“If you’re going to tell stories,” he said, “then tell stories. If you’re tired of the struggle, stop struggling. If you’re going to play, then play.
“When you’re out past the map’s edge, become the mapmaker.
“The impulse to heroism is inherent in all men1,” he said. “Here There Be Dragons? Ride them.”
1 A red numeral 1 appeared in the air beside his head as he said this. Down near his red canvas All Stars floated luminescent words: And women, too.
True exploration, out beyond the borders of the map, takes a great deal of courage. Here There Be Dragons. This courage does not come naturally to me. I can struggle with a certain conservatism: a bias that what is is what always was and what always will be.
In this Discourse here, you can see me trying to come to grips with truly becoming someone who explores past the map’s edge. Please understand that I was called to do so. I’ve learned you ignore the calls of your own soul at your peril.
At this point, Free Refills is more a verb than a noun. I’m exploring: how might I play with form, with chronology, with organization? I’m exploring: what emerges from publishing every weekday within the understanding of This Is Not a Blog?
The work I do today opens up tomorrow’s vistas. Far ahead of me are the Unknown Unknowns, dim mountains cloaked in mist. Nearby, the crisp mysteries of the Recognized (if not fully known) Unknowns: over here, a hill, unexplored. Over there, a stream, unexplored. Yonder, a copse of trees, unexplored.
Today, I will go toward …
When speaking of Free Refills, I finally recognized: I can’t figure out what this is because there isn’t a word to describe it yet.
Thus I am forced to relinquish a certain control. I don’t know what it is. It is emerging through the writing, through experimentation. It’s not a book, it’s not a blog. There is no map for getting there; the territory hasn’t been explored yet. There are no easy answers. Out here the map is blank. I’m exploring.
I have been saying This Is Not a Blog for over a year now, but I have never been able to say, “It is this.”
The impulse for this Discourse is my continued search for that answer. I still don’t have it. I asked myself, “What if it were a story (or series of stories) unfolding?” That got me closer. Yes, serializing is part of what I’m doing. But just a part. It’s incomplete.
I very well could have quit, you know. (Though in my case it would have less been abandoning Free Refills than having never had it exist at all.)
There was every reason to think that I just didn’t have what it takes to be a writer. Year after year of barely moving forward. Except for this: an insistent voice telling me, “You have something to say.” And offering semi-intelligible mumblings about how to say it.
I did not quit. I say that with some pride: I did not quit.
I mean, seriously. Of the blogs you read now, do you expect any of them to be publishing twenty years from now?
Fuck no, you just said.
That’s the thing. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. Twenty years from now, I’ll still be here. (Well, unless I’m dead. But I don’t intend to be.) I’ll still be here serving up the delicious, delicious Refills you have come to know and love.
The default state for any blog is: abandoned. You’ve noticed this too, yes? Everyone knows of blogs full of good writing on interesting topics to which the author dedicated a substantial amount of time, right up until either life intervened or they did a serious calculation on the effort versus the payoff, and they stopped.
Imagine, though, what twenty years of dedicated online publishing would look like. We have no models to draw on in our visioning. Twenty years ago we barely had an Internet.
I’m not going to do this forever, this not-blogging about not-blogging, I promise. I suspect it’s just not that interesting to other people. I want to entertain. On the other hand, you who are here now in the early days of Free Refills, I hope you’ll bear with me. This problem feels so critical to guiding my day-by-day work. I’m trying to build something with my writing and I’m trying to build it through writing and I’m trying to build it by writing. I’m groping forward to find my way through.
I can’t control how people interact with my work. How it’s presented is up to me. How it’s met cannot be.
But consider the linearity of my lived experience as I create, the way this begets that. The way what I learned yesterday informs how I write today.
I hope that building-upon-itself survives in the reader’s experience.
(Control: Have you ever considered just how much the history of the Internet is the story of the battle between those who “own” content and the emergent actions of the users of a medium that defies certain ideas of control?)