2010 Canadian Weblog Awards Exclusive Nominee Interview with C.J. Koster of Mr. Teacher Man

C.J. Koster authors Mr. Teacher Man, which is nominated in the Ex-Pat, Life, and People's Choice categories of the 2010 Canadian Weblog Awards.

Why blogging?

Truthfully, because I there was a point in my life when I had absolutely nothing to do. Coincidentally, that time coincided with my university finals, and there was a whole lot to do. Basically, blogging started out as my excuse to procrastinate. It was something I was convinced I had to do every day, no matter what else had to be done, and so when something came up that I wasn't particularly keen on doing, my answer usually was "Sorry, can't, gotta blog", and my friends would be like, "You gotta do what?", and I'd be all, "Oh, right, you're all still on MySpace", and they'd be all, "MySpace is the shit!", and then I'd go write about how my friends were tools because they were all up in MySpace's business. I used to write about daily stuff that was easily exaggerated, like the time when my buddy Jon, who actually convinced me that blogging was the wave of the future and I should get myself a surf board, bet me $35 that I couldn't eat twelve rabbit turds. That was an exaggerated story. Because the bet was only $20. But I'd putter around the net, read other people's stuff, and then try to fit into whatever niche I thought was missing.

Eventually, when I moved to Korea in August 2007 to take up a gig teaching English, I became more dedicated to blogging – not particularly about life in Korea, but I found that being out of my motherland's bosom opened my eyes to a lot of different things and made me more perceptive to the human condition. But not in any way more empathetic. And so, that's what I kind of use blogging for now – as an outlet to explore the fact that I, by natural evolution, am an asshole. It's been very rewarding, and I think if Hemingway would have had a blog, he might had the same revelation. And might have shot himself sooner.

What is the thing you like the most and what is the thing you dislike the most about running your weblog?

"Running [my] weblog," that's very interesting. Almost makes it sound successful. Donald Trump runs The Trump Organization, Steve Jobs runs Apple, Tiger Woods runs around on his wife, but I'm not sure if I run Mr. Teacher Man. It's probably more accurate to say it runs me. I suppose the thing I like most about it, though, is the fact that it gives an outlet to my perfectionism. I'm a details kinda guy. I like being nit-picky about little things, and maintaining a design that makes me happy is a challenge. I'm very much a follower and a copy cat, so if I see someone else's blog and theirs looks better than mine, or they have an interesting way that they've designed theirs, I don't have any qualms about assimilating and implementing. It's definitely the fact that I can give free-reign to my perfectionism through maintaining what is now Mr. Teacher Man (which in itself was a victim of my anal retentiveness, because it used to be called 'C.J. in Korea' and then it was 'Traveling Circus' and now…) that makes me trudge on with it.

I have always disliked the idea of commenting. I mean, I understand the point behind it and the value, but I hate the nepotism that goes along with it. I hate posting something and then wanting to go back every half hour to see if anyone has read it yet and then actually seeing that first comment, and all it says is "Nice!". Though I say, "Thanks for reading!", what I'm really saying is, "I JUST SPENT TWO HOURS TRYING TO BE FUNNY AND ALL YOU’VE GOT IS 'NICE?' WHO THE HELL ARE YOU? A TOKED OUT MINIMALIST? PLEASE!" So, I'm trying to convince myself that comments don't really matter as much and it's all about the writing.

How has your blogging style/content/attitude changed since you first started?

Wow. How hasn't it changed? I used to write long, droning posts that could have been read by Ben Stein at a Ferris Bueller convention. At one point, I realized that blogging isn't something that should be taken seriously, that there are some people who use blogging as a way of conveying their lives to people who want to read about them (which is all fine and well), but I just wasn't one of those people. Nobody, aside from maybe my mom, wanted to read about my life. So, I started looking at bloggers who take their lives, turn the shit that happens inside out, and who make shit funny. And I've always been a fan of a good shit joke, like – What's brown and sits on a piano bench? Beethoven's First Movement. Yeah. So, I figured that instead of being serious about blogging, I'd go at it from the angle that I can be just as funny as any other jerk on the street, and I was right. I actually started to enjoy what I was writing. And shit jokes are funny, don't care what anybody says.

How many of your waking hours are spent on the Internet each day?

What an embarrassing question. Basically, my entire day is spent on the Internet. When I'm not teaching, I'm on the Internet. When I'm not drinking, I'm on the Internet. When I'm not making lame shit jokes, I'm on the Internet looking up lame shit jokes. Truthfully, as a teacher in Korea, there isn't a lot of prep time needed. It's all wham, bam, thank you ma'am from the text book, and so when I'm not actually lecturing, I'm sitting at my laptop watching viral videos, reading the news, and checking Facebook. Facebook. That is the worst thing to ever happen to humanity. My theory is that the Bush Administration created Facebook. Wiretapping, surveillance, no no no, it's all Facebook. Everything you need to know about someone is a friend request away, and anybody who resembles someone you may or may not have gone to elementary school with twenty years ago can see it.

Short answer, eight or nine hours on a slow day.

Since you are living abroad, it only seems fitting to ask you about your favourite town or place in Canada.

Being a Canadian in Korea does give me a very unique perspective on the Motherland. The world community has a very defined opinion of what Canadians stand for: they see us as maple leaf toting, peace loving, multi-culturalized, bilingual, international misfits, America's little brother. But they're just jealous that they don’t have Harvey's. That’s what I miss. Harvey's. I would give all the kimchi in Korea for a charbroiled original burger with nothing on it but a big, huge, enormous, glob of Heinz ketchup and a side of fries. But not the new fries. Harvey's used to have amazing French fries, but then they changed the style, and they're not as good any more. But Harvey's is the kind of place that you don't actually appreciate until you can't have it anymore; McDonald's, Burger King, Pizza Hut, and KFC, they're all in Korea, but there's no Harvey's. I think my second favourite place is definitely the section of Price Chopper that has the shelves full of cheap macaroni and cheese. I also miss mac and cheese. If it's not out of a box, it's just not the same.

What are your must-reads?

Not only are they "must-reads" but they’re "must-worships." I am consistently and solidly blown away by the sheer genius of Jenny the Bloggess and the really messed up chick that does Hyperbole and a Half. I love anything that shows a distinct perceptiveness. These ladies aren't only FUCKING HILARIOUS, but they present a picture of their lives that is so unique to their personalities that I'm almost jealous of their ability to write the way they do.

If you were to impart knowledge to an aspiring blogger, what would you tell them?

Three things:

  1. Don't blog every day. Or, at least, don't tell yourself you will. Because you won't. And if you do try to blog every day, chances are you're doing it just for the sake of having continuity on your site and not because you have something creative to show the world.

  2. Recognize that blogging is a community. This took me a long time to figure out. I was counting on my writing to sell itself, but the reality is that the Internet is an enormous block of cheese, and everybody's trying to get a sliver. To be acknowledged, you have to go out, read other blogs, leave comments, make contacts, and participate.

  3. Never use relationship problems as writing fodder. You can say to me, "But, C.J., dude, I use an alias, nobody knows who I am and my relationships are so fucked up that I can't help but write about them, they're gold, man, if there was a Pulitzer Prize for blogging about fucked up relationships, I'd get it!", and I would say to you, look, at some point that relationship is going to resolve itself, and, regardless of how messed up it is, what would the person you're writing about think if they actually did recognize that you were the author? Food for thought.
C.J. Koster of Mr. Teacher Man is a writer, editor, photographer, humorist, and teacher currently living in Seoul, South Korea. C.J. has been the editor of several city-centric lifestyle and culture magazines in Canada and is currently the creative director for a satire and a humor magazine for foreigners in Korea; he is also currently working on his first novel and an anthology of short fiction and poetry. In addition, he enjoys long walks on the beach, candlelight dinners, intimate conversations about philosophy and politics, and his secret ambition is to be Betty White's pool boy.

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