An Actual Personal History/Manifesto: The Story Of The Blog, Our New News Vessel
I have this really intimate relationship with writing. Ever since I started writing “seriously” it’s always been immediate. Let’s start from the beginning.
When I was a junior in college, I spent a semester in Los Angeles. Our communications school has a satellite campus there, in Burbank, and most Television-Radio majors spent a semester in LA. Actually, most communications majors spent a semester there. (Few even went their last semester of college to secure a job.) While we were there, my friend, who was in the scriptwriting concentration of our major told me he wanted to start a publication. Everyone laughed at him and told him he was nerdy. I was the only one who expressed any interest in it, so I helped.
We called it Thacant – a play on Ithaca College student newspaper The Ithacan (which is, albeit, award winning.) We wrote and designed the first issue, with typed copy and markers, made copies in the Xerox machine and put them out in the student mailboxes. My first contribution to the two sided one sheet was 300 words on doodling. (I was preoccupied with doodling. For my senior Audio Production thesis I made an aural documentary about doodles. Yeah, I know.) People started taking Thacant to class and reading it instead of paying attention in Government And Media and the other, few, boring classes we were required. For some reason, I can’t remember, more and more people became interested in the “paper.” (Talk about bandwagon hoppers.) More friends joined us in writing, copying, (more importantly – editorial decision making) and distributing the paper to everyone in the program. The faculty and staff loved it.
I garnered some popularity – or, quite frankly, the opposite – when I wrote an “editorial,” let’s call it, directed at (a few) girls in our program. Calling them out on wearing heals and miniskirts to party in the living rooms of our long-stay apartments – the Oakwoods in Burbank (which was also the home of every auditioning child “actor” in LA.) I probably said something like (I wish that I had a copy of it, somewhere) how can you take yourselves seriously? We are partying in people’s living room and kitchens, all in shorts and sneakers. (Not a lot of us were 21 yet. And, it’s Los Angeles. You get pretty much everywhere by car.) Likely, I said something about how dressing trampy is degrading to women and that you’re just completing the ugly cycle that all women are trying to avoid by playing along.
People talked about me, behind my back. They probably talked about me to my face, and made faces at me. But I don’t remember. And I didn’t care. (Surprise, I still don’t.) Maybe it was the first taste I had – unknowingly – that I could write something and people would have a reaction to it.
In the context of my editorial, the guys I worked with were all close friends of mine. They even encouraged me to “tone it down.” But I was relentless. There were other women who wrote for Thacant, but they joined up after the fact, just like everyone else who did. I think someone, possibly anonymously or not, wrote a response to what I had written. I honestly have no idea what it said, nor did I likely care.
Time passed, and I think people forgot about it. (I’m sure no one would think of it today, more than five years later. Until, now, when I’m bringing it up.) And when the semester came to a close, my friend who first came to me with the idea told me he was going to turn it into a blog. That way, after we all left LA, everyone who wanted to could still contribute. And everyone could still read it.
At first people would write. And then they would write less, and less. My friend who started it, he wrote less and less too. Meanwhile, I was writing more and more, until I was the only person supporting the blog.
Even more time went by, we graduated and everyone moved on with their lives. I moved to Washington, DC, for a job at Sirius XM and ended up starting a new blog of my own (this blog) writing about music and live music I saw in DC. My best friend inspired me to do so. That way I would have total control over it and learn “how to.” She also suggested that it could one day be my “clippings” that I never acquired in college. (Those “clippings” in the end – from a BLOG – got me into an MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College – my escape route from the golden shackles of corporate radio programming.) She said it could only help and would show someone, someday that “I knew what I was doing” and that “I knew how to do this.”
I ended up having to teach myself WordPress. My friend proved of no use in getting back to me with questions for site maintenance. In the end, Thacant felt like my project more than anyone else’s. (Ironically enough, a lot of people still read it and loved that I “kept it alive.”) I used all the skills that writing over at thacant.com had taught me over the three years and put them into my new website.
Then, one day, I went from my website to hyperlink to a piece that I had written on Thacant. (I remember the piece exactly, and the photo I used. It was about Bob Dylan. I had written it the first Christmas I lived in DC. That Christmas I had to work and didn’t get home to my family until the 26th. It was about the emptiness of DC during any holiday. DC is “Hollywood for nerds”: few who live in DC are from DC. The city has this amazing ability to empty out. Which always left me with a nice writing template.)
And it wasn’t there. The Internet was telling me that thacant.com had been deleted. Three years of my writing had been deleted. And I had no control over it. (I guess sometimes, the 0’s and 1’s do disappear on you.)
My friend never told me that he would delete it. In fact, he doesn’t talk to me anymore. Over three years, I’ve lost touch with about 90% of my college friends. There is the occasional Facebook comment, and sometimes more. But usually, it’s less. People grow apart, get new friends, move to new cities – and most importantly, they don’t pick up the phone. It happens. (Him not speaking to me might also be due to me (very) drunkenly telling his girlfriend that I thought she was stuck up, etc, and asked her why she hated me. Even though I have no way of ever knowing, I’ve always regretted saying whatever I said to her. My Facebook friend request to him has been in limbo for four years.)
It really is a shame. Now I think he works on writing projects on the side of whatever his day job is, with other friends of mine from undergrad. We even live in the same city. In fact, I live in the same city with the majority of the friends I’ve lost touch with. (The others naturally found themselves in LA.)
This particular friend, the one who started Thacant, had the humor of Conan O’Brian and the delivery of Daniel Tosh. (Which, yes, is weird only because most people hate Daniel Tosh. My friend is not misogynistic in any way, shape or form. But I have a distinct memory of when Tosh.0 first started airing, myself and mutual friends all agreed that Tosh reminded us of our friend. Maybe also due to his tall, thin figure with blonde hair. My friend was funny, from what I remember, and observant like all good comedians – and writers. He also had an internship at The Tonight Show when Conan was hosting it. Our semester in Los Angeles coincided with the Conan/Tonight Show debacle.)
The reason I’m telling you this whole story is to illustrate my immediate relationship with writing. And, I guess, I’m also telling it as a testament to this site. I haven’t thought about Thacant in years, yet I think of these friends often. Even though it was just blogging, which they only used to pass the time, it got me where I am today. And it has taught me everything.
I’ve read a few “On Writing” books along the way, I’m an avid reader and my father is a reporter. My interest in writing has always been there, but my major in college, (which led to a job with a salary) stood in the way. As an undergrad, I never had time for writing. I was always running the radio station. Writing was always such a luxury to me, something I did for fun. I took non-required writing classes outside of my program while my fellow communications majors thought I was crazy to take on extra work. (Although, meanwhile, our communications school should be ashamed of itself. Barely any students (journalism and scriptwriting aside) studying “communications” knew how to write anything that wasn’t a script or production notes. In my major, in particular, there were two required courses structured around writing. Two, over four years. Although, my classmates were excellent at putting ideas to video, producing television and editing sound – something I never had the patience for or devoted interest in – none of them knew how communicate their ideas on a page. Which is THE bare essential to being a good communicator. A close second is picking up the phone.)
So maybe now you understand when I say that my relationship with writing is immediate. Whenever I write something, ever since that first issue of Thacant, it went out into the world. Maybe one person would read it or 100 people would read it. To me, it didn’t matter. It still doesn’t. The fact that someone is reading what I wrote is all that matters to me. (After all, isn’t that the point?) It’s why I still write, it’s motivating and inspiring. (And, yes, I love it too.)
Which leads me to my argument about small time blogging. If it’s out there in the world, then it matters. Likely, someone put their heart, soul and sweat into whatever you’re reading. I know that no matter how big or small an online publication, or personal blog, it matters to the author, likely, more than the audience will understand. It’s the “share” button on whatever format or portal of your choice. As soon as you’re done with it (presumably, after editing) it went into the world and joined the conversation. Which, while information is still free, is one of the greatest things about the Internet.
There is a major misconception about blogging, which in all seriousness is what every online publication technically is. People write blogs off as nothing serious. (Because it’s online? Because there are so many of us? Because of the fad-blogs and Tumblr-themes and memes? I’m not sure I’ll ever know why.) Usually, these are people who have never blogged before. When you keep up with it and blog every day, it is incredibly fulfilling to “join the conversation.” Readers of online publications (so, all of us) know that timeliness matters, sometimes even more, than content. (Which is a shame, but it can be true.) If you publish your review first, then that’s it. You’re first. The same goes with news stories. It’s just the nature of online publications. Yet we do need to be aware of sources. The ability for anyone to have a news blog is problematic to actual reporting. There is also the overflow of information, but that’s what you get when information is free.
I think this is why actual print media has failed: by the time you get to physical presses, it’s old news. It’s old news by the time the ink is dry. We created this news feed. It is our news cycle. And ironically enough, people who read the Internet don’t understand blogging and complain about the blogosphere. (They think the writing is amateur, there’s too many of us, which, apparently, discredits our ideas and efforts.) Readers just expect it to be there. While bloggers face a pressure to be first and to be correct (we should lean on the latter MORE.) They face a pressure to stand out in this new news vessel, no matter what the discussion is about. You, the tiny blogger, might not be at the level where you deliver unique content – but you are part of the national discussion. It’s out there. Even if one person is reading it or a hundred people are.
This is why blogging is important to me. It’s important to all of us. When it’s not our job (there are lucky ones who get paid to blog) I’m sure it’s what most of us think every day, “shit, I haven’t written in a few days. I need to update.” Or we’re just obsessing about page views.
This is our new news vessel.
I’ve had an immediate relationship with writing, until now. I’m writing this in a word document. And this is day two working on the piece. (I’ve worked on blog posts over a few days, but I’ve always composed them in a browser, with the Internet available for research and fact checking.) [Reader’s note: up until this point, I’ve been editing this in Chrome.]
I moved to New York three days ago (likely longer by the time you’re reading this) [four] and I didn’t think ahead to call the Internet service provider. It’s actually working out because it’s not the distraction I know it would’ve been. I’ve put together four pieces of furniture, hung about 15 frames, unpacked every box, swept every floor, taken out the garbage, ran errands, listened to records and have become entirely too familiar with three FM stations’ programming cycles. I spent Monday in Manhattan. I went to Strand and saw Afrika Bambaataa’s vinyl collection on display in a gallery in the West Village. (It was totally anticlimactic: just boxes and boxes and boxes of vinyl on tables in a white room. There was a turn table to play some records, but more than half of them were marked “Please do not remove these records from their box.” If you’re in the area, it’s in the West Village until August 10th.) I finished “Mo’ Meta Blues,” ?uestlove’s new memoir AND a niche book I found at Strand – by David Foster Wallace and Mark Costello about hip hop in Cambridge, MA in 1989.
Everyone who knows me knows I’m an Internet fanatic – hell, who isn’t? So I’ve been displaying my lack of wifi among friends and family. (Let’s not be crazy. I still had email, twitter and Facebook on my phone.) My mom suggested that I write in a word document. “You can always publish it later.” The same best friend, from before, encouraged me to do the same. So here we are, without immediacy. We’re just here. And I can’t help but think, what’s the point?
Without the immediacy of publishing something, is there a lost value to writing it? If I were to never publish this piece, would my tone be worthless? Would it never matter that I am asking questions that no one would ever have the chance to answer? (Yes.) Considering how I learned to write was, let’s face it, was online (I am in the generation who learned how to type because of AOL Instant Messenger) if something is never published, does it ever get read? (No.) Then does it exist? Then, what’s the point?
It makes me think about people who don’t write with a physical, immediacy. They write in other formats (OR maybe they write to press and it’s published later.) like the novel or short stories and they’re read eventually. (Perhaps, inner monolog here, that is why writing fiction has yet to appeal to me? There is no immediacy to it.) They don’t write to publish. They’re writing word documents, just like this one, and they’re writing huge novels, or short ones. They’re writing to write (I assume. Which I do too, only with the fun process of someone reading it after.) They’re writing descriptive pages full of random, made up worlds and conversations that had to be invented. Which is something I’ve never been able to wrap my head around. How am I supposed to do that? Just think of it? I am baffled by the fiction writer and their ability.
It brings into question – who are they writing for? When will someone read it? MORE importantly, if they are writing for publication press – somewhere somehow – an editor or publisher has to tell them if it’s worthy of their ink to have it published. Online writers have the ability to publish endlessly (that is, until you’re friend deletes it.) And promote yourself endlessly with social media networks. (Nothing can bring you more attention than a twittersphere and the community of writers on Tumblr. Leave it to writers to utilize social media sites designed around reading and writing.)
Fiction writing is a moveable feat. Maybe one day I will understand it, but I’m positive that it’s not today.
I find it easier to observe a world and talk to people, write down their story and help put their life on the page rather than make one up. (Which is why I’m a Non-Fiction MFA.) With instant publication from the Internet, writers and reporters have something unique that our parents’ generation never had (and, for some reason, still seem unable to understand. Well, maybe not all parents.) We have the ability to be instant. (Which means we need to be more careful now more than ever. We all know how to mess it up, we’ve seen it and we’ve done it. Instant publishing also means instant editing.) We have the ability to change our viewpoint (like The Fork changing record review scores) and fix a typo. We have the ability to be instant. And with great power, comes great responsibility. We are writers of a new generation and a new stigma.
The Internet has (probably, definitely) impressed upon my sentence structure, my tone and my point of view. And it’s taught me how to write. It got me writing, usually every day (be it twitter, tumblr, WordPress, emails or otherwise) and it got my ideas out into the world.
I honestly can’t think of anything better for a writer.
Since high school and then in college, to the “real world job” I had for three years, I’ve learned the same lesson: it is what you put into it. And I speak from experience when I say, you need to put something into the Internet to get something out of it.