Monday, June 24, 2013

Why am I Doing This? (and other questions)

I have been blogging now for almost nine years, and it's been so long I am beginning to wonder why I do it.  Most blogs are abandoned soon after they are started, but I have been blogging for a decade.  This isn't bragging, I legitimately wonder what the hell I've been doing all of this time, since this blog was not launched to get me a book deal or be read by a mass audience.  I know what follows is rather solipsistic, but I wonder whether any other bloggers out there have some insight for me.

I started doing it right after the election of 2004, in order to put into words that shock and frustration I felt about George W. Bush getting elected.  My friends were also probably tired of getting my long-winded emails sermonizing on this same topic.  A friend of mine had started a blog (now defunct) and it seemed like the natural thing to do.

I was not writing to get anybody's attention, but to get out my thoughts and amuse my friends.  I also just enjoy writing, and it was nice to do so without any pressure of publication and vetting, which is something that took all the joy out of my academic writing.  Back then I was pretty naive, I used my actual name (meaning that potential employers would find the blog) and I gave it the unwieldy name of "Fugitive Streets/Jackal Tombs."  The title referenced lines from Proust and Melville.  Oh yes, I was still a pretentious grad student back then.

At least my naivety paid off a little.  When I met my future wife for the first time, she googled me and found my blog.  According to her, what I had written, especially a Beatnik-y piece about hanging out in bars in Lincoln, Nebraska, made me seem interesting and intriguing.  That added intrigue that helped me find a woman far out of my league and if for no other reason, has made this blog worth it.

After about three years I decided to scrub my real name and adopt the persona of Werner Herzog's Bear, in homage to one of my favorite film-makers and as kind of a juvenile joke that you'll get if you've seen Grizzly Man.  The blog was changed to I Used to Be Disgusted, Now I Try to Be Amused, in reference to one of my favorite Elvis Costello songs.  It also fit my attitude at the time, as I was working as a low-paid, overburdened "visiting" professor.  By that point I think my writing got a lot better and I started hitting my stride.  As always, I just wrote about things that interested me most, mainly music, movies, history, politics, and baseball.

As time went on, especially after I moved to Texas to take a tenure track job that turned into a nightmare, I started writing a lot more about my frustrations with the academic profession.  This stuff seemed to get the most readers, perhaps because it came out of a place of unalloyed pain and rage inside of me.  After hesitating, I started writing about my specific job situation, which generated some of my best stuff (since it was so genuine), but put me in hot water.  A colleague at my job who I made the mistake of befriending ended up joining the mobbing gang tormenting myself and others.  I had revealed my blog to him in better times, and after our falling out, he sent a message to me expressing alarm about what I had been writing.  Scared of having my cover blown, and traumatized by my experience of bullying, I did one of the hardest things I've ever done: I killed my blog.

I was giving up academia at the time, and so it did feel fitting to start anew, to reaffirm a new chapter in my life.  I conceived Notes From the Ironbound being a little different, less full of rants and bitterness and more titled towards longer essays and deep thoughts.  A lot of it ended up being me working through the shame and bitterness of having abandoned academia after having fought so hard for my toehold in it.

My blog never turned into a "post-academic" blog, though.  I still write about the things that move me, which are pretty much the same things they've always been.  It's just me under a different name, not me "branding" myself or playing to a certain niche or popular tastes.  I've come to cherish this blog as a creative outlet, and also as a space of comfort.  I can write what I like, and don't have to worry about what an editor or peer reviewer thinks of it.  Some of my friends have commented to me about how often I am posting these days, and that's because I am writing every day.  It makes me happy, and is a better way to while away the evening hours between putting my daughters to sleep and my own bedtime than watching the television.  Those hours of the night used to be spent reading or watching arty films, but I just can't hack it anymore.  I am so exhausted at the end of the day that I can't pick up a book or play something with subtitles without passing out; I do my reading on the train during my commute and have fallen out of touch with cinema.

Occasionally I have tried to tout the blog a little; I've posted stuff on the DailyKos' diaries section and joined Twitter, which has led to some of my posts getting attention.  Despite these efforts, not a lot of folks read this blog.  Perhaps I do need to tout my blog more, find a more engaging focus, etc., but I am a plugger, and prefer to wait and see if anyone notices me.  Part of the reason is that when I look at the statistics for this blog, what I often consider to be the best-written material is often the least-viewed.  Trying to push up the pageviews will only result in compromising quality, I fear.  I also don't have any illusions about this blog being a pathway to something else.  The creative fields are being destroyed, and the way to get ahead is by knowing the right people, which I don't.  I didn't go to the right schools, and I am constitutionally incapable of "networking" and glad-handing.  It's probably held me back in life, but I'm just too goddamned old now to change, and I am comfortable with that.  The other path is to be like my friend Chauncey DeVega, and combine hard work, intentionality, and a kind of brilliance that I don't have.  I can't pretend to be able do that, so I will just be keeping on doing what I'm doing, with inspiration from the great Charles Bukowski:

I guess I have kept doing this blog because it fills a need that other things in my life don't, and that's good enough for me.  Other questions are on my mind, though.  I have thought about dumping my "Werner Herzog's Bear" persona and using my real name.  If anyone does like what I have to say here, I'd at least like to get credit for it!  I also wonder whether I should spin off my music stuff to a separate blog, where I can live out my teenage dream of being a music writer, and people who like my music writing don't have to be subjected to my post-academic rants and political screeds.  Anyway, thanks for listening, and I promise to stop navel gazing in the near future.

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