“What’s in My Reader?” — Rarasaur on Offline Friendships and Building a Community

Image courtesy of Rarasaur.

On Discover, we chat with bloggers who aren’t just great writers, but readers — people who understand that blogging isn’t only about publishing posts, but connecting with others and being part of something bigger.

In this first profile of the “What’s in My Reader?” series, Ra at Rarasaur talks about the connections made through blogging and the dear friendships she’s made over the years. Her Reader list, Blokin, compiles the sites of these bloggers she holds close to her heart. Follow her list and read on about her unique experience on WordPress.com.


Your Reader list, Blokin, focuses on your “blog kin” — blogging friends who have become close friends offline. Can you tell us more?

Ra, the blogger at Rarasaur.
Ra, the blogger at Rarasaur.

I started blogging with WordPress in 2012, and quickly fell into the joys of reading blogs, participating in collaborative blog efforts, and spearheading group challenges. Each time an interaction occurred, my relationship with individual bloggers grew closer and closer — to the point where I filled my Rolodex with addresses and phone numbers, so I could send Valentine’s Day cards and friendship bracelets all over the world. It visibly culminated at a real-life blog meetup that I hosted in 2014. We might have stayed at a careful distance the way online acquaintances so often do, but my circumstances changed wildly.

They sent over 900 letters through my 438 days of incarceration, attended and spoke at my husband’s funeral, and raised money so I could begin again when I came home.

In 2014, I went to prison for over a year, and while incarcerated, my husband — also a WordPress blogger — passed away at the age of 35. In the face of so much chaos, the bloggers I’d befriended — and some I’d never crossed paths with directly — reached way beyond the wires. They sent over 900 letters through my 438 days of incarceration, attended and spoke at my husband’s funeral, and raised money so I could begin again when I came home.

We recently shared lists from WordPress.com staff. In this “What’s in My Reader?” series, we’ll highlight great lists created by you and share the blogs you love to read.

So for those people, whose spouses and children wrote to me, and for those who I’ve met even if it was through plexiglass at the county jail, and for those I’ve spoken to on the phone, and for those who mail me tokens of love — I made this reading list. It is one method I use to stay in touch with their lives.

Photo courtesy of Rarasaur.
Photo courtesy of Rarasaur.

In your post, “May Your Blood Be Delicious,” you say you are a reader, not a writer, and beautifully articulate the relationship between the two. Let’s say you’re browsing new posts from bloggers. What first catches your eye? What ultimately moves you?

I am a reader of many things — fictional novels, nonfiction documentations, graphic novels, magazines, poetry, everything — but blogs have the ability to offer perspectives not found anywhere else. I seek that sparkle.

I’ll read something I don’t understand, or something I don’t agree with, or something I would never want in my own life — but I will move on, quickly, if it’s something I can’t feel.

I look for posts unabashed in their deliverance of their vantage point. I look for strong emotional pulls and fragile details of perspective.

If you live on a farm in Wisconsin, I want to breathe in freedom and pride as the apple blossoms fall from the trees. If you are living the nomadic life at a dance festival, I want to hear the cheers of the crowd in a language I can only imagine. If you are a storyteller, I want to love or hate your main character before I even know what her story may be about. I’ll read something I don’t understand, or something I don’t agree with, or something I would never want in my own life — but I will move on, quickly, if it’s something I can’t feel.

Photo courtesy of Rarasaur.
Photo courtesy of Rarasaur.

A brand-new blogger faces an empty WordPress.com Reader and may not know where to start: where to click, who to follow. How can new bloggers find their people?

Related Reading: Learn how to tag your posts efficientlypersonalize your Reader, and follow your interests.

There are a million practical tips I could list here — learn how bloggers use tags, learn how to follow tags, participate in collaborative events, seek out your interests, visit five new blogs a day, comment on a blog a day . . .

For instance, I have no interest in being a traveler or a mother, but I love reading things that are about human exploration on a singular level. Enthusiasm for life and the ways we live it trump topic tags, every time.

But for me, the turning point of curating an addictive blog-reading-list was switching the parameters of my search. I moved from topics of interest (geek, business, books) or styles of writing (poetry, longreads) to personality- and culture-based searches. For instance, I have no interest in being a traveler or a mother, but I love reading things that are about human exploration on a singular level. Enthusiasm for life and the ways we live it trump topic tags, every time. Some of my most beloved bloggers are travel and parent bloggers — who would have guessed it? I guess my point is: keep an open mind.

I’m also a fairly unforgiving reader. If someone continually posts content I don’t want to read, I unfollow them. I like my Reader to be full of things I can’t wait to jump into. It is what makes reading the blogs a profit of freedom instead of a cost of blogging.

I like my Reader to be full of things I can’t wait to jump into. It is what makes reading the blogs a profit of freedom instead of a cost of blogging.

A community has manifested itself on and through your blog in different ways over the years, from Nano Poblano, your own version of NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month), to Stories That Must Not Die, a collective space for stories. How did these projects come about?

My husband and I were daily bloggers and, between the both of us, our readers had a pretty clear picture of our days. We simply omitted my legal battles because we were hoping they would pass. Plus, our blogs had a certain personality to them — his, geared toward professional writing; mine, geared toward love stories and compliments. There never seemed to be an opportune moment to say, “Hey, friends, this is what is going on outside of the 23 hours you live with us. This is the story of the blanket fort we stayed in all day, the blogs we built — the lifetime we lived in the hour a day we didn’t report.” But there was a blog space, closed now, that offered room for a story, and I took it and told mine. In a cosmically twisted burst of humor, I called it “I am not a felon,” not knowing that I called my shots too early, and in just a few months, I would become one.

My husband and I worked on the bones of a new collaborative area for stories of survival and struggle, knowing how important being able to tell our own was to our journey.

When that site went down, my husband and I worked on the bones of a new collaborative area for stories of survival and struggle, knowing how important being able to tell our own was to our journey. The day I went to jail, I sent an email to a team of people I trusted and asked them to make a space so that stories like mine could have the freedom to be told. I gave them the barebones structure of the site, and told them to ask Dave if they had any questions about our vision. They cared for it and carried it, even after Dave passed away while I was still in prison. It is a welcoming space, all of which can be attributed to the Stories Family.

NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, occurs each November.

The Nano Poblano story is similar, with less imprisonment and death built in. My first NaBloPoMo was with a tiny team that no longer exists. I wouldn’t have made it through the month without them. When their blogs disappeared, and the next November came along, I decided to create what had been offered to me: a temporary battle cry. I could never say NaBloPoMo so it became Nano Poblano, which later became the Peppers. For year two, I was in jail, but my husband sent me as many posts from the team as he could. They continued forward even when I wasn’t there. I was very happy to be free for year three, and cheer my Peppers on, once again.

Photo courtesy of Rarasaur.
Photo courtesy of Rarasaur.

For people interested in building similar things, what do you think they need to succeed?

I think it’s important to build wide, rather than build tall — to be all-encompassing. You’re making a village, not a skyscraper. And, of course, before you can open your digital arms wide, you have to let almost everything else go, especially what you think you’re going to harvest from your efforts. Focus on the Most Important Thing, and let everything else go.

I think it’s important to build wide, rather than build tall — to be all-encompassing. You’re making a village, not a skyscraper.

Your brand will be diluted, so start with a strong one. Your team will whittle down, so start with at least one other person who is blog-or-bust. Your schedule will change, so don’t worry about it too much. Your participation will flux, so don’t stare at the numbers. Be gentle with yourself; evolution is the nature of collaborative efforts. You can’t imagine what will arise from what you build, so don’t limit yourself with boundaries — just build. Don’t compare it to what someone else offers in the same vein, just build, and let others help you build, because the reach of two people is greater than the reach of one.

Reach as many people as you can, and worry about finding the right people later. Build wide and trust your village, and I think you can make anything happen.


Read more from Ra on her blog, Rarasaur, and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

March 24, 2016Inspiration, Interviews, Reading, , , ,