July 2, 2020 — By JT Haines, Duluth MN
When I first started this blog in January of 2013, I dubbed it “Why the Attitude?” The name was a hint at my motivations for writing, which I described at the time as follows:
In 1984 I was 10. At night, in my light blue second floor bedroom, I sometimes thought about tornadoes and nuclear war. I liked the sound of the taconite train in the near distance. In summer, my bedtime was 9. But it stayed light later, and I could hear the kids still playing outside my window. It was a simpler age, but I had an inkling. Among other things, I hated pollution. And I thought the president should reduce military spending since we already had enough missiles to blow up the world many times over – including my light blue bedroom. I thought, I’m 10. Well here we are, almost thirty rapacious years later, and allow me to say goddammit. Goddammit I say. So, tiny apologies for the attitude.
The name served me well, and, I thought, provided something like a disclaimer for an audience managing their own time and energies. Let’s be upfront, right?
Under that banner and for two years, I wrote quite a bit — largely a product of the fact that at the time I was a solo practice attorney representing a single non-profit client, and I spent a lot of my mornings at the coffee shop down the street (first in Bronxville, NY, and then in St. Paul, MN). It was a “heady” time, as they say (though one also without a lot of income).
I haven’t had a lot of interest in external measures of success for a blog — consistency, visitors, and hopefully for at least a few people, financial viability — for me it’s mostly been about an outlet and a process I enjoy. Nonetheless, by 2015 I had over 500 followers, and more than 3,000 visitors to the site that year. Some of my pieces — about growth, water, mining, and sometimes politics — were getting cross-posted at minnpost.com. This was success to me, and my writing was becoming fairly regular.
I wondered, though, about seeing the name “Why the Attitude” linked at minnpost. I wondered if the name put me in a hole with the reader — as in, why do I want to suggest a level of crankiness before they even get through the first paragraph? Often, I wrote to disprove the title, bending over backwards to filter my voice and present a reasonable argument. This seemed counterproductive.
So, that year I changed the name to Newspeak Review. The new name was a reference to Orwell’s 1984, and the suggestion was that my interest was in presenting an alternative point of view to a mainstream narrative (i.e, it’s a blog). The idea was to present a more “neutral” face.
Some grasped the idea of the new name, though I don’t think many. And some actually expressed disappointment at the loss of Why the Attitude, which to them felt more genuine and a little spunkier. More cheeky than cranky.
If neutral was the goal, obtuse may have been the result.
In any event, larger forces intervened. In May of 2015, I moved to Duluth and started a job as a full time union organizer and negotiator. I was in the field for AFSCME Council 65, representing mostly public sector workers from Two Harbors to Hinckley, and as far as Milaca. I embraced a new community and a new work family, and for three years wore the many hats required of someone working in the field representing real people.
The role — if you’re trying to do it right — felt barely sustainable on its own, and by 2019 I had essentially stopped writing altogether. Here’s what that looked like:
This too was a heady time, and I have a lot of positive feelings about my experience with the members and staff of AFSCME Council 65 — perhaps someday I’ll write about that as well. But Newspeak Review was essentially on indefinite pause.
I’m hoping to change that now. My job today is as the Northern Minnesota Advocate for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. This job is also demanding and multi-faceted, and the work couldn’t be more important. But it also involves writing — about issues related to the issues I’ve been drawn to on this site — and it feels more sustainable in general.
With the long holiday weekend before us today, I have it in my head that perhaps I can find a groove to do more writing again here as well.
Which is to say, Why the Attitude? is back — at least in name. I hope the return to roots helps, in a small way, inspire some more candor in writing, maybe some more cheek, and mostly just some more writing in general.
We will see. Thank you for reading.