Why I Write (Apologies to Orwell)

There can be no excuse to start yet another blog except the compulsion to explain. It’s not like I haven’t done this before. I’ve started and crashed three other blogs, some of them with real promise. But like my attempts as a child to keep a diary they just kind of. . . wimped away. So I make no promises about the duration of this one. Nor am I going to rely on that good ‘ol Protestant whip, guilt, to keep this ship at cruising speed. Not going to get me on that one. Here’s where I rely on my 60s legacy of irresponsibility to say I’ll do this as long as I want and no longer.

One reason the others didn’t work is that I tried to separate them. I had one for teaching with film, one for issues about teaching and learning, and another on spirituality and literature. What I came to realize is that I don’t make these distinctions when I’m swimming in the “stream of consciousness,” as William James put it. These themes are all there together, like flotsam, bobbing up and down in the eddies and currents, and there I am, trying to clutch them as I hear the falls roar downstream.

I observe this particular form of honesty in my wife, whose blog, Unrealistic Expectations , speaks of what she likes, loathes, and finds weird but compelling. She writes a lot and all of it is interesting and worth reading. I, on the other hand, have felt that everything I publish must be perfect. Since that’s not remotely possible my output has been doomed from the start, a kind of Crohn’s disease of writing.

But I’m also bedeviled by a fussy irritation with the chatterati, the professional gossipers who pass for journalists on many of today’s media faucets. I’ve held the view that opinions aren’t worth much, including my own, and it would be better to really know what you’re talking about before you speak. That’s before I really understood what Montaigne (1533–1592), that eloquent French gentleman slacker, was on about when he invented the essay (English for essais), what he called his “tries” or “attempts.” His interests ranged far, wide, and deep, he had a beguiling blitheness about mixing up the facts, and he followed where his nose took him. So now we’ve got all these glimpses of life through Montaigne’s eyes, priceless gems he scattered from his castle’s tower window.

I’m not in that league by any means but it’s the form I feel most comfortable with. Attempts, tries. . .to back up and take another run at it. Eventually there may be a breakthrough of sorts, a moment of clarity, and that’s enough to justify yet another blog.

Perhaps it’s a way to scratch the explaining itch. We’ll see.

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