It began as a sponge of Apelles flung at an internet canvas. The impulse is easy to recollect: after half a lifetime in the San Francisco Bay Area, I had just moved away, and I imagined that blogging would help me stay in touch with friends back home. In this regard it was not a success. My community's early 2000s-era embrace of the medium had slackened, for one thing, but a bigger obstacle was my private nature. The blog carried no links to other sites, nor even my name until 2012, and I doubt the folks at home could tell I was reaching out. The content was no help, either. Having begun with translated material, I posted more, and it didn’t take long for the template to solidify, devoid of the diaristic and confessional or anything that might invite a connection to living beings. And so the blog developed into a jumble of whatever I was reading that I didn’t want to forget.
There's a lot of this kind of thing on the internet, and whole genres of it in literary history at large. The Greek word for it is hypomnēmata, meaning "notes for private use," along the lines of Latin memoranda. Both words map onto an Arabic form of scholarly writing called tadhīkra. A tadhkīra can be an "injunction to remember," and with this sense the word appears in the title of many handbooks (example). The word also applies to literary miscellanies for semi-private use that were organized around the manias of the compiler, i.e. scarcely organized at all. "Readers," one might call such texts, or even "reader's digests," without the usual connotation of brevity: the Tadhkīra of Ibn Ḥamdūn ran to a dozen manuscript volumes,
and that of al-Ṣafadī to some thirty. If this blog were to have an Arabic title, it could only be al-Tadhkīra.
Its actual title was lifted from a bilingual religious publication one finds in certain vegetarian restaurants. I am not qualified to parse it myself, but I am informed that "writing gathering section" is a more accurate word-for-word translation of the Chinese-language phrase appearing as a running head within the magazine. "Field" is a happy metaphor, though. It suggests growing things (an idea already present in 薈, the character for "gathering"), and the freedom to graze on them. I don’t keep a plot of land, but it’s the best metaphor I know for "room for [thinking or] dancing [or doing whatever]" (Greek chōra). All of that is what makes this my writing gathering field.
The reasons for keeping a private blog are easy to understand. Why the increasing effort to give this one a public face? Mercenarism is a large part of it. Books need people to sell them, and personhood now has this necessary online component, where lacking an internet "footprint" is like failing to cast a shadow. As it happens, this blog is preparing to become the publicity vehicle for a long-forthcoming translation project that might just see light this year, so please stay tuned.
Another cause for adopting outward candor is the amount of traffic that some posts get, enough to void the pretense of a private blog. To my seekers after news of ancient veterinary medicine, descriptions of the locust, and cat poems, I am happy to be of service, and I promise more pre-modern reports of the animal kingdom in the near future.