As Long As I don’t Overthink it: On Three Full Months of Unnamed Group Blog

There was an empty slot on our editorial calendar, so I volunteered to write a post. “I should be able to write something quickly,” I wrote. “My challenge will be to not overthink it.”

This was followed by a week of overthinking.

I knew what I wanted to write, which was why I volunteered to write something quickly. Somehow, someway, Unnamed Group Blog was about to close its third full month. I wanted to write a straightforward post reflecting on that accomplishment (please try co-editing a group blog for 3 months if you doubt the facticity of its accomplishment-ness). I wanted to write something honest about where I think we’re going, the challenges we’re facing, and how you can help us grow. It would be a non-State of the Union timed to the non-State of the Union. The timing was accidental. The intent, really, was solely to celebrate the facticity of hitting 3 months.

Instead, I overthought it. My overthinking took its usual form: (1) I did too much research; (2) I spent too long ruminating on the text I needed to unlock my thinking and turn thought into writing, the missing Sacred Source.

First, I read Scott Rosenberg’s Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What it’s Becoming, and Why it Matters (2009).

I ended up taking copious notes. Rosenberg’s book wasn’t just a book about the history of blogging and its early pioneers. Rather, Rosenberg’s book is a really fascinating and intensely researched study of the changes to internet culture and media distribution wrought by Blogging. Rosenberg asks the right questions and poses fascinating follow-ups. When the book gets philosophical, he brings in the appropriate voices. There is no, “To understand Snapchat, we must first turn to Goethe and The Sorrows of Young Werther” moment. Rosenberg brings in Lionel Trilling to discuss the concept of “authenticity” and an authentic blog voice because Lionel Trilling wrote a book called Sincerity and Authenticity. The book closes with a series of thematic arguments, such as journalism vs. blogging and the effects of the echo chamber that are better and more thoughtful than arguments about those topics that you will read today. It was a surprisingly good book. By the end, I was also pretty sure that Unnamed Group Blog wasn’t actually a blog in the classical sense. It was neither a link-based part of an ongoing cultural conversation, nor a personal journal by any definition of either term. Instead, Unnamed Group Blog seemed to be emerging as an extremely small-scale cultural and politics website.

Second, I spent too long searching for the structural holy grail. In January, I saw this book in the kids section of the Boston Public Library.

That gave me an idea: go back, get the book, and structure my thoughts about Unnamed Group Blog as reflections on the advice contained in Find Your Talent: Start a Blog! The fatal flaw in this idea is that it required me to go to Boston to get the book — because it only occurred to me as I write this post that I could have checked to see if the book was at a closer library (it is). In fact, I still haven’t gotten my hands on this book.

I continue to believe that this would be a fun way to write an anniversary post. In fact, that is how I plan to write the post celebrating 6 months of publication. But for now I want to call out this book for the role it played recently: the Sacred Source.

At every stage in the writing process, no matter the project, there always emerges a source whose potential, imaginary value far exceeds any practical value. The researcher covets this sacred text beyond all other texts. This source is always known. The Sacred Source is quite distinct from the as-yet- “undiscovered” archival source. The Sacred Source is one that you can identify as the most critical unsourced source, yet, for some reason, the Sacred Source is not readily accessible. The Sacred Source must therefore be acquired in order for the project to commence or be completed, and the acquisition of this source takes on a significance as great as the source itself. It seems impossible and daunting, and threatens the entire project.

Geoff Dyer wrote about something similar in Out of Sheer Rage:

“It would have been helpful to have had my edition of The Complete Poems with me but it was not indispensable to my beginning the study….I was more concerned about not having my edition of The Complete Poems which, for my purposes, was probably the single most important book of Lawrence’s, without which I would be able to make only very limited progress on my study of Lawrence, such limited progress, in fact, that it would be scarcely worth starting.”

Find Your Talent: Start a Blog! was my miniature version of The Complete Poems by D.H. Lawrence. Find Your Talent: Start a Blog! was my most sacred of sources.

And then I was left with a blank page and no blog post, but with lots of thoughts about blogging qua form and about research more generally. — Yet I also simultaneously felt as if I was fulfilling one of the goals of Unnamed Group Blog in overthinking the problem. In our editorial statement, we wrote: “The age of Trump demands that we think through our own positions…We turn to [the blog,] this once-vital-now-largely-moribund form to see if it can still serve as a means of engagement with our world — and if we are still capable of sustaining thought and action.”

Can I live?

2. Where we stand

The state of the blog is strong! By that I mean, I’m amazed at the caliber of the writing. I don’t think that we’ve published a single bad post (before this one). Some of the posts have been stellar. “Holding Hands at the Edge” and “Conversations with Iranian American X” are both brave pieces of writing. I continue to think about “American Dreams.”

Sometimes great writing finds an audience. “Dispatch from Nostalgialand #1: Detroit” and “I love Panera Bread. There, I said it” are justly at the top of our charts. Sometimes great writing doesn’t find the audience it deserves. Nowhere near enough people read “Phishing for Meaning” or “On Feeling Normal” or Alex Remington’s thoughtful critique of/love letter to Demolition Man. These are all wonderful, with the Phish essay the most unexpectedly meaningful of the three.

Three months in, I’m most surprised that we’re still writing and publishing as much about Trump. I was sure that we would have more fully transitioned into writing about the general weirdness of life in 2017 America. I assumed that each writer would compose an early story or two about Trump then move on to other topics. I’ve long toyed with writing an essay called, “Against the Apple-Marvel Nerd Axis,” and I probably will one day. But for now, I’m still too deeply unnerved by the political horror show to think about anything other than the horrors unleashed by Trump. I find myself amazed by just how easy it’s been to unwind many of the historical gains of the American Jewish community. I wonder if I’m going to start calling myself “Ethan” outside of Starbucks and take-out restaurants.

3. Where we’re going

For now, the plan remains the same: to continue to publish stories two days a week. This is a side project and we’re going to need to keep recruiting new writers to meet our publication goal. Two new writers are about to join the site, and I’m extremely excited for their first posts. These are writers I’ve long enjoyed reading, and I’m beyond thrilled that they want to help us with our project.

But we also desperately want to find more women and people of color to write for Unnamed Group Blog. We’re trying, but so far none of our pitches have found takers. (“We can offer you no money and no exposure,” goes the pitch.) Yet we know that this is of critical importance to our long-term mission. Our best post explore the author’s identity and use heritage to make broader arguments about our politics and culture. Our best posts bring the personal to bear on the global. “This fall felt similar,” Mary Davenport Davis wrote, “as if my private griefs were subsumed into the great public grief of my city and country.”

So please reach out to us if you’re interested in writing. We welcome guest posts or ongoing engagements. Email me at elkensky at gmail dot com if you want to learn more.

4. How you can help

It’s hard to start a blog in 2017. There was never a clear path towards getting your site discovered, but it feels even harder now. Twitter is a great platform for idling away your day — which is why people rarely click links from twitter and go to other sites. Facebook is our best source of traffic, but then we are at the mercy of its algorithm. I can see the days it highlights my posts and the days it doesn’t and we don’t even have an official page with access to Facebook insights.

So how can you help?

Number 1: read the site
Number 2: if you have a medium account, subscribe to the site
Number 3: a medium account isn’t like exclusive; just sign up! Then subscribe to the site
Number 4: we have an RSS feed for olds to subscribe to
Number 5: If you enjoy a post, like it or share it on Social Media.
Number 6: Tell your friends that the site is cool and that they should check it out!

If you do two or three of these things, email or DM me and I’ll send you a super cool Unnamed Group Blog button in the mail. You too can become a member of the Unnamed Group Blog Street Team. And we’re always accepting applications for a volunteer social media coordinator.