Many of the people who started reading this site seven years ago are still reading it today. When I really stop to let that sink in, it amazes me.
Seven years is a long time.
I don’t get out much. I don’t travel. I’ve met exactly one of you in person, and that’s the guy who lives ten minutes from my house and went out of his way to make it happen.
But I’ve been a part of your life, and you a part of mine, for a while. Up to seven years.
Since seven years have passed, I’m seven years older now than I was when I started. That seems a stupidly obvious thing to point out, I know. But it matters.
I think we imagine ongoing projects we’re not personally involved in producing to be fairly static entities: This is what it does and what you can expect of it, day in and day out.
As much as there’s a continuity to Country California – it’s always been me, and I’ve been rounding up quotes every Sunday for seven years – the site is also a chronicle of change. The situation isn’t what it was. I’m not who I was. When I look at old posts, it’s rare that I don’t see something I’d do a little differently if I were doing it today.
I started this blog at 21. I’ll be 29 next month. If you don’t undergo some changes and mature a little bit in those years, you’re doing it wrong.
In the beginning, there was more ego. Emerging in the age of The 9513 – which I once referred to, not really jokingly, as the Roman Colosseum of country blogs – I used to have my eye on empire-building. I was never much suited to empire-building, to be honest, but it seemed like the thing to aspire to. More hits. Greater reach. Figure out how to write like Jim Malec and follow him down the gilded path to iconoclasm. (Where’s Jim Malec now?)
These days, I’m not concerned with being at the heart of the action. I don’t mind doing my own thing, for whoever cares to read it, on the periphery. There’s freedom in that. The distinguishing features of Country California – quotes and news filtered through a particular sensibility, frank expression, humor, haiku – don’t require girth or greater access to important people. It’s all stuff I can do on my own, without permission or massaging of social connections. That’s by design. That’s what works for me. I’m glad to be free of the entanglements and responsibilities of a larger enterprise.
These days, nothing excites me more than the idea of being small and yet somehow self-sustaining – of showing that it’s possible to make this work on a manageable, modest scale halfway between doing whatever I want for no pay and doing whatever pays without regard to good taste.
To that end, great strides have been made. The Patreon campaign launched in January may not look like much, but it’s already funding the site better than the ads it replaced. Now I have no reason to broach topics I don’t care about just because they’re doing well with search engines. And you don’t have to see ads. Hopefully, the generous souls who’ve signed up as patrons even get a little rush of good feeling every time they realize they’re making all of this possible.
In social psychology, there’s a phenomenon called the Bystander Effect. In a nutshell, the finding is this: The more witnesses there are to a crime or other emergency situation, the less likely it is that any of them will actually help. Everyone assumes that someone else will step up… then, as no one does, everyone assumes that since none of those other people are helping, this must not be an actual emergency situation. Thus, people who require assistance in an emergency are advised to single out one person – any person – and ask that person to take a specific action (“You in the blue tie, call the police!”) rather than making general requests (“Someone help!”) of the masses.
If you’re reading this but not pledging on Patreon yet, I need you to know that it’s you – you right there, thinking I don’t believe he’s actually addressing me – who can make the difference. This isn’t an emergency situation. But in order to make small-batch stuff for smaller audiences possible, the people who enjoy such things have to be willing to support them. For a few bucks per month, it’s you who can send the campaign past its first milestone goal and toward its second, which is the level at which the time spent putting together eight news roundups and four quote roundups per month would start making any kind of financial sense. With that foundation in place, I can afford to start doing more.
I’m cranky and increasingly old. As I’ve become a somewhat saner person, this is less and less about satisfying ego needs. For me, I don’t need to keep doing it anymore. I’ve done it. I know what it’s like and where it does/doesn’t lead. I only need to keep doing it if it’s useful to you. This is the point where your engagement and support matter a lot.