Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Blogging Business

For some time now I have been ruminating on a comparison, turning over in my mind what precisely it is that this lovely new blogging process is similar to, at least in spirit if not in fact. There really is nothing new under the sun, as Hemingway said, following Ecclesiastes. The Greeks, the Hebrews, the Christians, really did get it all organized long ago, and the best we can ever do for ourselves is to figure out just how they accomplished it, then apply their rules to kicking the crap out of the distractions and deceits of our own time.
Science makes scientific advances, of course. Technology opens up wonderful new opportunities. Nobody knows this, for the moment, better than myself, who after decades of puzzled brooding over the fate of my novel, undeniably the first of its kind, yet much neglected or abused from a broad variety of publishers, not excluding certain tedious intellects in the Eternal City itself - as far as I can see - can now via the excellent and incredibly democratic services of, lecture, even totally trash, certain sinecures of pharisaical thinking.
From my own experience, we learn best how to do this at university, and this is what these early phases of blogging remind me of.
A university, of course, is a great collection of subjects, professors, students, and certain characters among the student body setting themselves up as authorities. Or, at least interesting characters. The very experience of the place simply boggles the mind, and with any luck at all, quite upsets the baggage of sociological, philosophical, and artistic preconceptions that a freshman bring to the campus. This does not mean that the much tumbled valises will not return in some recognizable way to their original positions on the great train platform of life, but they will at least have experienced a new depth of appreciation, and their contents, hopefully containing a classic or two, will be spirited aboard the train with deepened appreciation and gratitude.
Writers are exploding all over the place, on Blogger, just as new faces came at me in droves in my first weeks on the UBC campus. There were ten thousand students then, certainly enough to jostle the mind, with all their manifold passions and concerns, and that meant at least twenty thousand angels as well. Half of them good, half of them not.
In high school it was not quite the same free-for-all, because we were all much more subject in our will to our teachers and the ever looming presence of the principal. This was by no means a bad thing, but it was not the same thing as the great freedom of a university, with its lovely option of cutting classes for the sake of even more profound experiences than a lecturer droning on about elements of fact that any soul that could actually read could pick up for himself.
It was then, I would say, that I learned how to deal with the other blogs that now swirl around this terminal, actually more for Marianne's attention than my own, unless she calls me to one. There are a lot of them out there, and that is good. But I am reminded of the flash characters that showed up to dazzle freshmen, and, not infrequently, freshettes. As they laboured through their subsequent years on campus, they became identified as characters who could only survive because there was a new crop of freshmen - or freshettes - each year.
Out in Bloggerville, it is rather similar, and when some of the people you met at university announced themselves as poets, or novelists, you had to wonder if they really knew what they were about, or if writing in any of these or the other genres were just a temporary interest, something to try on like a new coat. Sometimes they even got themselves published, in the campus literary magazine, which was a way to find out how much they really had to say.
The problem with young 'literary' types, of course, is just how much they want to talk about themselves as opposed to how much interest they have in the world and its citizens in their immediate neighbourhood. Chances are that the more actual talent they have the more likely they are to be struck dumb by all the other talent they find around them. Certainly this happened to me, so much so that although I knew was living a very full life amongst my fellow students, I found it so full of inspiration that I was entirely lost over the possibility of finding a plot through which to detail my experiences.
But significant as this situation was, it was not the major problem. My greatest difficulty was that although I lived by a visible light, I had neither inspiration nor permission to use it as a factor in story-telling. When it came time to start pounding out the text of a novel, a few weeks after I had settled into my first year routine, I fled the campus entirely and set the beginning of the tale four hundred miles to the north, in a town I'd never seen, and quickly moved my cast to a boat. My one concession to a college ambience was a brief discussion of Milton among the three young men. I think that was it for purely intellectual give and take. The rest relied on the usual fodder of adventure tales, so I got my principal satisfactions writing about the outdoors and the water, which I genuinely loved and always had satisfaction from. And, as I have said earlier, I discovered that I could write dialogue quite easily. This was a hugely pleasant shock for someone who generally hated writing high school essays. It also took away any serious doubts that I had a genuine relationship with the Muse, although it was also plain that there were other elements of good prose I would have to work hard at to make that friendship stick around.
And this was the beauty of the university tri-weekly, the "Ubyssey". It was the perfect place for a student writer to learn how to work with words, and work objectively, as any real writer must do, by describing what other people are doing. Furthermore, I got to watch my fellow students, male and female, doing the same thing, although I can't remember much talk about their becoming novelists or even playwrights. If they were not moving on to academic or professional careers, they intended to be journalists, not a few of them eventually some of the best known in the country. I felt myself very lucky to be among them.
But I also learned very quickly, in no more than a fortnight, that most of the first years students who had initially shown an interest in the paper didn't have it to keep it up.
I remember vividly the first meeting of all the hopeful, the gathering in the dingy basement of the North Brock of those who had read in the first 1953 edition of the "Ubyssey" the call for new blood. The rooms were packed, and for a list of reasons I will explain in the next post or so, I beheld, coming in a bit late, the light of the angels telling me I belonged in this arena, mundane as it might seem to the uninstructed eye.
Good Lord, I thought, what a mob! Will anyone notice that I exist?
Within a fortnight, that mob had dwindled to a handful, of which, of course, I was one. Had the rest of them felt the threat of time against their studies? The scrutiny of editors destined for the hard-edged world of journalism? Or simply the stark ugliness of the basement rooms themselves, probably even more Spartan than any newsroom I have seen since, although the Nelson Daily News runs a very close second.
I stayed. I was accepted. I finished my assignments. I was quite quickly promoted to a minor editorial post that enable me to study the spirit of every university in the country, and some American campuses as well.
If this blog works on the world stage, much of the debt is owed to those most fortunate days. The more I see of the competition, the less I apprehend of that kind of experience.

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