Sunday, October 10, 2010

Like A Burglar


Yes, I know. It has been a while.

What can I say? Life sometimes gets in the way. You know how it is.

I am not going to bother telling you that I have been busy. We are all busy with something, and no, I have not lost my desire to write. Nor am I tired of this blogging thing. Not at all.

What I want to tell you is that my absence has given me some perspective. I have thought about what writing is and what blogging is. I suspect you’ve done this yourself. You’ve examined the thinking behind your prose, your poetry, your reporting on the events that shed light on your existence.

Here is something I have learned. Actually, I learned this early in my relatively brief blogging career, but I have recently confirmed it as personal gospel. I have learned that it was foolish to think that I could pick my audience.

I started out with the notion that because I was born and grew up during a certain eventful and often tumultuous time, and witnessed society-changing events as part of an enormous generation, that this generation of mine was obviously my audience-in-waiting.

My first post, in April 2009, carried this rather long title:

Wondering How It Happened That Your Future is Suddenly Going Up In Smoke? In The Words of The Poet, The Answer is Blowin’ in The Wind.

Greed run amok had robbed individuals, families, businesses and entire nations of their financial well being. That robbery was a crime story without an ending, which continues to this day to steal jobs, homes, businesses, and futures. Had all our youthful 60s idealism slowly evaporated, to the point where we lost our capacity for moral outrage? Where were we? I asked. Where were we who once preached or followed a different sort of gospel?

I intended to use this blog to speak to that once famous idealism, using the language we collectively invented, and of course they would hear me. But, as I said, I now know that one does not get to pick one’s audience.

You think I should have known that, and you are right. And I hope you do not think that I am simply rationalizing when I tell you that I am happy with my miscalculation. I am thrilled with the motley nature of those who bother to read what I write.

I discovered that, through no conscious effort of my own, I had acquired my own unique little community, and that almost every member of it has his or her own unique community. So, what I have is an audience of writers, which is exactly what I should have wished for in the first place.

I thought back on the first of those other communities that I decided to join. His writing was a little dark. But he was on a brave journey, and he invited others to join him on it. I was intrigued enough to walk along with him. His always honest writing grew darker -- too dark, I think, for some of his tour group, who jumped on the next tram to more colorful amusements. I chose to continue walking along with him. Fresh faces are now joining the tour.

But enough about him.

Some of us have become friends. Believe me, I don’t use that word loosely. You know someone differently when you know them through their writing. You know how they think and feel in a way that even family and friends, who do not read them, might not.

You know how that is.

Some of my friends have had a difficult year. One lost her father, another lost her mother. When they told us (members of their communities), they were looking for neither attention, nor sympathy. They were writing it to us, through their pain, because they had to.

Others whom I often visit, over coffee or a glass of wine, have suffered through illnesses, marriage break-ups, and job loss. In some cases, it stopped them from writing. I left them comments, urging them to continue putting pen to paper, because they are writers, and that’s what they should do, no matter how difficult. I was trying, in my own way, to be a friend.

There was one who I wasn’t going to like, but he revealed himself in a life-defining story about a near death experience -- a story that is now lodged in my brain forever. He seems to have left his blog for other platforms. I never thought I would miss him, but I do.

Well, enough about them.

I began to hear that I was a storyteller. I did not immediately welcome this designation. Maybe I did not want to be so pigeonholed. Maybe I did not want to be defined by others.

But I came to accept the label. I decided it wasn’t so bad to be a storyteller, and I decided that I would make the best out of being a storyteller, at least until my writing took me somewhere else.

I learned that I had a problem in telling stories. A simple, straight ahead telling of the story did not scratch my writer’s itch. Each time I would begin stringing together the information about Jack Johnson, La Mama’s Ellen Stewart, Aaron Feuerstein of Malden Mills, Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, my friend, Gus, or bullying victim, Phoebe Prince, I would find the story stuck in the mud, unable to push it forward.

The story would remain stuck, because I hadn’t found the key. I hadn’t found my way into the story.

For me, getting into the thought process became like entering a house. Walking in the front door, and looking into the rooms would show me a story, but it wouldn’t show me my story. I found that I preferred to enter the house like a burglar, in the dark, through a basement window, shining a flashlight on this or that wall and on this or that object.

In September of 2009, I began writing a post on racial hatred, which I sensed was unmistakably in the air. I focused on two towering black figures: Jack Johnson and Jackie Robinson. I had a very good story to tell, but it was anybody’s story. Not truly mine.

Then, I ran across a quote from Charlie Chaplin: “Man as an individual is a genius. But men in the mass form a headless monster, a great brutish idiot that goes where prodded.”

Instantly I had my title, The Brutish Idiot, and I had my very own thematic image: a headless monster.

The story had become mine, but it still wasn’t complete.

So, I returned to the house, entered again through that basement window, and while rummaging around, I noticed a large, curious object standing in a corner, covered by a sheet. I lifted the sheet and found a treasure.

There was a famously ugly, but largely forgotten, incident before a baseball game in Cincinnati. The ugly incident amazingly ended with one man’s elegant gesture toward another. I had no idea that there existed a statue commemorating that gesture. That statue gave me my ending.

Before starting my blog, I read two books and several articles on blogging. I came away with three cardinal rules for having a successful blog: Publish often, keep posts brief, and always respond to comments.

I learned that I am incapable of adhering to the first two. As for the third, I love the comments for what they are. In many cases they have added to, or to my mind, even completed the post. And after writing my brains out, there was nothing I could add by responding to the comments. They were better left standing on their own.

But, I really did want to thank the commenters. So, I am doing that now.

Recently, my wife, Elodia asked me, “When you die, do you want me to throw a party for those who want to come and celebrate your life?” “No,” I said. “I would like you to write my final post, and say goodbye.”

“That’s what I thought,” she said.