Doubt: The Sunny Pleasant Afternoon of My Soul.

ClosedBefore I was a writer, I was a reader.

I suppose, in the mundane sense of the statement, this is true of anyone who becomes a writer. Reading necessarily comes first. In the same way that we crawl before we walk, we also read before we write.

For me, however, there is a slightly less mundane version of this statement, which may not be true of all writers. A writer’s words sparked in me a beautiful feeling and, because of that experience, I decided to become a writer. I wanted to spark with my words that feeling in at least one other person at least one time. There are, I’m sure, many other reasons to become a writer.

Fortunately, I’m confident that I have sparked with words that feeling in one other person at least one time. Most importantly, I have done it for the person that I have become through my writing. If nothing else, I have at least created some words that I think are valuable. I can put on my literary flight suit, stride across the aircraft carrier of my mind, and declare, “Mission Accomplished.”

I write all of this now because I’ve been having some serious doubts about whether or not I will continue to write on a regular basis or continue to think of myself as a writer. The cause of this doubt may be as mundane as the fine summer weather or the need for a bit of a break. It feels, nevertheless, more substantial and, more significantly, not anything like a crisis. It feels almost like a transition. Call it, the sunny pleasant afternoon of my soul.

It occurs to me now that doubt of this kind is a privilege and a luxury. The condition of its possibility is an abundance, both material and conceptual, that borders on gluttony. It’s rooted also in vanity and arrogance. Doubt of this kind is the ultimate expression of freedom. And yet, I can’t shake the feeling that writing, like faith, won’t mean anything if, in principle and practice, it can’t actually be lost or forsaken. An unassailable and rote writing is no faith at all.

When I first stopped believing in God, for a long time, I was afraid to say it out loud. I was afraid that I might be wrong and that, if I said it out loud, I would be in even more divine trouble than I already was. Eventually, I said it out loud. Then, I said it out loud enough times that the fear of divine retribution finally disappeared. Sometimes, you need to speak a belief to test it.

People lose their faith, I suppose, when they pray and they no longer feel like God is present or listening. Writing, I think, is a kind of praying. It is a practice of hope. It is a calling forth. It is an invocation. Perhaps, that’s it. When I write these days, it doesn’t really feel like I or my future self is present, listening, or ready to be invoked. Or maybe I just need to take a break. Or maybe, sometimes, you need to write a belief to test it.

At any rate, on the plus side, now that I’m writing less, I’m reading more, including fiction, which is a happy return. Of course, it might also be one more symptom of the transition. In my beginning may be my end.

Why I Enjoy Writing: Adventures In Discovery.

Writing 1While I was writing the second episode of Oddawa, on Sunday, I was reminded why I enjoy writing: each new project is an adventure in discovery.

When I started out writing, on Sunday, I knew only that the episode was going to open with the main character getting shot (this is important for a reveal still to come), that the person doing the shooting was going to be a werewolf (or some kind of were-creature), and that it was going to happen on Bate Island — an island in the Ottawa River that I discovered by accident on Google maps a couple of weeks ago.

For some reason, the working title “A Bat Out of Hull” jumped into my brain, as I opened the Google Doc. Perhaps, it was because, on Saturday, I had finally watched The Dark Night (pretty good, but a bit long) AND The Dark Night Returns (pretty faithful to the original, ergo, awesome!).

As I wrote the new episode, I had to ask myself questions to figure out what was going on and why. As I answered the questions that demanded answers, the larger story became much clearer. Then, the details for this particular episode fell into place.

WritingI’m also pretty sure that. whatever I may think the main story is right now, it will eventually change, as I write more episodes. I know where I’m going, but I’m willing to bet, whenever I finish, it won’t be where I expected.

I had the same kind of experience writing essays for philosophy, which is probably why I stayed at it for so long. Whenever I wrote a paper, I had the basic idea of where I was headed, but would only find out where I went, by the end of it. Often, I ended up somewhere totally unexpected.

Writing = thinking = discovery. Repeat, in any order.

It seems to me that the story of writing is a lot like any good story. There’s always a clear beginning, middle, and end. There’re obstacles to overcome along the way, and the protagonist — that is, the writer — always learns something by taking the journey.

Is your experience of writing/creating similar? Or is the thrill different for you?

A Look Again for the Play In It.

True story: when I was in my teens, I thought I’d pretty quickly end up married with children and living a more or less conventional 9 – 5 lifestyle.

My older brother, you see, was the artist. He painted alone in his room, slept in, and wore paint splattered jeans.

He’s now married with children and has long had a steady and highly respectable job. He also long ago gave up his art.

I asked him about it, a couple of years ago. He said something like this:

“It helped to define who I was. It was also a coping mechanism. I used art to figure things out. Eventually, I didn’t need it any more. I stopped.”

No matter what happens now — even if I buy a condo, settle down, buy a wiener dog — I won’t ever really be able to say I’ve had a conventional life. That much is settled.

I wonder, nevertheless, if I will, at some point, give up the art.

The very best teachers plan for obsolesce, some ladders take us to heights where they are no longer needed, and I’m  deeply influenced by intellectual traditions that end in contented silence.

I’m also most at peace, with the sun and the sky and the sky and the sky.

Then, after a period of restless uncertainty, I skulk in a coffee shop and look again for the play in it.

From Whence Your Poetic Voice And How Has It Evolved?

When I examine my writing, it’s clear to me that I developed a poetic voice for three distinct but sometimes related reasons.

  1. I wanted to articulate some undefined hunch about myself, others, or the world that I didn’t fully understand. Expressing it in a poetic voice provided a framework that helped me contain and then articulate the idea, feeling, thought, or desire.
  2. I wanted to express an idea, feeling, thought, or desire but I didn’t have the courage to express it clearly and directly. Expressing it in a poetic voice allowed me to express what I needed to express and provided the safety of plausible deniability.
  3. I enjoyed crafting a poetic voice for its own sake. Crafting and expressing a coherent poetic voice was challenging and fun.

I’ve noticed, as I’ve become more confident and less afraid of the opinions of others in recent years, I no longer feel the need to employ a poetic voice for the safety of plausible deniability. Indeed, at some point, I decided that if I’m not prepared to go on-record without the safety of plausible deniability, I probably shouldn’t express an idea, feeling, thought, or desire or, at the very least, not share it.

I’ve also noticed that my efforts to write and express ideas, feelings, thoughts, or desires as plainly and clearly as possible often leads to confusion. And because I recognize that my efforts to write as clearly as possible is as much a poetic voice as my more opaque efforts, it’s best to say that my poetic voice now aims for precision and clarity without recourse to allegory, but it will sometimes involve allegory if it helps me better understand an inarticulate hunch.

And I should also note: writing is itself a kind of allegory and, perhaps, this explains why so many of my intellectual predecessors, who have previously explored this poetic voice, eventually fall silent.

What motivates your poetic voice and how has it evolved over the years?

Happy Birthday Blog: What A Difference A Year Makes!

Happy Birthday Blog!

[cue confetti, balloons, streamers, horns, and party hats. Pop the bubbly!]

One year! What a difference a year makes! It’s a total cliche and yet totally true. In early November of last year, I was probably still unsure if I would bother with this whole blogging thing. Now, I can’t imagine myself ever not blogging!

It all began with this post. It’s a page-turner, let me tell you. It’s my summary of life, living, and how best to live.

It is intended, I suppose, to be the period at the end of my academic philosophy career. It’s also meant as a kind of preface to what would come after. Everything I write, I think, is reducible to what I write here. Trust me, not for the easily bored.

Initially, I set this website up because it allowed me to distribute my writing (and eventually music) without securing the permission of any “gatekeepers.”

When future historians discuss how the internet and social media changed the world, this is what they will discuss: the creation of an almost costless means to disseminate ideas to almost anywhere in the world. If the Gutenberg press was a big deal, we ain’t seen nothing yet.

Then, after posting material for a month or so, something else clicked.

I realized the medium afforded the possibility of a different approach to writing and a different kind of writing. This is the post I wrote, trying to make sense of this hunch. I wrote and wrote, with no clear end in sight and when it was done, I hit “publish.”

It’s an important turning point. Slowly but surely this off-the-cuff approach became my modus operandi. If it’s a day for posting, I sit at the computer. I start writing. When it’s done, I publish. It’s made me a much better writer.

Not surprisingly, it wasn’t too long after this turning point that I wrote my first fashion post.

And it wasn’t long after that, it seemed I had quite a few people commenting on a regular basis. And then another light bulb went off.

The real beauty of all this is that ideas sometimes bring people together. Sometimes, ideas can be the catalyst for community. Furthermore, the internet, blogging, and social media is creating all kinds of community that would have been impossible — unimaginable — even five years ago. We’ve barely scratched the surface and already so much possibility has been revealed.

For me, when all is said and done, the greatest and most palatable sense of pride I’ve experienced in relation to this blog is when I first noticed people commenting on each other’s blogs who really only could have found each other via this blog.

My diplomas stir in me no sense of achievement. When I see the connections between people I helped happen, I see that and, think, yeah, that’s something that matters.

So that’s my main point: when I say, “happy birthday blog”. I mean, “happy birthday friends”: some old, some new, some known only on-line, some known off and on. All real. Thanks for reading, commenting, and hanging out. It is a pleasure and I’m grateful for your support.

There are a lot of great people who comment on this blog but this is a post about birth, so I want to give some blog-birth related shout-outs!

To the mid-wives, if you will:

First, if it weren’t for Von planting the seed of blogging in my brain and answering some early tech questions, this blog would not exist! Von is not a prolific blogger but he is a great comic artist. Check out his site and buy the book if you can.

Second, it might not be immediately obvious from the early posts because a lot of her encouragement was initially behind the scenes, but Pudding and the Post-Fab Princess was a huge (but shy) supporter from the get-go. She also gets 100% credit for any of the fun that happens around here. She was the inspiration for the fashion posts and the early Gender Studies 101 posts. Her blog is better than awesome and a bag load of fun, wit, and intelligence. Oh and it has a ridiculously cute cat named Pudding.

Third, Many Faces of Wayne was an early supporter and frequent commentator. Our discussions on- and off-line effected and affects what happens around here. He also has a great free-ranging blog and he loves a good comment. His blog is well worth reading and, if it’s worth reading, it’s worth a comment. Join the discussion, it will make him happy.

Now I had planned to post a bunch of page-view data, but I will save that for another post.

If you have any thoughts about this blog, your blog, blogging in general or feel inclined to wish my blog a happy birthday, please do. It will be appreciated!

The super secret location for the off-line celebration is still under renovations so this threatens my original plans, but here’s hoping they fix themselves in time for a merry karaoke-iffic blog birthday bash! Stay tuned! At any rate, keep 9PM-ish Sunday open, if you want to raise a glass to the blog in person.

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Why Blog? For The Community, Of Course.

A writer might be reluctant to start or maintain a blog because it may seem like she is providing a service for free. She creates content and her readers consume it, giving nothing in return. Why should she provide a free lunch when she has better things to do?

While it is fair for a writer to say her time might be more profitably spent on other activities, it is not correct for her to claim she is providing a service for free. It takes time and effort to read, follow, and comment on a blog and that is what her readers are “paying” in return for her efforts. Most writers want an audience and by blogging they can earn an audience. Every blogger who earns a reader gets something in the transaction: a reader, an audience, and a community. There is no such thing as a free lunch. 

When we look at the larger picture, it is clear most writers aren’t paid to write. They are paid for access to the audience / community they create with their writing. Advertisers, often via publishers, don’t pay for content, they pay for access to the community that content creates.

Yes, some readers seem to pay for content but, given the nature and abundance of content and the mutually beneficial relationship between writer and reader, I suspect the vast majority of readers are not paying for the content but something else associated with it. As a bare minimum, it is safe to say, readers will be more likely to pay for content if it comes bundled with something else of value to them. I suspect that something else is membership in a community (real or imagined).

So, for most writers (or businesses), blogging — that is, building a community with your words — is worthwhile and may even pay off financially in the long run, if you keep at it and nurture the relationships forged with your words. For those writers who hope to make a living off their writing, the kind of community a writer builds with his or her words will ultimately determine how best to monetize the relationships. There will be no one size fits all answer.

If, as a writer, you are not interested in creating and nurturing a community with your words, you should probably find another way to pay the bills. The same could be said to almost every other producer of a good and / or service. 

This post was inspired by a useful post you can find over here

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Fuck you, Shakespeare, et al.

Every instance of successful language-use is well-suited to a particular circumstance and a particular end or, perhaps, a few circumstances and a few ends.

The durability and communicability of language allows particular instances of it to be accessible to many persons and, because of this, any particular instance of language often seems intended for any number of circumstances and ends.

When an instance of language seems relevant to many or even all circumstances, it is an indication of the adaptive capacities of a person or persons and of the relations between persons, rather than some feature of the instance of language itself or the person who first used the instance of language successfully.