Saturday, March 10, 2007

Urf! The Birth of a Blog

Urf! The Birth of a Blog
Richard J. Alley

Why would a person start a blog? Narcissism. At some point a person believes that what he or she has to say is so interesting, so poignant, so goddamn witty that he must share it with others. And that others will necessarily enjoy it. That’s why I began Urf!, because I’m just so witty. That’s not entirely why I started it, of course. As the father of four young kids of varying ages, I am always amused by the silly things they’re saying or doing, or trying to say and do. These stories I would invariably email to my mother or sisters. I decided it would be easier to put them in one place, along with current photographs, for them to visit and to really feel a part of our lives no matter how far away they were.

Urf!, a term my then-three-year-old daughter would use to vent her frustration, was begun on March 31, 2006, with the post What is Urf!? I wrote online for about 10 days before telling anyone, posting almost every day. I needed to make sure it was something that would hold my attention before attempting to hold anyone else’s. I received positive feedback in the form of comments and email once I went public, and the URL was forwarded from family to friends to people I’d never met before. I’m a frustrated writer at heart and having someone read what I’d written – and like it – turned out to be just what I needed, what would propel me to write more, whether online or in my own composition book. It also helped me gain access to a community in Memphis that I wasn’t even aware I wanted access to. My wife owned a parenting store for a couple of years and, through that entity, she became close with a group of women and their families. Kristy’s Friends, that’s who they were to me. I knew of them, but didn’t really know them. Once she told them about Urf!, and they read it, they began to comment and email their thoughts on various posts and topics. Stacey Greenberg and I discussed using a post as an essay in this very zine. Instead of hanging out as individuals with kids, we started getting together as families and have all become close, a sort of extended family.

I consider myself to be a good father, though with room for improvement, but writing about the kids every day changed the way I looked at, and even interacted, with them. I began listening more closely to what they were saying and how they were saying it, always looking for that next hook to build a post around. They had become my muses. Suddenly I saw humor in their stubbornness, questions, eating habits, and even their arguments. I instigated conversations just for the reaction and dragged others out longer than I normally would have just to see where they’d lead. They usually led to one of the kids rolling their eyes at me, and that in itself was worthy of writing about. Urf!, as I’ve said, is a funny term of vexation, and that’s exactly what fatherhood is to me - a series of frustrations punctuated by intense moments of silliness and laughter. Urf! became my place to document and share the good times as well as the not-so-good.

My grandfather was the editorial cartoonist for The Commercial Appeal during the 1940s, 50s and 60s, and during much of this time he also penned a daily comic strip called The Ryatts. In this comic strip, he documented the antics of a family of seven, the parents and their five children, based on his own family. It was brought to my attention recently that that is what I’m doing. I’d never made that connection before, but it’s nice to find this link to the past; to think that, though I don’t have his skills with a nib and ink, I can still paint those pictures, convey that humor, in my own way. Hopefully in a way that will resonate with other parents, other families.

The blog also became a sort of archive or record book for me. My thinking is that when my kids grow and have kids of their own, reading Urf! will be akin to flipping through that old family album we always look through at my grandmother’s house. There will be some actual photos, but most of what is there will be drawn with words, some embellished, some silly, but hopefully with enough truth and feeling that they and their own children can be transported back to this time in their lives. It’s done the same for me. I find that I’m not only interested in writing about my kids’ childhoods, but my own as well, attempting to draw a parallel between our experiences at times and a contrast at others. I’ve written heartfelt entries about my family, knowing full well that they were being read by those people, and that has unexpectedly opened up lines of communication that may not have been there otherwise.

My kids don’t yet know about Urf!. I’ve kept it from the oldest, the only one who can read now, because it’s not time for him to read it. I’m not ready for them to know just how funny they are to me, how parents laugh at their children even when they’re exasperated by them. If that happens, we, as parents, lose our edge and the whole system breaks down. I also fear that if they know they’re being written about, and that people are reading it, then they will begin acting for it and I want them to be as natural as possible. The time will come for them to read it, and I look forward to emailing them the URL wherever they may be. Away at college, on scholarships, hopefully.

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