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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The First Decade

Ten years ago, my career as a professional writer was well underway. I'd written or contributed to a number of bestselling gardening books, I was selling short articles under my own name to a couple of different magazines, and I was the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta's official speechwriter. Things were looking good.

Earl and his notepad at the Bleak House of Blahs
And yet something was missing. Why else would I have felt the urge to start blogging, or to name this digital journal The Bleak House of Blahgs to reference a place (the so-called "Bleak House of Blahs) I lived only briefly - and that ten years prior to the blog's first post?

There were two reasons. I was lonely, and sharing my thoughts with the world was a way to feel a little less alone. And just as importantly, I needed a place to experiment. While writing for Lois and Jim Hole (and later a series of Alberta Liberal MLAs) was satisfying and challenging enough, the blog gave me a place to be as analytical or shallow or serious or goofy as I wanted to be.

Most of my early writing at The Bleak House of Blahgs centres on the mundane; should anyone struggle with insomnia, read a few of these early posts to learn what DVDs I was watching at the time, or whose birthday party I was attending, or what I was doing at work. Coming up with original content is a challenge for any writer, so I often filled the gaps with old material I'd composed years before, a sin I resort to less often these days. There are a few cryptic references to Sylvia peppered into these early posts here and there; I'd met her in late 2002, not long before starting this blog, but we didn't start a relationship until spring 2003.
Sylvia's presence, of course, informs virtually everything I've written since. While I'd had relationships prior to meeting Sylvia, they were short-lived and "unofficial," if that's the right word for it. Sylvia was my first real girlfriend, and that represented a sea change in my outlook. Suddenly I was responsible for someone, someone who in turn felt responsible for me in ways that parents and siblings cannot be; it was an entirely different kind of relationship, one I was discovering for the first time. It felt strange to be loved romantically, but it cleared my mind and freed me from many of the stresses that were preventing me from exploring the limits of whatever talent I might possess. Sylvia gave me the freedom and confidence to move forward on a number of fronts - personally, professionally. She made me a better writer and a better person, and that's given me the courage to publicly explore the questions that have always vexed me most:

Who am I, and why am I here?
What does the future hold for humanity?
Why do people suffer?
Are we alone in the universe?
What's the true nature of reality?
What does it all mean?

It's always bothered me that so many of my posts seem to focus on me, me, me - what's happened to me, what did I do today, etc. And yet this is the lens through which each of us experiences life, so unless I construct some kind of artifice I'm forced to write about myself, at least tangentially, to struggle with these questions. Better writers do this successfully all the time, of course, but I work with what I have, and blogging, for now, is the best way I know how to explore the subjects I care about.

Several years ago I changed the name of this blog from The Bleak House of Blahgs to My Name is Earl (J. Woods), a change made half out of boredom, half to capitalize on a sitcom I had enjoyed at the time. Today this blog endures its third and final name change, one that's not only shorter and snappier, but also contains a classical allusion, a bad pun and a more succinct characterization of the blog's nature: The Earliad. While I have no illusions that I'll join the ranks of Homer or Virgil, I've long thought that if I ever became famous The Earliad would be the perfect name for my autobiography. While I foresee no fame in my future, I still like the title, so I'm going to put it to use.

The desire to write often comes with some hubris, particularly if the writer hopes people will read his material. How large does one's ego have to be to broadcast his thoughts to the universe?

Pretty large, I guess, and sometimes - perhaps much of the time - without much justification. But in my defence, I write because, well, I find life interesting, and that includes my life - and yours. I write because I hope that my readers will discover something that touches on your own experience, that makes you think about the world in a different way. I live for the comments people occasionally leave here, many of them far more insightful and interesting than my original posts.

I think most people want to share their experiences, because through those experiences we learn to know one another. We learn how to deal with the universe's challenges together, and maybe we even learn how to begin answering some of those big questions. And along the way, if we're lucky, we have a lot of fun together.

I've certainly had a lot of fun writing this blog for the last ten years. So much has happened since that first post: Sylvia and I were married, I ran for office against Alberta's Premier, drove the Alaska Highway, made new friends, stood on the shore of North America's east coast for the first time, flew in a helicopter, dove in a submarine, had a post featured on Reddit, served as an online tutor at MacEwan University, bought two condos, met James Cameron and returned to northern Manitoba...twice.

It's been a heck of a decade. Along with the moments already mentioned above, here are a few more of my favourite posts:

Fitzpatrick's War
The End of My Double Life
The Killer Inside
Behold...The Barf Thing!
The Only Logical Choice
The Ketchup Katastrophe
The Walls Have Ears, the Doors Have Eyes
No Job Too Small...for Superman!
Earl Jumps on a VCR
Wisteria Hysteria
The Speculative Fiction Canon
Star Trek Season Four Episode Guide
The Answering Machine Message
The Art of Friendship
Farewell to the Legislature
You Seem Wise, for a Woman

It's interesting that this anniversary should fall at this moment in my life, a time of transition. I left politics behind, but discovered that I really enjoy teaching and reinvigorated my freelance career. While I would still prefer a return to full-time work, being home has given me more time to work on my novel and short stories, to spend more time with Sylvia, to learn how to fix little things around the house, to finish the library and theatre room. I feel like my life has some balance at last, and I can't wait to see what happens next. I hope you'll join me.


SEAN said...

I had forgotten about the context sensitive doors. Great stuff.

Totty said...

That's a pretty bold statement to claim this will be the last name change for the blog.

Earl J. Woods said...

The Earliad is unafraid to be bold! Well, most of the time.