Monday, January 30, 2012

Another Country

The following is highly autobiographical and rather self-indulgent. Those interested in the destination rather than the journey are advised to skip to the last two paragraphs.

This blog is the second most ridiculous thing I’ve ever done in my life. When I started it I was a 24-year-old graduate student in Islamic Studies and I knew nothing about hockey. I didn’t know checking from charging, a wrister from a slapshot, hell, I barely knew the difference between a forward and a defenseman. I had no idea of the trap or the code. All I knew was that this thing was called hockey and I loved it.

I would apologize for this, for starting a blog with no previous writing experience on a topic I knew nothing about, but such is the distinctive hubris of my generation, and anyway, back then it was not so very strange. The People’s Republic of Hockey Blogistan was still a frontier country back then, a strange place full of strange people chasing their own quixotic obsessions. In and among the hockey-humor blogs and hockey-stat blogs- two genres that still flourish today- there were hockey-art blogs, hockey-sex blogs, hockey-knitting blogs, hockey-religion blogs, hockey-pet blogs. The discourse, such as it was, took place almost entirely among people with blogspot accounts and ridiculous pseudonyms, far beneath the interests of the real journalists, even farther beneath the interest of the League. Everything was amateurish and chaotic, but brilliant too, and fun, and individual. The Theory, ridiculous though it was, fit in rather nicely.

Five years, though, is a long time on the Internet, and the new media landscape is quite different now. Corporate and quasi-corporate entities dominate, and have drawn unto themselves most of the talented, committed, and original writers, and now most of the conversation is concentrated in relatively few places- SBNation, The Nations Network, Yahoo, theScore (about which more later). In some ways, it’s been a good thing for hockey writing- the work produced on these sites is far more consistent, frequent, and polished than what came out of the indie blogs back in the day. But it’s a mixed blessing, because these blogs in their battle for pageviews have discovered what the newspapers found out long ago in the battle for circulation: it is best to cover the most general interest topics in the fastest way. The work is far less bizarre than it once was; a great success but also a tremendous loss.

All of which is to say that I feel a certain ambivalence about selling my pieces to theScore as I now am. I genuinely like Backhand Shelf and its writers; between the popularization of advanced stats, the comprehensible articles on tactics and strategy, and the only accurate hockey medical analysis I’ve ever found on the internet, they’re going in way more original directions than most multiplayer blogs. I can honestly say I believe in the site and I can honestly say that I feel fortunate to be writing there. But fact is that the Theory was one of the last old-school blogs standing, just a weird person writing their weird perspective, and on principle I wish that more blogs like this would hold out. The great unfulfilled promise of the blogosphere was that here fans might wrench the great mass of hockey writing and hockey thought out of the grip of the NHL and its acolytes, that it might be a place where the incredible mad diversity of hockey people- not pros, just people- could express their own vision and experience of the game. The fan/amateur population is by far the largest demographic slice of the hockey world, and it is not right that we should be passive consumers of one League’s representation of the game. The blogosphere could have set us free. It hasn’t, but it could have. On some level, I feel as though I’m selling out.

But I have always believed that, if one wants to really learn things, one has to move around, and I can learn more about the game by trying out a new position than I would by shrieking in my corner eternally. Writing for Backhand Shelf places different demands on the style and pace of my work; it puts me in contact with different readers and different interlocutors. For years people have been telling me that my writing is good but unmarketable, that it will never appeal to anything beyond a niche readership. Well, this is a chance for me to test that assumption, to find out if there is a way to have the best of both worlds. I need to find out if it is possible to write in my own voice for a wider audience. I don’t know if it’ll work out, but I absolutely have to try.

For now, most of my essays will be going up over there, on Mondays and Fridays. I’ll try to keep posting here as well, but it is likely that most of what goes up in this space will reflect my drier and duller proclivities- annotated bibliographies, historical detritus, my ongoing and largely unsuccessful attempts to integrate advanced stats into original analyses. Maybe the occasional reflection on girl-hockey. And, of course, the On [X] posts, which belong nowhere else. Hardcore hockey nerd stuff: the reason God made blogspot accounts.

Finally, thank you. You, personally, if you are reading this: thank you. The comments, the compliments, the criticisms, and the conversations that have arisen from this blog have made me smarter and humbler, and in some cases, have very literally changed my life. It’s been- and I know this word is overused but I mean it in the purest possible sense- amazing. If you are ever in Toronto, I owe you a beer*.

*Or non-alcoholic beverage of equivalent value and social significance.

For those of you who haven’t seen them, my first three posts at BHS.


wychwood said...

Well, thank *you* for being the smartest and certainly one of the most interesting hockey bloggers out there.

I was pleased when I saw that you were going to be on Backhand Shelf, because I think it's likely that more people will see your writing there, and that's good for all of us. But I'm even more pleased that you're still going to be talking here, where you aren't so constrained by marketability. Roll on the bibliographies!

Sidney Crosby said...


Just wanted to say that I came across this blog a few months ago and since then I am always completely psyched when I see you posted something new in my feed. I'll see you on backhand shelf, which I also subscribe to--but pretty please keep this one up and going, cause it's my favorite hockey far.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. Fine writing. Few years ago head injury at rink. Have to learn to read again. After progress SLP says read about hockey and also read "The Road".
Your blog came up. It was really hard to read. "The Road" was easier. But the reward for trying to read your blog was always strong. So many times of funny, direct sentences and complex, intricate thoughts back and forth. The challenge helped the progress for sure. So, thanks.
Can't play and watching is too difficult still. Your write the game better than it is sometimes.

Scott Reynolds said...

I had similar feelings when I first decided to hook up with Derek and others at SBN, but I must say that being part of a team of writers has been thoroughly enjoyable. I hope you find your own team to be just as supportive and engaging. And of course, thanks as always for writing. It really is a gift to all of us readers.

Tilak said...

Hi E,

I think you should keep posting your best stuff here on Theory. You've built something to be proud of over the past 5 years. Not only your collection of work, but also the community you've gathered that check their feeds hoping to find your blog in bold. Getting more readers isn't better. Finding ways to better serve the niche community you created should be your goal. People that told you that your writing is unmarketable are wrong. If the writing is good and you have a niche readership, it means you have a market. But 'market' is the wrong word. You have a community that wants you to hear what you have to say - and I think many would pay you a modest amount for your best work. For instance, what if you announced that for every post on Theory, you will write one for an e-book to be published in a year? You could give your hard core readers an opportunity to pre-order at $4.99 now and everyone else gets it for $9.99 when it's done.

There's no harm to duplicating your posts on Backhand Shelf to see if you can build your community further and earn some cash too. But if it means you can't post your work on Theory (eg. if that's a BS condition), then I think you are doing yourself and more importantly your community a disservice.

My two cents,

Julian said...

Thanks for writing Tilak, I agree with you for the most part, I've been trying to get her to be a bit more openminded about it... we'll have to see you guys again soon so you can talk to her, heh.

Mark Norman said...

Hey E,

I just discovered Theory of Ice a month or two ago, and it has quickly become one of my favourite places on the internet. I'm loving your stuff on Backhand Shelf as well, and am glad to see that your great work has been recognized by that opportunity. That being said, I think your view of the changes in the hockey blogosphere are very perceptive and it I can understand how it must be weird to have become part of that mainstreaming of hockey blogging.

I gave up my silly little Blogspot Canucks blog years ago for SBN (and the chance to have actual people who aren't my family/friends read my writing), but I miss it sometimes. I still love SBN, but recently have found it quite inspiring/rewarding to start an independent blog again. So you never know where these things will go, and as long as you're enjoying your experience writing at Backhand Shelf (I know your readership certainly is) then I say go for it and enjoy the ride.

That being said, I sometimes get nostalgic for the pre-blog ugly Geocities hockey sites with cheesy graphics, horrible colour schemes, and crappy soundbites. Usually those bouts of nostalgia pass pretty quickly, but there's still something to be said for that highly passionate amateurism - which, I think, a lot of the early hockey blogs you mention had in spades.

Anyway, good luck with your ongoing work at Backhand Shelf. Keep up the awesome work!

rj tremblay said...

great writing full of thought, insight and context. here's hoping you keep this beacon of light in the hockey world open as much as time and inspiration permits.

mainstream hockey writing is for the most part banal, dogmatic and uninspired. you certainly weren't that.

thanks for caring and try to fight the good fight on the other side.

Mihaela said...

For what it's worth, I echo Tilak's opinion.

DarkoV said...

Dear Ms. E, I've been following you for close to 5 years now and am surely addicted to your manner of putting words and thought on Internet paper. Here, on Theory of Ice, you weave the bright colors of selected curse words so expertly next to words that have me rushing to dictionaries that it's a physical exercise getting through your pieces. Not to say anything about all of the poundage I'm losing from laughing hysterically at your clever crafting of images. You are an absolute delight!

I'd been (and I'm sure I wasn't alone) pestering the folks over at The Walrus years ago to look into getting you online with them. You've been great over there.

Congrats on your Score appearances've been great there as well.

I plead, though, that you keep ATOI going, if for no other reason than to continue to grind your hands over the Habs and to allow yourself and we, your attentive readers, the pleasure of mixing the bodegas with the McMansions of word choices that ATOI allows you to mix.