Black Marks: An Origin Story
When it comes to web origin stories, I usually tune out. They’re often studies in longevity, attempting to give credence to the idea of experience over expertise, written to prove Original Gangsta status.
This is not that kind of origin story. This is not about experience. This is not about proving myself.
This is just a story about a blog.
To be clear, my actual web origin story begins in 1997, when I got to college and had access to a neighbor’s laptop, but for purposes of this post let’s assume it started exactly ten years ago. Well, ten years and one day, to be totally exact.
I had failed at being a teacher; after four years of college and two years of on-and-off substitute teaching, I gave up. I floated into call center management, and while I was making more than I would have otherwise made as a new teacher, it wasn’t by much. I had no direction. What I had wanted to be when I grew up wasn’t actually what I wanted to do anymore. Where do you go from there?
But I liked writing. I discovered that, at least, thanks to hours of downtime during late-night shifts at the call center. And I liked the internet. We all did.
So one evening I asked my co-worker – the one who made websites on the side – if he could help me set up a blog.
And on February 20, 2005, I launched cdub.driscocity.com.
I stole a quote from an author I’ve still never read. “The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.”
I was going to be a writer. An author. I was going to use this to hone my craft and publish things, to place my words into the domain of public criticism and learn from my bruises. I wrote about books and I wrote about music and I wrote about sports. I wrote for my friends, because that’s all who knew about it, and then I wrote for my state because the South Dakota Blogosphere was a small place and it was easy to be noticed.
We were a small club. We drew lines and started specializing. Politics over there. Sports over here. I was the one who wrote about whatever was on my mind – ramblings from a late-20s ex-punker.
I became an advertising copywriter, and I shifted direction. I started being more selective and deliberate. I gave myself challenges – writing about every Sioux Falls Skyforce home game we attended, or writing each month about the books I was reading – and I started looking inside.
I was prolific, then I wasn’t. I wrote about kids. I wrote about death. I wrote about careers. And then I wrote about myself. About adjustment, learning, being a better person.
I wasn’t a blogger. It was never my main focus. It was just a thing I did when I needed an outlet, and it helped me work through things before I dove in too deep. I don’t write to communicate – I write to discover, the process itself helping me figure out just what the hell I’m trying to say.
If I’d have had a blog when I was learning to be a teacher, I might not have wasted those years wandering down the wrong path. I might have found my passion a little earlier in life. But that’s the past.
We take it for granted now, this ability to set up your own piece of real estate on the internet, especially with how easy it’s become. You may not fully own it – you may just rent it from Facebook or Medium or Twitter – but it is your sandbox. It’s whatever you want it to be. That still amazes me.
What amazes me even more is when someone takes that sandbox and builds it into something more. I was never going to be that someone. I was always going to be someone who used and ignored.
It’s still amazing to me that I was ever able to get my shit together enough to do it. That I was ever able to actually create something that I could get use out of. That’s not me. Or, at least, it wasn’t.
Somehow, it worked. Every small advancement in my career is due in some small part because I started a blog.
I used my blog to get a gig as a book columnist.
I used my blog to get my first paid assignments at the local paper.
I used my blog to show I could succeed as an unproven copywriter.
I used my blog to gain a larger audience through 9rules.
I used my blog to reach out to those in the local web community.
I used my blog to meet the person who would give me a chance as a web person.
I used my blog to write a love letter to content strategy.
I used my blog to prove myself, to gush endlessly about my future, to be embarrassing naive and learn from my mistakes, to gain the confidence to speak out, to take every single step from being a failed teacher to a happy and content web strategist.
I used my blog to find my voice, and in doing so I found my calling.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. And most of them can be found somewhere on this blog. Every misstep, each overeager blurt, every weird phase I’ve passed through on the way to something more stable and useful.
And, yet, I’ve done a lot of good. That’s all in here, too. I’ve written things that helped people – helped myself, to be honest. It’s weird to me, still. But it happened.
I don’t write here as much anymore, but when I do I hope to make it count. I hope that you’ve found something worthwhile in it – somewhere in this weird collection of 1,473 posts. And even if you haven’t, there’s always the future.
Happy 10th birthday, Black Marks on Wood Pulp. Thanks for all you’ve done.