18 August 2008

Five Years

On August 18, 2003, I wrote the first post of this blog, a definition of the word "mumpsimus". The next day, I posted some ideas about what I thought would be appearing here. Then another post, some thoughts on a story by James Patrick Kelly.

Five years later, the blog has lived longer than I ever expected it to, been read by far more people than I ever imagined possible, and the posts have had far more range and variety than I thought they would when I was guessing what might pop up in what I then called, with more accuracy than I could know, "this mad universe".

Five years doesn't sound like much time, and yet look at how much has changed! When I began The Mumpsimus, the blogs I had read were all personal or political. There were plenty of sites about science fiction and fantasy, but I didn't know of anyone using a blog to write primarily about SF, and so I thought I would give it a try. I had only recently begun reading SF again after shrugging it off during college, and I thought the blog would give me an opportunity to find patterns between what I read, to formulate some ideas, to watch myself become reacquainted with a form of writing that had changed quite a bit in my absence. (I was inspired by two things primarily: the "New Wave Fabulists" issue of Conjunctions, to which I subscribed at the time, and the New Weird discussions at the TTA Press bulletin boards, which I discovered via Kathryn Cramer's blog -- in fact, I probably owe my decision to create The Mumpsimus to Kathryn, whose site I had been reading for a few months, originally because of her commentary on current events, until I found myself getting more and more curious about the SF community that appeared in glimpses and glances therein.)

Things did not start quickly. I wrote only 16 posts in all of 2003, and 10 of those were in the first month. This makes sense -- I was teaching at a boarding school, and that job took over my life again in September, and my sense of myself as a writer was not yet attached to the blog, so it was easy enough to ignore, and I was still thinking of this as a science fiction blog: if I wasn't reading much SF, I didn't have anything to write (I did allow myself to exclaim some joy when J.M. Coetzee won the Nobel, and tried a bit desperately in the last paragraph to tie it to something having to do with SF). January 2004, though, brought 24 posts, and I began to give myself the freedom to write about anything I felt like, regardless of its connection to science fiction. 2004 was the most productive year, with 319 posts total. Blogs became ever more popular during that time, and every month more people were using blogs to write about books.

319 posts shows, too, how suddenly the blog took over my life. I had, for the first time, a sense of an audience for my writing, and I wanted to satisfy it. I wrote quickly, without too much reflection, and though now I look back in awe at how much I wrote, I don't have any desire to return to that level of productivity, partly because it often led to half-baked or idiotic posts, blustery generalizations, vague pronouncements, and obvious self-contradictions. It also led to some sentences, paragraphs, and even entire posts that I'm quite proud of.

Some of the conversations and controversies of the early years have been lost, because Blogger did not have a native comment system then, and I tried out a couple of different ones, without much satisfaction (I wouldn't say I'm satisfied with Blogger's, but at this point, it's good enough). But somehow I think we'll all be just fine, even if all the comments about Lord of the Rings and homoeroticism have been lost.

I couldn't maintain the productivity, though, because the blog had put me in contact with enough people that I was given the opportunity to write reviews and commentary elsewhere, and so there wasn't as much material for this site. I thought about quitting many times, but instead gave myself permission to take breaks whenever I wanted. I'd achieved an audience for a while, but the struggle to keep that audience coming back, to keep the numbers of unique visitors high, to get links from more prominent sites, etc. -- the struggle began to wear me down. My life kept changing, too, but not in a way that gave me more time -- I started a Master's degree and then became a department head at the school where I worked. The only way the blog could survive was if I only wrote in it when I felt like it, even if that meant fallow periods and a much slower rate of posting. The only reason to keep doing this, after all, was if it could be fun.

And it is fun. More than fun. My life has changed so much over the past five years that I am grateful to have had this one stable element to it, and to have an archives of some of the things I have thought about, read, and seen during that time.

Often over the years, I thought that if The Mumpsimus could survive to its fifth anniversary, that would be enough, and I would give it up and move on to other things. (Often, I doubted it would make it to a fifth anniversary.) I don't feel that urge anymore, though, because I also don't feel the urge to try to get tens of thousands of readers, to review every book that comes through the door, or to blog when I don't feel like blogging. There are now thousands of blogs about books and reading, about science fiction and fantasy, about literature and life, and I feel no pressure to add to the noise except when it's amongst the noise that I want to be. So why put an end to this thing that has already metamorphosed so many times? The temptation to call it quits has subsided, at least for now.

As much as I write this blog for myself, I would never have continued this long without the readers who have joined in the discussion, sometimes to cheer me on, sometimes to add information, sometimes to challenge my statements and assumptions. Many of the people I met through the blog in its earliest days are now among my most frequent correspondents and closest friends, some of whom I see frequently in "the real world", many of whom I only get to see once a year at best, and most of whom I still owe emails to.

Really, this post is just me using a lot of words to say thank you. Thank you to the people who have been steady readers over the years, and thank you to the folks just now coming by. Nobody is forced to read this stuff, and that some of you continue to choose to amazes me, frightens me, humbles me. Thank you.