Why I write what I write

I’m thrilled and gratified that, in a month, my blog has already reached more people than it did in all of 2022. It’s proof positive that people enjoy reading about historic sites and structures just as much as I love to research them! I wanted to introduce myself to everyone who’s recently stopped by or subscribed, so today I’m going to write about why I’m interested in esoterica, why I’m fascinated by what I write about, why I write how I do, and why I write, in general.

Ye scribe, working on a new blog post. Portrait painted January 28, 1547.

I’m trying something new with this post: if you’re a casual reader or someone just stopping by, I’ve written up a quick synopsis of each of the four segments I’m touching on today. If you’d like a deeper explanation, click or tap the arrow next to the summary. That should expand each segment to provide more information. At least I hope it does- I can’t add plugins or run Javascript queries in WordPress Premium, so I coded the rest of this post in good, old-fashioned, html. It was kind of fun to put those dormant skillz to use.

Before we get started, I want to say that the expanded paragraphs of the “Why I’m into what I’m into” and “Why I write” segments discuss bullying, violence, depression, and suicidal ideation. If you’re sensitive to content like that, it might be best to just read the collapsed synopses or skip this post entirely. I’ll be back to my usual content tomorrow when we’ll talk about the Brooks Schoolhouse in Fishers, Indiana.

Why I’m interested in esoterica

I’ve always been an intensely curious person since I was a boy.

I’ve always loved finding stuff that’s meant to be hidden. As a kid, I invariably made a point of identifying the electric eye that automatically opened the doors of whichever department store we went to. I felt like an expert spy when I saw that the older Marsh supermarkets used a hidden pedal like the one on my Mom’s sewing machine to move their check-out conveyors forward. It felt the same when I started to notice the oft-heard but never seen sirens that sounded like clockwork across Delaware County every Friday at eleven.

My siblings and I spent a lot of time at the Fort Wayne Zoo as kids with my grandma and we’d always have a picnic lunch in the concourse between the sea lion and otter enclosures. The animals were fine, but finding the drains and pump rooms for their habitats was far more interesting to me. My other favorite thing at the zoo was the log ride through its Australian Adventure environment. To me, the best part was the narration- I loved pointing out the hidden speakers designed to look like rocks as we floated past!

My Aunt Jan took my brother and me on a pontoon tour of Eagle Creek Reservoir on the northwest side of Indianapolis a few years after my grandma died. As we puttered around, the tour guide told us that an entire town had been flooded when the reservoir was constructed. The thought of floating above old stop signs, church steeples, and roadways was deeply compelling. I know the guide was exaggerating now, but it’s something that has stuck with me for nearly twenty years.

It’s been decades since those trips to the zoo, Eagle Creek, the Ames department store, or Marsh. Nevertheless, I’ve still cultivated an interest in hidden stuff and anything that’s obscure.

Why I’m into what I’m into

I had serendipitous opportunities to familiarize myself with forgotten, abandoned, and historic places as an intensely lonely kid. That attracts me to those places as an adult.

Schoolhouses, courthouses, and old roads make up a big part of what I write about. My interest in old schools spans back a couple of generations: as a girl, my grandma briefly lived with her parents and brother in Center Township’s old Clay College schoolhouse on the west side of Muncie. Later, she became a teacher.

After she retired, Grandma volunteered for the Delaware County Historical Society and created a curriculum for fourth graders studying Indiana history. Part of it consisted of a map she adapted that showed schoolhouses, round barns, cemeteries, and other historic cultural features. During the summer of 2003 my mom, also a teacher, drove her around the county to take pictures of some of the remaining schoolhouses. I was twelve and I tagged along, enthralled by the notion that so many of those old buildings were hiding in plain sight! I eventually decided to complete the project for myself.

I did the same for courthouses in fits and starts. My family’s spread out across Indiana, and all that driving and riding along on holidays led me past tons of great old courthouses. In my early twenties, I decided to hit the road to go see them all and to date, I’ve tracked down courthouses in 164 counties across the midwest. The majority of them are iconic calling cards for the communities they serve.

Most old courthouses sit on bypassed old highways. In 2004, I remember riding along with my parents to Gordon Food Service in Anderson to buy supplies for a party. As I stared out the window on our way back home, I noticed how a random road peeled off from the highway at a higher grade than the rest of its surroundings. It was odd! I later learned that it had once been part of State Road 67. From then on, orphaned alignments like that because a major interest of mine. I was hooked!

Those are just three examples of why I’m deeply interested in what I write about. I’m fascinated by the built environment, and growing up in the declining midwestern rust belt provided me with all kinds of opportunities to seek it out. I still feel connected to the forgotten places that were once bustling with people around these parts, but I’d take deep dives into the same topics whether I lived in South Carolina, Zanzibar, or Solla Sollew. The forgotten places I focus on resonate with me because, things like trips to the zoo and reservoir aside, big parts of my childhood were deeply unhappy.

I was a sensitive kid. I really felt for the spoon that fell behind the stove in Arnold Lobel’s Tear Water Tea and the mysterious bowl full of mush in Goodnight Moon! The less said about Pam Conrad’s The Tub Grandfather, the better.

It’s embarrassing to admit, but I even sobbed in the school library in first grade because they didn’t have any books about cathedrals. If that wasn’t enough for potential friends to want nothing to do with my weird ass, my humiliating speech impediment certainly was. Unfortunately, while I didn’t fit in during my earliest years in school, I didn’t fit in with my family either. My dad never addressed some significant issues with his mental health and frequently bullied and abused me. Back at home, two older stepbrothers did the same and harassed me mercilessly. I felt forgotten, and I wanted more than anything for someone to hear and acknowledge my struggles.

The story has a happy ending so far: I’ve been able to speak properly for years, and I no longer burst into tears when a room I enter doesn’t have any cathedral books! Nevertheless, coming across an abandoned courthouse, an old building, or a forgotten roadway awakens memories of how intensely lonely I felt during my youth. The forgotten places and things we drive by every day have stories of their own, and I truly believe they need to be told and acknowledged.

Why I write how I write

I try to convey the results of my research in a way that can be understood and appreciated by a variety of audiences.

When I first got into Indiana’s courthouses, the internet lacked a place that aggregated photos and information about them. The same was the case with schoolhouses, and I was sure that researching them was going to be impossible. I’m nothing if not a battering ram, though, and I eventually began to compile a vast amount of information about the two topics through brute force. Writing helped me organize what I’d uncovered, and publishing it meant anyone could use my information to help with their own work. That’s why I’ve cited all the sources I’ve used as references in posts that are heavily-researched.

I’m a staunch proponent of making history available to everyone who’s interested in it. I don’t believe in putting my work behind paywalls, memberships, or subscriptions, and I’m suspicious of academic gatekeeping. My content is so niche that I presume the majority of people who stop by have some level of familiarity with what I write about, but I’m making a conscious effort to improve my storytelling, tighten up my writing, and increase its readability in 2023.

As I see it, a large part of doing that will involve eliminating unnecessary opinions from most of my work. Back in 2014, my first efforts towards writing about courthouses were unbelievably cringe. Instead of focusing on the landmark structures themselves, I made myself the main character of boring installment after boring installment! Remember- there was no greater raison d’être for my project aside from wanting to see old courthouses, snap some photos, and find some information about them. I’m not a lawyer, I’m usually not a local, and I’m not an architect. I am an enthusiast, but I eventually pivoted away from being the center of attention when it came to writing about courthouses. I’ll continue to do that when it comes to my heavily-researched posts.

Historically, articles from my old courthouse blog and my FOUND Muncie group on Facebook tended to be extremely informal. On the opposite end of the spectrum, my schoolhouse blog was extraordinarily dry, and there’s a middle ground between the two ends that I’m trying to find as I improve as a writer. Writing about pipes is different, though: although there’s some research involved, most of what I write about pipes are reviews that necessitate an opinion, so I’m okay with being a little more disorderly in that space. I think code-switching will help appeal to a variety of audiences interested in the disparate topics that I find fascinating.

Why I write

Here’s the big one: I write because I want to establish a resource that didn’t exist when I started researching all of my interests, and because writing helps keep me sane and, well, here.

My mom’s been a high school English teacher for twenty-five years and my dad was a professional editor. I come by writing naturally but I’m not a natural writer: this blog is real work! I’d almost rather just research and let someone else do the rest of it, but I do love seeing a post come together, and I enjoy building a streak of content. Beyond that, I truly think my writing is valuable. It’s nice to get a pat on the back for a well-researched post, of course, but writing here has been personally valuable to me because it helps keep me sane.

I mean that literally: just like my dad did, I struggle with Bipolar Disorder. I hope I don’t come off as glib or melodramatic but right now, on January 30th, I’ve been slogging through one of the worst depressive episodes I’ve ever had. Frankly, I’ve been struggling with vivid, Ultra HD-level suicidal ideation for the past two weeks, and it’s shown no signs of stopping. I truly want to end it all.

It’s weird to sound so matter-of-fact about this, but I’ve dealt with this disorder for long enough that I’ve picked up some clues that help me understand how it works: I know this depressive phase is temporary and that my destructive impulses are based on corrupted data. It’d be really short-sighted to draw long-term 6yconclusions from such an incomplete stream of information right now, since Bipolar makes separating the objective from the subjective very hard. Unfortunately, doing that is necessary in order to remove myself from what I feel in the moment. I’ve built a war chest of information about my mental health over the last fifteen years, but if I were to act solely on the information I stockpiled during a major depressive episode like this one, I’d have done something with irrevocable consequences already.

I’ve chosen the hard way in terms of trying to understand my own stuff, but a logical approach doesn’t help when I’m mired in the middle of everything. I’ve built the presence of mind to realize that this phase is temporary, and I know that I’ll survive it if I can hold on long enough. That said though, Bipolar is devious, but it’s cyclical: I go through manic and depressive episodes almost like they’re changing seasons. For several years, seasonal changes were key to my livelihood when I made my living as a home-canning expert for Ball Mason Jars. Canning was a necessity before refrigeration was common, and the best way a family could ensure they’d have enough food during the winter was to grow a bunch of it beforehand to preserve for later. I took a similar approach with this blog, and it’s paid dividends.

A lot of the time, manic Bipolar phases lead me to be driven and obsessively consumed with one thing or another until I burn myself out. Those states lead me to ridiculous productivity that I’ve learned to channel to battle the depression in advance. In the months leading up to this post, I wrote and scheduled more than two hundred articles about pipes, courthouses, and schools. They’re things I pulled over from the blogs I used to maintain and edited, and they’ll help keep things rolling here while I’m dealing with this. I’m still trying to work on generating new content in the meantime, but knowing I have stuff to run in case I fail has done wonders towards helping me cope. Writing in this space is far from the only positive coping mechanism I’ve deployed, but I think it’s a prudent, proactive, and productive approach towards mitigating the this illness.

Many of those extra post have already run, and they’ve also provided the unexpected benefit of allowing me to keep up my seven-days-per-week publishing schedule while taking the pressure off to give me time to take deep dives into new topics I think are intriguing. I know I’m not obligated to post here so often and know that no one will mind if I miss a day or two, but establishing a routine is key to managing my mental illness. Working on this blog every day, even if it’s just editing old courthouse posts, will help me. At any rate, I’m grateful for having had the foresight to set things up in advance the way I did. After all- failing to plan is planning to fail, as they say.

All said, I think my prognosis is good and I’m pretty confident that I’ll be fine. My understanding of this disorder is much stronger than it was the last time it hit me this hard, and I know I have a vast support network that sincerely cares about my well-being. I’m part of that network too.

This post took more than a month to fully ideate and put together. I hope it explains a little bit about who I am, why I’m interested in all of this old stuff, why I started writing here, and how I’ve used my writing to proactively deal with my recent challenges. Those issues are tough, but they haven’t driven me completely crazy yet! Honestly, my attempts at finding the old artesian well in the Highbanks area of Selma will probably do me in before the Bipolar thing does.

That’s what I hope, at least, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves: I expect to continue to post about schoolhouses, courthouses, and pipes in the near future, but I’m also planning to finish up some longer posts about artesian wells, ocean liners, pizza robots, old highway alignments, theaters, and pools over the weeks and months ahead. Meanwhile, if what I’ve written about myself can help someone, I’m better for it. Far it be it from me to proclaim to have all the answers, but this is what I’ve found to help me out.

If you’re interested in hearing more about me, head over to my About page, where I’ve compiled some more posts of a more personal nature than what I usually write about. If you’re not, stay a subscriber. I’ll resume my usual posts tomorrow. In either case, thanks again for stopping by, and I’ll keep you posted.

6 thoughts on “Why I write what I write

  1. Ted, I appreciate your writing, and your transparency with personal trials and tribulations. I find your writing and the subsequent rabbit-holes it produces interesting and enjoyable.
    Keep writing and stay the course, you will keep improving and “this too shall pass”

    Like

  2. I enjoy your writing and identity with at least some of your motivations. Changes in the built environment are endlessly fascinating, which has caused a huge waste of time in researching the rise, fall and re-rise of the little piece of a neighborhood at Central and Sutherland in Indianapolis where my kids have just bought a house.

    I will confess that I found your early stuff hugely entertaining because of your fabulously offbeat humor (that I totally get) and am a little sorry that you will be toning it down, but I fully understand.

    Keep em coming!

    Liked by 1 person

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