Willie Nelson was right: It is funny how time slips away, isn’t it?
A few weeks ago, I noticed that the blog was closing in on the 1000-post mark, a major milestone for a blog whose future has been in doubt on multiple occasions over the last few years. The realization inspired me to check the site’s total view count (WordPress’s new UI doesn’t display the total like it used to), and I was even more surprised to find that Kyle’s Korner had crossed the 250,000 view mark (in fact, at the time I wrote we were just short of 261,000). I know that spam bots and other automated web crawlers generate a lot of traffic, but still: A quarter of a million views?! The number caught me a bit off guard, and it made me reflect on everything that had transpired since my eulogy for José Fernández was posted all those years ago.
Since its founding in 2016, Kyle’s Korner has survived three jobs across three states, the rise and fall of Bro-Country, the release of the Nintendo Switch, the suicide of a close friend, the Trump administration, an attempted coup, a nationwide reckoning on race, and a global pandemic. (To say that this is not the world I thought we’d be living in when I started the blog is the understatement of the millennium.) Posts have gotten longer, monthly readership has grown from the tens to the tens of thousands, the sport and gaming topics I thought I would be talking about have taken a backseat to song reviews and artist deep dives, and Thanos has turned Luke Bryan into “the other Luke” in country music. All of these developments give rise to a simple question: How?
Since deep dives have become the biggest draw on the site, it seemed like putting together one for Post #1000 would suit the occasion, and it turns out that both Zack Kephart and Jmaster824 had the same question that I did:
So today, we’re booting up old laptops, logging onto old accounts, and diggin’ up
bones a long-forgotten hard drive from the Sudikoff courtyard (I had to move it anyway, the department is moving to another building this fall) to answer a few questions:
- How did we get here?
- Why are we still here?
- Have we learned any lessons that might be useful for posterity?
In a nutshell, the journey to Kyle’s Korner is one of perseverance and self-discovery, a long quest to find a place in this world in which the eventual decision was “F*** it, I’ll just make my own place.” By going back through the story, perhaps we can unearth some nuggets of wisdom that will help you on your own path through life.
Act I: The New England Patriot (2004-2006)
My first blog was a product of mixing the political climate of the early 2000s with a heaping helping of dumb luck:
- In 2002, President George W. Bush and his cronies began agitating for military operations against Iraq, claiming that then-dictator Saddam Hussein posed a threat because he possessed weapons of mass destruction. Subsequent U.N. inspections turned up no evidence of such weapons, but the administration kept claiming that they were there and needed to be dealt with, and Bush eventually led a “coalition of the willing” into Iraq in 2003. The resulting quagmire dominated American politics (and country music) for the next few years, and in the end no WMDs were ever found.
I ran with a pretty liberal crew at the time (Editor’s note: He still does), and while we weren’t Bush’s biggest fans to begin with, his insistence on invading Iraq despite having an extremely flimsy case for doing so really made us mad, and a few of them responded by founding a blog called “Satire Is Dead,” where they ranted about and mocked the antics of the Bush administration (think Seth Meyers’s “A Closer Look” series, but in blog form and nowhere near as funny). I wasn’t a founding member of the site, but they looked like they having fun and I had a few choice words I wanted to share, so when they asked me to be a contributing author, I said yes.
- A few months later, I was contacted by a friend who was doing some IT work as part of his college work-study program. His boss had tasked him with setting up a blog on a development server in order to test out some website monitoring tools, but he didn’t have any content to generate the traffic he needed to monitor. He knew that I had some blogging experience through SID, so he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: I could take control of the blog, customize the look, feel, and branding, and write whatever random junk I wanted, and he would analyze the traffic and take care of all the messy backend stuff. (Looking back, I’m surprised he wasn’t more worried about getting fired for this…) Being super bored at my own position, I agreed, and we sealed the deal over coffee the next day.
“The New England Patriot” published their first post on December 3, 2004, discussing President Bush’s nomination of Bernard Kerik to lead the Department of Homeland Security. (The name was a play on the NFL’s New England Patriots, who were just starting to dominate the league under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. To this day, I wonder how many confused football fans showed up at the blog just looking for NFL news.) For the next two years, I would spend most of my day reading the news online, writing up and publishing a post about something if it irritated or amused me enough, and sending it over to Satire Is Dead if the humor was biting enough (at least until that blog disintegrated as people left to pursue other projects). There was no set post schedule, no hard limit on topic choices (if I wanted to rant about Rafael Palmeiro’s steroid use or the uselessness of college rankings, I did), and no assumption of readership—in fact, given how little engagement the blog got, for most of its tenure I figured I was just shouting into the void. (All my sysadmin partner would ever tell me is that he had to keep messing with his firewall to block all the spam commenters.)
So if no one was listening, why did I keep talking? On one hand, there were definitely elements of ego and boredom involved: I thought I had something that was worth saying, and I had nothing better to do than to say it. There was probably an element of “What harm could it do?” as well, especially if no one was actually reading the posts (although today the fantasy of cyberspace/reality separation has been thoroughly dispelled).
However, upon further review I think the biggest driver behind The New England Patriot was that the blog allowed me to talk about the things I wanted to talk about, nothing more and nothing less. At the time, I was operating in a tech-centered bubble where most people preferred to talk about things like graph theory and runtime analysis, and the blog was the digital equivalent of screaming into a pillow, letting me ramble on about whatever on my mind even if no one was actually listening.
What I discovered later, however, was that people were actually listening:
- Late in 2005, I got an excited email from one of my Satire Is Dead colleagues saying that one of my posts has been quoted in the Express, a newspaper distributed in the D.C. area:
While I really wish the paper had used a better quote than that throwaway line, it was amazing to think that I had crossed over into an old-school publication. Still, D.C. lives and breathes politics, so it’s not surprising that even an obscure blog like ours would pop up on their radar. What about local attention?
- In 2006, when Vermont Daily Briefing (a blog that still exists, although it’s no longer politically-focused) reported on the vandalizing of the PoliticsVT blog, I asked my sysadmin partner if there was anything he could do to help. He in turn reached out to VDB’s founder with some ideas about recovering the data, and they mentioned in their response that they knew about us and had been checking in on The New England Patriot for some time! The revelation absolutely blew my mind: I had following VDB for a while, but never imagined that the reverse might have been true.
- The reaction became even more local in the wake of the campus conservative publication The Dartmouth Review using a grossly offensive characterization of Native Americans in their paper in late 2006, leading a number of campus and community members to rally in support of Native Americans and proclaim, as I reported on the blog, “that Dartmouth cannot and will not stand for such outright bigotry and bullshit.” My writeup of the event quickly became the most commented-on post at the site, finally driving the point home that yes, people were paying attention to my words.
So naturally, less than a week after I finally realized I had an audience and some momentum…my server admin decided to leave his job and join a startup company, and thus had to decommission his servers. Just like that, the reign of The New England Patriot came to an unceremonious end.
However, I learned a valuable lesson for my days on the political beat, albeit one I could have picked up much more quickly just by watching Kevin Costner: “If you build it, [they] will come.” If you stand on a digital street corner and shout long enough, eventually people will stop and listen, and the more you post, the more you hone your craft and figure out just what you’re trying to say. These were important lessons that I applied in my return to blogging a decade later.
Act II: Green Akers (2011-2016)
So what did I do in my hiatus from the blogosphere? For a while, I didn’t do much at all, because I was wrestling with a bigger question: What do I want to be when I grow up? The answer eluded me, so with no better options I continued walking the technological path I was on, finishing school and eventually moving into academic research. However, the more time I spent in the field, the more frustrating and less fulfilling I found it, and I began to wonder if a career in tech was really what I wanted.
It goes without saying that I was playing a lot of video games at the time (this was the heyday of the Nintendo Wii and DS, after all), and making video games with the reason I’d gotten into programming in the first place. As time went on, however, I realized that it wasn’t the technology aspect of the games that fascinated me, but the storytelling, and how games like RPGs had strong narratives and complex characters that came together to form deep and engaging tales. To heck with this computer stuff, I thought, I’m going to be…a writer!
Unfortunately, there were two problems with this goal:
- Writing is a notoriously poor-paying profession for most of it practitioners, and I kind of like to eat, pay rent, and buy Nintendo games.
- I am the most unoriginal person in the world. Put me in an existing world and I can riff off of it endlessly; tell me to develop my own world from scratch, and I’ll stare at a blank page for months.
The solution to both problems was to enter the realm of fan fiction, letting me use existing universes to practice while also settling the question of whether this was a profession or a hobby (trying to make money off of other peoples’ copyrights isn’t a good idea, so the second option was definitely the safest!). I spent the next year or so working on projects featuring different franchises (most of which will forever remain unfinished and unpublished), but my work suddenly entered the public domain when Lauren Faust brought the fourth generation of My Little Pony to life.
I was hooked by the way the show subverted the classic tropes of princess-oriented cartoons and worked in a bunch of real-world messiness to hilarious effect, and apparently so were a lot of other people, as ‘bronies’ seemed to take over the Internet in the early 2010s. As the community grew, a rich corpus of fan stories (some good, others kind of cringey) began to accumulate, and after much deliberation, I decided to toss my hat into the ring, if only to see if what I was producing on my own was any good.
If you ask me “Where did your first story idea come from?”, I honestly have no idea. A random thought just popped into my head one day: “Hey, I bet no one’s ever tried to combine My Little Pony and Mortal Kombat before!” There was probably a good reason for that, as the franchises were pretty much polar opposites of one another (M-rated gore and violence vs. kid-friendly problem-solving with just the right amount of action), and trying to smash the two together and turn the whole mess into a slapstick comedy was even more bewildering. (I also didn’t know a whole heck of a lot about the MK franchise – I worked more off of the 1995 movie than the actual games.) In other words, it probably shouldn’t have been the first story I published.
Nevertheless, that’s exactly what I did, publishing Mortal Kombat: Equestria at the tail end of 2011 under the name “Green Akers” (it seemed like a witty play on words at the time). The earlier chapters are a bit rough and hard to revisit now (that Trollestia trope was overdone a year before I used it) and the moderators at Equestria Daily never thought much of the tale, but the story wound up being fairly well-received, which just emboldened me to go even wilder with the humor and pop-culture references in later chapters. (Re-reading it now, I even found some Brad Paisley and Jerry Reed references that I tossed in.)
Okay, but what does all this have to do with Kyle’s Korner?
Well, besides the fact that MKE and subsequent stories got me back into the writing game, I definitely learned a few things from the fanfiction experience:
- When I first started writing MKE, I had no plan besides “Ponies fight through tournament.” I had no idea how each battle would go, how the universes would actually interact, or how the story would eventually end, so I basically spent the next three years figuring things out on the fly. Up until this point, I had a bad habit of dropping projects before I finished them, and this story got dangerously close to that point several times over its lifespan. Ultimately, however, I decided that come what may, I was going to stop leaving things half-finished and see MKE through to completion, which I finally did late in 2014. That dogged stick-to-itiveness I developed has come in really handy when running Kyle’s Korner, which has been on shaky ground more than a few times during its run.
- Country music and Nintendo are a strange pairing, but it’s way less strange than putting Mortal Kombat and My Little Pony (and later MLP and Splatoon) together. The experience taught me that unconventional combinations can still work if they’re executed well, and gave me more confidence in my decision to let my current blog be more scattershot with its subject matter.
- This act also introduced me to the darker side of the Internet, as some MK fans (and one in particular) were not happy with the irreverence I treated that franchise with, and they weren’t shy about telling me what they would do to me in response. After a few encounters like those, having someone call you a moron over a 5/10 song review just doesn’t have the same sting.
I wrote more and better stories during and after the MKE era (Grounded is probably my favorite of the bunch), but it was MKE that kicked off this new era of prose, and since the story is celebrating its 10th (!) anniversary this year, I figured it was a good time to once again thank it for its service.
Act III: Kyle’s Korner (2016-Present)
I can’t say exactly what caused me to fall away from the MLP fandom. I will say that the episodes got more predictable as time went on, and it got harder and harder to watch characters put themselves in obviously-bad positions and then slowly watch the train wrecks unfold. I gave the show up for good halfway through 2015, and though I tried to give my work a shot in the arm by mixing in my new favorite franchise Splatoon, it’s really hard to make your work canon when you don’t know what canon is.
Life was changing in other ways as well: Most notably, my Ph.D. advisor finally got tired of having me around, and the school declared me to be ‘Dr. Kyle’ and told me to GTFO. I’d had it up to here with academia and research by then, so I set off on a cross-country journey to join the corporate world and finally make some real money.
How did that go? I’ll let 2019 Kyle explain:
I always knew that 2016 Kyle was in a dark place, but I’ve only recently realized just how dark that place was, not to mention how long he’d been stuck there. He had sold his soul to be a faceless cog in a corporate machine, and was now aimlessly adrift deep in the heart of Texas with a bleak future of monotony and isolation ahead of him. Sure, he had more space than he knew what to do with and he was eating all the frozen Walmart chicken that money could buy, but his was an existence without purpose, and his only reason for living was to sit around and watch himself die…
2017 Kyle didn’t fare much better, as said corporate machine decided that his group was expendable and gave him the axe that summer. While they ultimately did me a favor by cutting me loose, in doing so they unleashed a period of great anxiety and uncertainty, which only grew with each passing week of unanswered applications and unsuccessful interviews. It was pretty clear that the world wanted nothing to do with this poor slob anymore, and I’d be lying if I said there weren’t moments when I wondered if the clock on my personal scoreboard had ticked down to zero.“State of the Blog Address: Rollin’ With The Flow,” September 25. 2019
So yeah, it was not fun. It’s only been five years since I left Texas, but it feels like fifty, and that was before 2020 took another twenty years to pass by itself.
As 2019 Kyle put it, Kyle’s Korner was “a boondoggle that was meant to kill time while waiting for the Grim Reaper to show up, as well as a place to use those writing skills I’d spent years sharpening on research papers and My Little Pony fanfiction.” As I mentioned, however, writing skills weren’t the only contribution of my earlier projects:
- From the beginning, I told myself not to get caught up in the numbers, such as post views or likes. My stint as The New England Patriot taught me that eventually people would stop and see what was going on, and if they didn’t, that was fine too—I was writing for me this time, not for anyone else.
- My only rule for post topics was that there were no other rules: I was going to talk about whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. The original tagline included music, gaming, and sports, and while the last of these has mostly been abandoned, early posts discussed Madison Bumgarner, Buck Showalter, and NASCAR alongside Justin Moore (my first official review) and Super Mario Maker. Only politics were deemed off-limits originally (I figured I’d already served my time in that realm), and even that restriction crumbled in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Over time, the blog kind of found its own niche in country music, but I still detour into the realm of game reviews, Pokémon Nuzlocke challenges and Splatoon 2 gear guides when I feel like it, and I don’t plan on stopping soon (Side note: Look for a Bravely Default II review soon!). In short, I went in without a plan or a point, confident that things would work out just as they did with Mortal Kombat: Equestria.
So what am I still doing here three states and nearly five years after that José Fernández eulogy? Part of it is that I’m actually kind of proud of what I’ve put together here, and I want to see how long I can keep the momentum going. The blog’s reach seems to grow by leaps and bounds every year, and it really exploded in the second half of 2020, to the point where we’ve now exceeded 10,000 views for the last five months and are on pace to make it six in May. Certain features, such as the weekly chart Pulse updates I stole from Josh Schott and the occasional deep dives I do into the careers of older country stars, have really taken off, and my Toby Keith deep dive has blown up to the point where it’s nearly four times as popular as everything else here, and for that matter everything else I’ve ever written. For perspective:
However, the biggest reason I’m still here is that I’ve given myself the freedom to make this blog whatever I heck I want to. There’s no central thread of politics or ponies; if I ever wanted to get back in the fanfiction game or go off on a wild tangent about cooking or educational pedagogy, I can do it here. I’m the big cheese here in this cyber castle, and if I don’t think the grass is green enough, I’ll add whatever I think counts as Miracle Gro until I’m satisfied.
That said, I’ll admit that I’ve been tempted by other mediums beyond the printed word over the years, and have thought about branching out into other spheres. For example, I had a short-lived “Kyle Vs.” series on YouTube back in 2017—do I follow in Grady Smith’s footsteps and try to reboot that channel, or maybe spin up a channel on Twitch and start streaming some Nintendo classics? I’m not really in a position to do that sort of thing right now, but I’m not getting any younger either, so we’ll see if my attitude changes as 2022 approaches…Regardless, I think I’m in a good spot now, and I have the flexibility to keep this a good spot into the future, so don’t expect to get rid of me anytime soon.
In my expert opinion, Kyle Akers is a deeply disturbed individual who has spent much of his life trying to figure out what he wants to do with said life. The answer, to quote Terri Clark, is “I Wanna Do It All”; no one topic, industry, or cinematic universe seems to contain or satisfy him. He is doomed to wander this world forever, aimlessly bouncing from topic to topic and trying futilely to weave them all into a single, coherent narrative. Kyle’s Korner is nothing more than the chronicle of this pitiful journey, an attempt to inject meaning into what is ultimately a useless existence. No one cares that it is here, and no one will miss Mr. Akers when he is gone.—The Honorable Dr. K. G. Akers, Esquire
Good grief Doc, did you have to be so negative with that statement? While I’ll admit that the Kyle of 2004, 2011, and 2016 would probably agree 100% with the good doctor’s drivel, 2021 Kyle sees the journey a bit differently. The story of my writing “career” is ultimately one of learning, growing, and eventually informing (and maybe even inspiring) others along the way. Whether it was a fictitious trip through the Trottingham jail, a guide to using the Tenta Brella effectively, a treatise on why should add Mickey Guyton to your playlist (and remove Michael Ray), or even my weekly Pulse reminders to wear a mask and keep your distance from others, I hope readers were able to take something positive away from my ramblings, and what they lacked in coherence they made up for in usefulness.
So let’s wrap this up with this goal in mind: If you’re still reading, what should you take away from this story?
- If you’ve ever wanted to start a blog, YouTube channel, or any other creative project, don’t be afraid to do just do it. Sure, your first few projects might be rough and hard to revisit later, and people may ignore you at first, but just stick with it. The more you do it, you’ll better you’ll get at it, and the more people will stop and take notice.
- When deciding what to focus on, make passion a priority over experience. Seriously, if I wrote about things that I’m a formal “subject matter expert” on, I’d be writing manuals on computer network protocols and intrusion detection systems, topics so dry and dense that even Twilight Sparkle wouldn’t bother reading about them. When I started reviewing songs, my only qualifications were decades of listening to the radio and owning Randy Travis’s entire discography, but when you’re driven to take on a subject, you go the extra mile to figure out how you think you should do it, and you learn from your mistakes along the way. Don’t worry about being an expert right from the start; if you do something often enough, you’ll become an expert along the way.
- That said, don’t box yourself in by picking a specific focus if you don’t want to. I’ve made some seriously weird pairings work over the years, so if you want to talk about things that don’t seem to go together, go for it! There’s always at least one common thread between your topics, and it’s you and your enthusiasm for them.
- Above everything, do whatever makes you happy. There’s no “right” way to do any of this stuff; we all mostly make it up as we go along. Critics and doubters will always pop up and say you’re doing something wrong, but if you’re happy with your work, that’s really all that matters.
Nothing lasts forever, and I can’t say for sure how long I’ll be hanging out at Kyle’s Korner. My only hope is that when I’m done here, those who passed this way will say one thing about me:
I can’t end this post without thanking the following folks for their support, encouragement, and inspiration over the years:
- Robert Ian Shepard of Adventure Rules
- Derek Hudgin of Country Perspective
- Kyle Coroneos of Saving Country Music
- Mark Grondin of Spectrum Pulse
- Grady Smith of Grady Smith on Country
- Sam Wilson of Parkway 106
- Kevin John Coyne of Country Universe
- Andre Segers of GameXplain
- Derrick Bitner, Ash Paulsen, and Steve Bowling of Good Vibes Gaming
- Jon Cartwright, Alex Olney, and Zion Grassl of Nintendo Life
- All the folks who have dropped a comment here over the years! I apologize if I’m forgetting anyone—my memory isn’t what it used to be.
Special thanks to Josh Schott of Country Perspective for letting me take over the Pulse of Mainstream Country Music feature that he started. Good luck in the next chapter of your professional career!
An extra-special thank you to Zackary Kephart of The Musical Divide and Country Universe for being the blog’s biggest booster (not to mention the author of one of the most-popular posts on the site!). Those first six years are only the beginning—you’ve got a bright future ahead of you, and I’m excited to see it unfold. (Note to the reader: If you haven’t read Zack’s series on the history of modern country music, what are you waiting for? Stop reading this right now and go check it out!)
Finally, an overdue shoutout to my old New England Patriot sysadmin partner (I’m still worried he’ll get in trouble for letting me use that server!). You’ve served as my sounding board and therapist for almost twenty years now, and have done more for me than you’ll ever realize. From the hard rock bottom of what’s left of my heart, thank you.