Monday, March 22, 2010

...and then the world imploded.

So, somewhere along the way between yesterday and today, I realized that I respect blogging as a medium.

This is crazy. It is also crazy that I am conveying this message in a blog--and not my first blog, and not a blog I started somewhere between yesterday and today. But let me be clear on a few things. One, I'm a person, so sometimes my actions are contradictory to my own beliefs. Sure, in a perfect world, it never would've come to this, but it did. I blogged. Which brings me to my second point: I've got an ego. I could write things and save them on my hard drive where they could then languish for all eternity, but then I would never get to bask in the glow of the occasional complimentary comment from someone or another. Really, my blog is a sign that I've got a big old ego but very little faith in my ability to ever get published.

Which, you understand, I've always seen as vastly different from blogging.

I don't know that my argument against blogging was all that unique. I viewed it the same way I viewed the idea of people paying to have their own book published: lame. I suppose there's a very absurd idea at play here, that idea being that unless one is somehow discovered and plucked from the wastebasket of all the people in this world who think they can write (and, believe me, I've read enough bad writing to know that there are lots of people whose writing belongs in a wastebasket) by another person or entity outside of themselves, they're a hack. Anybody can jump online, set up a blogger account, and start posting whatever they like with no controls. That just doesn't seem very impressive. And what, you might ask, about the blogs that take off and get popular? Aren't they "chosen" by another person or entity outside of themselves as worthwhile? Well, that's problematic for people who believe that most people are idiots and can't be trusted with their own taste.

I guess you could say that just this morning I realized that I've been an elitist asshole with an inferiority complex. And, for the record, this whole "blogs are bullshit" argument doesn't apply to blogs hosted on sites for marketing or journalistic purposes wherein the blogger has been hired to write said blogs--although, really, I'd rather these be called "columns", as they are just what would be a newspaper or magazine column hosted online instead of in print. I mean, remember print?

So, when did I have this great epiphany? I was trying to come up with something to write about and absolutely nothing was inspiring me. As usual when this happens after about five minutes of hopeful pondering I started to spiral down into the idea that I was NEVER GOING TO BE ABLE TO THINK OF ANYTHING TO WRITE ABOUT EVER AGAIN. I was finished. I'd said all I had to say. Since I was obviously never going to be able to come up with any of my own ideas and would subsequently have to shut 'er down and quit the game, I'd have to come up with other ways to pass the time until my eventual death, so I decided to check in on one of my favorite As expected, there was a new post, and it was, indeed, funny. And the girl who is responsible for Hyperbole and a Half posts frequently. Like almost daily frequently. Of course, they're not all pitch perfect, but most of the posts are either hilarious or some approximation of hilarious. And that's when it hit me. Somewhere between my complete demise as a writer and the realization that someone out there probably goes through that on an almost daily basis but pushes through it and perseveres, I recognized that blogging is totally legit! Because the real problem in writing is not whether or not you ever get plucked from the wastebasket by publishing Jesus and singled out for recognition. To some degree, that is a crap shoot. Plenty of great writers have gone to their deaths completely unrecognized, and I've read a lot of shit someone actually plucked out of the wastebasket and paid to have pressed on paper and sold as something pretending to be a good book. No, the real problem is between the writer and the writing.

This whole question of blogging's validity as a medium is really a question about standards. Today I was having a conversation with a coworker about standards of a different nature. It started out as a conversation about linguistics--specifically, the idea that language evolves over time. When I was in college, there was an English graduate student who worked at the video store near campus. Whenever I would go to check out, he would ask me how I was doing. I would always respond with, "Good," and then cringe because I knew what was coming next: he would actually correct me, pointing out that I was, in fact, "Well." I used to see him around the Language Building on campus, and he didn't appear to ever be with anybody else. This little habit might explain why. If we all stuck to such formalized rules of speaking, we'd all still be speaking Elizabethan English like the folks from the furthest reaches of Appalachia. My coworker and I both agreed that there is a difference between the standards in spoken language and the standards in written language, and within that difference there are several other differences. It's fine to write, "How r u 2day?" in a text message, but please, for the love of God, don't write it in a high school English essay. But if there is a need for some kind of standard, where is the line? Blogging is a completely rogue entity. It's the exact thing that the internet was designed to accomplish, namely that anyone could say anything he or she liked. That implies very few, if any, standards. Can something be meaningful without externally imposed standards, or are our standards just another trapping of our egos and an expression of man's drive to survive by getting rid of the competition? Really, the question comes down to this: does everyone get to have a say? Is everyone's viewpoint valid--even if, as a friend of mine once said of someone's blog, his or her writing makes me wish I was illiterate?

I really meant to bring the book with me, but I didn't. I was going to quote Chuck Klosterman here, but I guess I'll have to paraphrase or approximate. In Eating the Dinosaur, Klosterman talks about how sometimes writing is easy and sometimes it is like trying to tear down a building with a ball-peen hammer. Sometimes it feels impossible. Sometimes it feels like I'm not up to the task of saying it, and I'm afraid it will be lost. Sometimes it feels like all of my body is shaking with something to say that just cannot be said. Sometimes it feels like it might not even need to be said. And if I can overcome this block--the incessant self-questioning that brings me back here again and again--it is a real feat.

Why would I not want to share that with someone else, even if it is only in a blog?

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