative form.
Five years ago, “Seems like only yesterday . . .” came into my life and it’s certainly the most satisfying of all the blogs that I’ve got. I’ve been able to bring many of my ancestors to life in the lines I’ve written and sharing them with others in my extended family has been rewarding on a very personal level. I’ve met a number of relatives with whom I would otherwise never have made contact. I had no idea if I had enough material worth writing about when I started, but I continue to marvel at the fact that stories keep presenting themselves to me.
In 20 years of blogging my site tally is six. Of those, I’m still actively posting to only two. I might resuscitate one or two of them at some future juncture. However, there may be another option.
I’ve recently taken on the task of maintaining the website for the township in which I live. The current website platform doesn’t allow for blogging and I wonder if I should consider changing that? Do you think anyone would mind? Do you think anyone would notice?