As long-time readers of this blog probably already know, I have at various times struggled over the identity of this blog, and my identity as a blogger or, really, as an “Internet personality.” I first began blogging in 2004 just to try and promote my first (and so far only) CD, Paul is Making Me Nervous. That didn’t last too long, and it wasn’t terribly interesting.
And you know the old saw: If you want to build an online audience, you need to find your niche and stick to it. I had not found mine yet.
In 2006, I realized I wanted to blog on politics more specifically, so I started a site called FifteenNineteen. By this point in Web history, of course, everyone and their mother already had a political blog, but I intended my blog to distinguish itself as being a kind of educational chronicle: I was about to start graduate school for political management, and I was going to blog on politics from that vantage point: what am I learning, and how does it apply to current events? It will not surprise you to know that I did not follow this tack at all, and simply defaulted to fairly typical punditry, peppered with some Onion-esque fake news articles (some of which I think were pretty damned funny).
I was still nominally maintaining the old self-promotion blog, and I didn’t like the idea of juggling both, so I merged the two into the first incarnation of Near Earth Object. I still focused mainly on politics, with occasional notes on things like my acting career, music, etc. I puttered along.
At the height of the 2008 campaign, a fire was lit under my hindquarters on the subject of atheists’ treatment in American politics, and after a few posts in the old Near Earth on that topic, I realized that I had found a niche I was really quite passionate about. So I more or less left Near Earth Object derelict, save for occasional generally-political posts, and started Bloc Raisonneur, a blog specifically focused on atheists’ place in the culture. I had a lot of fun working on it, learning from it, and I built a tiny following and a modicum of relevance in the atheist online community, which was solidified when I began blogging as a columnist for Examiner.com as the National Secularism Examiner.
Eventually, though, I began to work in the atheist movement itself professionally, and so opining on the topic no longer reflected only on myself — I now also represented a major secularist organization, whether I intended to or not. So both Bloc and my Examiner column atrophied.
But I didn’t feel through with blogging, so I backtracked somewhat, abandoned the idea of a specifically-atheist blog, and resurrected Near Earth Object, the blog you’re reading right now. After my assault in October and the subsequent major changes in my life since, for a while I was very sparse in my blogging.
But as you may have noticed, I’m picking it back up. It means something to me, and I care about making a strong blog product that I can be proud of.
And here’s the thing: my relevance has all but totally dissipated. My posts are read (when they are read) pretty much exclusively by friends on Facebook, and a few from Twitter. One friend only today remarked that due to my refusal to blog within one specific niche, I am not “seriously blogging” anymore.
But the fact is that I think my writing is stronger than it’s ever been. I cover a wide variety of subjects that includes politics, atheism, religion, book reviews, technology, as well as the personal. I write long essays and post brief, Tumblr-like one-off posts or images. I think as an Internet publication, Near Earth Object is strong.
My sense of a job well done is mitigated by the failure of the blog to validate itself through pageviews. My ego wants recognition, for my opinions to resonate beyond the confines of my social network.
I could easily jump back into atheist-only blogging, but why? There are countless other blogs of that nature, and the well-established, well-read among them are fairly entrenched at this point. If I felt that I had something crucially unique to add to the discussion — on a regular basis — that might change things, but it seems to me the grander debate within the atheist blogosphere is on something of a loop: we shouldn’t be aggressive, oh wait yes we should, repeat. (I should note I have an idea for an atheist-centric blog, one that specifically tracks the portrayal and treatment of atheists in the media, a kind of Media Matters for heathens, which I might one day pursue.) Beyond these common discussions, we all essentially agree with each other, and I feel that I can do more good for my blasphemous brethren by highlighting our movement within the context of a publication that is broader in scope.
So this is where we are. I have no plans to change the format of Near Earth Object. My only recourse to relevance, I think, is to write even better posts, as often as I can; to offer unique perspectives (both my own and those of others) on a wide array of subjects that stir readers to think in ways they may not have thought before (or, even, just to provoke a cheap laugh). I’ll make my non-specific blog the best non-specific blog it can be, and that, I suppose, will have to do. I hope more people come by to see it take shape.