Category Archives: blog business

Blogging, or The Intrinsic Value of Shouting at an Empty Room

I’ve been a very bad blogger. Every so often I go through a burst of energy and put up a handful of posts in quick succession, but it’s been some time since I posted on a regular basis. Certainly this past year has seen a lot of inaction on this site. If it weren’t for my Game of Thrones posts with Nikki Stafford, I’d have put up next to nothing.

Which isn’t for lack of wanting to. I have journals full of notes chronicling my thoughts on a host of topics, many prefaced with the hopeful header “possible blog post”; and I have a folder on my desktop containing an embarrassing number of half-completed posts that I just couldn’t make work to my satisfaction, or which languished until their subject was no longer current.

One of the reasons for my blogging absence has been one of the more epic cases of writer’s block I’ve experienced in my adult life. There have been a variety of factors contributing to that (which I won’t get into here), but one of them is the way in which writer’s block gets worse the more you don’t write. I haven’t posted much this past year because of writer’s block; but one of the reasons I’ve had writer’s block is because I haven’t been posting to this blog.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that my level of blogging activity is a bellwether of my productivity more broadly—sometimes I just don’t really have anything to say here, but am getting a lot of writing done in other arenas—but there’s something to be said for keeping the pump primed by posting relatively clear and coherent arguments or meditations.

What is this blog for? It certainly isn’t aimed at a large audience. If my ambition was to write for thousands of people, I’ve failed miserably here. Fortunately, that has never really been a concern. Most of my posts garner in the neighbourhood of fifty readers, which likely corresponds to the number of my Facebook friends actually interested in what I might have to say on a given topic. The Game of Thrones posts tend to top out at about one hundred and twenty readers. Three years ago, I made it to three hundred and fifty with a pair of posts about that whole David Gilmour thing, and Margaret Wente’s entirely predictable response to it. And the most readers I’ve ever had was for a post I wrote, apropos of the events in Ferguson, Missouri, about The Wire and police militarization, which garnered twelve hundred readers—mainly because a friend of mine posted the link to Reddit.

So, I’m hardly swaying anyone’s opinion on such matters as Donald Trump, as I can say with a great deal of confidence that everyone who read my previous point probably agrees with everything I said. The fact that I’m almost invariably preaching to a (very small) choir has occasionally bothered me. Why go to the effort of parsing my thoughts if I’m not reaching people who will disagree with me, or whom I can engage in substantive, meaningful debate?

That thought underpinned a lot of my more self-defeating capitulations to writer’s block, at least as far as this blog was concerned. But lately I’ve been thinking about it in a different way: less as a means of engaging in a broader conversation, than as a conversation with myself. What I’ve been missing this past year is the exercise of thinking out loud. On my old blog I once compared blogging to shouting at your empty kitchen to something you hear on the radio. I think that analogy holds: articulating thoughts, giving them form and shape, is a valuable exercise even when no one is listening. The difference between writing things out in my journal and composing a post is that the latter is technically public—meaning that the act of composing takes precedence. Only a handful of you are actually reading this, and fewer still will have read this far. For those who have: Hello! I am happy that you’re interested enough in my thoughts that you’re still with me.

Don’t get me wrong: a large audience would be nice, but I’m not about to do all the things necessary to broaden my appeal. To be honest, I’m not even sure I know what those things would be (aside from employing more clickbait-y titles and keeping my posts more succinct. Yeah, that’s not happening).

I do however want to do more with the blog, and write more, and more frequently. One of my favourite series of posts I’ve done is when I taught a course on The Lord of the Rings two years ago, and did a series based on my lectures. I intend to do something similar this fall: I’m teaching a fourth-year seminar course I’m titling “Revenge of the Genres,” which will deal with texts that play with the “genre” appellation in a variety of ways. I’m planning to do a series of posts for each of the texts we cover, which will hopefully fuel discussion both in and out of the classroom. I’ll say more about that course closer to when we begin in September.

Revenge of the Genres

I’ve also got, I’m sorry to say, a cluster of Trump-themed posts on the back burner. Yes, I know … we’re all suffering from Trump fatigue, and I encourage people to actively avoid reading them. They’re more for my own benefit, to clarify my own thoughts more than to make specific arguments.

And I’ll be picking up the threads of research I had intended to do over the past few months. I won’t say much about that now, other than that it involves zombies, crowds, and soldiers.

That’s all for now.

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Blog 2.0

Welcome.

Some eight years ago I started a blog called An Ontarian in Newfoundland, on the occasion of being hired at Memorial University and moving from London, ON, to St. John’s, NL. Its purpose was to record my thoughts and impressions both of my move to Newfoundland and into the career I’d spent eight years of graduate school training for. And for some time, the blog filled its purpose, giving me a forum to record key events in my life and a place for my friends and family to read them at their leisure, without the annoyance of that intrusive (now thankfully obsolete) practice of the mass email.

Since then, two things happened to make the blog a lot less relevant: one, Facebook. Somehow, using a blog to keep one’s acquaintances apprised of major life events came to seem quaint, and even (bizarrely) a little narcissistic (perhaps because it’s so easy to post reams of minutiae about your life on Facebook with no effort, whereas writing a blog positively reeks of effort). Two, Newfoundland went from being a strange and fascinating new place to live, to becoming my home. I can’t really put my finger on when that happened … perhaps when I bought a house, or when I got tenure. Or perhaps when it just ceased being a novelty and became Where I Live. Someday I will peruse all my old posts and see if I can locate the moment of transformation.

In the interim, my posts became increasingly few and far between; and when I did post, it almost never had to do with living in Newfoundland and almost always had to do with whatever political, literary, academic, or cultural events roused me enough to sit at the keyboard. Mostly in the past few years I have been writing about books and television, with the occasional enraged response to one of Margaret Wente’s columns; and while the blog was a fine enough forum for such posts, it lacked a raison d’être.

Hence the reboot. After a lot of thought and even more procrastination, I have arrived at this new space and theme.

It’s all narrative. I mean that rather literally. I stress two things to my first-year English students (I stress these points to all my students, really, but I really try to pound it home with the ducklings): first, telling stories is how we enter the world. Or to put it another way, our principal mechanism of understanding is narrative. We tell stories to put things in comprehensible order, to grasp the nature of causality, to make meaning. These narratives are invariably incomplete and provide us with biased and selective pictures of the world. They are also frequently compelling and entertaining. This is why we need to understand how they work.

Second, all language is rhetorical. That is to say, all language is designed to persuade. There is no such thing as absolutely precise language, just better and worse ways of communicating ideas. (I say this as if it’s a broadly accepted fact, when in reality it’s one side of a bitterly contested philosophical debate. But hey, my blog, my reality). And narrative, especially compelling narrative, is perhaps the most convincing rhetorical device there is.

I am a narrative junky. I love good stories told well. This can be something of a failing at times for someone who is ostensibly a professional literary critic, as I am somewhat too easily caught up in a good story. It also means I privilege such gauche elements as plot over symbol and metaphor (another rather unfashionable thing for English professors. Good thing I have tenure).

So if this revamped blog is to have a theme, it will be just that: narrative. There will almost certainly be deviations from this theme (probably when Margaret Wente plagiarizes another screed), but we’ll mostly be preoccupied with stories of one form or another—novels, film, television. I want to talk about what I’m reading, what I’m watching, what I’m reading, and what I’m writing about … which is to say, more or less the say as the last blog, but with more focus.

Stay tuned.

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