Monday, January 28, 2013

Done a Thousand Times

According to my blog's dashboard, this is my 1,000th post.  According to the blog archive on the sidebar, this is actually 1,003.  Either way, its a large, round, meaningless milestone, so let's use it to take stock.

My experience has been that a blog, on the whole, can be expected to last about 30 to 36 months.  Somewhere after 25 months, a lot of bloggers start to feel the blahs.  They've run out of most everything they have to say, and it seems less and less important to write out another five hundred words to say it all over again.  The stretches between postings get longer and longer.  The posts get shorter and start to feature more pictures than words.  Eventually, a blogger realizes its been four months since their last post.  Some recognize the coming truth and quit.  Others write a few "I'm back!" posts before realizing that no, they're really not.

I am right now just four months shy, to the day, of my 5th year.  My first post was May 28, 2008.  I did feel a bit of depression around 30 months.  I was slogging a bit, feeling the crunch of too little feedback, or too much of the worthless, trolling kind.  However, I kept up the idea that I was doing more than just talking to people on this blog; I was commemorating the work I've done for thirty years into a written format, so as to make it concrete.  This sustained me through the hard times.

The invigoration of this blog began, I believe, when I set about the moderate the comments.  I got tired of writing long, difficult posts describing some fine-tuned element of the game, only to get back a disrespectful answer from someone who plainly did not, or could not read what I'd written.  I'd long run into this sort of behavior.  I've written opinion pieces since my university days, and been vilified for them, but once upon a time the worst, most ignorant sort of letters weren't published by editors.  All I did here was apply the same sort of process.

At first, I got a lot of angry replies, most of them personal, some insistent on their moral rightness or some other hooey.  The truly dedicated went back to their own blogs to write insulting posts about me and my lack of intelligence, consideration, etc.   I see that most of the truly dedicated occasionally still drop around this blog to see how I'm doing lately.  All power to them.

In time, the bad comments fell off and left me with people who tend to make an effort in their reply.  I'm amused by the fact that I'm so scary that some feel it isn't worth it to comment, or that they don't want the abuse that's bound to follow.  They're probably right.  There are many people who regularly suffer no abuse when commenting on this blog.  I wonder why this is.

I began writing seriously in the 7th grade.  I did not have much natural literary talent, but I had something to say and I liked the power and control that came from shaping stories as a writer.  I didn't hesitate to tell others at the time what my plans were - and I learned early on that if you answer the question, "what do you want to do when you grow up" with "writer," you get a lot of pushback.  No one thinks choosing doctor or researcher or engineer is a bad plan ... but a writer or any other kind of artist is living in cloud cuckoo land and the teachers and authority figures line up to explain that.

So right from the beginning, writing has been a bloodsport.

One of the more momentous moments in my process of becoming a writer occurred when Mr. Whitehead, my grade 11 drama teacher, offered to critique my work.  Basically, he approached the matter with, "All right, you want to be a writer, let me see what you've written and I'll give my opinion."  I had a lot of respect for Mr. Whitehead.  He talked straight to the students, he was young and hip and creative, he let us break a lot of rules where it came to what we wanted to put on stage and as far as I could tell, he was widely experienced and educated.  He had been in Hollywood, he said ... but I can't remember what his first name was, and I can't find him on IMDb.  So it goes.

I remember he told us that the reason he'd left California was because he was straight and he couldn't take being hit on by gays anymore.  In 1982, that was quite a revelation coming from a teacher.

I poured work onto Whitehead, since I was always writing and I had a lot to give him.  He distilled it for two weeks, then sat down with me and for an hour extolled all the reasons why I would never be a writer.  He meant well; he believed he was doing the best thing for me he could.  I don't doubt that based on what I was writing at the time (I still had no acquired talent) that what he'd read of mine was complete shit.  I remember handling the opinion very well.  I also ignored it completely.

Over the next seven years I wrote and sent things to be published and achieved nothing in the way of success.  I did not go to university out of high school.  I felt sick of school and its self-imposed superiority and so I went out into the real world.  I used my talents for math and statistics to land a couple of high paying jobs in the oil sector, the money from which I blew on a lot of sex and wasted fun, mostly hanging around musicians.  Good times.

University, which I started in '86, brought me face to face with the campus paper.  I found myself reading something completely imbecilic on the editorial page, I went around to explain it to the editor and was asked to write a reply.  He published what I'd written, then asked me if I wanted to write more ... and so between 1989 and 1992 I wrote an article about once a week, slamming government, students, political activists, sports, war, the campus administration, anybody I wanted.  Most of what I wrote was published, and most of it got lots of angry letters that made one fellow at the paper very happy - the fellow who sold its advertising.

One of the rules about old journalism - the limit on how much advertising you can sell is based on how much meaningful, worthwhile content you can create.  Too little content per ad and you have a rag no one will read.  Too much content with too few ads, and your business department is sorely lacking.  What's really desired is a 3/5 split in page space - 3 parts advertising, 5 parts content.

The problem is with most campus papers is that getting enough content on the page that's worth reading is HARD.  If the sales department is good - and Clark at the Gauntlet was very good - it doesn't take long before you're scrambling around to fill up the space between the ads.

When I wrote an especially nasty letter, we would get two pages of angry, interesting, padding comments that would comfortably fill up the paper and make it viable.  I remember in those days while the other students were sitting around in the editorial offices, I would get as much time talking to Clark as possible.  Of course he was working, so that was limited - but I learned a lot of good lessons.

I have a favorite story about the article I wrote in 1990 that got one of my editors punched in the stomach.

This may not win me many fans, but one of the things I have long held a grudge against has been Native Rights.  I am a fan of anyone who is a human being, even the occasional stupid person who inexplicably reads this blog.  However, I'm not a big fan of the cultural industry that has grown up around the unjustifiable misery caused by white people against natives in the last two centuries.  The misery was, unquestionably, of the lowest order.  But the INDUSTRY that has chosen to capitalize on that misery in its particular way - the welfare demands by a people who themselves experienced no personal part of that misery - this has always stuck in my craw.

In 1990 I wrote an article comparing the Native peoples of Canada with the white people in South Africa, round about the time that Aparthied was all the rage.  As I saw it, Apartheid was largely about a minority based on their race having more rights and privileges than persons in the country not of that race ... and I proceeded to identify the rights and privileges enjoyed by the Natives of Canada that I did not enjoy.  I then went on to point out, from statistics, just how small was that minority in Canada:  0.4%.

The editor of the time, a noble fellow I shall always remember fondly, changed one word that had absolutely nothing to do with the tone of the piece - it was something semantic, but I don't remember - then published it.  And the balloon went up.

The first thing that happened was the Native Association on campus tried to seize every paper that had been published.  They grabbed them from paper boxes, they grabbed them from local businesses and they knocked on professors' doors to get them from those who had subscriptions.

Then the Head of the Native Association marched down to try to seize those papers in the Gauntlet office, and to demand that the Guantlet a) never allowed me to write another article for the paper again; and b) that a retraction be printed apologizing for this gross malfeisance of justice, yada yada yada.  My Noble Editor refused.  He refused to allow the Head to seize the office papers, as those were private property of the Gauntlet.  He refused to deny me further access as a writer.  I remember as he explained this to the woman who was the Head, she got angrier and angrier, to the point where she was literally hopping mad.  My Noble Editor had, upon my first word, told me to shut the fuck up, and so I did, doing nothing but let him defend me.  It was quite the experience.

As it happened, the other editor of the Guantlet (there were two elected in those days) chanced to come in the door and this woman, well into the realm of hysteria, spun around as though attacked and slugged my other editor - an equally Noble Woman who is now a doctor, right in the stomach.  HARD.  The future doctor went down and the Head marched out through the door.

The only thing that came of that was a brief and quickly dropped assault case, reported by the editor who was punched and not pursued by the crown.  I continued to write.

So, as I said, writing has long been a confrontational bloodsport for me.

I did later write a couple of other articles about Natives, culminating in one I wrote about money unaccounted for among Ontario bands connected to the prevalence of ignored native youths killing themselves sniffing gasoline from plastic bags.  That got me called into the office of the later Head of the same Native Association, who wanted to cowe me with his 'authority' and privilege and connections with the Alberta Government - I'm not kidding, he quoted all three at me.  I explained that the events in Ontario that I quoted were a matter of record and that I didn't give a shit about his position or anything that he stood for, and that the mere act of attempting to coerce me into writing an apology was tantamount to fascism.  What came out of that was that I was banned - for life - from all native events in the city of Calgary.  I haven't tried to find out if the ban still holds.

Since leaving university, very little of my writing has been political ... and frankly, it has improved quite a lot since then.  It improves all the time.  Everything I write on this blog is one draft only, written as fast as I can type.  Rarely do I go back and edit.  I rather enjoy that I'm not duty bound to fix and fix this writing, as I am things I truly worry about ... like the novel I hope to expect to launch in February.  Right now, I'm through the complete edit and I'm double checking to see if I can't catch the sort of silly errors like a missing word here and there.  The cover is also turning into a problem, as we are trying to find a Les Paul that can be used for the image.

I've enjoyed writing all this time, these past five years.  Understand, however, that where it comes to feeling uncertain about what I believe or what I'm prepared to fight for, there's been nothing here on the internet that has ever challenged me.

The real scary people are in the real world. But I have the attitude necessary for them, too:


Jack said...

BRAVO! I have come late to your blog, and know only a tiny fraction of your body of work, but as an old-school American, I know free speech, and I know Political Correctness by its true name, Intellectual Fascism.

I don't know your political views, and I don't know whether you would support the things that I oppose, but based on this post and the assumption that it is a true representation of facts, I pronounce you heroic. Voices like yours are the source of all human freedom. Allow me to repeat: BRAVO!

Chris Hogan said...

I'm trying to think of a comment more substantive than "cool story bro", but I have nothing to add to your post.

So let me just say sincere congratulations on the 1,000+ posts. Here's to a thousand more.

(came for the hex maps, stayed for the DMing + worldbuilding)

Anonymous said...

I can relate to the experience of not being a writer by "trade" or "natural ability." I enjoy writing and game design (or musing, as it is), but it is not what I do for a living.

I can also relate to having life experiences that make me quite unflappable -- I have just started my own blog, but can't imagine that any comments, however derisive, could rise to the level of being yelled at in Encounter Groups. :D

I also wanted to share a story about my early "writing:" When I was in junior high school I hurriedly wrote a short story for my English class during my "study hall" period. I recall, at the time, having a seething hatred for a peer and wrote the story in such a way to fantastically embarrass this peer. I suppose I wrote it in some kind of aggressive fever as after I turned it in my mother received a phone call from the school and copy of the story was sent home. My parents were horrified at the story as it contained very disturbing content.

Disclaimer: I have never set fires, tortured small animals or wet my bed. Just wrote a lot of disturbing stuff as a kid and now, as an adult, for fun. . .

JD said...

This is very impressive and I, too, want to congratulate you without adding anything but the humble wish for another 1000 posts and the good discussions that tend to happen with them.

Well, one more thing, I love the "writing is bloodsport" statement. Rings so true...

Anonymous said...

Echoing the above sentiments I only want to add that it was only upon reading this that your perfect analog, Rorschach, was made obvious to me. I sure hope you get out another 1,000 posts before Dr. Manhattan turns you to atomic dust.

joe said...

I write as a reporter for my local newspaper.

If no one is angry at us, we are not doing our jobs.

ESR said...

I like your stories about writing to make people react. I think emotional reaction is what all writers strive for, really.

I find the blog refreshing in its sincerity.

I also find it amazing that you don't feel the need to edit - but if you did, you probably wouldn't still be blogging because it would feel too much like work.

connor mckay said...

I know its a long shot, but you don't happen to still have, or know where to find, the article you wrote about how the current state of Native politics/guilt industry is related to the Apartheid system do you?

I have gotten into conversations about this before, and am always rebuffed with the usual "Your a heartless bastard for thinking that they don't deserve everything we give them and more" and I would like to read this and learn from it. It is terrible difficult to find things on the internet that aren't slanted in an absurd way on the topic.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Yes, I keep it in the university of Calgary Gauntlet newspaper yearbook, 1989/90, in the Gauntlet back office. Assuming it is still there. The last time I checked was 1998.