In 2006, the year I turned 30, I graduated Magna Cum Laude with my BA in English, my fourteen year old daughter was repeatedly attempting suicide and failing in school, and my four-and-a-half year old ADHD twin boys were rapidly being kicked out of every daycare center in the city – all of which was the death knell for my failing marriage. Around this time, I created a MySpace account to stalk my daughter, who, I discovered, had a clandestine account herself. On my profile I listed writing and reading as two of my hobbies and one day I got an invitation to read a blog written by some “author” named Brad Listi. Everyone was an author on MySpace, it seemed. Most of them were trying to sell me something and the ones who weren’t tended to write boring blogs about finance or essential oils or some other subject I had no interest in.
I was, as a matter of course, rejecting nearly every “author” who invited me to read his or her writing – but for some reason, I went ahead and accepted this Brad Listi fella’s invitation.
Look at this earnest face.
Who couldn’t trust this guy?
As it turns out, that decision changed my life.
Sure, the writing was an engaging mix of humble, earnest, startling, funny, and thought-provoking musings (often centered around pop culture), but it was the community – a largely educated, tolerant, polite, hilarious, communist left-leaning lot – that kept me returning day after day, even (and especially) during one of the hardest times of my entire life. Because of Brad Listi’s Myspace blog, I was able to literally rewrite my own story through real interactions with real people who didn’t know me – who had no expectations for me. I could be whomever I wanted and thrive. On Brad Listi’s MySpace blog, I met some of the most important people I’ve ever called friends, many of whom I’ve now met, eaten meals with, exchanged Christmas cards with, supported through illnesses, divorces, births, lost minds, found sanities – and I’ve been supported by all of them through my own throng of tribulations and joys.
Cheryl (longtime Brad Listi Blog commenter) and I finally met in April 2010. We made ourselves Lovemonger shirts – and one for Tawni, who couldn’t join us.
The community that Brad Listi built stuck together, following our nomadic leader as he abandoned MySpace and began blogging at bradlisti.com. It was there that I met even more new friends – including Becky (who, you might be startled to hear, I clashed with at first), Irwin (one day, I shall make him a sandwich), Matt (confession: I had a huge crush on him at first and may or may not have stalked him a little), Laura (dear reader), Ashley (New Orleans Lady), and others who have come and gone. (I’m looking at you, Carol Hiller.) But this was also not to last. Brad Listi abandoned regular blogging at his home address and said, “Now, now. I’ll still be over at The Nervous Breakdown.” And once again I followed him to yet another URL and many, though not all, of his readers – those who I came to think of as dear friends – followed him over as well.
There’s been ample discussion, public and private, about what the hell The Nervous Breakdown is anyway. There have been lamentations about quality and crowding, as well as high praise for the successes many of our contributors have seen. But the writing is really only part of what keeps bringing me back. For me, the reason I keep returning has been the same all along: community and fidelity. This is why I encourage other contributors on this site. And I’m thankful to feel encouraged by them – by you. And you. And you. It’s a unique phenomenon for a website and, like any community, it has its dysfunctions. Despite these, if this sense of community were missing, I wouldn’t stick around or participate as much.
As to the quality of writing, well I wish it were more true that the cream rises to the top. Brad Listi himself is on record as saying that he hates much of what he writes as soon as it’s written and put out in the world. I, too, feel this way about my own posts. Some I cringe about more than others. Some of them I’m fiercely proud of. I always try to put my best foot forward, though – especially since I’m posting with people like Duke Haney, Meg Worden, M.J. Fievre, Nick Belardes, Simon Smithson, Zara Potts, Hank Cherry, Sean Bedouin, The Dust, Quenby Moone, Greg Olear*… There are so many great writers on this site, and because of them, I’m constantly trying to be a better, more skillful writer myself.
But at the end of the day, it’s about fidelity. TNB is one of the last remaining vestiges of my life as a social networker. It’s the only site that I check daily and lately I’ve had a harder and harder time getting to everything that’s posted – as priorities, external pressures, and sunshine are keeping me away from the computer screen more and more. But I keep coming back. The Nervous Breakdown isn’t better than Brad Listi’s dead MySpace blog. Nor is it worse. It’s more like the way your hometown changes over your lifetime. It’s different, but it still feels like home.
Thanks for being a “writer,” Brad.
Happy birthday, TNB! (And, unlike Becky, I promise not to come on to you. Not until you give me a couple of beers anyway…)
* The talent on this site is humbling and the quality writers are too numerous to list. If this post is your first introduction to TNB, I highly recommend going to the page that lists all of our contributors and taking a look around.