Frank Chimero Writing Archive
This an archive of old writing. Visit my main site for current work.

Collections and Gifts

This morning I launched a new blog called The Mavenist.

Most of our blogs, our new digital mantelpieces, are a collection of the things we find. Our collections are made public—others are given access, and we call this sharing. But it is an odd sort of sharing, where what we have found is indeed made available to others, but it is not quite a gift. A collection and a gift may both live in boxes, but they are different because the intent of each is conflicting. A collection is made for me (even if I let you look through it), while a gift is chosen for you. To truly share something is to give a gift, and if I am keeping an online collection for me, how can I make it a gift for you?

I’ve always wanted to have a blog where I could share the things I like: items of timely interest and the different curiosities I’ve amassed in my personal files the past few years. These things really should be shared (in the true sense) because they are gifts. Many of them were given to me, and if there is a benefit to the idea of giving a digital gift, it is that each time it changes hands, a copy is made. I do not lose my gift by giving it to you. Gifts may spread further and travel farther.

Every time I tried to create a blog to share these things, however, I was largely disappointed with the outcome. The formats optimized for collecting then sharing seemed to strip out so much of the stories behind what I was sharing. The schemes for blogging reduced what I was trying to share by dissecting the stuff and arranging it all in a chronological order. I wanted to do more than give people access to the things I found interesting. I wanted to truly share it by wrapping each thing in a story.

There’s a scene in an episode of The West Wing where President Bartlet has his personal aide Charlie go on the hunt to purchase a new carving knife for the holidays. With each knife Charlie brings to the Oval Office, Bartlet shoots down his selection, citing the details he finds important. This happens several times, and finally Charlie brings the best possible knife he can find in Washington. President Bartlet inspects the knife closely while Charlie describes the finer details of what makes this knife the finest knife available. And with that, President Bartlet refuses the knife, much to Charlie’s exasperation. But then, Bartlet produces an heirloom knife of his own, apparently made by Paul Revere and in his family for generations, and gives it to Charlie as his Christmas gift.

This is what good gifts feel like. We are educated to the nature of them so that we may appreciate them more fully. This is the point of sharing something, whether it is a family heirloom, a collection of images, a shared video on YouTube, or a piece of writing on a blog. For us to properly value it, we must understand the quality of it and have a story to understand why it is so precious. Something travels from me to you, and in the process, we both gain.

When we talk about writing, our modes are at the extreme ends of the spectrum in the size of our audience. We typically discuss writing for ourselves versus publishing for many, but don’t spend a great deal of time thinking about what it is like to write for one person. We may write for one individual frequently through things like email, but it is not often considered, and hardly ever celebrated. My friend Rob Giampietro said “there’s something about writing for one other person, the epistle, the letter, the thought that’s offered to someone specifically—it’s very special indeed.” He said this in an email, which makes the point self-referential in the best possible way.

The Mavenist could be said to be a response to these shortcomings of the blogging format, and an attempt to warm up the tone of communication to explore different ways of sharing and suggesting online. The format is much like a traditional tumblog, but each shared item has a bit of a story attached, and these shared items are strung together into a conversation between two friends. A gift must have a giver, but it must also have a recipient. For the first post, Rob and I are chatting about games, permutations and loops. Over the next few weeks, there will be more posts, some with me, some with Rob, others that will have neither of us involved.

An offering opens a dialogue, and each post on The Mavenist is an attempt to capture that conversation of recommendations as true sharing, stories intact. It is a discourse that is aimless, but that trusts its own momentum. It is improvisational in structure, and the conversation only works through the acceptance of what the other has offered. It is meant to be celebratory. But, even more than all of these things, The Mavenist is meant to allow two friends be available in response to one another and in the process to create gifts for those who may be interested in them.

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