Rapid Eye Reality turns ten

Two weeks before nineteen men crashed airplanes into my country, I started a blog. This blog. It was an exercise, an outlet suggested to me by my friend, Susannah. We were eating shrimp and drinking beer on Tybee Island. It was a wedding rehearsal dinner for our friends Mike and Julia. Though I’d already been a working journalist for six or seven years, I kept most serious writing to the confines of journals, emails, or Word documents that would never see a printed page. Susannah asked me if I’d ever heard of blogging. She explained it, and told me how to get started.

We all lived an idyllic life during that time. I was 27 years old, nearing the end of my contract at the TV station, and wallowing in a particular ennui that would seem almost offensive two weeks later. On August 29, 2001, I started writing for an audience of my friends. Ten years later, I’m still doing it.

I sometimes wonder if I’d ever have started this blog if I knew how much was going to change in our country, in our world, in my life, or in the way I see everything. The hardest part in continuing to write here is that it forces me to be completely honest with an ever-growing group of friends and readers. I know how to write dishonestly, but I can’t do it here. Over the past ten years, there have been two long periods (one very recently) in which the frequency of my posts dropped off significantly. Those were times in which I couldn’t write honestly and, therefore, stayed away from this place. A changing world and an aging man force constant confrontations with honesty.

But here it is. Rapid Eye Reality is still here ten years later.

Susannah moved to London. Mike went to war. My father nearly died. My wife gave me two beautiful sons. I got out of TV and joined the traveling circus of the high stakes poker world in which I helped create a cottage industry. I traveled the world as it imploded and exploded around me. I lost faith in humanity and found faith in friends, many of whom I found because I started blogging. I became a better person, became a worse person, and became a better person again. All the while, I wrote here for a group of friends like I was still writing my Deep South Update emails from 1997. Over the time, the readership here has grown to include people I’ve never met. I still consider them–you, in fact–friends. Because, who else but a friend would stick around so long?

It’s impossible to hold most folks’ attention for very long. I am a frequent user of Twitter and Facebook. Nobody wants to read anything that’s longer than 140 characters anymore. I’ve read and largely agree with the pronouncements that blogging as we know it is dead. I’m fine with that. Though Rapid Eye Reality began as and continues to be a blog, it’s–at least to me–become more than that. I fear we live in a culture that feeds on dishonesty. Intellectual dishonesty. Personal dishonesty. Spiritual dishonesty. It’s easy to hide all of that when everything you say has to be contained inside a 140-character blanket. I know, because I spend a lot time in that realm. I make no judgments, but I speak from experience.

Anyone who has read here for very long knows that I struggle with confidence. I have a very hard time defining myself as a writer when most of my so-called professional work is not what I would normally call writing. It often feels dishonest of me to tell people I’m a writer. I fight with myself daily on the subject. That’s what makes Rapid Eye Reality’s continued existence so confounding. Why would I continue to write here and live my life so…so, out loud…if I didn’t consider myself worthy of people’s attention?

When I wrote Notes on Fear, I called my wife into my office and told her I didn’t know what to do with the post. I felt like it was, as a dear friend once described my writing, “too honest.” I felt like it revealed too much or opened me up to opinions that could derail…well, I didn’t know. I was simply afraid to hit publish.

“Did it do you any good to write it?” my wife asked. I said it did.

“Would it be enough to just keep it for yourself and not publish it?” she asked. Immediately, I said it wouldn’t. I surprised myself with how quickly I answered. I realized that–for me–the writing is only half of the the therapy. Somebody has to read it, or it doesn’t work.

It’s taken me a long time to recognize and even longer to admit that I need feedback. I write here because I know people will tell me what they think. Whether it’s ego, human nature, or both, despite my inherently introverted nature, I thrive on people enjoying what I write and telling me about it. After I wrote To the man buying my house, I had people coming up to me in person–people I barely knew or didn’t know at all–thanking me for writing it. It was gratifying in a way that I can’t explain.

When I wrote “Notes on Fear,” I had a lot of people tell me it helped them recognize the same fear in themselves. I wanted to cry, because that’s ultimately why I sit down to write. I want to tell people something honest about myself, I want my uncomfortable honesty to have some effect on somebody else, and I want to know about it. That last sentence is the hardest I’ve had to write in as long as I can remember. It’s as honest as I can be.

I just looked at myself in the mirror. I haven’t shaved in a few days, and my beard is growing from my gray temples, down my jaw, and into a pool of salt and pepper on my chin. Despite wearing a hat and sunglasses outside all weekend, the sun did its work on the wrinkles around my eyes. With a shrug I accepted that I’m just not the same guy I was ten years ago today. I’m older. I’m different. Nearly everything about my life has changed. I’ve written about a lot of that change on Rapid Eye Reality. If I’m being honest, I have to admit that I don’t know what’s going to happen to me, this blog, or anything else over the next ten years. I don’t know what’s going to happen next month. I don’t know what’s going to happen tonight.

For today, however, let me offer this:

Thank you to the people who started reading in 2001 and are still here today.

Thank you to the people who have helped shape the person and writer I am.

Thank you to the people who helped me launch a new career and have supported me in my efforts to survive a non-traditional life.

Thank you to the people who took the time out to comment, send emails, or pull me aside and tell me you liked something I wrote.

Thank you to my friends.

Thank you to the people who read to the end.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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20 Responses

  1. Jen says:

    Thanks to you for your words in this space. Your honesty and openness are always warm and refreshing. I’ve learned a great deal from your experiences, and I believe I’ve become a better writer by simply reading your posts. Here’s to the future! *clink*

  2. StB says:

    Happy blog birthday.

  3. Susan says:

    Thank you for continuing to write.

  4. Pauly says:

    Thanks. For everything.

  5. Melissa says:

    You can shave now. Go on it’s ok.
    I started reading RER about 8 years ago. I love this blog. I’m finding 140 character life akin to crack, great the first time then just a vapid existence at the expense of time wasted. But then I like to read.

    What twitter does offer is a way to link to wonderful blogs like this.
    Happy birthday rapid eye reality, looking forward to 11.

  6. Drizztdj says:

    Only in a personal blog does a writer get a shot at being themselves and you’ve exemplified here what a writer should be doing with their talents.

    By being brutally honest with yourself on this web page of ten years, you challenge and inspire others to do the same.

    Thank you.

  7. Lee says:

    RER is where I go to read material that is (1) great writing and (2) deeply honest. Sometimes it’s hard to make it all the way through the post, simply because it cuts too deep. But I do anyway – partially because I love the writing so much. But also because it’s a dose of honesty that I can deal with, coming from a friend.

    I make no request that you continue writing RER; I have no claim on your time or your honesty. But know that if you do, I will continue to read it. It is a breath of truth and often beauty in a world of 140-character sound-bites.

  8. Bob Kallberg says:

    Damn good piece. We have not met, but I have read a lot of your material. I know from my own experience writing honestly is the hardest thing there is to do as a writer. You are doing fine.

  9. PokerLawyer says:

    It’s your authenticity that makes your writing so moving and captivating. I’m drawn into each post. Even if I wanted to, even if I had someone hollering me at to “Come on, we’re gonna be late!”, I can’t stop reading to the end. That’s how good your words are. Brave, vulnerable – authentic. Thank you for writing, Brad.

  10. DrHogie says:

    And let me thank you for writing this blog for ten years.

    I found RER through the poker writer’s network of Iggy, Dr. Pauly, Wil Wheaton, and others and added RER to my list. The simplest way I can describe your pieces is how they take both the best and the worst things about life and paint their picture with words.

    Maybe one day our paths will cross and I can buy you a well-deserved beer for all the enjoyment and amazement I’ve gotten out of this blog.

  11. Kara says:

    Thank you Brad. I am so glad that you write and even more grateful that you post. Reading your work makes me think about the world in a different way and see things that I would miss otherwise. So, your writing makes me better. Thank you.

  12. TommySi says:

    <>

    I only recently started reading RER, lead here by PL tweets. Really outstanding content, writing…I am excited to anticipate your future work and I promise to read all of them….to the end.

  13. jann sabin says:

    I’m a new reader, so I have 10 year’s worth of catching up to do. But it’s never too late to come in on a good story. Enjoyed this post just as much as the awesome thoughts on fear.

    And re: your deciding to publish earlier piece, I guess if a tree falls, it does help if someone is there to hear it.

  14. Bracelet says:

    I still have people listed in google reader from when I was using bloglines. You’re obviously one of them. But there are very few posts by people that I don’t just immediately delete. It’s not that I dislike the people, as I’ve been lucky enough to call many people who blog my friend, it’s just that after 8 years of writing and reading blog posts it’s rare that someone can do it in a way that still interests me. You, Mr. Dart, are one of the very few people who I still take the time to read. When I see a new post listed I know I’m going to be taken somewhere I’m unable to take people when I write. It makes me jealous, but in a proud way. If that even makes any sense. I feel like I got in on the ground floor of Otis and I’m very grateful for that.

    Thanks.

    -Bob

  15. Tom says:

    Congratulations on 10 years! Blogging is not dead, and it was probably never intended for those that make such pronouncements. Keep up the good work!

  16. I’ve read you for so long now and never told you until this summer when we gathered to honor Gulfman. Even when I told you I so enjoyed Rapid Eye, you brushed it off, made it seem silly. You are a wonderful writer. So much so, I asked, even begged you to mention my blog, knowing your large readership might help my struggling site. You did it and I thank you. I never thought you would remember working with me, but you did. I never thought you would even consider me a friend, but I think you do. So thank you for that. And thank you for sharing your life. I look forward to the next ten years.

  17. otis says:

    Steph, you make me blush. Thanks for this. It made my day.

  18. Murph says:

    Brad,
    You see qualities in others that we are incapable of recognizing in ourselves. We, in turn, are aware of things in you that you won’t allow yourself to see.
    Curious, no?
    Here’s to many more thought provoking posts from the Otisman!

  19. Jeff says:

    I don’t go all the way back to 2001 of reading your blog, but I do go back a few years. I’m usually just a lurker, but wanted to comment and let you know that you are definitely a “writer”! I have really enjoyed your posts over the years (and the few fiction/short stories you have shared both here and on Pauly’s Truckin blog) and everyone I have shared your posts with have too. I hope you keep writing here (so I can keep enjoying it), but do keep writing! Thanks for sharing all of your profound honesty and well crafted words.

  1. August 29, 2011

    […] not sure how long I’ve been reading Otis’s blog—probably not much more than a couple of years now. I found him through my poker connections, but […]

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