Beginning tomorrow…

I’ll be doing most of my blogging on my newsletter:

https://stevehuff.substack.com

Might still make notes here from time to time. However, if you want some in-depth writing about fascinating shit you might just become as obsessed with as I am, go there and subscribe. Paid subscribers get first looks at new posts and community access (comments, discussions).

I’ll just…

I’m going to try to write something non-work-related every day for the rest of October.

I have sometimes compared my job to technical writing: There is an expected format, a style. Nothing wrong with that. I can easily roll it out. Not too personal but casual, very active voice. Humor is welcome but don’t be too gonzo.

When I write for the magazine it is enough my voice that I don’t feel like I’m faking–at the same time, I’ve grown aware of feeling frustrated at not just being me sometimes.

That’s when I remember I have a blog.

Next up: An expanded and corrected version of a tweet thread I posted on, well, Twitter a week ago. It’s one hell of a story. I don’t plan on confining it to this blog–I think it’s a book-length saga. About opera, the Nazis, Stalin’s NKVD in America, and much more. But it’s worth a more detailed recap, with some corrections (I did the Twitter thread from memory; got some stuff wrong.)

Stay tuned.

Incidentally, I wrote this with a physical keyboard but on my iPhone. That’s not unusual anymore, I guess, but it’s still cool to me.

I make excuses to myself…

…but really, there are a few reasons my desire to just blog for the heck of it ebbs and flows. And it’s more often ebbing. One is that I write and edit for a living so I see words all damn day. I never realized there would be moments when I just couldn’t read another thing or feel so emptied of eloquence I didn’t want to bother writing. But that’s been happening inside my head for years.

Also, there are rules to what makes blogging work, get new eyeballs, etc. At least in professional digital publishing. So when I get to my own blog I don’t want to fuck with those. Like, “Always have an image! People are more likely to read on if there’s an intriguing image!”

Well yeah, I get that. I have no objection in my day job to ensure every post I’m responsible for in any way has a grabby, interesting image as a draw. Even better if there’s a well-chosen video or I’ve padded it out with relevant tweets. That’s the job and I’m gonna do it right.

When it’s just me, I just want to write. I write a shocking amount by hand in journals and on notebooks to get my brain limbered up and working. One of the joys in that is I only have to please myself with what’s on the page. I get to a blank blogging CMS edit screen here, I don’t want to worry that no one will bother if there’s not an image. I kind of resent the feeling I need an extra hook, I guess. Plus, choosing that media is extra mental energy and creativity that could be directed at something more permanent.

Then there is the fact that I established I could get paid for this 16 years ago and have made a living doing it ever since. There comes a point when a personal site like this feels low-key like just giving it away for free. When I have what I think is a good story idea that might not fit the publication that employs me, I don’t think, “I’ll put it on my blog!”

I think, “wonder who I can sell this to as an article/book/show or documentary idea?” Because I know that possibility is always there for me (and make no mistake, I am eternally grateful for that; I know how lucky I’ve been). I tell myself sometimes that just putting it here will make it into a throwaway.

The word “throwaway” has nothing to do with those who do read it (you, whoever you are), it just has everything to do with the way Google and social media work.

That’s perhaps my buried lede, but again, this isn’t for work and if I want to present someone with a portfolio of my work it won’t be this blog, but stuff I got paid to do. I can bury all the ledes I want here.

People still blog plenty, but as Google kept adjusting itself to point away from personal sites owned by individuals who might not be able to produce professional-level reportage and writing, ranking sites, as Twitter and Facebook began coding all sorts of arcane rules based entirely on what Silicon Valley thinks is worthwhile, readership of workaday blogs dwindled to next to nothing.

Maybe that had to happen in some way, and there is no doubt I’ve benefited from it, too. But it slowly reduced the chances that you or I might really discover a site, or a writer.

My example of this: Fifteen years ago, I was googling about an unsolved crime from 2004 and the top result I got was TrueCrimeDiary.com — the crime blog established by the late author Michelle McNamara. At the time, no one in any online true crime community knew who she was, who she was married to, that she had real journalism training, etc. — but thanks to Google and Michelle’s innate gifts as a writer and journalist, I found her quickly and she became my first choice in “solo” bloggers to check out for reliable writing, reporting, conjecture, and thinking, in general.

We became friends and it still took me two more years to put it together that her “comedian husband” was Patton Oswalt. It was about the crime stories for us, especially the unsolved.

She said later that she’d found my blog within months of me beginning it pretty much the same way I’d found TCD.

Those connections are still possible online, and I’ve seen them happen a lot on Twitter, in particular. I’ve also made a ton of good friends on Twitter. It is hard to square in my head why that’s still possible, but keeping a blog up is hard because search engines have turned into Interstate highways steering between the big cities only. Personal blogging and whatever is left of the blogosphere seems to have become like Route 66 after Eisenhower’s big roads took over America — a pleasant, even quaint relic of an earlier time, one that is slowly pixellating over time and turning into so much digital sand. To extend the stupid metaphor.

I sat down to write this to work something out, as is probably obvious, and that’s another thing blogs provide to those interested — you sometimes get to watch someone work things through in their minds almost in real-time. That’s not too interesting to many people, but it is to me. The best we get now is Twitter threads, and those are hard to write and remain organized enough to permit the reader to follow your train of thought.

Work it out I did, though. In essence, I’m aware that the problem is almost entirely in my personal, subjective perception, though I’d submit it’s grounded in realities. A way for me to both be a lazy thinker and writer and not stretch. Something that becomes easier and easier to do with age.

(Side note: Something else I do to limit myself is constantly search for new online writing venues, even as I’m thinking the things I wrote about above. I tell myself I’m ensuring I’ve got my name and identity under control in that domain so no one can pretend to be me or whatever — which is something that can happen but is truly statistically rare — but I’m really putting off pushing myself a bit.)

I’ve got some story ideas I’ll work on this summer and I’m going to at least start here. One is simply too thin to make a book, or I’d consider it. Not enough information on it to flesh out a full read. I still feel compelled to write about it. It’s the story of a killer who might make you think of the Zodiac, or if you really know your true crime history, the Texarkana Phantom. This killer was neither, as far as I know. And there’s a possibility he never truly existed at all.

Giving myself a deadline on this would be setting up a situation I’d find easy to fail, so I’m just gonna say, soon.

And if you are reading this, especially all the blather above, thank you. However you got here, I’m glad you’re there.

 

Dithering

Here goes nothin’

It is a running joke in my marriage: How restlessly I shift from site to site looking for a place to land the words I put out when no one is paying me to write them. The web is littered with my digital detritus. I have an excuse to some degree—I have zero shame when it comes to squatting on a property (a subdomain, like my Medium address, for example) just to own my name, but what I struggle with is the actual tool itself. This thing I’m writing in now.

I’ve had Blogspot blogs—I sometimes post to this one still as a way to say “yep, haven’t forgotten”—and other WordPress sites. I’ve grabbed countless social media accounts. In the end I always find a way to get restless and look for something new.

This morning, however, I thought, “Man, fuck Medium and Substack and whatever the hell else needs to be fucked, I still have WordPress.”

And WordPress is a good tool. I’ll likely be using it for paid work again in the next year or so.

Also, I have friends on here who write and if this prompts them to get back at it, all the better.

I’m sticking with one tool…for now. I have to give myself that out. I reserve the right, that is, to change my mind.

For once, I’m not sure I will change my mind. I no longer want to use brain space thinking about stuff like whether I could make money on a Patreon or with a Substack. I’m using the tool I know best, the one that works.

The dithering is done.

Hi there.

In the years since I first began a blog in 2000 (my wife, then fiancee, inspired me to start one for reasons not worth going into now), I became a professional writer and editor. Blogging, which I initially enjoyed enough to daydream of doing it for a living, is what I do for a living. That plus writing the occasional book means it’s not a bad living, either.

What happened over time was the more I wrote for money, the less I wanted to give it away for free. That makes sense, right?

I would have a twinge of nostalgia sometimes over the last 11 years–I last kept a regular blog of my own in 2009 or so–and start something new, only to give it up again. There was an embarrassment factor in that as well. I have ADHD — not diagnosed until I was 33 — and have found I’m kinda sensitive about the way it affects my behavior. I can be disorganized and forgetful, easily overwhelmed. The word “flighty” comes to mind. To me it is an intensely negative, dismissive word, yet it certainly fits me where some subjects are concerned, at least on the surface.

…But what I’m saying is of course I worry that I’ll do it again. Write this post about how I want to do this more then not write anything personal and casual for the hell of it for a year or more. It’s like a running joke.

And I might, I don’t know.

But here are the facts as I sit here at 9:23 pm in Central Massachusetts on a warm August night: I have this blog, to which I’ve imported various blog posts written randomly over the last six-seven years, and I have this: truecrimepost.com.

At the moment the true crime blog contains crime blog posts I (again) imported from other destinations, just to flesh it out. They are missing images and links might be broken, but hey, there’s something there. I also frankly think it’s a good URL, which was important back in the early days o’ blogging, but who knows, now. So it might fire up too.

I have a Medium account at Huffwire.com. The only wishy-washy-ness I feel right now is deciding on which blog CMS to use — stick with WordPress or make myself Medium only. Medium is a lovely content management system and there’s a built-in audience… but it kind of pisses me off on a regular basis too. The writer’s program doesn’t work as well as Medium intended, I think, and for every intriguing Medium post that is well-written and worth reading there are 20 badly-written, semi-plagiarized piles of automated content farm level bullshit.

But I ramble, something I haven’t given myself permission to do in a while.

The thing about doing my own blogging again is it hit me recently that the things I do don’t really have a home online. I’ve kind of been coasting. I need to present more than just my whack-ass Twitter account to the world.

I’m a singer and a writer of more than men’s lifestyle stuff for Maxim or any other sites.

Also, I’ve believed for years now that the deprecating of longform personal blogging for “micro-blogging” was in some ways a mistake. It has led to a soundbite culture. That has its place but sometimes you don’t want to click the “thread” link on Twitter. You want to read the full thing written out and in editable form, should the writer make a mistake that needs correction.

I can’t bring that back and I can’t bring back crime blogging, make it supplant true crime podcasts, most of which I find either tone-deaf or severely lacking in bringing anything new to the table. I won’t even look at this as trying.

I just know it’d be nice to return to a more personal space. One where I don’t feel pressed to worry about SEO or whether I’ve got a goddamn image embedded every two paragraphs or so.

It’s worth a shot.

I feel silly doing this here, too…

But I am trying to save some folks trouble: Put simply, if you are seeking “Huff Paranormal” Steve Huff, you are in the wrong place. I am not that man. To my knowledge we are not blood related and I have had only the most limited interactions with him.

We are both easy to find via Google and we both are connected to heavy subjects—me to true crime and him to contacting the spirit world.

About that I will only say I’m a skeptic but I try to avoid judging others’ beliefs. And I’m not 100% skeptical, either. But enough.

Anyway, to clarify: If you are curious about the Steve Huff who says he is contacting deceased Indian actor Sushant Singh Rajput via his spirit box, this is not his blog.

You’re welcome to stick around, though. I’ve transferred years of posts to this site, many of them my crime writing, and I may even update it more often, like I’ve said I’d do for like 10 years and not really done.

Plague Diary, 1.

And I, Agnolo di Tura, called the Fat, buried my five children with my own hands. And there were also those who were so sparsely covered with earth that the dogs dragged them forth and devoured many bodies throughout the city. There was no one who wept for any death, for all awaited death. And so many died that all believed it was the end of the world. This situation continued [from May] until September. ~ Agnolo di Tura, Siena, 1348 

Plague_doctors'_beak_shaped_mask
A medieval Plague Doctor (Wikimedia)

I’ve been thinking a lot about Agnolo di Tura, called The Fat.

I don’t mean to be melodramatic. In fact, I very strongly doubt the world in the grip of the Coronavirus Pandemicwill be anything like the graveyard that was Europe in the wake of the Black Death. Most things will go forward. There may even be opinion pieces written later about how it was all overblown.

One hopes, anyway.

I began with the passage above because this sentence is like a prose earworm in my brain, some days: “And I, Agnolo di Tura, called the Fat, buried my five children with my own hands.” If you read all of Agnolo’s narrative, you’ll see this is how it begins:

The mortality in Siena began in May. It was a cruel and horrible thing. . . . It seemed that almost everyone became stupefied seeing the pain. It is impossible for the human tongue to recount the awful truth. Indeed, one who did not see such horribleness can be called blessed. The victims died almost immediately. They would swell beneath the armpits and in the groin, and fall over while talking. Father abandoned child, wife husband, one brother another; for this illness seemed to strike through breath and sight. And so they died. None could be found to bury the dead for money or friendship…

You can read the entire piece here.

There are other readings as well, but the image of Agnolo, a fat man struggling in the heat to bury his children under a merciless sun, has never quite left me. The simplicity of his narrative has always struck me as sorrowful in a timeless way. The kind of devastation that has no point in history because whatever the year on the calendar, it would be the same for anyone in similar circumstances. The words of a man writing nearly 700 years ago, and it’s almost as if you can still hear him sigh.

I’m mostly just following the brush with this post, which is being written on the kind of day that has always given me the creeps, because it is so like bad dreams I had as a child.

It is windy and a little chilly outside. Clouds are rushing by, white and gray, and the sun isn’t really out but I can see blue sky as well. The evergreens that rise behind the houses across the street are restless in the wind, which doesn’t moan so much as it murmurs.

I had a lot of wind-filled nightmares when I was a child.

One that I never forgot came shortly after watching the 1964 film version of Richard Matheson’s I Am LegendThe Last Man On Earth, starring Vincent Price. In that nightmare, I woke to a murmuring and constant wind pushing its way through my childhood home, which was in ruins. One of my sisters was just a mummy in a creaking swing on the back porch. I found myself outside then, and I stepped over two mounds in the driveway that I realized were my parents’ graves.

The wind never stopped, and I know I thought that whatever happened to everyone had come with the wind.

The dream ended at my elementary school, with me standing outside my kindergarten classroom, which was in shambles. I heard the distinctive ringing bounce of a red gym ball on the cement behind me, as if someone had just dropped one, and I turned to see a ball bouncing away, but there was no one there who could have dropped it.

And so I come back to this wind outside today, and all the coronavirus news skittering across my Twitter feeds, on my big-screen TV, and the Agnolo di Tura in my mind, hunched and sweating over the dead.

No one wants to know that kind of sorrow. No one wants to know how alone the man must have felt.

So I guess even the worst-case scenario imaginings in my mind regarding coronavirus are enough to shake me a bit, to rattle my cage.

There are probably many lessons to learn from Agnolo di Tura. The one that will not leave my thoughts today is something that first occurred to me after my brother committed suicide 20 years ago. Then again after my sister died from septic shock in 2016.

Sometimes it is a curse to survive.