From “web log” to “weblog” to “we blog” to “blog,” linguistic morphology reminds us that there are no straight lines in nature. While we have already moved through the thick sense that everyone and their mom’s robot dog has a blog, we haven’t reached the point of saying that there is no place for such platforms. As someone who studies and practices the craft of writing, I’m of the mind that everyone can benefit from attempting to put their thoughts and experiences into words, to find a mode of representation for the struggles of life lived, remembered, dreamed. Hope it’ll speak to someone somewhere; know that this will never happen if the writing doesn’t exist. We ultimately don’t know the fate of our words once released into the wild.
As in nature, no straight lines, but we can point our words in certain directions. In my twenties I was prone to casual swearing. F*ck this, f*ck that. Sh*t, man! Out of habit and a lack of mindfulness, I suppose. For someone who held le mot juste in such high esteem, this was a glaring contradiction I was naturally oblivious to. It wasn’t until I started finding myself more and more in the presence of small children that this nasty habit, similar to that of my other nasty habit, smoking cigarettes, was recognized as just that: nasty, and invisible because a habit. The valence of my natural speech approximated that of a gas refinery or some other toxic creature. Even though I didn’t deploy my four-letter words with any particular malice, but rather as empty, neutral fillers in my speech, the overall effect told an unsettling story. It said: words don’t matter, they don’t have the consequences snowflakes say they do, and so I say what I want because I don’t care about anyone else. To be clear, I cared (and still care) very much about the people around me. But my habits of speech said otherwise.
Of course real-time speech isn’t the same as the written and editable word. But all words start in the same place, in the centers of language and mind and imagination, the emotional and intellectual cross-currents of this very moment. So while my blog creation process, any blog creation process, is particular to the written word and an editorial process, the spark carries with it its own trajectory. Borrowing from archery, I’ll call this the released arrow. It’s the act of writing, the creation-formation, the experiment unfolding near-simultaneously in your mind-body space and across the screen before you. Sure, no straight lines. Who knows where it’ll land. Even without a target, we know that if it’s poison-tipped, laced in casual invective, in lies and hate, it’s going to harm.
In these especially toxic times of disinformation, conspiratorial-minded lies (I refuse to call them theories, since theories are based on information garnered from knowledge schema, not hate-based projections), and immense pandemic-related stress, I’ve been wondering about what sort of content to fill my blog posts with. What, in effect, is the antidote to the poisoned tip of the released arrow? Surely it’s nothing so precious as love conquers hate. As I didn’t see my casual swearing as hate, neither do our fellow citizens we wholeheartedly disagree with on matters of polity and reality. But when I changed the way I spoke, the way I expressed myself, so did the trajectory of my language change. In retrospect, the shift to speaking more deliberately and mindfully ultimately deepened my ability to communicate with and connect to others.
So perhaps a partial answer: pause and observe before releasing the arrow, since where it’s directed, how it’s tipped, really does matter.
I imagine an analogous situation in which casual and subtle racism is normalized by those surrounded mainly by people like themselves. The amount of casual swearing I indulged in with my fellow coffee shop and bar patrons trivialized the meaning of the words we spewed. It wasn’t until I was in the presence of those who stood to be harmed by such words, by children, that I realized what was really happening.
My thinking that started with the morphology of the word “blog” and mindfulness of language and habits of expression couldn’t help but veer off the page and into what is happening at the points of impact: the roughly 7,000 words each person utilizes a day, multiplied by 7.7 billion people, equals 53.9 trillion words per day. (The ancient Sumerian god Enlil destroyed the world with a flood because folks were simply too noisy. That was the ancient world. If he could see us now!) In that immense multitude, it’s no simple matter to draw lines between this poison-tipped arrow and that event: the quashing of black and brown lives by police (Breonna Taylor, George Floyd), the anti-Asian violence encoded as a response to the global pandemic (from more or less random assaults on the streets to the Atlanta massage parlors massacre), the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol. And these are only the things we hear about and share in common knowledge.
The decades upon decades of trivialization and normalization of racist tropes are poison-tipped arrows that may seem at first to be going nowhere, aimed as they are at no one in particular, but when they eventually land, the results can be tragic, infuriating, and all too predictable. The prevailing feeling is that though we keep talking, keep calling out the poison for what it is, yet nothing changes. Not really.
In the Pygmy tribes of Africa they are taught to hunt with bow and arrows starting as small children. The very first lesson: NEVER point your weapon at another human being. It’s not a huge leap to say that when in the service of hate, words are also weapons. From a young age, we are taught not to run with scissors and not to shoot rubber bands lest we blind a classmate. In essence, we are taught to imagine the negative consequences of our actions.
The texture and shape of our world arises out of how we think and talk about it. Language is, in that sense, also an action (acts of figuration, trope production, imaginary boundary setting, etc.). In our distributed world, there is no single unitary Tower of Babel, but a forest of (b)logs, of social media accounts, of personal conversations, of cable news, podcasts, magazine articles, video clips, and so forth. All are acts that shift and shape our human ecology. Deplatforming hate and checking for bias isn’t just an empty diversity exercise.
So back to my original question: what sort of things do I want to blog about? Perhaps it’s true that poems are the subject of poetry and that humanity is what humans try to figure out. I’m not sure, but inefficient experimentation, wandering, the tracing of roots, climbing of hills, getting a little loss in order to find my bearings, straight-up babbling, is as good a start as any. Maybe sharpen my arrows.