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Meta-blogging: The Sequel!

June 24, 2020

This became extremely long in the writing, which has taken me days weeks. It has morphed from a reflection on my personal history with blogging to, in part, just straight-up autobiography. As we like to say far too much these days, “it is what it is”….

I have written so many blog posts over the years that were themselves about blogging, so much so that “meta-blogging” is not only one of my most commonly used tags, but it was the title of my first post on WordPress, 14 years ago. Every time I try to come back to blogging after a hiatus (each of which seem to become longer than the previous one), I find myself reflecting on, what is the purpose of blogging at all? It was a thing when I first started on Christmas Eve 2000.

(side note: I so wish I’d had the presence of mind to have started in 1999, so that I could claim to now have blogged in four different decades– and two different centuries or even two different millennia– alas– well I had written a personal webpage as early as 1996, it just wasn’t a “blog” per se, does that still count? Moving on… ).

It was a thing in 2000 because the following were not yet things: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, smartphones, etc. The World Wide Web itself was less than a decade old, but it was growing exponentially. So the capacity was already there for any person (with Internet access) to write (type) anything they wanted and publish it for potentially any other person (with Internet access) in the world to read, for free (excluding any cost of aforementioned Internet access).

Before the Web, if you had thoughts you chose to put into writing, and you wanted others to read said written thoughts, you had to get said writing published. You could pay to self-publish a book (as my father did, with his long-researched genealogical tome, O’Quinn Cousins by the Dozens) . Otherwise, to get published without paying, someone else had to decide to publish you. For most of us, the best, if not only, chance we’d ever have to see our writing in mass print was in the form of a letter to the editor of our local newspaper.

That all changed, of course. It was a natural progression: first there was the Web. Then there was the realization that the digital frontier did not belong to just its initial academic and government institutions, but to businesses and, eventually, individuals, who discovered that they could, with basic knowledge of HTML, create personal homepages to share their thoughts, opinions, and perhaps one photo of their cat. (Videos of their cats were still years away, as most of us could not do better than 44.6 kb/s dial-up modems at home).

Then someone realized that the sole purpose of many of these personal homepages was as an online diary for its owner, and the concept of (we)blogs was born. I had the aforementioned homepage on a site called GeoCities and was the target of one “Bianca Broussard” who email-spammed thousands of GeoCities site-owners. “She” had this to say:

I was surfing geocities and checked out your site at
geocities/xxxxx. I have a good friend with a really similar
site, and I passed your url along to her. Have you ever seen a
weblog? I was noticing your writing style, and I think the weblog
format might really work well for you. I just started one
recently, and I am actually thinking of dumping my homepage in
favor of just having the weblog, since I’m enjoying it so much
more than maintaining my homesite. Anyway, I really just wanted
to say thanks for an interesting site!

Bianca

Men at any age (I was 25 at the time) are susceptible to random women calling them “interesting.” Her alleged thoughts were so in line with my own, it was eerie. More strangely, she was a high school teacher at a time when I taught students barely graduated from high school. Bianca’s blog was on this site called Xanga and had roughly a month’s worth of entries, which was all fascinating, considering she was eventually exposed as… not a real person. B.B. was what we would call today a “deepfake,” a reasonably convincing but totally fictitious persona created as a (quite effective, as it turned out) viral marketing ploy. She sucked us in (male and female bloggers-to-be alike), we signed up, we started writing, we subscribed to read the posts of one another, we mutually read and commented and quickly built a sense of community, which was easy enough in those early days, as 2000 turned to 2001, when there was still a relatively small number of active Xangans. In addition to comments, you could give a post “eProps”– either 1 or 2, which was strange, since almost every time people would choose to give 2 instead of 1; they were the precursor to today’s ubiquitous “Like” button.

And so, a new era began, the Age of the Blogosphere, when traditional journalism entered its slow death spiral as anyone– regardless of whether they were talented or even reasonably informed– could self-publish articles, essays, short stories, poetry, songs, etc. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I certainly wrote far more than I ever had before. But, Xanga itself– its creators and developers– wanted to expand into something more than just a blogging community. This is what I wrote about it on the above-mentioned very first WordPress post, from June 23, 2006:

Xanga held a lot of promise in the beginning, as it hosted a community of talented, engaging, adult writers. But as the decade continued and seemingly every teenager in this country (and many others) gained apparent 24/7 Internet access, this demographic essentially took over the site, and Xanga became a precursor to MySpace, which it now tries to emulate through extended profiles, chatboards, photoblogs, et. al. I can’t begrudge the Xanga Team their desire to grab a share of MySpace’s phenomenal success. They are a corporation, after all; they’re in business to make money.

Towards this end, what has plagued Xanga the most, from the beginning, is that it’s always been a shoestring operation. They started with maybe half a dozen staff and haven’t much more than doubled that. That wasn’t such a problem with a couple thousand users; it’s very much an issue with 50 million. The balloon is bound to burst. There’s been a range of technical issues from the beginning. For example, lately, the posts on my page have taken to cutting off right in the middle when displayed– and thus leaving no link for comments.

Over the past few years I’ve looked at other bloghosts: LiveJournal (too much like Xanga), TypePad (pretty, but not free: that’s a problem), Blogger (fairly attractive look, but little community feel), and the entries from the corporate heavyweights: MSN Spaces (offers nothing I’ve seen to recommend it) and Yahoo! 360— which I was so excited about– because I really like Yahoo’s products. I even tried to keep my blog there, but I just didn’t care for it. It doesn’t offer much customizability, and after over a year they’re still in beta; what’s up with that?

I’m a grown-up, thirty-one years old, and about to start my professional career, finally. I want to be taken seriously as a blogger, and as a writer in general. That’s why I have this username– jasonwrites; it’s as simple as my first name and the verb. But the verb, for me, is in the imperative mood. If I put this name out there, I have to live up to it; it’s intentional self-motivation. I’m hoping it will work a bit better for me here on WP.

Well, that was then, and this now (age 45). A lot has changed… and a lot has not changed. I was married then, to a woman I met on Xanga, no less. Said marriage lasted 8+ years and produced no children, but four stepchildren, the oldest of whom I adopted, and as she’s mom to a five-year-old, I’m legally a grandpa, though I’ve only got to see him on three occasions, as they are all still in Colorado, and I’ve been here in Texas for seven years as of this month. That’s another story. (Also: don’t included eight clauses in one sentence). As of this week, I have been with my current partner for three years, and her love and support have led me back to writing, and blogging, and she helps me become a better person every day.

Also, when this blog (the WordPress incarnation) began 14 years ago, I had just been hired for my first teaching position. I almost have to give that an asterisk as well, as I had been a teacher before– technically, a Graduate Teaching Assistant, but I was solely in charge of my one or two class sections each semester while I was studying towards a M.A. in English Literature at Purdue University. That was full-on classroom teaching, but it wasn’t quite the same as full-time, five classes a day, five days a week, 100-something total students who were not paying to be there…

I spent seven years teaching there in suburban Denver (in Jeffco Public Schools, a district probably most famous for being home to Columbine High School), but then came divorce and when that school year was finished, I up and moved to suburban Austin. Why? I get that question a lot. You see, I’ve try to reboot my adult life thrice by moving across the country. After I stayed home and commuted to college as an undergrad, I felt like I had missed out on the “college experience” and tried to make up for it by going far away for graduate school, so I left Georgia for Indiana. But I discovered grad school is kind of serious and not the ideal place to be enjoying 25-cent beer while dancing the night away on Thursday nights. Grad school wasn’t what I’d hoped it would be, and 9/11/01 came and I felt more disillusioned after. Academia did not seem to matter in a world where that happened.

By the time my Xanga blog turned one year old, as 2001 drew to a close, I had made the decision to quit Purdue and shuffle back home to Georgia. Back at home, I returned to my old job at The World of Coca-Cola and did little else. I’d experienced a falling out with my old friends before going to Indiana, and my new best friend, who I had met at WOCC during my first stint there, had followed me up there, but did not follow me back. I was lonely, bored, depressed, living again in my parents’ house, spending my nights in front of a monitor, booze in hand, and Xanga was my virtual lifeline. I made several friends (and have kept in touch with the majority of them, if only through Facebook), romanced a few, and married one, as mentioned above. I packed my car and moved to Colorado for her, and just shy of 11 years later, found myself repeating the same process, from Denver to Austin. In late 2011 I had found another blogging site, Thoughts.com, that recaptured some of the community feel I missed from Xanga, and still have yet to find here on WordPress. I made more friends there, the closest of whom lived in the Austin area. Post-divorce, losing my love for teaching (despite a great school), finding myself mired in much the same alcohol-abetted depression, in 2013 I made essentially the same decision as 2002. Had you asked me at any point prior to age 27 if I ever imagined living in Colorado or Texas, the answer would have been a definite NO. Life is funny like that.

Seven years on, I no longer associate with said friend. As the years pass, I seem to lose more old friends than I gain new ones. I prefer to think that this is not mainly about me– most who know me even casually usually describe me as a nice guy– but maybe I am not so wise at choosing who to befriend. That’s another– another story, and it may prove to be too personal to share in this venue.

Shortly after arriving in Texas, I started a new teaching position. I lasted at that school until November 8, 2013– ten weeks or so. I was overwhelmed, stressed, depressed, anxious… and had unwisely not refilled my antidepressants when they ran out. I quit, and felt bad for the students, though they were the most difficult group I’d ever had (also the youngest, being 6th grade). It was a perfect storm, as I tend to think of it: difficult students; weak, misguided administrators; a campus the district recognized was struggling, and threw money at in the form of incentive-based teacher retention initiatives, and a push to become an middle-years IB program. I was shocked when two students who started throwing fists in my classroom got the consequence of… two days after-school detention. Fighting was always an automatic suspension in my mind, but veteran teachers at the school dismissed it with “that happens all the time here.” Months after I left but before the end of that school year, I learned the principal was escorted from the building one day. Although I liked her personally, and was grateful she accepted my resignation without seeking to revoke my license, I can’t say I was surprised by the news.

For a time there, through the winter of 2013-14, I felt relieved and free. But I wasn’t able to just let teaching go, though I thought long about it. I completed the certification tests Texas requires (though I was already a veteran teacher of two content areas and “highly qualified” in both under federal law– that’s Texas for you). The summer came, and my on-off, perpetually temporary, and under-paying employment as a test scorer/supervisor with Pearson wound down, I applied for more teaching positions, just not in that same district. I had a very real fear that after my quitting act I would not be employable, but that proved wrong, as I secured half a dozen interviews, four of them in the same district and within a five-day span in late July. Ultimately, I got just one offer, and accepted it, and after six school years, I’m still there.

The advent of this current phase of my teaching career seemed to coincide with the end of my blogging career, as my regular (i.e. anything between “occasional” and “frequent”) posting came to an end in March 2014, with only four more posts from then to the end of 2015, and none at all through all of 2016-2019, all the way to June 2020. Why? In the past, I would have wanted to document any new adventure. Plus, until mid-2017, I was single and living with only my dog, and had a lot of time on my hands when school was not in session. For whatever reason, I lacked motivation to blog. I can blame it on the seductive convenience of social media: Facebook of course, but equally Quora, where I could write blog-post-like “answers” to questions and compose multi-paragraph comments as well. See, the “microblogging” platforms, like Twitter and Tumblr, just lack a certain appeal to me because, as can plainly be seen here, when I write, I like to write a lot; I am verbose in a way that I never am when speaking. That’s just me; I’ve always expressed myself better in writing than orally. But it’s frustrating for me in a world where two-paragraph work emails get two-word responses and a whole generation has learned how to express themselves in 140 characters.

There is also the million-dollar question: am I writing something that anyone will want to read? That’s what it comes down to with blogs: why publish it if you don’t expect anyone to read it? We have journals, after all, and their digital counterparts in Microsoft Word and Google Docs and hundreds of apps, if one just wants to write for oneself. Blogging is writing intended for an audience. Eventually, you will probably know a select few members of that audience, from their regular comments, and you selectively fine-tune your composition to them, but you also have others who visit for the first time, attracted perhaps by one of your regulars, but just as commonly through a Google search, or seeing your post in a list under a particular tag, and some of them read and perhaps even comment and subscribe for reasons you will likely never know, and you are writing for them also.

I feel confident that the number of individuals who will ever read all of this nearly-3000-word essay can be counted on the fingers of one hand. That’s OK. I am here. I have many more topics I can essay on about in this strange age of global pandemic. If you’re reading this, please comment. I think it should be evident at this point that I not only appreciate, but need the motivation.

This is The End, really, thank you very much for reading.

I didn’t get it

June 2, 2020

I am a 45-year-old, college-educated, professional, heterosexual white male. I am a birthright citizen of the United States of America and English is my native language.

There are a few things about me that I would call, not necessarily disabilities, but “deficiencies”; whatever impact they may have pales in comparison to the advantages, indeed the privilege, I possess merely by meeting the criteria I listed in the first paragraph.

I grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, in a metropolitan oasis within the Deep South. I grew up almost literally in the shadow of Stone Mountain, an outcropping of granite upon which is carved what could be considered a Mount Rushmore of the Confederacy: Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, and Robert E. Lee on horseback. I climbed Stone Mountain many times, on the opposite side of the carving, and I even worked there, in the park, for a season.

I didn’t get it. I objectively knew who was represented there. I attended, many times as well, the Laser Show, where the sculpture “came to life” in beams of light and music. By the time I was a young adult, one part of the show depicted Lee surveying his dead soldiers and a tear dropping from his eye, and then breaking his sword over his knee, and then the outlines of the northern and southern states drawing back together into one nation. The first couple of times I saw this portion- portrayed while Elvis sings “An American Trilogy,” which features the strange juxtaposition of “Dixie” followed by “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”- I thought, how poignant. They are showing Lee as realizing how futile the war was and how great it is that the divided nation was healed.

I didn’t get it. That little feel-good animation was nothing but revisionist history. If it had been true, there would never have been motivation to carve those three figures on a mountain side, nor erect statues to those proclaimed the fallen heroes of the Lost Cause.

That mountain lies no more than 15 miles as the crow flies from the King Center in downtown Atlanta. Dr. King mentioned it in his “I Have a Dream” speech: “Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.” It was surely a conscious choice. He knew not only about the carvings, but the fact that Stone Mountain was the site of the rebirth of the KKK in Georgia in 1915.

Growing up, I never thought I was racist. I thought my parents did not mean to be racist, but occasionally they could be. They were products of their time, both born in Georgia at the height of the Great Depression, one on a farm down south, the other in a small cotton mill town in what is now an exurb of Atlanta. They would say things that implied they would always perceive Black people as “Other,” not necessarily inferior, but definitely different from them. Statements made in passing like “she’s pretty, for a black girl.”

My father called it the “Civil War” but gave equal credence to the “War Between the States”. He called Lincoln a fraud because the Emancipation Proclamation did not free any slaves in reality. He thought Lee was noble because he wouldn’t betray his home state of Virginia (instead, he violated his oath as an officer of the U.S. Army). He would, sometimes, support the argument that yes, slavery was evil, but their lives were still better than they had been in Africa. He had met and respected MLK Sr. but thought far less of his son for being an adulterer. Time blurs memory and I am describing views I believe he expressed, but I was young and he departed from us 17 years ago, so I hope I am not misrepresenting any of his views.

My mother, for her part, did not pontificate on history. Hers was one of the most empathetic souls I’ve known and she always decried inequality and injustice as she saw it. She was the one liable to make the “pretty for a black girl” comment. But she was also one who always invite the Jehovah’s Witnesses– invariably black women– into the living room to chat for an hour or so. She did want to get me out of my neighborhood high school, which was about 99% black, and we used my grandmother’s address to send me to a school that was about 50/50 when I started but closer to 80/20 (black/white) by the time I graduated.

I went on to college, schooling and working in downtown Atlanta. My neighborhood grew blacker. It didn’t bother me, but I saw white flight literally before my eyes, as close neighbors gradually moved away, one after another. As a result of a sequence of stupid decisions, I found myself still in college, but without a car. I had to rely on public transportation, which in Atlanta is MARTA. Actually, I had always rode the train into the city, but I drove to the train station. My mom was not willing to drive “all the way” to the train station, so she drove me to the nearest stop for a bus that connected to said station. While the train was always a mixed crowd, the bus was much more homogeneous.

In simpler terms, I was, nearly always, the only white person on the bus. Did it make me uncomfortable? Yes. I’m not proud to say it, but it’s the truth. In time, I started to get used to it. I got a bit concerned one evening when I realized the conversation around me was on the topic of “the man keeping us down” but then I heard: “but not this guy, he’s alright” clearly referring to me. Which I thought was strange, since I hadn’t spoken a word in all of it. More than that, though, I felt relieved. Maybe I should have felt offended that I was so non-threatening, but I like to see it as, there was something about my demeanor that said, this guy’s not here to judge us. Which I was not, and never have been.

That was my life, growing up. I did not see myself as a racist, and I railed against it when I saw or heard it. I remember a neighbor, two houses over. I was talking about one boy in our class (he’s a friend on facebook to this day) who was two grade levels ahead of the rest of us in math. Eventually, while we were still in elementary school (no middle school there at the time), he would have to go to the high school for part of the day for his math class. He happened to be black, and I guess I mentioned that somewhere in the conversation. My neighbor, a middle-aged white lady, said, “But Jason, surely you don’t think he’s smarter than you?” Somehow, that was epiphany moment, the point when I was just old and aware enough and hearing such a remark for the first time clearly enough to realize, “she is a racist.” I can’t remember exactly what I replied but I know it was something like “yes, he is, at least in math!”

But I still didn’t get it. Despite all the black people I knew and associated with, and the many I called friends, and my knowledge of the civil rights movement, I didn’t get it. How society defines you by a physical characteristic, how this dictates how others behave towards you. More than that, I didn’t get what those three figures in granite, and all their related statuary, and that particular flag that I knew best from the car in the Dukes of Hazzard, really represented. That they aren’t just “history” or “heritage.” They are another “h” word: Hate.

Hate of an entire race because the war to keep them enslaved was lost, because they then dared to seek equal rights, because at least a few among them would not meekly accept the inferior status legislated upon them by Jim Crow.

Hate that had slowly diminished over the decades, or so we thought. But its spirit has manifested again and again every time those who are hired to serve and protect do the exact opposite.

I didn’t get it and I can never quite get it, myself. But there are parts I can get, and ways I get to help. I can write, I can teach, I can keep the discussion going among a diverse set of young adults, so that awareness persists and action is promoted. More about that to come.

Our One True Thing

June 1, 2020

Blogging, a journey I began nearly twenty years ago.. My last hiatus from it has been the longest, some 4½ years now. But when life is no longer as we’ve known it, when we’re losing the fight to an enemy with no brain, and all our own advanced brains can focus on is either administering injustice or raging back against it… In uncertain times, we turn to certain comfort, from our one thing, unique to each individual… My one thing is writing, and sharing it here. So here I am. I don’t dare say every day or fix myself to set times or word counts. I am just here to write again as I may, for none of us profit in the long run from denying our one true thing.

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