by Merry Youle
After five years, you’d think I’d have an answer to that question, a coherent and satisfying answer that I could share. Well, I dug around inside for a bit and this is what I came up with.
Picture a Rip van Winkle with a recent Ph.D. in biology who fell asleep late in 1970 and remained comatose until the 21st century was well underway, then woke up and looked around to see what was new in biology. That sums up several decades of my life, scientifically speaking. When I woke up I was still working as a tech writer preparing computer software user’s manuals. I purchased a few used textbooks—microbiology, cell biology, virology, genetics. They’re very cheap if you don’t need the latest edition, and I didn’t. I started reading. What I found was truly stunning. A few years later I finally gained access to e-journals online—heaven indeed. And when I realized that, despite my ignorance, people would actually pay me to edit research papers, grant proposals, and other microbiology-related materials, it was bye-bye software manuals.
The now known microbial world is far more amazing than I ever imagined. I love exploring it. Blogging provides a structure for that exploration. Writing a post requires, at least for one like me so lacking in background, reading a lot of papers and covering much new terrain. Instead of just wandering around in a daze, this reading now has a specific goal—to find and assemble the pieces needed to tell a story. Eventually a post is written, giving me a sense of completion, and then it is on to the next post.
Why blog about viruses in particular, as is my habit? Don't they deserve it? These ‘simple’ entities are often disparaged as not being ‘alive,’ just as often denied a place in the Tree of Life, yet they possess more complexity than I can wrap my human mind around. They embody the evolutionary creativity that characterizes all life, and more of it than any other life form due to their numbers and rate of replication. They make the living world go round. Some people are filled with a sense of awe when they stand amongst the giants in an old-growth redwood forest, some when they muse about the viruses.
Fortunately I enjoy not only writing, but also editing. Both Elio and I spend much time editing each others posts as well as everything that comes in from our associate bloggers and over-the-transom. Give us a page, any page, and we can’t help but set to editing. Except for our brief winter and summer vacations, the pace has been non-stop, a post every Monday and Thursday. It seems worth the effort, even without adding in the pleasure and the learning we derive. I found that blog posts are not as ephemeral as I had thought when this began. The majority of our visitors each day don’t come to read the latest article, but rather arrive looking for information on a particular topic. If you Google “euplotidium” as I did almost five years ago, you’ll find that STC is still one of the top hits, #3 for me just now.
There are many reasons why I am still blogging with Elio after all these years. A lot of them have to do with the sort of person he is. (I can’t say more about that here because hekeeps editing it out.) But there is one aspect in particular that brought me to STC originally and that keeps me here. That concerns his raison d’être for the blog: to share my appreciation for the width and depth of the microbial activities on this planet. There are many microbiology blogs out there, some very excellent ones indeed. Many of them, however, have a decidedly anthropocentric point of view, focusing on the organisms that we can exploit or that exploit us. Others cover only the current hot news items, emphasizing the scary or the bizarre. In contrast, both Elio and I delight in the Small Things and in sharing their stories.
And as soon as I complete one story, more are clamoring for attention. It just goes on and on…