Enough about Trump, Biden and Buffalo Head Guy. I want to talk about me.
Actually, I want to talk about this blog.
I started this little adventure in wordsmithing in late 2014 when my daughter bought me the domain name, justexactlyperfect.com. I discovered WordPress and then clicked and swiped my way to a rudimentary website, which some of you give me the great honor of reading on a periodic basis (actually, almost 8,000 of you visited during 2020, thank you very much).
I guess you could call it a hobby. Some guys work with wood, restore cars, play guitars or chase a small white ball with skinny sticks. I like to put words together, hopefully in ways that inform, humor or entertain. It’s how I earned a living for 40 years and I can’t stop doing it.
And then six years and 62 posts after JEP was launched, I got a wakeup call.
“Speaking of perspective, I always thought the advertised title of your blog was presumptuous,” wrote a friend responding to a recent post (“Perspective During the Plague Year”).
I was kind of shocked. I consider myself a modest person, for the most part; there are occasional lapses of hubris, but the universe always finds a way to bitch-slap me. The last impression I would want someone to have about “Just Exactly Perfect” is that it’s perfect. Far from it.
So, a little background. The title of the blog was lifted (don’t be shocked) from the Grateful Dead. The Dead, as many of you know, are one of my primary musical reference points. As a band whose touring career spanned 30 years, their live performances often achieved states of undeniable perfection, but more often than not they were just a very good band, not a perfect one (some nights they weren’t very good at all). Which is why when Bob Weir would say the technical crew was working to make things “just exactly perfect” after the third or fourth equipment malfunction, his tongue was planted firmly in his cheek. I adopted the phrase as a title because I like Bob’s cheeky attitude toward technical glitches and his wink-and-a-nod humor. But I also read into the phrase a loftier, metaphysical meaning: humankind’s continuous and quixotic striving for perfection and our inevitable Icarus-like fall from grace, over and over — what is essentially the human condition.
Now that I had a title, I built a theme. I envisioned JEP as a collection of pieces about things I deemed “perfect” (since I am the editor and writer, I always agreed with myself on what these perfect things were). The first year of blogging was sporadic – six posts more or less in line with the vision – “The Perfect Comic Novel,” “The Perfect $10 Chardonnay,” “1965: A Perfect Year for Music,” and so on.
Then mission creep happened. Even perfection gets boring after a while.
I occasionally returned to the theme (“10 Reasons Why the Masters Is the Perfect Golf Championship”), but my topics soon began to roam around like a long Grateful Dead jam and by 2018 I was pretty much blogging about anything that seemed interesting, important or funny – history, music, poetry, politics, personal milestones, etc. By the time I was writing about Trump and Covid, the thematic thread was light years away from the original concept of cataloguing perfect things and moments.
We all know that feeling of mission creep, when we suddenly realize we’ve gone off the rails: that big project at work that started as one thing as ended as another (and usually over budget); that backpacking trip where you left the trail for a moment and suddenly had no idea where you were; or that time when you opened a bag of chips with the idea of having just a handful and then woke up with your mouth covered in chip dust and an empty bag in your hands.
There I was with JEP, far off the trail of the original vision, with readers left scratching their heads thinking, “Just Exactly Perfect? Who does he think he is? What’s he smoking down there in the Low Country? This is as far from perfect as my Uncle Walter at Thanksgiving dinner.”
So it’s time for a reset.
The content of JEP has evolved over the past six years, for better or worse. Now it’s time to refresh the theme. I’m working on it — it will be something catchy, but open-ended (“Don’t fence me in,” Cole Porter and Robert Fletcher wrote in 1934) and unpretentious. It’ll take a while to get it right. It needs to be memorable, jaunty, unique and authentic. As a former brand manager, I understand the complexity and pitfalls of branding and naming — for every Apple, there’s a Tronc; for every Google an Alphabet.
Blogs are another beast altogether. There are some good names out there — Andrew Sullivan’s “The Weekly Dish” and a couple of new political entries, “Punchbowl” and “TheNewPoliticalStage” come to mind. But there are a lot of titles that could only politely be called idiosyncratic. Here’s a sampling of some popular blog titles from the new platform Substack:
“Webworm With David Ferrier” (Who is David Ferrier? Lead? Cameo appearance? Director?)
“The Shatner Chatner” (I read a couple of entries and couldn’t find any Star Trek references; what’s a chatner anyway?)
“Reply Alt” (Oh, I get it, haha!)
“Fisted By Foucault” (For all you fans of post-structuralist philosophy with a dose of Camille Paglia)
“The Sociology of Business” (Yawn)
“The Save Journalism Committee” (There are at least two things wrong with that title; you figure it out!)
So you can see the pitfalls that lie before me as I begin this rebranding process. I have a small but robust circle of advisors who will help test-drive some ideas and I’m confident in the end we’ll come out with a better, punchier, more accessible and more authentic name. Stay tuned.
Russ – I like things the way they are. But that’s just me. Whatever you come up will certainly be worth a look. Just remember what Mark Twain – a blogger from a simplier era said: “…and so there ain’t nothing more to write about, and I am rotten glad of it, because if I’d knowed what a trouble it was to make a book (blog) I wouldn’t a tackled it and I ain’t agoing to no more.” But of course he did. Good luck friend!
Thank you for a very thorough full “history lesson”, now I recognize the great JEP better.
I’ve been your blog reader for a guite short time but you are a very inspiring person. Trough my blue white glasses I’ve become one of your big fans. Your critical mind, human approach and pungent words have made my days much better which I’m grateful.
I have never paid very much attention to that lovely “JEP” but whatever you do with it doesn’t banish me from you.
And you should remember the great words that a clever and very successful businessman from Illinois (W. Clement Stone) once said: “Aim for the moon. If you miss, you may hit a star”.
Keep up the high spirit!
Thank you Pasi! Hope to see you guys in 2021 somewhere!
Russ- more concerned with the reach than the focus. You’re a super columnist with a giant heart—I say play whatever chords ring true for you.
Can’t wait to read JEP with whatever new title or form you give it.
I’ve always enjoyed your blog, Russ. If anyone can rise to the rebranding challenge, it’s you. Good luck!!
I too have always enjoyed your blog. I love your varied subjects but I just love your words. Will be looking forward to whatever new iteration you come up with. To me your writing is just exactly perfect.
Ditto! No good deed goes unpunished…
“‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door”