Ora sono ubriaco d'universo. (Ungaretti)

Category: blogging (page 1 of 16)

Plans, 6/22/15

Oh, so many.

Need to rewrite everything on the blog. This probably will take the rest of my life, so I’m more than happy to make gradual improvements when I can. I’ll start with a few tags and categories and let you know as they’ve been cleaned up. Only tag/category I’m feeling comfortable with right now concerns Charles Simic. Those commentaries aren’t perfect, but they’re clear enough. They follow the narrative of the poems closely and the poems, it goes without saying, are terrific.

Need to blog three times a week, and not like this. Real blogging, where I bring a poem, work of visual art, piece of music, essay, graphic novel – you know, something different – for consideration. The more I waste time online the more I’m convinced that what goes on here is unique. There’s lots of fancy prose everywhere. Lots of thoughts that are too clean and too sharp: they describe our more conventional ideas or our ideological positions. They don’t really grapple with others’ opinions, much less with reality. It goes without saying that I don’t, either. But there seems to be a virtue in not being polished enough to fool oneself with the beauty of one’s own sentences.

Things that I have lying around that I would like to write about:

  • a book on Picasso and Degas. Apparently Picasso saw a bunch of paintings by Degas depicting the same area of Paris in which he lived. Picasso responded to those paintings with paintings of his own.
  • Nietzsche, “Daybreak” – every time I go to it, it’s too dense, but I end up thinking about it all day.
  • Herodotus – up to book 6 now, have even read a few secondary sources (very few, to be sure).
  • Wislawa Szymborska, Charles Simic, Seamus Heaney, Dickinson, Buson, Czeslaw Milosz – this is the poetry lying around the apartment.
  • A video game called “Endless Legend” which is a lot like Civilization IV. I’m messing up each time I play it, though.

Writing this little update feels so pretentious. I spent most of the day looking stuff up on Wikipedia and browsing news feeds looking for something to write. I also drank a lot of coffee for some odd reason. I wish I could say I lived in this realm of ideas where Dickinson talked to Yeats and witnessing that I learned something about the nature of the universe if it is conceived in 358 dimensions.

It’s more like this: I’m just looking for anything that is relatable. That’s a feeling, and putting it into words and describing it fully is chancy. I don’t envy anyone with the task of explaining why something has relevance.

P.S. I’m using twitter more – you can feel free to add me there – and if you want to help, I could use subscribers to this blog’s feed. I’m trying to update twice a week, at least.

A Thanks of Sorts to Katie Nolan and Felicia Day

1. Didn’t watch all of Bill Simmons’ interview with Katie Nolan – turned it off once they started the incessant apologia for the Patriots.

Still. Think I learned from the first half-hour. If the blog ends up going anywhere, I’ll have to credit Ms. Nolan. For the last few months, I’ve been doing everything but blogging. It’s weird to confess this, because I didn’t stop writing, editing, or reading. My paper journal is packed with poems, musings, and rants. I have been trying to completely rewrite old blog entries, throwing some away entirely (process is ongoing). Lots of reading: a few papers on Plato, books on art history, critical essays attended for the sake of style and form in my own writing. This has been done while job hunting, while working, while revising dissertation.

I cannot say I have had pride or even any particular joy in all this. I do not want to think through what has been done well, what not so well. Quite a bit has not been done well. It felt like a slog, moving from one obstacle to the next. I still don’t know if I’m improving or not. Writing is throwing messages in a bottle and learning not to care if you get a letter back.

What I quit on, without realizing it, was the idea that this blog could go anywhere. That is no small disappointment to harbor. It spreads to every other area in one’s life like the plague.

2. Ms. Nolan describes how she got started in media. Blogging on sports and pop culture happened 6 times a day while working a bartending job. Eventually, a bigger site wanted to use her voice for more exposure. She got a larger audience, a bit more money, but a lot more responsibility. That responsibility turned to making videos daily for the site, which conflicted with the bartending job. Nolan’s story is that she would get back from work in the early hours of the morning, write jokes for the video she intended to shoot, go to bed and film the video in the time that was left before work. I don’t think she needs to say anything about the amount of pay involved and how it corresponded with the amount of work she did.

I can’t say that her story – she’s got her own show now – is inspiring. It pushes me to work harder, to try and blog daily, but I can’t say that I’m excited or that I expect anything good to happen. Rather, I’m merely in the position of not quitting just yet. Her advice for making it in media is to get into a routine of doing something daily, to feel like you have to produce content.

The funny thing is that for a blog of this sort, I have no idea what that even means. I don’t want to be on tv, I don’t want to be recognizable. Celebrity is scary: you lose privacy. You lose, as Bill Simmons notes in the same interview, the right to make mistakes. A major reason why I wasn’t thrilled the last few months about throwing more resources into the blog is that I have to get years upon years of writing to be acceptable. A lot of what I’ve written here is unreadable: they’re notes on a scratch pad. At times good notes, but not a coherent narrative.

There’s too much to do, and I’m not sure what I want out of it.

3. I guess if anything comes of this blog, it might have to do with another influence. A long time ago, Josh shared with me this awesome interview with Felicia Day. I’ve found myself reading it over and over, partly because of the independent streak that pulses through her answers. Partly also because of how impressive it is to use media no one else has quite figured out to be genuinely entertaining, expressive, and speak to a culture otherwise ignored. Those who can’t figure it out, typically companies that are behemoths, can only stereotype or ignore your work. I think that shows pretty clearly if you read the interview.

I don’t want to pride myself on doing anything new or clever. What is most impressive about Ms. Day is how well she engages her particular audience. I originally got into blogging because I thought it was possible to contribute something thoughtful each day that one could carry throughout the day and muse on. The intent was always to put readers in touch with others. To avoid overuse of my own voice, to give my readers the ability to say without irony that they read and read about Yeats, Dickinson, Auden, Plato, Xenophon, Shakespeare, Aristotle, Kay Ryan, Sappho, and many others. I have to recommit fully to that purpose, because the garbage flowing in my Facebook feed has more intellectual guises. Social media’s net impact on the Internet has been to make it more narcissistic – yes, I realize that such a thing is near impossible.

I can’t say I lack an ego. I will not lie and say I’m humble in any way. I’m struggling to be honest about what merits having pride.

Writing is editing, but that just means more work for me

The best thing I can do is open the blog in one tab, reread an old entry, then write a new post based on it.

I’m not saying that to put my older stuff down, though I do think almost all of it needs to be fixed.

I’m saying it because I’m that much better a writer and editor, and the possibility of crafting something amazing very much exists. I don’t know how consistent I’ll be – I don’t think this can be done all at once – but a few posts at a time makes sense. It’s just as important to keep finding new things and trying to write on them.

One might think this process haphazard. But even when I’m writing as little as 4 times a month, consider the scope of what I’ve been doing. It’s very difficult to keep the ideas streamlined, the arguments flowing correctly. There’s too much to observe. To not observe it – to not pay attention – defeats the entire purpose of why I study anything in the first place, why I write anything.

Subscribe to Rethink.

Alright. A few of you want to know how to keep up with the blog, so I don’t have to go shouting all over the Internet about it all the time. Here are some options:

  • Subscribe by e-mail. This is probably your best option: let my blog spam you. It can be annoying, but if you want copies of what I write without going to the site, this works well. Do note that you have to verify the subscription. You should be sent an e-mail if you click that link and follow the instructions asking you to verify. A lot of people have tried to “subscribe” and not verified their subscription.
  • Feed reader. So here’s the feedburner feed preview, if you’re interested. There’s also the simpler Feed readers may be subversive. Ryan Holiday points out that RSS – really simple syndication – puts your content in focus and brings back a “subscription” model of media, as opposed to the “clickbait” model we have now. With the bells and whistles and hype stripped away, feed readers create a more level playing field for quality content. Feedly makes my site look good, and also shows how pathetic the subscription count is (39 as of 3/30/2014).
  • I don’t post automatically to the Facebook page, but I might start doing that, especially as I’ve had to shut down comments due to spam.

As always, thanks for your patience and readership. Let me know what else I can do.



Month in Review, March 2014

I have a bunch of Dickinson poems I could write on. I don’t feel like writing – I feel like wrapping up this month of blogging and working on something else today and tomorrow.

What you may have missed:

5 random facts about me, because Tumblr

With thanks to moogernaut & phroggee for tagging me

  1. I really, really hate horror movies. If you’re planning on making me faint, just hint we’re watching one. It isn’t even the movie itself. I’m nervous no matter what, so I just start imagining everything under the sun and then some.
  2. Niagara Falls is incredible. I am still blown away by how much a ton of falling water can impress.
  3. Bars are still weird for me. So I was at two biker bars recently, and I felt out of place. I might have gotten a conversation about tattoos and graphic novels going, but the bartender had to go back to work. At another bar which journalists frequent, my friend hurriedly got me out of there because he could see the contempt I had for every idiot with a Tag Heuer watch.
  4. Other than news and sports, I don’t think I’ve watched any TV in months. This is not snobbery on my part, not at all. I just feel I need to be reading or writing, and I’m pushing myself to do that maybe a bit too much.
  5. I still need to finish “The Fault in Our Stars.”

Month in Review, February 2014

I’ve stopped keeping track of traffic. Aside from promoting to people who pretty much know me, I’m trying to let my work speak for itself:

“Anytime I visit Wal-Mart, I feel trapped:” An Interview with Emory Rowland

I’m going to try to interview readers of this blog, if you’re up for it. One of the joys of writing has been how diverse and interesting all of you are. I can’t thank Emory enough for his consistent support over the years. Emory’s work is in SEO, but that doesn’t even scratch the surface of what he does online: you can check out his work on a site devoted to Christian testimony and another on dating sites themselves.

1. Why classical history in college? It’s gonna sound strange coming from me, but when I first started in undergrad, I wasn’t drawn to it in the least. What stayed with you?

It is just now occurring to me that my interest in ancient history must have come from reading the Bible through at a very early age. I just decided to do it on my own. Soon the mystique and enchantment of anything ancient took root and started growing in me.

An event that drove my interest happened in high school after years of waiting, I would finally be able to take a class in high school that I actually enjoyed: World History! On the first day of class the Art teacher walked in and announced the History teacher was gone. The Art teacher would be conducting the class. I quickly saw the class turn into a babysitting session devoid of any inspiration or leadership. I felt let down.

I eschewed business school in college and seized upon learning what I wanted: Classical studies. It may be that I learned more about Classics (and English grammar) from studying Greek language itself. I remember feeling literally high reading the gospels in Koine Greek during class.

Soon, my love of classical history collided with my Dad’s timeless wit:

“What are you going to do, set up a History shop?” He asked one day.

2. How’d you get into poetry? I remember you saying something about reading William Carlos Williams.

I confess my real appreciation for poetry arose from a selfish cathartic phase I went through in my twenties. I was trying to make sense of the things inside my head and expressing it through short fiction and poetry opened up a new world to me. I ended up purging a haunting relationship and learning how to write. I must have come upon Williams because I was drawn to minimalist styles.

3. You’ve been abroad. Is there a value to travel? I mean this less in a philosophical sense, and more in the sense of ‘I can’t get my Mom to leave the house.’

My take is that remaining within the comfortable patterns of one’s environment means the mind is not stimulated by new images, people, culture, problems, challenges. Being forced to process information from new surroundings makes the soul healthy in my opinion. I think that’s why time seems to pass slower when traveling in a new city.

On the other hand, the idea of doing something that changes the world from the confines of a suburban home has always appealed to me. I like to say that I dislike travel but love being in new cities. The getting there part is not always fun.

4. Please do talk about gaming. What games do you like best? Have your tastes in gaming changed?

I am picky about my games. I gravitate towards the bigger name first person shooter franchises (COD, BF, HL), 3D strategy and military flight simulations. I so wish there were more sims as in the early days of PC gaming but the market is in a tailspin.

My tastes reflect the great quest to find a satisfying blend of strategy and fun. They haven’t changed. Demand has changed. Compare the early geek PC gamerati with the consoler masses of today. I’ve observed both eras and I have to say I enjoyed the times when multiplayer gaming was young and less competitive – I get beat a lot worse today :)

5. Finally, is Georgia doing as bad as job as Texas with this crummy weather? One bloody centimeter of snow AND THAT’S IT WE’RE ALL TRAPPED AT WALMART.

Snow is irrelevant. Anytime I visit Wal-Mart, I feel trapped.

I’d like to set up that History shop one day.

Blogging is dying. I need to blog more.

The surest sign blogging is dying isn’t twitter or youtube or instagram. The surest sign is the inability to hear anything about what you write for months. Blogging always was like putting messages in a bottle and hoping for a response. Now it feels that much worse. The commentariat is on social media 24/7 and won’t look past their navel.

And yet, something is at stake. “Blogger” has been made a derogatory term because of the connotations of “amateur,” “wannabe,” “gossip.” I certainly have been all three and far worse. But when you’ve been working to be better, and keeping a log of how you’ve improved and evolved – well, that’s gotta mean more, right?

It’s gotta mean more when you’re trying to start an involved, in-depth conversation about what’s important to you. Right?

A blog is a log, a diary. If you’ve done something with yourself, a blog can track that. And as much as I bemoan my older entries and their bad writing and incoherence, they stand for something important. I’ve read a lot over the years and done quite a bit to respond to it, to work through its relevance. The payoff until recently has been scattered. I think a few of you are seeing that something over the last few months has been taking on a new relevance. Only I’m in a position to judge where I am, and I can safely tell you that I’m a bit scared. There are smart blogs by intellectuals and academics. There’s new agey stuff that has my rhetoric and moralizing. And there are close readers who analyze in order to appreciate.

I think it’s fair to say that what I’m trying to do online is pretty exceptional. I don’t know. I’ve run into smarter people, better writers, more relevant and far better researched blogs. Yet what I’m bringing to the conversation is unlike anything else. It isn’t just my voice. It’s a number of voices, a diversity of media: I work to introduce everything from webcomics to video games to contemporary art to snippets of philosophy to rants on politics and, yes, poems. Where I fail is in getting my audience to contribute, in making sure they’re appropriately valued and rewarded. But that’s not quite fair to myself. I consistently aim for short poems, short texts so people have something to carry with them through their day. I’m not (always) shooting for every word of mine to be savored; I’m really looking to get a poem or quote or image in someone’s hands so they have something different.

What I’ve been trying to do here is dedicate myself to the spirit of the liberal arts. That spirit isn’t about right answers. It’s about raising questions and working through them carefully, understanding the value of wrong answers and misleading insights. Understanding, in the end, what’s involved in raising a serious question and coming up with a credible, personal answer. Sometimes, because of my failures as a writer, I feel like my audience has to be ashamed they read me, and that’s got to be the height of ridiculousness. You haven’t been reading for this long because something important wasn’t going on. You believed that like any serious discussion of a serious opinion, this was important, the heart of reflecting on human being. Not hidden away on dusty shelves but brought forth for all of us who have to work and fight and study on a daily basis. I’ve worked hard at my job, even if I’m ultimately a failure. I’m saying all this because I’m not sure what’s next. I’m gonna keep blogging for a while longer, but what that means is anyone’s guess.

I’ve Got Mail!

From a letter sent me on or around August 4th:

The way you parse texts just amazes me. I was hoping you could provide a little advice, what direction I should be going in to hone my interpretive faculties.

Thanks for the praise. I’m very grateful you’re reading. I think the best way to start here is to start with what I get wrong.

I’ll be the first to admit that maybe 75% of the blog needs serious editing. There are plenty of entries which flat out don’t make sense or have reasoning that’s far too clipped for any reader but myself to understand. And as I get older, I forget what I was thinking about at the time.

That having been said, the blog isn’t a final product. It’s really a notebook, a peek into how to go about analyzing things. And ay, there’s the rub yet again. There are plenty of analyses of things that are much clearer than what I’m doing. So what exactly is happening here that might be of use to someone who wants to work through texts for themselves?

I think there’s two things of value: first, dissatisfaction with obvious readings as some kind of gold standard. Strauss is quoted by Benardete somewhere as saying something to the effect of “if your title gives away what you’re talking about, why did you write anything to begin with?” (This is not advice to be taken when writing scholarly papers). I don’t think anything is obvious – what has always taken me aback is how rare this magical thing we call common sense is.

I’m not saying throw out obvious readings. The best approach to them is to summarize them and identify a weakness. This is much harder than it looks, because of the second thing of value: the relevance of someone’s speech is what you’re aiming for, and if someone’s speech is relevant, it speaks to a number of issues, not just one. A good example of this is Lincoln’s Second Inaugural. The nation needs healing; the rhetoric should be simple and to the point. But Lincoln goes and wrestles with divine judgment, knowing that the deeper issue is how democracy itself – our own claim to represent the rights of man – has been and will be judged. You can see how easy it is to get lost in this sort of web of themes.

So some practical advice, which I’m sure you’re already putting to use:

  • Start small. You don’t need to write an interpretation of the whole of the Odyssey. But if you work through a puzzling scene and come to a good question, who cares if you’re exactly right or not? The goal is to do justice to the work.
  • Context & your audience. You can pull stuff out of context, but be really clear. Again, this is not something I practice perfectly – not even close – but you have to be attentive to your audience even when writing privately. You’ve got to ask yourself why you’re writing what you’re writing, why you’ve made the interpretative leap you’ve made. That means establishing for some audience why you’re doing what you’re doing. It means, probably, establishing at least two contexts: that of your inquiry and the one the work is situated in.
  • Bring up the questions that occur in your everyday life without using fancy texts. You don’t need to write about how some piece of legislation you’re for or against is reminiscent of Tocqueville or not. That’s actually something I’ve tried hard to steer away from recently. Yeah, debates and themes recur over and over again. That’s not why they’re relevant. They’re relevant because you’re seeing something that’s important to you.
  • Read everything, though some books are more valuable than others. The books which helped me the most: Aeneid, The Case of Wagner, Plato’s Symposium (Strauss’ lectures highly recommended), Xenophon’s Apology and Symposium, Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War, Plato’s Minos, Bacon’s New Atlantis. I’m not putting this list down to be like “look at all the learned stuff I read.” Rather, each work listed engages a number of metaphors and themes which show up in nearly everything else. And I mean everything. I actually can’t recommend Xenophon enough for seeing how what is “obvious” fails for those who really want to get the most out of a book.
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