I’m working on a series of articles about personal blogging, but I wanted to share with you a perfect example of a personal blog. It’s by my cousin, Duke DesRochers.
You may remember Duke from the story I did on him called, “Future Social Media Renaissance Man,” on Lorelle on WordPress or the one on the Blog Herald called “Exploring Social Media: Social Means Personal” as part of my Exploring Social Media article series.
When Duke first emailed me to vote for his audition tape to be the next The Next Food Network Star, I was dumbfounded by his well done audition video showing how to carve vegetables with a lathe and drill in his garage, then cooking them up to make the most incredible side dish presentation. While he didn’t make it into the finals, an oversight on their part I’m sure, he did follow through on my encouragement to create a blog.
Truthfully, I signed him up and set up his WordPress.com blog in about 20 minutes and told him, “Go blog.”
He had no idea what I was talking about.
Where Do You Begin With a Blog?
Isn’t that where everyone starts? Totally clueless. Everyone is talking blog this, blog that, social media, Twitter, Flickr, tweet, but really, until you dig in, you have little understand about what this bloggy thing is all about. Other than occasionally surfing the web, his only interaction with the web world was through email. Now, he’s a proud blog owner and getting a taste of the power of the blog.
At first, Duke did his best with his blog. He put the audition video in and wrote some posts about the process, spreading the word to his friends and family, who showed up faithfully to leave a comment or two and cheer him on.
As everyone does, he poked and prodded his way along the bloggy path, learning as he went. For a few weeks, I coached him on how to uncategorize posts from the uncategorized category and give them a category of their own. I showed him how to make a link, add a picture, and some very simple basics. He even had to learn where and how to leave a comment, copying his whole blog posts into my blog comments to show them off, not realizing he could have just left a link. We all make mistakes along the way.
As I hit the road to speak at conferences and workshops, luckily he had my book, Blogging Tips, What Bloggers Won't Tell You About Blogging, a Christmas present, by his side to help him fend for himself through the murky, bloggy waters.
He jumped in, writing whatever story he wanted to share as he tried to explain himself to the world. He dug into his past and found some stories worth telling. After the first few terrific posts, the excitement faded. His interest turned elsewhere. Then he had what he called “My Recent Art Attack” which brought him running back to his blog to share his excitement with the world.
Besides being an incredible chef and cook, Duke is an amazing artist. Last year was his first gallery showing in Vancouver, Washington, and he has more lined up for this year. He collects odds and ends he finds everywhere and puts them together into small and large and fascinating art…sculptures, wall hangings, pictures, headboards, mirrors, furniture…things.
In “LORD of the THINGS” he describes himself, his history, personality, and his artwork this way:
“9 Blakely Way.” That was the address of our home back in 1957; the year I was born. No NW, SW or Southeast just, “9 Blakely Way.” We lived in a small housing project built from the 30’s to the 40’s which was on the outskirts of The Dalles, Oregon. It was a time of paper boys and the milkman, yes and Service Stations with .25 cent a gallon gas. Common was Mom charging groceries on a tab at the market and Dad working a couple of nights a week cleaning up the butcher shop to pay the bill.
Our home phone number was 6-9414; that’s right, just 5 digits, no area codes or mandatory prefixes. Looking back I can honestly say it was a simpler time. I was born the last of six children and I admit I was a bit of a momma’s boy. All of the others had a time when they were the baby, but it only lasted until the next uninvited child came along, but me, I didn’t have that problem. No one came after me…
This meant I spent a lot of time hanging with my Mother and her other stay at home mom friends. I was a curious sort in my pre-school years and would ask questions like,” Do trees have blood?”
I learned at a young age that there were treasures to be had if a boy would keep his eyes peeled and on the ground. It happened when I was walking the neighborhood. Something shiny caught my eye. It was a glorious silver dollar. It filled my hand out to the very edges of its span. It was embossed with stunning detail. Man, it was beautiful. I wanted to keep it for ever!
…Remembering this; from then on, when traveling by foot I always kept one eye on the ground. You never know what you might find. In my travels however the treasures seamed to be few and far between. Oh sure there were plenty of sticks, rocks and lizards to be had and I did revel in shinier, more magic ones. Sometimes my attention would be drawn to a particular stick or rock. I would pick them up and after surmising that they were of no particular worth and not possessing any magical powers. I would drop them back to the ground.
As I walked away I imagined the object pleading with me not to just leave them there. The stick would reason with me that by picking it up I had gotten it’s hopes up. Perhaps it had dreamed of coming home with me, maybe even finding a nice cozy place in my room on the headboard of my bed or in a dresser drawer.
…Instead of being enslaved by the objects of my life, I like to think of myself as their Master. Maybe even the Lord of what I possess, heh… maybe even, like… the lord of my things. That’s it! I am “The Lord of My Things. No wait, try this. “Lord of the Things”. I like it! I am “Lord of the Things”. More like a “Junk Whisperer,” really.
We are swept away back to a time when a found coin, stick or rock could be a wondrous experience. To a time before huge grocery stores and department stores filled with plastic distractions. To a time when we were still close to the ground in age, size, and interest, pondering over the found wonders around us, evaluating the “magic” and usefulness in each one.
We are led through his story back to the present, as this now grandfather looks back over his life and realizes that he is the master of all he collects. Don’t we all wish we were the master of the junk we collect in our lives. Yet, we learn and find value through his self-discovery process.
Which is a prime example of why I call Duke an example of a perfect personal blogger.
The Art of the Story
There are all kinds of blogs, and many definitions for the different types of blogs. The definition for me of a personal blog is one that tells a story, a personal story. It doesn’t matter how the story is told, by words, pictures, video, cartoons, artwork, audio, or combination of all of them. Storytelling defines a personal blog as personal.
A personal blog helps the blogger tell their story, be it the story of their life or of a moment in time. It can be a rant about how X company pissed them off, or how they figured out how to successfully plant a rose bush this year. It can be a collection of random gossip about fellow students or co-workers, or an insightful collection of essays on food and cooking. It can be about a hobby, about school, work, raising children, being a parent, parenting parents, raising grandchildren, or sharing expertise on any subject – as long as it is about the personal experience.
A personal blog is about sharing personal stories with readers – readers that might be family, friends, or strangers.
It’s also about focusing on the story, not the commercialism and monetization. The site may or may not have ads, but the blogger isn’t obsessed about his or her stats, clickthroughs, and such.
It’s about being personal, not distant, with the reader. It’s about sharing. It’s about the story.
Duke continues to post stories about his life and artwork, which are hard to separate from each other. Explaining how he thinks differently from most people, Duke explains with a great sense of humor in “Astronauts And Moon Pies:”
I am a humble Renaissance Man. Inventive and creative ideas are thrust at me like stones from outer space. Fortunately I am able to shield my brain quite effectively with a large screen plasma TV.
It’s poetic. He also writes poetry on his site. In “DESERT TROUT,” he describes his poetry like his artwork:
I write my poems like I sculpt… with bits and pieces…
In “My Recent Art Attack,” Duke shows off his colorful and animated storytelling abilities, changing a typical “Sorry I haven’t blogged in a while” into something entertaining and unique.
OK, I’m sorry! To the great multitude of my blog followers, I am truly sorry. It has been a very long time since I’ve posted anything and I know many of you were worried about me.
The rumors are true; I did have an Art Attack. It all started very suddenly and I wasn’t able to call for help for months. My body is showing the signs of the wear and tear that such a major event can have on someone. For example. My belly is sticking out as far as it ever has and all my t-shirts are stained with paint and globs of glue.
One day I even found a screw behind my ear. I spent many long hours, hunkered down in my garage under hot lights with the fumes of thinners and spray paint.
I lived only on Diet Coke and sunflower seeds.
A well-told story is one that is visual, emotional, and features a great climax, a powerful point in the story. It’s a rare talent to combine the visual arts and written arts with passion and style.
In the few short months since Duke started his blog, his stories, and artwork, has evolved. He shares the stories behind his artwork through his blog. RETRO-ACTIVE is about a new mirror wall hanging that features a tire hub cap he spent a couple hours pulling out of a river swim hole a couple years ago, combined with a microphone he bought at a rummage sale in 1970. Each of these two treasures in his “stash” of odds and ends have their own unique and fascinating stories, adding to the wealth of imagery and history behind the final piece.
The description of finally succeeding with family and sheer determination to wrangle the hub cap out of the river mud is a great description of self.
…So I went back at and after another hour was able to free it from it’s watery grave. “Aah haaaa!” I yelled as I thrust it into the air along with an arch of river water trailing the motion as I waved it like a flag.
The people at the swim site did glance over at me for a second, then realizing it was just a crazy old pasty white guy with an enlarged, overly exposed belly, they quickly turned away.
I proudly sloshed my way up the bank and presented my trophy to my wife like a proud Golden Retriever with a freshly bagged duck in its mouth. She, in all her beauty and wisdom, said, “Nice, the trash can is over there.”
“Are you kidding” I quipped. “This thing is awesome, I’m keeping it”.
To which she replied, “What are you going to do with that thing?”
“I’m not sure, but I’m keeping it, thank you very much.” And I did as you can see.
I can see the two of them having that conversation, she with a straight face and dry humor, a slight smile itching to be free, Duke determined and grinning proudly from ear to ear with amazing self-confidence.
A personal blog works when the walls are dropped. You can blog anonymously, but your words and stories are personal. They come from the heart – your heart – as you share yourself with others. The more transparent you are about who you are as a person, about your personality, your spirit, energy, thought process, beliefs, and the lessons learned, the more the reader can connect and relate.
It’s not important they know who you really are. It’s important that they know who you really are beyond a name and address and job. Duke is a great example as he is so willing to totally expose himself through his blog’s words and images.
Duke’s blog has also helped our family recall moments that would have been lost to time and age, part of the magic of a personal blog for other family members. Remembering my father, his “Uncle Bud,” Duke wrote “The One Time I Kicked My Uncle Bud’s Ass” telling a story I don’t remember from my childhood.
It seems that he’d learned about using food coloring a short time before, turning a simple baked good into a something special with a few drops of food dye. He colored some peanut butter blue and fed it to my five year old brother. Duke was unaware my brother had a reputation for swallowing things and tucking things in body crevices, as some children do, that often required trips to the emergency room. My father took one look at the blue greasy smear on Duke’s cousin’s face and roared after the two boys.
Duke combines the memory with a great flash forward of understanding and compassion about how he would react if it were his child.
We all screeched to a stop and slowly turned to face him.
With his eyes bugged out about as far as any adult could possibly bug out their own eyes the scream turned into, “Oh My #@!%$&! What have you fed my kids?”
Our faces were frozen with fear and our hearts were trembling. I slowly looked over at my cousin Loren and saw his face smeared with this greasy blue paste.
I can only now as a parent myself begin to understand the horror that was going through his mind. When I think about how our faces must have looked. Any sane person could only surmise that we all had just eaten some sort of gasket sealer or toxic epoxy.
As you can imagine I tried to explain to him that it was only harmless blue peanut butter but it took several minutes before I was able to speak. Our leftover portions were quickly snatched from our mitts and I was soundly informed that I was never to feed another thing to my cousins… I sometimes like to think… this was the one time I had kicked my Uncle Bud’s ass.
I love you Uncle Bud and I miss you…
My father died a couple years ago and the loss is with me every day, but his wonderful story made my father come alive again for a few moments. Stirring memories with good storytelling is the sign of a great storyteller.
While most of his current posts are about his artwork, filled with stories of how he creates them and the stories of the individual parts and pieces, the “things” in his artwork, he still loves telling just a good story.
In “Welcome To Christmas, Welcome To America,” he shared a story about embracing immigrants in his community through his relationship with an immigrant co-worker. Knowing they didn’t have much money, Duke brought them a Christmas tree that they could decorate and enjoy for the holidays only to find that they literally had nothing in their home. No furniture, television, nothing save a small kitchen table and single chair. Working with his church and community, he decided a tree wasn’t enough.
…That night at home I told my wife about what I had seen and she and I agreed we had to do more than just a tree with no lights…After a couple days I made another appointment to visit with Dohn at his home again.
This time I was not alone. We had three cars and two trucks behind us. I knocked at the door and when it opened a precession of strangers began to enter with armfuls of items he and his family desperately needed.
…Few words were spoken while hands were grasped and arms draped around one another.
Many years have passed since the night we shared in that wonderful Christmas. I often wonder about Dohn and his family. I am sure he has been in a position to reach out and help someone in kind.
I do know this for sure. Anytime we reach out to help, and by so doing, lift a fellow human being, we ourselves are elevated.
Finding Your Own Voice in Your Own Blog
Duke didn’t realize that he was on a journey when he started his blog. Neither did I, all those many years ago.
A blog, especially a personal blog, is a journey to find your voice, as well as to find yourself.
I may tease people when I ask them if they’ve taken a look at their blog categories lately. They’ll look at me and ask, “I don’t know what to blog about.” I tell them to look at their categories and see what they’ve been blogging about the most, and blog that.
Blog your passion. You probably already are. It’s that simple.
It’s also that hard.
Blogging is a commitment. When you aren’t blogging for bucks, it’s also a discipline. You have to feed your blog. If you keep feeding it, it’s amazing what you learn about yourself, isn’t it?
Copyright Lorelle VanFossen, member of the 9Rules Network, and author of Blogging Tips, What Bloggers Won't Tell You About Blogging.