The blogger’s birthday

I want to explain about birthdays and bloggers. This is going to take a couple of minutes.

Blogging is a new kind of social phenomenon generally speaking, and it is still very new to me. So much of it remains to be worked out. I have to say, in this regard, I ‘ve been watching closely a number of bloggers to see how they project and manage ‘self’ and how they interact or avoid interaction, and so on. I am increasingly impressed with a handful of them. These are often the individuals to whom I point a lot, which would make sense.

I’m very used to certain parts of this science blogging because it is a little like being a teacher. It is like being a teacher in the way that people come to like you and respect you, or hate you and disrespect you (depending). But it is different because there is no way that I am “on duty” as a blogger in the same way that a college instructor is.

Whatever parts of myself I put out there on this site become available (obviously) for public consumption. This means, for example, that I can’t pretend that I’m not a foaming at the mouth atheist with my gentile semi-religious or spiritual-type co-workers at the college. Most of my coworkers don’t know about my blog, but every now and then someone lets me know that they just discovered it or was shown it by someone, and that is one more person in my life who has a piece of me in a way that is asymmetrical and a little unusual. I’m not complaining at all. Just making note.

For this reason, the “me” that blogs here is not necessarily exactly the same “me” that exists in any other context. That’s true for everyone in every context, really. It is always useful to remember this about other people, by the way. No one is everything that they are in each context in which they exist. We complex human beings are distributed unevenly among the divers contexts we inhabit.

Well, almost everyone.

And some people are too distributed. I once knew someone who was so distributed that she came to the conclusion that she did not exist. Unfortunately, she was wrong. She did exist. But I digress

So that’s blogging.

Birthdays: I never liked celebrating them much. Despite the fact that I am obviously an egomaniac and a control freak (as are all bloggers without exception) I’m actually also somewhat shy in certain ways. I don’t mind being the center of attention, but I don’t like being the center of attention when people are giving me presents.

Actually, I’m pretty comfortable being the center of attention while I’m giving other people things. That is why teaching suits me.

But the birthday thing has never sat well with me. I really like it when my birthday comes along and people forget about it and it does not happen. That has hardly ever occurred, but it’s cool when it does.

Back to blogging.

It seems to me that things like birthdays are natural fodder in the blogging world. Blogging, anniversaries of blogs, other events, seem to be ways that bloggers often connect their identities, however shallow or misleading, with their blog’s readers, or connect with each other. Like last April when we all celebrated PZ Myers’ birthday with LOL PZ’s

The problem with this is that if you have a birthday and you are a blogger and nobody notices then that might make you fell really bad. Last year, I was a blogger and my birthday went by without notice (if I recall correctly). But there are always people out there like Coturnix, who is a community builder, who (if you are part of his community) will point out your birthday to everyone else. This, by the way, is how all Science Bloggers know about each other’s birthdays. Coturnix tells us on the back channel. I don’t know how he knows, but he does. I also don’t know how Stephanie, Janie and Mike knew it was my birthday. Maybe Coturnix told them.

Conspiracy. I knew it!

So this year, people noticed my birthday and this verified my existence as a blogger, so I put up a post about it and about a thousand people said happy birthday on my post, in private email, or on facebook.

And I’m only exaggerating by a single order of magnitude. Not two orders of magnitude. Just one.

Most people think that Alabama is a pretty bad place to be, but in truth, liminality is the most uncomfortable of states. If you need to have people notice your birthday because you share a community and everybody notices everybody else’s birthday, then there is a moment of tension and angst. Now, as a non-birthday person, I don’t have this problem. But as a blogger, of course, I do.

Naturally, this reminds me of an incident in the Congo.

I was traveling with a rather green anthropologist, newly minted, doing his second stint of fieldwork. His first fieldwork was not really fieldwork, it was more like a study abroad internship he did as an undergraduate at a cushy liberal arts college in the Midwest. That visit was to an African country I shall not name. But he called it his first fieldwork experience and told me the Congo was his second.

Now, you may or may not know this, but any anthropologist worth his or her salt is eventually given a name by the natives. This then becomes the name you are linked with, showing your acceptance in the tribe, showing that you are a good anthropologist. It’s the name you sign the author’s preface to your third book with.

This young man was very nervous about being in the liminal state of not yet having been awarded a name by the natives. He was absolutely beside himself with concern over the possibility that he would not get a name. We were working in an area where not everybody got one.

Now, he claims that on his earlier study abroad, I mean, field expedition, he was given a name by the natives. Those natives lived in a village in a region where a Bantu language was spoken, and his name meant “the young man who has arrived” or words to that effect. But it was six or seven syllables long, and not really a name that would flow off the tongue of a native speaker of any of the Sudanic languages spoken in this area of the Congo.

Nonetheless, in order to avoid the potential embarrassment of not being named, he told the locals what his “native” name was … and he spent a great deal of effort training them to say it correctly. To no avail. The locals totally understood that he needed to have a native name, and were totally on board with using it, but it was too clumsy and strange sounding, so they shortened it and adapted it to their liking. And thus, he had a name. I won’t say he browbeat people into using this name, but he certainly made his case with notable persistence.

And so it may be, sometimes, for bloggers and birthdays. The liminal state. Don’t be there.

Oh, and this is what I got on my birthday. A card and a present from Julia. First the card (well, not the card, just the best part, the envelope) …

And the present, a set of lures:


Last year, Julia got me green frog lures and they caught a lot of fish. These lures have some real potential. I will of course clip off the treble hooks. Sporting chance, and all.

Finally, in all seriousness, thanks to everyone for the birthday wishes.



  1. #1 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    June 25, 2008

    Well, as for bloggers and birthdays, (aug31)I remember that last year on my birthday (aug31)I did write a post about how nobody in the blogging world had noticed.(aug31) I wrote a self-indulgent post about what a crappy birthday I was having.

    First you noticed, (aug31)and then PZ noticed and sent a ton of people my way to wish me happy birthday. (aug31)(aug31) It was a great feeling. I had pretty much done what the young man in your story (aug31)had done, I had begged for notice.(aug31)

    It worked for me, but it’s not something I would repeat.(aug31)

  2. #2 Doug Alder
    June 25, 2008

    I feel the same way as you do about birthdays Greg. I really do wish that no one would notice. Somehow though I have not been able to convince my family that I really mean it ๐Ÿ™‚

    So for the egomaniacal blogger side of you (because it’s de rigeur you know) Happy Belated Birthday

  3. #3 decrepitoldfool
    June 25, 2008

    Well happy late birthday. I like to think that somewhere out in the cosmos is a little signpost marking the coordinates of each person’s birth.

  4. #4 Coturnix
    June 25, 2008

    How do we all know birthdays? Facebook rulz!

  5. #5 Zach Miller
    June 25, 2008

    Happy birthday, Greg. Here’s to another year of blogging!

  6. #6 themadlolscientist
    June 25, 2008

    Happy birthday from someone who’s staring at 55 in two weeks and is suddenly starting to feel awfuly old!

  7. #7 themadlolscientist
    June 25, 2008

    Oops, I meant “awfully.” My keyboard can’t spell. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. #8 JanieBelle
    June 25, 2008

    How did I know about your birthday?

    My lips are sealed.

    uh, I mean I’m sworn to secrecy.

    My lips, actually, are barely parted, somewhat moist, revealing just a hint of teeth, from between which the tip of my tongue protrudes slightly…

    I’m glad you enjoyed your birthday.

  9. #9 Mike O'Risal
    June 25, 2008

    Birthdays stopped being a big deal for me after I turned 34, really. When I was a little kid, I realized that I would turn 24 in the somehow-magical (at least to a 5 year old) year 2000. Somehow that translated into my mind as being my last significant birthday. On my blog (which existed for a good six years before jumping from one platform to another), I write something matter-of-fact about my birthday, mostly because other people did something to mark it. I’m not even telling when it is, in fact. Who wants to get older, anyhow?

    Hope your birthday was good.