Discover more from Attempts (2.0)
Notes of a Trend Follower, By Way of (Re)Introduction
But I'm stubborn like those garbage bags that time cannot decay: I'm junk, but I'm still holding out this little wild bouquet... — Leonard Cohen
Trying again. Essaying. Making an(other) attempt. Or some Attempts, as it were.
More than sixteen years ago, in June, 2006, I put up my first post on my blog Attempts. In it I wondered (in characteristically florid fashion) whether I was far too late to a party that was already long-past its peak, or whether I was coming in at precisely the right moment, just as things were getting hopping. Unsurprisingly, the answer was neither: as good Professor Lindy would have been happy to tell me, we were perhaps then halfway through the glory days of the blogosphere.
Which is not to say that blogs have vanished—here's a good one, and here's another, and here's a third and a fourth (and if anyone else already reads all four of those I want to meet them!)—but the blogosphere, with all its hopes and delusions, its quirky brilliance and its thudding banality, is over. Brand new ideas become brands become everyday objects become junk: and blogs are now in the everyday object category. I hope that, notwithstanding Dr. Lindy’s prognostications, they may remain so for some time. But certainly they are no longer The Current Thing. Now, it seems, Substack is. So following my lifetime habit of being a trend-follower and not a trend-setter, I am joining now.
It’s hard to squash the feeling that I am putting a date on Substack’s demise by joining it. As of this writing, a Lindy calculation suggests that the time of wild Substack richness and explosion will last for another few years. Of course it is egotistical (not to mention ridiculous) to think that my joining it now is the relevant date—rather than, say, Scott Alexander doing so two years ago, or someone other writer’s joining next week or year or decade. But one of the oddities of Lindy’s theory is that each person’s experience seems to create a different calculation, so that the time limit for Alexander is different than it is for me. (If anyone knows how to square that circle, please say so in comments! ) So it seems that in joining substack I may have inadvertently placed an outward limit on its wild, expansive possibilities. To my (now) fellow substackers and Substack employees, I should say: if things falter sometime between 2026-2029, feel free to blame me.
Yet notwithstanding these troubling intimations of eventual failure and decay, I have decided to try again, and hereby (re)launch Attempts as a substack: Attempts, version 2.0. And a decent respect for the opinions of mankind, or at least that subset of it which finds its way to this
blog substack, seems to require that I briefly sketch what I plan to do here, and why.
I began Attempts with the idea of using it to write essays. It was named using a somehow-not-standard translation of the French term “essai”, which reads naturally as “essay” but which could also be translated as “try” (as in, a good try). The connection comes from essayist Michel de Montaigne, who called his book Essais, meaning to suggest that the writings therein were preliminary, provisional, endeavors which may or may not come off; since then, “essay” has increasingly meant “a nonfiction prose work of literary intent” and only increasingly rarely being used to mean something like “to try” or “to attempt”. (The latter, alas, is probably best referred to by now as an archaic usage, although you still encounter people essaying difficult tasks from time to time.) The title of Montaigne’s work is inevitably translated simply as Essays, and one can’t possibly say that that’s wrong, but it does hide the connotation which he intended but which his very success has obscured. At any rate, in calling my blog Attempts, I meant to place a marker of my aims and ambitions and hopes; and in those, I think I succeeded... sometimes. I did indeed write some essays which strike me as worthy of the name in that venue. But I also often just... blogged. Which is fine too, I suppose, in its own way.
So one of my plans, one of my central hopes, is to again publish some essays—literary works which at least try (implied pun intended) to be worthy of that name;—indeed, works which might be referred to as “literary” without provoking snickering. I have been writing essays for years. I have a fair number sitting on my hard drive that I think are worthy of being published, and a great many more that are in various stages of incompletion, awaiting an occasion to be spiffed up and sent out into the world. So my first and primary aim in re-launching Attempts is to provide them a home. These will, in the way of essays, not be necessary relevant to the news of the day, nor trimmed down to what people with contemporary attention spans like to digest in a single bite (although some will be naturally short, and I certainly won’t pad them any more than I will cut them). So don’t expect news-of-the-day posts here: I am making the perhaps foolish decision to post pieces wherein I will attempt to write works of broader scope and, hopefully, lasting merit in an ephemeral format within an ephemeral medium. I like to think that I have reasons.
Yet I will also probably do some things that are closer to blogging—instant reactions, link round-ups, briefer remarks, that sort of thing. But I don’t want this bloginess to spread too much. Perhaps the biggest difference between Substack (and its imitators) and old-style blogs is that Substack will actually mail you the posts, which is good, insofar as it keeps you from having to remember to check them regularly.This discourages (for both better and worse) the sort of quick hits that the old blogosphere often engaged in—and anyway, these days such quick hits have other outlets more naturally suited to them, although I grant you that Elon is busy trying as hard as he can to flush the most suitable one down a very expensive toilet. In any event, the mailing-out factor definitely makes multiple, quick posts more irritating than in traditional blogging, so I definitely want to sort of keep that sort of thing down to a reasonable level.
So I will, er, I can't resist it can I, no, so, <i>attempt</i> to keep the more bloggy things in their lane by proceeding as follows: I am going to publish once a week, on Thursday afternoons (at least initially).I intend to send out an honest-to-FSM essay at least every other week, and then a more newslettery, blog-like thing— with quick-hits, announcements, links, snarky comments and the like—on the other week, therefore at most once every other week, and possibly less. The key point, for me, is to never let the substantive essays drop down to less than every second post, to let the every-other-week is less a schedule than a floor. If I find that an essay every two weeks is too much (and I might) then I will reduce the overall number of posts rather than increase the amount of bloggy intermissions.
Now, there will be some brief announcements at one or both ends of the essay even in "on" weeks, because the third purposeI have in starting this is that I hope to use it to discuss, promote, etc, my other big plan for 2023, namely the publication of some fiction in another venue. I will discuss this more in future weeks (in one of the off-weeks, not one of those reserved for proper essays, of course). But I think that brief annoucements around an essay are reasonable—at least, from what I can see, they are the custom the days, and I will follow it.
Why, you might ask, am I publishing my essays here, in this format, rather than in the journals established for such things? The answer to this may be found, in a roundabout way, in what might have seemed a casually tossed-off bit of self-deprecation, when I described myself above as "a trend-follower and not a trend-setter". This is not usually, and was presumably not by you, Noble Reader, taken as a positive thing to say about oneself. But why should it be understood as deprecative? Even if we ignore the obvious point that, pretty much by definition, most people will follow and not start trends, why should I, in particular, tryto be anything else?
What I am—what I have always wanted to be, as long as I can remember, what I have tried, in perhaps foolish ways, to be, for decades—is a writer.
But there's no reason to think that writing and spotting-trends are in any way related skills. Oh, I suppose one might say that writers ought to have a keen eye for the subtle social detail, the sort that would let them spot early trends. But honestly there are a lot of kinds of writers who focus on a lot of different things; and that particular beat has never been mine. So yes: I am a trend follower. I make no apologies. I am occupying myself, to the extent I am able, with other pursuits.
And of course the same thing might be said about promotion—or, to use the more fitting if slightly more old-fashioned term, salesmanship. I am (as Dr. McCoy might put it) a writer, not a salesman. And I don't think that being a good salesman is particularly connected with being a good writer (save, perhaps, in some specific genre or mode, as with trend-setting).I find the business of looking for markets, submitting, being rejected, lather, rinse, repeat, to be wearisome—and, all the more important, a distraction from the work.
So I'm putting them here.
Which is where—and some of you at least will be way ahead of me here—you come in, Noble Reader.
I am going to ask you, if you are reading this, to not only subscribe, but also to send it to two friends whom you think might like it, and suggest that they subscribe too. Do it now, while you're thinking about it. Your friends will forgive you. They might even thank you (eventually). Go on. (Does Jedi hand-wavey motion). Do it now.
There, see, that wasn't so hard?
If you all played along, then, since there is at least one of you to start with, then growth should be exponential. Since reading this takes only ten minutes, then by my calculations the entire human race should be subscribed by about noon tomorrow.
Even if that seemingly flawless plan does somehow fail, do please subscribe, and tell anyone you think might wish to subscribe too. And in the weeks and months and years to come, if you like an essay on here (or a story in the fiction project, which I hope to start putting up next month), then please pass it on to someone else who might like it. I am someone who thinks—in what is best described, I suppose, as an article of religious faith—that good words are a good thing, a worthy thing, even if unread: if you imagine a poet, as brilliant in their own way as Yeats or Auden, who never published, from some perverse principle perhaps, those words would be no less brilliant, no less worthy, than those of Yeats or Auden.At least in some sense. But in another sense, they are clearly lacking: writing without readers is incomplete, unfinished, unfulfilled, a noun without a verb. So do please pass things along as you like them.
So go ahead and subscribe, and I will see you next week for the first substantial essay of Attempts, 2.0.
“I hope it is somewhat better than whim at last, but we cannot spend the day in explanation.” — a great essayist in possibly his greatest essay.
Actually, some of current blogs will now email you notices of new posts, if you ask, or in some cases the posts themselves, but I belive this is an imitative funcntion, and it isn’t core the way it is for substacks.
In fact I think that the decline of the blogosphere is partly attributable to the rise of social media. Substack seems to be trying to walk that line, and, so far, doing a decent job of it, although in the corner I can see Dr. Lindy holding its coat, and snickering.
Why Thursday afternoons? No particular reason, save that, first, of the substacks I’ve seen, there don’t seem to be a huge plethora on that schedule, and also with the vague hope that busy readers might want to set them aside for the weekend, and that a late-Thursday schedule is fitting for that.
Anyone else remember the Flying Spaghetti Monster? (Oh, you do? Why bless you, clearly His Noodly Appendage has touched you, my child.) It seems like a pure creation of the blogosphere, as well as the New Atheist movement, both of which are now, as a person of supreme importance to me once put it, as stale as last-night's popovers.
What? The first was jumping on the bandwagon (or perhaps I should say, submitting to the inevitble jumping-on on if it were done when 'tis done principles); and the second was publishing my essays. Do try to keep up, there's a good reader.
See what I did there? Oh good, you're catching on, I knew you could.
That is, I don’t think it’s essentially connected. These days to be a writer, just as to be any sort of creative person (or really have any sort of enriching career at all) one needs to sell, if only oneself. But that’s an accident of our culture; there’s nothing inherent in writing that makes salesmanship part of it, unlike, say, being a politician, where selling ideas—bringing people on board—is an inherent part of the craft.
Ah, clever reader, you are right: this isn’t hypothetical; I am thinking of someone in particular (and no, this isn’t a really cutesy, egotistical way about referring to myself). At present I should say no more. But I am cautiously optimistic there may be more news on this front at some point (albeit not necessarily soon), at which you can rest assured I will let you know.