Writing: Why I write
I had two goals when I started blogging. I knew that I wanted to write and that I wanted to write about something meaningful. Then one day I tuned into Glenn Beck going off on Obama and I knew that I had found my subject. As I learned more and more about the Tea Party and the Conservative think tanks and foundations, about Grover Norquist, and the NRA, and the Koch brothers, and ALEC (and more), I decided to become a cheerleader for Obama and for our democracy. Since that time in 2008* I have never lacked for subject matter. I do not see this as an advantage of being born in such contentious times, in this transitional era, because there has been too much propaganda, too much rhetoric, too much hate. I was never a conservative or a Republican but I did not feel that the party or the ideologues were unwilling to compromise or that they were totally tone deaf to the needs of we the people as I began to feel during those days after Obama’s election.
Racism has existed in our America since the founding but the racial hatred seems to ebb and peak. Obama’s Presidency happened to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights movement in the 60’s and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Voting Rights Act was also enacted 50 years ago. But what should have been a celebration of the triumph of humanism became a sad testimony to how many Americans had merely tucked away their racial animosity and their white supremacy and had let the one fester and given free rein to the other.
Guns and hate speech began to be quite common, especially when Trayvon Martin was killed walking home from a trip to a store for snacks and we became aware that this instance of black jeopardy was not an isolated occurrence. Soon trolling on the internet was considered by many to be either great fun or an art form of ever escalating derogatory attacks. The attackers were mostly on the right; the defenders on the left. It certainly was demoralizing to realize that we had never actually moved on from the Civil War. However, for writers it was a rich mine for passion and verbal activism. Then, after Obama served his two terms, we elected a white supremacist. Hard not to just keep and writing.
Getting a Message across: Long Forms or Short Forms?
Recently though, I have begun to question whether my desire to be a writer may be at odds with my hope that I can make points that perhaps drill through the fog of ideology and change someone’s mind about an important matter. If my readers were the people who like to read long-form media such as we find in The Atlantic or Salon or even the mainstream newspapers then I would need to keep practicing my written expression to meet the quality of those publications.
But I speak from the “cheap seats”. I have access to a family of 80 and the friends of this very large family and I am often aware that we do not all have the same views on politics. They always say that they hate politics, or they have no opinions about politics and yet they express what are some rather strong opinions on a variety of political issues. This gives me a kind of focus group I can tap into and, oddly enough, almost none of them agree with me. They have been listening to Fox News and have internalized that media outlet’s anti-deadbeat-white nationalist propaganda because they are white and, even though all the factories have left us, they are not poor anymore (although they were poor as children).
I have noticed that Donald Trump is not the only modern person who likes information delivered in the shortest form possible. I have noticed that on the internet the old truth that “a picture is worth a thousand words” holds true for even this modern form of communication, the internet. Infographics are popular because they condense complex information into simple memes and charts and lists and include as many pictures as possible. Most entries on social media are quite short. Instagram uses pictures almost exclusively, snapchat uses both pictures and words (as few as possible), Facebook entries fit in a standard square frame although they often contain links to longer media within the frame. You can like or express anger at an entry without necessarily following the link. Friends who post memes, which are basically pithy comments overlaid on pictures, always get many more “clicks” than my posts get. Usually these memes are not even created by the friend who posts them but they are reaching more “readers” than I am.
Since my main objective is often to try to get someone to entertain a point of view that they may not have encountered in their “ideological bubble” I have begun to experiment with articles and other forms of expression that are a closer match to entries on social media. There will be a learning curve and I will probably subject readers to some near-failures before I perfect my short forms. You will be my guinea pigs. It will be an experiment to see if more people begin to pay attention to my posts. Of course, it is easier to dismiss a short-form meme if it does not suit your “tribe” so perhaps it is still impossible to reach outside your bubble, whether your posts are long and writerly or short and pictorial. For the record, I do not intend to give up writing longer form articles either because I can’t help myself.
*My current blog post archives only go back to 2010 but I had a blog on Microsoft Live for two years before 2010.