Wow, so this posting got long. It should probably be separated. I just don’t have the emotional-editorial prowess for that, so I’ll leave it all jumbled together. I’m sure as the days and weeks move on, I’ll become more cemented in what I believe about Derek’s legacy in the blogging world, but, for now, I’m less academic and more the fumbling friend amazed at the outpouring of interest in a loved, lost voice on the local scene, to say the least.
As of yesterday, our Vancouver friend, the Penmachine, Derek K. Miller’s infamous The Last Post had gone viral both on the web and in the world’s news media. On Monday, the Canadian Press newswire went live with a story on Derek, it was picked up by American Press’s wire, and suddenly it went from 23 notable world press stories on Sunday to more than 220 press organisations (at this time) carrying this story on Derek’s passing worldwide.
I wrote last week that, in blogging, Derek would “…have told his story. A ripple in the pond. That’s all most writers really want to make — a ripple in the pond.”
Some kinda ripple, Derek. Well done, friend.
Words, words, words
I think, in the scheme of Derek’s life work, in all he tried to share with others, that the legacy being created through this worldwide exposure to what blogging can DO for a man, his life, his legacy, and the memory others get to have of him, that Derek’s changing the world’s perception of blogging.
Maybe I’m too close to it.
Maybe I know the man, his work, and maybe I want this to be bigger than it is, but as someone who’s watched the press all her life and knows what the public thinks and feels, this is a rare, rare moment when a really honest, simple, powerful statement is getting heard by the whole world.
And it’s not a world leader. It’s not some political activist dying for a cause. It’s not a celebrity known the world over.
It’s just a statement from a good Canadian man. A father of two, a guy who married his soul mate and died still madly in love with her. It’s the guy we all knew we could call with a technical problem that needed urgent solving, or who we KNEW had just happened to take a secret perfectly-timed picture of us at that event where he just had a camera. He was that guy.
And somehow, who he was, who he loved, and the life he led, that was all captured in a mere 1,500 words. His perfect 1,500 words.
Then the world read it and, in 1,500 words, realised what was truly important in life, what can all disappear in a moment.
Like Derek wrote, “As soon as my body stopped functioning, and the neurons in my brain ceased firing, I made a remarkable transformation: from a living organism to a corpse, like a flower or a mouse that didn’t make it through a particularly frosty night. The evidence is clear that once I died, it was over.”
In a moment, we’re all gone forever. Then what?
So what’s his legacy, then? Super-nice local legend loved by those who were at the cusp of all the tech/web/music developments for 20+ years? Great writer? Spokesman for cancer, early testing, and living out loud?
But I think Derek’s legacy is bigger, with more global implications.
Derek Miller took time in his dying days to write a post that, if we’re lucky, changes the way we’ve been thinking about language, communication, social media, writing, and connection.
For Derek, blogging (and podcasting) was truth, education, community, sharing, connecting, activism, camaraderie, and putting his stamp on the world. He did it all. He stamped good.
There are a lot of really shitty blogs out there. Content farms, traffic-whores. A lot of bad blogs.
Derek was never guilty of bad blogging.
He wasn’t a “writing filler” kinda guy. He didn’t have some self-imposed turnstile of copy-quota where he “had” to blog every day. He was a writer who was compelled to share a statement, a truth, or anything, but he certainly didn’t blog so we the audience had something to read, or the PR companies with schwag gifts had reason to mailing-list him.
Derek K. Miller always blogged because he had something to say. Something smart, well-said, perfectly edited, often insightful, and never sensationalised.
Somewhere along the road in the last five years, blogging became about expected numbers, certain amounts one had to get done on a weekly basis. Some “experts” claim 3-6 posts is the “perfect” amount. They’ll tell you a “good word count,” and that Derek K. Miller’s The Last Post was 900 words too long. They’ll show you how to juice it up with “search-engine optimising,” and sex it up with a graphic or two — oh, and break it up with headings, gotta do that too.
But they don’t tell you how to have heart in your writing.
They don’t tell you that your readers deserve significant content. They don’t tell you that creativity, quality, honesty, and originality count.
Somewhere, somehow, blogging and social media became about having a social resumé, hawking your wares, getting connected, getting laid, everything someone like Derek K. Miller never bothered manipulating it for.
I’m a writin’ romantic — a passionate idealist about language, writing, and communication.
I believe that blogging is the BEST thing to ever happen to writing.
And I think blogging is the WORST thing to ever happen to writing.
But, for every site concerned primarily with driving traffic, and not worried about enriching your life, there’s a blog quietly churning out good content week-in, week-out, just like The Penmachine did.
I believe a quality blog only needs one posting a week.
If it’s great, then one will do. If it sucks, then none will do.
I believe the sparse, simple, shocking truth behind Derek Miller’s brilliant The Last Post serves as a reminder of what economy of language, a simple desire to state the facts, and opening yourself up to the world can provoke in all manner of people.
We all want to be remembered. We want a legacy.
Blogging: Whoop! There it is
Not stupid blogging. Not bad blogging. Not blogging where you’re talking about ordering a muffin.
Blog about what that muffin means to you — what do you remember when you’re eating it, what was the most emotional muffin you ever ate and why, what happened right before that muffin was served, how did it smell, how did it taste, and does the emotional overload that triggered that muffin return to you now and then when you’re enjoying one, and if so, what’s that like?
A muffin, does it matter to the world at large? No, but your experiences that determine how you feel about a particular muffin, those experiences might.
And that’s a sort of ridiculous-but-clear example of blogging is — a chance for every person to have a real, true, digital record of their understated lives. Their commentary, opinions, injustices, whatever. It’s a record.
We’ve lived in a world where publishing, media, communication have almost always been in the hands of those with money and power.
For the first time ever, we can control our words.
We can make sure others can read them, even strangers in far away lands.
AdAge magazine called Derek Miller’s The Last Post an example of the “democratization of publishing.” Yeah, okay. Sure: Cheap-n-easy self-publishing.
Personal blogging is powerful, not only for you but for the people who get to read it… and maybe even those you leave behind.
We’re told not to “tell” too much. Yeah, all this not-sharing stuff seems to be doing a LOT of good for society.
Oh, no one will ever understand what you’re enduring. No one will get that.
Derek Miller blogged about wearing diapers, yet millions are hanging off his extensive cancer-living archives this week.
You know who doesn’t know what people want to read? THEM. The “experts.”
You know what I want to read?
I want to read people who write about things that leave them feeling uneasy when they hit publish — or proud, or desperate to see what the comments are because that post mighta been pushing it or so angry while writing that clicking “publish” felt like they’d just flushed the toilet on all the shit that had ’em feeling that way.
I want to read about people experiencing life — in all its varieties.
If you CARE what I think, I probably don’t want to read you. If you think, while writing, “how should I say this to best elicit a reaction?” then I likely don’t want to read you.
If you write because you need to write, because you feel like you have something on your chest and you’re hoping writing will help sort it out, or because you just can’t NOT share THAT observation you had earlier today?
Then you’re the kind of blogger I wish everyone was.
Empowered by Blogging
Blogging is a tool we have for breaking down barriers.
We can connect, teach each other, expose injustices, examine life, do whatever the hell we want.
No longer are we under the thumb of industry when it comes to distributing our creations.
As artists, writers, musicians — if an audience is all we require, then we have the whole world before us. We have 100% artistic control. We have instantaneous access to publication and audiences. We are not at the mercy of industry. Industry is at the mercy of us, and the tide is turning.
Back in 1990 was a movie I always thought was ahead of its time on some of the issues (though dated now), Pump Up the Volume, about Christian Slater as a pirate radio DJ named Happy Harry Hard-on, aka Chuck U. Farley. The premise of all his angsty railing against society was pretty simple come movie’s end: You have a voice. Use it.
In the end, if Derek Miller’s legacy is that people realise they can use the voice they have, I can’t think of a better one. Nothing broke my heart more than to know Derek had lost his speaking voice for much of his remaining weeks in life, and to think his “eternal” voice is heard around the world now… well, it blows me away.
You have a voice. Use it. Leave a legacy of your own choosing.
And, more importantly, consider today what you’d write in your obituary for tomorrow, and take stock now of what you need to change to have that obituary reflect a life you wish you’d have been living — and an emptier bucket list.
Blogging: It’s good mental lifting. Writin’ does a soul good. Check it out, kids.
(Photos: Derek K. Miller — from Facebook profile shots he’s used.)