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.


  1. As usual, my response to your writing is - wow! You somehow cut to the heart of the matter in a circuitous (basement) manner, but with an eloquence that is joy to read. I am so glad to see you back, if only briefly.

    I should have read about blogging before I began. It would have saved me time in learning those three things without trial and error. But that's my way - usually the hard way.

    I often think of quitting my blog. Sometimes I just don't have anything useful to say. But you always have something useful to say - even if the posts are infrequent.

    I've often wondered what my last post would be - and I have to agree - a party is not necessary, but my blogging friends would want to know what happened. We are friends in a way that transcends the communication tool we use, ushering in a new era of connection. No one knows me like the people that read me. That, in itself, is pretty weird.

  2. Bruce: One thing is certain. You do get to know people differently writing online. I sure wouldn't mind sharing a glass of wine and kicking around the old days. Sometimes, I feel like I am the last remaining fool. In any event, when I return to my home planet, I'll save you a seat on the Mother ship. Welcome back!

  3. Nancy, thank you for the nice words. Sincerity is what most comes across to me, in your writing. Never quit your blog! I think of you as being the mayor of a village -- a village that values your thoughts and observations. It is natural to go dry every now and then. You are not a machine.

  4. JJ, make it an aisle seat, and you have a deal. I'll bring the wine. Oh, and there are plenty more of us fools still around.

  5. Thanks, Adam. It feels good to be back.

  6. It was so very nice to see an updated post from you in my feed this morning. "He came back!" I thought. good.

  7. Thanks, McCaffery. It is nice to know that I was missed.

  8. Ah, the motley nature of the following. I am proud to be motley if that's what it takes to be here, my friend. You are (always) well worth the wait, only that it's been so long between posts. And, frankly, you are one of the few reasons (besides good clam chowder and Bill Monbouquette) that make me wish I lived in New England. Kudos to you, and it is good to have you back here. EFH

  9. EFH, when Monbo ruled, a hot dog at Fenway was fifty cents, and the plumbing in the bathrooms barely worked. But those definitely WERE the days.

  10. I do wish you would post often, but I know it's hard as you put in a lot of work in your writing. I'm just glad you're not giving up blogging. And if Elodia decided to have a party many, many years later to celebrate your life, I will be there.

  11. Sarah, I am truly touched by your comment, but would come to my party even if I am not dead?

  12. Blogging is an interesting journey, isn't it? I also started with one course in mind, and wandered around until I found my voice. Thanks for your encouragement along the way. It's meant a lot to me.

  13. Yes Lesley, it is an interesting journey. All I did was tell you that your writing was funny and intelligent, and that you should write a book. Sounds like you are now wandering in the right direction.

  14. Welcome back! You made me laugh when you said that bloggers don't get to pick their audience.

    This is definitely true. When I started my own blog, your were one of my first followers and gave my some much needed words of encouragement.

    Like you, I thought I knew who my eventual audience would be. Little did I know that I was destined to be lumped in with all the Mommie blogs, mostly because I tend to write about my dogs and the trials and tribulations of daily life, instead of tackling life's larger issues.

    This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because when I started reading other blogs like mine, I began to realize that just about everyone's daily life is pretty similar to mine. Life isn't always a grand adventure and it is typically full of uneventful moments and trivial frustrations.

    After writing for more than 300 days in a row, I'm starting to realize that the individual moments in life don't even matter. It's how you choose to connect the dots between these seemingly minor moments that give your life meaning.

  15. John, thank you for the welcome back. From reading your blog, I have a feeling that we have some similarities in the way we see the world. I'm glad you are still writing.

  16. Bruce, as one ole redneck, souuterner, all I would be able to say is "hot damn"...good to hear from you...yes we do get caught up in the problems of our daily existence and yes it does rob us of the energy needed to put pen to paper but when you do it, it is like no you and miss you my don't think about writing that obit for many years.
    Your Friend,
    "plainole bob"
    Bob Byford

  17. Thanks for stopping by, Bob. And thanks for saying "hot damn."

  18. Thanks for coming back, Bruce. I was new to your blog, loved your last post, and then you disappeared.
    Thanks also for stopping by and leaving a comment on my post about Keats.
    Welcome home!

  19. Hi Bruce

    I agree. You can't choose your audience, but at least the people who do visit a blog have chosen to be there. Conscripted readers are unlikely to show any real interest [the only friend who reads my blog regularly is also a blogger].

    Bruce, you have the knack of making insightful comments on many aspects of the art and craft of writing, the dilemmas and pitfalls that every writer faces, which always makes stopping by this blog a treat.

    By the way, if I'm the narrator of the near-death experience who has moved on, which seems likely, this is to let you know that my absence was involuntary. I'm back.

  20. I guessed you'd surfaced again, when I saw your face pop up on Alias Jinksy this morning! Hello! I've been doing my own wondering about why/what I blog, but one thing I know I- wouldn't stop for all the tea in China - I'm hooked! LOL :)

  21. Judie, I loved your post about Keats. It was enlightening and full of attitude.

  22. Well Dennis, it looks like we both returned at the same time. Sounds like you have a story or two waiting to be told. I am eager to hear them.

  23. Yes Jinksy, I have surfaced. And you were one of my first stops.

  24. Bruce, it's fantastic that you're posting again. I thought we'd lost you for a while there. And thanks for the thoughtful and entertaining post. You may be neither regular nor brief but you do it your own way. That's what matters.

  25. Thank you, Simon. I have always enjoyed the energy in your blog. It goes well with a morning coffee.

  26. I wondered where you had gone... Glad you're back.

    I don't always respond to commenters, because I am never sure if they come back to read my responses. At first I always did, but then I sort of lagged... Thank you for reminding me it is always good etiquette to respond.

    There was a blogger named Barry, whom everyone loved, and he passed away a few months ago. His wife posted a last post, and the whole blogging community logged on to say goodbye. He probably had more friends in the blogging world than he did in the real world, and I think his blogging friends probably new him better as well. It is a very real community.

    But don't be leaving any time soon...! :-)

  27. Jo, I am not familiar with Barry's blog, but thank you for telling me about it. That story says quite a bit about the community thing.

  28. Bruce, it is always lovely to log on after an extended absence from blogging to see that one of my favourites in the blogosphere has started posting again. Yes, i do mean you.

    I have one issue with this post, perhaps the same issue you had. I do not see you as a clichéd 'storyteller.' I see you as a truth-teller. You write the truth, honesty, and you write it beautifully. Don't ever change, even if that means i don't get to see a Bruce post that often. :)

  29. I have stopped by your place many times in the last few months, always hoping you'd put something new up, always disappointed.

    You are the very extreme of the divide between quality and quantity, but I for one wish you produced a little more quantity!

    I agree with you about this too; writing is all about telling stories. I don't read many writers who do it half so well as you.

  30. Bruce, you were there for me from the very first moment of my online life. Your blog continues to be the place I go to for depth and detail and delight. Whatever you choose to call yourself and what you do, I'll keep coming back to sit and listen.

    That last post will be read through tears.

  31. You are so incredibly insightful. I feel as though each sentence gives me a broader aspect of what it is to live. I really, really enjoy your blog.

  32. Bruce, this post is long, long overdue. You've been missed, friend.

  33. Allow me to humble myself and whatever non-existant credentials I have before I begin to criticise:

    I consider this blog, a step backwards.

    Previously, even though you couldn't claim entire ownership of it, you had a story to tell and it was that that made your blog great. In fact, it was your post about the Broken Window Theory that grabbed my attention, so brutally, that it forced me to wait several months for you to write again. You had an opinion to offer and a reality to couple it with. However today, you had nothing real to say.

    The only advice I was give you is, don't blog about blogging. 70% of your readers are most probably bloggers themselves so they already know what its like, struggling for material, struggling to post frequently and struggling to please. I learnt nothing new from this. Perhaps a small insight into your personal life, but nothing drastically new.

    Look, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. You have been great before and so, despite my unhappiness with this particular post, I'll wait for you to be great again.

  34. Well, I should have been here sooner than this, obviously, but I had about given up on you posting again. I'm glad you stopped by my place and left some comments. That spurred me to come over here, and - despite the comment above this one - I'm glad I did.

    I visit many blogs, but there are only a relative handful of them of which I can honestly say that I've read every word published by the author. Most - probably including my own - are hit-and-miss affairs, sometimes great and other times not so much. You, however, whatever you choose to write, hold my attention all the way through. You have a gift I appreciate. I'd prefer that you post more often, but, because you tend not to do so, each time I read something new of yours, it's a real treat.

    Thanks for giving me some very enjoyable reading.

  35. just beautiful, brilliant writing

  36. Dear Bruce

    I know you say that we don't choose our followers but I am so happy that you decided to follow me - I wouldn't have found this incredible blog if you hadn't!

    So I sort of would've chosen you if I had the option, I suppose...

    I normally scan over very long posts and take in what interests me but I read every word of your post.

    The only negative that I can come up with is that I'm going to have to sit here for another hour reading all your old posts...

    Don't wait too long before writing the next one!

  37. Bruce, it doesn't matter how seldom you post, what you write is always worth reading. Keeping up with the frequent posters sometimes get beyond me, and there is such a thing as 'too much of a good thing'. (There's a reason why newspaper columnists usually only have one published column a week/month)

    So just as long as you keep writing here now and then, I'll be happy to read you. Always enjoyable, often instructive and unfailingly well-written.

  38. I have found that in blogging, the inspiration strikes when it does. It's better to post when you have something to say, rather than simply for the sake of posting itself. I find what you have to say very compelling, and will enjoy following your posts however seldom or often they come.

  39. What a brilliantly written post. I am thankful to be a part of your motley crew.

  40. I had written another comment and perhaps my attempt at humor was awful... I love this entry. Your writing is a living thing to me.


So, what do YOU think?