Blogs are like shops.
At the heart of it, that’s what we all are; a virtual nation of shopkeepers. We carefully choose what to put in the windows and what to place on the shelves, the best of us, the bits that we want everybody to see. The rest, what’s left, the things we aren’t proud of or stock we know we couldn’t shift is stuck out the back, out of view. Sometimes, when you come in, we may have made a mistake and left that door ajar so you can make something out that we’d rather you hadn’t seen, but never for very long.
And once we’ve got shelves and cupboards full of pieces of us, we all stand nervously behind our counters and we wait for something to happen. We look out of the window at the world going past, hoping that people will come in and like what we have put out on display. The busy days are the best days in the world, with people milling around, rubbing shoulders, talking to us and talking to one another. The slow days are the most horrendous torment. We know people are out there, and we don’t understand why they’re not opening the door and making that bell ring.
Some of us take to the streets, stopping at other places, handing out flyers everywhere we can find people who might like our wares. Some people practically dust off a megaphone, but we can all hear them coming and smell the desperation. Some of us stay indoors, confident that our time will come. And some of us advertise. Some people say they really don’t care and it’s just a bit of fun, but they are the lucky ones - dilettantes, probably doing it as a hobby. They’re not even full time, most of them.
Blogs are like shops. But the generalisation ends there, because there are as many different kinds of blogs as there are kinds of shops, if not more. They sell everything. I mean, everything. There are people dealing in music, films or art. You can see beautiful photographers, great musicians, wonderful chefs and people with an instinctive eye for fashion. Then there are people selling you a crisp, bright vision of the future or carefully, painstakingly recreating and packaging the past. You can learn something new about your neighbourhood, or visit somewhere you have never seen. You can find whatever you want.
It’s not just about what they sell, but what kind of wares they sell. You can find beautiful artisans, crafting small limited-edition pieces. Every one is a gorgeous miniature, a glimpse of something important. Or you can find shops where the goods are churned out on an assembly line, each one almost identical to the last one and the next one. They will fall apart in days, but they’re so easy to make that it hardly matters. But then there are big shops and small shops, too. You get the huge faceless franchises and chains where everything looks the same. They are bafflingly popular, with hundreds of people milling around, but every time you leave you find you’ve taken nothing away with you. And then there are the small friendly places where they seem instinctively to know what you need. Why don’t I come here more often? you think. They remember me, they know me.
If blogs are like shops then what they sell are brands, and some of these are more successful than others. Some are a particular type of shop - we’ve all been in them - where everything is too perfect. The way it’s arranged is like art, all precise lines, but everything is sterile. Maybe you are greeted as you go in, in that officious way that makes you feel awkward about looking around. You feel terrified of touching anything, and so nothing touches you. And then there are the places where you know you belong the moment you go in. But we have a complicated relationship with brands; some of them reflect the person you wish you could be, some highlight the person you really are. That is not always the good thing we wish it was.
The outsides are like shops too - some are beautiful but too perfect, some look dated, some have a comfortable, classic feel. Many are crying out for a facelift. There are some where all the signage is in a font that sends you running for the door. And of course the golden rule applies to blogs and shops - if the outside is blacked up, you’re unlikely to find much you want inside. Sex blogs are like sex shops - you have to prove you are over eighteen before you go in, but once you’re there you wonder why you bothered. You are surrounded by people who either never have sex or badly need to get laid, because everybody who does is at home doing it. They have no need of such things.
I wonder what kind of shop this is. It’s been two years and I still don’t know. The stock changes a little less frequently than it used to, and you might feel like you’ve seen it all before. The opening hours can be unpredictable, and some days my patter isn’t what it was. I can be a bear with a sore head, some days. But I still love it. I love that feeling when I have new stock in, that sense of anticipation when I see it perfect on the shelf. I like that moment when it’s all laid out and I can survey my work and wait for the first customer to come in. Because when it’s all there, as yet unperused, it’s perfect. It’s my favourite thing I’ve ever made, and I know you’re going to love it - or at least I want to think you will.
If you don’t like it, that’s okay. Because the other thing about shops is that they form areas and districts, little enclaves. And if you don’t find something you want at my place, you just need to try slightly further afield. Look at the sidestreets on my sidebar, and the streets beyond that. I’m proud to be in a virtual city of people who love what they do, and make terrific stuff. Don’t just stand here being disappointed by me: go exploring! You are bound to see something you’ll like.
The saddest thing, I always find, is going past the shops that have closed down.
We all start these enterprises with the best of intentions, of giving people something they might want, but not everybody makes a go of it. Sometimes there is a sign on the door. “I’m off.” it might say. “I’ve had fun, but enough is enough. Keep in touch.” And there will be some responses, and you’ll read them and think All those years, and it amounts to that? What will they do now? But the ones that get to me are the ones where they just stop - no goodbye note, no forwarding address, no future plans. These are derelict - sad monuments to a life that changed direction when we weren’t looking. I wander by every now and again, just to see if they’ve reopened, renovated, relaunched, but it never happens. They are boarded up, and all the while graffiti is appearing on the outside. Whole swathes of our virtual world are like this, sad and unloved, with broken windows, shutters down and doors locked and bolted forever. And sometimes, just sometimes, when I see those empty shells I think I liked that place, I wish I’d been there more often. And now I never will again.
If I think about it too much, it would make me sad. But every time one closes another two open - there is always somebody willing to give this a try, though it’s not a lifestyle for everybody. You are always on duty, always wondering about footfall, or rotating your stock, or deciding what to try next. Sometimes there are things on order for people, special requests or new visitors to impress. Besides, I can’t afford to get downcast, because I have work to do. I have new stuff going in tonight, and it has to be just perfect. I think it’s almost ready, and I can see in my mind how it’s going to look. I hope people like it.