Saturday, February 4, 2012

Happy Blogday

This blog will be one year old on Monday. Last February 6, I posted here for the first time. That post received one comment, a criticism from my friend Vincent. The comments haven’t increased much in number, and Vincent’s criticism continues fitfully. In other ways, though, this blog has changed.

The graphic charts this blog’s monthly page views, from zero in January 2010 through a summer collapse to a run-up through the fall and a sharp drop in January 2011. It tells only part of the story.

This is not my first blog. I launched “Why I Am Catholic” (YIMC) in August 2009, still smoldering with the heat of the newly converted. I soon felt the pressure of success when a couple of big-time bloggers noticed “me.” (We bloggers identify so quickly with our blogs.) So did some of my friends notice me. This was a rock-and-hard-place kind of experience. I was caught between public approval and private dismay.

I understand now that I was at fault then. A blog can be an odd amalgam of private confessing and public showing-off. I didn’t know how to maintain a sane, safe boundary between my public and private lives. Also, certain things about my life were pretty much a mess in those days, two years ago, in early 2010, despite my deep happiness at being newly a Catholic. For one thing, I was under pressure to finish a book on Mass General Hospital on deadline. For another thing—ah—boundaries!

I needed a change. First, I delegated (Frank Weathers and Allison Salerno came aboard), then I abdicated (they took over, and then Allison moved on). “Why I Am Catholic” was a great franchise name, which I created and abandoned. I would be lying if I said I have no regrets. Frank has made it a success, with a style all his own and therefore not mine. Godspeed. You’ll find links to both “My Friend Frank” and Allison’s new blog, Rambling Follower, in the right sidebar.

Long before I became a Catholic, I had concluded that things happen for a purpose, and Katie has encouraged me to think that way. She is the most positive person I have ever known well, and life has given her some trials, like—but—boundaries! So I took departure from YIMC philosophically, but with a churning stomach.

As a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, I began participating in an unofficial CL blog, Cahiers Péguy (all but defunct now). There were things that frustrated me about that experience, as there are about CL in general. Maybe I’ll write about that some day, but for now—boundaries! I attended a CL conference in New York in January 2011, and by the end of that conference I had decided that my days of blogging on Cahiers were over.

A few weeks passed. The itch mounted. I knew I wanted to blog again but didn’t know how. Then, late one Sunday afternoon, I said a prayer and started “Witness.” I began in an uptrend (see chart) but in the summer months I ran into deadline pressure on another book project and stopped writing almost entirely for 10 weeks. The spike in December was thanks to a couple of hits at the “New Advent” Catholic site of sites. With no hits in January, I lapsed back to a safer trend.

I’m happy here, on this trend line and I call it “safe.” Let me tell you why. I began my first blog as a Catholic with a mission. It would be all too easy to end up as a faithless blowhard. Like any activity, blogging takes on a life of its own, then it takes over your life, or it can.  So I try to remember why I blog. Here’s why:

1. I still love being a Catholic, and I want to witness to that. I don’t know my catechism. I am not much of an apologist. And I don’t want to getting into political pissing contests with anyone—although that’s a sure way to build readership. What I want is simply to write about my daily experience from the point of view of an ordinary, reasonably smart Catholic, and let the world draw its own conclusions.

2. I want to learn to write better about my life from the viewpoint of my faith. Maybe someday someone will pay me to do that, but for now all I can do is practice—and gratefully accept the quiet, anonymous benefits. A trumpeter has to build his chops, a pianist her dexterity and speed. A writer has to write, or he doesn’t get better, and that means getting worse. I am a pretty good writer of memoirs and institutional histories—another plug for my business blog. But I am just learning to write about my life as a Catholic. So I will continue to keep trying.

Along the way, I am learning stuff, especially about myself. Here’s what I am learning:

1. I love reading. Since starting this blog, I have written over 60 book posts. This number has been enhanced by my joining the social networking site for readers, Goodreads, a year ago. Since 1/1/11 I have read 60 books, not much for the speed-reader maybe, but for this tortoise, a miracle. My favorite book in the past year is The Son Avenger, fourth book in Sigrid Undset’s “Master of Hestviken” tetralogy. I. did. not. want. it. to. end.

2. I like movies, though not the way I love reading. Compare 60+ book reviews with 30-some movie posts. My favorite movie in the past year? It’s a toss-up between the obviously Catholic “The Way” and the deceptively religious “True Grit.” Forced to choose, I would have to go with “Grit.”

3. I am prosaic and can be long-winded. (Katie: “News flash!”) Note that I started a “Poems” category, but have pretty much abandoned it in recent months. I try to simplify my writing style on this blog, but it’s hard. The three English-language authors I am reading a lot of these days are all non-Americans and long-winded: Charles Dickens, Patrick O’Brian, and one I haven’t posted about—yet—Anthony Powell. I pray for a fraction of their effectiveness.

4. Finally, I love writing, especially this blog. There’s no other reason for this “Witness.” I no longer imagine that I am going to convert thousands, as I imagined at YIMC in my early-convert days, and I am unlikely to make money on it anytime soon. Five mornings a week I “write for food.” Here I write for something else.

I love it. So I’ll keep doing it. Please keep reading it.


  1. I'm glad you're back to blogging, Webster. I had wondered what became of you after leaving YIMC, so now I know. I enjoy reading your posts and I will continue to do so. Although I am a life long practicing Catholic and not a convert, I think my reasons for blogging are quite similar to yours: "to write about my daily experience from the point of view of an ordinary, reasonably smart Catholic, and let the world draw its own conclusions." And I take breaks, too.

  2. I prefer your current blog to YIMC. As excellent as that blog was this current effort I think reflects your conversion experience in a truly genuine light. Also, if I could make a suggestion try watching "The Mill and the Cross". I'd be very interested in reading your take on that film.

  3. James, thanks for the suggestion. Didn't know about the film. Will try to see it ASAP.

  4. Webster I love reading your blog... though I have cut back quite a bit on my social website / blog consumption so I do miss a few... the book and movie reviews are highly appreciated... keep it up, and I'll keep checking in.

  5. I would like to read something about your conversion experience. Where can I find it?

  6. It's great to receive these comments. Several of you have been faithful followers. I do appreciate it!

  7. And thanks, Antonella, for the suggestion. I may pull together some of the early stuff I wrote at YIMC in a new form. Been thinking about it for a while.


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