I turned 52 today.
I’m okay with that.
More than okay, actually.
I like 52, it’s a good age for me, and honestly after two decades of military service there were days there I wasn’t sure I’d make it this far.
So, yeah, 52, like they say: it sure beats the alternative.
Stonekettle Station itself is just a bit shy of seven. I started writing this blog the day my retirement from the US Navy was final. Seven years ago I started out like most bloggers, random gibberish and pictures of cats. And things just sort of evolved along the way into what they are now, that is to say mostly politics with a smattering of whatever else happens to catch my attention. Most of the frippery I moved onto my Facebook page where that sort of thing belongs. It took a while to sort it out, but Stonekettle Station has evolved its own unique voice (which in my head usually sounds like R. Lee Ermey channeling Captain Kirk), its own unique perspective on the strange and often bizarre world we live in, and has attracted a modest following – about 20,000 unique visitors per day at the moment on average – based solely on the strength of the writing and word of mouth.
That’s not too bad, at least from where I sit.
Blogging, successful blogging anyway, is work. Which is why so many blogs go derelict in short order. Sometimes it’s hard work, sometimes it’s easy, but it’s work nonetheless. Writing for an audience always is.
Blogging isn’t writing?
Okay. Sure. You got me. Blogging isn’t writing writing.
Hold that thought for a moment and do me a favor first: Start a blog. Any subject, politics, art, food, travel, sports, technology, whatever and wherever your interests lie. Keep at it. Keep at it every day. Work at the mechanics of it, not just proper grammar and structure, but also give it a voice. Build a dedicated following, attract a modest audience – I’ll set the bar low, say, 20K unique readers per day. Attract that audience based solely on the content of your posts, no gimmicks, no search engine optimization, no paid linking, no sponsorship from your employer or a large online content provider, no trolling another successful site’s audience for readers, no pictures of naked people. Just the words that you put down on the electronic page. And do it so that content touches people enough that they send you not just hate mail (you’ll get that even if you only publish pictures of fluffy kittens) but mostly fan mail, mail from grateful readers who tell you how your words spoke directly to them, made them see things in ways they hadn’t considered, brought the world into sharper focus, gave them joy and tears and hope.
Do that. Go on, I’ll wait.
And then you tell me what you call it if it’s not writing.
Personally, I don’t care what you call it, blogging, writing, screwing around on the internet. I’m not sweaty about it either way. The world turns, civilization changes, and the labels evolve as we go along.
And I’ve just never been one much for labels.
I’ve written about this before, in extensive detail, here: Everybody’s So Different, I haven’t Changed, and as I said in that essay, for some folks the labels are all that matters. But for me, well, they’re just words.
People have attempted to force me into a box, slap a label on me, for as long as I can remember.
When you’re young, labels matter. They’re a source of pride … or pain. They help you figure out your place in the world, at first, they give you a reference point to start from if nothing else.
Some people, many perhaps, never seem to grow out of that and they stubbornly cling to the labels that they use to define themselves – and others – long, long after those words have either lost their meaning or come to mean something else entirely.
It seems to me that these people are never happy.
They struggle with the restrictions of those self imposed labels, fighting to stay within the boundaries of definitions that may or may not actually describe them down inside where it really matters. Liberal, Conservative, Libertarian, Republican, Democrat, Independent, Black, Brown, White, Red, Yellow, Old, Young, Patriot, Rich, Poor, Entitled, Oppressed, Offended, Outraged, Friend, Enemy, Fatty, Fag, Geek, Loser, Winner, for people to whom the labels matter, the edges and the definitions are sharp and distinct and not to be crossed – even if it makes them miserable.
For people to whom the labels matter, those labels define the boundaries of who they can be. They limit how high they can fly and how far they can see, and, sadly, who they must hate and who they can love.
Earlier in the week, Erin Nanasi interviewed me for the political site, Forward Progressive. When her article first went up, she titled it: An Interview with Jim Wright, Author of the Liberal Blog “Stonekettle Station.” The editors later changed “Liberal” to “Progressive” but I’m good either way – and, in point of fact, as I told Erin, I was enjoying the conversation generated by her use of the word “liberal.” Heck, I’d have been good with it if she’d called Stonekettle Station a conservative blog. Or Libertarian. Or Independent. It’s just a label and if different people see me in different ways, if I see myself differently at different times, well I’m good with that.
Labels matter very little to me.
Age and experience may or may not bring wisdom, but it does bring a certain perspective and from where I sit what matters is not how others see you, but how you see yourself.
What matters to me are not so much the labels, but the spaces in between.
Life. Liberty. Happiness.
We Americans, we spend a lot of time in this country squabbling over rights, whether they are natural or legal, and most especially whether they come from some divine wellspring or if they are granted by government.
Both of those positions are wrong.
Rights, constitutional rights, enumerated rights are the privileges we grant each other, no more, no less. And this is true of every human being, American or otherwise. Every single right we enjoy, every single right we are denied, whoever and wherever we are, was granted or withheld by men.
In the United States, rights are privileges that we grant ourselves.
As proof of this statement, consider this: each and every right you enjoy, every single one mentioned in the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence, can be taken away by men – and they have been at one time or another.
They are most certain not “inalienable.” Q.E.D.
There is only one truly inalienable right, one right that can’t be taken away by gods nor governments nor men, and that is the right to define yourself.
If you limit who you are to the labels others apply to you, you’ve given up the only right that truly matters.
I turned 52 today. On my own terms.
It’s just another label.
Life, my friends, is how we chose to live it.