I had a great, though short, get-together with Josh Foust today. Josh is a top-notch analyst of the United States’ various interventions(!) in Afghanistan and the other ‘Stans over the past ten years. His work first came to my notice back in my old ‘heavy-blogging’ days– let’s say, in around 2007-08. At that time, he was blogging very heavily at an excellent group blog called Registan.net. I’ve always found his work very clear, very grounded, evidence-based, often quirky, forthright, smart, and not at all marked by the politically motivated punch-pulling that distorts so much of what passes for “analysis” in the U.S. commentatoriat.
In 2010, when I founded Just World Books with the aim of (among other things) working with some of the bloggers whose work I most admire, to have them curate their own best work into book chapters, and then into books, Josh was one of the first whom I approached. He agreed. And the result was his book Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net, a super book that still holds up really well today.
I never met Josh in person until the time came to sign the book contract… let’s say, maybe May of 2010? At that point, I needed to have his mailing address– and discovered to my amazement that he actually lived in my hometown of Charlottesville. I mean, how crazy was that?? So we met at the local Whole Foods store to sign the contract.
Soon thereafter, he moved up to live in that big expanse of northern Virginia that abuts DC directly. We met a few times at the time the book came out; and then again around a year ago when he came back to Charlottesville to take part in the JWB-organized panel discussion at the March 2011 Virginia Festival of the Book… But really, I haven’t spent much time with him in the “real” world at all since his book came out. I’ve encountered him a lot in the Twittersphere, where he has a massive presence. But that’s still not the same as sitting down in a room together and bouncing impressions, analyses, and ideas off other, which is what we did today. He’s been working for a while now at the American Security Project, where his work is still really smart, and he still blogs from time to time at Registan, writes for the Atlantic (including this fabulous recent piece, titled “The Annals of Chicken Diplomacy”– I told you he can be quirky).
So we were talking. I’d taken him a copy of our latest book, Matt Zeller’s very moving epistolary memoir Watches Without Time: An American Soldier in Afghanistan– which Josh was good enough to write a short endorsement (blurb) for. Josh looked at the cover and said he was jealous: that we’d given Matt a much better cover than the one we gave him. Okay, it is sort of true. Back in 2010 the company was still was at the very beginning. We’ve learned a lot along the way!
But when I got home, I realized it was me who was feeling a bit jealous. Josh still manages to do plenty of blogging– and with all the demands of this book publishing business, I barely get any time to blog at all these days! (Okay, the business plus the grandchildren. But mainly, I confess, the business.)
So that was why, this evening, I decided to sit down and write a bit about the way that blogging has assumed a different rhythm at different points in the last nine years of my life, and how I feel about it.
Back at the beginning, when I started blogging in February 2003, it was so deliriously exciting! This idea that any of us with internet access, wherever we were, could publish our thoughts and our interactions without the mediation of any editors, press barons, or other representatives of institutions and the status quo! We could have real, interactive written ‘conversations’ across national boundaries– in near real time. We could learn from some of those amazing Iraqi people who were blogging in English as well as Arabic, what it was like to be living with their families in a society being targeted by intensive U.S. military bombardment. This was unprecedented. I believed then– and I believe now– that it has changed something fundamental about the nature of warfare, forever. Sure, the “smart” bombardier now tries to use all his tricks to disable the internet in the place being bombarded– as in Gaza in 2008-09, or in Lebanon 30 months earlier. But still, that kind of internet silencing can never be complete. The stories will always find one way or another of getting out. Put simply, we are no longer in the 19th century; and heavy-duty military powers can no longer wage the kinds of brutal, anti-humane campaigns of bombardment, intimidation, and genocide that the colonial powers waged so regularly throughout that century and the two preceding it. (Why on earth did Samantha Power think that genocide started only in the 20th century? What terrible historical blinders she wears… )
So yes, it was exciting, and it was wonderful, and it was hopeful. But that blogging also took up a lot of time. I have huge admiration for the two “doyens” of the community of English-language, professorial bloggers concentrating on the Middle East: Juan Cole, and As’ad Abou-Khalil… Even though I don’t always agree with either of them; still I have huge respect for the sheer grit of their commitment to their blogging. (Which can be a burden and an addiction– and in my experience was frequently both at the same time.) And appreciation, too, for the somewhat different kinds of expertise that each brings to his blogging, and for their commitment to sharing it.
By 2009, I was ready for various reasons to reorder my priorities. I decided I wanted to spend the next phase of my life doing something to build an institution, rather than continuing to pursue the somewhat lonely calling of an independent writer. My first foray into doing something “institutional” was, as many JWN readers may recall, the distinctly unhappy experience of working with the folks at the Council for the National Interest. It turned out to be an extremely dysfunctional organization that was ravaged by many of the worst shortcomings of small nonprofits, and a “President” at the time who completely overstepped the boundaries of his (in truth, very limited and “ceremonial”) role under the bylaws, refusing to let me do the job I had been hired to do, as Executive Director.
I have banged my forehead against so many glass ceilings in the course of my career that at that point, as a very experienced professional in her late 50s, I simply said “No more!” To heck with all those institutions run by older guys who are quite incapable of recognizing women’s capacity for leadership. I do not need that kind of grief and humiliation any more in my life. I would, I decided, build my own institution… And that, in a nutshell, is a big part of the reason that I decided to found the book-publishing company, Just World Books.
One of the costs of having done this has been that I’ve been working so hard that really, I haven’t had much time or energy left over to get into what I call the “blogging zone”… that is, the mindset and the mental space from whence it is possible to blog. Sometimes, it hasn’t even felt possible or easy to tweet, for goodness’ sake– and we all know how much less mental energy that takes, than blogging.
But it’s still kind of nice to know that JWN is still here for when I do want to blog. And I’m thinking the time may well come when I’m not throwing so much of myself into the book publishing, that I might want to get back to doing more blogging again. Including, perhaps, more blogging from on-the-ground reporting various places around the world. Who knows? What I do know– something I first learned when I was a single working mother with two small children, and writing my first two books– is that a person cannot do everything she wants to do in life, all at once. I have been blessed to be able to do a large number of different, very meaningful things in y life so far… but not all at once.
As of now, I’m pushing 60, and I’m in good health. Let’s say I have decent shot of being able to do productive and interesting things for another 25 years. So in the course of those 25 years, I can do any number of additional interesting and meaningful things. Yes, I want to be able to spend good time with the grandchildren and the rest of our family. Yes, I may have a couple more books in me. Yes, I may decide to get into some real, on-the-ground social-justice activism. Yes, I may take time out for reflection and spiritual recharging. Yes, there may be many things I can do whose nature we cannot even dream of yet! (I mean, two decades ago, who could ever have imagined the possibility of being a “blogger”?)
And in the meantime, I really love this publishing business! Working with ten fabulous authors, Just World Books has now created eleven really fabulous books– and if I hadn’t worked with these authors, almost none of these books would ever have existed… Or, they wouldn’t have existed in exactly this form… And certainly, they wouldn’t have come to life in such a timely fashion. Speedy turnaround of excellent manuscripts is one of JWB’s biggest commitments– and it is one of the things that has kept me and my key layout person working late into the evenings for most of the past week, in pursuit of getting speedy, high-quality production of Matt Zeller’s important book.
So anyway… it does feel good getting back into the blogging zone here, this evening. I’ll try to keep checking back into it. (Yes, I still have a heck of a lot to say about what’s been going on in the world!)
And I invite all of you who are still reading JWN to come visit me in my book-publishing zone, too. In particular, all the support you can give to my great authors by actually buying and recommending their books would be most appreciated! You can do that, at the JWB webstore, here.