Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Why I Write

Why do I write this blog? What makes me type my thoughts and publish them on a server, where potentially millions could read them? I guess it's the only way I can share my inner thoughts with people in this crazy 21st Century. Everything is lightening fast, instantaneous gratification, and simplistic. Technology is outpacing our feeble little monkey brains at an alarming rate.
Yet we struggle to keep up with the latest trends because not to would make us dinosaurs sending emails.

Remember emails? They're ancient history.

I grew up with a Commodore 64. I loved that little breadbox powerhouse. Programmed my first text-based adventure game on it in 1985. Then came the IBM clones, Windows 95, Mosaic, CompuServe, Explorer, Safari, iMac, iPod and now cloud computing.

Cloud computing sounds like something angels do. I bet they have wicked fast high speed connections in Heaven. Like, it'll take a nanosecond to download the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy director's cut.

Thing is, I've been feeling down lately. Bad news travels fast, and often it brings company. Two people, an acquaintance's wife and a former co-worker died, and a friend and fraternity brother from college suffered a stroke.

Adding to this chaos, I had blood work done this morning and I haven't been feeling right lately. I chalk this up to the stress at work and hearing all of this bad news at once.

So now the waiting game begins, when I anticipate the doctor to call with the lab results.

Life is complicated as you grow older. It's a mental and physical juggling act, where you're trying to stay alive, trying to swat the Grim Reaper with a stick.

You wake up every morning and think your life is limitless, think you're going to take that long-awaited vacation to Shanghai, or climb Mount Kilimanjaro or publish your novel collecting dust on your desk. Then you get hit by a bus on the way to the travel agent's.

So I'm ruminating on my life, deeply pondering my course of action over the last few decades and what life has bestowed upon me and what it's taken away. I surmise my writing is never going to bring me any long standing wealth or accolades. I'm never going to be that award-winning, best-selling novelist I've wanted to be since my youth. Truth be told, I'm just not any good. I'm a mediocre hack scribbling down nonsense while making a Herculean effort to stay relevant and fresh. I lack the pop and zing novelists today have.

I thought journalism would make me a better writer, would give me perspective and allow me to finely hone my craft. Turns out journalism made me a jaded dullard, a sycophant to the System, and the System is the unshakable status quo. Journalism seems to be a pessimistic conformity factory where the truth and objectivity are drowned out by the public's perception that you care not a whit for truth or objectivity. One need only examine the message boards of any Yahoo News story to see the bile and froth and discouraging rants from the hoi polloi, who, in addition to poor grammar and syntax, have absolutely no idea what journalists do. I can only conclude the average Yahoo News reader is a racist, homophobic redneck anticipating Armageddon, or a hippie, seated on a beanbag chair, sucking on a bong shaped like Che Guevara's head.

As a reporter in a strongly Republican county, I felt I had to persuade others I wasn't a New York liberal with a sinister anti-American agenda. I retained the valuable lessons learned in college journalism classes. I remained objective. I gave everyone I talked to a fair shake. I captured all views and all angles of the story and, using my trusty tape recorder, reproduced their quotes accurately.

I've worked as a professional reporter for close to 20 years in Cape May County, covering everything from political meetings, to elections to a story about a lost pet pig. Serious or silly, I've written about it. Some days, it's fun. Other days, it's a grind. Yet if you remain professional and try to give people a fair shake, you get a good reputation. A few times people in high ranking positions complemented me on my work, yet I was too modest to put any credence in it. After all, blowing smoke up the asses of the lowly is a well-honed skill. There is, however, something to be said for objectivity. When you report objectively, when you just report the facts, people notice you don't have a sinister agenda. I've had both rock solid Republicans and dyed-in-the-wool Democrats commend me on my reporting. When your reporting is commended by a police chief and a former 1960s activist, you appeal to everyone.

I'm surprised at the reception I get, and who reads my stories. There are many others who are critics, who catch your mistakes and lament over what you missed. When I first started this reporting racket (and yeah, it's a racket), I beat myself up over the shoddy proofreading and written blunders preserved forever in black and white, which only make me look like an idiot.

Want to talk about stress? I'd like to change jobs with an air traffic controller because I'd like to relax. The competition is fast and fierce and marry that with the Internet, with its instant updates, news-on-the-second and 24/7 coverage which drives sane people to slit their throats with straight razors rather than endure another five minutes listening to Anderson Cooper, Sean Hannity or Rachel Maddow.

What used to be an intellectual, leisurely pursuit of getting the facts, gathering information, and crafting your story has become an immense vat of diarrhea soup sloshing around where information is immediately put down and thrown out the door faster than a masturbating hobo who wandered into the lobby of the Four Seasons.

But despite this clusterfuck we call the Digital Age, I don't weep for the future. Our primitive monkey brains will be conditioned to process this information faster. Maybe high-speed journalism is the rubric of 'the evolution of mass communication'. One thing we mustn't do is dumb it down. We must present the harsh, cruel facts for the jaded, easily-distracted monkey creatures we call our fellow humans. We must cut through the bullshit and not fear retribution from politicians, businesses or any nut with a gun and a Bible.

For the facts must be allowed to surface, no matter how embarrassing.

We are supposed to be journalists, the gatherers and presenters of facts. We're not spin doctors, propagandists, or pundits. Our stake in this republic is a well-educated and well-informed populace. The forces of greed, gorehounds, and partisans want to turn us into something grotesque and unsettling. They want the world to view us as if through a fun house mirror of hideous distortion and disfigurement. Yet we're better than that, I think.

We should strive to be better than that, even if it kills us. We should have passion in words, in the written form of communication, which has touched the human spirit for millennia. Videos can be manipulated, edited and used to brainwash viewers with subtle cues, music and vocal inflection. Writing is different. Writing is pure and true. To be a writer means to walk in the company of Shakespeare, Hemingway and Fitzgerald. It's putting complex thought and emotion into words and sending them through the ether, on the flapping wings of poetry, sailing through the ages to readers not yet born.