Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Wear your damn mask: State of the Blog: Year Seven

O'Hare, Feb. 13, 2020

     Are you having a good pandemic? I mean, not dead, and nobody you know dead? Not yet anyway. Good, good, that's the important thing.
     And your job? Secure so far? Excellent. Mine too. Sure, it could change at any time. But that was true before COVID-19 burst out of whatever bat's ass or pangolin's lymph gland or wherever the hell it came from. In December. Times can change. Fast.
     Not round here, of course. We soldier on, immutable. Every ... goddamn ... day. I won't belabor the state of the blog this year. First, I realized—and file this under "Obvious, realizations of"—that I've been doing two summations each year. One at the end of June, since the blog began July 1, 2013. And another at the end of December. That's one too many.
     No number crunching this time, for instance. Spambots made that pointless. One day in January we had 246,583 hits, which is about 245,000 more than usual. I thought, fleetingly, of presenting that as some kind of triumph. Alas, it's not. I don't think the whirling Chinese techno-dervish or thrumming chip caused the spike benefited from my high caliber prose. Otherwise, we lope along as usual, doing about the traffic we did three years ago—somewhat shy of 2,000 views a day.
     Hardly worth doing, right? Though if there were a hall with 1,500 people in it, I sure would show up, and be amazed and pleased at how I had packed them in. So it shouldn't be different here, though of course it is. Perhaps tweeting this every day is the problem. Every attitudinal 40-year-old seems to have 200,000 followers on Twitter. I have 8,600 and am stuck there. Twitter feels like I'm printing the day's blog out, rolling it into a tube, sticking it in a bottle and casting it into the sea.
     Again, hardly seems worth doing. 
     But it is, because, well, if not this, what? What would I do instead? Watch television?
     I must like paddling my little canoe among the big tankers and destroyers and nimble racing sloops of the more significant communications efforts. Year Seven certainly has been personally memorable, with all that spine surgery in July—an oddly uplifting experience, sort of in the way Churchill once said nothing is more exhilarating for a man than to be shot at without effect.  And then in February I wrote about getting a new hip. Which I'm reluctant to even mention now—makes me sound old and falling apart. But if I have one overarching principle to this, it's "Be who you are." I think a lot of bad writing comes from people trying to be who they're not—better, younger, smarter, whatever.  A writer doesn't want to sit around vomiting out complaints and unwelcome personal details either. But I think there's a sweet spot in there and I hope that, on some days, I hit it.
     The pandemic arrived in mid-February. My wife and I were on our way to New York, and a JAL flight crew came by, all masked, and I stepped in front of them and snapped off a picture of the unusual sight and sent it to the city desk. Might be news. Turns out it was, though we didn't realize it quite then.
      My goal was to cover the story, best I could, and not just sit on my ass in Northbrook, and I was satisfied I carried my share of the burden. I had contacts at hospitals, and so brought readers there, into the struggle to fight the virus, first at Mount Sinai, then Roseland. I started working regularly with one of our excellent staff photographers, Ashlee Rezin Garcia, and that was a very rewarding and fun collaboration.
     Three days a week EGD features my column from the paper. The other four I'll repost old columns, or write a fresh essay.  Saturdays I tried for a change of pace, for something fun. If you remember, I used to run the Saturday Fun Activity, but got tired of sending out prizes. Then I shifted to the Saturday snapshot, usually sent in by readers, and that proved a lovely rest at the end of the week. In April, Saturdays were given over to an uprooted Chicagoan now living in Austin, Texas, Caren Jeskey, and her detailed and heartfelt reports have been a welcome addition to the blog—some weeks her numbers are better than anything I've written.
     What else? The University of Chicago Press asked me to write a book entitled "Every goddamn day: Neil Steinberg's Chicago." That seems a kind of significance. Though the title may be a little deceptive. It's not a collection of blog posts, but a quotidian history of Chicago in 366 dated entries. (Jan. 1, 1920 is the beginning of the Palmer raids, eager Chicago cops jumping the gun on the rest of the country. Jan. 2, 1900 is the reversal of the Chicago River, and so on). I've had a lot of fun working on it,  It's due in March, which probably puts it out in early 2022.  The neat thing about that structure is it is limiting, like haiku. You have to choose which episodes to explore. Some days there are three or four worthy candidates. I'm working hard to get the balance and tone right, and it speaks to the question: what is history? What stories do we tell and why do we tell them?
    Which is the same challenge I have here. Thanks for sticking around for seven years while I try to figure it out.  Thank you to the core dozen or two who regularly comment, and of course to my advertiser, Marc Schulman of Eli's Cheesecake. Thank you to John for birddogging all the typos. Thanks to Caren Jeskey—like the readers, I've enjoyed getting to know her—for all your hard work. Thank you Ashlee Rezin Garcia for allowing me to repost your marvelous and dramatic photographs.
     I remember, when I began the blog, reading somewhere that most people make the mistake of giving up too soon, and one should stick it out three years to see if it's going to catch fire. I've stuck it out double that plus a year, and success, whatever that is, still floats somewhere in the distance.
    Unless just doing this is the success. "You are the music," T.S. Eliot writes, in the last section of "The Dry Salvages"—I've been reading a lot of Eliot this year—"While the music lasts."
For most of us, this is the aim
Never here to be realised;
Who are only undefeated
Because we have gone on trying.
     That sounds about right.


  1. To these 2,000 loyal followers you hit it on the head almost everyday. Thank you for not giving up on us, and i am looking forward to the EGD book.

  2. You are a great writer . . . every gd day! Many people are in awe of what you write and know and how frequently you write, your vocabulary, wry wit and humor. They look forward to your writing . . . every gd day! BUT only you can decide what success is to you. There are a myriad of definitions of success — just ask Google. I hope yours is not the number of Internet hits. If it is, then you can change that. Go bigger. Get a PR person, advertise more, do more public appearances, go after it; but frankly, that does not sound like you. Success is not always in the accolades and awards, it is in the craft. How many fine, talented folks are nominated and how many get the award? Often the ones nominated made the audience laugh or cry or feel more than the winner did. You do that!

    1. I agree with every word!!

      P.S. Janet is also a great writer!!

  3. neil...i'm happy to have been 1/2000 of your non-bot readership for seven years...looking forward to what you have to say tomorrow...that sounds about right

  4. I think Elliot has the right idea.


  5. Good pic from O'Hare of the crew and very telling.

  6. Happy ...blogiversary? Anyway, right-o and carry on!

    And looking forward to that book.

  7. Don't sell yourself short, pal. You have years of tenure as a columnist for a big-city newspaper. That ain't chopped liver.

    I think what I prize most about your writing is the combination of vivid language and common sense. May you have the column and the blog as long as you want to.

  8. I think you have more of a cult following than a popular following. Your followers are loyal and really like your work. More like a Tom Waits than a Kim Kardashian.

    1. And so the blog completes another trip around the sun. Congrats. Seven years of anything is a long time (A seven-year itch, or seven years of the Plague...or worst of all, the possibility of seven years of the Orange Plague by 2024).

      And congrats on the new book. Can't wait to read it. Born and raised in Chicago, lived half-a-lifetime in both city and suburbs, and I'm also a Chicago history, transit, and trivia junkie. But I know I'll learn a lot.

      Mazel tov and zei gesunt, boychik. Don't stop the carnival.

      And keep the Texas bureau open.

  9. Happy blogaversary. Glad to have been along for the ride.

  10. Please keep it up. This blog is a daily high point. Seriously. Needed in a world gone mad!

  11. I've cited you along with my family, a few dear friends and my cats as being the source behind getting me through these past months. I've also shared a few of your stories with these people. More than ever you are in need to the masses even when they seem to be a grateful few.


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