Monday, June 30, 2014

One more time!

Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall,
ninety-nine bottles of beer.
Take one down, pass it around,
ninety-eight bottles of beer on the wall.

Ninety-eight bottles of beer on the wall,

ninety-eight bottles of beer.
Take one down, pass it around,
ninety--seven bottles of beer on the wall...

I sang the song all the way through once, beginning to end, down to that very last bottle of beer on the wall. I was 17, working in the kitchen of the Bob Evans restaurant in Berea, Ohio. My job was to bake biscuits, batch after batch, hour after hour, and, well, in that era before iPods, heck, before Walkmen, one sometimes sang to oneself. 

Or at least I did.

Eventually I hit upon this old, endless camp song, and went the distance.

Which came to mind when I thought about today, June 30, being end of the first year of this blog, Every goddamn day.

I can see why. Both are exercises in persistence.  You have to keep singing, keep writing, to tell yourself it's somehow meaningful, or at least worth doing. I did indeed go the distance, every goddamn day, bare none. So ka-ching, the digit turns tomorrow, Year One in the bag...

The odd thing is, it wasn't hard. Unlike many writers, I actually like to write, the physical sitting in a chair, mashing words together and molding the thing into something half decent. It's fun—I probably shouldn't use that word. How good could something be if you have fun doing it? People who are having fun, well, you wonder how much gravitas they really possess. Which is fine. I'm not going for gravitas.

What am I going for? Something interesting. Or amusing. Or both. To have a little thoughtful piece of something, along with a picture, for you to read and see, every day. And it's working, as far as I can tell. Readership grows, slowly. Some 40,000 hits a month now—more than 42,000 in June, the best yet—which is about 30 percent more than the first few months when this began.

Not a lot of complaints, which is gratifying, in this gotterdammerung of griping that is the Internet. I've tried to be my own critic, asking myself whether writing it every day, every goddamned day has made me watered-down, facile, repetitive, trivial. And I don't think so. At least no more than when I'm on top of my game. I never cringe when I go back and read something I've posted previously. I hope that isn't an alarming complacency. Satisfaction sounds very close to self-satisfaction, to smugness. But the thing feels about as good as I can make it.

The most surprisingly thing is that I was never stuck. Posts were like picking raspberries—you might have to dig into the leaves a bit, at times, but there's a lot of juicy stuff there, if you look for it. About a third came from things I was writing for the newspaper, which didn't mind my posting them here, so long as I link to the paper's site and don't just swipe my own work.

How did the blog do? We are all about metrics—probably the worst thing about the Internet age; we care so much about being popular that we don't think about being good. But looking at the stats, this year the blog has had ... checking ...385,676 hits; 1,056 visits day, on average. I usually write one post a day, but sometimes events demand a second, for a total of 420 posts. The most successful, Welcome to the Steinberg Bakery, a comment on businesses that feel their religious freedom is being impinged having to serve gay customers, drew nearly 10,000 hits. The pieces often have staying power. Its follow-up, Welcome back to the Steinberg Bakery, was posted at the end of March, but got 2,000 hits on Monday alone, thanks to the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision (and a much-appreciated retweet from Dan Savage). 

In late December, I posted a six month assessment. Then we were averaging 914 hits a day, and I was hoping that by now they'd have more than doubled, to 2,000. What I got was an extra 142. Not the success I was hoping for, but it will have to do. A little more than a thousand people a day.

So small ball, in the wide sweep of the Internet. Nothing went viral, no six figure days. I am happy to nail my thousand hits by lunch, feel extra satisfied if it gets to 1,500, and thrilled at 2,000 and beyond. My victories were humble ones. Alex Ross, the New Yorker's music critic, weighed in on a piece I wrote about opera. David Axelrod retweeted something I wrote. Dan Savage was a frequent supporter. Gene Weingarten at the Washington Post. Eric Zorn at the Tribune was supportive, and Nancy Nall Derringer, and other bloggers I respect. I like days when the blog sends out a ripple. Some days it doesn't. Some days it feels like singing in the shower, but those days happen in the paper too, and being a professional means soldiering through those days and waiting, crouched in your foxhole, for the illusion of relevance to return.

I did make a little money from it—Eli's Cheesecake ran paid ads in November and December, and BasketWorks traded a cache of black Moleskine notebooks for ad. Not much, but I used part of the cheesecake money to commission a poster from Hatch Show Print in Nashville, and I got a kick out that, selling a few dozen, and giving the others away to publicize the blog in a fashion I found satisfyingly retro. Some places have had them up for six months. I plan to print up a new one for 2015. The poster made me happy. Heck, the tubes I sent the poster out in made me happy. They're solid tubes.

My wife has encouraged me to stop at some point—hang up the "Gone Fishin'" sign in August and pick the thing up in September. But then it wouldn't be every goddamn day, would it?  I think it's okay to haul something good out of the archives, when relevant, and so long as I don't do it too much. I'm going to replay my home repair series in August, since it'll be new to most readers, and I will appreciate the breather. That said, I believe showing up every day, getting in the traces and pulling the plow. On days when I hit the wrong button ("Save" instead of "Publish") and the new post doesn't go up at midnight, someone complains. True, it's only one reader, but I don't want to keep him waiting. 

A thousand people seems like a lot to me. If a thousand people showed up at your door every morning, you'd find a way to say something to them. Many a minister labors over a sermon that not 10 people, never mind 100, never mind a thousand, will hear. Kindergarten teachers sweat their lesson plans for two dozen 5-year-olds. So I can't see pitching this so I can have an extra half hour a day to play Candy Crush Saga. If I keep it up, maybe next year we'll be doing that 2,000 a day, on average, then 4,000, then 8,000. There are successful ventures that have had slower starts, though none come to mind. You can't quit your way to the top.

Disappointments? I wish the thing resonated more. The readership seems pretty local to the Chicago area, with a few expats in California. I wish the newspaper would tuck the blog somewhere on its web site. It feels a snub that they don't, but maybe it'll work out for the best, in the long run. If the paper had its imprint on it I couldn't say "fuck" when the occasion calls for it. 

What else? The Google Blogger system froze up after I created my template, so I can't change the fonts or the colors. I've tried to figure out what the problem is, but can't, so that's maddening.  Then again, they provide this platform for free, so I suppose I shouldn't complain.

Back in that hot kitchen at Bob Evans, when I finally neared "One bottle of beer on the wall," I had an inspiration. I got done, paused for one second, then called out, "One more time!" and began to sing the damn thing a second time.

Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall,
Ninety-nine bottles of beer...

So here we go into Year Two. One more time! 

At least.

But first.

Thank you everybody who took the time to read what I had to say this past 365 days. And thank you to everyone who will read in the next year. If it's half as fun to read as it is to write, then you're enjoying yourselves a lot. As my friend Rick Kogan likes to say: onward.

—Neil Steinberg


  1. Doesn't seem like a year. Keep on!

  2. Hill Street Blues took some time

  3. I enjoy reading the blog, great writing and topics!

    I appreciate that you know the correct version of ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall. It's not "if one of those bottles should happen to fall, ninety-eight bottles of beer on the wall" that some people insist on saying.

  4. If you go to bother of writing it every goddamn day, the least I can do is keep reading it every goddamn day.

    "You can't quit your way to the top." Someone shoulda told Sarah Palin that.

  5. Needs more Bob Greene like regurgitation of themes

  6. Neil: From my fund of half-known languages: "Adelante" sounds better than "onward," I think, but better yet is "keso keso," which I think can be translated, "keep on keeping on."

  7. Neil, I was surprised to learn this morning your blog is just one year old - I thought you'd been doing this for at least a few years. Thankfully I discovered it a few months back (alas, I don't read the Sun-Times - well, I also don't read the Trib). If I remember, my buddy Ralph forwarded me one of your blog entries, and I was hooked. I suppose I should take the time to read your posts from the beginning forward until I hit the one that got me started....someday.

    I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that every once in a while he and/or I use one of your posts as cannon fodder in the ongoing struggle to annoy the crap out of - and hopefully elicit some ponderance from - a right-winger in our office :)

    I don't think it can be put better than it was in a previous comment - you keep writing every goddamned day, and I'll keep reading, and appreciating, every goddamned day!

  8. The picture is intriguing. Why didn't you save it for Saturday? I was surprised to see only one person in action with a camera phone.

  9. Whenever I've pointed out this blog to someone, I've had to also specifically point out that they have to scroll down past the giant picture and there's words below it. Most people just assume it's a photo a day blog and and look at a picture then close it. "What does a picture of a crowd have to do with one year down?"

  10. Your work ethic has some famous antecedents. Anthony Trollope, who authored 47 novels, all but one best sellers, was said to put in four hours at his writing desk every day of his working life before reporting to his day job with the Royal Mail.

    One of your idols, James Thurber, asked about his writing practices, said he was writing all the time, even when shaving.

    It should make you a better writer. Edward Gibbon, great historian and himself no mean wordsmith, wrote "The choice and command of language is the fruit of exercise."

    And your freedom to transgress is surely useful. As that deep thinker Lennie Bruce put it, "If they wont let you say 'fuck' you can't say 'fuck the government',"

  11. Congrats. Onward and upward, carpe diem!

  12. Neil, don't sell yourself short of this prize. I am reading you in the shadow of Mt Rushmore in the great state of South Dakota, a state so exciting that there is only one area code for the entire state! The mighty 605 rings in SD.

  13. Congratulations, Neil! Every day for a year is very impressive. I read your columns when we lived in the Chicago area, live in Texas now and look forward to seeing what you'll write in Year Two.

    WendyC's comment about the correct version of Ninety-nine bottles of beer makes me guess that the version I learned as a kid was censored - didn't hear it at camp but on a bus headed for a parochial school.

    (gardenblogger) Annie in Austin

  14. Congratulations, Mr. Steinberg. I've read your blog since day one, and cannot believe it's been a year already. I look forward to year two.

  15. Down with a world in which the guarantee that we will not die of starvation has been purchased with the guarantee that we will die of boredom. Situationist graffiti. Paris 1968

    Many happy returns on your blog's 1st birthday, a true astrological cancer of the world.

  16. Good work. God bless.

  17. Your scope has broadened to include a Washington DC reader. I came in mid-March and have read every post since. I like the writing, the length of the post (not cheating my employer too much by dropping by, because I read fast), and the variety of topics. Congratulations!

  18. You're read from down here in Atlanta.



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