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Happy 2nd Birthday, Little Blog!

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I do not have time to write a blog post today. In exactly one week I board a plane for Dublin (!) for a sure-to-be-fantastic conference, Gender Politics & Reality TV, hosted by University College Dublin. In addition to preparing for this five-day trip and writing my conference paper on gender roles on Jersey Shore, I must prepare for the start of the Fall semester at ECU, complete a panel proposal for the 2012 SCMS conference, AND finish a 7,000 word article that is due September 1st. What?

So, if I have all of this to do, why oh why am I writing a blog post right now? Well, my friends, it was 2 years ago today that I wrote my very first blog post. And since I missed my blog’s 1st birthday last year (I was busy!), I realized I could not ignore her again. Blogs have feelings too. So in honor of my blog’s 2nd birthday (she’s such a big girl now!) I look back at the last two years of my blog’s life and what I’ve learned.

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Social media was the gateway drug. When I first joined Twitter in March of 2009, posting my thoughts about the shows and films I was watching felt weird. Like I was shouting into the void. Over time, however, I gathered a few followers, started discussing popular culture with them, and realized that I really enjoyed these virtual conversations. So it was at that point that I decided I would start my own blog. The timing was perfect. I turned the final draft of my book manuscript in to my editor at the University of Texas Press in mid-August and I had several months of waiting to hear about the fate of my life’s work ahead of me. Why not blog the anxiety away? And blog I did.

My very first blog post, which served as my mission statement, promised this:

My hope is that you can read this blog with your morning coffee. I hope that what I have to say will enhance your experience of what you’re watching now or encourage you to go out and see something new.

More than anything though, I hope to have a conversation with those of you out there who love watching movies and television, who aren’t ashamed of the deep emotional connection you feel when sitting in front of the screen. What made you laugh out loud? What broke your heart? Am I too emotionally invested in the well-being of Nicolette Grant (Chloë Sevigny)?

I want my water cooler. Can you make that happen for me?

Sure, this smacks of Tom Cruise’s motivational “Come with me!” speech from Jerry Maguire (1996, Cameron Crowe). But let me let you in on a little secret: I loved Jerry Maguire.

And like poor Jerry, no one actually came with me for a while. Not even fishy-faced old Renee Zellweger. But over time, I did build a small, faithful readership. My readership is still relatively small, but that’s okay. You see, I’ve learned a lot from this blogging experiment:

1. Blogging makes you a better writer.

Blogging has had a liberating effect on my writing style. Before, when it was time for me to start writing an essay, I would read and read and read. Then I might sketch out an outline (which I would completely ignore once I started writing). Then I would try to start writing. I would stare at the screen and bite my nails. But blogging has taught me to start with the writing. It doesn’t matter what you write — just write.  And after writing for a while I would start to see what it was that I wanted to write about — what my argument was — and this would then guide my research. After two years of blogging, I compose faster and better than I ever have in an entire lifetime of writing.

2. Blogging teaches you that your words are not gold.

This is related to my previous point. Before I started blogging I had a hard time editing myself. I felt that if I had taken the time to write a few paragraphs, then those paragraphs must be IMPORTANT. If I deleted those paragraphs, it meant that all the time I put into writing them was wasted. But blogging taught me that it’s OK to delete your writing. Sometimes I would compose 1,000 or more words of a blog post, only to realize that the post was going nowhere and I would delete it all. Just like that. I was able to delete these precious words without too much agony because I realized that the that time spent writing them wasn’t a “waste.” All that writing in the wrong direction cleared a path for me to write in the right direction. Yep, blogging taught me that.

3. Blogging makes you a better thinker.

Anyone who writes prose regularly — whether they are academics, journalists, or novelists — will tell you that one of the hardest aspects of writing is having a point. To the novelist we ask: why should we care about your protagonist? To the journalist we ask: why should we keep reading about your investigation into beet farming? And to the academic we ask: what is your thesis? When I assign critical research papers to my students we spend weeks working on theses. I will meet with individual students multiple times, read their prospectuses (prospecti?) and then, still, they will be unable to come up with a viable thesis. This is not because they are stupid. It is because it is hard to come up with a thesis. But since I’ve started blogging, I find it’s much easier to come up with the “point” of my writing.  I’m not entirely sure why blogging has helped me to do this, but I think it has something to do with the complete lack of pressure. No one is making me blog. I do not have any blogging deadlines. And not too many people are reading this. Lacking that pressure, my mind is freer to explore ideas it might have otherwise have shut down for being “not important” or “not interesting” or “completely demented.”

4. Blogging teaches you that it’s not them, it’s you.

I used to become very anxious about publishing my work. I would obsess about every word, every comma placement, and then, once I saw my words in print, I would second guess everything I had written. The agony! But blogging put an end to that neurosis (not all my neuroses, just the neurosis related to publishing my work — this blog is not a miracle worker after all). Constantly putting my writing into the public eye taught me that 1) the vast majority of people who come across my writing are not reading it, and 2) the vast majority of the people who do actually read my writing are not nearly as critical of it as I am. They’re just looking for something to read.

5. Blogging teaches you that you need to do things in your own way — in a way that fits the way you live and the way you think — or you will never feel satisfied.

When I first started this blog I had big plans to post 2 or 3 times per week. And I did. At this stage in my blogging I was focused on generating a lot of content — on blogging — rather than really thinking about what I wanted to blog about.  Once I let go of the idea that good blogging was frequent blogging, I started to discover my blogging voice. My best posts were the ones that were the product of a real inspiration, the posts that I felt I had to write, even with deadlines looming and children crying to be let out of their cages. Once I started to do that, I really fell in love with blogging. And then it didn’t matter who was reading my blog, or what they thought about what I had to say. I was enjoying the process.

6. Blogging makes your waist smaller, your boobs bigger, and helps your toddler to sleep through the night.

No. These are all lies. But a girl can dream, can’t she?

So there you have it. That’s what I’ve learned from two years of blogging. I’d also like to ask all of you bloggers out there: what have you learned from the experience? Has blogging made your boobs bigger? If so, please share below.

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Before I end this post, I wanted to link to a few of my favorite posts (not necessarily my most popular or most commented on) from the last two years. Ingulgent? Yes. Sentimental? Absolutely. But it’s not every day your little blog turns two. Happy birthday, baby girl! Mama loves you.

Where the Wild Things Are Review

This post generated very little traffic but it was an intensely personal post. I wrote it just a few months before my second child was born and I was feeling pretty damn emotional. In my book “pretty damn emotional” =  good writing.

An Open Letter to MTV from Lauren Conrad

This is another post that did not generate much traffic. However, it did somehow appear on The Hills‘ Facebook fan page at one point, with a reader declaring “Here’s a letter Lauren wrote to MTV!” That was kind of awesome. Stupid Hills fans.

The Best Films of the Deacde

This post did actually generate a lot of traffic and a lot of comments. I really enjoyed looking back on the decade and revisiting my favorite films. It’s at moments like these that I wish I was Roger Ebert and I could spend my days watching movies and writing about whether I liked them or not (by the way, this is what 90% of my family thinks I do for a living. The other 10% thinks I make movies).

Big Love Season 4 Premiere: I want my Beach Boys!

I always loved the Big Love opening credits sequence so I really was angry when they were changed for Season 4. I think I was on to something because HOW SUCKY WAS SEASON 4? It’s all about the credits.

The Hills are Alive…With the Sound of Boob Jobs 

Because I have never written a better title for anything in my life.

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The Water Cooler

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When Silvio (Steve Van Zandt) shot poor, weeping Adriana (Drea de Matteo) in the middle of the woods on The Sopranos it was a “water cooler” moment. When Paula Abdul complimented American Idol Season 7 contestant, Jason Castro, on his singing performance, saying it was better than his first performance that evening—even though at that point in the program all of the contestants had only performed once—it was a “water cooler” moment. And when Omar (Michael K. Williams) was shot by a small time hopper while buying a pack of Newports in the final season of The Wire, it was certainly a “water cooler” moment.

The problem for me is, I don’t have a water cooler. Well, let me rephrase that. The faculty lounge at East Carolina University, where I work, does indeed have a water cooler. And I do have conversations with people when I’m standing there, filling my environmentally conscious stainless steel water bottle. But we rarely discuss television or movies or media. We are usually talking about our classes or our students or about the latest round of frightening budget cuts. In my profession, where people are in their offices only a few days a week and only then, for a selected range of hours, it’s difficult to depend on the water cooler as a location for discussing last night’s episode of True Blood or the newest theatrical releases.

And that, my dear readers (are there any of you out there yet?), is where you come in. Sure, there are a lot of wonderful, thought-provoking, innovative media studies blogs out there (see my blogroll for proof). So why did I need to start one myself? Because I need a water cooler. I need a place to discuss those “oh my God!” moments, those “John Locke is in a wheelchair?” moments, those water cooler moments.

But this blog won’t just be about current television shows or movies that are playing at the multiplex. I will also revisit older shows and films of interest, and will take occasional forays into the world of tabloid media (my other passion). I may even talk about my teaching. Once and if things really get cooking, I hope to invite guest bloggers to offer their opinions.

My hope is that you can read this blog with your morning coffee. I hope that what I have to say will enhance your experience of what you’re watching now or encourage you to go out and see something new.

More than anything though, I hope to have a conservation with those of you out there who love watching movies and television, who aren’t ashamed of the deep emotional connection you feel when sitting in front of the screen. What made you laugh out loud? What broke your heart? Am I too emotionally invested in the well-being of Nicolette Grant (Chloë Sevigny)?

I want my water cooler. Can you make that happen for me?