Nearly two years ago, an iconic era in southern LGBT voice and visibility came to an end. Durham’s Pam Spaulding, keeper of the wildly popular blog Pam’s House Blend, took of her blogging cap and traded it for time with family and personal passions.
Her blog quickly rose to national fame soon after she founded it in July 2004. What had started out as a way to share memories and photos of family trips and vacations became a national platform for her unique wit and insight on politics — all from the perspective of a black southern lesbian.
Spaulding, who spoke to qnotes this month, in advance of the impending two-year anniversary of her blogging retirement this July, looks back and credits the visibility as the most significant contribution the Blend gave to the progressive and LGBT communities.
“Certainly, being able to write about the intersections of race and gender and political matters was significant,” she says. “There weren’t many other people of color or lesbians of color blogging at all on politics. It was pretty lonely out there in the beginning and it was still lonely at the end. It was sad there weren’t more.”
Spaulding’s retirement came as she dealt with increasing complications from rheumatoid arthritis. For a time, she kept a running “RA Diary” recounting her trials and tribulations.
“It is an autoimmune condition and one of the things it does is wipe you out,” she says. “I was already burning a candle at both ends.”
She isn’t exaggerating.
Spaulding’s blog was updated constantly — nearly every hour of every day — despite having a full-time job as an IT manager at Duke University Press. Mornings, lunch breaks and late evening hours were filled with writing and research.
“It had started out as a labor of love nine years prior, but the effort to produce a lot of content every day and doing more than a full-time job, it was just too much burnout,” she says in reflection. “The writing was one thing, but I was also asked to often go to speaking engagements or be on a panel or do radio appearances. All of those things together was just too much.”
Spaulding’s commentary and writing touched nearly every aspect of the LGBT and progressive communities. She kept tabs on local politics in cities across the Carolinas, often attending local government meetings in and around the Triangle. She’d visit the General Assembly to report on lobby days or get on-the-scene sources during legislative debates. She detailed LGBT activism in states and towns across the country, and even weighed in as an on-air commentator on CNN during the 2008 election. And, she used her increasing influence to build and lift the voices of other people of color, southerners, women and transgender writers.
Even with the success, it wasn’t nearly enough to constitute a sustainable job.
“I had started out in a low point [in the growing blogosphere], when it was easy to build readership. By the end, it was almost impossible to build readership with so many blogs out there,” she says. “I left sort of at the time when I had to make a decision on whether it was worthwhile to blog or not financially. I was never able to really monetize my blog. There was never any chance during those nine years I was blogging where I could have considered leaving my day job.”
Spaulding is still at her day job, though she’s shifted roles and is no longer in her IT position. And she’s enjoying with her blogging retirement.
“I have absolutely not missed blogging at all,” she says. “I really do not watch the news with as much intent or purpose as I used to. It is somewhat a relief to be able to tune out and not have to monitor all these sources — newspapers, TV, online — which you’re forced to do when you’re writing on news that can change from moment to moment. On some stories now, I’ll just catch up later. I’m okay with that. Before, I wasn’t okay with that, when I felt like I had to be on top of things.”
It feels a lot longer than two years since she left, Spaudling says, but she’s enjoying the changes. And she hasn’t completely disappeared. On Facebook and Twitter, she often shares her thoughts and opinions on some of the days’ latest news items. Her short-form commentary, she says, has been enough to satisfy her need for speaking out. From her Facebook perch, Spaulding has been keeping tabs of the latest political developments here at home and across the nation.
“I never thought marriage would happen so fast,” she shares, cautiously pointing out how much more work is left to do. “Marriage is wonderful, but what good is it if you can put a picture of your spouse on your desk and get fired for it?”
Spaulding’s encouraged by the local movement in North Carolina — efforts to extend protections in cities like Greensboro and Charlotte. Statewide, though, she knows we’ll be waiting a while.
“Our state legislature is never going to pass protections,” she analyzes. “We’re going to have to wait for that to happen federally.”
The biggest challenge facing the state? Voting and apathy, she says.
“We’re moving in the right direction. We just have so many problems with people getting out and voting,” she says. “I don’t know what to do with that, especially with efforts to make voting more difficult.”
With her extra time away from blogging now, Spaulding has been able to turn attention to her personal passion — the band Journey. Spaulding’s no normal music fan. She’s a super fan. A groupie. Wake Forest University professor and MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry even cited Spaulding’s love for Journey in her short piece recounting Spaulding’s accomplishments when she retired.
“I think that people find it very curious I have such an interest in all things Journey,” Spaulding says. “I recently ran into Melissa Harris Perry and she asked me if I was touring with the band yet.”
Not quite. But almost.
Spaulding now collaborates and assists with promotions, social media and website management for Journey Revisited, a tribute band she fell in love with. (She wanted us to plug their website, which she redesigned. You should totally visit it at www.journeyrevisited.com.)
“I happened upon them by accident,” Spaulding recalls. “I didn’t know anything about them. Someone had posted a video of theirs and I was just blown away at how good they were.”
She left a positive comment on that video and the band’s Facebook page and began a dialogue with one of the band’s members.
She finds herself spending time now helping the band on new projects, instead of chasing down the latest news leads across the country.
“I got so enamored with the work they were doing,” she says. “I’m not just a fan. I’m knee-deep in this tribute band, and it’s been extremely satisfying.” : :