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Posts Tagged ‘blogging’

Death of the Blog?

October 2nd, 2013 No comments

This won’t be my last blog entry ever, but it will probably be the last for a very long time. It’s not that I’m no longer documenting my experiences—I’ve written fourteen journal entries since my return from Germany, but I haven’t been inclined to post any of them online. The only one I did post, the Sports Day entry, was the second of two entries I wrote about Sports Day, one written specifically for the online journal with emotional content kept to a bare minimum. Over the last year or so I’ve grown more and more wary of sharing my personal thoughts and feelings with the world, and I’ve been keeping most entries private, occasionally posting public versions edited for content. In doing so I’ve constantly had to keep this process in mind as I write, making sure all personal thoughts I might want to edit out for the public version are carefully quarantined and easy to remove during editing. Lately I’ve lost the motivation to even do this, figuring that if any part of an entry is too personal for me to want to publish I just won’t publish that entry. I’ve just gone back to writing whatever I feel like writing without worrying about which parts are publicly acceptable and which parts I should keep to myself—the way a real journal is supposed to work.

As such, there are a few significant experiences that have gone undocumented in the public journal whereas in private I’ve documented them thoroughly. For instance, I wrote quite a few entries with regard to this year’s Speech Contest which took place a couple of weeks ago. I want to remember my experiences helping those students prepare and how I felt throughout the process right up until the day of the contest, but it felt like that sort of thing is between me and my students and there’s no reason the rest of the world needs to know about it. Editing out their names is beside the point—it’s not so much about confidentiality as it is about basic personal privacy. I don’t want to have to think about what other people reading this journal might think about my thoughts.

When I decided to start journaling online it was out of an idealistic notion of radical openness, the idea that if everyone were to just be as open and honest about who they are with the world, the world might become a more tolerant and understanding place. That may be true and the world might be gradually moving towards that point, but in the mean-time anyone who does so is going to have to deal with a lot of unpleasant consequences. When people close to me discovered and read the journal I had to start editing myself, and over the years I edited myself more and more to the point where the entire original point of doing this online was completely lost. What started as an experiment in fierce unapologetic public honesty has essentially become nothing more than “letters home from Japan.”

For awhile I also experimented with political blogging, and for almost two years the political entries greatly outnumbered the personal. I gave it a shot and for awhile I thought I might have some potential in that area, but I gradually lost all motivation to continue that as well. Political blogging, I came to discover, is one of the least rewarding ways imaginable to spend one’s time. I put a lot of thought and effort into my political entries, and I’d post them here to no reaction and on another website where the reaction was often positive but usually nothing worthwhile. After all those hours spent researching and writing, posting and discussing, I can’t honestly believe I ever changed a single person’s opinion on anything. There will be no more political entries here either.

I struggle to think of any good reason I should continue to do this at all. The only kinds of entries I can still imagine being worthwhile are those having to do with travel. My 10-part series on my trip to Rome complete with maps and pictures remains one of my favorite things I’ve ever posted online. I’m happy with all my travel entries and feel like those experiences are exactly the kind of thing best suited for an online journal. Starting life in a new country is also an experience worth sharing publicly, with all the cultural observations it seems people are interested in. But just basic stuff about life events are either too personal to share or too dull for anyone to care.

I had a couple of notable firsts yesterday as I left school after lunch and went into Chiba to renew my work visa. Rather than deal with the hassle of the train situation, I figured I’d take advantage of having a car and shave about 2 hours off the journey by driving in. It was the first time I’ve driven on the highway in Japan and the first time I drove in a city. But there was nothing remarkable about it. It was strange that the right-lane is the passing lane but that’s about it. As for driving in Chiba-city—after driving through Brooklyn that didn’t phase me at all. The visa-renewal process was just boredom on top of boredom, as I hadn’t actually expected to go to immigration on the same day so I hadn’t brought a book. I got ticket number 107 when I arrived at 3:30, and the counter was up to 67. Three hours later I was one of only two people left in the room, and my number got called dead last at 6:10. (Of course, the three hours I had to wait this year was nothing compared to the three months I had to wait last year.)  Because I got out so late, the drive home was also the first extended night-time driving I’ve done in Japan, but there was nothing remarkable about that either.

Almost everything that happens to me which I do consider interesting or important is of a personal nature that I no longer have any inclination to post on a public blog. As such, entries have been generally shorter and less frequent. That’s how it’s been for awhile, and now I’m just making it official and explaining the reason. I still find tremendous value in documenting my life experiences, but most of that value is lost when I edit my most honest thoughts and feelings.

But if you’re one of the people who checks the blog regularly to find out what I’ve been up to, the upside is that the next time we catch up I can tell you about stuff you didn’t already know.

Categories: Personal Tags: , ,

End in Sight

October 6th, 2012 No comments

It’s been a long, long, long five weeks staying here and working for Domino’s when I should be teaching in Japan where I belong, but now I can finally safely say there’s just a little more than one week to go. The Certificate of Eligibility took the maximum amount of time to process (of course) but it finally came through this past Monday, got shipped here on Thursday and received by the Japanese consulate on Friday. I set up a time to go pick up my passport with the new work visa this upcoming Thursday, and bought a plane ticket to return to Japan the following Wednesday, October 17th.

I’d go into depth into what I’ve been doing and what it’s been like over the past month, but I already did. I took those entries down and they’re going to stay down. For years I’ve been using my journal for two primary things—recording the events of my life in order to better preserve the memories, and to vent my frustrations (i.e. “whining”). And while I think it’s just as valuable to have a record of my thoughts and feelings during certain time periods as well as the events themselves, there are plenty of people I’d rather not share those thoughts and feelings with. Some of them read this blog, and all of them potentially could. So from now I’ll be keeping most of my journal offline, entries will be fewer and farther between and devoid of almost any introspective commentary whatsoever. I suspect this will come as a huge disappointment to absolutely no one.

Next week I’ll have my final day of work at Domino’s on Monday, then Tuesday to get all my affairs in order and packed for Wednesday’s departure. I’ll be flying Air Canada, taking off from Newark at 7:00 a.m. and landing in Vancouver for a three hour stopover before flying directly from there to Japan. If there are no delays I’ll arrive in Narita at 3:25 p.m. on Thursday, and presumably go to an immigration office on the same day to apply for a new alien registration card. Interac may or may not send someone to meet me at the airport to help me take care of that.

But of course what I’m most looking forward to is Friday, when I’ll finally get to return to my school. In my last phone conversation with Interac they said if I arrived on a Thursday they’d have me back at school on Friday, so I might even be asked to teach some lessons that day, though with no time to plan them I can’t imagine they’d expect too much from me. I suspect they’ll probably have my replacement finish out the week, but I can still go in to say hello to everybody and discuss the following week’s lessons with the teachers. I’ll have the whole weekend to plan them, as well as get readjusted to the time-zone, reconnect with my ALT friends, and be back to normal life by Monday.

And then I’m never going on vacation again.

Categories: Personal Tags: , ,

Politically Unmotivated

February 23rd, 2011 No comments

Lately I just haven’t been able to summon the will to write about politics. I know there’s important stuff going on but I just don’t have much to say about any of it and I’m all-too-conscious of the fact that nobody really cares about my opinion anyway.

The revolutionary movements taking hold throughout the Middle East are a great thing in my opinion, but not knowing much about each individual country there’s not much more I can say that I haven’t already said in my posts about Tunisia and Egypt.

The protests taking place now in Wisconsin over the governor’s union-busting proposal are also a very positive development (the establishment is finally being reminded that conservatives aren’t the only Americans willing to take to the streets) and could potentially be a landmark event in American history, but there’s nothing I have to say about it that isn’t already being said, and I honestly don’t know enough about the inner workings of labor unions to say anything particularly intelligent about it anyway.

As for Barack Obama, he’s doing the same “look at how centrist I am” dance that he’s been doing since he took office, and I’ve said all I have to say about it a million times over. It also seems that every time I write a post critical of Obama I lose a few readers :)

The Republicans are engaging in their typical hypocritical behavior, talking about creating jobs but focusing mostly on making it harder for women to get abortions.

And all but a select few in the media are letting both parties get away with talking about spending cuts without ever suggesting that maybe the deficit wouldn’t be such a huge problem if they didn’t just give out $800 billion worth of tax-cuts, mostly to the richest 2%. The entire Washington establishment and corporate media seem to be engaging in some kind of cooperative selective amnesia. The poor and middle class have to make sacrifices because the government just doesn’t have enough money, but nobody dares to point out that we wouldn’t have to cut so deeply if the rich were to just pay their fair share.

Last but not least, the main source of the information that led us to war in Iraq has admitted to lying, and even though the Bush administration had every reason in the world not to trust him back then they still went to war anyway and this story is getting almost no attention at all. The conventional wisdom is that “we have to look forward, not backward” especially when behind us lies one of the most egregious crimes in history—a government deliberately deceiving its own people and the rest of the world in order to start a war that would result in the loss of tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of lives, the vast majority of them innocent Iraqis. At least all those kids died for a good cause—to make our military contractors richer.

I’m hearing almost no outrage about this, but I don’t have the energy to express it to the extent it warrants. My voice won’t make a lick of difference anyway, as my past two years of blogging have made clear to me.

In the past I might have been able to fully research and write out a lengthy post about all of these topics but now I just don’t feel like it. Presumably I’m just in a temporary slump right now and I’ll get back in the swing of things after a little while, but for now I’d rather devote most of my mental energy to learning Japanese—a much more practical use of my time seeing as how I’m moving to Japan in August. [Incidentally, learning Japanese is surprisingly fun. I only began last weekend and I can already read hiragana (ひらがな) and katakana (カタカナ) at about a 1st-grade level, and I’ve got about fifty of the most useful words and phrases firmly memorized.]

So for the handful of you who actually do appreciate my political posts, I just wanted to explain my relative absence from the blogosphere at this point in time. As with this post, I still intend to write something every now and then but not with as much frequency as before.

Meanwhile, Revolution Earth remains open for business and virtually devoid of participation (for which I mostly blame my own lack of motivation). I sincerely thank everyone who has been posting there, and anyone still interested in joining that little operation is always welcome. It doesn’t cost too much to maintain, so it won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

Until next time, sayounara (さようなら).

State of the Blog 2011

January 26th, 2011 No comments

I was going to write about Obama’s state of the union address today, but the speech was so bland, boring, and unremarkable that there’s really nothing to say about it, so instead I’ll just write up a quick entry explaining where my political blogging stands as of now and where I expect it will remain for the year.

I recently put myself through the arduous task of archiving all of my political posts from 2010, during which I spent several months dutifully composing at least one entry a day and sometimes several. It was a little experiment to see if more content would generate more traffic, and while the average number of hits per day did rise steadily it didn’t result in more comments which was the whole point. And now, the recent addition of a meta menu to the blog which allows people to register has generated several new registrations a day, virtually all of which appear to be spam-bots that automatically register on any blog for which one can register. It seems that just as few actual people are reading this blog now than when I started it.

I stopped forcing myself to write an entry a day because it was tiresome, but now that I have a good reason to believe that most of those entries went unread by anyone anyway it now seems completely pointless. I would often write about something I didn’t really care about just to have something to write, and a good deal of the 2010 entries are complete garbage.

So let me now make official what has already been apparent for quite some time: I’m no longer writing an entry a day or with any kind of regular schedule. Instead, I’m only writing when I have a topic I feel is worth writing about and when I feel I have something worthwhile to say. I cross-post almost all of my entries to Open Salon anyway (where people actually read and comment on them) and it would be excessive to post there every day.

At any rate, this year in politics looks like it’s going to be just as boring and predictable as Obama’s speech. We’ll see the Republican House pass all kinds of nonsense legislation only to have it fail in the senate or be vetoed by the president, and Obama himself continue to triangulate in preparation for the 2012 re-election campaign by catering to the establishment even more than he did in his first two years. No significant legislation will be passed, no major change delivered. And because it’s virtually a mortal sin to so much as suggest a progressive primary challenge, it’s a safe bet that the country will remain on the same steadily declining course for the next 6 years minimum (assuming the next financial crisis doesn’t come along and hasten that decline).

Blogging will hardly make a lick of difference, as no one in the establishment pays any attention to the chatter in the blogosphere anyway. Corporate America is the Borg, and it has both political parties and all major media outlets fully assimilated. Resistance is futile.

Nevertheless, I will continue to occasionally offer my thoughts on certain issues in the slight hope that I can sway a few opinions here and there and provide arguments for my fellow progressives to use in their own political debates, mostly for the mental exercise and the satisfaction of contributing in whatever virtually insignificant way I can to the national conversation.

Meanwhile, I’m going to keep trying to figure out a way to get Revolution Earth off the ground, starting with a “topic of the month” in February which I hope will generate some activity. The best way to recruit participants is to spend much more time reading other people’s blogs, making contact with those I find impressive, and inviting them to join. Stay tuned.

In conclusion, the state of this blog is not very strong but I’m satisfied with where things stand. May God bless you (all of my non-robotic readers), and may God bless the internet.

Blogramming Note

October 25th, 2010 No comments

I began working on a very difficult entry today, but I had to stop to take care of other business and now I have no desire to get back into it.  The subject matter calls for a great deal of care, and if I were to dive back in at this point I’m afraid I’d be rushing it.  I’ll finish that entry tomorrow.

After that, I’m going to take a brief blogging hiatus while I work on Revolution Earth, which needs reformatting.  I’ve been making myself write at least one entry a day, and afterwards I usually don’t want to spend any more time at the computer.  So rather than attempt to do both things I’m going to focus exclusively on the forum for awhile and only write blog entries if an issue compels me.

As I’m the only one demanding an entry every day, I hope I’ll be able to forgive me.

Categories: Personal Tags:

Recent Activities / Future Plans

October 14th, 2010 No comments

When I first got to Hannover and for nearly the entire first year I was here, I used to write personal journal entries about nearly everything I did, even if it was just going for a walk somewhere. I stopped writing those kinds of entries when these things had become enough of a routine that I ceased to think them interesting enough to be worth writing about.

Recently I’ve done a few things that back then I would definitely have written about right away, but these days I barely find them noteworthy. Since returning from America I’ve gone to Celle to visit Oliver (the first weekend in October), went to Quiz Night at the Dublin Inn with Frank, the boss of Planeo, Amanda, and a few other teachers including an American guy named Ron who seems really nice and who won major points in my book for quoting lyrics from The Final Cut without knowing I’m also a huge Roger Waters fan.

And this past weekend I took a long five-hour bicycle tour to every nice area of the city including the river and park where I go jogging most often, the city forest, the Maschsee, and the area just to the south of the Maschsee—the Ricklinger Kiesteiche—formerly referred to in this journal as the “New Territory”. I even stopped at a Middle Ages festival that was going on in the Georgengarten (a.k.a. “Marry Poppins Park”) because I had plenty of time and thought it would be worth checking out. It was about a 2 out of 10 on the coolness scale though, and I only spent 30 minutes there, most of it watching a dressed-up woman perform a version of Der Frosch Prinz (Frog Prince) using kids and fathers from the crowd. I was the only person there in my 20s—almost everyone else was either over 40 or under 14.

The weather was extremely beautiful—I fucking love October—and it felt like the whole city was out enjoying it. Riding from beautiful area to beautiful area throughout the afternoon gave me the best feel for the city that I think I’ve ever got in a single day. I’ll definitely be doing that same tour again if we get another nice day before the winter weather really kicks in.

But the whole time I was thinking of how to write a journal entry about it and make it interesting, but I couldn’t come up with anything. It was a great experience but didn’t easily lend itself to a written narrative. I couldn’t even come up with any interesting observations about the people around town. Just a bunch of Germans doing their thing.

And yesterday I had my Wednesday off and decided to finally go to the Zoo that everyone is raving about. I spent a good three hours there, watching the Gorillas get fed and making sure to be at the new “Yukon Bay” exhibition featuring two massive polar bears that you can watch swimming around form an observation platform half-way under water during feeding time. That was really awesome, but nothing noteworthy beyond that. Again, I was the only person there in my 20s (who wasn’t there with a girlfriend) and felt kind of strange. It was mostly kids, which I thought was strange because it was the middle of a weekday but I just found out today that the students are now on a 2-week holiday. I often found myself paying more attention to all the beautiful girls around than to the actual animals, but I did my best not to let my brain go down that familiar road. I think I’m getting much better in that department, and while I apparently still can’t help but allude to it I no longer feel compelled to waste a lot of words on self-analysis.

So since I’ve made peace with my inner demons and no longer find my day-to-day activities particularly noteworthy, the result is far fewer personal entries than there used to be. On the flip-side, the fact that I’ve been going out and doing things in the real world has drawn my focus away from the political world, and I’ve even lost motivation to write political entries. I’m still doing it but more as an exercise than a genuine desire to. I’ve even gone days at a time without visiting my new website, Revolution Earth, at all. I’m sure once the winter weather settles in and I go back to spending most of my time inside, the political side of my life will pick up steam again, but for right now my heart just isn’t in it.

And that brings me to my plans for what to do after the winter. Obviously I’m quite settled in to Hannover to the point where it no longer feels like an adventure, and I know that as soon as I go to Asia I’ll be overwhelmed with fascinating things to write about. But when I was two-thirds of the way through my bike tour on Sunday, as I rode around the Rathaus on the way to the Maschsee, it occurred to me that I’ve now completely fallen in love with Hannover, and I don’t want to leave just yet. Having a bike has opened up a whole new way of seeing the city, and I want to stay and experience Hannover by bike during the Spring and Summer as well.

If I were to simply wait for a job in Japan as I’ve been planning to do for years now, I’d probably end up waiting another year anyway. But I’m now starting to consider going to a different Asian country instead because Japan seems full. One of my college friends, Myson (who was one of the guys I moved to Santa Barbara with), has been working in Korea for a year or two, and I just got in touch with him to ask him about possibly doing the same program that he did. It looks promising and I’m really considering that, but they’re accepting applications for the Spring right now and I’m not sure I want to go that soon.

Another major factor playing into my decision-making is the fact that a few months ago I bought tickets to see Roger Waters perform The Wall live twice—once in Mannheim and again in Berlin—both shows happening next May. When I bought the tickets I’d assumed I’d be starting teaching in Japan this Fall, and I could easily take a vacation and return to Germany to visit people and see those shows. But if I start working in Korea in the Spring I don’t think it would work to come back to Germany so soon after. Of course I could sell the tickets—probably to Ron the new English teacher—but I wouldn’t want to pass up such a rare opportunity. I’ll never have another chance to see The Wall performed live ever again.

Still, it’s only October and the thought of waiting almost an entire extra year before moving on feels…wrong somehow. I’m not getting any younger and who knows what can happen in a year. Leaving next Spring feels more appropriate.

But I could easily imagine myself taking that route, going to Korea, and realizing very quickly that I was in a much better situation in Hannover and that I could have stayed and enjoyed it awhile longer. I’m enjoying the hell out of my life right now and it almost seems stupid to leave when I know I could go on enjoying it for another year. On top of that, there may be an opening in Japan between now and the time I’d have to apply to Korea, so that’s a major factor as well.

I was up-in-the-air about this before I started writing this entry but now I feel like I’m leaning very heavily in the direction of waiting until next Fall. Nothing like writing to clarify certain things. I guess that unless something unforeseen happens, I really will be here for another year. Which means that for another full year, these personal entries will remain few and far between.

This afternoon I’ll be doing the next thing on my check-list, which is to ride my bike to the Wilhelm-Busch Museum—a small art museum in the Georgengarten—and check out the Gerald Scarfe exhibit they’ve got going on there until October 24. Gerald Scarfe did the animations for the film version of The Wall, so I’m definitely obliged to check that out while I can. I’m documenting it now, before the fact, because it almost certainly won’t be worth an entry of its own.

Perhaps if I’d bought a bike when I first got here, I’d be much more inclined to leave now.

The Revolution Earth Project

September 25th, 2010 No comments

Before I continue with my account of my visit to America, I must first mention something that has thus far only been alluded to on this blog—the “Secret Project” I’d been working on before I went back to the states. I introduced it to a few friends and fellow bloggers even before leaving, and I told a bunch of people back home about it, but so far I haven’t mentioned it on my blog because I wanted the people I talked to in person about it to be hearing about it for the first time.

Now that that’s no longer a concern, I can announce right here on Kemstone.com that I have started another website: revolutionearth.net.

The idea came to me after my disastrous foray into the world of Daily Kos, in which I discovered that the internet’s most popular left-wing website is full of total assholes who have no interest in productive dialog and instead use the site to get their jollies either having their opinions confirmed by those who think exactly like them, or ganging up on and tearing into anyone who thinks differently or even seems to think differently based on the conclusions they jump to after reading only the title and first couple of paragraphs.

To be fair, plenty of people on the site seemed genuinely interested in civil discussion and honest debate over ideas, but the majority just wanted to score points for Team Democrat. I ultimately decided that trying to get through to people on such a forum would be a useless waste of my time and mental energy—especially as they also lambaste you for not sitting by your computer and defending your post to everyone who comments in the hours after it goes up. Sorry, I just don’t have the patience for that, especially when most of the comments are going to be abusive unless you’re 100% preaching to the choir.

So after I’d given up on that site, as I was lying down and trying to go to sleep, an idea popped into my head: “Why don’t you start your own forum?” And just like that—I knew I had the answer. Not just the answer to the bullshit I’d gone through that weekend but the answer to my entire life.

I’ve always been a deep thinker who focuses on “big picture” issues like the nature of reality, the global political structure, and the fate of mankind within a cold and inhospitable universe. And while I’m always thinking about the question of whether humanity will ultimately destroy itself through its own ignorance or advance to a new state of being whereby we can live peacefully and sustainably on Earth and beyond, I had no idea what I could possibly do with my limited skills to help make the second possibility a more likely one.

This is why I decided to create a forum with the question of humanity’s survival or extinction as its central underlying theme. That same night, I came up with a name and bought the domain name revolutionearth.net as well as revolutionearth.org, and found a site that would allow me to create my own multi-user discussion forum.

Other the next couple of weeks I worked on it and finally had it ready to go by Tuesday, August 31st, when I invited a bunch of people to check out the forum, register as new members, and begin posting relevant things they’d written to the site.

The first few days felt like a smashing success, as nearly everyone I’d invited expressed interest and a few even began posting some excellent pieces of writing that led to what I thought was some really great discussion.

Then things started to peter out somewhat as the steady stream of new users died off at 15 and I found myself driving all over the place and visiting tons of people, not all of whom I told about the site (some people I knew wouldn’t be interested even if I had mentioned it). As of now, it might even appear that the site is a dismal failure. An honest attempt at starting something that just never got going.

But to pronounce it dead at this point would be the most premature call in the history of my life, as I haven’t even really begun to start pushing this thing. As of now I’ve only invited people privately, either through e-mail or in person. I haven’t posted a link to it on Facebook yet, and until now I haven’t even mentioned it on this blog.

But now that this post is written and the cat is out of the proverbial bag, I can begin the next stage of the recruitment process, which will hopefully bear more fruit than the first.

If this is the first you’re hearing about the project even though you spoke with me in person while I was back in the states, it’s because I didn’t think you’d be interested. If I’m wrong, please go to the site now and sign up.

If you don’t think you’ll have the time or patience to write anything but still like the idea, go to the site and sign up anyway. The higher the number of registered users, the more likely it will be for new users to register.

More details about the website itself—its purpose, as well as immediate and long-term plans for development—are posted to the forum under “The Project” which you can visit directly by following this link.

And now that you know about the project, I am free to write about how others reacted to it.

Want to Get Published? Read This!!!

September 15th, 2010 No comments

Whenever I dare to call myself a writer, there is always one question that inevitably follows: “What have you published?”

And there’s only one answer: “Nothing yet.” Which I may then follow up with a “but I do have my own blog, and a decent following on Open Salon.”

“Oh, so you’re a blogger,” my hypothetical interlocutor will say, unable to mask the subtle undertones of contempt that are inextricably tied to that label. It’s as though I’d told them I work for Barack Obama, and then revealed that I actually just make a few campaign phone calls from time to time. In both instances there is one key difference: I don’t actually get paid.

Unless somebody actually pays you (in actual currency) for writing, it’s as though you haven’t earned the right to call yourself a writer. Until you’re published, either in a journal or magazine or with your very own book or novel (assuming you haven’t self-published), you are nothing more than “someone who writes things” or worse, a “blogger”.

Stephen Markley is someone who understands these frustrations all too well. He was fresh out of college and hungry for success when he got the idea—both stupid and brilliant at the same time—to write a book about trying to publish the book he was writing as he was writing it. He titled the project Publish This Book and spent a year or so—a particularly eventful year in both his life and in politics due to the 2008 campaign—trying to make this crazy idea work.

Somehow it did, and a couple of years later my mother was perusing the shelves of Boarders when Publish This Book caught her eye and she bought it because it reminded her of me. After finishing the book, which she thoroughly enjoyed, she sent it across the ocean to me.

I’ll confess—my first reaction was anger. This guy was the same exact age as me and he’d managed to get himself published through this silly gimmick that I could have thought of myself. Still, it promised to have enough information about the process of publication that I figured it might prove useful, and I began reading it with a strong reluctance to like it, lest I have to admit to myself that this Stephen Markley person actually deserved his success.

But after the first two chapters, I was completely sold. Any writer who has ever dreamed of publication—and especially those who’ve actually subjected themselves to the process—would not be able to avoid identifying with Markley, who admits that he doesn’t want to wait for success to come when he’s too old to enjoy it and is sick and tired of being told to be patient and to consider how many rejection letters F. Scott Fitzgerald or Kurt Vonnegut got before they got published.

The narrative of Publish This Book is widely varied, with frustrated rants about the publishing industry, autobiographical digressions that provide insight into the narrator’s personality, [semi-fictionalized] descriptions of events that took place during the writing of the book, reactions to the unfinished product from his college professor Steven, his friends, and other writers (often presented as an imaginary dialog between Markley, his Id and his Ego), his feelings each step of the way as he lands an agent and ultimately a publisher, and finally a few completely random goodies like “Don’t Fact-Check This Chapter” in which he parodies an attempt to make his life more interesting in order to more easily sell the book which he labels “a premature memoir”. The book is just as hilarious as its uniqueness suggests, and once you accept certain things about the narrator (such as his affinity for toilet-humor and nasty sex-jokes) it’s impossible not to enjoy.

The truly astounding thing about Publish This Book is that it actually managed to get published at all. It’s simply not an intuitive piece of work—at the beginning you expect it to be a penis-joke-laden rant against the publishing industry but it eventually develops into something much different, and something much more profound. The nature of the narrative can lead you to believe—and it even fooled me—that the author is just winging it and has no idea how to make it a cohesive piece of literature that actually says something worthwhile.

But then out of nowhere, towards the end of the book comes a chapter called “Why We Write” which ties it all together, a deeply moving recollection of one of the author’s dear friends in high school dying in a tragic accident. I don’t want to give too much away so I won’t go into detail, but I must mention it here because it’s what made me decide to contact the author myself when I finished reading. Having also lost a friend in high school to a tragic accident and also feeling as though this experience constitutes a huge part of who I am and why I write, I felt I had to share that story with Stephen Markley.

I didn’t expect a reply. After all, in my mind it always seemed that once you were published that was it—you’d made it. Now you were wealthy and famous and living the good life and certainly not taking the time to respond to the thousands of fan letters you get every day.

But it turns out that’s not quite how it works, and this is the one major shortcoming (albeit an unavoidable one) of Publish This Book—the ending is premature. You know the book gets published but you have no way of knowing what happened after—and isn’t that the most important part after all? Especially for those of us who have dreamed of publication, it’s much more useful to know what that light at the end of the tunnel is like than simply getting a closer look at the tunnel.

That light, it would seem, isn’t quite as bright as it might look from inside the tunnel. Markley informed me that the book has been struggling sales-wise, mostly due to the fact that it’s so un-intuitive. Much to my gratification, he agreed to let me interview him as a promotion, which gave me the opportunity to ask the questions that were left in my mind after reading the book, and which I believe any aspiring author would be curious about as well. The answers, I hope you’ll find, are rather illuminating:

1- You asked this of the authors you talked to in your book, so now I want to ask you: How did it feel to hold the finished product in your hands for the first time?

It was pretty gratifying, I won’t lie. This was a moment I had been thinking about since I was maybe five years old, but the fact that I did it—and did it in my own peculiar, raging way with nary a compromise in sight—was weird and wonderful. At the same time, I was all too aware that the hard part was still coming, which is selling a strange, unintuitive book. I’ve basically been tackling that bitch of an issue ever since the first time I flipped through the printed copy.

2- In general, how was the book received by its audience? Are most of the e-mails you get positive? Have you gotten any particularly nasty hate mail?

I’ve been pretty astounded by the response. To be sure, the book is not flying off the shelves. There are a lot of factors for this probably, but one thing I can sustain myself on is the daily e-mails and Facebook messages from fans. Much like yourself, they write to me and tell me that the book spoke to them, inspired them, and—I’ve heard this a lot—made them laugh and cry in public. This is a pretty awesome thing to hear consistently about something you’ve written. The part that gets me is that you are not the first person to write and tell me about losing someone in your youth. I’ve gotten different iterations of that (as well as, “I’m also trying to be a writer” or “This is exactly how I felt when I got out of college”) from the day it came out. I find it immensely reassuring that there are people out there who think like me, who have the same passions and fears, who I’d surely be friends with if we’d grown up in the same small Ohio town. As for the haters, meh, you don’t get a book in print without having a terrifyingly thick skin.

3- How has your family reacted to the book? You toss in some ridiculously personal details about your sex life (having an orgasm while being choked with a belt comes to mind), and it’s impossible not to wonder if that has led to any awkwardness.

My entire life is awkwardness. Basically, the only way to write truthfully is to believe that no one will ever read it. Obviously, I had an advantage for 50% of this book because I really thought I was just going through a masturbatory experiment. The trick was to keep that fearlessness alive once I knew it was going to get published. If anything, I doubled down in the second half of the book.

4- Is there anything you seriously regret including in the book? If you had a second chance, is there anything you would change before submitting the final product for publication?

A lot of people ask me that, and I have to say 1) of course, and 2) but not really. There are all kinds of sections I could re-edit or change because I see them as flawed now, but I also think it’s BS to be like Evelyn Waugh and go back and edit the most embarrassing stuff out of a book you’ve already published. Cowardly even. The book represents a time and place and sentiment about my life and the country I lived in and the friends I had and the people I cared about, and if that becomes inconvenient post-publication, that’s something I’ll have to deal with (and believe me, in a few instances I am), but I’m going to try really hard to live a life free of regrets.

5- Other than yourself, the three biggest characters in the book are your professor Steven, your friend Justin who became an unexpected father, and your Love Interest with whom things were still up in the air at the conclusion of the narrative. How have your relationships with these people progressed since the book was published, and has its publication had a significant impact?

The book changed my relationship with all three. I was indeed the best man in Justin’s wedding, and I spend a good deal of my time figuring out ways to get back to Ohio to hang out with him, see Loren and their son. His friendship has become even more invaluable if that’s possible. I try to see Steven whenever I’m back in Oxford, and certainly he’s one of the first people I go to for advice still. He started his own editing agency, and if there are any nascent writers out there, I highly recommend checking it out. It’s called Hollow Tree Literary Services (www.hollowtreeliterary.com). As for the Love Interest—well—we’re no longer together. At age 25, it’s hard to see romantic relationships with much perspective, and that’s something I grappled with while writing the book and still do now. She remains one of the people I care about the most in this world, and my love and respect for her will never diminish.

6- You cite Jon Stewart in your acknowledgments and demand that he make you a guest on his show. Have you or your publicist tried to contact him? Is there an address that fans of the book can write to him and urge him to bring you on?

It turns out it’s really, really hard to get on the Daily Show. I think my publisher tried, but they might as well have tried to get the forward written by J.D. Salinger for all the success they had. This sucks, because it probably would have sold books. And actually a fan in Vancouver started a petition to get me on the Daily Show. I guess it didn’t go “viral” (I’ll admit I don’t know what defines something as going “viral”). The dude was for real, too. Here’s the link
http://forums.thedailyshow.com/?page=ThreadView&thread_id=3342

7- The entire narrative of the book takes place during the last presidential campaign, and you’re not shy about trumpeting your fierce support for Barack Obama. Many of us who shared those sentiments at the time are now disillusioned, feeling that we’d been duped and his promise of Change was just a hollow campaign slogan. Many still believe he’s doing the best he can, and we just have to be patient and not expect any miracles. Where do you stand?

This is an incredibly complex question, which I’ve been answering a lot lately. I think the only people worth engaging in this question are on the left because the “conservative movement” in this country has wandered off into the wilderness; they’re not even speaking in terms of reality. To be sure, I am not thrilled with everything that has happened in the last two years. I have my criticisms of Obama in my back pocket, and I’m not afraid to wave them around. On the other hand, I find the hard left’s disillusionment glib and somewhat childish. What exactly did we think was going to happen when he got elected? That entrenched economic interests and ideologues of the Fox News-right would roll over and cry uncle? Obama has upended the status quo in important ways: he’s passed three of the most far-reaching pieces of legislation since Lyndon Johnson in the stimulus, health care reform, and the financial reform. The benefits of these are obviously very hard to explain to people not heavily engaged in policy (i.e. most of America). The very fact that we’re not in the midst of the next great depression is a testament to what the administration did upon taking office when the economy was shedding 700,000 jobs a month. And this doesn’t take into account the things he gets no credit for, ranging from tackling Swiss tax havens to the pre-emptive measures against the swine flu to his vastly underrated response to the Gulf oil spill (I think he said something like, “What do people want me to do? Go suck it up with a straw?”) As for the wars, obviously I’m not a fan, but I’m realistic about what options were available following the disastrous Bush years. All of the negative press, though, is exacerbated by a relentless news cycle that makes money from conflict and is now dominated by the communications arm of the Republican Party. I’ll probably write a book about all this someday, but until then I’m very conscious to remain maladjusted to easy narratives, and I think some people on the left are in the process of writing off Obama because he didn’t fix the world in two years while ignoring the necessary and important things he has done at great political cost. Now, does this mean I’m not deeply skeptical of some of his policies, ranging from Afghanistan to how his administration dealt with Wall Street? Of course not. But what’s not going to help is allowing prancing douche bags like John Boehner and Glenn Beck to seize the moment and deliver the country back into the grips of free market ideologues.

8- One of the lines that I think stands out quite strongly to those of us who’ve dreamed of publication is the advice you got from your professor Margaret: “Even when success comes there’s a renegotiation of what success means.” You also use a metaphor in which published authors are standing in a room while aspiring writers are standing outside and looking in through the keyhole, wanting nothing more than to get in the room as well. Now that you’re in the room, is it anything like you expected? Or have you had to renegotiate your notion of what success means?

No, trust me, this room has its own deficits. I renegotiated success almost immediately. I have a book, yes, but I have like five books in mind I want to write. Plus, I’m a sad-sack capitalist like everybody else, so I’d like to make enough money from writing to just, you know, live. As for what I expected—I’m not sure what I expected. I guess I failed to anticipate how distasteful I would find the selling process. I spent two-plus years crafting this book, pouring that blood, sweat, and tears into it, but now it’s like a toaster. It’s a toaster that I take around and try to sell to people like a door-to-door salesman. This has been an adjustment.

9- Throughout the book, you worry that because most of what you write is nothing like Publish This Book—your true passion is for fiction—you could have a hard time getting anything else published. Also, your chances of publishing a second book now depend almost entirely on how well this book does in terms of sales. Consider this question an opportunity to vent your frustrations or include any additional insights into the world of publishing that you’ve gained since publication.

Publishing as we know it is surely fucked. I just don’t see any way around that with the proliferation of self-publishing, Kindle and other e-readers, and an increasingly disinterested consumer base. As soon as e-books become the dominant medium, they’re going to start getting pirated the way music is. There are people being born today who will never pay for a single file of music their entire lives, and in maybe ten to twenty years, there will be people who will never pay for a book. Right now the books that succeed are pre-packaged to be bestsellers, and there’s roughly a billion tricks that publishers employ to make sure this happens. It’s an insular world that operates with very small margins and is so risk-averse it’s like a mother following her child around a pool cupping her hands behind the boy just in case he slips and cracks his head. That’s kind of why I’m so happy with my publisher, Sourcebooks. Because when my editor read the entire manuscript, he said something to me like, “This will be hard to get into people’s hands, but it’s one of my favorite books I’ve ever worked on as an editor.” I feel as if they recognized they were taking a chance on something that’s very unorthodox in so many ways. All this is obviously bad news for us up-and-coming writers, but I’m still optimistic. You have to be, right? My general feeling is that good writing will be discovered if the author is persistent enough—or, if your mother is persistent enough in the case of John Kennedy Toole.

10- Any final thoughts or words of advice for those of us who still dream of holding that published copy of our very own books in our hands?

Perseverance. You can’t control luck and you mostly can’t control talent (mostly), but you are the one in charge of how much work you put into it. This is still something I grapple with because I feel as if I put a tremendous amount of work into writing, yet I always feel guilty that I’m not doing enough, I’m not trying hard enough, I’m not looking for new opportunities enough. This guilt is probably a good thing. At the same time, just make sure you have fun. Life—and youth especially—is gone so quickly, so while you pursue your dream make sure you’re enjoying yourself at least some of the time. Go on a road trip, stay up until dawn with your friends, kiss a strange girl at a bar. One day you will not be able to do any of this, so make sure you don’t miss the chance now.

I don’t know about you, but after reading this I don’t feel nearly as bad about not being published. After all, it’s rarely about merit (though in Markley’s case it was) and almost always about business. If you really want to get published, it’s not enough to write something great. You have to write something that sells, or at least that the people who work in the [rapidly crumbling] publishing industry think would sell.

I for one am not about start writing my own mystery-thriller in which the hero discovers clues that reveal things about Jesus that weren’t in the Bible, or a so-called “memoir” in which I recount my experiences as a crack-addict trying to raise a child in an inner-city slum, or any of these bullshit knock-offs that publishers seem to be looking for these days.

The next time someone asks you “what have you published?” you can explain to them how meaningless publication has become. Ask them if they’ve ever downloaded an mp3 that didn’t come from a major record label, and whether they thought any less of the music because some industry hack didn’t think he could make a buck off of it. Then tell them that hundreds of people have read what you’ve published yourself online, and ask them what difference it makes whether some editor decided it should go on the front page.

The only difference these things make is in how many people actually hear the music or read the piece. Yes, it’s nice when somebody “in the business” decides that something you’ve done has merit, but what’s really important is the audience and their reaction. Your audience will no doubt be larger if you’ve got an editor or a publisher behind you, but as long as you can appreciate the fact that at least some other people out there are appreciating what you do—then screw the editors.

I probably don’t speak for Stephen Markley when I write that, because he did manage to get his foot in the door and now he’d certainly like to stay there. And having so thoroughly enjoyed Publish This Book, I would definitely like to see more Stephen Markley titles on the shelves in the years to come, and I can’t help but be curious about the non-self-referential post-modern-autobiographical quasi-memoir-type stuff that he can write. So I’ll happily plug his book for you one more time, and hope that you not only decide to buy it but that you’ll find it as enjoyable and as worthwhile a reading experience as I did.

Hiatus

September 1st, 2010 No comments

After giving it some thought, I’ve decided that during September I can allow myself to break my personal resolve of posting at least one thing to the blog every day. As I’ll be travelling around America and visiting dozens of people, writing a blog post every day just won’t be feasible. Also, I’ve got this other project I’m working on now that’s required a great deal of my focus, and for the past few weeks the blogging has almost felt like a distraction. Working on this other project will be Priority 1 when I’m back in America.

Sorry to dissapoint my fans (all five or six of you), but just because I won’t be blogging every day doesn’t mean I won’t be blogging at all. If something in the news happens that I just have to comment on, you can be sure that I will. And for those of you who are here for the personal entries, I’m sure I’ll have plenty of stories to tell. You might even be in one of them.

It’s strange. Although the vast majority of my blog posts are about American politics, the next one will be the first to actually be written in the USA!

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Blogramming Note

August 30th, 2010 No comments

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been secretly working on a secret project that I set tomorrow, the last day of August, as my own personal dead-line to finish. As I’ve still got quite a lot of work to do before it’s finished, I’m going to buy myself some time by not writing a proper blog entry today. But since I’m committed to posting at least one thing every single day, here it is.

Categories: Personal Tags: