Friday, January 31, 2014


Every day I post at least 1,000 words about something.  The topics range from trivia to major political issues -- often local.  Rarely does anyone comment on content.  In fact, rarely do I get posted comments at all, which is fine with me except that it’s concerning when people WANT to comment but can’t figure out how to do it or want to contact me and can’t figure out how to do that except by making a comment.  They never think of reading the basic info on the blog.  Or picking up the phone.  

But when people do comment to me via email or conversation, there is a different and more subtle issue.  The two things they say most often is how well-written the posts are and the second is how prolific I am -- how much I post.  While both comments are usually meant as praise (maybe) they are both problematic.  They have that exasperating tendency to look at the finger and subtly critique its manicure instead of seeing what the finger is pointing at, plus that other tiresome response people make when they see the mountains from here:  “Oh!  How beautiful!”  Repetitious, stereotypical and shutting off further reflection.

It's a contest?

If I were trying to sell this blog, trying to drive up viewer numbers, I would be unwise to even talk about my irritation, but since I’m doing this for myself, NOT courting numbers or advertiser dollars (which -- beyond vanity -- is the goal for high numbers) I don’t give a rip.  There are hidden assumptions in these comments.

If I post every day with content that requires reflection and research, I should be doing it for money, right?  People who do this are always on a payroll or maybe selling what they write.  People who do it for themselves are people who post stuff about their trivial lives -- blogs are ephemera and they should be short and, well, SWEET.  Or funny.  A matter of personal relationship.  A greeting card.  Not challenging. No power moves.  Easy to patronize.

The people who remark on how-prolific-I-am are often people who write well, often for a cause, but take a competitive attitude so berate themselves for not writing as much as I do.  They never remember that I’m retired, housework undone, and am 75 after a lifetime of experience and study.  To them, all should be equal and I am somehow making them look bad -- or at least feel bad -- by writing so much.  In the ministry I was rebuked for preaching well:  "You make the rest of us look bad."  (Seriously -- it happened.  Same remark in the Animal Control locker room.) Their masochistic attitude makes approval of my standards a stick to beat themselves up.  They feel comparison is somehow competitive and those who write “more” are therefore “better” and that makes them feel bad because they think they should keep up.  But they feel magnanimous about praising me.  At least they’re THAT virtuous.  And they do not have TIME to read that much stuff.  They are angry.

They feel that writing without pay is unfair competition for those who ARE writing for pay.  It’s giving away milk to those who have no cow.  It establishes that writing has no value.  It violates the basic premise of capitalism: that everything (and everyone) is for sale.  If I were on a salary or if I were wealthy (i.e. had enough assets to not need a salary), then that’s capitalism, but in those circumstances I have no business having my own opinions.  I must be obligated to the sources of my income and therefore I’m likely to be lying and unreliable.  I must have an angle or agenda that will eventually pay off.  (This is true -- but not in terms of money.)

The other praise, about how good the writing may be, is also full of hooks.  The first is surprised expectations:  if an old woman in Nowheresville sitting at a minimal computer setup can publish high quality writing, it is a serious challenge to all the dreck produced by supposedly skilled MFA-holding writers engaged by big name publishers and awarded major prizes.  Often people say to me, “your posts are so well written!” as though they had just found out my cats not only play chess -- but also win.  I mean, everyone can write if they just get around to it some day and use their Aunt Tilly’s true life experiences.  Isn’t that right?

So a part that’s missing here is ten years as an English teacher but that’s only for correctness and clarity.  Mind you, when I started teaching in 1961, we also taught the uses of the human sensorium, the named metaphors, the structure of a paragraph, rhetorical strategy, research skills, and familiarity with the basic canon of admired writers -- not because they are so admired (they go in and out of fashion) but because they are an alphabet that a person can count on others knowing, like the Bible or Greek myths.  That was in high school.  But for the past decades English teacher courses at college have taught French Algerian suspicion, the art of turning assertions upsidedown, and scorn for the establishment.

Not that I don’t appreciate those things, but they aren’t as useful for essay writing as spotting confused antecedents, broken parallels, and mixed metaphors.  Some will object that those things are not as important for the oppressed people and simply excludes people who need to express their thoughts.  But I will say that one’s thoughts need to be defined and refined in order to be communicated, particularly when one is writing from outside the “believers’ circle.”  For this, a seminary education is useful, so long as it is the study of religions rather than the learning of dogma (usually written).  Thinking also benefits from dialogue, doubt, and challenge -- not qualities admired in small towns, maybe because they’re so bad at it, confusing it with resentment, jealousy, and attack.

“Oh, you write so much!   And you write so well!” can be sincere.  Thank you.  More often there are shadows that any Algerian Parisian could spot.  “You are so privileged to have all this time and you’re not even famous, so what’s the use of it?”  “To write this well must be a gift, so no wonder I can’t write that well -- no one gave me my gift!  It’s not MY fault.” And, “if you’re doing so well, I have nothing to give you -- and since I can’t give you anything, you won’t be my friend because relationships must be mutually profitable -- so I’m leaving now.”

My goal is in part to destroy the romance of fame and its false connection to fortune.  Here’s a funny tool that might help:
It’s an n-gram, self-explanatory.   Try it out.

After you’ve looked to see whether you are famous (I’m not but Bob Scriver is -- briefly) try looking at both “Charlie Russell” and “Charles Marion Russell.”  What the “n-gram” really tracks is the number of times a name is mentioned in a publication.  This assumes 
1) being mentioned is a sign of fame (no distinction between praise or blame) and 
2)  publication means someone paid to print and distribute writing on this subject -- no "unpublished" writing is considered.
3)  You'll have to put in every variation to get a true total.  

Try running “Jesus Christ” and then “Charles Manson” and then “Buddha” and “Mohammed.”  I’ll leave you to figure out what it all means.  You know, like how much money did Jesus or Manson make -- which is not the same as how much money was made from whipping up print ABOUT them.  Buddha inherited money, so he could sit under a Bo tree.  Mohammed was a camel trader.  One shrewd tribal guy, very successful.  He wrote a book.  Buddha did not.

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