Opinion

Will they know you were here?

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When I was a younger, more avid book collector, I dreamed of living in a home with a personal library, my books catalogued on floor-to-ceiling dark wood shelves in sections: history, music, politics, biography, and a special spot for books of collected letters, journals, and diaries of notable writers and politicians. John Steinbeck’s “Journal of a Novel,” President Reagan’s “The Reagan Diaries,” and “Selected Letters of William Faulkner,” for example.

Years ago, with email gaining in popularity, I figured out every email written is one letter unwritten, and someday there will be no personal letters to gather and work into book compilations. My own correspondence — probably yours too — has changed to email from letters almost exclusively.

Is there any digital medium/method to replace the personal histories found in letters, diaries, journals? Reading through a box full of letters handwritten to my father from my mother when they were in college, planning on marriage, but not yet married — digital writing cannot replace the personal touch of handwritten letters. The choice of stationary, the postage stamp, the ink color, doodles on envelopes, X’s and O’s, the smell — these all add to the mood of handwritten letters.

Some email might substitute for paper letters. But where email news tends to be brief, summarized; letters were often quite newsy. Letter writers often didn’t know when they would next write or receive a letter. Best to say everything while you can.

If an existing digital format can replace journals, diaries, letters for future historians, I nominate the blog format first, and online community forums a distant second.

Blogs have varied uses, but they do lend themselves to journaling. Last week, I received a blog update notice by email from my friend, Tom McLaughlin. A retired history teacher from Oxford County, Tom started his blog in 2006. We met sometime after that. Tom was still teaching and I would post teaser paragraphs from his blog posts on my web forum, AsMaineGoes, linking back to Tom’s blog for readers who wanted to read the full posts.

Tom’s is an example of one man’s historical record of, so far, the last 13 years. Chances are when he’s gone the people most interested in his blog posts will be family members. But who knows? Tom’s historical training and passion shape his blog entries. He writes from rural Lovell, ME with a knowledge of the past and how that past impacts the present and future. Whether he’s writing about his first visit with a young grandson to Portland, or about some cultural political issue — Tom’s not just rambling. His blog entries are a combination diary, family letter, and history lesson — a perfect time capsule.

One nice aspect of starting your own blog? They’re free. You can spend a few bucks adding bells-and-whistles. But getting started with a basic blog where you can write, post photos, and publish on the worldwide web — is free.

If you are thinking of starting a blog, I suggest two preliminary steps. First, decide how you want to use your blog. There’s no right or wrong answer. But choosing a blog theme — My College Years, My Grandchildren, The Empty Nest — makes it easier for you and your potential audience to focus. If I decide I want to start blogging about politics, I will start a new blog. I will not write about politics on Life Beyond the Cymbals.

Second, decide how often you’re going to post — and stick to it. My goal is to post at least once a week. Some people post daily. How often you post is not as important as sticking with your schedule.

You’re alive today. Fifty, 100 years and beyond, people will want to know about life on Earth while you were here. Why not tell them the interesting parts of your life while you can? How else will they know?

Scott K. Fish has served as a communications staffer for Maine Senate and House Republican caucuses, and was communications director for Senate President Kevin Raye. He founded and edited AsMaineGoes.com and served as director of communications/public relations for Maine’s Department of Corrections until 2015. He is now using his communications skills to serve clients in the private sector.

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