Published in Blog.
I remember an old blog post I wrote somewhere in 2008 when I first caught some of Jay Smooth’s Ill Doctrine videos. I can’t find it, but I’m sure there was little to it beyond: 1) Jay’s great; and 2) I’m a fan. Sometime this past week I saw a link to this Columbia Journalism Review profile piece, “The Complicated Philosophy of Jay Smooth,” linked from kottke.org (the blog, not the Twitter page, but the Twitter page is where they keep an archived list of links shared on the blog), and today I read the article. It’s well written, weaving the righteous figure’s private and public lives together in a story that portrays Jay as someone attempting his best to live by virtuous means. Good enough.
When I finished the article there was just something empty about it. I couldn’t place it, and I’m still not sure I can now. It wasn’t the article, just the process. What did I get from it? When Jay’s on, he’s one of the better social critics I can think of. I like his videos but haven’t really followed him much since Ferguson. (That time feels so distant, yet so present.) The point is, I appreciate him, but I’m not sure what the value is in reading the article. I gained some history into the man’s background, but I didn’t need it, and knowing the things I read doesn’t particularly endear me any more or less to him. But I wasn’t thinking about him with that feeling that followed, just this sort of thing. These articles, all of this…
In the time where my mind needs something to focus on, while being entirely unable or unwilling to focus on my school work, I’ve been working on a process of dusting off old blog posts from around the web and republishing them here. Like it’s a scrapbook or something. There are a bunch of reasons why I told myself there was value in doing this, but I think I’m going to find something interesting that I don’t anticipate learning once it’s done.
The first thing is the volume: I’ve been blogging now, off and on, for about fourteen years. In that time I’ve had several blogs that lasted a while—CultureBully.com, ChrisDeLine.com—and a whole bunch that came and went pretty quickly—RecoveryNashville.com, Villin.net, FairlyTrill.com, BelievedToBeSeen.com, LegacySwag.com, DiscoFiesta.net, and sftfcs.com, with a several Tumblr and Blogger sites thrown in there, as well. Not a single one of those websites is still online. Some domains were sold, a couple redirect here, and the others abandoned outright. I could have paid for hosting and renewed domains, I suppose, to keep websites online. But where does that end? When do you stop?
Elsewhere, there is a great deal of “content” I’ve produced for websites that no longer exist on other people/company’s sites. Dozens of episodes of a podcast I contributed to are no longer available to listen to and a couple of appearances on Huffington Post’s HuffPost Live network are gone without a trace (which are just a few of the several years worth of original content that is no longer available online, as best I can surmise). Beyond that, a few websites I contributed over the years are no longer online (a Nashville music blog BreakOnACloud.com, The Smoking Section, and Brite Revolution, to name a few.
For about a year, I wrote for the Minneapolis Village Voice outlet, City Pages, which included a daily news column called “Gimme News” which was featured on their “Gimme Noise” music-centric blog. Gimme Noise is no more, absorbed back into the larger body of the brand’s website (a brand which has been sold… twice… since 2008), and the several hundred articles and blog posts I wrote have been run through several site redesigns, leaving them barely indexed, largely unformatted, and buried deep in their archives (which is inarguably where they belong: buried).
It was announced this month that flickr will be reconfiguring its platform, rightly setting a cap for its “free” users to 1000 photos. It was the right thing to do, both from a business and community perspective, and the only reason I re-signed up for flickr in January (which, I think, was probably my second or third time around on the platform) was because they essentially offered unlimited uploads for free. I’m not a “user” of the service in any other sense that I used their services. I’ll be transitioning those photos from my account (which I’ve started doing) in the next year, or so, before they vanish, too.
I’ve followed kottke.org for years, as many of the links, articles, and videos shared on the blog are interesting to me. I like the general aesthetic of it. It’s progressive-leaning. It’s interesting. And it’s safe. Very little I come across there challenges who I am as a person or confronts me with ideas, concepts, or ideologies I disagree with. That’s not what the site is, for me. It’s the kind of site that shares a link to a profile piece of a social media critic who I respect. If I read it, and like it, I might remember I was introduced to this great article because of kottke.org. If I read it, and don’t like it, I might recall that kottke.org was looking out and connected me to that bland article about that guy I like. Even if I don’t read it, if I acknowledge the article by reading about it on the blog or bookmarking it to return to, doing so will probably reinforce that kottke.org is a safe place for me to find articles that bend toward my interests.
So much of what I’ve written isn’t very memorable. The majority of the articles and blog posts certainly don’t deserve the respect I’m paying them by bringing them back to life here. Respect is the wrong word, probably. I have an idea of what my intention might have been at the time I spent time on them the first time, and in reflecting on that I’m learning about how little value there is in the “thing.” It was almost always process. Maybe that’s what I’m doing: Tuning into the process. What is all of this that I’ve dedicated so much time to over the years? The most “valuable” article I ever wrote was a review of one of Eminem’s albums which garnered a couple hundred thousand pageviews. But I can’t tell you a goddamn thing about that article or the album, in hindsight. I can tell you about how those BreakOnACloud.com posts contributed to creating my own “Nashville music blog” a few years later, which led me to an email exchange with someone I’m still trying to reckon with. I can manufacture “process” with the best of ’em.
There’s not a logical thread that winds through all of this, but that’s where my thinking is right now, and I want to just get that thought, itself, down here. The value of recording it seems just as important as the value of recognizing that I’m not getting much out of reading profile pieces. I don’t really know that I ever fucking did. There’s a freedom in accepting how impermanent all of this is—writing, blogging, putting it all out there if only to potentially gain from the process, before Google no longer wishes to host millions of free blogs online and folds the very platform that I’m using at this particular moment to publish these particular words. And if process is where honest value might reside, maybe returning to the same online time-wasters to reinforce my own cultural sensibilities under the guise of expanding my understanding of the world (whose world, and which part of it?) is opening up a window to questions more important than those that can be answered by a professional link-hawker.