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general

Happy 15th Birthday, Wrath of Kon

Back on April 11, 1997, I had a stupid idea.

I used to write in these journals, spiral notebooks, every day.  I started doing that in 1993.  I never wrote stories, and it wasn’t a diary either – it was some strange mix of both.  But any writing I did there was trapped forever on paper, unless I transcribed it, which I never did.  So my thought was to move some of this to the electronic world, to create a public web page where I posted some of these entries.

Jorn Barger coined the term “blog” on December 17, 1997.  They didn’t become popular for a few more years.  Livejournal started in 1999; so did blogger.  This diary project of mine was born before anyone knew what the hell a blog was.  I’m certain some other site influenced me to do this, and I didn’t pluck the idea out of thin air, but I don’t remember what I was reading on a daily basis back in 1997.

I did everything in emacs back then: email, book writing, usenet news.  I bugged my friend Bill Perry for some elisp help, and he wrote a little thing that would let me hit a magic key combination and open up an html file with today’s date as the filename.  So I’d hit Control-x Control-j, and the file ~/www/journal/html/041197.html would magically appear.  I then hacked out a C program that I could run and generate an index of all of these pages.  There was no database, no themes, no CMS.  This was five years before wordpress was a gleam in Matt Mullenweg’s eye.  It was rough, but it worked.

So on that Friday, I posted my first entry here.  Back then, this project didn’t have a name.  I called it “the journal” for a while.  It eventually got the name “Tell Me a Story About The Devil”, which has its origins in a Ray Miller story.  The name “The Wrath of Kon” is a more recent change.

I always hated the word “blog”, though.  There was this whole journal or diary movement in the late 90s that everyone has forgotten, and all of a sudden, blogs were “invented” in the early 2000s.  That meant I had a good five or six years of entries, when all of a sudden, everyone and their mother was a “blogger” and started getting book deals and money thrown at them.  So yeah, I was bitter.  But I kept at it.  Now, I don’t give a shit about the term “blog”.  I have bigger fish to fry.

There have been many changes over the years.  My Rube Goldberg mechanism would break on January 1st every year, and I slowly duct taped more functionality to the system, adding a bit of CSS, a comment system, and eventually ditching the entire thing for wordpress.  The page originally lived at speakeasy.org, and moved to rumored.com/journal in 1998.  I eventually dropped the /journal part.  The content also slowly changed, moving from diary entries to stories to news to travel reports and back again.  I never had a solid theme, but I think that prevented me from painting myself in a corner.  I think if I originally would have only blogged about the books I read or a quest to collect every Atari cartridge, this would have died a long time ago.

So.  15 years.  1149 entries.  I think the last time I was able to calculate a word count, it was something like 650,000 words, and Infinite Jest is something like 460,000.  I did a book that collected the first three years, the Seattle entries; I keep thinking about a book that collects some of the best essays of the last dozen years, but I’ve got something on all four burners right now.

Anyway, here’s to fifteen years.  I don’t know many other sites that have been around this long.  I wonder where things will be in 2027.

Categories
general reviews

Review: My War by Colby Buzzell

I wasn’t set to go down the military history wormhole and start reading books about Iraq, but while I was going through one of the Henry Rollins journal books, he mentioned Buzzell’s memoir, and I picked up a copy.  Going into it, I knew nothing about it, none of the background, his history, and I never read his blog.  I didn’t know if he was a staunch anti-war type, or a flag-waving republican.  I didn’t even know if he lost his arms and legs from a car bomb, or if he was now a regular commentator on Fox News.  All I knew was that Rollins liked him, and the book was well-blurbed.  Even Vonnegut gave it a good blurb.  So I was hoping for the best.

Then I started the book, and found out that he’d kept a blog during his time in Iraq, and this was a book made from the blog, and my heart sank.  I hate when people repackage blogs into books.  One reason is that blog to book people rarely repeat their performance; they’re almost always one-shot wonders.  And I love to be proven wrong by this, but it’s just an issue with the format.  You put your all into a blog, every part of your life, and you only have one life, so you only get the one book.  Sometimes you get a follow-up, but it’s always the same book, the confusion and the grind of the post-blog-book world, dealing with publishers and press and all of that junk we don’t care about.  I especially don’t like the blog-to-book when I’ve already read the blog in question.  It’s like getting a greatest hits album from a band that’s got every single song you already have from them, and maybe a shitty live version of the one song you can’t stand to listen to anymore.

And yeah, part of my hatred for this is jealousy.  I’ve been blogging since 1997 here.  I did put out a book of the first three years of blog posts here, and nobody bought it.  I think I could probably get a decent book out of the thousand or so entries I have completed here, but I doubt it would sell.  And yeah, you’re saying, “but Jon, you didn’t go to Iraq and get shot at.”  No, I didn’t.  But it isn’t about the action as much as it is the character presenting it.  Buzzell presents himself in a way that makes him very likable to a certain segment of the population, and that translates into a story that people can relate to and that people will follow.  My likability… we’ll leave that for another discussion, although I think you know what my perception of that is already.

All that aside, the book is interesting because it’s hard to figure out who Buzzell is.  He’s this sort of boomerang kid, a former skate punk not into going to college and not into the popular scene like the rest of his high school.  He’s not pro-war or anti-war, but decides to enlist because it’s better than sitting on his parents couch or doing a data-entry job for nine bucks an hour.  You get the idea now that anyone volunteering for the army at a time when it was almost a guarantee to get sent into war was some bible belt Republican who loved God, guns, and George Bush.  And Buzzell shows that this isn’t entirely true, that you could come from some other background.

The story continues through basic training, on to a Stryker brigade at Ft. Lewis, up near Seattle.  A Stryker is a big 8-wheeled combat vehicle, way bigger and more armored than a Hummer, but not as heavy or treaded like a tank.  He worked as an M-240 machine gun operator, first as the guy hauling the ammo, then working up to the guy actually firing the thing.  Buzzell’s writing is solid; his two main influences are Bukowski and Hunter Thompson.  He only has some of the fluid poetry of Bukowski at his best, and it’s not the kind of rapid-fire manic energy Thompson wields, but fans of both authors would settle in well with his prose.  I think the unfortunate part of this blog-t0-book thing is that his earliest posts were not as polished or refined.  It seems like he just started to find his voice by the end of his time in Iraq.  So the additional stuff he wrote afterward, and any articles you find of his post-book are much more excellent in style and quality.  But the writing is solid enough, and it reads fast, so I appreciated that.

The politics of the book are mixed.  In some ways, it seems like Buzzell would be the typical W-following line-toter.  In other ways, you’d think he was some Berkeley radical anarchist more interested in throwing the system.  It’s hard to tell where his loyalties lie, and I have no problem with that, because I’m the same way.  I think if you adhere to the far left, you’re going to have problems reading this, hearing about shooting people and the implied cultural insensitivity here, like Buzzell’s insistence on using the term hajii to refer to any Iraqi people, which some would consider derogatory.  It’s probably a bit too war-porn for the die-hard Nancy Pelosi fan.  On the other hand, it probably contains way too many f-bombs for those of you who read the bible six times an hour.  (That’s a constant complaint in other reviews, and I honestly don’t give a fuck if he uses the word or not.)

Probably the one criticism I had about the book was that in places, the writing just showed us things, and it didn’t tell us about it.  I mean, it seems like, as an Amazon reviewer put it, he started with 50 pages of blog posts and pushed it out to a 350-page book.  And that’s fine, but there were times when he could have told us more about how he felt, or how things really looked.  Like, in the epic firefight scene that’s the keystone to the whole book, there are monumental things described with a single sentence.  Like, “The Pepsi bottling plant across the street was all up in flames.”  That’s it.  You could write at least a paragraph if not ten about the surreal situation of growing up drinking soda and then having that childhood image of the Pepsi logo transplanted to this giant factory in flames, the sounds of the timbers crumbling, the glow of the glass and plastic melting en masse… whatever.  He did a good job of documenting what happened, but didn’t cover as much how those things made him feel.

And maybe that’s deliberate.  I mean, the picture he paints is that he’s this tattoo-covered, party lovin’ dude that uses blackout drinking as a stock response to almost anything, suddenly thrust into war.  Maybe having feelings about the action goes against this tough warrior persona.  And maybe that’s why people identify with it.  I mean, nobody asks Chuck Norris how he feels about punching a guy in the throat, and more than a few people love them some Chuck Norris.  But I look back to some of the military memoirs or creative nonfiction that I like – for example, Tim O’Brien – and they add this third dimension, which makes you feel more like you can relate to the tension and drama.  Maybe he hasn’t had time to contemplate what went on. O’Brien wrote his books years after returning from the shit, and he had the distance; he wasn’t liveblogging the Vietnam War as it happened.  That’s why I’m curious about Buzzell’s act two, what comes after this book.

And yeah, full disclosure: I published John Sheppard’s verisimilitude work, Tales of the Peacetime Army, which I liked a lot more for the depth of the writing, although it wasn’t about the war of the moment, which is probably why it didn’t sell.  (I’m not trying to snake-oil you into buying a copy – go read it for free at the above link if you want.)  John also wrote the most excellent In Between Days, a novel about returning from Iraq and dealing with PTSD and the bleakness of America these days, which I keep saying is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.  But it also didn’t sell.  (Maybe John needs to get some tattoos and do some blackout drinking.)

All in all, this is a decent and quick read, although it made me have more questions than answers when I finished.  If you never read the blog, and you’re into reading military history, it’s worth a look.  It’s a good book.  Not great, but good.

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general

One thousand

This is the 1000th post in Tell Me a Story About the Devil history. When I started this experiment in 1997, I never thought about how long it would be around or how many entries I would amass. But here I am, with a nice, round four-digit number to stare at, and maybe I feel some sense of accomplishment, but I mostly think that I still need to write more.

I was a bit curious about word count, so I did a dump of the posts from the database and found that from April 11, 1997 to yesterday, I’ve written about 950,000 words here, which makes sense, seeing as my goal is about a thousand words per entry.  If you divide that up into 400-word printed pages, that’s 2375 pages.  In comparison, the bible is just under 800,000 words, and War and Peace is about 560,000.  The longest book I ever wrote was Summer Rain, which was about 220,000 words.  The longest book I’ve ever read is probably Infinite Jest, which is something like 400 or 500,000 words.

When I started working on this journal, the word blog had not been invented yet. There were a few people doing online journals, and I vaguely remember scattered pieces of them in my mind, bits of peoples’ inner self.  Web rings were really big back then, and I spent some time wandering through those, trying to find like-minded writers.  The mommy blog was not big yet, and neither was the “I graduated from an Ivy League school and now I’m an office assistant” journal.  LiveJournal was a couple of years off, and wordpress wouldn’t be released for another half-decade.  When you did stumble upon a journal site, it usually belonged to a pretty hardcore, dedicated person writing, and the entries were usually longer and more meaningful.  You had to know how to write HTML by hand, and you had to have an account somewhere other than AOL, which eliminated 90% of the online population.  But that type of writing reminded me a lot of the personal zines that came out in the 80s and early 90s, the punks and artists who chronicled their life experiences in little xeroxed books. I always dug that kind of writing, the Cometbus type of zine, and I tried (and failed) to do that on paper.  That’s one of the reasons I started this thing.

I’ve gone through many iterations of the technology used here.  First it was individual posts in HTML, with a shell script that put together an index in a different frame.  (Remember frames?  Ugh.)  Bill Perry helped me with some elisp so I could sit down at emacs every day, do a C-c C-j, and enter my text into a buffer.  For the first few years, I actually telnetted to pair.com, who host rumored.com, in Pittsburgh, and entered the text there.  Then everything moved to my home machine, at some point when I was in New York.  And then I got rid of the shell script crap and went to PHP.  And after years of ragging on WordPress, I finally broke down and switched over a couple of years ago.  So everything looks completely different, but all of the old entries remain.

I published a book that contains most of the first three years of this journal, located here. It’s a bit of a hard sell to convince people to buy the paper book for twenty bucks when you can read everything here, and I think the best writing I did was after those first years in Seattle.  But I really wanted a paper copy of all of it, so there it is.  I’ve gone back and forth on doing a second volume of the later stuff, but it’s a huge task, and I’d have to pare down things, as most print-on-demand book binding will only let you do about 800 pages, which is a few thousand less than all of this.

This project was never my life’s goal, and I never set out to make it my sole output for writing.  I never developed a gimmick, and I never thought that if I blogged enough, I would sell a movie idea or get a meeting with someone about a book deal.  None of that stuff existed in 1997, and by the time people were getting famous by blogging about their cooking adventures or their sexual escapades with government officials, I already got jaded on the whole thing.  I always wrote here as a way to warm up to my actual writing, the books, the zine stuff, the short stories.  And I have not been doing as much of it lately, but it’s still an important distinction to me.

I’ve recently started going back to my old entries, because none of the pre-wordpress writing had titles, and I feel a need to get everything titled and tagged, and maybe remove the absolutely dead stuff.  And I’m almost embarrassed by the earliest writing, but there’s some great entries from the mid-00s when I was really firing on all cylinders.  I wish I could write like that every day.  I wish I could write like that today; I feel like taking a nap instead of writing this up.  And I would, if I didn’t have half a kitchen in boxes right now.

So anyway, there you have it.  Thanks to everyone who has read regularly, left comments, and helped me keep things going here.  I always appreciate the input, and I’m glad someone out there does read this stuff.  One of the things that saddens me even more than the fact that the long journal entries of people’s inner conflict have been replaced with 140-character descriptions of people’s lunch and not much more is that people seem much less connected now than when I started this.  I mean, I remember a lot of detailed exchanges with the people I used to read, and it seems like that has all gone away.  I’m hoping it’s a cyclical thing, and someday people will want to respond to emails with more than five words again.  Who knows.

Anyway, thanks again, and here’s hoping the next thousand come easier.

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general

The Switch

No, a piece of rogue malware did not hit my site. I finally threw in the towel and switched to WordPress as the back-end of this site. I got sick of all of the duct tape maintenance keeping this thing going, and I wanted it to not look like it was created in 1997 (which it was). So here we are. This is still in shakedown mode, so there will be lots of bugs and omissions and other errata. Please leave comments and let me know if this works for you and if it’s more or less readable than the previous version.

I have not imported over any archives prior to this year, and it looks like this will be a monumental cut-and-paste task. I will (famous last words) get to it eventually.

No real news to report right now, and I am in a hurry to finish lunch and get out the door to the grocery store.  I have been busy writing something, although I don’t know what it is.  I’ve also got a “must read immediately” queue of at least four books that are burning a hole in my pocket (mixed metaphor, sorry.)

OK, more later – hopefully this will be more conducive to shorter “blogging” posts mixed within the other longer bits.  I know I hate “blogging”, but I always have quick thoughts or riffs that are too long for twitter and will go stale before I get a spare hour to mess around on here.

BTW create yourself an account and log in – anyone with an email address can comment, but I’ll be going password-only for some rants that fall into the blood and money genres.  (No, not Wall Street vampires.)

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general

Julie, Julia, Queens, 2002

I’ve been back from Denver for a week now, sorry about that. We had a good time, and went to two baseball games – won one, lost one. We also took a trip to the Denver Botanic Gardens, which I drove by a million times in 2007 but never visited. And that’s partially a good thing, because if I had, I would’ve spent ten thousand dollars on pieces for a geodesic dome garden for my land in Colorado, or at least spent a month googling plants that survive well in a high mesa desert.

We’re back, and it has been busy, and my arm is almost better, but I got new glasses and they are bugging me. One window closes, another opens. I have also started a new writing project that promises to suck the life out of me, although there isn’t much of it after work and everything else. But it’s good to have something churning that has me awake before 9:00 on a Sunday morning, wanting to get the words into the screen.

I saw the movie Julie and Julia last night. Overall, it was a decent movie – yes, a chick flick, and no explosions or Real American Heroes (TM), but entertaining. The film had two stories going on in it, which means it hit on multiple levels for me. One was the Julia Child story, which has always fascinated me, or at least it has since a few years back when I saw a show on her, maybe an A&E Biography. I also later read a book about her that Sarah had lying around the house. She’s interesting to me because she was nearly 40 and couldn’t boil an egg, and she suddenly started this passion and empire from scratch. That’s appealing to someone who is almost 40 and has sold a grand total of about seven books in their lifetime.

The movie also made me wish I cooked more. Granted, I think we cooked dinner every night last week, and I think only one of those recipes was one of our standards, with everything else being something new. But it makes me wish I could try more new things, and it makes me want to reorganize this kitchen a bit more. Yes, it’s a brand new kitchen, and we just moved in. But we did a lot of “just throw this crap in this drawer, and we’ll figure it out later”, to the point where it took me 45 minutes to find some oatmeal the other morning, and it was exactly where I thought it would be when I started the hunt.

The bigger resonance for me was the fact that the story of the blogger Julie takes place in 2002 in Queens. And for those of you who are new here, I was blogging in Queens in 2002. (Hint: See the link on the left that says 2002 archives.) Of couse, this meant I spent half the movie looking at billboards and subway stops and Queens-style addresses, trying to determine continuity errors. (There were plenty.) But it also greatly reminded me of that era, and what things were like for a struggling writer-type in the general ecosystem of 2002.

First, 2002 was a standout year for me for whatever reason. I published my magnum opus; I travelled more than I ever had before (three trips to Vegas, one including a roadtrip to my land in Colorado; a trip to DC, a trip to Pittsburg, and a return to Indiana.) I struggled in the dating world. I tried to lose weight and I didn’t. I tried to grow a garden and I didn’t. I converted my bike into electric and never rode it. I bought 40 acres of land in Colorado. It was one of those years where a lot happened, and maybe it wasn’t as much as other years, and it was just a nice, round number. And at the time, I certainly didn’t think things were better or worse than other years, but it’s one of those dog-eared eras pf time that my brain easily flops back to without much trouble.

The Julie/Julia project blog brought me back instantly to 2002, because it was a huge meme in New York City for whatever reason, and I think every person I tried to date that year was interested in it. It had huge resonation with the crowd I was on the outside of looking in, the people who think Dave Eggers is ha-ha funny and thought blogs were invented in 2002 by Salon.com. It was the tipping point for blogs in some weird way. I’d been doing it for years at that point, but suddenly, an army of yuppie scum started blogging, and monetizing blogs, and turning blogs into books and movies and careers. I blogged almost 60,000 words in 2002, and looking back at it, it’s not that bad a collection of words. But I felt like a purist acoustic Bon Dylan in a sea of gone-electric, commercially commoditized Bob Dylans. Maybe that frustration turned me to do some good work, but at the time, I felt like I was treading water in an ocean of shit with no land in sight in any direction.

And it feels like 2002 is so god damned long ago, and it feels like yesterday, and I had to subtract 2 from 9 and think about it, and it baffles me for whatever reason. And what happened to all of those people from 2002, all of the wannabe writers and fuck-Bush revolutionaries and artists stuck in secretaries’ cubicles? I can answer my own question – they’re all on Facebook, posting pictures of their kid every god damned minute of the day.

I just got distracted by reading old journal entries from 2002, and I need to get my day started, and I need to make a grocery list for all of these giant cooking project disasters I won’t do this week, and I need to work on the aforementioned secret writing project, so I better get to it.

Categories
general

A million entries, a dozen categories

Compiling this journal book has been harder than I thought. I have a million journal entries, but they all fall into one of the following categories:

  • The weather
  • How I’m sick
  • What I’m reading
  • Music
  • Movies
  • Long, rambling stories about the past
  • Travel diaries
  • Bad stuff that happened
  • Why I hate New York
  • What I miss about Indiana/Seattle
  • Unfinished or rejected stories I decided to post to get rid of them

Or a combination of the above.

I’m now trying to categorize things into each of the above and have a section of the book of each, which is similar to that Mikal Gilmore book of old articles, and isn’t as boring as a straight-up chronological thing. The trip essays from when I crossed the country in 1999 will be in there, maybe as an appendix. And I’m trying to dredge up either some paper journal entries, or some of the stuff I write in my not-published journal, so there will be new stuff that isn’t on the web. (Yes, I keep a journal on my computer that isn’t online, mostly for when I’m so disgusted with writing online, but I need to write about something.)

I’ve been taking codeine lately. Not large doses, but in Tylenol-3, for my back. The good thing is, it completely blows out the back pain, and makes me feel all nice and neat. But I can’t take it at work (or maybe I should) and it completely weirds out my dream cycle. I have a lot of really vivid, really abnormal dreams, but within five minutes of waking, I completely forget them, but still remember that I had them. I also wake up in the middle of the night with an incredible thirst for something really sweet. On Friday, I woke up in the middle of the night and drank half a gallon of Tropicana fruit punch without even thinking about it. The back’s just about better, so no more weird dreams.

I went back and re-read The Device, or at least what I had done, and it’s largely unusable. There are line 9 chapters of setup, before the plot starts. Then there’s no plot, no notes on the plot, nothing. I vaguely thought of stealing some of the premise of that book for the second act of the current book (not the journal one, the real one) and there’s no way. I might steal the most basic premise of it, and the title. It will mean this is the third book attempt with the same title, which might be bad. It’s like the car stereo I had that I used in three different cars, all of which ended up totalled. I think that happened with the parts off of James Dean’s car, too. Or maybe that was a Twilight Zone, I’m not sure.

Oh, I got the first Air in the Paragraph Line with a bar code yesterday. Neat.

Categories
general

Trip report procrastination

I’ve been digging through notes and trying to type up a trip report about my last visit to Vegas in July, but it’s been a total bitch. I didn’t take many notes, and I have an outline, but it’s hard to get worked up about this and type anything that’s worthwhile. I’m tempted to just post the outline and say “you figure it out.” I think part of my total lack of enthusiasm is that I’m sick and nothing beats a hot summer night than a hot summer night with a fever. And one of my fans is crapping out, so it spins and then it stops and then it starts again, and it fucking freaks me out every time it does it and I think maybe it’s going to catch fire when I’m asleep, and/or maybe if I hit it hard enough or change its angle, it will cut the shit and start working again. Also, my kitchen light is burned out, and it’s this stupid circular fluorescent thing that you have to drive to the Westinghouse lab in New Jersey to find a replacement. And there are about 17 much more pressing things that are currently bugging the hell out of me, but I can’t really discuss them publically. When it rains, it pours.

I keep thinking of stuff I need to do to this journal to make it “better”. I haven’t touched the structure in five years, and now with all of this diaryland-livejournal-blogger garbage out there, my pages pale in comparison. The biggest pain is I want to break out the frameset and make it individial pages with the links in a table next to them, but I don’t have PHP or anything like that on my site, so I can’t do any of that. Also, it would be cool to do some other weird stuff in the sidebar, like have a poll or some static links. But without dynamic pages, it’s a huge pain in the ass. Another cool thing would be where you can leave comments, but that requires scripts. Sometime when I’m not sick, I might be able to come up with a better plan for doing this kind of shit. Of course, I don’t even know if anyone reads these pages, so maybe I shouldn’t waste my time.

Incidentally, I hate the term Blog. I also hate any notion that blogs are new, revolutionary, or otherwise creative. Why? Because back in 1992 and 1993 when I first started to mess around with the Web using the NCSA browser for X, I found that everyone’s homepage (then more commonly called a hyplan) was essentially a blog. Every page on the web was a page of links, except for the 23 or so pages with actual content. If you were a college grad student in some compsci department that let you create a hyplan, it would always be a list of links you found. I remember the main reason I started creating my now-defunct Coca-Cola page in 1994 was because I was so fucking sick and tired of nothing but pages of links. It’s like when you try to rent an apartment in New York, and every number you call in The Voice Classifieds isn’t a person who has an apartment, but is rather a realtor who knows a broker who knows a landlord that blah blah blah and THERE ARE NO APARTMENTS. That’s how I feel about blogs. One, they aren’t new. You aren’t trendy if you have one. Two, they suck because they are often just links to other blogs that are links to other blogs that are, at most, links to news articles that require registration and the URLs will be fucked up and rot in a day. And I’m not saying this journal isn’t high art. But I didn’t claim I invented journals yesterday.

Not much else. I’m going to finish this quart of orange juice and lie down with my half-broken fan.