...while others have to say something.
Thus began the weblog known as man with black hat, five years ago today.
Moses went up to the mountain
To see what he could see
Well he come down talking 'bout a burning bush
Says 'This is how it's gonna be'
He's scared to death
You know the rest.
I started wearing an "outback" style hat about twenty years ago; similar to a fedora, but with a wider brim. The colors varied, but a black one never failed to elicit favorable comments from complete strangers. I wish I could give you some Johnny-Cash-man-in-black mystique about it all, but it really comes down to what got the right kind of attention. When I obtained a Yahoo! e-mail address in 2001, I chose the moniker "manwithblackhat." (People ask me why I didn't make it "man IN black hat." At the time, I wanted something with the same ring to it as "Dances With Wolves." How's that?)
By the start of this decade -- or this century, or this millennium, whatever -- I had already written for the Arlington Catholic Herald, Catholic World Report, The Saint Catherine Review, and TCR News. My name started being recognized by other Catholic writers. But then it just stopped. I reached an impasse of sorts, one that I really cannot explain.
Columbus went down to the ocean
He said 'Boys, I'm looking for India
But America will do'
Sailed to the west
You know the rest.
Five years ago, the Catholic blogs which got the most attention were written by those whose reputations had already been established in the print or broadcast media. This should not have been unexpected. The first stars of television, to give an example, were those who had already been successful in radio and Hollywood. If the winners of the last Catholic Blog Awards are any indication, however, the trend is slowly starting to change. Not as much as it should, if you ask me. But one thing that is happening is the emergence of "niche blogs," like "The New Liturgical Movement" and "Musings of a Pertinacious Papist" and most recently, collective efforts like "Catholic Restorationists." These sites don't pretend to be for everybody. They don't have to. But aficionados of liturgical studies, of philosophy, or of "the culture wars," find a home in these places. They have built up quite a following in their own right.
Davey Crockett went out to Texas
To fight at the Alamo
Old Will Travis never told him
Texas is in Mexico
It's a bloody mess
You know the rest.
That year of Our Lord 2002 also saw the outbreak of scandals from amidst the clergy of the Boston Archdiocese. While the scandals themselves were not new, Boston provided a catalyst for new voices, whether for good or ill. Many of them discovered the internet, and a mechanism known as the "weblog," or simply, the "blog." I started out as a guest writer for a couple of them. Then I was being urged to start my own. I saw that there were a few successful writers to whom others turned for all things Catholic, and since I was planning on keeping my day job, I knew I couldn't be one of them. So I had to be someone else. I also knew that once I started, I had to be someone upon whom people could depend for a certain level of insight. It was not enough to parrot what the next guy was saying (an unfortunate tendency among political blogs, for example). It was also not enough to find an audience; I had to keep them. Back then, I knew of prominent bloggers who are now no longer so prominent, or have disappeared altogether. So I considered the prospect that I might eventually run out of things to say. Those who know me have assured me otherwise. Hmmm...
Robert Johnson went down to the crossroads
A guitar in his hands
Well, the devil had him a guitar, too
He says 'This is what you need man,
You can be the best'
You know the rest.
I have no wish to be "famous" for this. I don't have the time, and after five years, I've run out of patience waiting for EWTN to call for an interview. They'd probably make me lose the hat and put on a tie and cardigan or something, so who needs 'em? I'm not exactly the RC-poster-boy type anyway. And yet, to believe in anything worth living for -- or dying for, in the most extreme cases -- has always been about more than appearances. I believe my readers have sense enough to know that, and that such awareness compels them to take time out from reading the two or three "Catholic blogs" that everyone else reads, and that books on internet evangelizing can't stop mentioning, just to read what is being said here. They realize, as my colleague Thomas Storck has said, that being Catholic is more than simply avoiding sin and attaining virtue. It is a way of viewing the world, and one's place in it.
In the last year, my readership has gone up markedly. Now, a hundred viewers a day is not much by the standards of the Catholic blogosphere. But it's a steady readership, and I'm often pleasantly surprised to learn who reads this page on a regular basis. I am always pleasantly surprised by the private e-mails I receive, often by those who have been affected in some positive way by what I've written, or who have a question or need a referral in a particular subject matter. Even some of my son's friends read this page. A few of them read it every day. (Hi, guys.) From the offset, I knew I could never be a major "player," a complete source of news in any particular field of interest. My day job keeps me very busy, and my life in real time does the same. I've even gone back to college part-time.
Well this song ain't got no reason
Hell this song barely rhymes
Well it come to me when I was asleep
And it wakes me up sometimes
I can't get no rest...
Which brings us to the future. In the coming week, there will be two additional entries to give thanks to my Maker, for getting me this far in cyberspace. "The First Five Years" will be a listing of fifty entries (or one hundred, if I'm on a roll), which in my humble estimation, best exemplify the mission I have undertaken. "The Next Five Years" will be a review of how this site might change in the near future, in an effort to continue in that mission, as "the daily musings..."
...you know the rest. -- Steve Earle
Washington DC, 2000