Saturday, February 8, 2014

Reflections Of A Middle-Aged Blogger

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. 

What’s that?

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.





  1. Very well said - and Happy Birthday. Welcome to the second third of your life, or something along those lines.

  2. Happy birthday to you, Jim. I have to say that the difficulty I've had putting a shorthand label on your blog while trying to convince people to read it is one of the things that makes it so interesting to read. Things you can categorize easily get old easily.

  3. Happy Birthday, Fellow Februarian. I've got a few years on you but I'm still in that 6th decade. Huh. I've had many labels thrown at me, even you tossed one out to describe commenters like me the other day. The LOLCAT. I take that as a compliment. But I can also be contrary, independent, hardheaded (another word for contrary) and sometimes bold.

    And I'm terribly terribly glad that you blog. AC Smith set me on a blind date with Stonekettle a few years ago, knowing that you'd have words for me. He was right. It's like the old days of a good Sunday paper, front to back, when reading a paper meant there might actually be some news or investigative reporting. So when a notice goes up that you've sent out another musing to the etherworld, I get that heady feeling that - at a minimum - aHa! something worth reading has arrived.

    The Dude Abides.

    I hear more Picard, btw, than any channeling of Kirk.

  4. I hope you celebrate many more happy birthdays. My joy in Stonekettle Station is probably an old story to you by now: you put into words many of the beliefs/reactions I've had but struggled to express, even though I'm a writer myself. I was raised in the South on the Bible, science fiction, and Hunter S. Thompson (labels be damned), and your blog has filled a reading space left void by the good doctor. I'm grateful you do keep up what I know is exceptionally hard work. May you always have the fortitude to deal with the numbnuts in order to continue.

  5. Stumbled on to you. Glad I did. You are a writer. Hippo birdies two ewes, fellow Februarian.

  6. Your age is a very productive time for many people.

  7. Possibly of interest to you, possibly of annoyance to you, my comments on the differences between blogging and fiction writing:


    And Happy Birthday. Thanks for the excellent reads.

  8. Happy birthday! Thanks for starting this blog.

  9. "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."

    Yes! ; )

  10. A friend recommend you to me and I've never been disappointed. Happy 52nd!

  11. You forgot the AARP discounts. They make turning 50 (or older) almost a time for joy. Almost.

    As for the question of whether blogging is writing or not: Of course it is. I've written novels. I've been blogging for ten years. The only big difference is the length. I use the same skills for both.

  12. Happy Birthday, Jim. I'm glad you made it this far (one does start to appreciate that fact more and more), and I'm glad I found your blog. It's always a breath of unpolluted air in these crazy times.

  13. Excellent essay, Jim. Labels and perspective - Good things to think about.

  14. I love my 50's! Such a freedom. I'm headed into my 3rd Act, dancing and wearing a tiara. I am so glad that you were born and that I found you along my way. Enjoy your birthday season......mine gets longer, the older I get.

  15. I've always liked how you call then "essays". I thank my lucky stars I followed a link off of a comment on the Huffington Post a few years ago, and you are my shining liberal star.

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  17. Happy Birthday. Thank you for doing what you do, and being who you are. And for being the dedicated servant to ShopKat. :)

  18. Happy Birthday, Mr. Wright. I hope to see your [my label choice - "common-sensical"] essays for a long time to come.

  19. " ... no pictures of naked people"

    Now just WAIT a minute there pardner... Is this even possible?

    "And then you tell me what you call it if it’s not writing."

    It's not writing unless you are using a quill taken from a flightless egret, stalked yourself, at midnight, cut to a fine instrument by hand with a blade forged from metal found in the Earth and extracted by hard labor, and used with ink made from the glands of a giant Squid extracted while still clutching a Great White Whale.

    So there.

    Happy Birthday, Chief. I predate you by 6.5 years and I a SO far behind. Many, many more.


  20. Happy Birthday! Old enough to have perspective and young enough to do something about it. Interesting that what you singled in on, the right to define yourself, your perspective/beliefs/values or lack thereof, is what the authors of the Declaration and Constitution identified as the source of and proof for what they defined as inalienable rights. If you have the right to define yourself, you have the right to act on that definition without interference by a church or government. If I define myself as a cat lover, I have a right to act on it and get a cat. I don't define myself that way. ;)

    Congrats on your success. 20K/day readers is impressive. A testament to your determination and talent as a writer.

  21. I 'hear' Sam Elliot without an accent, when I read your blog. Happy birthday, Jim!

  22. Happy birthday and by the way, I've felt for a long time that you were a pro at this and you should get paid to do this like any other person writing for the opinion pages of newspapers. You're damn good at this.

  23. happy birthday. welcome to 52. a4alice

  24. Wishing you the happiest of birthdays, Jim! I read your blog all the time and greatly appreciate your thoughts.


  25. Many more unlabeled days may you have. Recently found your blog through Facebook and if you weren't so darn far away I would be honored to buy you your favorite libation and help you toast a blog well done

  26. Happy birthday, Jim! I always enjoy it when you post a new essay. The subjects are varied, well written, informative, and insightful. Thank you, and, as we say in the Jewish tradition, to 120!

  27. Happy Birthdate, Shipmate. Welcome to your 53rd year on our speck of dust whirling through the universe. I hope you enjoy many happy returns of "your" day in the years to come. Keep on writing as long as you find it satisfying...your readership loves you!

    Fair winds and following seas always,

    Old Navy Comm O

    1. Darn that spell check...it was supposed to be Happy Birthday, Jim!

      Old Navy Comm O

  28. Happy Birthday !!
    As a two + year novice, I must say that it is work. There's also a sense of obligation to those few who enjoy the Saturday Bluegrass an the occasional rant, observation or reminescence.
    EEnjoy the blog

  29. Happy Birthday! Great piece. Ha, I had to laugh about blogging isn't writing. It takes me forever just to make a comment on a blog. Never mind writing and running my own site.

  30. Happy Birthday, and thank you for writing. You say, way more eloquently, things that I believe that I know, then you crystallize it. And Shopkat. Thanks for Shopkat.

  31. I hear orange is the new 52. Or something.
    Happy birthday, Jim
    from a unique visitor

  32. If what you do is not writing, then noone but my mother writes anymore. We all type. Sheesh.
    Chandra in MO

  33. Don't think I've commented before, but I'm a faithful lurker who just loves the way you write. Thanks and Happy Birthday.
    Pablo who's 67 and will never have a blog.

  34. Hoppy Birdy fellow traveler. I look forward to each new essay. I have a similar worldview but even if I disagreed with your statements they would still be clearly written by an expert communicator. thanks for your years of service, Chief.

  35. Happy Birthday Uncle Jim! (I'm 40. Soon to be 41.)

    You are right. Blogging is hard. And it is writing. Sometimes I feel up to it, sometimes I don't.

    I am very glad for your presence. =D

  36. With age comes wisdom ... usually. Can't wait to enjoy more of yours in another 10 years.

  37. R. Lee Ermey channeling Captain Kirk

    Here's ol' R. Lee channeling, I dunno, Rush Limbaugh maybe.
    Damn. And his was one of the more memorable characters from Full Metal Jacket. Still a good flick, though.
    And GEICO (Government Employees Insurance Co) had the unmitigated audacity to fire his ass for spouting arrant bullshit about his former Commander in Chief. Whatever is this world coming to...

  38. Happy Birthday Fellow Aquarian! The best is yet to come. I look forward to enjoying your writing for many more years. And ShopKat. Lots of ShopKat.

  39. Now that you've explained the R. Lee Ermey x Kirk, I'm guessing possibly you're a 50-something Klingon?

  40. Oddly enough, I don't hear R. Lee Ermey channeling Captain Kirk. I hear a grizzled old Chief Quartermaster explaining the difference between LORAN Alpha and LORAN Charlie. Thanks for making important things clear to me. And happy birthday.

  41. A day late, so belatedly, Happy Birthday from Canada!

  42. Happy Birthday Jim! This is my first comment here, so I'll try and not break your rules. I'd say Captain Picard instead of Kirk but that's just me.
    I enjoy your insights and viewpoints. Not sure how I stumbled on this site, might have been a suggestion from someone on DailyKos but I usually like what I read.
    CWO's in the navy were the guys who had their shit down cold. On the Long Beach, during my four years in the navy, they were usually the guys who kept the radar scanning and the missiles flying.
    Again--Happy birthday and I hope there'll be many more!


  43. I've been reading for a few years now- I came here from the Whatever. I've been a lurker with occasional comments, and even bought a birdhouse or twp. Since I don't Facebook, I miss the adventures of ShopKat and friends, but am incredibly glad for being able to read your take on the world. If the cost of getting Bang Bang Crazy and other great posts is less ShopKat, that's a price I can pay.

    I do need another birdhouse, though......

    1. It amazes me, the synchronicity, sometimes.

      Certain obnoxious events on Twitter last night, over this ideas I expressed in this exact post, brought up The Whatever and all the teeth grinding obnoxious connotations that place has for me. I woke up this morning with a migraine, likely because I went to bed seething, in part, over events that began on The Whatever two years ago.

      But that, of course, has nothing to do with you, Pam, and I'm glad you followed me here. Birdhouse wise, I'll be in the shop making some new ones today.

  44. Oddly enough, I'm a Whateverite as well. I enjoy his stuff. I love yours and that's not just the ex-Navy in me. I'm sorry that TNH tweeted her crap your direction.

  45. your perspective is unique and your insights demonstrate some wisdom. combined with your style, I enjoy your posts. happy birthday!

  46. Happy birthday a day or two late. I enjoyed this entry like I do most others, but it took me a while to finish, because after your description of how you imagine the voice of your blog, I had William Shatner reciting the bunkhouse scene from Full Metal Jacket in my head. Perhaps you meant for that to happen. But after some giggling on my part, and my husband wanting to know what was so funny, I now have him attempting an impression of William Shatner's take on Full Metal Jacket. It's going to be a long night.

  47. Happy belated birthday, youngster. Dedicated reader. First time commentor.

  48. I'm just happy to be sharing the planet with you. Thanks for the always eye opening essays!

  49. I like how your essays get folks talkin' -- and thinkin'.

  50. Really enjoy the shunning of labels, Jim, and the emphasis on defining yourself. Oftentimes sometimes we try - way too hard - to fit into someone's box. Happy birthday, and keep on writing!

  51. Another good 'un. Kinda makes me think of Socrates -- encouraging us to question what we believe, then honestly answering why, then questioning those reasons & and drilling down until we hit our fundamental, core beliefs. Knowing who you are is -- well, dang important!

  52. Happy Birth Day JIM!
    No pictures of naked people? I label you a prude.

    Signed a camouflage shirt wearing Escambia County redneck Liber... Progressive!

  53. Happy Birthday to you and the blog, Jim. And many more.

    Damn straight writing a blog is writing, and work. Especially if you make daily posts. The quality may not be uniformly high and, if you troll through Wordpress's astonishing number of bloggers, very interesting.

    And the only label that matters is "that made me think."



  54. You sell bird houses?

  55. Jim,

    First of all happy belated birthday! You are only 2 by my standards :). You see when one turns 50 this is the age I consider life's new starting point, the second half of the journey so to say. (I'm 7 and I am loving it most of the time) Everyday I wake up and suck in air is a bonus. Yes I have my aches and pains, good days and bad but for the most part life is wonderful the second time around. It's my do over, my mulligan.

    As to having labels placed upon oneself.....f*#k that. I stopped caring what people thought of me a long time ago. If you like me great, if you don't well that's okay too (their loss though!).

    I just want to say I don't comment on your sight a lot but I certainly enjoy the read. LOVE your WRITING. I wish I could put words to paper as well as you.


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