Why I was hiding

MCMSunday, April 25, 2021

About 18 months ago I was asked if I blogged. It's a big part of own-name branding (as opposed to ghostwriting) and all successful writers do it.

"Do you blog?" the would-be manager asked.

I hesitated. I hesitated because in truth, I was never all that into social media. I blogged when I had to for 1889, and most of my 7.5k tweets are really just #3D1D questions, not actual content. I'm a social hermit, and I've always been this way.

"Would you be willing to try?" was the question. "Or at least put some of your old writing online?"

Reluctantly, I agreed to search my archives for old posts, to see what I might be able to resurrect. But what I discovered was... well... bizarre.

The old me

I started blogging sometime in 2003, back before I think the term "blog" properly existed. The earliest posts that I can find (and that are even vaguely coherent) were written shortly after the original Dustrunners had ended, and I was just about to launch a project called Liberty Bell — which was an animated webseries with a crowdsourced business model. Plus ça change, right?

From there, I talked about RDC36, where some friends and I created a series pitch package in 36 hours; and then I was ranting about copyright, and creating RollBots, and preparing to write Fission Chips, and—

And I discovered, to my amazement, that I was reading the words of someone who really enjoyed what he was doing. I was posting several times a day, sometimes, and getting into scuffles with other people online in the form of long, rambling posts. When I launched The Pig and the Box, I was already dealing with a decent-sized audience that I was clearly interacting with.

Me, online, interacting.

I had no memory of it at all. It felt completely alien.

So what happened?

Too much of a good thing

The Pig and the Box was part of a project called "12 Books in 12 Months", which was promoted by Creative Commons Canada and brought in a decent amount of interest. The buzz that clearly gave me eventually led to the creation of 1889 Labs, which started publishing books by other authors, too. I do remember that 1889 was absolutely the most fun and the most rewarding experience I've ever had, professionally, but wow was it hard work.

As the "processor" of things, I was in charge of building the print books, the ebooks, the websites, the marketing materials and all that. The more titles we took on, the more their schedules overlapped, and the busier I got. Going by the records, I stopped working on my own projects around this time, and soon seemed to give up on Twitter, too. I imagine it was because I was just too busy.

1889 was doing great, and I think everyone involved was having fun — at the rate we were going, maybe I might've been able to hire more help and give myself a bit of a break, but sadly, life went sideways...

The accident

My wife's accident was sudden and abrupt, but the fallout was like hitting a patch of ice on the road: I knew things were going wrong, but I didn't appreciate how bad they were about to get until I was completely out of control.

This is where my memory becomes clearer: in the days after the accident, the team at 1889 stepped up in ways I cannot even begin to describe. Schedules were kept, projects powered forward, and the machine we'd all built over the last year-and-a-bit seemed like it was going to be OK. But the personal fallout from the accident was only getting worse, and slowly overwhelming me. I couldn't maintain the workload necessary to bankroll the company, and pieces started to splinter off in really terrible ways.

I still feel insanely guilty about this period. I messed up other people's lives because I couldn't get a handle on my own. I know it wasn't my fault that the accident happened, but it was my fault that I didn't have better systems in place to mitigate the fallout.

Part of that guilt manifested as, well, hiding. It's hard to be sociable and happy online when people are still nursing the wounds you inflicted upon them. What was I going to do, write a blog post about a fun new project I was planning in the ashes of 1889 Labs? The logical part of my brain told me that the 1889 folks would be happy that I was coming alive again, but the irrational part told me I didn't deserve to try.

And into that delicate state came the phrase that screwed me up completely:

"Reflect poorly"

As part of my recovery from the accident, I took on more TV and novel-writing work for producers around the world. Part of that process involved talking to a would-be manager, who laid out for me the key elements of a successful career in the 2010s. Smile, be personable, never say anything negative about anyone, and most importantly, make sure your social media presence won't reflect poorly on the productions you want to join.

I'd heard a similar thing, pre-RollBots: nobody wants to work with a headache, so stay light and fluffy in any venue a potential employer might check. Back in the RollBots days, I explicitly ignored that advice and published ranting articles about the evils of copyright and how the Canadian TV industry was inept — but thankfully nobody much cared about blogs in those days. Five years later, it mattered.

Suddenly, the guilt about 1889 stopped being my biggest concern: what was safe to post about? What would get me in trouble? I took down all my old blogs and attempted to nuke all my old tweets (but gave up because I'm lazy). The only things I dared post online were the kinds of things I very broadly suck at: marketing posts. (Marketing posts are good! They show you're a team player!)

Except it's hard to live like that. Interest wanes, posts get more sporadic, and eventually stop. I gave up on social media because I had been bad at it for so long, I forgot I'd ever enjoyed it.

Then, 18 months ago...

...I was asked if I had a blog, or a social media presence. I said "no, no I do not." Would I be willing to dig up some old writing and post that instead?

Sigh. Sure.

It was a chore, to start. I dug through everything I could find, from hand-coded HTML to self-made CMS systems, to Blogger and Wordpress and other weird variants like Patreon and Buy Me a Coffee and, and, and...

...and the more I read my blog posts, the more I realized I actually enjoyed my old self — the version of me who posted random, rambly thoughts about copyright and business models for experimental fiction. He seemed to be having a lot of fun! So as I converted the old posts over to a new format, I started adding new content here and there. A movie review, a post about a song I liked, a brainstorm about the nature of reality.

I was blogging in secret, and it felt weirdly good.

I kept doing it all through Bytown last year, happily secluded from the outside world, until I finally finished converting the old posts last weekend. Over 500 entries, going back almost 20 years.

And I thought to myself: why am I hiding? Why can't I be happy again? I had more fun and more success when I didn't worry so much, so maybe the answer has been staring me in the face all along: go bananas, and when the fallout comes, turn it into a witty blog post and move on.

So that, in the end, is why I am done with hiding. For those I wronged: I'm sorry, and I will try to make it up to you with entertainment. For those who might judge me for the things I write: hi, I don't care.

And for the future me, looking back on this post in 10 years: I'm sorry about mangling the timestamps, but there's no way in hell I'm going through 18 years of data again to fix it. Ask your personal AI to do it. Sheesh.

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