It’s been fourteen years.
I began this blog back in 2005. I was on research leave at a university in Texas and started blogging to keep track of my reading. It has stumbled along from there, reinvented a few times over but still going.
Blogging is a particular form of writing. Though I still do it primarily for myself, it’s not journaling. It’s more public than that. By its form, a blog looks for an audience and seeks approval. At its most ordinary, it can be just another ‘Look at me!’ When I first began blogging, I did so self-consciously and almost hoped no one would notice. Though the self-consciousness is gone, the virtual stutter lingers. Perhaps that’s why I am more prone to quote the words of others than form my own.
Recently I re-read an essay by the great English novelist George Orwell, one that I last read thirty years ago. Titled Why I Write, the essay begins with Orwell’s unnerving admission:
“I think from the very start my literary ambitions were mixed up with the feeling of being isolated and undervalued. I knew that I had a facility with words and a power of facing unpleasant facts, and I felt that this created a sort of private world in which I could get my own back for my failure in everyday life.”
To some degree, I begin in the same place. My personal “facility with words” is paltry by comparison. Regardless, writing is a way to speak — carefully, deliberately, sensitively — without being interrupted by more brash or charismatic voices. It’s a way to be heard. Perhaps I would replace Orwell’s “failures in everyday life” with inadequacies. I have my share of those. Writing has always been a way to communicate when my ability in other mediums comes up short.
Orwell goes on to outline what he calls the four great motives for writing:
- Sheer egoism: the desire to appear clever, to be talked about and remembered. “It is a humbug to pretend that this is not a motive, and a strong one.”
- Aesthetic enthusiasm: the pleasure one takes “in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story.”
- Historical impulse: the desire to find, gather, report and store up for posterity.
- Political purpose: the desire to “push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s ideas of the kind of society that they should strive after.”
Honesty means acknowledging that the act of writing envelopes all of the above, each one rising to the surface at different times. I keep at it, hoping that over time the more virtuous of these motives bubble to the surface.
I hope so.