When I launched this site three years ago today, the intended audience was only one person. Everything was written for her — in the hopes that she would find it and come back into my life. My hopes were rewarded. Sort of.
She came back into my life — in and out, back and forth — for most of the past three years. She was an avid reader of the site almost from the beginning. Then she became a regular commenter, first using a pseudonym and then using her real name (and a goofy picture with a wig).
She’s no longer a reader here and no longer part of my life. The details don’t really matter that much at this point. The psychology of what happened is actually very interesting, but it’s not in her best interest that the full story be told, so I won’t.
The only reason I tell you this story is to say that I started writing here with a surface-level purpose — which was quite real and honest — but always with a deeper and more important underlying purpose. Now that underlying purpose is completely gone, and I’m not sure anymore what my goals here are.
I haven’t been writing very much for months now. For nearly two years of the site’s existence, I wrote at least one article almost every day. For a long stretch of time, I also had a second article each day — written by the “staff monkeys” — with links of the day. I went through a lot of changes as a result of this experience, and it’s affected what I’m willing to write.
When I was trying to build an audience in the beginning, I was still willing to do what almost every political writer does. Much of what I wrote was “red meat” directed toward the existing biases of my audience. I learned which sorts of stories would get people riled up, because it was when they were angry or disgusted by something that they would share links with their friends, mostly on Facebook.
That’s what almost everyone else who writes about politics does, right? Or at least the successful ones. They find some outrageous story that makes their side look good and the other side (or sides) look bad and then they re-write it with a spin designed to appeal to their allies.
I did a good number of those stories. I also did a good number of the stories I thought were more important — the kind that talked about ideas and what we might be able to do to break free if we could just find each other in big enough numbers and learn from one another. The “red meat” stories typically had big readership numbers. The pieces I thought were important had mediocre readership.
I haven’t gone back and deleted the old “red meat” stories. That would seem dishonest. I wouldn’t write those stories today, because they were pandering to people who already agreed with me on some subject or other. They weren’t really interesting and they weren’t good for starting serious conversations.
Although I mostly started writing about politics and ideas related to political philosophy, I eventually started writing more and more about much more personal things. In many of those very personal articles, you can tell who the intended audience really was if you’re paying attention. Yes, it was her, of course. Much of what I had to say was a long and thinly veiled exposition of my views about what is most important in life. It was all part of a long-form persuasive pamphlet which said, “Choose me,” to one specific woman.
Although we went through a long period when we were talking on the phone for hours each day, I haven’t spoken to her since last June, when she called me from a bridge one night. I haven’t even heard from her by email since December. I was still oddly hooked on her and I couldn’t let her go. The last time I sent her something was an appropriate day. I mailed something to her on April 1 — April Fool’s Day.
A few nights later, I woke up in the wee hours of the night and thought long and hard about the last three years — of disappointment, dishonesty, disillusionment and denial. For the first time, I realized I was ready to completely let her go. I woke up the next morning and blocked her on Facebook, and that symbolic action was the end of a dysfunctional play that started almost 10 years ago. I was finally free of her. (It was just a week or so later that I found out something that confirmed I’d done the right thing.)
I’ve spent about a month re-interpreting my own narrative of the last five years and especially the last three years. I’ve had to go through some real anger about things I’ve had to accept, because I’d worked really hard to avoid seeing some ugly things that I didn’t want to see. Deep down, I knew that I was in denial, but I was determined to see this through to the end.
I don’t believe in giving up on something I want, because I have an odd determination to stick with something if I truly want it. I didn’t give up on her. I had to reach the point that I didn’t want her. I had to reach the point at which I no longer had anything to say to her. And that brings me back to this site.
She was my audience three years ago, but she’s not anymore. I’m not sure what I want to say and I’m not sure who wants to hear it.
I need to rephrase that sentence, because the first part isn’t quite right. I have more to say than ever, but I’m not sure who wants to hear it. I’m not sure there’s much of an audience — and without a substantial audience, I’m not sure what I’m going to do.
I discovered through the early days of this site that I know how to attract an audience, but I also learned that I’m not willing to do the things that do that. I’m not willing to make people angry at each other just to build an audience and make a name for myself. (I guess that rules out opportunities on talk radio or on cable news.) That’s just not who I am, and I don’t like myself when I try to do it.
At this point, I only have in the neighborhood of 500 visitors each day, even less some days. (My best day ever was slightly more than 30,000.) But considering that most of my readers now are people just doing online searches that lead to old articles, I’m probably lucky to have the audience that I do.
So what is the site to become?
I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about that and I still don’t know. On one level, the overt purposes the site originally had are still just as valid, but I have less and less interest in writing about politics. I’m not convinced that any of us ever change anybody else’s mind, and I see no reason to waste my time to write things that will be applauded by my allies and attacked by those who disagree. What’s the purpose in that? For me, not much, when there are more worthwhile ways to spend my time.
I have a lot to say, but I don’t know how much of it is worth saying here, because it’s time-consuming to write regularly. And the audience dwindles when I don’t write regularly.
Is there an audience for what I want to say? Is this the best way to express my ideas, thoughts and feelings? Is there a better way? Is there a way that I can make a living expressing what’s important to me, but in a way that people who will find it beneficial can find it amidst all the clutter of junk online?
I don’t know the answers to any of those questions. All I know is that what I post here will almost certainly continue to be sporadic until I figure those things out. I’ll probably post some things that happen to mean enough to me to say something. Every now and then, something I say might even push some of the old political buttons. I don’t know.
I put on a three-year play which was directed toward an audience of one, even though I invited others to read along, too. She watched my play and came back again and again for more. But I finally decided I had nothing else to say to her. So that play is over.
I don’t know what I’ll do with this site. It won’t go away, but I don’t know how much I’ll be adding or what the subject matter might be. Eventually, another curtain will rise on a different performance. The intended audience will be different this time.
I just have to decide what I’d like to say that some audience might find beneficial to hear. I appreciate those of you who’ve read the site for the last three years. I hope I can do something in the future that might interest you. Only time will tell what that might be.