"The address is undercrust.blogspot.com... underCRUST... no, it's a "dot" not an "at"... UNDERcrust, it's a play on words..."
I should have a card.
I've been blogging for eighteen months. Writing consistently for a bit longer. And I've improved. A lot. Writing better, cleaner, clearer. Taking esoteric topics and poking at them until they tell a story. In that story, I include reflections about culture, about life. But mostly, reflections on myself. It's intensely personal and often revealing. Best offered to an anonymous crowd. On-line people I'll never meet.
Undercrust isn't for everyone. My posts are long, sometimes deep, or raw, or sad. They are crafted to inspire thought, evoke emotion. The social-media population prefers short and easy. Pictures, sound-bites, video-loops. Reading my blog takes time and introspection. There is an investment. And a possibility of wasted time. I believe that reading Undercrust is worth the effort, but of course, since it's my blog, it's natural for me to think this.
I joined a writers' group. It's a loose group with dozens of members, and a core of eight or ten who show up on a somewhat regular basis. We have a standing Wednesday night meeting in a bar. But only one person drinks alcohol. Everyone else has water. I'm not sure why we don't meet at the library. I suppose I'm part of the core, even though I attend less than half the meetings. The members enjoy my writing, and seem to respect my commentary. This is important to me. I see these people as real writers. Writers of achievement. Writers who have completed novels, have worked in the industry. They actually earn money by writing. Professional writers. My twelve-year-old daughter has won prize money in three contests. She's made $125 dollars with her writing. That's $125 more than me.
"So, it's undercrust.blogspot.com? What's that mean?" It's a valid question.
When I first built my blog, I was mostly writing commentary. I envisioned parlaying my blog-posts into a weekly syndicated column called Curmudgeon. I would be that old guy with bushy eye-brows in the Sunday paper who complains about everything. I'm not that old, but my eyebrows, if left unchecked, will bush with the best of them. Fortunately for me, every URL playing off the word "curmudgeon" was taken. I was forced to do some actual creative reflection. To come up with something unique.
Who am I? Or really, who am I not? Not the upper-crust. The wealthy people with a sense of propriety and decorum. A group that gains status from hanging with a uniformly affluent crowd. This isn't me. I'm polite, but I'm disdainful of protocol. Rules should be questioned before followed. Status from wealth is snobbery. I'm the opposite of the upper-crust. But "lower-crust" isn't right. It is too obvious. It implies low class. Not the image I wanted to convey.
Undercrust: It suggests something hidden. Inaccessible. Protected behind a shell. The flavorful part of a baked good. The part that isn't on display to the public, but is anticipated all the same. Something to be excavated, to be mined. Plus, the word is barely in use. It is word that I made up, that I own. Less thought went into the name than all this. It just felt right. But it is the perfect name for what my writing has become. Which is not as much societal commentary as I expected. For the most part, I'm engaged in self-analysis. Also, I keep my eyebrows trimmed.
Over eighteen months, I've generated a boat-load of content. Probably 200,000 words. Enough for two full books. Each essay stands alone, so there is no need to read my entire blog to enjoy a post, to get the point. I haven't spent any effort on web-metric tracking, so I don't really know who reads my blog. I've had thousands of page hits, but I don't know if these people actually read anything. Or how many ever come back. Based on comments and discussions, I'd estimate my readership at somewhere between four and seven consistent followers. This includes my wife. Pretty lame. Not much pay-back for a thousand hours of work.
At my writers' group the other night we talked about blogging. I'm the resident blogger, so I made sure I was there. Actually most of the more experienced writers have blogs, but as far as I know, I'm the only one who writes exclusively to blog. And even this isn't true. Principally, I write to understand myself. And I write to try to create something beautiful, or worthwhile, or interesting, or even funny. But with the exception of a few pieces winding up on the Op Ed page of my local paper, the only place my writing is ever published is on my poorly followed blog.
I'm frustrated with my writing career. Like Ray Kinsella in Shoeless Joe (aka Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams) I overly subscribe to the "they will come" mindset. The only requirement is to provide a quality product, everything else is handled by the universe. Faith, hard work and skill are rewarded. Of course, this is bullshit. There are a bazillion talented musicians, writers, dancers and artists who never make a ripple in the pond of society's collective awareness, while Ann Rice – of vampire fame – becomes a household name.
Exposure includes an aspect of luck, but it is mostly due to marketing. At my writers' group session on blogging, one of the real writers suggested that my lack of marketing is holding me back. She says I need to be on Facebook and Twitter at a minimum. Google as a social media platform is limited. This is all probably true, but I lack the energy, the interest and the understanding to do anything about it. I can't even figure out how to link my blog to a Facebook page. It isn't how I want to spend my time. I'd rather write. Or hike with my family. Or go running. Or read. Maybe I'm too lazy to "make it" as a writer.
I'm not supposed to care about followers. When I started blogging, I wrote for myself. Creating something I was proud of, creating art. My writing was inspired. My web page was beautiful. Clean and sparse, just like the essays I published on it. This was enough for me. But somewhere along the way, I started looking for props, for praise. Really I should say craving it. Page hits and followers are an obsession. I don't use this word lightly. I suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, I know obsessed. A lingering buzz in the back of my brain. Distracting me from being fully present in the rest of my life.
A couple of weeks ago, heading out on a beach vacation, I changed my Google and Facebook passwords. I created a random string of characters and posted them on my desktop. They cannot be memorized, at least not by me. I spent my beach week without social media. And since I've returned, I haven't touched my passwords. The only computer I can use to access my Google and Facebook accounts is at home. At home where I have my wife and kids to distract and occupy me. Where my hobbies – writing and running – keep me balanced. Where I have chores and responsibilities and limited time at a computer. My social media presence is collapsing.
I still don't understand how social media is supposed to launch me as a writer. I don't really expect to be discovered on Facebook, to be offered a book deal. But at the same time, everything I read tells me that this is a crucial step. There must be other formulas for success. Preferably one that involves simply living my life, and then writing about it. Not obsessively posting it and reviewing it on internet platforms. So far, this formula is elusive to me. I suspect that building a writing career includes networking and submitting manuscripts – just like the old days. With my new-found space, the time recouped from breaking social media's grip, I intend to revisit these options, again and again. I'll find the method that works for me. Works in a way that – like my blog name, Undercrust – just feels right to me.