The Blogging Life

Writers do not just write anymore. Now they keep blogs, too. It is the going thing. No thought, but that it should become copy. If the thinking requires more than 140 characters, then Twitter is out. Go post it on your blog. Not a scrap of cognition should go unused.

This weblog began several years ago as an outgrowth of my place on the culture desk of The New York Sun, a brave experiment in print just as print was buckling to the web. Studio Matters began in 2009, the year The Sun went digital. By then, I was accustomed to producing a weekly column. Studio Matters was a way to keep up the habit.


Leonid Pasternak. The Torments of Creative Work (20th C.)


Note the word weblog. Even now, I still wince at the word blog. As pure sound, it is ungainly. As a literary genre, it is something of a blob, a gelatinous mass of comment that might rise into prose. Or not. If I had to picture it, this would do nicely:



A preposterous looking thing, the blobfish is a real sea critter that cruises far down in the depths off Australia and New Zealand. Very dense—all that gelatin—its body is only slightly lighter than the weight of water and, so, can float just about the ocean floor.

Here is a writing blobfish, the kind that keeps a blog:



Very likely words meant more when they had to be inscribed on tablets with a stylus, or carefully scripted onto kid skin dried, bleached, scraped, and stretched to receive them. Even having to sharpen your own quill, or grind your own ink with lampblack and gum arabic, was a caution against wasting words. But bloggers can be profligate. We never run out of pixels.

A blogger is someone who gets up in the morning to work on her post the way other people work on their abs, their racket ball serve, their investments. Someone who goes to bed fretting over what might need writing about the next day. (Surprisingly little, if you take the long view of things.) If I am anything to go by, bloggers are unglued, time-challenged multi-taskers who try to compose in their sleep.

Multi-tasking. Did a focus group come up with that word? It is a crooked euphemism, a swindling thing manufactured to disguise the swell of distractions we splash around in. It puts a smile on fractured attention spans. It tempts us to take pride in the clutter of our own minds, all the daily shuffle and tumble that directs light away from the disorder of our souls.


The Baron Insists on the Veracity of His Memoirs, from The Travels of Baron Munchausen by Gottfried Burger (18th C).


James V. Schall’s The Mind That is Catholic (2008), a collection of philosophical and political essays, includes a chapter “On the Death of Plato.” In it, Fr. Schall attends to Alcibiades at the end of the banquet in The Symposium. I marked this passage:

Why must Alcibiades at the banquet close his ears to the siren voice of Socrates? “For he makes me confess that I ought not to live as I do, neglecting the wants of my own soul, and busying myself with the concern of the Athenians; therefore I hold my ears and tear myself away from him.”

It sets me to wondering about the siren voices all around us. And leaves me a bit uneasy about adding to them, blogger-like.


Piotr Konchalovski. Pushkin at His Desk (20th C). Hermitage, Moscow.


Then, too, there is the time that writing gobbles up. It is a fiendish arcade game invented by a sadist. Whack-a-word. The wrong ones pop up at random. You spend hours belting them back down to leave room for the right ones—the sly ones that insist on keeping their heads down. Yes, I know, there are bloggers who can write at the speed of talk. I envy them.

There is some comfort in an anecdote I once read—if memory has it right—about Sean Ó’Faolain. Another Irish author (Benedict Kiely?) in teasing tribute to Ó’Faolain, described him as the kind of writer who spent all morning putting in a semi-colon. And all afternoon taking it out.

It is impossible to tell you how much consolation there is in that. The remark was hyperbole, I know. But even so .  .  .   .