Saturday, March 2, 2013

Tangents: Getting It Said

[Liberty's Torch principally concerns itself with politics and issues that impinge on politics. My two previous websites, Eternity Road and The Palace of Reason, were similarly oriented. In all three cases, I've solicited Co-Contributors according to their penchant for writing about those subjects, as I consider them the appropriate ones for public writing of the non-fiction sort. But now and then it's worthwhile to jump those tracks and explore a realm other than the most public of public affairs. Hence this new line of demarcation, which I encourage my Co-Contributors to use as well. -- FWP]

"Blog." It sounds like something you'd emit after a gassy repast, doesn't it? But as we all know -- don't we? -- it's a contraction of another neologism, "weblog," which is seldom encountered in its full version any more.

The blog was originally supposed to be an online version of a journal or diary: a place to record the interesting events of one's day. This sort of journal would, however, be visible to others, unlike the traditional paper-bound sort. But we inventive humans are forever finding alternate uses for things, and the blog was no exception. The format was quickly adopted by persons with opinions and interests they simply had to share with others. Soon enough, millions of persons were using blog software to blather about everything under the Sun, to audiences great and small...mostly small.

There are at least as many reasons to blog as there are blogs extant. But that original motivation for the development of the format -- an online version of a private citizen's journal -- is still as valid a reason as any.

I have long admired the blogging of Charles Hill of Dustbury. I'm sure I'm not alone in that. Charles is a person of varied interests and tastes -- no, I don't share them all -- and a writer of considerable talent. Not the least of his site's attractions is that he frequently touches upon a topic that moves me to wonder why I haven't written about it myself... and whether I should.

Charles's most recent Vent is a case in point:

Eventually people do catch on, and I mean to include myself. Once in a while I'd repeat something I'd posted to the site, and someone would look at me sideways and ask "Where on earth did that come from?" And I'd answer, with a perfectly straight face: "From my unauthorized autobiography." Facile wisecracks, after all, are my stock in trade. But after all those uncountable hours at the keyboard — well, I suppose you could count them, as they're not exactly infinite, but why would you want to? — but as time passed and something resembling a narrative began to take shape, I realized that this wasn't so much a wisecrack as a Kinsley-type gaffe: an obvious truth I wasn't at all intending to disclose.

Why this should be so is at least somewhat easily explainable:

...a very real fear of mine: that something's going to happen inside my head, suddenly or gradually, and everything I associate with adulthood is going to dissolve into the fog and leave me basically a very large infant. The prospect of an ordinary long and lingering illness doesn't particularly trouble me — I have the example of my brother, who was lucid, if not always able to convey that lucidity, right up until his last few hours — but the idea of going through the rest of my days with a blank expression because I have no clue what's going on is decidedly disturbing.

Hence this urge to document the usual and the unusual, the wan and the wonderful, the predictable and the preposterous. Many of my oldest memories have long since fled, or at least concealed themselves; however, I cling to the belief, valid or otherwise, that if I do forget everything, with the obvious exception of How To Read, I'll have reference material to fall back on.

Perhaps that's the reason for keeping a journal of any sort. After all, most of us don't expect others to show an interest in our scribblings, our immediate families and persons deeply indebted to us excepted. I mention it because it seems to contrast with the putative purpose of public blogging: posts on current events and subjects of wide appeal, the sort that characterizes Liberty's Torch and many far more popular sites.

It also evokes thoughts of a sort not many of us entertain willingly: thoughts of our eventual deterioration and demise.

I opened The Palace of Reason in 1997, at age 45. I'm considerably older today, of course. Hopefully I have a few years left in the tank, but as the Redeemer has told us, we know not the day nor the hour. Over the sixteen-plus years I've written for the Web, I've pumped out several million words of exposition, a million and some of fiction, and a few dozen sentences about myself and events of direct personal importance to me. The Web being inherently a public medium, it's always felt inappropriate to "pollute" it with trivia of concern to myself alone. So I kept almost exclusively to subjects of wide interest: politics, culture, religion, economics, and the occasional story or review of a book by another fiction writer.

But hundreds of thousands of persons are doing exactly the same with their websites. Moreover, some of them are better at it than I: more attentive to developments, quicker to see their true import, and better at elucidating it for their readers' edification. I've always been aware of that, yet I've kept on. I've seldom troubled to ask myself why.

It's not that my opinions should be important to anyone but me.
It's not that my style is brilliant, unique, or specially entertaining.
It's not that there's money, or any other extrinsic reward, to be gained this way.
And it's not that I'd suffer some horrible consequence if I were to stop.
Yet I seldom allow a day to pass without posting something here.
I feel an obligation I've never articulated, and I've begun to wonder if it's to my future self.

A journal of any sort is an incomplete record of the keeper's mental life: the things that have stimulated him to think consciously enough about them to be aware of that fact, and that have struck him as significant enough to be worth recording. Thus, what he chooses to put in it is easily interpreted as a record of his priorities at various times in his life.

Having written the above, I realize that my Web writing could give anyone who never knew me in the flesh an entirely incorrect impression. Yes, the things I post about here are important to me, but there are many things far more important to me that have not appeared here and never will. In that sense, my Web writings have never been "about me," as the blog format was originally expected to be used. They've been about those subjects in which others might take an equal interest: public affairs rather than private ones. And so it shall remain.

Just don't assume that I don't have a private life. I keep it private; that's all.

Regardless of the subject, to write clearly and correctly is a hard job. It takes time, concentration, and considerable effort. When the subject is complex and involute, insight and deep thought must be added to the recipe. If the writer seeks to champion a position others have historically dismissed, breadth of knowledge, creativity, and humor become factors as well.

Why should he do all that, if there's no perceptible reward for it?
Perhaps because he feels he must.
Perhaps because of that sense of obligation to his future self.
Not because he expects to sway many others, nor to prevail intellectually over others.
Because he really feels an obligation -- a moral and ethical one -- to contribute what he can, while he can.
His voice must be part of the national dialogue.
If there are things that must be said, then he must say them, even if others have already done so.
He writes not out of a conviction of exceptional personal penetration, but out of loyalty to himself.
His writings are evidence that he didn't spend his whole life as a spectator, leaving all the heavy labor to others.

For most of us, there comes a time when we can no longer contribute usefully. Age and infirmity relegate us to permanent spectatorhood. That time might be near or far, but unless I'm fortunate enough to be hit by a falling jet engine, it will eventually come for me as it has for others. I don't dwell on nor relish the thought. But I do want that future Fran, and whoever is unfortunate enough to have the job of wiping the drool off his chin, to know that his younger self tried, at least, to "get it said" while he was able. This blog, and Eternity Road and The Palace of Reason before it, will testify to that.

Why do you do it?


Daniel K Day said...

Sometimes I get a wild hair up my ass.

Guy S said...

I have played around in (on?) this internet litter box of thoughts, memories, and minutia, for a number of years (and in a number of incarnations) myself. For the most part, the regurgitation of words posted are a venting of various frustrations against that which I know can not (at least not immediately) be changed by me. Other bits and pieces were my attempts at fiction, and selected slices of life from out here in the hinterlands of Illinois.

In the last couple of years it has become increasingly harder to find the passion and or drive to do so. I don't know if it is the beginning of a resignation of sorts...not bowing to the stupid or ignorent masses, but realizing the difference in "our" collective shouting out against the coming darkness, here on the interwebs, runs the very real risk of being dumped into a collective "echo chamber". Perhaps it might be time to return to something akin to what the Brits have done, and find a real life soap box somewhere, to give a shout from. At least there, one has the chance to bend the ear of an unsuspecting passer-by , depositing an intellectual ear-worm, which might, just might provide seeds of change.

Or am I being terrifically naive?