Now NINE Years’ Worth of Unapologetically Eclectic Pack Mule-ing

I remember thinking, after I Just Make People Up, Treasuring Alabama’s Black Belt, and The Life and Poetry of John Beecher all came out in 2009, “Maybe I’ll try this blogging thing.” Despite having three books published in that one year, I was also in the middle of editing Children of the Changing South, which came out in the fall of 2011, and didn’t want to take on another book project just yet. Something less voluminous, published in smaller increments, seemed particularly appealing.

The first post was published on this day nine years ago. However, what has been obscured by time is: I actually began two blogs at almost the same time. This one was an author blog and general repository for whatever was on my mind at the time, and its title then was Pack Mule for the New School. The other, something more like a single-author periodical for long-form nonfiction about the South, took its title from a Karl Fleming article published in Newsweek in the 1960s: Into That Passionately Alive and Violent Country. Since blogging was then new-ish, there was a fair bit of autodidactic on-the-job training, also a good bit of rambling and disorganization. In short, I had to learn as I went.

After a year or two, it seemed like a bad idea to continue maintaining separate blogs, so I merged them into one, carrying the latter blog’s posts onto this one, which presented another set of problems: a lack of editorial focus. Once the two projects became one, there were posts on topics ranging from ruminations on Southern culture like “The Spirit of Booker T.” and “How Cool It Was— Back Then” to brief commentaries on old 1950s movies likes “Paris Blues” and “The Defiant Ones.” The years 2014 through 2017 also included a weekly series of aphoristic quotations on writing, editing, and teaching that I pulled from my underlinings in favorite books, and in 2013, I began the Southern Movie posts after watching the remake of “Straw Dogs” and being disgusted by its inane stereotyping. In short, I was learning as I went.

By mid-2018, the disparate content necessitated that Pack Mule for the New School get a new name. The blog had begun at a time when my writing and teaching work focused almost totally on Southern social-justice subjects, but it had taken some evolutionary twists and more than a few off-road detours into other areas of our culture: the family history series Chasing Ghosts, latter-day reminiscence of being in Generation X, and the Alabamiana posts. The title Welcome to Eclectic, which I got from the roadside signs outside of the small town of Eclectic, Alabama, seemed to describe it better. Keep in mind, I’ve been learning as I went.

Everything I’ve read about blogging says that you have to stay on topic, find a niche— don’t stray, it’ll confuse the audience. The problem is: I like watching Smokey and the Bandit and hokey horror movies as much as I like reading Southern history and Bertrand Russell and bell hooks. I like old movies and classic literature just as much as I dislike neophobia and closed-mindedness about new movies and books. I drive a truck and have a Southern accent, and I wear jeans and boots, and I read poetry and philosophy and the news, and I browse the state constitution for fun, and I write about things no one else does, and I also have one heck of a sense of humor. I doubt if I’ve ever made sense to people, but that’s OK. Welcome to Eclectic.

Nine years into these winding explorations of both the Deep South and my own mind, I’m still learning as I go. I don’t know whether it’s going well or not. But thousands of people have stopped by tens-of-thousands of times to see what I’m doing over here— so I guess I’ll keep on . . . at least for a while longer.

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