I first posted to this blog five years ago today.
When it began, I was only just back from a long summer in southern India. I was waiting to hear word about the date for defending my dissertation and had some time on my hands. So I decided I wanted to figure out what was possible to do on the web knowing nothing and figuring things out as I went along. The only technical condition I set for myself was that whatever I did would sit on my own domain and not on some company’s social platform. I got things started by writing up logs from the book notes I’d kept as I travelled and soon after that started my commonplace book.
Back then I knew less than nothing about what I was doing and so those early weeks and months were a bit of rock-n-roll, by which I mean exciting, veering out of control, and generally one wrong move away from burning to the ground.
The most obvious example I can think of involved my treatment of date stamps, something that in blogs should be assigned more or less automatically. But not on my blog. No way, no how. I decided—and this is so typical of my mind that if friends or family had been watching as I worked they would have shaken their heads and said “of course, naturally, we could have guessed, let him be, there’s no stopping him”—no, I decided (because “reasons”) that date and hour stamps would not indicate dates and hours. Instead dates would key to a sorting scheme I invented to organize posts into looping sequences of topics. This system was odd, indecipherable to outsiders and worked exactly as intended, but it was also cumbersome and clearly madness. After a few weeks, I scrapped it and transferred all the date and time info (which I had been entering into the body of post texts) into the date/time field where they belonged and let them determine the sorting of posts as they should have done from the outset.
The biggest questions I’ve wrestled with as I’ve posted have not however been technical. They’ve been about my uncertainty over how personal the material here should be. Initially, the site sat behind an elaborate password system. When that was removed, my name was nowhere to be seen and I shared the url with no one. Eventually, I added my initials and began to share links with close friends. After awhile, I started sharing them on twitter. Now my name sits on the front page and I’ve accepted that what’s here sits in full public view.
These changes were milestones but have left no direct trace unless the early versions of pages are sitting in system logs somewhere on the server. However, I can follow, I think, this slow process of change in the posts that I’ve written. The nervous writer plucking out a tune on only slightly non-academic language-strings in the early posts or miming the various “hey I saw this and this is what I think” posts I saw frequently on other blogs has over time become—haltingly and slowly and without much confidence—the writer who nervously and unexpectedly (most of all to himself) responded in very personal terms to the Orlando shooting.
In their own way, but perhaps less obviously, my Tinderbox posts were also intensely personal and were an important step in the evolution of my blog. They marked the point where I first considered the possibility that my blog, which I treated primarily as a conversation with myself, might also offer something useful to people I didn’t know. I was familiar with writing like this: I read it all the time on other people’s sites and it helped me figure out how to do my own work when I was having problems. But assuming that voice as my own, saying “This is what I’m doing and how I’m doing it, maybe it will help,” was very new to me online and working on those posts forced me to think about how to speak knowledgeably without the defenses involved in academic posturing. In the process, I experimented with making hypertexts and even translated a piece of my dissertation online.
How to be here, how to speak, what to speak about and in what voice. These remain vital questions for me when I sit down in front of my blog. And they make it a worthwhile project (for me at least) even when I’m posting infrequently or writing posts that sit at arms length from my daily life. How to speak myself into the world is a question I still don’t really have any stable answers to, and that means that, even with five years under my belt, I’m still happily looking forward to the next five.
And to anyone who’s reading, thanks for being here.