Here are 3 reasons I blog:
Number One: It brings structure into my thought life. Instead of starting one train of thought and then letting it fade away, replaced by other ideas, writing forces me to make this train arrive at some sort of destination. And it’s a bit of a ride for me too, because truly, nine times out of ten, I have no idea where I’ll go. But the point is that with blogging I stay on track until I do get to a place of resolution, a place where I’m ready to get off the train.
So, of course the question is, why not write to yourself? What’s the advantage of writing publicly? Well, for me, the difference is that the concept of an audience introduces a rigor into the process that writing for myself does not. If someone is listening, then you want to make some sense. (And as an aside, this is why talking to oneself should not be legal for people who have interesting things to say, because it makes the listener turn and look, only to find, with a touch of dismay, that the words aren’t for him.) But anyway, I don’t want to invite people over for a dish of slop. It’s not like writing in my notebook at home, where I don’t expect anything more than stream-of-consciousness stuff, filled with questions and unfinished topics. It doesn’t matter – if I were to ever re-read it, I’d probably know what I meant.
And this, as it turns out, brings me to the topic of art (did not know I was going there). I think the painter of abstract art is being unfair to his audience. He is not communicating very well; he is babbling. Take twenty people who have just looked at one of his paintings who know nothing about this artist and his million dollar art and see if they know what he has just said. It’s the child who will call a spade a spade and tell you it was some boring circles on a white background. All the adults will say it symbolized nothingness or the rhythm of life or something like that. Now compare that with what he meant to say. Maybe I don’t get it or maybe it’s the artistic version of relativism: you just make it mean whatever you want it to mean, no ‘meeting of the minds’ necessary, and then everyone goes home.
Contrast that with medieval art. Now that is really incredible stuff. I did not know that I liked it until recently. Going through an air-conditioned museum with lots of art can be really deadening unfortunately, because your eyes start to glaze over. It’s room after room of artistic output, but of course right when you’re in the heart of the place you realize that you have to use the bathroom, and at that point, you’re intently studying the museum map because the only picture you’re interested in finding is the one with the little stickman and his wife.
But anyway (see, didn’t think I’d be mentioning that either), I was in a museum, and then at some point I found myself in with some 13th and 14th century paintings, and I was suddenly awake again. Talk about respect for the viewer! Those artists really give you your money’s worth. They are, as Chesterton says: “ . . . full of small touches that show a very large imagination.” (G.K. Chesterton, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Chapter 5). The closer you look, the more you’re rewarded. Look at Angel Gabriel’s cloak. Yes, you saw that it was multi-coloured, but when you step closer, you see that this cloak is edged with gold, and then if you lean in, you’ll see that this gold embroidery is actually made up of an intricate pattern of vines and flowers. The painter must have been using the very tip of a very teeny paintbrush by now, painstakingly adding these touches – no impressionistic shortcuts here! And at this close range, you can see the way the drapery is fringed with little tassels and you can make out patterns on the rug too. For each moment you spend with the painting, the artist gives you more, not less. It’s different from impressionism, where the artist’s technique draws attention to itself and seems to matter just as much as the message, and where getting closer makes the mystery disappear (at close range it’s just paint). And it’s the total antithesis of abstract art, where the artist’s persona totally overshadows the message; the only mystery is what it’s supposed to be (even from a distance it’s just paint).
Okay, so my point is that it’s about respect for the audience. I need to give my best. Sure, there are time constraints, but if I offer something for public consumption, it’s more important to put in that effort. The public nature of a blog introduces an element of discipline into the thought process. It doesn’t matter whether the audience is imaginary or not; the very notion of it still has an impact on the writer. (And note that I say it’s my best, not the best that’s out there. I know for a fact that many of my friends and relatives can process things faster and better than I can, and that they would smile to themselves to watch me make my way from point A to B, but like the marathoner, we can all just hope for our personal best, right?)
Number Two: It’s human nature to tell people about things you’ve liked, and so it’s the same with me. Some like to share their latest shopping finds, and I like to share the things I’ve read or puzzled over. It adds to the enjoyment. Who wants to travel alone, when seeing breathtaking things only serves to remind you that you don’t have anybody beside you? And I do like Chesterton so very, very much. I almost called this blog ‘chestertonsays.com.’ And I figure that if I really like something, there are bound to be others who like it as well. A good author like Chesterton brings truth to life in a really fresh way, and when you come across a good line, it can stay with you and clarify things for years later. I want to pass along his insights and those of some saints and other writers, because I trust and like their thoughts; they’ve figured things out already and it’s great to enjoy the fruit of their labours (and now I’ll have recorded where their quotations came from).
Closely tied to this, is the bursting problem. There are so many topics that I want to explore! There are so many quotations with so much meat on them! I remember Chesterton’s lament; he said he couldn’t get out one tenth of what he wanted to say. Now I’m not Chesterton (I also considered that as a name: ‘imnotchesteron.com’ -still available), but I totally get that! It’s an almost painful sensation to want to write about so many things but not have the time to do so. Once a post is written, it’s like a release – there, it’s gone; I don’t have to carry it around anymore.
Number Three: It’s similar to writing a book or a play where the characters promote the writer’s perspective. All fiction validates the author’s view of the world, even if that world view is nothing more than, “I’m confused about the meaning of life.” (When it comes to stage scripts, that’s called ‘theatre that challenges.’) Chesterton, who wrote tons of everything, including novels, said that he was at heart a journalist, not a novelist: “In short, I could not be a novelist; because I really like to see ideas or notions wrestling naked, as it were, and not dressed up in a masquerade as men and women.” (G.K. Chesterton, Autobiography, Chapter 14.)
Now, I like Chesterton’s fiction because I think he always rewards the reader with some good twists, and I think that his descriptions of everything – architecture, sunsets, and human behaviour – are really good, and in some ways fiction can be more universal. But I do understand Chesterton’s point. Sometimes you just want to say what you think, without blending it into a story. Unlike a fiction writer, who can hide behind his characters (you can’t say the author believes that lying or stealing is okay – it was just one of his loveable characters who did that), a prose writer just comes out with it, and that can be refreshing, both for the reader and the writer. So it’s similar in that world views are expressed, but blogging, being prose, is transparent.
And, being transparent, the reader knows what he’s in for with a blogger. It’s not like the moviegoer, who seeks entertainment but gets a questionable moral message along with it (kind of like wanting popcorn and getting an industrial-version of ‘butter’ on top). People can peek around in a blog, and either stay or leave, no harm done. And the way I imagine it, things work themselves out; the uninterested and the cynical will either never show up or else move on if they do, and when the party’s over, when it’s time to turn on the lights and collect all the empty glasses, I’ll be left with those who are still listening. And if nobody is there, then what’s the harm in talking to yourself?