Friday, November 4, 2016

A Dozen Years In The Woodshed, Or Why Blog?

Yesterday I was elated and shocked to find out that my piece for Jacobin, "21st Century Victorians," was an editor's pick on the New York Times' mobile site. I know this makes me old fashioned, but I've long thought of the Times as my own Carnegie Hall or Madison Square Garden. If I could get published there, I'd know I'd made it. While they did not publish me, just being recognized by them gave me a huge thrill. Perhaps its getting a bout at the Garden, but on the under card, or Carnegie Hall as an opening act. I'll take it, anyway.

This all got me thinking about this blog and what it's meant to me. And yes, I am going to navel gaze for a bit, please forgive me. I started blogging way back in 2004, when my blog had the unruly title "Fugitive Streets/Jackal Tombs," which was a reference to a line from Proust and a line from Melville. Yes, I was a pretentious grad student at the time.

Blogging was the hot new thing, and it was a needed outlet. For the preceding couple of years I would often write up political rants and sent them to my friends over email. The blog let me do that, and to pretend that I was some kind of pundit or essayist. Truth by told, that had always been something I'd aspired to be.

My intellectual awakening came about in a strange way. I was in junior high, and after school I would often go to the public library and wait for my dad to get off work. (The factory where he worked in the office was just a couple of blocks away.) While the library I would raid the magazine racks. Remember, this is a time before the internet and when cable was mostly reruns and second rate trash. I spent a lot of time reading sports and music magazines, but after awhile I was picking up Time, Newsweek, The New Republic, and yes, National Review. (My politics would not be more formed until I was in high school.) I gravitated to the columns and the reviews more than the news stories. I studied the writing, and thought having a column or writing reviews would be a great job. When I was in high school in my creative writing class I tried to write some social commentary essays, but mostly stuck with poetry and short stories.

I also didn't do journalism in high school, mostly due to the tribalism of that world. I was a debater, and that was my nerd calling, not journalism (or so I thought.) There was also a very subtle but very real social class exclusivity marking the borders of the journalism club at my school.

But my desire to write commentary remained, if buried deep inside me. Debate got some of it out of me in high school and college, but I did have a friend with a very primitive website who posted some of my album reviews. I knew I was never going to be a music critic, but it was fun to play one. In grad school I would write critical essays down in notebooks, and later write up those ranty emails. Blogging was such a sweet release of all the thoughts I had and all the commentaries I wanted to write. If somebody out there in the internet void liked them, so much the better. The blogging helped me process the re-election of George W Bush, but also personal matters, like my failure of an academic career.

As those dozen years rolled on, blogging became less and less hip. Twitter took the wind out of its sails, and people started using their blogs less as spaces for writing, and more for self-promotion. Friends more adventurous than me parlayed their blogs into writing for more respectable and well-known sites. I, being the stubborn German-American Midwesterner that I am, persisted in using the same unprofessional blogspot blog and writing under a silly, culturally referential pseudonym. This blog was my comfort zone. I could just say what I wanted to say and people liked it I was happy, and if not, no big deal. I got to play at being one of those columnists and reviewers that I idolized back in junior high. Wasn't that good enough?

Well, I am glad that I took the initiative to put something out outside of my blog, and I can thank my friend Chauncey DeVega's encouragement for that. I might try to focus more of my writing on that realm, rather than in my humble little corner of the internet here. But most of what I write will still be right here. Blogging might be going the way of the 56K router, but it's been good to me.  My twelve years in the woodshed have made me a better writer and thinker, and introduced me to some great folks that I never would have met otherwise. Some people garden, some people fish, some people play music, but I cast out rough essays into the internet void two or three times a week. As hobbies go, it ain't bad.

1 comment:

Terry said...

I'm glad you're still blogging. I've learned a lot from your writing, and (btw) discovered Chancey deVega through your posts. We need all the informed, thoughtful writing we can get these days!