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Blogmo Day 9: Good, better, best

December 9, 2008

“There’s nothing wrong with fucking shit up every single day. But you have to bring some art to it. Not just typing.” – Merlin Mann

When I started Blogmo, my lamer angels told me it was an excuse to ramble at the internet for no good reason. I feared ulterior motives. Phrases like “search engine optimization” “referral stats” and “j-school applications” lurked in the more cynical corners of my mind. As a digital native, I’m supposed to be gung-ho about the internet and all its promises. I’m supposed to think in code and tweet my consciousness into ether.

And I do, I embrace the seismic shift in communications that’s happened within my lifetime (the Web, what allows you and me to talk this way, is three years younger than myself), I embrace friendships created over electrons and digital media literacy and calling it “a series of tubes” as a strictly ironic exercise.

But in an accident of birth and inclination, I am also a print gal. I grew up reading everything in sight, and slowly came to internalize a belief in the good of the  reader-writer relationship as mediated by paper. Sunday in my house was about reading the newspaper, and I remember being somewhere between 10 and 12, struggling with my want to consume everything in the New York Times against the learned lesson that the more I read, the more I became upset: things are different than I expect them to be. My bookshelf runneth over with attempts to get answers.

I see few options other than writing. I know few things I want to spend my time on other than, as Merlin doesn’t mind putting it,  fucking shit up. It does me no good to settle on something else at 22. This isn’t the 14th century, I’m not the house help in feudal England. I am guaranteed nothing, but I am limited by little.

So blogmo has become a little like “put up/shut up” for me. I’m not good, I’m not bad. I’m writing in some way that isn’t formed yet, still able to fit in a few different containers. That’s how I can go from lulz-ing internet style to writing a thesis that uses words like “provincilizing” and “the other” in complete seriousness.

I can’t promise I can swoop in here everyday and write something amazing, or even of real value. But I can try to do something a little different, a little out of my comfort zone. Do that each day and blogmo won’t be about content, it won’t be about stats (although it’s satisfying to see how many people have read what you’ve written). I’ll test my waters, write something every day, and you, dear reader, hopefully enjoy/think about/laugh at what I’ve done. It would be silly to ask for more.

I was thinking about all this when, (oh the old one again) NYT’s web site publishes an op-ed about Joe the national plumber getting a book deal. Here’s what Timothy Egan says:

Joe, a k a Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, was no good as a citizen, having failed to pay his full share of taxes, no good as a plumber, not being fully credentialed, and not even any good as a faux American icon….With a résumé full of failure, he now thinks he can join the profession of Mark Twain, George Orwell and Joan Didion.

When a writer brings out Twain, Orwell, and Didion, you can bet bad things are happening.

Most of the writers I know work every day, in obscurity and close to poverty, trying to say one thing well and true. Day in, day out, they labor to find their voice, to learn their trade, to understand nuance and pace. And then, facing a sea of rejections, they hear about something like Barbara Bush’s dog getting a book deal.

I’m still with him, but I understand, I’m the choir.

There was a time when I wanted to be like Sting, the singer, belting out, “Roxanne …” I guess that’s why we have karaoke, for fantasy night. If only there was such a thing for failed plumbers, politicians or celebrities who think they can write.

I think what Egan is wishing for here is what a blog was at the earlier end of this decade. And yet that word now either strikes fear or excitement into the heart of every staff reporter in America. Unprofessionalizing writing certainly does turn up the hack quotient, but I don’t think it’s smart to argue that writing is a valid, professional career (which it indeed is) from the position of “They let the amateurs in! How dare they!” But what do I know? I’m just a 22 year old intern with a blog. The print, old-media side of me wants to give him the benefit of the doubt as someone who has been approved by Times editors. I don’t, and never will, subscribe to the evil MSM meme. There are bad reporters on the Times staff, there are good writers in the National Enquirer. Let both take their paths.

I get it. As newspapers crumble, as publishing houses fire off entire imprints, and Joe the plumber gets a book deal, it’s not a good time (if there was ever) to write. What the hell am I going to do?

I’m going to get better. I’m going read more Didion, and then I’m going to learn CSS. I’m going to ask more people questions. I’m going fuck shit up every single day.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 10, 2008 2:49 pm

    This is a good start. Well put!

  2. December 10, 2008 8:03 pm

    TKB…

    First, I love your situating yourself between print and digital media. I often feel the same way. And oddly I think about technologies of information a lot (I tend to study the interrelation of manuscript and print).

    Also, I entirely agree with you that just because ol’ Joe got a book deal it means nothing the field of writing. The fun (and problem) of the writing profession is that it is messy, random, and often makes no sense. Good writers barely scrap by while Dean Koontz makes millions.

    Being a lit critic, I often wonder actually about publishing (not for me, but as a social function). And I think it odd that what academia deems as good writing rarely gets read anywhere else. There is definitely this odd elitism in reading culture, something the NYT contributes to greatly… Somedays, I feel like perhaps I should study “lower” forms of writing, the more ephemeral stuff, perhaps I should break with the elite. But then I remember how much I love Milton and hate James PAtterson.

    Such is life. – Just some thoughts.

  3. December 10, 2008 9:59 pm

    @Colin Clout

    I can’t forsake either one (digital or print), especially since I think taking the best of print and applying it to web publishing is the best possible scenario right now. Also, with someone who’s bought into the necessity of

    I don’t like elitism very much (or more accurately, exclusionary elitism. I once, and sometimes, still, consider television studies as a legit career choice) but I also dislike “why would you want to talk about old, boring stuff” Both start on the same level for me, and then move to a question of personal taste/uniqueness. Example: Nietzsche and Battlestar Galactica have the similar intellectual effects on me. But then I’m a nerd.

    Deciding to jump off the academia train was largely a personal decision, and nothing about the relative merits of being an academic (although Dear Lee Edelman, I h8 you for making me think this way) I still want to think and write, but in a different way.

  4. December 10, 2008 10:00 pm

    AAAAAND editing says:

    “Also, with someone who’s bought into the neccessity of good, editorially sound journalism, I need to be able to think of solutions, not cry about the journalism industry currently going the way of Pompeii.”

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  1. Blogmo Day 17: Burnout, and those who can’t afford such an idea « Ahlan wa Cheerio

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