Sunday, February 11, 2007

blogger interview #1 - Kristen Havens

This is my first blogger interview, the first of many, I hope.

Kristen Havens is the blogger behind My Back Pages. Kristen and I have known each other for a little less than 11 years. I first met her when she was an intern for a project that I was working on and we got to know each other better when, a few years later, she moved out to Los Angeles and joined me for a while at Rock the Vote, an organization for which she and I have similar feelings (that I won't go into right now). Kristen and I also share the fact that we both grew up in central Connecticut and her posts over the holidays this year about her trip home filled me with nostalgia for strip malls and dirty snow. Kristen is a great writer in many of the same ways that she is a great friend: funny, sincere and devastatingly perceptive.

I'm a regular reader of My Back Pages, but I have no idea where the title come from. Want to tell me the story?

When I first started keeping a blog, around 2000 or 2001, it was one portion of a larger website meant to showcase my creative writing and my freelance capabilities. I considered the weblog to be the part of the site that was "off to the side" -- not the main focus. "My Back Pages" had a supplemental sound to it, like the author bio you find at the back of a book. I also liked the name because I knew it was the title of a Bob Dylan song. Though to be honest, I couldn't hum the song for you. I don't even know any of the words.

You're a writer, but you've posted recently about the difficulty you've had with writing. Where does blogging fit in to your identification as a writer?

I've been keeping a steady journal since I was 8 years old. I credit whatever writing skill I have now to all the years I spent writing about my mundane life, trying to make it sound exciting for future archaeologists. But because I've been doing it so long, writing about daily life feels like a self-indulgence. I'm sure it keeps my punctuation sharp, and it's nice having feedback from others, and meeting new people through the site. But at times it feels like a comfortable distraction from the more challenging work -- the stuff that scares me and requires real structure and planning and social isolation, like writing short stories or screenplays or a novel.

Where do you write most of your posts (try to be specific)? Is there a favorite place or time of day for posting?

It's become such an automatic activity for me that I don't remember doing it. Usually I'm either at my desk or on my couch. I rarely plan ahead to write a post -- something will pop up that makes me want to make a comment, and I'll log into Typepad, write something quickly, log off, and take the laundry out of the dryer. There's no particular time of day I set aside for the task.

Go back in your archives and look at the first post you wrote on the blog. What did you write about? Does it make you cringe, laugh, gush with pride or feel a strong urge to hit "delete"? None of the above? Then, how does it make you feel?

One of the first things I wrote was a list called "Top 100 Cultural Imperatives". I've always been opinionated about pop culture, and in the beginning I figured if I'm going to have a website, I may as well foist my superior taste upon the masses, because the masses need to know that Colin Firth is hot. When I go back and read it now, I mostly chuckle at how funny I was. Then I cringe at how awful it is to laugh at your own jokes.

Most of the time, though, I cringe at how consistent my personality has been over time. Not much changes. My anxieties, my daydreams and even my phrasing haven't changed much. The worst is when I read myself mentioning a writing project that, five years later, is still stuck in the same place. Sometimes I hate having a blog, because it can feel like a chronicle of stasis. I think it may be wise not to revisit the archives too often.

Have you ever stopped what you were doing because you were inspired to post to your blog?

Sure. Because I work from home, my day is very fluid. I sometimes use the blog as my "fifteen minute break". It's my substitute for the cigarette break. Though I should improve upon this and take the computer outside to get a little fresh air. That's the one nice thing about cigarettes -- they get you out in nature.

Have you ever met the person behind a blog after having read their blog for a while? What was it like?

I haven't done this as much as I'd like. The people I read most tend not to be in my "community" of bloggers, so the chances of meeting them are slim. I have met and befriended a couple local L.A. bloggers, but we don't see each other often because L.A. is a socially backward city.

In all cases I found that the bloggers in question were more attractive and outgoing than I expected. I tend to find this intimidating, because I myself am shy and fashion-challenged.

Do you have friends that give you a strange look when you tell them that you blog? Are there people whom you deliberately do NOT tell that you have a blog?

Even now, with blogs becoming so popular and commonplace, I'm often embarrassed to talk about it. I'm not sure why, except that I think a lot of people are suspicious of people who are compelled to write. I think when people find out you write a personal blog, about nothing in particular, they assume you're writing about them and spilling all their secrets.

I just found out that my great-uncle reads my blog, so I expect to have nightmares about this for the next six months or so -- wondering what he's read and what everyone's saying about me back home. I shouldn't be surprised -- he's a computer teacher, so if anyone in my family were to find it, it would be him. But I'm still in shock that this isn't my dirty little secret. I'm always terrified when someone tells me, in person, that they read my blog. I'd rather we maintain a complicit silence about the whole thing.

Certain people, when I email them, get the outgoing mail message with no blog URL in the signature. I make sure to delete it before I write to my mom, but every so often I forget and the URL slips through. I realize it's impossible she hasn't read the blog by now, but I try not to let my mind go there too often.

Of course, if I were writing a business blog, I'd feel differently. I'll be blogging about publishing and publicity soon, and I'll be happy to advertise that, because it's for "the greater good", professional, and not just for my own entertainment.

Is there a blog out there for which you have blog envy?

I envy Maggie Mason's Mighty Goods. She created an outlet to express her shopping hobby, and now people are sending free, classy swag to her P.O. box. She's been written up in Forbes and The New York Times. And she has fantastic taste. I love that site. I wish I'd thought of it.

Do you check your traffic stats to see who is coming to read your blog? If so, have you ever come across something that made you want to track down who it was? Do you have a sense of who your readers are -- even if you don't check your stats?

I used to do this compulsively, but now all I do is check about once a week or so, just to see if my numbers are going up or down. And sometimes via the referring URLs you'll find something that surprises you -- someone who's linking to you but didn't ping or write to you to say "hi". Just this week I found that a new blog about the TV show Medium was linking to something I'd written. Last year, someone with a blog about Lost quoted one of my observations and pinged me, but forgot to give me attribution in her post. I had to chide her for that. (She was very nice about fixing it.) I no longer check the IP addresses of surfers who land at my site -- it's too harrowing. People in the U.S. military have read my site, and knowing that freaked me out a little. Now I'd rather not know where the readers are, or even who they are, unless they're nice and unarmed. I suspect that I've met most of my regular readers, either in real life or via the blogosphere.

Tell me -- or my readers -- about a blog that you discovered in the past month. Do you remember how you came across it?

I like A Weight Lifted. It's run by a weight loss spa for women in Vermont, and it has a very healthy attitude toward dieting, exercise and self-image. It often includes good recipes and tips. I made a pomegranate salad for dinner one night based on one of the recipes they posted. I'd love to hear about other healthy food and cooking blogs, if anyone has recommendations. I wish I could remember how I found them, but I can't. I think I happened upon them in the course of ordinary surfing.


GetSheila said...

Hi! Great interview. That was me on the blog about the TV show Medium that linked to Kristen and forgot to ping her. I always forget the part where I need to input a trackback. Thanks for the reminder. :)

abf said...

Thanks for coming by. And you've done your penance by now. ;) Kristen is the Miss Manners of the Internet.

kristen said...

Actually, getsheila, you're not the one who forgot to ping me - it was the "Lost" lady - but I do appreciate it.

The ping is more for your benefit than mine anyhoo. The other woman pinged me (thereby getting traffic to her site from mine) without crediting me in her post. She's the one who committed an internet Bad, not you.

: )

-- Miss Manners

kristen said...

p.s. Thank you, Alison! Come visit CA again soon.

Dexter said...

My Back Pages is a great title especially considering the chorus...
"Ah, but I was so much older then,
I'm younger than that now."

Check out The Byrds version.

kristen said...

those lyrics do ring a bell...