this ain’t livin’ is ten

Ten years ago, it was a warm summer evening and I was bored, restless, unsure what to do with myself. I didn’t feel like reading a book, I wasn’t interested in going out, and I was sunk deep in lethargy in my old house across from City Hall, looking down across Franklin Street apathetically while the cats dozed in a torpor on the bed. I couldn’t even bring myself to sit on the roof and watch the sunset.

So I went to Blogspot, set up a blog, and started writing. Blogs were very much a thing then, and I’d poked through a few and enjoyed them. I thought ‘why not,’ and ‘maybe it will be fun to write for no particular reason, just because I can,’ and ‘maybe some people will enjoy this.’ I named it for a song by G. Love and the Special Sauce, a piece I enjoyed both on purely aesthetic grounds and because of the stark, familiar lyrics, which spoke to my own experiences growing up poor and in a time of growing class war.

I thought about the most recent piece of news currently riveting the community: The bizarre case of Kenny Rogers. The case was a tangled web of hired hitmen, Water Board rivalries, and Republican party shenanigans, the stuff of which journalistic dreams are made, but I was primarily entertained and fascinated by it. There was a certain peculiar morbidity to it all.

It was too weird to be true, precisely the kind of story I love, the kind of story I grew up with, because I grew up in a household where strange things happened at any given time, with a long, rich history of truly strange things happening, and thus, strange things appealed to me.

‘Big trouble in little Bragg,’ I wrote. ‘It began in January, when a local individual, Rogers by name, walked out of a meeting of the Westport County Water District after being relieved of his duties as a volunteer fireman.’

The story went on as I tried to capture both the specifics and the somewhat baroque, surreal nature of it. I had fun writing it and passed it around to a few friends. I was startled when I got a few comments on it. In my next post, I posted what may be one of my favourite headlines ever: ‘Firefighters burn down preschool.’ Then I wrote about what started out as a funny story — a man driving his car into the emergency room — but ended as a condemnation of the health care system in the United States.

It reflected the shifting, chameleon-like nature of the blog over the coming years. At one instant I was writing funny posts about the bizarreness of small-town Northern California. At the next, I was speaking to the problems, secrets, lies, and troubles of that same town. I wrote fiction, serial and otherwise. I spoke to social issues, I posted things about my cats and my garden, I straddled a sometimes uncomfortable divide of personal and political, and slowly, a strange and mixed following grew, from locals (sometimes irritated locals) to people in corners of the world I’d never even visited.

I made friends through the blog, built editorial connections through the blog, found myself appearing in links on other people’s websites, cropping up in recommendations from major news organisations. People contacted me for interviews because of things I’d written, asked me for op-eds and commentaries and later features. The blog grew bigger than I was, and by December of that year, I was updating it every day — something I’ve done ever since, come power outage, international flight, emotional devastation, illness, or other challenges that life has to throw at me. I’ve spent hours, weeks, months worth of time writing for this ain’t livin’, talking with readers, connecting with people, building community.

While writing has always been a part of me, a writer wasn’t what I wanted to be, and this website changed that. While I have always been an isolationist, this website changed that, too. I’m not proud of every single post on this website — some are simply poorly written and badly crafted, others are actively offensive and reflect troubling ways of thinking that shifted over the years — but I’ve kept every single one up, refusing to take any down as the site represents not just a massive body of work that’s designed to be viewed as a collective whole, but also because it represents me, and who I am, and how I have changed as a person. I’ve refused to remove posts even under pressure from people sending me specious legal nastygrams, even when people don’t like the way I talk about them or their businesses or their policies; this is it, all of it, even at its most ugly.

I never thought I would be writing here for ten years, and at times, my resolve has faltered. I’ve been the subject of doxing, hacking, and targeted attacks led by everyone from ‘feminists’ to Joss Whedon fans. I have a stack of hate mail miles high, I’ve had people stalk me and show up at my home, I’ve had ugly and unpleasant things mailed to me. I’ve been plagiarised, appropriated from, and erased. I’ve been abandoned by my community and thrown under the bus. I wake up every day with the memory of these things, and with the knowledge that they will happen all over again; with the ever-present fear that someday, somewhere, someone will go too far, and I will become a story, someone else’s story. I also wake up every day with hot refusal and indignation, an unwillingness to shut up even in the face of people from all places on the spectrum who very much want me to do just that.

In the last few years in particular, I’ve questioned whether I want to keep writing here, given the energy it requires and the heavy demands on my time elsewhere, and yet, every time I think about quitting, even as I write this post and wonder if perhaps this is the time I say ‘enough,’ I know that I will unfold my laptop in the morning and do it again, because this is what I do, and what I have done for the last ten years, and perhaps the next twenty, because, as G. Love sings, I’ll survive the pain.

Image: Westport, California [circa 1880-1900s], Greg Bishop, Flickr