Interview

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Transcript of an interview with Elizabeth Adams, conducted by Melanie McBride and published at her blog, chandrasutra, in May 2005.

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Look in the more enlightened corners of the blogosphere and you’re sure to find links to The Cassandra Pages. Beth, the voice behind Cassandrapages, consistently delivers intelligent and mindfully aware reflection that is a blend of meditations, gleanings and personal reflection. Her blog is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise noisy blogosphere. Beth is a  "blogger's blogger" whose lucidity and uncommon insights offer a sophisticated alternative to the din of sarcasm and self-righteousness of Wonkette-wannabes and the Instapundits-in-training. Beth describes herself:

Although I’ve been a journal-keeper and letter-writer all my life, I actually started out being more involved in the visual arts – I was a painter, and have been a professional graphic designer for the past 30 years.  My early life was pretty scholarly and eclectic – I was born in rural New York State, got a degree in classics at university, and worked for several years as a naturalist before moving to New England in 1976. I began writing seriously about a dozen years ago. 

I live with my husband J., a photographer; we’re also partners in our design/communications business. Since July 2004, we’ve been splitting our time between the small village in Vermont where we’ve lived for nearly 30 years, and Montreal. Right now, in addition to writing my blog and occasional essays, I’m working on a book about the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop ordained in the Anglican Communion.

MM: Why do you blog?

Can’t help myself! No, seriously, I found out about blogs several years ago from my husband, who said, “I think this is definitely for you.” I knew he was right as soon as I started exploring the medium, but I resisted for about six months and then plunged in and have been completely involved ever since.

Before the blog, I’d been publishing a political e-mail newsletter in which I wrote an editorial and linked to, and commented on, what I felt were the best articles on the Middle East that week from the world press –I tried to cover culture and religion as well as politics. I was also very involved in peace work and Christian-Muslim dialogue. When the Iraq war began I desperately needed some way to pull myself out of my anger and deep sadness. The blog became that, and although I’m very political, it’s been a conscious decision to try to keep The Cassandra Pages from being a political blog, and to focus instead on finding other ways to deal with the emotional fallout so many creative, thoughtful people seem to be facing today.

I’m basically an integrator and a meaning-maker: I always seem to be trying to weave together the various threads of what I’m experiencing in life, along with reading and conversation with others, and with memory and past experience, and seeing what I can make of it all – and hopefully trying to write as well as I can in the process. The blog format is perfect for that kind of work. As a lifelong journal-keeper the discipline of more-or-less daily writing is already ingrained in me, but the blog affords the chance to go into as much depth as I want, to change subjects at will, and to absorb and integrate a great quantity of material that is coming from other people, and then contribute and share my thoughts with them. Style is open-ended too: if I want to write a poetic post I can do that, but I can also write much more spontaneously, or do research – it’s wide open.

What keeps me blogging, though, are the comments and the community. The comment threads are an integral part of The Cassandra Pages, and I value the readers and their participation enormously. Because a lot of what goes on at my blog is about culture, place, and spirituality, it’s very important to me to provide a place where people feel welcome and safe to share their own experiences so that we can all learn from each other and bridge some of the chasms that too often divide people.

MM:  Where do you find your inspiration?

Inspiration is everywhere. I find it especially in the natural world, in what I’m reading, and what I’m hearing from other people. I rarely have trouble coming up with things to write about: it’s more a question of choosing, and then figuring out how to treat the subject so that somebody else might find it as compelling as I do.


MM: What blogs do you read and­ why do you like those blogs?

There are so many! I tend to read blogs that inspire and teach me and make me think, and blogs by people who feel like they’re giving voice to some part of me that I care about a lot, but which I can’t focus on completely at this point in my life. Many of them tend to be beautifully written, sometimes but not necessarily by people who consider themselves “writers”. I love Chris Clarke’s reflections on natural and political life at Creek Running North; Dave Bonta’s brilliant Via Negativa; the art historian/philosopher currently known as Teju Cole, Dale’s searching, poignant Mole; Anasalwa’s cross-cultural Funny Accent; the poetry of Maria’s Alembic, the art-steeped life of Marja-Leena Rathje – but that’s just a handful. I’m also a big fan of Language Hat.


Because I’m trying to learn about the culture and improve my French, right now I read many
Montreal and Canadian blogs. I also keep up with a number of photoblogs. It’s interesting – James Luckett of consumptive.org was one of the people who first encouraged me, too. Frizzy logic, conscientious, digital apoptosis, and karl dubost are other particular photo-centric favorites.

MM: Many Big Media journalists have attempted to discredit bloggers by saying we're "diarists" and questioning our "credibility" etc. What do you say to this?

Baloney. Obviously the “diarist” label doesn’t hold any water with me; I think every human life is unique and precious and meaningful and filled with stories worth telling, and part of what I try to do is to encourage other people to see their own lives that way.

As for the credibility issue – I’m not writing in a venue that “threatens” traditional journalism so it’s a bit different for me than for a political blogger, for example. But I’d actually argue the issue strongly the other way: at a time when so many people feel helpless and irrelevant in the face of huge global forces, and are trying to find ways to cope with despair and meaninglessness and the prevalence of suffering, I feel that blogging has the capacity to give credibility and a renewed sense of importance to individual lives and individual opinion – credibility that much of present-day media and “spin” tends to ignore and deplete.


MM: Beyond blogging vs. journalism. Bloggers need to get rid of Big Media frames and frame blogs in our own terms. To that end, what are the frames we can use to define blogging/participatory media according to our own terms?
 

What my kind of blogging challenges is the traditional author/publisher/distributor structure. It bothers me that many writer-bloggers bemoan the time blogging takes from what they term “real work” – meaning the book or articles they “ought” to be writing - and I’ve argued a lot against that way of thinking, and for blogging as a totally valid medium in its own right. More and more serious writers/thinkers who perhaps don’t need to write for money, or are sick of writing in a prescribed way for very little money, are discovering that through blogging they can satisfy two desires: the desire to write creatively and well about subjects of their own choice, and the desire to receive feedback through a connected community of appreciative readers and other writers. Like Thomas Merton, I believe that we humans have a profound need not only for communication but communion. Writers are particularly desirous of communion, even when we tell ourselves what we do is about “communication”!


MM:  What are your "desert island" 3 favourite posts of all time ­either from your own blog or somebody else's?

I have been knocked out by Natalie d’Arbeloff’s “Interviews with God” on Blaugustine, and would find it too hard to choose from the many great posts on the blogs I mentioned above, just as a starting point. Actually, I think the question sort of goes against the grain of the medium: blogs need to be read not as isolated posts but as they’re written - continually - because I think they take on their full meaning and impact only as the reader encounters that person’s thought and struggle and expression through many posts and many days. Although impermanence is the nature of the internet, the idea that someone could judge who I was or what I was doing at Cassandra through one or two posts is really difficult to deal with! I’ve always hoped people would stick with me for a week or so, and then maybe find enough to keep coming back.