I went viral once. Three summers ago, I wrote a post; I’d rate it as fine. Not great, not memorable, the sort of post that two and a half years later, I doubt I would even remember writing. But because it went viral, I remember the circumstances well. In our tiny house in Culebra, Puerto Rico, two beds, a bath and a common area, a kitchen and a couch, my family just waking up, the house already heating up for the day, I sat at the kitchen table and knocked out Follow. Meeting my goal to blog daily while on vacation.
The timing was great. I already basked in the success of scoring a new job—after eleven years at the last one, six of those quite ready to move on. A higher salary, new responsibilities, another chance to showcase my ability to ‘rescue’ a struggling organization. My head swelled, as if getting the job was the same thing as doing the job. WordPress sent me an email: You’re an editor’s pick on WordPress Discover! My blogging life changed.
I don’t know if Discover still exists. Back then, WordPress editors scoured the platform looking for blog posts to highlight. I don’t think I’ve seen anything about Discover in a couple of years, but maybe I’m not looking in the right place. Regardless, when I got Discovered, it was a very big deal. The Sunday they published Follow was surreal. My red notification dot stayed on continually. Every time I refreshed my browser, the number of likes, followers and comments jumped dramatically.
Now, here I sit, pushing three thousand followers, but only fifty readers. I’m a one-hit wonder. The Tommy Tutone of blogging. Do I sound bitter? It’s not how I feel. Maybe wistful. I tasted success; it was yummy, but fleeting. I’ve realigned my expectations, redefined what it means for a post to perform well. But oh, that one viral run ruined me. It’s like taking a perfect drug that can never be found again. It’s something I still crave, even though at the time, it left me feeling like an imposter. A guy who relied on luck, not skill, to make his tiny dent in fabric of not-so-popular-culture.
One of the coolest things in my life is the Good Men Project, an online magazine of essays exploring what it means to be a good man in today’s society. Each week, my GMP editor Kara Post-Kennedy mines my blog looking for something relevant to publish. This has been going on for two years. Often, it’s a recent post on the current event du jour, but sometimes it’s just a post that fits the season—a post about trick or treating for Halloween, a post about sobriety on Thanksgiving, etc.
A couple of weeks ago, I sent Kara an email. “This would be good for December https://jefftcann.com/2017/12/21/be-the-light/.” Be the Light—a two-thousand-word screed on my desire to create a new religious holiday: Solstice Plus Four, an attempt to take Christmas back from the Christians. I wrote it in 2015, and every December since, I’ve attempted to create a viral event with it, reposting it on Facebook, Twitter and even on WordPress. It just doesn’t work. Too long, not funny enough, not serious enough, I don’t know—maybe it’s that the right person hasn’t read it yet. Once Tom Hanks links it to his Facebook page, I’ll be off and running.
Maybe you think you’ve read this all before. That’s possible, I post a link to Be the Light every year. Maybe I’m rewriting an old post right now. Recently, I read a post and all of the comments. Here, bloggers explored their reason for blogging. This got me analyzing about my own motivations. I think I’m trying to create a well-written diary. But right now, I’m simply trying to go viral. Kara will read this post. As an editor, she reads most of what I write looking for GMP content. She recently told me she works with about one hundred writers. That’s a lot of blog posts to read, I feel bad for her when I post something mediocre.
Right now, undoubtedly, Kara’s rolling her eyes at this post. She’s already read Be the Light, and she’s already decided whether to publish it this year. Susan suggested that if she were the editor, she’d wait until Solstice to post it. She recommends patience. And anyway, the chance of any GMP posting going viral is infinitesimally small. One day, hopefully, I’ll go viral again, and preferably with a better post than Follow. But in the meantime, if anyone knows Tom Hanks, will you send him my link?