History has an uncanny way of repeating itself, especially personal history. In high school, I tried and failed to find a group in which I was comfortable. I was a bad athlete, so the jocks scorned me. The situation in my home was, to say the least, a little chaotic, so I did not study; the nerds didn't even notice me. I lacked any sense of social efficacy and, besides, was dirt poor, so I couldn't run with the cool kids when I used tube socks to warm my hands on bitter cold days. I turned to religion, but couldn't lose myself in a cloud of unknowing. I stumbled through the three years and three months of my high school career rudderless, making a fool of myself with every attempt to fit in. (My high school took pity on me; I was not required to return after the Christmas break of my senior year.)
I am still stumbling, this time through the strange new world of the blawgosphere. Like many experiments at belonging, I'm throwing in the towel and moving on. Whether the blawgosphere is passe or I am simply too square a peg ever to fit into a round hole is a question best left for others. It feels good and right to walk away from yet another crowd of folks dancing to a beat I just can't seem to get right, or even hear.
I've been writing about my reaction to the practice of law for the past decade, first in a weekly column for the Connecticut Law Tribune, then, in 2005, as a blogger on Crime and Federalism. I've come and gone on the Internet for these past five years, playing along at getting along for awhile. Like high school, I've learned the blawgosphere, the universe of those who write about the law, whether lawyer, law professor, law student or mere observer, is a complex place: the cliques compete and, like most folks who crave belonging, define in-groups and outsiders. Scorn is heaped on those who reject the embrace of a group. Some folks even cower in the face of rejection. The Internet is the new hallway of the perpetual pecking order we all first learned about in school.
I turned to the blawgosphere with excitement when introduced to it by Mike Cernovich in 2005. There was a universe of lawyers writing about the law. I learned about cases and controversies around the country. It was better than water cooler gossip; from time to time whole new vistas on the practice of law were opened.
But a funny thing happened as the blawgosphere developed, dare I say "matured"? Suddenly, lawyers began to spend less time talking about the practice of law, and more time talking about the practice of blogging. Case citations gave way to crosslinks to what others had written. Gradually, the blawgosphere became inbred, and with the inbreeding came the development of norms about blogging practices, and how to be a good blawger. It was not enough any longer to learn about the law; now it was de rigeur to learn about what others thought about the practice of writing about others writing about the law. The blawgosphere, slowly and by degrees, got dumbed down into a self-contained sorority-fraternity of folks who knew all about link love, engagement, ratings on various servides registering the number of readers one had, and opinions about what was and was not permitted by the trend setters of the Internet. Oh, me; oh, my, I wonder why the game is played with such fury when there is no prize other than electronic status?
Things reached a nadir for me in the Spring when the conversation went off-line. I received private notes from some about what I should and should not write about. I should be careful about what sides I picked in conflicts; I might be sorry if I picked the wrong side. Soon I received phone calls from other bloggers reporting on calls they had received from others about what I was, or was not writing. It was, to create a neologism, TOWFOW, too weird for words. All at once I was reminded of a disaster I experienced in high school. A girl in the cool crowd caught my eye. But I knew she wouldn't look twice at me the way I dressed. So I went to the store and bought myself a new pair of shoes. I then finagled my way into a party she attended. When one of the suave sect leaders sneered about my new shoes, I walked out of the party, hurt and humilated. The shoes sat forever thereafter in my closet, worn once, or maybe twice, a costly monument to the wages of trying to be someone I am not.
So I've made a turn in the Internet world. I've decided not to link to other pages. I subscribe to no RSS feeds. I am limiting my ego-surfing on Google and generally avoiding other bloggers' comments on what I have and have not written. It is better than way. I am lawyer, not a social media networker looking for new friends or a new firm online. Do I use the Internet to market? You betcha, and aggressively so. I am proud of what I can do in a courtroom. But I've lost interest in the sectarian quibbling of the linked up class.
I still like writing, and I still have readers. The private comments I receive are gratifying and sometimes saddening. But I learned long ago as a newspaper columnist the joy of appearing regularly in print. When the state's Judicial Branch tried to force the paper to fire me and another columnist by cancelling all its subscriptions to the paper for the state's law libraries, the paper's publisher simply shrugged. So, too, when members of the editorial board threatened to quit unless I were fired. I don't know when their last day on the board was; I never even met them. My general response to a comment about the column has for years been simple: "Thank you for reading." I think I'll leave at that online as well, though it will cost me the link love of some, perhaps many. It is a loss I can bear without distress, as I can the sniping of those who demand the feel of my lips on their virtual rings.
My columns, and my blogging, aren't for everyone: I am not trying to create a community here. I will never be ranked among the top blogs. Would I like it, sure I would. H. L. Mencken only pretended not to care. But I am uniquely unsuccessful at dressing up what I have to offer in the name of courtship. I keep thinking of those rarely worn shoes.
This week, a note arrived from an anonymous reader: "Your latest blog post, "Going It Alone," has given me the words of advice that I really needed these last few days. I've been at a minor crossroads myself getting my very first look into the `legal professionals world.' My gut instinct has been telling me one thing but the superficial vision I've been seeing has been trying to lure me into `wanting' another. I'm sure I don't need to explain much further for you to understand what I'm trying to get at. I hope this new road you're on provides all the real benefits that one can only get steeting clear of the noise and negativity of the crowd."
I hope so, too. But I know better than to think I ever really learn life's larger lessons. One would think I would have learned in high school the futility of seeking the shelter of a group. Every group of flies has its lord; somehow, it is better to try to learn to fly alone and simply ignore the buzzing.