19 Years

Today marks the 19th birthday of Whatever, and once again I’m left to reflect that it’s a hell of a thing to be doing anything for as long as I’ve been writing here. Nineteen years ago today was four presidents back; Krissy and I lived in Sterling, Virginia; Athena, who is now in college, was about three months out from being born; and I had written but a single novel, which at the time only three people besides myself had read, and which was seven years from actual print publication. It’s odd to think of what a very different time it was.

It’s also odd to think of how very few of those first set of blogs, the ones that were up and running in 1998, still exist out on the Internet, in non-archived form, anyway. Out of my regular 1998 blog reads (or “online diary” reads, since the word “blog” had no currency then), only James Lileks is still putting posts out there on what could be called a regular basis. Most of the rest of the sites are shuttered and the ones that aren’t, update sporadically if at all. I don’t think it’s at all surprising that James and I have kept at it regularly all this time. We both come out of newspapers and I suspect we both think of our blogs as another news hole to be regularly filled with… well, something, anyway.

Also, unless you’re trained for writing or at least posting every day it’s not that easy a thing to do. People back in the day who started blog with endless enthusiasm would often realize that the infinite maw of a blog could be daunting, especially when you felt like you were throwing words out into the void and who knows who was catching them on the other end. This is the secret sauce of Facebook and Twitter, incidentally. You follow all your friends, they follow you, and then when you post, you know who your audience is and (more or less) that they’re actually listening. And if you don’t post on Facebook or Twitter for a day, or a week, or whatever, well. Someone else in your friend circle is. The pressure is off. It’s a much more congenial set-up for someone who isn’t hypergraphic by nature.

This last year has been an interesting one to try to write here regularly, in no small part because while our current administration certainly generates lots of heat and controversy, in many ways it’s difficult to say anything pertinent or insightful about it; once one is done saying “well, this is what happens when you elect an incompetent and incurious narcissistic bigot to the highest office in the land” the first few dozen times, everything else seems repetition.

Rather than being energized to fight the fumbling, shambling fascism of Donald Trump and his pals, I’ve found myself dispirited by it. It’s neither interesting nor fun to chronicle the stupid and malicious. I’m glad it’s not my job to be a full-time political writer in this era. Nevertheless I swing away at the current administration, although less than I imagined I would (here, anyway; the brevity of Twitter lends itself to my level of engagement). Fortunately there are always cats and sunsets and talking about writing.

If I had to describe the last year of writing, here and elsewhere, it would be to say that it’s been a year of recalibration, and trying to stay engaged and creative while the world is on fire. As I’ve noted before, it’s not like this is a new sort of thing — writers and other creative sorts have had to learn how to keep at their gig in awful times before, including some times that have been objectively rather more awful than this one. That said, this time certainly isn’t great, and presents its own set of challenges. I suspect it’s not just me doing some recalibration these days.

Be that as it may, and once again, I’ll keep on writing here. I still like doing it, and I still have an urge to write on many topics, and post pictures of pets and family and sunsets. And people still come by to see what I’m up to. It works out. And thank you for coming by.

This time next year will be the 20th anniversary of the site. I’ll have to figure out something special for it. I have some ideas. I’ll let you know what they are when I get them sorted.

42 Comments on “19 Years”

  1. I can’t imagine churning out good, readable, well-crafted copy on a daily basis in a perfectly peaceful, calm, fair, just world, let alone how you and your fellow writers manage it in these times. But please know that I appreciate it – not that my appreciation in particular matters a hill of beans to you, of course, any more than any other reader’s does. Nonetheless, I remain grateful to be able to stop by here and lose myself in your words from time to time, so thank you for keeping on.

  2. Although it is devastatingly dispiriting, the “fumbling, shambling fascism of Donald Trump and his pals” is not the most dispiriting thing for me. It is rather that there are so many in this country who are celebrating the fact that we “elect[ed] an incompetent and incurious narcissistic bigot to the highest office in the land.” I can barely face waking up in the morning. It’s a good thing my job is mentally engaging. At least that makes the days go by.

  3. Somehow I’ve had a blog/website/personal page since the vicinity of 1996. More as a technical exercise than anything else.But I post a few times a year as opposed to a few times a week, so it is hardly comparable except from a “have I really had a blog for that long” perspective. But I have enjoyed your thinky bits and found them roughly in agreement with my own. Which can make things interesting when they help crystalize an opinion. Here’s to another 19…

  4. I’ve much enjoyed your blog for the short time I’ve been following it. 19 years – that is almost incredible – so many blogs have come and gone since I started blogging recently. I love your humour with that something serious lurking underneath, or not so underneath. Also hate Trump though fortunately live in UK – otherwise would spend all my time ranting at what’s he’s doing. It would be interesting to see your very first blog posts, bet they were quite different to now :)

  5. I have been reading your blog since February of 1999, which is when Jerry Falwell “outed” Tinky-Winky and you posted your hilarious rebuttal. So, 18.5 years.

    There have been so many blogs that I’ve read, sometimes very faithfully, only to drift away at some point. Some quit blogging; some, there was a shift in topic to something less interesting; some attempted to monetize and wound up with such a popup-loaded site it wasn’t worth the visit; some, I just stopped coming around. I think you’re the only one I was reading then, that I’m still reading now. Of course, at some point you stopped being a stranger on the Internet, and became someone I’m friends with, which makes the whole blog-visit dynamic different.

  6. Twenty years ago, I was writing 4 columns a week – 2 for my local paper and 2 for King Features Syndicate. Column-writing is a great background for writing blogs. About the same length usually and you are used to deadlines (of course, with blogs you have to set your own deadlines!) I write 4 blogs now on Politics, NASCAR, Writing and My Cancer Journey. The politics one is the oldest. Can’t remember when I started it. I know so many people who started blogs then pooped out when they found out how much work it is but I’ve kept plinking away. You and Jim Wright at Stone Kettle Station are my must-read bloggers.

  7. I’ve had my go at daily blogging and lasted about three months (even with a daily task I was doing – links to three news articles per day about “what went right” rather than “what went wrong”). You have my respect, and congratulations, for lasting nineteen years.

  8. It is indeed an achievement. Thank you for writing so often and so thoughtfully. (And thank you for the cat pics when the brain doesn’t want to brain.) I don’t often comment, but I always enjoy. I appreciate the time you’ve put into it, and the time I’ve gotten out of it.

  9. I remember those days. My mom kept telling me about this thing called “blogging” and I told her “I’m in college mom… I don’t have time for that!” Hahaha who knew? 🤷‍♂️

  10. I believe I discovered you via a recommendation of Old Man’s War by Glenn Reynolds. I still read your blog. His, not so much.

    It is also the 19th anniversary of the day I quit smoking!

  11. I thought it was pretty amazing that my Web site turned 15 at the beginning of September – now, I realize that it’s only a younger brother!

    There have been studies that indicate that as much as 95% of blogs are abandoned by creators within six months of their creation. Nineteen years of steady publication is an amazing achievement. Congratulations!

  12. In a different vein: I’m sorry you find the Trump administration so dispiriting. I have found it surprisingly energizing.

    There is a feature on my Web site that, at its simplest is fake news (also known as satire). I have self-published seven collections of this feature in print. In the most recent one, a chapter was devoted to a world in which all of the advanced countries were idiotocracies (which, as you might be able to imagine, is rule by the stupidest). When I first started planning the next book in the series, I assumed that I might get another single chapter of material out of the Trump Presidency.

    It soon became apparent, however, that there was much more material to work with than I had originally imagined. To give you some idea of how my plans changed: ordinarily, I would write and post one of these articles per week. Since Trump, I have written anywhere from two to five articles per week; I have had to publish two per week just to keep the backlog from growing too large. Ordinarily, the next book in the series would have been completed some time in the middle of next year; I expect to actually finish the manuscript some time next week (although the complete book won’t be available to the public for a few months because reasons).

    Although I sometimes get depressed about the situation, I find writing about it helpful.

    One final thought: I have long worried that as a satirist, my art arises because I am willing to exploit the suffering of others. My best response to this concern came in an interview I did a couple of years ago, where I said: I didn’t create human greed and stupidity – can I be blamed if they give me job security? But, the darker the days, the colder the comfort.

  13. As someone who’s content merely to comment on other people’s blogs, I’m glad there are a few generally congenial sites such as this one. I agree that someone already involved in writing for publication several times a week, like you and Lileks circa 20 years ago, would be a lot more likely to maintain a blog long-term. Having had a professional home early on, in the vanished era when daily and alt-weekly newspapers were profitable, must have been a great start for any kind of career involving regular writing.

  14. Fifth of a century, near enough.  Four more and you’ll be the Centennial Blogger.  Not bad for a man from hardy peasant stock, Shoeless John Scalzi.

  15. Congratulations on 19 years. Not just the longevity, although that’s awesome, but also on the still-entertaining blog after all this time. That’s amazing.

  16. The Continual Whine about The World These Days is getting tiresome. Now I know how Obama supporters felt for those eight years, and I sympathize. While I was critical of the former president’s policies, I didn’t go out of my way to present myself as Oh-I-care-so-much-more-deeply-than-you-fools-who-just-can’t-see-the-light. Grow up. As Obama himself said in 2013, “You don’t like a President or his policies? Then elect a new one.” Spot on.

  17. “…incurious…” Wow. How marvelously and unexpectedly apt for this buffoon, and every bit as damning (if not more so) as “incompetent.” I’ll subscribe to another 19 years of such perceptive commentary, if you don’t mind…

  18. I launched my web site on 12/31/1995, so it’s old enough to drink. Thankfully I don’t have any content prior to about 2001, which spares the world from reading my impassioned defenses of the Dole 96 campaign. It’s been maintained and updated regularly the entire time.

  19. Back then (and prior), I didn’t think my thoughts were important enough to make a Online Diary Of My Very Own For Everyone To Read…also, I suck at keeping up at a diary. Maybe too afraid of putting all my thoughts down permanently except in conversation. I did spend time on bulletin boards.

    But, I was wondering what your first posts were, so went to your archives. This site only goes back to March 18th, 2002, and Jesus Football. (Nice post, btw.) Where can I find the earlier pieces?

  20. Things persisting on the Internet is such a curious thing. Thanks to desperate scraping of Usenet when they were relatively new, I was a listed reviewer on Rotten Tomatoes due to a posting I’d made to rec.movies back in 1995. It was weird when a random googling of my name brought that up (and more than a little mortifying, as it wasn’t a formal review per se and was not particularly well written or thought out, just an off-the-cuff posting).

    John, do you ever look at some of your old posts and think ‘Did I say that?’…not so much in the sense of ‘that doesn’t sound like something I’d say’ but more int he sense of ‘Did I used to write like that, with that phrasing?’ It’s weird to me when I see posts I’ve made more than a decade in the past and sometimes it doesn’t sound like my own writing.

  21. Congrats on sticking with with something for 19 years that most people give up on after just one. I’m not sure that is a testament to your dedication, or just plain stubbornness, but I applaud either.

    Keep up the good fight…

  22. Anthony Trollope used to get up at five in the morning (with or without cat assistance is not recorded) and then write for three hours with a rigorous output of 1000 words/hour before leaving for his job at the Post Office. Twelve years of that routine produced the Chronicles of Barsetshire, and in his copious free time the invention of the postbox.

    I can manage 250 words/hour of completed text on a good day; and I haven’t had to keep up any sort of schedule over months or years. Do you have any record of the words written in a given year? A word count of just Whatever over the period would be interesting.


  23. “What a loooooong; strange trip it’s been.” to quote the song that this post has now ear-wormed me with. Thanks John.

  24. David Foster: “Obama himself said in 2013, “You don’t like a President or his policies? Then elect a new one.” Spot on.”

    I think the last several sentences of that quote are the important ones, personally.

    “You don’t like a particular policy or a particular president? Then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election. Push to change it. But don’t break it. Don’t break what our predecessors spent over two centuries building. That’s not being faithful to what this country’s about.

  25. Thanks for being here. I discovered your blog first and read your books because of reading the blog. Also I go right to the home page every time — I don’t use a feed.


  26. I got to this site from a link on the Lileks blog, matter of fact. Good grief, 19 years! How it flies…

  27. I think I have only been here following you for the past decade, but it’s a strange synchronicity; Pete Abrahms has been celebrating his 20th anniversary over at Sluggy Freelance the past few weeks. That’s my favorite webcomic, which i HAVE been reading for close to 19 years. He hasn’t done daily updates the whole time, but i would be surprised if there weren’t at least 4000 updates.

    Thanks again for all that you do, both paid and unpaid. You’ve also helped me identify the impact that the gnawing sense of impending doom is having on my own, non-artisty work.

  28. Just a heart-felt “Thank you”. I enjoy your writing be it books, shorts, or this blog. Hoping Whatever makes it to the big Two-Oh!

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