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A Slight Return

So… How do I square a reintroduction to this blog with my last post? I declared, for instance, that I found two problems with the blog: “[F]irst, the entire foundation of this blog is rooted in the paralyzing anxiety and fear that has driven me to a heady combination of inaction and overthinking; second, and perhaps most importantly, I’ve lost interest to proving anything to anyone, including myself.” Well… Both of these things are still true, so then what reason would I have to return—other than what I wrote later about checking in periodically to give my rapidly diminishing readership recommendations on media to consume, something I’ve never bothered to do?

Then, I wrote:

None of that matters anymore. This was a place for me to feel strong instead of weak, valuable instead of worthless, brilliant instead of ign’ant, articulate instead of a stammering goofball. I controlled this depiction of my life because I had no control over my actual life. For instance, it’s exceptionally easy to remove past evidence of relationships gone awry from my blog. It’s much more difficult to remove their imprint from my actual life, and in the absence of genuine control over my thoughts and feelings, I came here to edit my life into what I wanted it to be.

Is that, then, why I’ve returned? Has my life fallen apart, and now I’m retreating back into quasi-fiction, “creative nonfiction,” where I can gussy up the disaster and make myself the hero? Not exactly… In fact, going forward, I will rarely if ever discuss my personal life. Unlike the Stan Has Issues™ days, I am not anonymous here. In thinking of resurrecting this blog, I did consider trashing this place, salting its earth, and resurrecting it once again with the comfortable anonymity of “Stan McCague.” But venting about difficult romantic relationships, annoying friendships, or obnoxious day job bullshit doesn’t appeal to me, anonymous or otherwise.

All About the Benjamins?

Without the mental and emotional reasons for continuing to write on this blog, I lacked incentive. It’s not a money-maker. Long, personal rants about my life or the state of the movie industry aren’t going to make me anything… These days, as far as internet-based commentary goes, podcasts and tweets seem to be the only money-makers out there. I tried podcasting briefly, because I love listening to podcasts… But I’m a writer. I don’t enjoy talking at length. I can write until the cows come home, like Narcissus staring at his own reflection, with no awareness of time passing or just how deeply I’m staring into my own navel—but sitting in front of a microphone, listening to my voice babbling, I can’t think about anything else.

Is it true that a blog like this can’t possibly make money? I tend to think so. In much the same way I’m not Marc Maron or Adam Carolla, I also can’t be The Huffington Post or, I dunno, Breitbart? The Daily Kos? I don’t read any of this shit except Gawker sometimes, and I guess they make money because they employ staffs and get taken seriously by the media establishment. From my own experience, I worked on two film criticism websites that didn’t make any money. The first site “broke even” in the sense that it made back the $8/month in hosting costs—but it “employed” a roster of unpaid, fresh-out-of-college or still-in-college writers, and the founder didn’t draw a salary. The second site was one I founded with my friend Matt, which to date (over three years after shutting down) hasn’t earned enough in ad revenue to meet Amazon or Google’s minimum thresholds to issue a check.

I’m not blaming the internet public for that. Matt and I didn’t know anything about marketing, and we had no money to market. We hoped to build the site through word-of-mouth, and I do think that maybe after five or ten years we could have built something resembling The A.V. Club, but the constant thought of how long it would take and how much time I had to devote to it led to crippling depression and panic attacks, and the only solution was to stop. To this day, I don’t know how else to build an empire like ours, with a foundation of well-reasoned film reviews. We specifically designed our site as an antidote for the extremes of internet film reviewing, where everything is either the greatest movie ever made or a cinematic abortion that should not be watched under any circumstances.

I became convinced, and remain convinced, that extremism is the only way to quickly get attention (and therefore success) on the internet. The political “news” blogs I mentioned above all have affiliations, agendas, and alignments. They intentionally provoke with controversial headlines and sometimes content, and they retain their readers by unabashedly preaching to whatever choir they’ve chosen, to the degree that many of these sites have just become echo chambers of groupthink stuffed so far up their own asses that they’re shocked—shocked—at anyone with a more level-headed view, branding them enemy agents and squeezing them out. My greatest time-wasting sin is reading endless amounts of comment threads at the bottom of articles and seeing “normal people” circle the weakest in the herd and either shame them into silence or officially cast them out.

If any of you bothered to view this blog long after I stopped updating, you’ll notice I plastered it with Google and Amazon ads. That was mainly to see if a tomb filled with ten years of writing could generate a few dollars a month. It could not, although that may not have been a failed experiment so much as a failed .htaccess file, which I realized only yesterday was causing any search engine click-throughs to result in 403 Forbidden errors (refreshing would load the pages, but what random Google searcher would bother?). This explains not only the lack of revenue but the incredible disappearance of anything but spam comments. I’ve received random comments on posts at least once a week for the entire time I’ve written it, and if I’d put any thought into the blog, maybe I would have noticed those comments drying up.

The Juno Effect

Still, though, there is a strong part of me that believes my lack of shit-stirring will never net me anything but a small, perhaps loyal readership (but more probably random folks finding random posts with the weirdest Google searches). I suppose my main evidence for this is my shortlived jihad against Diablo Cody in 2008. For a brief, shining moment, this blog had a series of top search hits (on the entire internet), along the lines of “I hate Juno,” “Diablo Cody talentless,” et al.

At one time, this satisfied me, mainly because I thought it was funny. But I’m not really a “hater.” Granted, I did not like Juno and was profoundly jealous of Diablo Cody and her unearned success. However, I will defend until I die my Juno review is a (too) thorough analysis of the positives and negatives of the movie. It leans hard on the negative, but more often it laments the film that could have been, if the writing had just been better. Much, much better.

Rereading it now, I ask the question, “Why did I get so worked up over a movie that, at the time, seemed exceptionally important, but has now been basically forgotten?” It’s the same answer I gave in my last post: I needed to prove myself. I needed to prove I was smarter than Hollywood, smarter than the critics jizzing all over it, smarter than John Q. Unemployed Screenwriting Blogger worshipping at the altar of “everywoman” Diablo Cody being plucked from obscurity, smarter than Diablo Cody herself.

I wouldn’t characterize my feelings (especially at the time) as disingenuous or hyperbolic, nor would I consider using Juno to be a straw man… But it was somewhat close. Examining the thoughts and feelings motivating me, it had everything to do with showing how much better I was in comparison to that thing everyone else loved, to show them they were wrong for loving it and wronger for ignoring me.

Think about this: why did I post a shit-talking review of Juno—at a time when I rarely wrote movie reviews on my blog, or even talked about movies in general—without also writing reviews praising No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood? Like Juno, the praise heaped upon these movies was near-universal among critics but much more divisive with audiences. I loved both of those movies, but I chose not to defend them. Why? Because of my obvious sexism/gynophobia/misogyny? Or because I couldn’t “beat” Hollywood or the critical establishment or bloggers or anyone else by praising movies they already loved?

It proved nothing to anyone about how much better I am if all I did was join the consensus. I needed to be an edgy iconoclast, transforming idiots who didn’t even know I existed into arch-nemeses. But if I don’t need that anymore, why am I back?

So… Why Am I Back?

Well, for one thing, I may not be. This post is not a commitment that I’ll suddenly resume blogging full-time. The purpose of the post, at long last, is to declare an intention I may not bother to follow through on: that I will start blogging about things when the mood strikes me, and my approach will be different.

My mind and approach to life are drastically different from the blogger you, if you were a regular read, grew to know and love/hate. In fact, for a long time I had unpublished all the “personal” posts—eliminating everything but the posts on screenwriting/movies—because I had some opportunities to blog elsewhere that didn’t pan out, and I didn’t want anything I wrote to sound contradictory or hypocritical when compared to the trail of tears left by this blog. (Yes, I am comparing my past emotional life to the forced relocation and subjugation of Native Americans.) Over the weekend, I restored all those posts, because guess what? I am who I am now, but I also was who I was then. Particularly if I’m going to continue blogging here, I see no reason to hide who I was, no matter how embarrassing.

But that’s part of what I’ll consider the ground rules for the new incarnation of this blog.

I’ve thought about returning to blogging for awhile. This is partly because, despite my absence from this particular place, I’ve managed to write absurdly long e-mails—many longer than the posts you find here—to my good friend, Beth. We have great, in-depth conversations about all manner of topics…but, at times, there are topics where I’ll start writing an e-mail to her, and halfway through I’ll be like, “Jesus, Beth’s not going to have any interest in this.” I end up trashing it and eventually finding a topic we’d both be interested in.

Maybe that shouldn’t stop me, but it’s not my interest to bore anyone. The “problem,” if one can call it that, with having an audience of one is that I know what will stimulate an interesting conversation, and what will probably be read and maybe absorbed but not lead to anything more fruitful than, “That’s cool!” For instance, I found a couple of Philip K. Dick quotes about the nature of reality (one of which I used in my new banner), and I started this whole rambling thing about how I struggle with Dick’s work because I intensely disagree with him philosophically, but his baseline observations are correct. And I was like, “Jesus, I barely care about this myself—why would Beth?”

So if it’s not in my interest to bore people, why would I take these things, write them in a slightly different way, and post them on my blog? Because you, whoever is reading this, are not Beth (or maybe you are, but 99% of you won’t be…).

The Ground Rules

The primary ground rule I’m working with here is: if it’s of interest to me, it might be of interest to someone, and if I’m writing about it, I might as well put it somewhere instead of just deleting it and moving on to the next thing. At the same time, I’m not interested in building readership or cultivating an audience.

I’ve struggled with this, because how can anyone say they’re going to toss blog posts up on the very public internet while saying, “I don’t want an audience”? It sounds like the same sort of anxiety-induced hypocrisy I used to suffer regularly. But it’s not a contradiction; if somebody finds something I’ve written and finds it articulates something they could not, great! But I’m not going to tear my hair out, as I once did, trying to figure out how to get people to read my blog—what to write about, how to write about it, who on the internets to interact with to drive traffic back to me.

Realizing this will never be a money-making pursuit, coupled with knowing that I am not a narcissist—and thus don’t crave the attention that might push me to grab as many eyeballs as possible with obnoxious post titles or vitriolic comments on message boards and blogs—has led me to the decision to write here when I want to write here, about things I want to write about. It’s not even really about someone finding what I’ve written and developing kindred spirits. I’m not writing this stuff for readers to find; I’m writing it because I’m a writer, and the process helps me clarify and articulate my thoughts and feelings.

This place is for me, not you. If you find something you like, that’s a bonus for me. I could journal privately or contain all my thoughts to e-mails with Beth or conversations with others… But writing in a vacuum, even if it’s an inane journal entry, holds no appeal to me. I’m smart, but I don’t know everything. I have a much greater awareness of the world around me, but I can’t see everything. One thing that makes my e-mails with Beth so appealing is that we challenge each other intellectually. If I were to give any purpose for resurrecting this blog, other than simply wanting to, I’d say that it would delight me to no end to find more people like Beth, offering new perspectives on the ideas I burp out.

I generally see more of the forest than most, but I don’t always see the whole forest. I welcome and relish any reasonable criticism, challenge, even outright rejection of my perspective. I am neither a scholar nor an expert in any particular field; I merely seek knowledge, as objectively as possible, in pursuit of the truth. Objectivity necessitates accepting that I’m wrong about some things, rather than clinging to what I wish could be true.

Where I’ve Been

I’m done with the movie business. Back when I was still blogging, I started focusing on fiction. I wrote two novels during that period, Tones of Home and Reader. I’m sorry to say I’m proud of neither, but they fit snugly into my steady progress as a writer.

The outlook of my early work can be best expressed as “Alvy Singer’s worldview” (which is funny because Annie Hall isn’t even in my top ten Woody Allen films): first, his childhood terror that “the universe is everything, and if it’s expanding, someday it will break apart and that would be the end of everything” (best expressed in blog form in this post); and secondly, his adulthood obsession with everyone else above himself: “I can’t enjoy anything unless everybody is. If one guy is starving someplace, that puts a crimp in my evening” (exemplified in every other post in the history of this blog).

In a past post, I mentioned reading “a controversial book—so controversial, indeed, that I don’t really feel like mentioning the title, because I’m not interested in arguing about it—that, [I was] surprised to say, [had] begun influencing my thinking.” I’m still not interested in arguing about it, except to say that it’s not a religious book, and it’s not nonfiction. I’d retroactively say it didn’t influence my thinking so much as clarify things I’d always thought—things I either couldn’t articulate or merely feared expressing aloud, because I knew those around me would not share the thoughts, but I felt too dumb to defend them—and this clarity gave me the confidence to do many things.

I found myself finally able to shed the Alvy Singer anxieties about enjoying life when others couldn’t, about worrying about the world and the universe, about wondering what others thought of me and reacting to that instead of taking healthier actions that were best for me rather than what I thought others expected of me, or the image I wanted to project.

When I de-anonymized back in 2011, I titled the post “Become What You Are,” the title of a Juliana Hatfield album. I didn’t know then that simply using my real name didn’t enable me to live up to that title. I had more work to do, and I’ve had much more success in all aspects of my life as a result of that work. I have a day job and a social life that are fulfilling if imperfect. More importantly, I spent 18 months working on the novel that has been percolating since college—mired in a combination of religious study and self-examination to construct a sprawling epic that says everything I’ve ever wanted to say about the world.

I was proud of my scripts at the time; now, I see what I was trying to say but failing to articulate, and perhaps I will adapt them into a novel form that reshapes them so their themes are more consistent and their denouements are more than just shrugs about the unknowable mysteries of the universe. The universe is not nearly as mysterious if a person pays attention and pushes away comforting delusions. This novel, though, is the one thing I’ve created that I’m truly proud of, and I’m following it up with a new novel that is less religious but more political in nature. At the same time, unlike the sprawling epic about goofy people leading goofy lives, this new novel is genre fiction with political themes. I needed to write the epic; now, I need to write something I believe in that will sell.

What Now?

At the risk of sounding too much like a grown-up, this blog will focus much less on movies/media and personal stories, because I care much less about “venting” on such topics. I’m at a place, mentally and emotionally, where I can handle my personal life without self-deprecating whining on a blog. I still love all sorts of media as much as I ever did, but to reiterate what I said above at length, writing about those topics was little more than a method of proving myself in various ways. At this stage, I like what I like and don’t what I don’t, and I don’t really care about either convincing or chastising others. It doesn’t matter to me.

The posts I do write are bound to be more politically oriented, because such issues have become very important to me, but again: it’s not about convincing or chastising. My frustration, when I engage with the media, is that voices like mine are either unrepresented or willfully distorted. The media loves conflict and extremes; it hates genuine objectivity, because that tends to contain more nuance than it can handle. I guess one motivator to start blogging was the recent Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision, commentary about which drove me nuts.

I loathe religion. Anyone stumbling across this needs to know that. So why would I support a Supreme Court decision that has alternately been described as waging war on women and a victory for “values”-/faith-based businesses? Simple: the actual decision, not the obnoxious commentary on it, is filled with nuance and, ultimately, serves to protect the freedom of any private individual (or small group of private individuals) who choose to form a private business, for whatever reason and operating under whatever principles they believe.

In truth, I think Hobby Lobby’s executive leadership is populated by frauds, hiding behind claims of religious freedom to get away with cheeping out on certain portions of the “Affordable Care” Act. But what if they were honest? What if a company actually is run by a group of deeply devout people, who believe their decision to start a business was fueled by God and their success was a reward for obedience, and thus paying for access to something that is fundamentally against God’s will might, to them, be a dangerous proposition? As far as I’m concerned, those people are fucking idiots… But we live in a society built on a principle allowing them to be fucking idiots, and I fundamentally believe in their right to do so.

It’s hard for me to say anyone affected by Hobby Lobby’s decision should just get a job elsewhere, because I know that’s not an easy proposition. But those people got hoodwinked, because they likely weren’t aware they worked for a business like this. Generally speaking, I’d much rather let businesses put their bigotry out in the open. That way, people know to avoid working for them if at all possible, and people know to avoid giving them their business. If a private businessman wants to put “values” ahead of business, that’s their nightmare, and they have the right to fail once they lay their cards on the table. The Supreme Court decision reaffirms that right to fail.

Is it better to force them to hide it and comply with the law? Sensitivity says yes, but it’s not like forcing them changes their minds; it simply prevents consumers and prospective employees from knowing the true feelings of those in charge. More importantly and more destructively, if the Supreme Court had ruled against the argument that a small, private business—in this case, one considered indistinguishable from the person(s) running it—has the right to express individual values in the form of business decisions, might a person think twice about starting a small business?

Businesses, especially small upstarts, thrive on creativity. Regardless of my personal beliefs about God or imposing religious values on workers, what if the next Bill Gates happens to be extremely religious? Or, worse, what if a ruling as broad as “small businesses can’t create policies reflecting the values of its owner(s)” means even a non-religious innovator suffers constraints crushing not only his creativity but that of his workforce? What if he decides the constraints aren’t worth the trouble, and he’d rather just get a job at IBM instead of starting the company that would one day crush it? The possibility for those constraints are what the Court ruled on, not the decision to oppress women’s reproductive organs or support the rights of religious conservatives.

So, that was a mini-rant on something I care about, one of a handful of important recent Supreme Court decisions where I find myself grudgingly agreeing with the substance of the rulings instead of the kneejerk desire to be for one side and against another because it “feels” right.

Others include Bowman v. Monsanto Co., in which I had to look past Monsanto’s history of shady actions to agree that the “poor farmer” actually did infringe on Monsanto’s patent rights, and to believe otherwise would suggest that patent rights have no value in the first place—but if they had no value, why would Bowman find himself by cheap feed and picking through it to find Monsanto’s patent-protected seeds? And, annoyingly, the complex ruling of National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius: I turned against Obamacare pretty quickly when it became evident that the “solution” to the price-gouging coercive monopoly of hospital systems, insurance companies, and medical supply companies was merely forcing everyone to buy insurance. It frustrated me when a ruling came down that made sense to me—because the law’s intentionally slippery authorship did not “force” people to buy insurance; it merely, legally taxed them for not. Granted, a better case with better arguments could question the constitutionality of using taxation as coercion, but that wasn’t the case argued.

Um… Yeah, I don’t usually spend this much time talking or thinking about the Supreme Court. But I do think about important issues like this, and I may even start writing about them on a semi-regular basis. Consider it a taste of things to come. Rather than mugging for an agreeable audience, this will return to the place where I post whatever I want, from rants about Supreme Court decisions to rambling about the negative influence of Kant on Philip K. Dick. I’ll probably even talk about movies sometimes.

A New Aesthetic

I’ve returned to a design reminiscent of the old Stan Has Issues™ design, a customized variation on a gloomy default template from MovableType 3. I was never totally satisfied with the D. B. Bates version of the design, and I thought since I’m effectively blending the old and new, I should go back to the gloom. Plus, while it does not reflect my current state of mind, it does reflect what I’ll probably be spending most of my time talking about: the world, and everything that’s wrong with it.

If I do have a goal, I will say once again that it is not to convince or chastise those who disagree. It’s not even to toss out thoughts in the hopes of finding adoring agreers. I neither expect nor want people to agree with me or cheer me on; I’m not looking for validation. My most deeply held belief is that this fractured world is being destroyed by the echo chamber of mob mentality. I’ve thought this for years, but until recently I simply thought the world was hopeless; I couldn’t see any solution, since it’s so easy and comfortable for humans to simply agree with the nearest impassioned, charismatic speaker with whom they most agree. It’s easier to agree with someone who feels right than to examine as many facts as one can and determine for oneself what is right.

But I know now that, however long it takes, the world will be saved by individuals who make that choice to think for themselves. They don’t have to agree with me, nor I with them. So, if I have a goal, it’s simply to offer my own independent thoughts and ideas and spur the thoughts and ideas in others, to open a reasonable dialogue through which maybe we’ll all learn something.

If nobody ever reads this blog again, at least I have a place for myself to organize and articulate my own thoughts.

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