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In Defense of Dial-up Blogging and, Generally Speaking, Taking It Slow
I’ve never blogged before. That sounds like an air-clearing confession, and in some ways, it is. Although I enjoy blogs, I have always done so covertly – which means I’ve been the sort of person who responds to a blog by E-mailing its author privately instead of posting a response publicly. One’s most intimate E-mail is always, of course, just a forward away and, therefore, hardly private. Blog posts, however, are so much more public and un-take-back-able. One used to be able to incinerate embarrassing mail and juvenilia with confidence – with a good old fireplace or steel waste bin. Not so with these words.
But it’s not that I’m simply a Luddite who still dials-in to the Web (although I am this); indeed, I’ve rarely been one to post letters to the editors of print magazines, let alone virtual ones. In fact, if I could take back the one letter I published in Poetry, a couple of years ago, I would. I still stand by the letter’s comments. But I now think the letter was a little shrill, was less about communicating those comments than hearing my voice speak them – hearing my voice multiplied and amplified by some very large integer: say, Poetry’s circulation.
And that’s the catch with great forums like this, and the reason why I haven’t, until now, fully embraced them: they offer the more impassioned types – hotheads like me, who really do need to take time to think through their positions – a wide, instant, and all-too-tempting platform for opinions. Now, if one can be witty and civil in an off-the-cuff, on-the-run way – which is, more and more, what the Web seems to demand of us – then an electronic conch shell, punted from Piggy to Piggy, is going to be a great thing. Pass it along, I say! But the Web isn’t always a witty, civil place. In a recent and provocative piece for Poetry, Adam Kirsch wondered if “the best strategy for writers in the age of the Internet [is] to ignore the Internet and look down on it,” to leave it for the “non-writers” to rule since it’s a “Hobbesian” world anyway, where the lack of editorial mediation has lowered the bar and produced warring, Road Warrior-like conditions (Mad Max metaphor mine). While Kirsch’s suggestion to abandon the Web may be extreme, I wonder if his point can’t be revised just a bit. Perhaps the best strategy for writers in the age of the Internet – especially for writers like me, who are prone to blunders and benefit from rigorous editorial intervention – is to navigate the Web, and especially blogs, with a kind of self-imposed, print-era prudence. This may entail drafting blog posts (at least the initial ones) longhand, typing them up only when they’re just right, and then withholding them until every one of their words has been weighed. After all, although the reduced presence of editors in the DIY-world of the Web is surely good for some version of democracy, it isn’t necessarily going to be good for the quality of that democracy’s cultural products. More and more, as the 21st-century rolls out, writers – blurring with (and into) bloggers – will to need to be their own most ruthless editors.
Then again, many feared the printing press would yield a deluge of homemade texts – handbills, leaflets, manifestos, proclamations, proto-zines, and other forms of Ur-spam, all the more pesky for being physical, soot-like. It did, of course, but we did okay. Perhaps the blog is merely the electronic embodiment of a process that began long ago, and I need to get over myself and get blogging already.
Still, if anything has changed since the days when an Alexander Pope, kicking against mass mediocrity, composed The Dunciad, it’s got to be the speed at which we dash off and upload our own Dunciads. I recently spent three days agonizing over a silly, one-page letter to Harper’s, protesting a piece in the magazine. Will I earmark the same amount of time to agonize over the drafting of these blog entries? And will I hesitate to post my entries as I hesitated to send that letter? They say hockey players tussle with one another more often than other athletes because their bodies operate at such high speeds, reducing their ability to reflect on the appropriate responses to body-checks and other affronts. Does the same apply to bloggers? Does the increased tempo of the Web increase our tempers, resulting in rapid-fire retorts that would’ve left Virginia Woolf shell-shocked? And have any of you – especially those of you who are old hands at this – regretted a blog posting, an E-mail, or even a letter to an editor? This may sound silly coming from someone who is essentially contracted to post blogs for the next few months, but does anyone else out there feel the need to just slow down?
Anyway, my apologies for this overly long and anxious post, which I probably needed to air more than you needed to read. You’re witnessing someone cross a threshold which you’ve likely already crossed. This may be a lot like watching a child perform some basic, fine-motor-skill-ish feat for the first time; the feat’s a big deal, but mainly for the child.
As for myself, I live in Toronto, and I read, Harriet regularly, so I feel like I already know some of you, which, I realize, sounds creepy and stalker-like, but which, in the spirit of the un-take-back-able blog entry, I’ll leave in. And I look forward to getting to know you further, to discussing some poems, and to taking body-checks when warranted (which I suspect will be often). Actually, perhaps it’s not so much about body-checks as good old checks-and-balances. Perhaps in happy experiments like Harriet, we get to be one another’s editors, which is just another word for collaborators.