I started blogging on Salon during the primaries in '08. Before that I was a journalist who once had a card that said, "As long as it's in English," to introduce myself.
Salon had a system where they gave you a "star" if they recommended a comment. My wife was sick and dying at the time, so I began every day with a post to entertain her, and then she would guess if it would get a "star." This was a good exercise. She almost invariably guessed correctly, so I followed her advice. I got a lot of stars.
I think I began like a lot of bloggers. The freedom is a drug if writing is the dis-ease. It gives you all the rope you need to hang yourself, and I fear that I did. Then, I realized there were real people listening, and the task became more one of representing myself as I chose while exercising responsibility. There is a thin line between personal exploration and public debate, but that is where I like to work.
When OS started, Joan Walsh, then editor-in-chief, referred me to the "beta". This presented a new challenge. Now, I was really on my own--no editor--no middlemen--no ass to kiss, and a whole bunch of stuff all backed up that I wanted to say. Ah, those were the days. Like many, I spilled my guts, deleted what later was embarrassing, and devised a plan.
I'd write what "stuck," not necessarily what entertained, and not what has a shelf-life of nano-seconds. Blogging is a place to experiment, but it's also a place to leave a trace where none has been left before, unlike other media. It's all still there at your fingertips. I tried all sorts of forms--essays, book reviews, memoir, movie reviews, poetry, excerpts from my novel, even a "process" or two.
At first, I was reluctant to move full force into politics since many of my views are unconventional. I call myself a "radical moderate," and that pits me against the fringes, who, in case you have not noticed, rarely take prisoners. I've had to accept being called anti-Semitic because I'm against the right wing government of Israel, but that's worth all the abuse they throw at me.
But this is also where the most learning has taken place. It's mostly a free for all, let's face it, and the requirement is basically to hold ones own. I can't begin to tell you how much I've learned. There are bloggers who are interested in communication and those who haven't got a clue how to communicate if their life depended on it. I think I've seen cases where it has.
I call the worst the "dumpers." That's why they're here--cheap therapy. You can feel the anger seething from every line and comment. They'll make an enemy of you for no other reason than the attention it provides. Nothing will assuage them, the sad fact is they destroy their own credibility and in the end usually leave in a huff with a goodbye blast. I tell them don't forget NOT to write.
There are others so competitive they wouldn't acknowledge a post if it was an advertisement for themselves. They are the folks I tell when rating to at least make them feel like the misers they are. It feels childish, sort of like telling them not to cheat, but what else are you going to do? Why should writers be any more generous than say...clowns or alligator wrestlers?
I'm convinced the anonymity encourages more open discussion, even if it often results in acrimony. It's not like standing around the water cooler at work with people you have to live with. The opportunity is to really find out where peoples' assumptions (including my own) take them, and what are the bottom lines. It's an "interactive education" leaving open the question of where it will lead.
In commenting, I follow the "add on," rule. If I have nothing to "add on," I don't comment, try not to, or if I do, and am repulsed, I have fun. It's what makes blogging unique even if it scares off the faint of heart. You can't converse with a weasel but you can play with them, and at least it can be worth a few laughs.
I especially despise ideologues, as anyone who has read more than two or three of my posts or comments can attest, and they, dear friends, unless they are so berift of insight they don't understand the term, hate me. (If it's all you can get, I'll take it.) Politics is only a dirty business to the spoiled and the loosers.
Dogmatism has no defense in my playbook, especially when it is unexamined or based on pretensions that have nothing to do with the interests of the propagandist. If you ask: What value does this view have for you personally, and you receive no response, you get a star.
If there is a "art" of blogging, unique to the media, it is expanding ones point of view in response to the interchange that occurs. That's true for everybody who takes it seriously. In the old days, you wrote an opinion piece and didn't have much of an idea who agreed or disagreed. A blogger has no such illusions. If we get it wrong, somebody will tell us, but when we get it right we learn who agrees.
I am especially proud of my posts where I turn book reviews into commentary on current events. I feel it is an essay "form" of my own making, and the amazing thing is that they have received the most readers.
Also, the excerpts from my novel, and posts about my life as a writer keep registering about a hundred readers a month, which does nothing less, as we used to say, than "blow my mind." I'm not sure who you all are, but hope you're enjoying yourself. When the book comes out, I also hope you will buy a copy. (I won't, however, be publishing it myself having left instructions for my girlfriend and daughter to burn it.)
I'm sure I am not taking proper advantage of the media. I don't send my material to other outlets, it's both beyond me technically, and I'm not sure I get the point. What's the difference between those readers and the ones here?
If somebody paid me, perhaps that would change. I'm probably just as capable as the next guy of becoming a hack, but so far I've been lucky. It irritated the hell out of me when OS was taken over by the spammers, but just last week I was deemed a troll!
Ah, ain't it grand--blogging again!