Well, happy new year to y’all, too. I hope you had a pleasant pair of long weekends, or in my case, TWO SOLID WEEKS of not having to think about work (too much). I had a particularly fine time reading the comments on the last entry, about how so many of you made it here, and why you stick around.
To clear up some points made there, which I might as well do now, because I’m not sure when, precisely, this blog began, although J.C. probably does:
NN.c was born out of boredom, restlessness and a sense that things were changing in my business, and some skills in the new era might be useful. J.C. had already launched his own site — and that’s what we called them, just websites or “personal websites” — which was updated then more often than it is now. I always looked forward to reading it, and in his always-encouraging way, he urged me to try it myself. At least secure your name.com, he said, so I did, at Network Solutions, for something like $25. I only got the .com, because $75 to secure the .net and .org seemed like a lot of money to spend on something I might not ever even do.
On one of J.C.’s swings through town, he showed me how to work Adobe GoLive in sort of an all-thumbs, basic way, and in about 10 minutes, mocked up the first NN.c. Dominant color: Blue. He showed me how to make new pages, how to upload to the server. I understood what a server was. And so I tapped out a tentative first entry, introducing myself and telling the world that I now had a personal website. There were pages devoted to my scary-clown news clippings, and my postcard collection, links to sites I regularly visited, and that was about it. All this was in January 2001.
I sent emails to everyone I know, saying hey, I now have a website. And I told my editors, just in case there was a conflict. They decided there wouldn’t be, as long as I didn’t try to sell anything that might be construed as competing with the paper. Everyone looked at Day One, patted me on the head and said, “Isn’t that nice” and went back to putting out the paper.
I believe I got 104 visits that day. Clicks, anyway. Google analytics didn’t exist yet.
As Day One drew to a close, I called up my page and looked at it. The question “now what?” seemed to announce itself. Guess I should write something new, I thought, starting the first weekly archive page, pasting the first day’s content to that and starting anew in the now-blank box on the home page.
On that second day, I considered a few things when at the keyboard. First, that one of my great regrets in life is that I haven’t kept a regular journal, and large swaths of my life are only committed to my increasingly faulty memory. Another is that I couldn’t keep a real journal on a site that was called by my real name, because it’s the internet and I don’t want everyone reading the intimate details of our household, or that my boss was a jerk that day, or whatever. So I fell into a style that had become familiar to me over the years, in my long-running correspondence with my best friend, who now lives in Milwaukee: A letter to a friend. Sort of easy and breezy and a report on the day’s events, trivial and less-so. A journal with some intimacy, but not total access. And that’s really how it went, for quite a while.
But then a couple things happened: 9/11, which was followed by an explosion of these things called weblogs, or blogs for short (a horrible word, in my opinion). Most of them were atrocious and rightly died a swift death, but they led to a shift in the conversation about websites that weren’t established and maintained by an institution, but by an individual. New tools — Blogger, Typepad, et al. — made it easy to get your own version of NN.c up and running in a matter of minutes. Suddenly it wasn’t just me and J.C. and a few others. It was everyone.
The other thing that happened was the Humiliation and Firing of Mr. Bob Greene, which happened over a weekend. I saw the news via Jim Romenesko, probably, and dashed off a column-length piece about it. I announced what every young woman who’d ever passed within 10 yards of the guy knew — that he was a horndog, a fact so widely known in media circles that it hardly even counted as gossip. I also said he was a hack, and had been for some time, another observation that barely rises above Duh. And I mentioned his stupid toupees, because are they not a metaphor for his hackitude and desperate need to paw women? They are. I uploaded it and went to bed.
The next morning, I looked at my email. “Great rant,” said someone with an address from thenewyorker.com — a staff writer. More continued to arrive through the next few days, one from none other than Lucianne Goldberg. It turned out I’d been linked by Romenesko, and then by Slate, and then by many other blogs and publications and whatnot. Newsweek magazine quoted me. A Japanese magazine writer conducted a phone interview, in halting English, through a bad phone connection. For the first time, I was Internet Famous.
I told the executive editor, expecting an explosion of whatthefuck, but got little more than the that’s-nice head-pat he’d given me on day one. And that, more than anything, exposed a few things in sharp relief. First, that the newspaper business had no idea what was coming for it, and second, that if I wanted to be known outside Fort Wayne, Indiana, I should stop trying to get carried by the Knight-Ridder wire service (which had turned me down more than once) and start writing more stuff like 700 dashed-off words about Bob Greene. If it’s true that on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog, it’s equally true that no one knows you’re a nobody toiling for a fading daily in the Hoosier state.
I’ve said it many times, in many places: Every good thing that’s happened in my writing life has happened because of this site. I was routinely ignored by hiring K-R editors who passed through the Fort, but here? Here’s where I met Laura Lippman, and her husband Mr. Lippman. Here’s where Ben Yagoda found me, and put me in a textbook about finding your writing voice. (Take that, stupid hiring editors!) This here place is what I wrote about in the essay that got me a Knight Wallace Fellowship. Here’s where the career of Tim Goeglein, White House aide, went up in flames. (And Tim? I am pissed I didn’t get mentioned in your book. Not once.)
And here’s where I met all of you guys. Because after 15 years, frankly, there are days when I sit in front of my blinking cursor and can barely think of one thing to say. Now that I’m a working reporter again, I have to be more circumspect in what I write here, and that chafes sometimes, believe me. But I know that if I put up just a little something, someone here will take it and run with it, or will introduce something else and go in another direction.
Something else I’ve said many times: This place, and its commentariat, is the world’s greatest and friendliest bar. Some people teetotal, some cry into their beer, some fall off their stools (a moment of silence for Prospero here). If “Cheers” had a bigger set and cast, it would be like this site. Which is really one of the things the internet did for everyone, right? If you were a lonely gay boy in Nowhere, Nebraska, you could find other gay boys out there. If you collected paintings of chickens and only chickens, somewhere out there someone is keeping a blog for you. Not all of these communities have been good and healthy ones, but this one? It’s pretty good. After all, it has Coozledad, who not only amuses us here, but also at his own site. (Read that one — it’s pretty good. I so wish he’d write a book.)
And just now, looking at my word count, I’m struck by the horrible feeling I’ve written this thing before, probably many times.
Anyway, today isn’t the anniversary of the blog. That was either the 14th or 21st, maybe? Those dates stick in my head. But I’ll take today to say, once again, how happy I am to have you guys in my life, even on days when I feel like pulling the plug. Because a writer without readers is just shouting into the void, and a writer with readers who can talk back and contribute is lucky indeed.
On to the links:
What the hell is going on in Oregon? Discuss.
If Boston Globe reporters and editors were going to moonlight as carriers, they should have just done it and kept it to themselves. This just comes off as self-aggrandizement, to me.
One of the trainers at my gym just announced she’s planning to attend one of these learn-to-surf camps this summer, to commemorate her 50th birthday, and invited others to come with her. I cannot. Get it OUT. Of my mind. Someone talk me out of spending a September week in San Onofre, Calif. making a fool of myself. But I cannot deny, being able to get even one ride on a surfboard would be a total bucket-list item for me.
Here’s to 2016, all. It can be a pretty great one, if we make it so.