Merriam-Webster dictionary added the word "blog" to its lexicon in 1999, offering the following definition: "Noun [short for Weblog]: a Web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer."

Five years later, the explosive growth of blogs made "blog" the No. 1 word searched for on Merriam-Webster's own Web site in 2004. And it won't be surprising if blog again reigns supreme in Merriam-Webster's 2005 definition searches. While many people still use blogs as personal journals, an increasing number of bloggers are making national news by using the forum to critique the press and take up causes they feel the mainstream media is ignoring. Political bloggers made national news last year when right-wing bloggers sparked the intense scrutiny of Dan Rather's ultimately discredited 60 Minutes report on George W. Bush's National Guard documents, while left-wing bloggers exposed White House "reporter" Jeff Gannon's ties to a GOP financier and male escort services.

Acadiana bloggers are also taking to the Internet to share their opinions and feelings with the online world. The Independent Weekly scoured the local blogging community, and the three bloggers we're profiling represent a cross-section of the vibrant writing, subjects and dialogue blossoming on Louisiana blogs.

CONFESSIONS OF A FORMER BLOGGING JUNKIE

Karl Schott has always been a bit timid about letting people know that he's Ricky Prado.

"I'm generally a very private person," says the 25-year-old graduate student and full-time representative for Dexcomm, a message service company. "I was never interested in being public. I knew I was going to be dealing with political issues that people get passionate about. You get kooks who e-mail, and I certainly didn't want them having personal information about me."

Over the past two years, Prado has been Schott's pseudonym on his blog site, Timshel (crawlingwestward.blogspot.com). As an anonymous blogger, Schott felt free to candidly espouse his political viewpoints, critiques of the local media, his devotion to the New Orleans Saints and UL Lafayette's Ragin' Cajuns, and a disdain for all things LSU.

"It was an outlet for creative energy," he says of blogging. "And that's the unfortunate thing about giving it up is that I haven't written much since then."

In April, Schott retired Timshel, which at the time was averaging more than 100 hits a day. At its peak during last year's congressional race, the site averaged nearly 400 hits a day. On a few occasions, when nationally popular blog sites linked to stories on Timshel, Schott's site took in up to 5,000 hits in a single day.

"In retrospect, I look back and say, well anybody could do it," he says. "That's why I always think that some people put a little too much stock into what's available on blogs. The best blogs are about using other writing that's already out there and adding to it or critiquing it. A lot of what I did was criticism of what was in the Louisiana press, along with some of my own observations about what was going on in Louisiana politics."

Schott first got into blogging about three years ago by trolling the Internet for political commentary. At that time, he discovered a thriving national political blog scene with sites such as Eschaton and Instapundit, which average upwards of 15,000 visitors a day.

"There's all these blogs out there," says Schott. "It's like this giant shopping mall. You make a choice whenever you're reading one, that I respect what this guy has to say, and he's never led me astray before. The filter is done on your own. There's just a lot of opinions that are out there, and some of them are really interesting and well thought-out, and for that reason they've got just hordes of readers."

Schott took his new enthusiasm for the blogging format and his elementary computer skills to develop Timshel, which he says was unique in that it was primarily devoted to "the strange animal that is Louisiana politics."

"I never felt like I didn't have things to say," he recalls. "And it was a great way to finally be able to express them this openly."

In a way, Schott was a victim of his own success. Before calling it quits this year, he was dedicating about six hours a day, seven days a week, working on the site. He also felt pressure to get his posts up each day before 10 a.m. when his regular readers began checking the site.

"There are self-imposed deadlines," he notes. "I'm the kind of person that keeps routines, and blogging became part of my routine."

Schott started each day by reading more than a half-dozen news sites online, then writing four or five posts. Later in the day, he would check the feedback his posts had generated, as well as reading up on opinions from other blog sites.

"The constant feedback aspect of it is very addictive," he says. "It's nice to get feedback on your thoughts and opinions. Otherwise you might as well just sit in your room and write something in a book and close it and never have anything else to do with it."

In addition to corresponding with the other bloggers who frequented Timshel, Schott began trading e-mails with LSU political science professor Wayne Parent during the 2003 governor's race. The exchanges led to Parent hiring Schott last year to compile the index of his latest book, Inside the Carnival: Unmasking Louisiana Politics.

While the popularity was encouraging, in the end, Schott says it only fed the pressure he felt to maintain the high standards he set for his site. When he decided to take a break from working toward his master's degree this spring and landed a full-time desk job ' at the same time that his virus-infected home computer began running at much slower speeds ' Schott no longer had the proper time or dedication to devote to running a full-time blog.

"When I'm at work, I'm at a computer," he says. "It's really hard to go home and sit down back at a desk and stare at a computer screen. I owed it to myself to at least do more on Timshel than I was willing to or had the time to."

Nearly two months after his last post on Timshel, Schott says he is enjoying the time away from his home desktop. "I don't even check my e-mail much anymore," he says. But Schott misses the conversations that came with having a blog site.

"Blogging is a format that almost demands a certain amount of personal experience, and you can't keep that out of it," he says. "So there's a certain voyeuristic aspect to it that you never get in the national press. You find friends and people of like opinions that you like to read. That, I think is probably the most unique thing about blogs. And as long as it's free and anybody can do it, there's always going to be a market out there for it." ' NS

BLOGGING AS THERAPY

By her own admission, A'ilina Laranang's blog is not an exercise in conversation ' it's an ongoing act of catharsis. "It has less to do with sharing what I have to say than it does saying what I need to say," she says. "Writing is my expression. It's the way I deal with stress. I don't usually talk with people about the things I write about. That's my avenue ' writing things out and dealing with them."

The Lafayette mother of five children (all of which are under the age of 12) spends her days home-schooling her kids. At night, after her children have gone to bed, the 31-year-old gets online and posts her thoughts to her blog, Portrait in Linen (portraitinlinen.blogspot.com). It's reflective of both Laranang's interests and her hopes. She draws charcoal portraits, which she calls an "an attempt to define an image of someone" and says the reference to linen is Biblical. Although she isn't a member of a local church, Laranang describes herself as "very conservative, but not necessarily politically, just a Biblical fundamentalist" and says the linen reference is used throughout the Bible as a symbol of purification. "It's not necessarily a reflection of who or what I am," she says. "It's more of an aspiration."

Sometimes Portrait in Linen focuses on Laranang's daily routine and observations, like the best way to make homemade cereal or how to make crafts for Christmas. (She also runs another blog dedicated to hula dancing, titled Pana Hula ' panahula.blogspot.com.) Other entries in Portrait in Linen are deeply personal and examine her family life and her relationship with Mark, her common-law husband of the past eight years. "It's not that he's ineffectual," she writes. "It's just ... he's stoic. Ironically, that's one of his characteristics that attracted me to him in the first place. He has a poet's spirit, and in the early days, it flourished, and he shared it with me. These days, it sleeps."

According to Laranang, Mark spends a great deal of time online as well, playing what she refers to as "the game," the online multiplayer game World of Warcraft. "It's very time-consuming," she says. "It's this other entity that he funnels his time and his attention into. Whether it be a game or other unsavory things, there's no way for me to be a part of it. So in that aspect it is a lot like an affair, and I have compared it to an affair in the past because there are a lot of similarities as far as his absence ' not a physical one, but a mental one."

Laranang says her significant other has no qualms with her blog or the comments she makes about him. "He accepts that this is my primary mode of coping," she says. "He's very forgiving in that aspect. There's been some things he hasn't been happy about, but he doesn't censor it, and he doesn't expect me to censor myself. He understands that it's vital for my health."

The couple has even discussed getting rid of their Internet connection in hopes of resolving some of their issues. "We've considered doing away with the DSL," Laranang says, "but it's a double-edged sword. It might solve our time issues, but it's cutting off my coping mechanism. At the same time, that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make. There are other ways for me to cope." And over time, Laranang has become less concerned with Mark's gaming habits. "I don't believe the situation is as dire as it once was," she says.

But why would someone choose such a public forum, as opposed to taking a pen to paper in a private journal, like others might do? "It's a message in a bottle kind of thing," Laranang says. "The audience is an anonymous concept. When I write, it's cleansing, and it's comforting to let those words go and not consider where they end up. I don't really think about it. I can spill my heart out without any fear of repercussion or response. It's putting words out there and letting them go. There's something really comforting about that. I guess this is just putting words on the wind and letting them go wherever. There's an element to it that's not present in journaling on paper." ' RRF

BLOGGING FOR HOME

For Chrissy Lemaire, the final push to start her Cajun blog and recipe Web site was when a San Diego co-worker told her he didn't like Cajun food. "I was so offended!" the Kaplan native says. "How could he not like my family's cooking? I asked him if he ever even ate Cajun food in Louisiana, and he said no."

Lemaire decided to dedicate a blog and Web site to clearing up misconceptions about Cajun food and culture, complete with an authentic collection of more than 900 recipes. She called up her friend Brandon Abshire, another Kaplan native living in San Diego, and asked if he'd help her program the site, which eventually added a blog to its offerings. She says the objective was to help other young Cajuns find recipes they grew up with and let people around the world know about true Cajun cooking.

"Both of us are Cajun and web/database programmers by trade, so getting everything together was pretty easy," 27-year-old Lemaire says. She moved to San Diego in 1997 to attend California State University and created RealCajunRecipes.com in 2002. The Cajun blog, titled Maw-Maw and Dem's Blog at blog.realcajunrecipes.com, followed in 2004 and is one of four blogs for Lemaire; she also runs a technology blog and two personal ones. Most entries on the Cajun blog chronicle her trips back home, from visiting Holly Beach to duck hunting in Forked Island. Her May 17 entry, "An open letter to Sonic Drive-In," about its new blackened "Cajun" burger, is an example of her passion for Cajun food. She writes, "[Sonic's] Web site also states 'Whatever Cajun tastes like, the Cajun Chicken Sandwich has it.' We Cajuns take our food seriously and your burger, while it may be delicious, is not Cajun."

Many of the blog entries also include photographs and audio of Lemaire's friends back home. "My favorite entries are usually those that have a lot of multimedia in them," she says. "One of my most popular entries, 'Quack Quack,' has audio of two of my friends, Dennis and Danny, speaking to one another in a duck blind." Another favorite is "Crawfish Boils," which includes a family photo of a crawfish boil when she was a child and detailed instructions on how to boil crawfish.

While Lemaire gets back to Kaplan a couple times a year, she admits she's homesick in California and tries to bring as much of Acadiana there as possible. "Moving to California really took some getting used to," she says. "I couldn't believe there was no boudin at the local convenience stores and that people had never heard of rice and gravy. In addition to hosting crawfish boils, I also make a ton of gumbo, rice dressing and etouffee and bring it to work to share with my co-workers.

"Also, each Mardi Gras," she continues, "I do my best to clear up the many misconceptions about our celebrations, and I also share the big King Cake that my mom overnights me from Meche's Donut King." Her mother, Ruby Parker-Buchanan, known as Maw-Maw on the recipe site, lives in Phoenix but spends a couple months a year back home in Kaplan. Her mom collected the almost 900 recipes on the site and has inputted most of them.

Lemaire hopes the site is changing perceptions of Cajun culture and says it's helped change her own perception of her background. "Many of us take being Cajun for granted, and I think that this blog makes its Cajun readers realize that we are different from others and maybe we even have more fun," she says. "By talking to others and listening, I realize that we've got a lot of history and heritage to be proud of. I also learned that we need to be aware of the Americanization of our culture that is happening so we can do our best to preserve what is left." In addition to chronicling her trips and adventures back home, some of the blog's entries are educational. The most recent recounts a conversation with historian Shane Bernard about "real" and "half" Cajuns. "I don't think there's anything as 'pure Cajun' or 'half Cajuns' because Cajuns by their very nature are a mixture of ethnic groups," she writes. Another explains the difference between Cajun and Creole.

To further address some of these issues, Lemaire is working on a new site, www.cajunethnicity.com, to help spread the word about Cajuns identifying themselves on the 2010 Census. She discusses the issue in a letter to Rep. Mickey Frith, Kaplan, posted on her blog in April. Lemaire plans on adding a restaurant section, with reviews of Acadiana eateries, on the recipe site, and is working on posting vlogs, or video logs, of her travels back home.

"It takes up a lot of my time," she says about the blog. "I try to post one to two times per month, and I do put a lot of time into my blog posting." While some bloggers are now considered journalists, she says she doesn't see herself that way. "I consider myself a storyteller with a new medium to tell the stories," she says. ' EZ


Here are some other Louisiana-related blogs of interest:

Poor Clio is the blog of James Edmunds ' New Iberia resident, writer, photographer and consulting manager for the Performing Arts Society of Acadiana.

Not Right About Anything is Ian McGibboney's blog on the state of the world from a slightly left-leaning worldview.

Grand Coteau resident David Hays runs his blog, GumboFilé , where he describes himself as "husband of one wife, father of two adult daughters, approximately 200 years of ancestry in Louisiana and Mississippi, sibling partner in family business started by my father when I was a young child, worshipper of the One True God, the Triune God of the Bible and the historic, orthodox creeds."

Crabwalk is the highly entertaining blog of Rayne, La., native and award-winning Dallas Morning News journalist Joshua Benton. Lots of emphasis on indie bands, media coverage and humorous links.

The Lafayette Pro Fiber supports Lafayette Utilities System's fiber-to-the-home initiative and is run by John St. Julian and Mike Stagg.

Chiclit chronicles the life of a "slightly left of center, 28-year-old, married, stay at home mom with a B.A. in English literature from LSU."


Want to create your own blog? It's easy and free. Visit www.blogger.com for more information.

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