I had heard of blogging years before I first ventured into it myself. I was unclear; was it an informal sort of journalism? Was it merely a diary in a different format? What was the objective of blogging? How did one begin as a blogger? Was there some kind of Official Registry of Blogs whose approval one needed? What about readers? How did one connect with them? Was there someone operating as an editorial director? Was there money in blogging?
I've still never answered most of these questions, or any of the myriad others that first appeared as barriers between the blogosphere and myself. I cringe at my early blog posts, which read to me as embarrassing attempts to emulate journalism. I'm not a journalist. I have never been trained as one, though I like to think I understand the journalist's objective of distilling an issue without being reductive. My early movie reviews are laughably objective-minded, trying to remove myself from the commentary. I had been taught in school that one does not write in the first person for anything "serious" and for some reason, I had the notion that discussing films online merited such "professionalism" from me.
At some point early on, I realized that I wished to discuss different topics: movies, music, books and politics were the most obvious themes. I created a different blog for each of these, and a few others. It seemed to me that if you, Dear Reader, came looking to read and discuss movies, you didn't want to have to sift through talk of books and music between posts any more than you wanted to read about me.
Then, in 2009, I read something in Roger Ebert's Journal. A reader and his friend had debated the merits of Ebert's value as a film critic and constructed what became a trial using criticism from Dan Schneider as their evidence for and against his work. What struck me was Ebert's casual acceptance of one of the primary charges against him, and his deflection of it:
I would agree that I am a more emotion-driven critic than Siskel or Schneider, and indeed many others. My reviews usually include a reflection of how I felt during a film, since film itself is primarily an emotional, not a cerebral, medium.It was an epiphany for me. In another of his posts around the same time, he expanded on this point and explained that it was his belief that the appeal of his reviews originated in the reader's ability to appreciate his personal context for the viewing at hand. If he entered the theater frustrated with his professional life, that would color his sensitivity to a story about the workplace, for instance. Here was perhaps the most famous critic of our era not only not trying to remove himself from his criticism, but actively promoting it! The "star" of Ebert's criticism isn't film; it's Ebert himself. Read through a handful of consecutive reviews of his from nearly any period and it becomes evident that you're not really coming to Ebert to learn about film; you're using film as a forum through which to learn about Ebert.
That changed everything for me. I had permission to exorcise the admonitions of my former teachers and insert myself into my blog posts. (Why not? No one was reading anyway!) I consolidated my blogs, on the basis that if you're using my discussions about film to learn about me, then you would do well to also learn about me through my thoughts on literature and politics, as well.
My Swedish pal said to me, "You tend to be more frank and open than most, though. It makes for great writing." I thought that was terribly kind of him. I know plenty of bloggers who are just as candid about their personal lives as I have been, but I also recognize that many others are much more reluctant to share of themselves the way I do. I've been asked about this in the past, so this seems an appropriate time to address that.
When I was first diagnosed with Crohn's disease in 2005, I initially tried to hide it. I didn't want to be seen differently than I had been before the diagnosis. I didn't want to be "defined" by it. Of course, the truth of the matter is that I am different with Crohn's than I was before it. As I began to connect with other Crohnies via the web, it became increasingly obvious to me that in addition to the obvious health concerns we face, there was one other bogeyman in our lives: the lack of understanding by the general public.
I am not a doctor or a research scientist. There's nothing I can do to treat or cure Crohn's disease. However, I can use my voice (spoken or written) to help raise awareness and understanding of what life with this stupid disease can be like for people. It was a natural outgrowth from that to begin discussing my experiences with depression, though there's something else at play about that topic. Depression works in isolation. It makes one withdraw from one's family and friends. Every foible is bathed in self-conscious shame, discouraging discussion. "If you talk about that, you'll sound stupid." Depression takes your self-respect hostage.
I decided to shoot the hostage.
By sharing here the kinds of things that I do, I deprive depression of its power to lord over me anything that could seem embarrassing or compromising. I've put it out there for the whole world to read. Now what, depression? Yeah, that's what I thought. Shut up and sit down!
That leads me to the final part of my philosophy and that's that I have put my name on this blog, coming out from behind the shield of an anonymous screen name. It's because my name is on my blog that I'm able to entirely negate the ability of depression to make me feel self-conscious. If I published under a pseudonym, I might still feel cathartic for sharing and you may still connect with what I shared, Dear Reader, but it wouldn't be the same because I could still deny the blog is my own work. I can't do that this way, though, and that's surprisingly freeing.
A few years ago, I happened upon an interview with Aaron Tippin. I'm relatively sure it was on TV, but maybe it was in print. Anyway, he was talking about the fact he doesn't perform in bars anymore. He said that at some point he began to feel funny that his young son couldn't come to those shows and that led him to decide that if the venue is somewhere his son can't be, then maybe he shouldn't be there, either. I really liked that philosophy and I adapted it to my blog. I decided that if I wasn't comfortable putting my name on something that I wrote, knowing that the kids in my family could find it, then I didn't need to be writing or publishing it.
That brings me to the final component of my approach to blogging, actually. I have long been fascinated with storytelling. I realized at some point early in my childhood that it seemed my family only recycled the same handful of stories time and again and I was certain there were countless other tales that no one ever shared. It wasn't that they were some kind of secret to be obscured, but simply that the storytelling canon only had room for so many anecdotes and the rest fell by the wayside.
If my blog was now a means of using different topics to get to know me, then it seemed perfectly allowable that I would sometimes share things about myself outright. My blog took on a new dynamic of also being a depository for my personal stories and recollections. It may sound silly, but this blog is more or less my personal legacy. It is what I will leave behind one day, and through this my family and friends will have a permanent record of anything chronicled here. Maybe they'll recall things differently than I do, of course, but at least they'll have my version there to even remind them and they can share their differing interpretations with others.
I am proudest of my sub-series about depression, because of the feedback that it has generated since I began sharing about that. Not all feedback has come in the form of comments here on the blog. I've received messages through Facebook and Twitter, and I've even had a few offline conversations where someone wanted to discuss a specific post with me. It was my hope all along that somehow, I might be helpful to others by sharing my experiences with depression and it seems that maybe I have been.
I've recently opened a new email account (TravisSMcClain@gmail.com) and you are welcome to contact me privately in case you're not comfortable commenting openly. Just send no spam and don't hack me! I'll send a team of ninja assassins if you forward me chain letters.
That said, my personal favorite posts to write are the ones that merit the My Memoirs label. I don't always know when I begin writing whether a post will seem appropriate for that. After all, if my perspective is that the whole blog is ultimately about me, then isn't the entire thing a sprawling memoir? I try to reserve it for those posts that are specifically, or at least primarily, about my life rather than how I relate to a given topic. Those are the posts where I feel I have the most room to laugh and become entirely conversational, and I hope that each time I indulge in my reminisces that I've written in such a way that at the very least, they're amusing but also I like to think that even though they're specific to my life, that somehow they're accessible all the same to you, Dear Reader.
There you have it, folks. These are the specific reasons why this blog is the way it is. I realize I have not discussed my actual writing style. This post is already rather lengthy, though, and besides that there's the fact I'm still not comfortable thinking of myself has actually having a writing style. Real writers have a style, and I'm not one....yet!