17 July 2009

Why am I here?  Not in the metaphysical sense, but rather in the "why blog?" sense.

One can, after, simply keep a diary, private and free-form.  But putting something potentially in the public eye, even if nary a soul ever views it, puts useful constraints on writing.

You have to watch your words — not so much to avoid offending, but in order to articulate your thoughts clearly.  I admit it, this has a rather selfish root:  writing for the public in order to clarify my own thoughts, purely for my own benefit.  But it is an effective way to force myself to make better sense, to express myself better.

I find a comparison from my college days.  I was requested, at a couple of different points, to keep an academic journal, a collection of reflections on what I was reading, hearing, seeing, doing with my college studies.  My professors read through this journal a couple of times through the quarter, so while it was quite a personal reflection on my academic experience, I had to present my ideas in such a way that (a) my professors could understand what I was writing about, and (2) the reader wouldn’t be offended by my thoughts.  That is, I wouldn’t write in my journal something like a scathing rant on the professor who would be reading it, or report on my hot and heavy night with a fellow student in gratuitous detail.

Now, at the same time, I kept a very personal diary, which did reflect some on my schooling, but was more focused on my personal relationships, my toddler, the movies and music I discovered, my bitches and moans about life.  This collection I wouldn’t share with a soul, containing as it did the typical embarrassing rants and scattered musings of most diaries.

A couple of notes on the form of these two very different journals:

My personal diary was kept long-hand — I didn’t yet own a computer (this was 1984, after all, and I was a poverty-level single parent at the time).  In later years, I’ve kept my personal journals on the computer, and don’t even bother printing the pages out anymore, but back then this wasn’t an option.  My journals from those years are filled with almost illegible scrawl, many scribbles, and sometimes notes in the margins.

I wrote my academic journal on the college’s mainframe computer, sitting in the terminal room (a bit morbid of a title, I always thought) at round tables in front of black-n-green monochrome screens, without even a word processor to work in (we used some kind of program-writing program in lieu of the real thing).  I did this at my own option, partly to learn how to use a computer, and partly because of my atrocious handwriting.  I also let myself go back and edit these journals, both for spelling and grammar, and also to ensure that I was expressing myself clearly, or perhaps to expand on something that, upon reflection, I hadn’t explored fully in my journal.

To allow editing was a big difference in my mind between the journals.  My personal diary, with its scribbles and addendum and margin notes, showed where I had changed my mind about content or composition.  The printouts from the computer terminal (on a clacking dot-matrix printer so loud that it was corralled along with the other printers in its very own glassed in room) revealed nothing of any edits or reconsiderations I’d gone through in constructing the journal entry.  It felt like cheating.

The other difference between the two journals was in terms of shorthand references.  In a private diary, one can write "and it really bugged me because of that time at my sister’s house," and there is no need to explain what happened "that time" or why it relates.  When you are your own audience, you already have all the reference points.

In a journal to be read by others, such offhand references aren’t helpful unless explained, and in the process of explaining, not only is the point made more clear to both reader and writer, but you tend to reveal false links, poor logic, and badly thought out connections between the events in our lives.  Sometimes, you know, you can link up things for very poor reasons – like thinking your Aunt has hated you for decades, when really she was just scowling that time because of the bad potato salad your mom made (that’s fictional, btw) – and writing these things out occasionally forces you to face the reality that maybe there was some other explanation for the thing you were just so sure about.

Keeping these two types of journals simultaneously was an interesting experience.  And keeping those academic journals has led to attempting blogs, another form of written expression which you willingly put in front of another’s eye — more personal than journalism, but more public, and hopefully articulate, than a private diary needs to be.

Which leads me to here.

I have been intensely interested in the U.S. political scene since the 2008 election season.  I find myself watching, and commenting on in my own mind, all kinds of issues as they arise in the the news, and that leads to wanting to express myself on political and social issues for the first time in a decade or more.  For others, that expression might come through poetry or painting, but for me it’s writing out my thoughts.

And because these thoughts are issue-centered, I don’t so much want to just blather on about whatever is pissing me off (or inspiring me) at the moment, I want to informally dissect what I am stirred by.  Hence the desire to write, not just for myself, but for an unknown and most likely imaginary audience, in order to force myself to avoid the shorthand of references to unexplained experiences, or the lazyness of ranting.  Not to diss ranting.  I may do it here.  Sometimes it’s necessary, and almost always cathartic.

Anyway, this blog is starting up right at the end of the Senate hearings for Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the the Supreme Court.  Issues of law, the Constitution, and race are prominent right now, as they have been since the election.  I hope to start there, but we’ll see what crops up between this post and the next time I have a chance to write.

Here’s to new ventures, and clarity of expression!

–Sister Artemis

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