out damned spot: a post-mortem

Out, I say!—One; two: why, then
’tis time to do’t.—Hell is murky.—Fie, my lord, fie, a soldier, and
afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our
pow’r to accompt?—Yet who would have thought the old man to
have had so much blood in him?
– MacBeth, Act 5, Scene 1

It’s the dead technologies and media that fascinate me most.

The header of my blog – my old blog, my now-closed blog – was a manual typewriter, the kind with the glossy round black keys that clacked and sometimes crossed swords under clunky fingers, bringing the whole writing process to a halt. When sweetsalty Kate generously and boldly convened a personal intervention for my long-neglected outta-the-2005-box theme and asked what I wanted as a header, it was the only answer.

I learned to type on one of those old typewriters…the very last year before my high school bought computers. My grandmother’s 1923ish model now decorates the sideboard in my living room. I remember her showing me how to peck out my name when I was barely high enough to reach the keys: typewriters are one of the few technologies I’ve always had an intimate relationship with.

I like their aesthetics, their faint whiff of old-school literary pretensions, their status as communications technologies overtly and utterly left behind in the ever-rabid one-upsmanship of communications technologies.

I’d never use one to write, though.

My blog was, at its core, an identity blog: the typewriter was my avatar. In a sea of momblogs and narrative blogs visually defined by wry martini glasses and bright colours, Kate gave me a header that felt like…me.

If you study digital identities, killing your own first – and best-known – digital identity is a bizarrely meta kind of experience.

Last Friday afternoon, I took a deep breath and hit publish on the very last cribchronicles post. Until I did so, I wasn’t entirely sure I’d go through with it.

Then I did, and it was done.

A performative utterance: thus this ends. Curtain.

To speak it – and have it taken up, received – is to make it so. Perhaps exponentially so on social media. The medium rewards spectacle with attention: the post resulted in my biggest day of blog hits EVER. Would that you could kill a blog every day. Ahem.

Minutes after I tweeted my blogicide, I saw a Twitter link scroll by to Sarah Wanenchak’s cyborgology post on abandoned digital spaces. What’s interesting about digital technologies is they don’t become ruins, it said. They just stop having a future.

And I nodded, because that’s it, exactly.

Dead technologies are much easier than dead people. They don’t disappear; their traces remain. You simply relate to them differently.

They become bakelite and metal artefacts, like the typewriter. Or time capsules that look the same as they did when alive, like my blog. Except that the counter on the sidebar that marked six+ years of steady building and telling, month by month? It goes still.

When I caught sight of it and realized that I just ended that, just declared it dead, I sat on my couch with tears streaming down my face.

It sounds funny. Silly, maybe.

When I read about blogs for my research I always have to brush off the hackles that rise and give me porcupine shoulders, all prickles and chips. I know too well that the blogosphere – if it can be said to exist and many say it can’t and whether there is unity or no, there, I don’t actually care, entirely – is full of crap. I know that too many blogs are simplistic and commercial or navel-gazing and indulgent or pick your slander of the month, really…you name it and somebody, somewhere, has blogged it and likely been pretty successful at it, too, quality or no.

But the books I keep stumbling about blogging are clearly by people whose experience of blogging has been utterly different to my own.

If you blog, and you use your blog to actually connect with people…things happen. Maybe you make money, or maybe you don’t – I didn’t, though that is not the point – but the voice(s) you develop in that space become networked, tied, embedded. Bigger than you.

Now, I can critique that swelling narrative from a thousand different positions, and in my dissertation, I probably will. But I haven’t yet seen an academic book about blogging that understands it. That reflects it and honours it, even while analyzing why and how.

I wrote that blog for 38 months.

I published 525 posts, in 18 categories.

The categories emerged as I wrote, and were as un-thought-through as the title of the blog, which I lit on casually the night before I wrote the first post. If you had told me I’d have even half the run I did at that blog, I’d have spent more than three minutes naming it.

But so it goes. And it is fitting, because I closed it as I opened it: without being sure where I was going. I started the post Friday morning because the siren of the silent blog always rings loudly in my head and gets louder the longer the thing lies fallow: I’m here! I’m waiting! Speak through me!

I started and wondered if I had anything left to say. And then I realized what I wanted to say was fin.

(A play on words, of course: the space had begun in part so I had a place to say Finn. The blog let me write him into my life; was a performative space where I could be, however invisibly, his mother. All my work on digital identities is centered around the concept of performativity: that we enact versions of ourselves into being by our digital practices, by citing or “doing” things that are understood and taken up by others as who we are. In the performative space of my blog, I wrote myself into my own strange version of motherhood: to living and dead, Oscar and Finn, then to Josephine. I wrote myself into my identity as a writer. Now I have other things to write about; other things to figure out.)

But I did not write alone. On my blog, there have been 14, 298 comments. They are as much a part of that living archive as my words. They fed my words, received my words, made the experience of writing my words a relational one, an exchange.

A few more comments may creep in: unless I actively close the blog to commenters, the space will always be permeable, interactive in that sense. But the flow will dwindle and dry up. That it does not have a future is maybe the saddest thing of all, for me…comments, that diminishing resource, have always been my favourite thing about blogging.

I was late cottoning on to the practice of actually encouraging and hosting conversation in the comments space….but probably a good few hundred are still from me.

The rest are from perhaps two or three hundred people, maybe a few more, who have created intersecting networks of connection around me, ebbing and flowing over six years, leaking out into other spaces, both digital and physical.

You were kind, in the comments. I have been silent. My feelings exceed me, exceed anything I can say. Or maybe I just, for once, don’t want the last word. But I thank you. I thank you for noticing. For marking the end with me.

That comments section would make a damn good Irish wake.

Though many of you said, there or elsewhere…”killed is the wrong word.” And in a sense, you are right. My blog is not dead: it will not rot. Futureless, perhaps, it will nonetheless remain indefinitely, a more or less finished body of work. I hear you. I am proud of it.

But the voice?

The voice in which I wrote that blog was a living thing. And, last Friday, with one performative utterance and a MacBeth allusion, I put it to sleep.

Yes, I could turn back around and revive it at any time: that is one of the privileges and prerogatives of a digital identity. But I will not.

Its traces remain, in the networks, the opportunities, the friendships. It is enough. It has to be enough.

There is a thesis to write.  My energy needs to go there, to breathe life into that voice, not the voice that wrote cribchronicles.

And now I get to relate to the blog differently. Now, with my bloody Lady MacBeth hands, I get to examine it as something completed, finite: now, it becomes a typewriter, a piece of dead media.

I have killed few things in my life. I have also brought few things to life that made as much of a difference to me as the blog did. And thus even in its death, I stare at it, fascinated.

12 Comments out damned spot: a post-mortem

  1. Neil

    Nice. Don’t forget the human emotions and corny sentimentality of real blogging as you immerse yourself in theory and academia. The reason there are so few good books written about bloggging it is because it is like writing about a telephone call — most write about the telephone company rather than the conversation.

    1. bon

      you know what, Neil? you just gave me a good guiding principle there. i will probably end up writing about how the telephone company shapes the conversations that happen, but i want to keep the conversations front and centre too.

      talking about structure while fighting off determinism? a grand battle.

  2. sweetsalty kate

    You’ve really got me thinking. I see all kinds of angles on this, but mostly, I just hope it’s a rush of fresh air for you. Some kind of a lightening that opens up a space. That’s how new journeys begin. xo

    1. bon

      thanks, Kate. thanks for all of it, especially that header. does the visual calling card for a site become its grave marker (see comment below…Joel, i think i’ve already got my tombstone!) when it dies?

  3. Joel Arsenault

    “but the voice(s) you develop in that space become networked, tied, embedded. Bigger than you.”
    This quote is absolutely true! You could be microblogging on sites like twitter or instagram for pleasure purposes. You could be using more advanced blogging as a source of income. You could be somewhere in between. Regardless of where or how you make yourself heard within the world wide web, you take on a virtual persona that can and likely will beome “bigger than you”. Interconnectedness among earth’s inhabitants is at an all time high. Network possibilities are endless!
    Maybe you could buy an e-tombstone for your blog using paypal and give it a proper cyberspace burial…

    1. bon

      laughing, Joel. i could, yes. but then i’d feel even more ridiculous than i did crying about it! :)

      glad to see you here. looking forward to meeting in the course.

  4. KeAnne

    You are so correct about none of the books about blogging doing it justice. I think those scholars who have a background in studying journaling in general come closest, but they can’t do justice to the relationships and the conversations, to the entity that is created around a blog.

    My first blog was an infertility blog and then I created a separate book review blog. I was semi-anonymous on both. Separate, distinct identities. It felt like split personalities. When I started my current blog, it was meant to be a baby blog but it grew beyond that, and I discovered I wanted it to be my primary space. I had let my infertility blog wither, but it always bothered me that it was out there without any resolution. I formally put it to sleep a few months ago and began the process of putting all those identities back together again.

    I’m not sure why I’m rambling in your comment section, but I think I was attempting to make a point about voices and blogging and identities. More coffee, yes?

    1. bon

      your point about the split personalities makes me reconsider the role this blog, originally a side project, has played in my decision to close the other. i don’t think this voice strangled the other, except maybe in the time it’s going to demand as i work towards a thesis. which of course isn’t going to really be written in this voice anyway…but this one comes closer. the scarcity of time in a world of knowledge abundance seems rather unfair. :)

  5. Quadelle

    My blog is one of the future-less ones. I’ve not written there for many months, and I don’t plan to for many more at a minimum.

    But once my thesis is out of the way I do want to blog, if for no other purpose than to find out what it is I want to blog about from the myriad of half-formed thoughts that swirl through my mind. I’m not sure if I’ll return to the same space, as I don’t know if it will be the right fit. I’m not sure if it ever was. Or whether I may keep that going for a certain kind of record, but also create an alternate space where I can explore thoughts and ideas that I feel too hampered to flesh out on a blog that everyone in my family knows about.

    1. bon

      …then maybe there’s still a possibility of a future for it? i think much of the internet is sites in the middle of that limbo space you describe. i wonder how much my decision to close, firmly and absolutely, came from a desire to avoid that sense – and appearance – of limbo? interesting…i hadn’t thought of that. possibly that’s my dominant print literacies showing through…

      1. Quadelle

        That makes sense about not wanting your space (especially one so carefully nurtured) to appear as if it’s in limbo or been abandoned. I also liked your original analogy of closing a book, because that so accurately reflects part of what it feels like. Which is not to say there will never be a sequel, but that the first part of the story has come to a natural conclusion.

        Meanwhile, my blog was never as closely tended, and I didn’t develop a voice except one which felt like a compromise of being incredibly hemmed in. Keeping with book analogies, my blog feels more like a halting first draft – with a story I want to tell and a voice I want to find, but it just wasn’t happening. When study took over it became apparent that that particular voice is not in keeping at all with the voice I want for the blog. So, it will be interesting to return to the first draft when I can set aside my academic voice. I wonder if I’ll be able to make something more cohesive out of the scraps lying about.

        As well, the ideas that have most tempted me to blog these past months are not things that my blog is associated with. So it will be interesting to see what develops when the time comes to explore there again.

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