Last year I did a list of my top five favourite blog posts from the previous year. I was planning to do the same again for this year, until I started scrolling back and realized that I’ve only posted fourteen times. So … that doesn’t really seem like enough substance from which to cull a top five.1
It’s also a bit embarrassing, not because I didn’t blog much—anyone who follows me here knows I have long fallow stretches—but because I’d wanted to blog a lot. Part of my surprise at how little I’ve written here proceeds from how much I wrote but never completed. I have a mortifyingly full folder titled “blog posts in progress” that currently contains eleven Word files, some of which are in excess of two thousand words. And that doesn’t include the numerous ideas for posts in my journal, some of them comparably extensive, that never made it to the point of being typed up. A list of stuff that never made it here but exists incompletely in Word files, handwritten notes, or just my fevered imagination includes, but is not limited to:
Armageddon is Republican, Deep Impact Democrat. I started 2022 by watching Don’t Look Up on New Year’s Eve (I actually managed a post about it), and in the days before classes started I rewatched Armageddon and Deep Impact—largely out of curiosity to see how the duelling asteroid-threatens-Earth blockbusters from 1998 compared with Adam McKay’s bleakly comic climate crisis fable. But what struck me was how starkly each film falls into a checklist of political stereotypes of American conservatives and liberals … resonating even more today as the caricatures have become even more reified.
The Serendipity of reading Ducks while teaching Armageddon. Yes, weirdly, Armageddon in all its crapulescent masculinist glory resurfaced in September as one of the first texts on my fourth-year course in 21C post-apocalypse—clustered with Deep Impact, Independence Day, and Susan Sontag’s essay “The Imagination of Disaster,” as a prefatory unit on disaster films before getting to the truly post-apocalyptic. Kate Beaton’s stunning graphic memoir Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands, came out around this time. I bought it on the day it was released and read it over about thirty-six hours. One of its key themes is the deformation of character effected on people who work the isolated, Mordor-esque, hyper-male oil patch, and how these workers—both the men and the small number of women—are casualties along with the environment of the fossil fuel industry’s drive for profit. It was profoundly odd to read Beaton’s nuanced, beautiful, and frequently harrowing memoir simultaneously with leading class discussions on Armageddon’s cartoonish valorization of all the traits and qualities Ducks critiqued.
Putin, dictators, and Richard III. About a month after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I wondered if the American Right’s love affair with strongmen generally and Putin specifically would ever enter the fourth act of Richard III—that is, when Richard’s sociopathy ceases to be entertaining and the audience must come to terms with the uncomfortable fact that they’ve found this guy charming for three acts. (To be honest, I’m kind of glad this one didn’t come together because, well … still waiting on that fourth act chagrin).
My unhealthy Trump-era audiobook habit. To be clear, listening to audiobooks isn’t an unhealthy habit, nor is it for me a practice specific to the Trump era. Rather, I have found myself listening to a long string of books about or pertinent to Trump’s tenure and the aftermath: Maggie Haberman’s Confidence Man, Philip Rucker and Carol Leonig’s Very Stable Genius, Susan Glasser and Peter Baker’s The Divider, and on and on, including a host of ancillary books about Trump’s enablers, the history of Republican extremism, and so forth.
Liz Cheney and history. At a certain point earlier this year I realized we’d passed into a new phase of Trump-era history writing, with a number of books emerging about Trump’s useful idiots and enablers among the GOP—in particular, Mark Liebowich’s Thank You For Your Servitude is a satisfyingly withering chronicle of Republican sycophancy and cowardice, and Tim Miller’s Why We Did It is an affecting mea culpa from a former Republican political operative turned never-Trumper. These sorts of accounts had the effect of throwing the defiance of Liz Cheney into sharp relief. In the final days before the midterms I started to write a post suggesting that one of the key issues at stake for her was history and her place in it, given that Liebovich described a startling indifference among such Trump faithful as Chris Christie, Bill Barr, and Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani summed it up best, saying “My attitude about my legacy is: Fuck it.”
Tucker Carlson’s testicle tanning and Josh Hawley’s manhood manifesto. I don’t know if anyone else noticed, but there was some weird shit happening with Republicans and conservatives and their obsession with American masculinity. Most striking was Tucker Carlson’s special episode “The End of Men,” the trailer for which featured a lot of buff shirtless guys rolling tractor tires and chopping wood and, most notoriously, a naked man who looked like he was irradiating his balls in the middle of the desert (seriously—see below). Also, Senator Josh Hawley—later seen in January 6 Committee footage running like a frightened bunny from the insurrectionists he’d saluted earlier on that day—harangued young men to stop wanking to porn and get married.
We Own This City vs. The Wire. At least a few of these pieces didn’t get posted because they were about film or television, and by the time I was in spitting distance of completing them, enough time had passed to make them feel passé. I started writing about We Own This City, David Simon’s new Baltimore-based cop show, after the first episode. It was an interesting experience, as someone who has watched The Wire all the way through multiple times, to watch him return to a not-dissimilar show twenty years after The Wire premiered, taking place in the same neighbourhoods, chasing the same themes (mostly). One difference is that We Own This City is based on true events; and the fact that Simon was revisiting familiar territory in the era of Black Lives Matter and post-George Floyd meant that it was impossible not to reflect back on The Wire through that contemporary lens.
Andor. As above: I started writing about Andor almost as soon as it started airing. I hadn’t thought it possible for Star Wars to surprise me anymore, and yet here was this genuinely brilliant show—brilliant not just in relation to its fellow Lucasfilm progeny, but brilliant in its own right. The post was developing into a rumination on how it served to dramatize the key points of argument between the Frankfurt and Birmingham schools of cultural studies.
Research notes: WWII and avoidance. This was to be the third installment in thoughts arising from the article on Randall Jarrell’s war poetry I was writing this summer. The “avoidance” to which I refer is the broad American cultural evasion—by way of Hollywood and pop-historical mythologizing of “the good war” and “the greatest generation”—of any substantive reckoning with the trauma of WWII.
Research notes: What makes a war poem? A further offshoot of the Jarrell article: looking at the difference between the poetry of the two world wars and asking the broader question of what it means to write poetry about war.
Is Jordan Peterson OK? Also a casualty of too much time passing, this was to be a somewhat snarky commentary about Peterson’s sweeping pronouncement on what he saw—in evolutionary terms!—as the unattractiveness of a plus-size model on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, and the Twitter hissy fit he threw when people mocked him for it.
George R.R. Martin vs. destiny. On the heels of House of the Dragon and The Rings of Power, I thought to finally articulate my grand theory of (a) why the end of Game of Thrones was inevitably going to be a hot mess, and (b) why GRRM is probably taking so long to finish the novels. Actually, that’s just the hook: really, this is about the transformation of fantasy as a genre, and its transition from Tolkienesque medievalism to a more—for lack of a better word—postmodern sensibility.
The Auditors of gender. The Auditors are entities in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, so named because they audit reality. They are, in the moral multiverse of Pratchett’s fiction, the ultimate villains because they bear profound antipathy to anything messy, to anything irrational, to anything colouring outside the lines of their precise sense of how reality should work. Hence, humanity is a constant source of annoyance with all our tendency to fabulate, mythologize, and creatively imagine the impossible. I was thinking of the auditors as I followed an ongoing Twitter argument between those seeking to posthumously recruit Sir Terry to the “gender critical” anti-trans camp and those who have, you know, read, and understood his fiction and grasp that he would almost certainly be unsympathetic to such thinking. The fact that his daughter Rhianna has several times unequivocally asserted this does not seem to have deterred the other side. I started drafting some thoughts on this subject, with the Auditors as the central symbolic antagonists in this argument.
I could go on, but you get the general idea. It is, I will admit, mildly depressing (and distressing) to have written so much that now languishes in a file in the corner of my desktop. On one hand, I suppose, why does it matter? After all, it’s not as if I’ve worked to build a robust readership with this blog; I use it as a space, by turns, for writing through and working out ideas, and just ranting about whatever’s on my mind in lieu of screaming into the void. When I came up with the title “It’s All Narrative,” I was pleased with that turn of phrase; I have since on occasion kicked myself for not having thought of “Thinking Out Loud,” which is much closer to what I do here. I work through my usually half-baked thoughts for the benefit of those brave souls willing to wade through my verbiage. Which, to be clear, is not a lot of people.2
So, you might ask, why worry about the un-posted writing? If my main purpose here is writing through my thoughts, haven’t I done that? Does it matter if twenty to forty people read them (assuming they make it all the way through a given post)? Well, no and yes. I do my best thinking at the keyboard or with a pen in my hand, and thus I write a huge amount of stuff that never sees the light of day. But there’s a difference in intent and effect (and affect) even with a blog post nobody reads. The point is that someone might, and so I take a lot more care and thought than I do with scribbles in my journal.
There is also a certain satisfaction in finishing pieces of writing, even when they don’t work out as well as planned. Putting up only fourteen posts in a year when I had a lot on my mind feels insufficient, to say the least. As someone who is easily distracted—though I jokingly compare my research methodology to the dog from Up, it’s not really a joke—completing stuff, however trivial, is a small triumph. A while back, Neil Gaiman posted some basic advice for aspiring writers on social media—a picture of himself with his hand, palm out, in front of his face. Written on his hand: “Write. Finish things. Keep writing.”
As should be obvious from my list above, I’m very good at steps one and three; step two is what trips me up—it is, for me, the “?” phase of the South Park underpants gnomes’ business plan. I’ve long suspected I have ADHD, or at the very least ADD; diagnosing that and getting therapy to that end will be one of my projects going into 2023. I think the above list is Exhibit A.
I’ve managed to arrange things so that I’m not teaching this term, so my project for the first half of 2023 is to write—and more importantly, to finish things. In spite of my masses of blog posts in limbo, 2022 was actually a very good year for me, something I’ll be speaking more specifically about in upcoming posts (he promises, in spite of all the contrary evidence just provided). I actually held to my 2022 resolutions! Like, all year long! So going forward, my 2023 resolutions will be: (a) Keep going with last year’s resolutions, and (b) Write. Finish things. Keep writing. And part of that will be blogging, not least because a healthy output here tends to be reflective of productivity more generally.
So my plan, blogging-wise, is threefold: first, aim to post something every week of modest length (500-1500 words); second, aim to post one more substantial piece a month; third, finish a few of the posts listed above … because, well, there’s some good stuff there! Reading over my unfinished work was actually a pretty good goad, as it reminded me that sometimes I’m smart and can write a decent sentence.
Coming soon: why 2022 was a good year for me.
1. That being said: I was particularly proud of my two posts on gremlins; my two posts on “the banality of ego”; and my post on The Rings of Power and Tolkien’s mythology.
2. And that’s OK. I’m in the enviable position of not needing to chase clicks and pageviews, and I have no interest in tailoring my writing here for the purposes of cultivating a readership. I like the idea of people finding their way here serendipitously and (hopefully) finding something interesting or edifying in a given post. I’ve been working my way this years through Michel de Montaigne’s Collected Essays; I love the ambling, meandering way he pursues lines of thoughts down their various rabbit holes, shoring up his insights with his capacious knowledge of classical writers. Though I wouldn’t compare my output here to his writing, its often unfolds in a similar spirit (my political rants excepted).