.org.20: My, How You’ve Grown
Now listening to: David Darling, Cello Blue
Now reading: Christopher Newfield, Unmaking the Public University: The Forty-Year Assault on the Middle Class
Now playing: Boggle (PS4)
Today isn’t so much the anniversary of me starting this website as when I “switched it on” for others to see; I’d built the .org in the days prior to its launch, and even that was largely a retooling of a personal website I’d kept on the free webspace I got from my ISP (GlassCity Internet, for my Toledo peeps) back in 1997. I’d been working on the redesign since the start of the month, when I abandoned all my previous Internet projects because I desperately needed a fresh start to my online presence to save what little was left of my sanity at that point. After I woke up twenty years ago today, I just changed a couple of redirects I’d put up, told the friends I still had at that point about the new site, and in that way I opened seanshannon.org up for the world to see on a cold Saturday morning in Toledo.
I remembered that my first .journal entry had been about a shopping trip I’d made to Media Play to “celebrate” this new start, but I just went back and reread what I wrote back then, and my buttcheeks may never unpucker. I knew that I had some talent for writing back then, but that my skills were incredibly unrefined, and as common as it is for writers to cringe when they look back on their earlier work, I think I’ve got more right to do so than most writers. More than just struggling to find my voice as a writer, I was struggling to find myself on some very basic levels there, and the turmoil I’d endured in my final months of writing about professional wrestling online was still taking a toll on me when I launched this website. Things weren’t going to get any easier for me in the coming months, capped off by the house fire in May that led to me finally going back to college, and I think that I’ll always be discovering myself to some extent; that’s part of being an artist, or at least it is to me. The important thing for now is that I’m still here, still alive, and I’d like to think that this website has documented twenty years of me, slowly but surely, getting better.
Part of me doesn’t want to go deeply into the events of the past twenty years — finishing college and grad school, starting my teaching career, losing both my parents and my best friend and others, publishing my first novel and other works, moving out of Toledo and settling into my new life here in Wisconsin — just because I’ve already done so on this website, sometimes several times, and often, to repeat one of my favourite (and overused) Latin phrases, ad nauseum. Really, though, given the historical moment we’re all living in today, it seems kind of senseless to focus on the past when there’s so much of the present that should demand everyone’s attention here.
In one respect, it’s hard not to think of the parallels between twenty years ago and now, simply because I launched this website in the middle of the last post-election period where it took us weeks to figure out who had won, and what would happen as a result. I didn’t write about the election twenty years ago, and even though I was paying attention to it, I really wasn’t understanding what was happening. Even with this current election cycle and all the research I’ve done on it, I’ve often found myself at a loss for words because I’m working so hard on my next book that I can never be sure that I’m really understanding all the important facets of the current election. Not saying something until I firmly believe that I have something useful to say is definitely one of the improvements I’ve made over the past twenty years, although I’m still far from perfect at that.
More importantly, though, there wasn’t a raging pandemic in America twenty years ago, a pandemic that colours everything going on around us. Even if I felt like this anniversary was something to “celebrate” in the same way that I “celebrated” starting the .org by shopping at Media Play, it’s not like I can go anywhere here in the same way that I could go places before the pandemic. Besides, Media Play is long gone now, and as much as I can enjoy crass consumerism, losing stores like Media Play and Toys ‘R’ Us has sucked out whatever joy I used to be able to get from going somewhere to buy stuff. A celebration should be something fun, and I just don’t feel like now is an appropriate time to be searching for fun things to do.
Living in America these past few years has felt like being forced to ride the world’s most dangerous rollercoaster on an endless loop, knowing that someone could press a button to unlock your safety harness at any second, especially when you’re upside-down hundreds of feet above the air. If nothing else, the events of the past few weeks have made me feel like it’s more likely that someone is about to press that button on all of us here, and that this catastrophe could literally unfold at any moment. It’s taken a lot of willpower on my part to not monitor the news every minute, and just writing this paragraph is making me want to open my tablet up and load a news channel on its screen, in case the chaos I’ve been fearing for so long finally comes to pass here.
After going back and reading the piffle I started this website with twenty years ago, I have a strong urge to do everything in my power right now to come up with something profound to write here, something that might, in some small way, offset the more unrefined beginnings of this website. From experience, though, I know that the harder I work at trying to come up with something like that, the worse my final writing will be. If I’ve ever produced that kind of writing before, then it’s come naturally, as a result of the circumstances I’ve been in. I’ve written well in challenging circumstances in the past, but not because of some grand effort on my part to try to seize the moment; I just showed up at the page, or at my computer, and let the words come out.
Really, though, that’s what I did twenty years ago, when I wrote about my shopping trip to Media Play, and that’s what I’m doing now. I’m far from the first person to say that a lot of life is just showing up and doing what has to be done, but I think a lot of us are relearning that lesson every day as we stumble our way through the pandemic. I’ve had bad writing days and bad teaching days since the pandemic started, but I’ve still shown up and performed to the best of my ability. Maybe my abilities have improved a lot in these last twenty years — my writing certainly has — but the important thing is that I’m still working to improve things for myself and the people who count on me.
My life has changed in a lot of ways since I launched seanshannon.org twenty years ago, but the fact that I’ve never given up on it shows that I’ve continued to do the work that needs to be done, both on this website and in my life as a whole. I can only hope that I’ve got (at least) another twenty years here to keep working, to keep getting better, and to keep making things better for everyone around me.
Everyone take care and be well, and thank you for the last twenty years. I will see you all soon.