Monday, 12 July 2010

Why?


I have to write something. It’s been ages. But again I ask myself the question – why am I doing this? Why the compulsion to write something when I’ve got nothing to say? Who cares? There are blogs which are informative, angry, satirical, issue-based, world-changing, committed, and the blogosphere is a welcome phenomenon when almost all the media are in the hands of predominantly right wing proprietors who dictate public opinion. (For several demonstrations of how bad our tabloids are, check out the excellent http://tabloid-watch.blogspot.com/.)

Mind you, there are some extremely unpleasant bloggers, too, across the whole political (and religious) spectrum, but so far it’s a place where freedom of speech is a reality rather than something to which lip service is paid by pressure groups hiding behind dubious interpretations of constitutional ‘truths’.

But what am I doing here? The short answer? Being self-indulgent. Peddling trivia in the hope of getting a laugh and maybe fooling enough of the people enough of the time to sell a few books. I think digressions such as the one which invited you to contribute to what became Dinsdale the whale are interesting and, for me, very enjoyable. They give me the chance to be even more self-indulgent and have a good time writing something without deadlines and with just the joy of writing as a stimulus. The fact that Diane then put it into print is a source of pleasure but, since I didn’t know that was going to happen, it wasn’t part of the ‘why am I writing this?’ equation.

I wonder whether, like other online things, it’s delusional. I genuinely believe that some of the contacts I’ve made through blogging and reading other people’s blogs are real rather than virtual. But it would be too easy to start believing that I really do have 144 ‘friends’ on Facebook or however many ‘followers’ I have on Twitter. Wait, though. That last thing makes sense. Since I hardly ever go there, what are those followers following? Nothingness, absence. Now that makes sense. All my followers there are waiting for Godot. They’re confirming that virtuality is a void.

In a way, it’s sort of comforting that this online experience that dominates so much of our lives is illusory. We’re all figments of each other’s imagination. It’s perhaps especially true for writers. We’re sitting at our keyboards anyway and thus have such a handy displacement activity which we can pretend is ‘networking’ or some other post-modern advantage and which is part of the fictional world we inhabit all the time.

But enough of this self-indulgence. This blog is supposed to be ‘about’ something and not just me preaching at you (until I reassume my guru persona and we have the grand hut opening). So let me offer just one highlight of the past week. It came as a question in an email from my son. A friend of his was driving along with his wife when they passed a man with two young boys wearing Spiderman outfits.
‘Oh,’ said the wife, ‘look at that man with his two Spidermans’.
The husband ‘corrected’ her. ‘Spidermen,’ he said.
‘There’s only one Spiderman,’ was her answer.
My son was asked for his take on this seeming paradox and, either because he sees me as an oracle on things linguistic or because he likes to throw me titbits to help keep my mind active in my dotage, he passed the query on to me. I, in turn, asked my wife and a French friend who was here. This led to a short debate involving other superheroes and the rules of grammar (and the discovery that Asterix wasn’t a suitable example because a terminal ‘x’ is already a legitimate plural in French). Then, the following day, at a birthday party, I asked other guests (two teachers of English as a foreign language, a professor of English and a lecturer in linguistics) for their professional opinions.

I know, I know – once again you’re thinking ‘what an exciting life he has’ and ‘what great parties he goes to’ – but the matter was resolved (to my satisfaction, at least) and I hope marital harmony was restored in the home of my son’s friend.

So there, a blog about the possibility of creating a plural form of a unique concept. The world is now a more informed place. But I have to stress that the questions with which I started were rhetorical. When I asked ‘Who cares?’ I certainly wasn’t soliciting a chorus of ‘We care, O Master’. On the other hand, it would be interesting to know two things:
• why you yourselves read or write blogs and
• your response to the Spidermans/Spidermen conundrum.

I leave the punchline to one of my heroes, Samuel Beckett. ‘Nothing is enough.’

24 comments:

  1. Hmm, is the ferris wheel symptomatic, problematic, axiomatic or some other "-matic"? Good question ... why do we read these things? I mean, I know why I write but why do I seek out the musings and idle ramblings of people whom I *know* only in cyberspace, yet feel an odd kinship, nay even attachment, perhaps more so than with my real time friends and acquaintances. Perhaps because my real-time people wear protective shells, often quite hard, impenetrable, whereas my cyber-buddies have created direct links, pathways into my psyche, with few barriers, few conventions, few filters ... no shell. I like that the immediacy and connectedness, is as genuine, if not more so, than that which I might share in realspace. I like the unscheduled nature of it all - simply cast a line, you will hook something that will tweak interest, get creative juices flowing [Dinsdale being an excellent example]. Realspace doesn't work that way - it is manufactured, directed, organized, lobotomized to the point where ideas, human connections, disappear into nullspace, entrapped by convention, social mores and the demands for productivity.
    As to the correct form: plural or not? I prefer something that has a better ring to it, correct or not. "Spidermans" is simply too jolting, too interruptive of that smooth assimilation of belief in superheroes. It leads one down unproductive paths. Why debate this when the real question is: was Spiderman 3 the best movie of the lot?

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  2. Ferris wheel = circle (and therefore endless and self-contained) of small lights going nowhere in the surrounding darkness. Sums it up for me.

    Thanks for a reply, Diane, that I'm in total sympathy with. I know why I write, but not why I write blogs. But you're right, the reality (even purity) of genuine online contacts is precious and, no, it doesn't get replicated in realspace.

    As for Spiderman 3 being the best - if that was the one where the love interest began to predominate, NO. I sat through that with a 9 year old grandson who's not yet ready to have his crime and violence gene overwhelmed by its 'OMG, I love you so much' variant.

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  3. I love it when DragonLady comes to play. She needs to visit our new blog today where I blogged about the Muse. Her muse is certainly vibrant. I know I'm talking about her like she's not there but it's a reverent kind of awe with which I speak.

    DL what you said about cyberspace, the immediacy, kinship and intimacy of it all rings true for me. Drop by BLameitonthemuse.com pleeese, Diane.

    And she touched on the solution - SM1, SM2 if they represent Spiderman. But if they are simply spidermen, those lackluster wannabes with no cool outfit, then what the heck, the plural works.

    Which leads me to the big question, when is our grand opening?

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  4. Oh as to the why I read a quote by Eric Maisel this week - "Life can't get much better than a sunny day... (hello, not in Louisiana!)..., a messy sandwich, and a worthy question." Don't you agree? We are thinkers.

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  5. Wot a conundrum you leave us with, O Master. If the point of language is communication and the communication was effective why does it matter which is the "correct" one? He asks, stirring slowly.

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  6. Bill, I wonder why I spend so much time writing online. Today, for example, another writer wrote the following on my Facebook page: "Can you quote somebody besides Presidents and Politicos? Nothing they say, no matter how good it sounds, is genuine!" I've only posted one quote that wasn't from a writer so I've either acquired a brand new "friend" or someone who doesn't bother to read more than two lines of text.

    Your post today made me smile and I cast my vote for "Spidermen."

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  7. Disturbing. Earlier today I wrote a response to Marley, Michael and Jean. Now, on my return, it's vanished. So, this (approximately) is what I said then.

    Marley, I've made sure DL saw your plea and read of your awe and reverence (even though, as your putative guru, I think that belongs to me). I do agree that we think, therefore we are. I think also that, at the grand opening, you can sit with Michael (I'll be busy liaising with the resident Druid).

    Michael the stirrer, how can you call communication 'effective' when it pluralises a unique concept? In reply to our good friend Chris Longmuir on FB, I expressed my concern at her suggestion that there might be Supermen or Batmen. Good grief, they'll soon be talking of 'Michaels' and 'Bills'.

    Jean, yes, I'm afraid that, along with the genuine worthwhile friends we make, there are always some who just don't get it. Let's hope that this particular 'friend' is so appalled at your perceived choice of sources that he disowns you.

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  8. One of the advantages of "online" friends is the fact that if we want to de-friend them, the consequences do not affect our day-to-day lives. But the online friends we be-friend touch us in many ways--probably because they're writer-people (like us) and we share so many qualities that the rest of the world just doesn't "get."

    I agree with Michael: so long as the communication is effective... Then again, I've had people read my writing and become VERY upset because I create my own verbs if I can't find one I like. (Does that mean the communication wasn't effective or they simply didn't like what I said?)

    And finally, why do I write blogs and online? Purely for the the promotional aspects. Sorry kids, I'm a business person and marketing, networking, and promotion is 2nd nature to me. Circling back to my first paragraph, however, I only do stuff I like and visit online places I enjoy.

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  9. Creating your own verbs sounds a great idea, Linda. I remember Lisa Simpson being appalled at the word 'embiggen', but it's a superb word.

    As for the commercial motivation - of course, that's why I started, too. But then it becomes a gathering of friends who share attitudes and tastes and the business aspect seems to get relegated.

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  10. I have just said to Husband tonight, that I dont quite know why I blog anymore. :) I guess, we all think that at some point. I used to hope I would get a lot of readers! Now I know just how slow this process is. and how much time it takes..But I just enjoy it, somehow. I also see it as a practice for my writing.
    As for you...I understand they say writers should blog these days, and should tweet. I have no idea how it works, but it is supposed to work. You need an online presence, I have been told. Also, there must be a reason why we all keep coming back.

    As for Spiderman question, I have no clue. I am too foreign for that. :)))

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  11. You're right, Scary, the online presence is important for us but, as I said earlier, once you're into blogging, something else takes over - the friendship angle, the thought that you're getting to know people on other continents better than those who live round the corner.

    But your blog has that extra cultural ingredient - not just in what you say about Azerbaijan but in how you react to and are curious about British things.

    Maybe it's just a time thing. Writing almost anything is fun but when there are other deadlines, the blog imperative gets in the way.

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  12. By some quirk of fate or providence I have come across your blog Bill. Actually I was logging on to my gmail account and making my way to MY blog to dispel words of thought and possible wisdom to whoever -- and I saw another Kirton.

    Not that many of us around you know.

    But I found it interesting that you are a published author. This is my goal for this year. It is something I've thought about for many years and I have decided that this is the year to make the dreams a reality.

    I'll have check out your books to see what a published Kirton looks like.

    John William Kirton Jr.

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  13. Hi John, welcome. You've no doubt had all the 'jokes' about 'Pull yourself together', 'Don't go off the rails', etc. I haven't heard a new one for years.

    As for your writing, I think your attitude's the right one - decide you're going to do it, state it in public (so that it sort of commits you to it) and do it. No-one pretends that the markets are easy to penetrate nowadays but the encouraging thing is the number of smaller, independent publishers who are plugging the gaps that the mainstream ones are leaving as they pursue celebs and the like. Good luck with your efforts.

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  14. Well, as for the language question, I just discussed it thoroughly with my fiancé. Here's the verdict. The woman is right that there can't be two Spidermen, but in that case you can't call them Spidermans either. If, at a dress-up party for example, two people are dressed like God (with a white suit and a beard) you can't say there are two Gods (since these two people are dressed up as the one and only God, it would provoke another theological discussion which might spoil the party), neither can you say there are two gods, unless they aren't both wearing a white dress and a beard, but one is dressed like Zeus and the other one like Beckett). So, you have to say: there are two people dressed like God. Furthermore, two people dressed like elephants are not two elephants, they are still people who just happen to wear an elephant suit. I hope this won't hurt the poor 'spiderboys' but, unfortunately, a suit can't make them fly, they're still boys.

    Now the blog issue. I don't write blogs for 3 reasons: I'm too lazy, I don't feel like talking about myself all the time, once I start I have to keep going. Abandoned blogs are sad.
    But if I were a published writer I would start right away. It seems that to become one I have to change my name into Kirton.
    I rarely read blogs for 3 reasons: too lazy, I don't like reading from the screen all the time, I don't want to know everything about everybody.
    Actually, yours is one of the few I read regularly. It's like smoking cigars. Don't do it too often, but once in a while I enjoy a good one.

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  15. Correction: my fiancé points out that Spiderman can't fly, he climbs like a spider. I'm not that well informed, I'm more a TinTin fan.

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  16. Now that’s what I call a comment, Anneke. And the conclusion you reached mirrors that of all the linguistics experts whom I asked at that party. Impeccably argued and irrefutable. You take account of the question of identity, the specific talents of the superhero in question, the misplaced grammatical reasoning inherent in both forms of the plural, and you even extrapolate the question into the realms of theology and, with reference to the elephants, biology (or perhaps fetishism, depending on the people wearing the outfits). Chapeau.

    I don’t accept your refusal to blog – you’d be very good at it. I’m lazy and I still do it.

    As for changing your name to Kirton, if that was a proposal, you know full well I’m married and I know that you have the wonderful, long-suffering Marcel as a fiancé. Get him to change his name to Kirton. Anyway, you’re already a writer. www.rammenas.nl is the proof.

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  17. I'm very pleased to hear that you want to marry me. Unfortunately I can't say yes. As a feminist I have to point at the fact that marriage oppresses women. Also, my fiancé won't allow it because, as he says, an elephant fetishist will cause a mess in our spotless houseboat.

    But I have a suggestion. Maybe you could write a blogpost about what a writer is. What is it that makes that you can or want to call yourself a writer? Being published, self-published,having written 10 stories, a complete novel?

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  18. Oh, I see - you're too lazy to write a blog but it's OK for you to give me a subject and tell me to get on with it. Well, if marriage oppresses women, clearly blogging oppresses men.

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  19. I'm late with this and I suspect some of the luminaries around Bill's feet/dinner table might have mentioned the issue of the Walkman plural. Walkmen? No. Walkmans? No. Steven Pinker examines this in "The Language Instinct", alongside 'still lifes', not 'still lives'. He also tells us that Sony fixed this by insisting they be called Sony Personal Stereos.

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  20. And then, Apple solved the issue for good. He gave us ipods.

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  21. Walkmans is the clincher, Ron. No-one else thought of that so thanks for at last bringing a little erudition and evidence from primary sources to these ramblings.

    Anneke, my awareness of your research work in areas of religious observance makes me concerned about the biblical register of your final sentence. Has Steve Jobs now been released from the 'Job' as opposed to 'jobs' implications of his surname to become Jehovah?

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  22. I'm not sure Bill, but hopefully some of his witnesses will ring my doorbell next Sunday, and tell me if there's any scriptural hope of surviving the impending end for me.
    As for Steve Jobs himself. He, the one and only, didn't release himself from his duty after the iPod. He gave us the book of Jobs: the iPad. More games, endless options and less whining and complaining. Now, how cool is that?

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