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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.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Ross Martin permalink
    June 24, 2020 1:07 pm

    I read it! While our friendship isn’t what it was in our teens, I’ll always cherish it and consider you a dear friend. The few times we have reconnected since it felt like we picked up where we left off. It’s nice to read this and fill in some blanks of my knowledge of your comings and goings over the years. As far as your writing, sometimes you have to do it even if nobody is listening. It’s part of why I still yell into the void of Twitter and Facebook. Well not Facebook lately. As long as it is therapeutic for you, then that is all the reason to do it you need. Sadly part of getting older seems to be losing touch with friends without replacing them. I too know this feeling all too well. Especially since we weren’t able to have a kid to link you to other child rearing adults. Honestly, I don’t see my friends much less in FL than I did while still in GA.

    Like

    • June 25, 2020 3:08 pm

      Even though you must have been really bored to read all that, I thank you, good sir. It’s a bit of a lame way to reply, but I agree with all you said. I have one brother and sister-in-law still in Miami (sadly, no longer with my mom there) so the next time I visit them, I need to make a point to stop by your area– one time, the connecting flight went through Tampa, so it seems it should be easy to do. I appreciate your support, as always!

      Like

  2. June 24, 2020 4:14 pm

    Writing is good for the soul! Keep it up!

    Like

  3. June 27, 2020 3:36 pm

    Between your comments and this post, I think you may be motivating me! So I hope to continue to see you around, and who knows, maybe I’ll have my own post sometime in the next…year idk haha. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. July 1, 2020 12:08 pm

    Thank you for taking the time and share your thoughts and parts your story with – I enjoyed your writing ‘back then’ as I do now. Though back then I didn’t comment, because I’m not great at talking to strangers (it’s the Merry Loner for a reason …). Looking forward to your next post 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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