Tuesday, January 17, 2012

800 Words: Where To Go From Here Pt. II

II. The Blogger’s Progress

What is the point of keeping a blog like mine, kept by writing entries little different than personal essays - only without an editor, without a censor, without money to earn from it, and without having ever been properly instructed in the use of the Oxford Comma? I occasionally use youtube videos, but I use few hyperlinks and am constantly revising what I’ve written even after I publish it. In fact, I don’t even think people are aware of the fact that many of my entries are substantially different 24 hours after they’re published - I’m just letting you know..., I would never subject anyone to reading the same post twice and even after revising, the posts are probably just as sloppy grammatically.

It’s not like many people are reading this thing. Nor are those who do always complementary to what they read. For years, certain people have told me my posts are too long, and I spread myself too thinly over too many subjects. And yet I’ve been blogging consistently for 7 ½ years. Clearly, I’m deriving something from it.

I’ve kept a variety of blogs over these years - beginning with a small xanga when I lived in London during the summer of 2004, and continuing on a number of sites since then. I had a blog when I was living in Israel which I'd update a half-dozen times every day. Much of what I’ve written is permanently lost to whatever spiritual realm Internet coding goes to when deleted. Until about three years ago, I had an unfortunate pattern of getting disgusted with my blog writing and deleting it. The reason for deletion was simple: my writing could be far too self-revealing. And the irony of all this is that in order to talk about the reasons I deleted those blogs, I have to traffic in the kind of self-revelation that caused me to delete them in the first place.

Many of those who know me are no doubt aware that I’m a highly impulsive person, my disposition all too quick to happiness and sadness. I’m often blithely unaware of the implications of what I say until a minute or two after I say it, and I’ve been asked by virtually everyone I know if I have a chronic wish to be provocative. I often feel as though my social interactions are spent checking, double-checking, triple checking what I’m about to say for signs of verbal diarrhea, and still feel as though my filters have only a 50-60% success rate. And the worst part of this accusation is that it’s partially true, I am a naturally combative person who happily goes for the jugular in arguments, outrageous statements, and expressing dissatisfaction. In conversation, I can’t resist (what I think is) a clever line, even (especially?) if it’s hurtful. But even with these admonitions, most people think I’m far more provocative than I ever mean to be. Please try to understand, sometimes the unpleasant effect isn’t entirely intentional.

As bad as it might seem now, it was much much worse when I was younger - it helps when a nerd is finally free to spend his time with other nerds, and I wasn’t until my twenties. To a large extent, I don’t doubt my compulsion to write comes from a desire to curb the worst excesses of this behavior in real life. So in the early days of blogging, I was still an angry little man - writing at American University gave me the taste for blood. For about two minutes, I had a column on an AU student website that gained me far more notoriety than I’ve derived from anything I’ve done with my life before or since. I was a loudmouth who blasted people all around campus - professors, student government officials, campus administrators, occasionally even friends, in the most insulting possible terms. Even at the time, I didn’t take what I wrote all that seriously - who gives a shit what happens at a mediocre private school for trustfund kids and Georgetown rejects? Few people did at the time, and that writing seems all the more trivial now. But I can’t deny that there was fifteen years of displaced rage that came boiling onto those pages; rage at student bullies, bad teachers, bad doctors, bad schools, family fights, and most of all at myself for allowing my youth to transpire as it has. Finally, I had a voice and a purpose. And as pathetic as this probably seems (and no doubt should), it was the first and only period of my life in which I ever felt successful. Surely, I reasoned, if I could get this many people to notice me, then perhaps my life will take a much more pleasant trajectory than I’d previously thought. But that did not make me feel happy, it made me feel all the more rage at the state of all those years beforehand.

Needless to say, when you rise on a foundation of bile, the bile will eventually sink you. In my case, the bile was a sleeping sickness. It is difficult from the vantage point of nearly 30 to say that this confidence was earned any way but falsely. I was a student in a tenth-rate music program at a third-rate university who received an honors degree by taking easy A classes and not committing to a double major. When my friends and I graduated, all my friends knew exactly how to go about entering into their professions. But they were mostly politics majors, at one of the preeminent political colleges in the country. When it came time for me to apply to music grad school, I was reasonably confident. I was assured by professors there that my education at AU could make me competitive with any school in the country. When it came time to apply to schools, I couldn’t even get into third-rate music schools like Catholic University or music schools abroad in Israel. When I took poli-sci classes at Johns Hopkins University, it wasn’t from any great accomplishment it took me to get into Hopkins - it was because my brother was friends with the daughter of the poli-sci department’s chair. When I applied for journalism jobs, what published documents could I send them except for columns I wrote about American University? Before I knew it, I was twenty-seven, and exactly where I thought I'd be by then when I was eighteen.

So what did I do when I wasn’t failing at something? I blogged. The ‘time of troubles’ had ended only to beget another ‘time of troubles,’ and from there the bile only multiplied. Using the one skill I’d successfully developed, I wrote all sorts of blogposts I’m not particularly proud of. There were the thumbnail profiles I wrote of nearly all the various people on my Israel program, and there was the post I wrote after some lady dragged my entire program in Israel to a bad theater performance a few days after another person on our program killed himself; there was the post I wrote in which I compared a right-wing friend to Goebbels for liking Rick Santorum, there was the post I wrote in the form of a letter to a hard-left friend and accused her of being a total fraud who didn’t care at all about human rights. Even when I did Voices of Washington and tried to display a more presentable image; I wrote a 2300 word dialogue between two versions of myself - neither of which wore pants.

Believe it or not, there was in each case a few people who’d cheer me on because I apparently said exactly what they thought. Such has been the role of my adult life, saying things people either wanted to say, wanted to say but were not aware that they did, or were neither aware nor desiring to say. But the ones who encouraged in my war against tact certainly had a point, you can’t put a price on the fun derived from that freedom. But you can very much put a price on the money...

And so here I am, nearly thirty, the ‘Fredo Corleone’ of a family business I know next to nothing about after a long series of dreams were thwarted. Even if I ever found myself doing something unique and valuable in this business, the sharper tongues will wag that it was only because my father gave me more opportunities than I ever deserved, or that my brothers are doing the real work, or that it’s only a matter of time before a decision of mine pulls our whole family down to penury. I don’t blame them, it’s exactly what I would have said.

I erased all those blogs because all the the built up frustration caused me to write all sorts of things I later regretted. And in some moments of particular frustration, sometimes caused by things I’d written, I erased the blogs altogether rather than cherrypick the things worth keeping - which in turn caused more frustration. Four years of writing almost completely lost

It wasn’t until I tried to keep a blog about an English concert series called ‘The Proms’ that I found something worth keeping. The Proms is my idea of heaven, a two-month classical music festival at which the biggest and smallest names in music appear in Royal Albert Hall - a venue that seats six-thousand. If you’re willing to wait in a queue on the day of the concert, you can pay 4 quid (roughly $6 since 2009) to stand right in front of the stage like at any rock concert. It was my idea to do in depth blogposts about each and every one of the ninety odd concerts at the Proms - from America. Each concert would have an exhaustive preview and an equally exhaustive review of the broadcast. I would write critical mini-essays about each and every piece played, with critical mini-biographies of each of the performers. In addition, I would make sure that each preview and review had all sorts of hyperlinks appended to every important performance of either the work or from the performer on youtube. Eventually, I hoped to but all this writing together into something resembling the writing David Thomson does for film. Perhaps from a few years of doing this I could create a classical music equivalent to Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia or the Biographical Dictionary of Film. But like all great ideas, it takes far too much work for a mortal - even for a mortal with nothing better to do at the time. When I tried to do this in 2008, I was at my most loafish - unemployed in Washington DC, my sole responsibility being the three hours a week I sang with the chamber choir that I would eventually try to mould into Voices of Washington. And yet even I, the world’s laziest workaholic, found the nine-to-fourteen hours a day of writing it seemed to require a task too far. By week 2, I’d cut out the previews entirely. By week 4, I’d completely given up. But even so, I saved every scrap I wrote in this venture - hyperlinks and all. Here, finally, was some writing of which I can be proud.

Once upon a time, I may have had the certainty which bloggers are supposed to always have - and then some. But for whatever reason, all that messianic self-belief which works for so many other bloggers caused me little but an endless supply of trouble. I am now as much a blogger as I ever was, but my willingness to say literally anything is quite a bit more muted. I’d like to think that I deal far more in speculations than certainties. My nerve is hardly dead, if it were I never could have written all this down. Perhaps I’ll look at all the self-revelation here in a few years and be filled with disgust, and perhaps in a moment of particular shame I’ll delete it all.

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