XthPosted: February 27, 2022
The ten year anniversary of Helytimes rolled around without our really noticing. We started this website* in February 2012. The posts from that month are as clear a reflection as there is of the idea (extinct links and lost images are a curse but come w/t/territory).
There wasn’t a master plan. “I should know something about writing for the Internet.” The directness is powerful (and frightening): what writer of the past wouldn’t have dreamed of an instantaneous worldwide publishing platform you could control? A piece published on Helytimes generates a link that’s as accessible as a link to The New York Times. How could we not try that? Authors had websites; I’d published two books and hoped to do more. The magic of putting up pieces that entered the great Google library, the creation of a personal wondermuseum, it seemed fun.
A strong sense memory lingers about the day of origin: I was in my office on the TV show The Office. Across the hall was my college Alison Silverman. Our offices were in an annex trailer in the parking lot, which often roasted in the sun. Inside between our offices was a treadmill people sometimes used. That was a funny time and place. I told Alison I was thinking of starting a blog and I remember not having any reaction at all. It was like I said I’d had a salad for lunch. But what was I expecting?
WordPress provided the structure. I’m not sure I’d recommend WordPress, it feels flimsy, it feels like it could collapse tomorrow. GoDaddy sold us the URL. Although GoDaddy’s name and TV ads make it seem ridiculous, they are really dependable, we’ve never had a problem. I copied a simple design template my cousin was using and off we went.
Since then we’ve published 1,624 posts. Some of the most popular are:
– a guest post by Hayes about a local political issue, No on Measure S (No prevailed, and thank goodness). This post shows the value of possessing an easy distribution platform
– a post about the alleged subject of Gordon Lightfoot’s song Sundown. People Google this person and find the site, it’s celebrity gossip.
– a comparison of the UK in size to California. Another Google inbounder.
– Mountaineering movies on Netflix (needs updating, The Alpinist and 14 Peaks both great)
– an investigation of whether the last joke Abraham Lincoln heard was funny
– a consideration of how a mosaic at Disney World was made by Hanns Scharff, one of the Luftwaffe’s top interrogators (and revealing insights in interrogation)
– a look into the darkness of Donald Trump’s father and the destruction of Coney Island
Anything about Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger will pop.
We consider Record Group 80 to be kind of a signature post.
Ten years as an amount of time is significant. We once heard an interview with Joseph Campbell, he was talking about a young student who was asking Campbell about whether he thought he, the student, could make it as a writer.
Well, can you go ten years without making it?
was Campbell’s question. A good question to ask.
What would “making it” mean? We don’t profit off this website, but it’s very valuable as as storehouse of material that caught our attention. And it feels contributive. It’s brought about many connections and friendships of great value, even if you can’t put a price on them.
Once I was talking to a guy who knew a thing or two about SEO and metrics and online business about the site. He suggested we should pick any one specific niche and go deep, make that our thing. For instance, “Navy photos.” But that’s not the idea (and it would be boring).
Once I was talking to a successful Hollywood type guy who’s a reader of Helytimes. I asked him what I should do to get more readers. He looked at me like I was kind of an idiot.
Write about the Kardashians
That’s not the idea here either.
This isn’t any kind of business. During the lifespan of this website we published a book, wrote several other books, wrote lots of television, co-hosted hundreds of episodes of The Great Debates. This is a straightup side project. But sometimes that’s where the life is.
My life times out so my growing up parallels the Internet growing up. My age 18 was close to the Internet’s age 18. So I followed and tracked the rise of what we unfortunately have to call blogging.
Andrew Sullivan was an early one. Blogging eventually burned him out and he had to stop. Matt Yglesias was my near contemporary in college (I don’t think I ever met him). He seems built to be a blogger and has made a job of it. That takes stamina, focus, and drive we don’t have.
Hot takes aren’t the game around here. Unless they’re hot takes on something from like the 15th century.
We maintain this site out of desire to clean out the brain-attic, to keep an independent publishing vector open, to settle anything that’s gnawing at us, to share (and clear the mind of) passions, obsessions, curiosities and discoveries.
Over the years we’ve had a worldwide readership, lured in some surprising customers, lost one contributor to death by tragedy, and had some touching comments. The funniest people reach out to us. Usually about content we never would’ve thought anyone would care about.
We made a scratchmark on the cave wall, which, what else are we here for?
So, onward! Thanks for reading, we really appreciate you.
* the word blog just isn’t a winner, is it folks?