DAILY BRIEFINGThe Quickening
Mar. 2 - My legs feel like stone and someone's apparently been working on my kneecaps with a ball-peen hammer. These are reliable signs that I need to take a day off from the gym.
Because there's a lot on my mind I've decided to spend that extra time here in the bloggish. It's going to be a long one, so settle in. Seriously. Look at the scroll bar—see how long this page is? Make a cup of coffee or something. Pour a drink. Get an ashtray. Here we go.
Before I get started, I just wanted to mention that the DMG felt the Bean's first movements last night. It was like a bubbly fluttering, she said, as if it might have been gas or a very minor muscle spasm. But it persisted, then stopped, then started again.
"Probably just gas or something," she said, but her eyes were shining with excitement. We consulted the literature, which informed us that it's about this stage in the pregnancy that most women feel the baby's first movements. First-time mothers, however, often confuse the movements (typically described as "fluttering" or "bubbly") with gas or stomach upset.
Maybe it was just gas. We don't care. It could have been the Bean, and that's enough to rock our world.
The baby's first movements are called "The Quickening." I don't know why. It sounds like the title of a Stephen King novel to me, but we'll go with it.
I feel like I'm embarking on a Quickening of my own...
This website started in January 1999. I had no idea what I was doing. I had just sold my first book and both my agent and editor thought it was a good idea for me to launch a website. Who the hell was I to argue?
At the time, I'd been a very regular participant on an AOL message board for writers, where I'd been using the screenname ThisMoron. In late '98 there'd been a censorship crisis. I don't remember the details, although eventually even the Times picked up on our struggle. The gist of it was that some of the writers posting messages were in a partnership of sorts with AOL, and didn't like having their opinions shot down by writers who weren't partnered with AOL. Somehow they got the powers-that-be to change the rules around in a way that gave the AOL-partnered writers certain censorial powers.
I repeat that I don't recall the details, and may even be misremembering the things I claim to remember. It doesn't matter: you get the point. There was a big brouhaha about free speech. There was also a significant amount of whining. A lot of writers were pissed off, including myself, but nobody knew what to do.
So when it came time to start my own website, I immediately decided to create a free speech zone where all my AOL friends could come bitch and moan and opine and philosophize and rhapsodize without any fear of censorship. Because I was ThisMoron, I called the site JustMorons.
Unfortunately, I didn't know what I was doing and my message board technology was confusing and unattractive. I built it, but they did not come. I lost touch with most of the AOL people, who wandered off to less-confusing, better-looking message boards. (The shallow bastards!) Those with whom I didn't lose touch remain friends to this day, most of them as real rather than virtual people, but even they never visit the moronic message board. I never go there myself. It's the strangest byway in the labrynthine geography of this site.
Frankly, it scares me.
The people at Simon & Schuster were very impressed to learn that I'd started a website.
"That's good," they said. "Now you have a web presence."
"What should I do to promote the book on the site?" I asked.
"Don't!" they replied. "We're still more than a year from publication. It's too early. Just keep up the presence and we'll let you know what to do when the time comes."
(When the time finally came and I asked them what I should do to promote the book to my then-voluminous subscriber list, they said, "Tell them to buy your book." Go figure.)
My agent was more practical and a little shrewder.
"Change the content regularly," he said. "Get people in the habit of coming back. Build up a subscription list."
"What kind of content?" I asked.
"Something intelligent but offbeat. That's your niche."
He was serious. That's how Simon & Schuster had chosen to market me. "You have a quirky intelligence," my editor had told me. That was our strategy: Greg Nagan, the guy with quirky intelligence.
Eventually (by which I mean within a few days of registering my site and realizing none of my AOL correspondents were going to play on my message board), I decided to start a weekly Almanac that would cover intelligent things from history and literature—in a quirky way. I called it the Moron's Almanac. I began with 20 subscribers, and within six or seven months I was up to about 1000. That's where it leveled off. That's where it was when I finally stopped mailing the Almanac out a couple of years later.
It had gone through a lot of changes by then. It had gone from weekly to bi-weekly and back to weekly. It had gone from a graphics- and link-intensive format to being more text-oriented, from wryly detached to intensely personal and back again.
When I dropped the distribution list, not long after publication of the book, I began updating the Almanac on a more or less daily basis. I did that until 9/11, at which point I took a hiatus from the Almanac and launched WarNewz, which I intended to be a source of patriotic satire on the war—a war that had been launched against us by homicidal religious maniacs who sought our destruction. I did that until one morning the following spring when I caught a segment on "America's Sexiest People" on CNN. The wartime vibe was obviously over. I dropped WarNewz and got back to the Almanac.
I continued the Almanac, with a few interruptions, right up until Trine (aka the DMB and the DMG) and I moved to Denmark in March 2003. At that point I began interjecting more of what we would now call "bloggish" writing into the Almanac. People seemed to like it, so gradually the Almanac become watered down to where it stands today: a daily bit of bloggish writing appended by a few paragraphs on history, literature, science, or whatever.
It's gratifying to write about oneself. It's also easy. You don't have to do much research, and fact-checking is a breeze. ("Hey, babe, was that restaurant we loved called Piccola Venezia or Venezi Piccola?")
In addition to my "quirky intelligence," I also possess a certain amount of curiosity, so once I realized my site had become bloggish I decided to look around and see what "bloggish" actually meant. What were blogs? What did they look like? What kind of content did they offer?
That led me into the wonderful (and sometimes annoying) world of the Blogosphere. My visits to that ethereal plane quickly inspired me to start my own blog, Moron Abroad, where I'm having the time of my life.
And I'm now presented with a moronic dilemma.
The Moronic Dilemma
On the one hand, I love my blog. I love being able to post what I want, when I want, without all the hassle involved in updating the Almanac. I like the immediate feedback of comments and trackbacks. I feel more plugged in than I ever felt with my own static website, despite the friendly correspondence it's engendered over the years from you (or people like you).
On the other hand, I'm clearly dealing with a certain amount of superfluity. Maintaining a daily Almanac and a blog presents a lot of room for overlap. This article, for example, could have been—should have been?—posted on both.
The logical thing, it seems to me, would be to carve up my content: get the Almanac back to a regular Almanac, and put all my bloggish stuff on the blog, where it belongs. The acid test: any post in which the most frequently used pronoun is "I" belongs on the blog.
But I've never been one for logic.
And yet, something has to change. Every Almanac I write now requires me to post a note on the Blog to inform readers over there that there's something new over here. And in every recent Almanac, as you've probably noticed, I've been including a couple of links back to the Blog. I'm investing way too much time with all this duplication. After all, I don't make any money from any of this. All I get is the satisfaction of being read—which is very nice, but hardly justifies the many hours I put into all this every day.
Which brings me to another problem.
Where Are You?
Up until a few months ago, I used a handy little application first downloaded in 1999 to check my web stats. This told me, in aggregate numbers, who was visiting my site, what they were looking at, what they were ignoring, how long they spent on each page, and so on. At the height of my book tour, when I was splashing around a lot of media, I was getting about 1500-2000 visitors a day. Before and after that brief (and long ago!) period in fall 2000, the range has been around 700-1000 unique visitors a day. On a gorgeous summer Saturday it might drop as low as 300-400, and on a day with a felicitous link from a massive metasite it might spike as high as several thousand.
Or so I thought.
When I got my new computer, I lost my web stat application. I was flying blind, with no idea how many visitors I was getting on any given day. Eventually I got curious, and a couple of weeks ago I installed a web-pased counter on my home page. That counter suggests I'm only getting about 100 unique visitors a day.
Now, I know the counter is only clocking visits to my homepage, not to every page on my site. People who bookmark directly to "today.html," for example, or the archive page, or begin on any other page on the site, aren't being counted. It's still discouraging. Last night I installed a counter on the Blog. Those results are also discouraging, but it's such a new site I'm not especially worried.
Meanwhile, I promised myself I'd finish my novel by mid-March. It's now early March and I'm nowhere near finished. I have a 70,000-word first draft that needs a lot of work but I'm putting more time into these sites than I am into the novel. That's got to change.
All of this has forced me to conclude that I've been very sloppy about promoting my sites. I don't like self-promotion, but neither do I like to think that I'm talking to myself. So I've been scratching at memories from the year I spent as a marketing major in college and trying to figure out what I can do to solve three problems:
(1) To resolve the Bloggish and Almanac superfluities and questions of differentiation;
(2) To increase readership;
(3) To not have it all be a big pain in my ass.
The answer, it seems to me, is to clean up the JustMorons site, rearrange it in a more navigable way, move the Blog onto the site proper, post my daily Almanacs along with everything else on the blog, and focus the blog on those things that differentiate me from other bloggers, rather than those things we have in common.
Right now I get the top five Google hits on the search phrase "moron abroad." I also dominate "danish moron" "denmark moron" and even the more internationalist "expatriate moron." That's good. But humble as I may be, it seems to me I ought to be able to niche myself as something more than a stupid American abroad. I figure I'm the only American writer living as an expatriate in Denmark and expecting his first child right now, but you'd never know it from Google.
So that's my goal. I want to be the number one hit for searches like "expectant american writer in denmark" or "pregnant expatriate writer" or "expectant expat" or "expectant father abroad." Especially if the words "funny" or "stupid" or "moron" happen to be sprinkled into the mix.
I know what you're thinking:
I'll tell you: if you're reading this today, March 2, 2004, or within a few days of that, then you're a pretty reliable reader. You may have been reading me all along. I feel like I owe it to you to let you know what's about to happen to the sites.
I also invite you to write me with your own suggestions. Because as much as this is all about me, it's also all about you. A writer isn't worth much without readers, which is why I want to make all these changes—but I certainly don't want to piss off the readers I've already got. Please do let me know what you like and don't like about the Almanac, the Bloggish, the Blog, and all the little toys and nuggets scattered around JustMorons.com.
Everything's going to start changing. I apologize for any inconvience and I hope you'll stay along for the ride—and I really would like to hear your suggestions.
I'm going to leave this post up for a couple of days and limit my activity to Moron Abroad while I give all my readers a chance to read this and chime in with their ideas. Then, maybe this weekend, maybe next week, maybe a couple of weeks from now, wham! It's all gonna change.
Thanks for bearing with me. You guys rock.
We Now Return to Your Regular Programming
When he was a young man, no one knew for sure if Nicholas I of Russia, the son of Paul I, was Czar, Tsar, or Tzar. It was hard to know anything at all about someone whose last name was a vowel, especially when he lived in a hermitage. Nicholas was therefore as confused as he was powerful, which inevitably led to his becoming an Evil Bastard.
He didn't realize what an Evil Bastard he'd become until he lost the Crimean War, however, at which point he discovered that in addition to being Evil he was also an Incompetent Bastard. This made him Autocratic and he therefore died on March 2, 1855.
On March 2, 1931, Mikhail Gorbachev was born with a big red splotch on his head, so he got right into politics. Mr. Gorbachev was the last Evil Bastard to reign over the Soviet Empire. Fortunately, he was also Bumbling Bastard, and his invention of glasnost and perestroika accidentally made walls fall down in Germany. This caused Boris Yeltsin to ride on top of a tank and was therefore historical.
On a less Russian note, Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, was born one hundred years ago today, on March 2, 1904. He won the Pulitzer Prizer in 1984, and is one of only a few men in history to have written illustrated books in verse about a pedophiliac cat.
You can hardly blame the guy for changing his name.
Today is Independence Day in Morocco, Farmer's Day in Myanmar (and Burma), and Labor Day in Australia (presumably observed yesterday).
Jon Bon Jovi turns 42 on March 2. He shares his birthday with Lorraine Newman (1952), Lou Reed (1944), Mikhail Gorbachev (1931), Desi Arnaz (1917), and the aforementioned Dr. Seuss (1904).
© 2004, The Moron's Almanac