The time has come for the announcement I’ve hinted at here and in person to some close friends and random strangers: I have just been hired to head the brand new TLG blog.
I haven’t quite settled on a title for my new job, although I think “managing editor” is accurate and will look good on my resume. TLG Legal has labeled me “an Administrator of the Program Blog” but I think you’ll all agree that that lacks panache and won’t necessarily impress anyone in the publishing world. My job consists of being the site administrator and the main comment moderator; finding content – including guest bloggers and guest posts, aggregated content such as links to articles and other blogs, and possibly reposts; and generating original content, including original posts and suggested topics for posts. So, basically, editor stuff.
This is a first for me – the first time I’ve been hired as a writer (although I have been paid for my writing once before, when my play was produced) – but I can now say two things: one, that I am a professional writer for reals, y’all; and two, that I have managed to make the transition from blogger to paid blogger, joining a very small group of people who have been able to monetize blogging in some way. I don’t know which of those makes me happier, but I do know that basically I am ecstatic whenever I think about it.
Having professional writing credit also helps me if I want to get published – and I am thinking about writing something like an outline, first chapter, and some sample chapters this summer to pitch to a couple of publishers and/or agents. More about that if I actually manage to get to it.
So it’s safe to say that I’m pretty psyched.
The TLG blog itself is an interesting entity for many reasons. I think the first thing that pops into people’s minds tends to be conflict of interest. In other words, if TLG is going to be employing me as a writer, won’t I become a TLG mouthpiece? I think that this is a question that every paid blogger or journalist faces, even in the US with all our guarantees of freedom of speech and the press.
My answer to this is that I am a TLG employee and have been since August 2010. As a TLG employee I created and wrote this blog, which has occasionally generated controversy and occasionally gotten on TLG’s nerves. TLG has never asked me to remove anything I have written here or to restrict what I write about topics that do not concern TLG itself. During my training week I directly asked our training coordinator if there was any topic I should stay away from on this blog and she said no, and basically affirmed TLG’s commitment to liberal democratic values.
People tend to think for some reason that I am somehow at odds with TLG on this blog – maybe it’s something about my writing style, and I’ve been trying to make sure that I don’t come off as negative when I don’t mean to; or maybe it’s just human nature to assume an adversarial relationship between employee and employer – but this couldn’t be further from the truth. I have always wanted TLG to succeed and I have always been behind them in principle even when they have done specific things that I have disagreed with or wondered about.
It’s no secret that this blog has become not only a source of information about Georgia, but also a platform for me to try to spark discussion about issues in Georgia that may be underrepresented in other English-language sources of information – in other words, to talk about things no one is going to put on the brochures. Sometimes these topics are controversial, and TLG has warned me that since I am an employee of the Georgian government, anything that I say that is controversial can be held against TLG and the Georgian government by people with unfriendly agendas. I take this warning seriously because I do not want my writing to be used as a tool to destroy TLG or to empower anti-Western elements in this country. It’s been a learning process for me, but my interests and TLG’s interests are aligned when it comes to being tactful and careful with controversial subjects.
My first goal in writing this blog was to inform people about Georgia in a way that I could not be informed about Georgia before I came here. I wanted to write not just raw data, but also experience – I wanted to try to paint pictures of what it is like to be here, of the phenomenology of being in Georgia. Writing for the official TLG blog means that I will be able to get that information – to get those paintings – to a much larger group of people. It’s a realization of a goal that I’ve had since before I even got to this country.
At the same time, maintaining a distinction between my private blog and the TLG official blog helps underscore the idea that what I write on here is not the official view of the Georgian government.
And let’s face it – I’ve had two or three controversial entries out of almost one hundred. Most of what I write is very nuts and bolts – things like cooking and restaurants, where to shop for spices or medicine, how to communicate better and interpret Georgian communication better, and other things that I think of as very practical for the traveler coming to Georgia. And basically, that’s the kind of stuff I’ll be putting on the TLG blog. However, the TLG blog will focus more on current events, news, stories from other volunteers, and things to do in Georgia, because the TLG blog will be aimed as much at current TLG volunteers as it is at potential TLG volunteers. As much as I like writing the kinds of entries I put on this blog, almost everything that I say here is dead obvious for people who have been in Georgia for a couple of weeks.
So that basically answers the other question people might have, which is, what will go on the TLG blog and what will go here? I see the TLG blog as existing to build a community. I’ll give you an example. Once I didn’t see my youngest sister for about two years, and when I saw her again, suddenly we were making all the same references and using the same slang terms. This might be unremarkable except that she lives in Florida and I lived in New York at the time. I realized that she and I share an internet subculture – the subculture that pays attention to things like memes and viral videos, but also to certain sectors of entertainment like Neil Gaiman and The Princess Bride and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. You know who you are.
And I realized then that a subculture doesn’t need to be physically proximate any more. She and I basically spoke the same jargon without having experienced any of it together. It was almost like the equivalent to a regional dialect, like New York English, except that our shared region was a virtual region. In modern anthropological terms we could call this a kind of extended “community of practice” – a group of people with shared norms, traditions, practices, and cultural knowledge that maintains solidarity through regular meeting.
TLG volunteers have the potential to build this kind of community of practice. If I met a volunteer tomorrow who I had never met or spoken to before, we’d still share certain cultural knowledge and certain experiences that could bring us together. We’d both have the experience of experiencing Georgia as a foreigner. We’ve probably both heard of a few high-profile people or events – Tomas Fletcher, the Jon Benet Ramsey person – and there’s a decent chance they’ve read or heard of this blog. We’ve both been through TLG training, probably both seen YouTube videos of Suxishvilebi dancing at a restaurant or to Michael Jackson music, probably both experienced a love/hate relationship with Georgian food and drink, probably both been scared out of our minds by our first week of being driven around this country, etc. Maybe we haven’t both seen the color picture of Tbilisi taken a hundred years ago, or haven’t both seen the YouTube videos of Shin playing their amazing hybrid folk/modern Georgian music.
I think that we can do better. I see the TLG blog as being a platform for sharing interesting YouTube videos, pictures, websites, facts, stories, events, people, you name it. I think that we could build a little region of the internet that could bring us a little closer and make us a little more familiar and a little more comfortable here. I think even physically remote volunteers – volunteers from Kakheti, Adjara, and everywhere in between – can share with each other in a way that enhances all of our experience here.
And I think that once people on the outside see what the Georgian community is like, they’ll have the other piece of the puzzle of what it is like to be in Georgia. I think we can kill two birds with one stone.
So that’s the kind of stuff that I see going on the TLG blog. If you want more details than that, you’ll just have to wait and see.