Viral

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?

28 thoughts on “Viral

  1. The only thing I can relate to here is that I ran a marathon here in Colorado and “was the second place female finisher”. People were cheering for me like crazy and officials met me at the finish line to congratulate me, etc. Once I told them I started 2 hours earlier with the walkers, I was dropped like a hot potato! But it sure felt good for 5 minutes! lol

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  2. I had a minuscule spot once, back in the 80’s though not viral since in those days I was in print as an oped writer for the LATimes. I got a ton of mail about an article I wrote about teenagers.. This was followed by the various news stations interviewing me about parenting and kids and drugs and gawd knows what, oh yeah curfews. It was temporarily exciting. Then my editor at the times got the pink slip so I moved over to the Daily News and eventually got phased out. Oh well. By the way, I’m not sure one really wAnts to go viral right now…given Covid and all.💗

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  3. Is that how I found your blog? It’s been three years?? Nuts. Discover still exists, but I only look at it maybe once in a blue moon. I guess your content was my jam because I followed even fewer of the blogs I ever saw on it. There was a time I read Discover more diligently, but hey life gets busy. I am glad I found yours at least. Maybe I’ll start browsing it more often now that I’ve quit Instagram!

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    • Well it’s nice to know something good came out of being discovered other than just an everlasting jones for attention. I’ll have to look up discover. My new method of finding blogs is to look at likes on a post and search for interesting names. It seems to be working.

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  4. I can’t believe it has been three years. I think I started following you around that time as well. I’ve never had a viral moment but I can see how if you have one, you want another one. Be the Light is one of my favorites. I am sure your editor will like it.

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    • Hi Robyn, I think we met on community pool, which probably would have been before this, but I’d need to go back and look which I doubt I’ll do. My craving for a viral moment is much lower now than a couple of years ago, but still present, which bugs me. I want to be one of those bloggers who ‘write for themselves.’

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think we met on my echolalia post, and I think one of the first ones I read from you (that cracked me up) was about a flowbee and your dad. I get ya, me too. I always get excited when The Mighty or APM picks up something I wrote. That is validating for me but I know I have to write the piece a certain way for it to be considered. I’d like to write for me too.

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      • Oh, well I may have been looking up echolalia, being a Tourette symptom and all. Sophie did that for a while when she was about 7 and I thought “ok, here we go…” But then it went away. That hair cut one got about a thousand hits in Mar – May when the salons were closed.

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  5. Solstice is on the 22nd this year.😂😂😂 I’ve been tracking sunset since Summer Solstice. It’s my “Sciencey Stuff” Project. All part of staying sane during lockdown and the months of having Ben home from school.
    This year is especially exciting because of the Saturn and Jupiter conjunction. It will be visible without magnification and it’s the closest since like 1643. (I don’t remember exactly) A true return of the “Christmas Star”.

    If I ever meet Tom, I’ll be sure to pass your info along.😂 I believe he would do it too. He appears to be a genuinely good guy, like yourself.🌠

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  6. Hi Jeff! I’m so glad GMP has been awesome for you. I haven’t written in a really long time (while pursuing my master’s). I recently sent the one and only thing I’ve written in the last 8 months to Kara for GMP. I too am very grateful for that awesome group!
    BTW, I think that Discover post was how I found your writing. So even if all other reader’s fade, you keep serving the ones that show up!

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    • Hi Angela, I was just thinking about you because you’re the only person I’m sure of who came via that post. I hope your program is going well… and you return to blogging when you’re done.

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  7. That viral adrenalin rush must have been amazing, Jeff. I feel like I’m constantly reassessing my expectations on readership. It goes up and down and sideways. Every time someone buys one of my books or I get another follower on my blog, I get all giddy. Of course, like you, I don’t write only for the accolades and/or praise, but it sure is nice when you know people are reading what you have to say.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Really, it was beyond exciting, but by the time I responded to the last comment, I was really pretty sick of it. One of the things I like most about blogging is the back and forth of comments. Today I’ve talked with people in california, colorado, arizona, new zealand and the UK. I think that’s really cool. If my blog was any bigger, I doubt I’d be able to sustain those friendships.

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  8. Ha! Great post, Jeff. If only I knew Tom Hanks! The closest I ever came to going viral was a race report I wrote for a really popular race. It wasn’t even a post I had to think about or use any writing skills for at all. It just happened that a lot of people ran the race, followed the RD on Facebook, and he happened to publish a link to my race report. Sigh!

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  9. Great post! I could relate to it, even though we have different experiences in life (I have never gone viral, but also trying to). I really like how you play with words, it’s a nice read. I am always following airports to seek some inspiration, if I see Tom Hanks in the Terminal, I will make sure he gets your link haha 🙂

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  10. Yeah I’m lucky I can relate to that Discover thing and your apt description. It does give you a taste, but it’s okay for me it’s fleeting. I think it’s good for us to still challenge ourselves and always swing for the bleachers, as I know you do. The real challenge is getting and holding people’s attention. You always hold mine!

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  11. I imagine it’s a little overwhelming to go viral. It’s like, fame partially wanted, partially not, SURPRISE!
    Blogging is like my secret space, and I’m always surprised when people I know in real life read my blog. It’s like, I’ve let them know too much by accident.
    Quality writing speaks for itself. Your fifty regulars know that, and so does Kara I’m sure.
    I’ve heard Tom Hanks is a lovely guy in real life. I’ll keep an eye out.

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  12. I wish I could guess or anticipate what goes viral…but it is almost always a surprise. You went viral on GMP earlier this year (your post about shopping at Lowe’s) and I am always hopeful. You should listen to your wife. The post you sent will go live on Tuesday. If I had a magic wand, they would all go viral.

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    • My wife is right about pretty much everything. Kind of embarrassing that you read this, but then I knew you would. I keep meaning to jump on the Friday editor’s call to see what it’s about, but I always forget to take headphones to work.

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