On the “Site Stats” page, WordPress includes a heading “Search Engine Terms,” and, over time, I’ve learned to look at that heading first. My purpose isn’t practical. I’m not clever enough to use any of the terms as marketing tools, and I’m not on WordPress for fame or fortune. I’ve long given up trying to appeal to mass audiences, be a big blog, or reach Freshly Pressed. It’s just that what I find under “Search Engine Terms” is interesting and, sometimes, heart rending.
Or heart rendering. When I walk on Chicago’s streets, I secretly glance into the faces of people headed in the other direction. We share impassive expressions and don’t dare give anything up that would make us vulnerable to a stranger. Yet I look for hints of shadowy feelings inside them. It’s those feelings that sometimes materialize under “Search Engine Terms.”
My blog gets its share of plagiarists looking for scraps on authors or books, but real people also pop up in those terms. Recently I read “Reconciling ambition and humility,” and sometimes multiple people will search “Quiet desperation,” “Dejection,” or “Self-Loathing.” Maybe I should be worried my blog emerges when they look for these subjects, but I’m more interested in the people who treat the Google space like an oracle, who type “Why can’t I find someone?” expecting an answer. I feel for them. I understand them.
Nathaniel West’s 1933 novel Miss Lonelyhearts focuses on a male journalist who, under that persona, dispenses advice to the distressed. The irony, of course, is that he is more distressed than anyone he consoles and lost in drink, in sex, in doubt he has no means of abating. The cosmic joke of the novel is even bigger than that: the search for understanding often leads us to the similarly forlorn, and they, it turns out, can only offer more of the desperation we feel. One drowning person meets another, and sometimes it seems we are spent swimmers, choking each other’s art.
Which, actually, might not be so bad. I’m no Miss Lonelyhearts—I can’t pretend to have answers—but some of the struggles I share here are really attempts at hope. Hope is the shore I see and have trouble reaching. Still, I’m pulling toward it… and don’t mind company.
On one level, blogging isn’t any more complicated than a lonelyhearts club, a place to be less strange to each other, a place to express doubts we share.