Origins of “Culture War”

THE CULTURE WAR

I’m typing this since I’m on the upstairs computer with no microphone. And honestly I’m questioning whether dictation is actually a net time saver for an activity where, if I’m being honest I’m SHOULD slavishly edit the text anyhow because I care about it. It’s great for spouting off a first draft of a letter of demand or a report in my company’s CRM, because it needs to be “good enough.” But I would hope blog writing is more than “good enough.” I want it to be solidly, “meh, fine,” thank you very much.

RESEARCH! I’ve been wanting to do research for a long time. About what, I can’t ever say with consistency. I did some access to information stuff last spring regarding COVID-19 outbreaks in Ottawa; the data that I got back is now probably woefully out of date, but if someone wants it I’ll happily share it. I was dismayed at how I e-mailed a few journalists asking them about their worded their ATIP requests, and they ghosted me.

My feelings notwithstanding, I got the itch, and I really wanted to talk about “the Culture War.” Jace Avery is a webcomic artist I follow on IG and he had drawing that went viral:

The caption, if it doesn’t render properly, is “they got you fighting a culture war to stop you from fighting a class war,” with some purple hair chick yelling at a MAGA dude in a terrarium while some Mr. Monopoly looking guy smokes a cigar and watches on with delight.

This, coupled with the zeitgeist of our time, between freedom convoys, BLM, and everything in between, made me wonder what the fuck is actually a “culture war?” Who came up with this idea, and where are its origins?

THE BEGINNING

Like any good scholar, I started with Wikipedia, which basically says that the German term “Kulturkampf,”—a 19th century term denoting a fight among the Catholic Church and its adherents for power in the newly formed German Empire, with Otto von Bismarck going toe to toe with the Vatican—was the origin, and that it got imported in its original German form into the United States. Then, it has some vague poorly cited bullshit about rural/city values, which explains away sixty years of American history, and then all of sudden in 1991 Evangelicals and Homo-Judaic abortionists were locked in the throngs of a new conflict dividing America along battlegrounds for a new civil war. As though by magic.

So I got a free trial to newspapers.com and wanted to go about and see if I could find something more concrete. I pulled 38 relevant or dubious hits between 1914 and 1978 (why I stopped at 1978 will be apparent later on). I made the decision to omit hits that were “culture of war,” since that means something decidedly different. I believe I was wishy washy when it came to “culture’s war,” and other derivatives. I’m not going to go through them one-by-one, but rather give a vignette of the kind of stuff I found. My search geography was Canada, the U.S., and Great Britain, though the vast majority of hits I found were American.

CULTURE AS NATIONALITY

The first hit I found was from October 12, 1914. Camille Saint-Saens, the French romantic composer, was refusing to conduct Wagnerian works after the outbreak of the First World War. The Chicago Tribune writes that it is a real “Culture War” in its headline, though obviously this is a proxy to an actual war that is raging on. Similarly, quoting another (unknown to me source) in a November 26, 1915 issue of the Calgary Albertan, it goes that “The World War is a culture-war; Sweden is tied up with Germany; and in helping Germany, Sweden is helping her own civilization.”

In the context of WWI, “Kulturkreig” (a literal “culture war,” meaning a culture glorifying war), and “Kulturkampf,” meaning a cultural struggle, are both translated as Culture War into English. So some hits talking about Nietsche and Thomas Carlyle are, similarly, not of much interest to me. In contrast to Wikipedia’s assertion, I couldn’t find any good use of the term in the 1920s or 1930s.

The next relevant hit seems to come in August 22, 1940. A German refugee, Hans Frei, gave a talk to the Canton, NC YMCA about the war raging on in Europe, as reported in The Canton Enterprise. He opined that this was the “end of Capitalism,” and that Nazi Germany, should they be victorious in Europe, would “transfer their culture war to South America rather than attempt direct invasion of the United States.” Again, German Culture? Nazi Culture? For me, this still sounds like a state mechanism imposing its will on another nation. It becomes less clear in a slew of articles talking about the Japanese “Culture War” against “Occidental Culture,” which I think also implies a parallel racial element.

BEYOND ACTUAL WAR

The Gettysburg Compiler, of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, has one of the first hits that I think hints at the evolving use of this term. In an article from December 14, 1946, Philosopher Norman Richardson talks to the American Association of University Women’s local chapter at the YWCA:

“One of the more obvious facts about our contemporary situation is that we are living in a culture which is divided against itself, a culture at war with itself,” Dr. Norman Richardson…said…typical reactions included more education, more government, fatalism, and the feeling of a need for a deeper analysis of both education and culture. He said democracy was at war with dictatorship; private business with public ownership; management vs. labor, free enterprise against planned economy and the personal and spiritual against material things.

The 1940s talk about the “cultural war” for Alsace-Lorraine, as the French sought to establish their language and culture in these German areas. We also see the late 1940s and early 1950s talk about “culture war” meaning “high culture war,” or a fight to get people to listen to properly “high brow” forms of art on radio and television, or to woo a new orchestral hall to a given journalist’s locale. In a similar vein, fights over whether the U.S.A. or the U.S.S.R. had the finest orchestras and ballets were similarly labelled at Culture ‘War’ at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels.

Yet at the same time, an article from March 23, 1961 about the influence of “Peiping [sic] and Moscow” in propagandizing by way of radio broadcasts, with the headline “Red Chinese Stepping up Culture ‘War’” clearly goes the other way. Culture is understood to mean popular culture. An article on November 12, 1966, in the Corpus Christi Times talks about a new cultural fair in Taiwan to celebrate Sun Yat-sen’s birthday, which for Chiang Kai-shek represented “a means of countering what he called Chinese Communist efforts to destroy China’s 5,000-year-old culture.” This is a curious one, since again, we are getting closer to this idea of a civil war among a nation in culture, insofar as Taipei and the PRC can be said to be “one people.” Otherwise, how can the Chinese eliminate Chinese culture? “Culture” here clearly means “tradition.”

By the 1970s, a fascinating trend is the vary casual use of the term “drug culture,” to mean a sub-culture organized or encircled around the use of narcotics. In an articles from July 29, 1972, in the Redlands Daily Facts, S.I. Kayakawa, the President of San Francisco State College, writes:

The drug culture declares war against thoughtful citizenship, against civic virtue. As opposed to the responsibility of the self-governing citizen “to transcend the habitual pursuit of self-interest and devote himself directly and devotedly to the common good,” the drug culture urges you to “to do your thing”—in dazed autistic self-absorption, even if the world may be crashing about your ears.

In a local flavour for me, the Ottawa Journal writes on April 4, 1973, about a drug “rip-off” between speed dealers, in which the local crown laments that “sub-culture wars will lead to more violence in which someone could wind up dead.”

And this might very well be the needle that threads this all together. A doctor interviewed in a March 21, 1976 issue of The Commercial Appeal of Memphis Tennessee, Dr. Herbert Hendin, states we are a “Culture At War.” Citing rising alcohol and drug abuse, as well as suicide rates, the article goes:

“This culture is at war and young people are in the front lines,” says Hendin. “Young people are a barometer of social change. They can give us a reading fo the future. Doing this study has convinced me that this profound emotional distress is not only growing but also is accepted, adopted and to some extent reinforced by our culture.”… “Our culture accepts and stimulates a sense of egocentricity, of what’s in it for me. We are seeing a new hunger for experience, an envy not just of other people’s things but of their very lives. I think one reasons there is less interest in the young today than there was five years ago is that older people are now becoming more preoccupied with themselves.”

Lastly, I ended this survey with an article by Pat Buchanan, published in the Chicago Tribune-N.Y. News Syndicate on October 23, 1978, titled “culture war raging here.” There is no doubt in my mind that this is the fully realized form of what we talk about now in common parlance, some 45+ years later. He writes that “beneath the surface calm of public life, there is taking place a historic struggle between separate, competing and hostile cultures.” He of course references homosexuality, prostitution, and marijuana, but also freely ties in that “the root cause of crime is [not poverty, but rather] criminals,” and that radical counterculturalists—in contrast to Buchanan’s “traditionalists”—are obsessed with re-distribution of income, suddenly conflating economic policy with crime and punishment, and public morality.

He quite presciently describes the coming generational conflicts: “Suffice it to say that we are dealing in areas where this little room or desire to compromise on matters where one side views the other not as wrong headed but as morally reprehensible or morally blind.” I could write more about this article alone, but by all means read the monographs or dozens of articles Buchanan penned on this subject. You’ll get the idea.

CONCLUSION:

So yeah, that was a thing I did. And I wrote this up while watching Sunday Mass on my computer, for added irony. It’s interesting how Buchanan seems to have ultimately coined the term in this modern sense, and I think it has really held up in this usage. I’m happy to be challenged if there’s an earlier usage that I missed, perhaps in an academic context. I know that newspapers are at best a barometer for what is going on around, but the tendrils of “high culture,” “tradition,” “drug sub-culture,” and Nationalism all seem to be lurking in parallel, only to be synthesized together into an all encompassing “us versus them” narrative that we still grapple with today, where the State is but a mere casual observer. I can take any of the annoying hot button issues of the past decade—global warming, the Law Society of Ontario’s “Statement of Principles,” the Ottawa Truck Convoy, getting vaccinated—and if I can gleam a person’s opinion on any single one of these issues I know which camp they fall into.

And that for me is fascinating. At a time when “culture” in the artistic sense is more and more fractured—individualized spotify play lists for obscure indy bands, self-published novels and zines and podcasts, a bazillion streaming channels subsuming the hegemony of cable TV and broadcast radio—we seem to still largely be ruled by two political monoliths, as identified by Pat Buchanan. He gets a lot of spotlight for having fought against George Bush Sr. in 1992 with his “culture war speech,” despite the fact that by that time, it must have been old hat for him.

I’m not sure if this was useful to anyone, but I had a lot of fun thumbing through newspaper archives.

The Near End of NaNoWriMo

Total words written: zero!

Well, let’s wait and see what I can churn out on this blog post first. I’m not really sure what I’m doing anymore. I keep telling myself that I’m going to get writing, either doing blog posts or essays or drafts of a novel.

The whole point behind teaching myself dictating was the idea that I needed to produce words faster. Obviously, if I get more words out on the page, it’s going to get around me not being able to find enough time in the day to write that book that I’ve been talking about for so many years. And yet, as I sit here dictating this, I can’t help but notice that it’s not for lack of free time or ability to churn out words that I’m not writing anything. It’s obviously something much deeper and more insidious than that.

There’s all kinds of thoughts swirling around in my head whenever I right. But also, and those times when I’m not writing, but I feel like I should be. “Why are you so lazy? Why are you not writing more? What is wrong with you? How is it that other people are able to write things but you can’t? Are you stupider or lazier than they are?”

This is a subject I come back to again and again with my therapist, and I can’t seem to crack out of this loop. How can you approach a task when the energy surrounding it and imbibed in it is so negative? Is it any wonder that I don’t feel like doing it? Obviously it’s way easier to drink a beer or play tetris or watch chess videos.

But is it a question of motivating myself differently? I feel like I don’t want to wait the requisite amount of time to do “kindness” or “healing” that it takes where I can actually come to the task with a jolt of lightning. I wish I had a better idea of what “real” writers do, to straddle that line between motivation and self-care.

Taking the Plunge (or Why I Gave up on my Podcast, for now.) 

I decided on a whim about six weeks ago to make a push on my podcast’s Facebook page to invite people to “like” my podcast. I have often said that the value of social media exposure is dubious at best, but I had a real-world experiment here to test that with. I hadn’t recorded a podcast episode in quite some time, and I was overwhelmed to find out that well over 100 of my friends decided that they were going to “like” my page. Look at all the exposure I got overnight! Look at all the people who wanted to actually tune into “who cares if you listen?” The title of my podcast in and of itself is very defensive, an homage to the late Milton Babbitt. Yet without telling you what exactly my listener metrics are, I can tell you that receiving dozens of “likes” for my podcast resulted in basically nobody new listening to the damn thing. So, if the idea was to get myself an endorphin rush, obviously Facebook is the way to go as they have mastered that particular craft. But in terms of creating whatever the hell people call it these days, engagement, listenership, content promotion…completely and utterly useless. 

But that’s not what this blog entry is about. And it’s also not why I stopped recording episodes. When I first started doing the podcast back in August of 2020, I had made a conscious decision to start winding down my law practice, and I needed something—maybe without even knowing it consciously at the time—that would gobble up all of my creative energies, give me something to obsess over, and a place to kind of get lost in my thoughts while dealing with a lot of annoying and stressful life events. 

In April of this past spring, I took a job with a law firm based out of Montreal, and to make a long job description short, I give people legal advice over the phone and I’m not in charge of billing them. Obviously, the stories and the names involved are completely confidential, so don’t try and coax anything out of me, but in a weird kind of way my job is like doing 7 to 8 podcast episodes a day. I get to have a conversation with someone that I would ordinarily never speak to, get presented a little vignette into their life story, and I try my best to offer some sort of useful feedback that they can walk away with. That’s very satisfying for me, because I don’t have to deal with all of the horrible minutiae that came with clients in private practice: namely begging them for money, being constantly in a battle with the Kafkaesque design of our court system, and fighting with opposing counsel who like to pick fights for the sake of picking fights. No really. These are people that have been groomed and trained in such a way as to be wholly uncooperative and difficult whenever possible. I keep some of these people on his Facebook friends, and I see the obstinate way they argue over things that they know nothing about, and it reminds me that I don’t miss any part of that job. despite tacitly being part of my job description in a former life, I don’t enjoy conflict and I don’t enjoy taking on other peoples’ conflict as my own cause, like some sort of mercenary in battle. 

But see, I’m very happy with what I’m doing during the daytime now, and I find that it mirrors a lot of the things that I enjoyed when I was podcasting. Obviously, there’s a big difference between doing a podcast with people that you seek out and consider interesting, and having random people phone you up and ask for legal advice. But I feel like they’re similar enough that whatever itch was being satiated by the podcast, I’m scratching it well enough during the day. Do I really want to cannibalize sleep after I put the boys in bed, to do something later night that mirrors what I do during the day, and then spend hours upon hours in the following week editing it?  

And so here I am today, dictating blog entries, just for something with a little bit more of a comfortable pace. and I keep thinking about writing a novel, or doing a web comic, or doing some sort of other tangible, creative outlet but really allows me to let my artistic side shine. But I can’t just seem to…get it into gear, if you know what I’m saying. 

A friend of mine—for the sake of anonymity, we’ll call him “Marhad Ferabzadeh”—called me out for giving up on my podcast. He told me it was the first thing he saw in my life where I actually dedicated myself and had diligent focus in trying to put out an episode every week or so, and was consistent in following up with it. And now I gave that up. Of course, that cut deep. What does that say about me? What does that say about my work ethic? Am I just a lazy loser who can’t commit to anything that is worthwhile or meaningful? 

To be sure, I can never discount that possibility. But I’d like to think I’m at the point in my life where I’m past shaming myself for not doing things that I feel at some objective, hustle porn level, I “ought to be doing.” it’s not a healthy way to live, and it’s clearly not helpful to me. Why did I create the podcast when I did in 2020, and not 10 years prior, when podcasts were a big up and coming thing and I objectively had way more free time on my hands without having kids or a wife or a job? Because it spoke to me and it fulfilled a need that I had at the time. It initially started as a journaling exercise that my therapist suggested to me, and the thought of just sitting down and writing my thoughts in a book sounded so exhausting and unpleasant. I asked him if I could record it. He said sure. And then when I decided to start recording it, I figured, “Why don’t I invite somebody along so it’s not just me talking into a friggin broom closet all by myself?” And lo and behold it became a podcast. 

So, when I think about other artistic projects that I could potentially take on—and Lord knows I’ve thought of a dozen—part of me just has to trust that I’m going to get to it when the time is right. I certainly am able to do things to nudge myself in the right direction, and there are often moments where I nudged myself into exercising or cleaning up after myself where I feel objectively better after the fact, and I’m glad that I pushed myself into it. But that’s a much different energy than telling myself to keep going with a project when something is clearly not right about it. If I want to write a novel, I need to find that time that’s right to write a novel. National novel writing month is coming up in November, maybe now is the time to kind of tackle it. But if now is not the right time, then maybe later. Maybe never. And that needs to be OK too. Until I can just learn to be OK sitting in the basement, playing bullet chess without any trophies or accolades besides my name, none of the things I do are ever going to be good enough, and I’m never going to feel like I’m good enough. 

If you want to listen to my back catalogue of podcast episodes, God love ya for it. They’re located here, or most of the online podcast services that you would use.

By the seat of my pants

Recently I’ve been working on a new book that I was asked to beta test all about “pantsing a novel.” I think Stephen King is the most popular proponent of this method of writing. Basically, it’s the idea that instead of slavishly working on an outline or a syllabus for your novel, you just sit down start spitting out words (literally, in the case of me and my dictation) and then…see where the story takes you I guess. Even at the risk of running into a dead end and then having to backtrack, you just start throwing words out on the page and see your novel come to shape.

It’s something I’m very intrigued by but that doesn’t come very naturally to me. I think my personality lends itself more to obsessively planning over things, even at the risk of never actually doing them. I’ve talked about the novels that I want to write for probably twenty years now. I have one incredibly rough draft. That’s as far as I ever got with the project and I had to really whip myself into shape to do that.

At the end of the day it’s all about the mental approach. “Pantsing” Is very much a mental trust exercise. How can you possibly write something on the fly, you’re worried that it’s going to be absolute Shit? The outline does. Inherently come with an element of mistrust. I don’t trust myself to carry this route. so I’m going to do the literary equivalent of printing out my directions on MapQuest ahead of time.


One day I still wanna come up with that big writing project, whether it’s a novel or something else. Now I’m in this ironic position where I’m spending time planning when I’m going to spontaneously do something. I don’t know when that’s going to be, is my days are filled with numerous excuses, both psychological and physical. Having a wife and kids in a daytime job eat up a lot of time where the creative muses could be flowing. There’s just no two ways around that.
Anyhow, I figured writing about my non writing still counted as writing. So at least this was a way to get my creative muscles flowing on a Friday morning. If you have the opportunity, I highly suggest you check out Michael La Ronn’s book, which I’m gonna link here.

Why I dislike the Bird App 

I have a very uneasy relationship with Twitter. I never really enjoyed it. Once upon a time, in 2007, my buddy Arthur heard about it on CBC radio before we were planning a trip to Montreal. He told me that it was all the rage and that I should install it on my BlackBerry. I’m not even sure if I had my BlackBerry at that point, or if it was still my old HTC Dash, running some version of Windows Mobile. In any event, I signed up for the software, tweeted a few stupid things (which in my mind set at the time, probably included racist, sexist trolling), and then proceeded to never use the app again for a decade. 

 Somewhere along the way, I found out that sports journalists were using it on NHL trade deadline, and I would begrudgingly go on Twitter once or twice a year just so I would get cutting edge sports news a few minutes earlier than when it goes on AM radio. 

And then, something weird happened along the way. Bit by bit, it became more and more insidious in my everyday life. What do I mean by this? Well, first you would check it for sports things, and then law professors insisted that everyone in the future was going to use it and managed to incorporate it as part of their bullshit assignments for class. Every single associate or adjunct professor, and secretary in the goddamn law school had a Twitter account overnight. Then, halfway through my legal formation in 2012, there was a presidential election in the United states between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. And it was the first time, even among all of the drama and nonsense of Facebook that had already absorbed my life, that I really realized that I don’t need to hear each and every person’s useless fucking opinion. 

Now obviously, part of my motivation for talking about this today is the fact that we just had an election here in Canada. I didn’t vote in the last election in 2019, because I don’t especially care about democracy. People love to wax nostalgic about how great democracy is and freedom, blah blah blah. And then, when you point out that countries like India, Russia, and Brazil are democracies, whereas places like Dubai and Japan haven’t really been effective democracies for most of their life, and seem to be a lot more pleasant places to live, people start hurling out “No True Scotsman” arguments or lobbing personal insults.

But anyway, we’re in an election cycle and everyone needs to start cheering for their favorite party or politician. And I got caught in the noise, I think partially because I ran out of activities to do during COVID. And you just hear a lot of stupid things being thrown around. The mental gymnastics that people have to go through, as well as just the generally uninformed and stupid opinions they aren’t going to get rejected because for a large part social media is the “democratization” of ideas. That’s the whole point. 

Historically, I think this is a relatively recent phenomenon where everyone, regardless of a lack of income, education, or wherewithal about the things on which they are pontificating, has the freedom to disseminate their ideas to the world. Back in grad school, I remember my old professor John Sheppard telling me that democracy or revolution along the lines of democracy could only have occurred somewhere in Europe, or the Middle East, by virtue of the fact that we had a phonetic alphabet. 

That sounds like a lot of mental gymnastics to someone like me, but the underlying point he was making made sense. In order to come up with potentially seditious or revolutionary concepts, you need a common language or terminology to decide them. If I don’t have a word or idea for “democracy,” how can I express it to other people? In languages that did not have a phonetic alphabet, presumably it would be a lot harder to come up with new concepts or ideas unless you were the person or people who controlled the language and the actual script. If you didn’t have the proper characters or letters to express your ideas, how could you devise say, a printing press? It’s a lot easier to create new ideas with the printing press that are going to be widely disseminated. And a printing press is a lot easier thing to do, and it is a lot easier to create new language, when your alphabet has 26 characters, rather than the thousands upon thousands of characters that were found in traditional Chinese script, for example.

Now, I don’t purport to say that his theory is absolutely true, and in the best tradition of the Internet age, some person of vaguely Chinese ancestry is going to come in and tell me what an ill-informed, stupid white racist I am. But I guess what I got from that discussion back ten years ago was that language and writing really did have a generally stultifying effect on people’s ability to convey ideas. Even as far back as say, forty years ago, I remember stories about people’s dads writing “letters to the editor,” in the local newspaper of record. What a quaint concept, that a professional journalist with a particularly incestuous relationship to the political status quo, could be a gatekeeper for the kinds of ideas that are going to be published or not. Could a People’s Party of Canada create as much buzz in 1980 as it did in 2020? Unless it had access to its own printing press, radio station, airtime on television affiliates and the like, then no. 

I’m not expounding any new or revolutionary ideas that some better writer hasn’t already talked about in the context of Donald Trump using Twitter. There’s also the fact that I’m publishing this on a free blog on the internet, the irony of which is not lost on me. But it just seems like we went from a period even as late as the 1970s or 1980s where too few voices were being heard, to one now in 2021 where I honestly think too many people’s voices are being heard. It’s all well and good to say that if I don’t like what someone’s expounding, that I should just unfollow them on Twitter or block them on Facebook. Fair enough. But it seems like eventually this had to lead to the cycle of tribalism and factionism which we’re living through right now. 

Ultimately, even if I derive some benefit from talking to nerds on Twitter about my chess improvement, I would say that social media by and large has a net negative effect on my life, and yet somehow I don’t seem able to shed it from my world. I would get less riled up by factional or tribal arguments if I was not exposed to them in the first place. And it seems to me that it would lead to a lot more free time being used on other, more important things. 

Like this blog, for instance. Or perhaps a better, more useful blog. And even though it’s a pain in the ass to dictate and then carefully edit more than one thousand words about why you dislike a certain social media platform, that’s part of the beauty of it: there is a transactional frustration to having to bash out sentences and paragraphs about a certain subject, that I think serves as a rather nice gatekeeper. Twitter? Not so much. I’d like to think that the things that I put on here are going to be more meaningful than any diarrhea of the thumbs that I would post online. 

Don’t forget to vote, unless you do.

So I finally voted in this election. It was a mail-in ballot, which I had to order online well in advance, in order to make sure I could send it back in time to be counted in the election.

Those of you who are longtime readers of this blog (and I don’t understand why you would be) would know that I am skeptical at best about the utility of democracy. So to be perfectly honest I don’t care if you vote in the election. Frankly, having read the shit that most of you post online, I think it would be great if the majority of you didn’t exercise your franchise. But that having been said, here are my unscientific and therefore unfalsifiable observations about the correspondence voting process.

It is an envelope, stuffed with three other envelopes, as well as a little shiny piece of paper that you have to write out the full name of your candidate on, as well as the name of the political party if there’s any confusion. Honestly, this was a pretty complicated process. Not objectively, mind you. But compared to being frog walked into a small cardboard box and putting an ‘X’ on a circle, it definitely added a “skill testing” element to it. I just figured out who my candidates were last week. And so if I was a betting man, I would suggest that this skews to heavily favor the conservative party in the event that the polls showed the two parties as being naked neck. We have to assume, notwithstanding the differences in platform, that blue voters in Canada are going to be similar to republican voters in the states. Republican voters very heavily favored going into the poll stations physically, while Democrats were largely mail-in ballot voters.

If that trend plays out here north of the border, with a mail-in ballot option that was far less advertised and politicized than it was in the states, I feel like a lot of people on the fence will simply not go to the polls. I also feel like a lot of dumb people are going to spoil their ballot. Well, maybe that’s not very charitable. Maybe not “dumb” necessarily, but just unable to remember who their candidate in their particular writing is, or know anything beyond the party leaders and the parties themselves.

So with a combination of low quarantine related turn out among those who are worried about catching a disease, as well as what I anticipate to be a high propensity of spoiled ballots, I have a feeling that if the polls are neck and neck, this is going to translate into a huge conservative majority. Like 200 seats or more. But I’m not a betting man, although I have been known to be a degenerate gambler from time to time.

 

A Novel Idea

I don’t even especially like reading novels. 

Before the Covid-19 outbreak, my normal pattern was to read two or three novels during the week and a half I’d go down to Florida every year, and maybe trudge through another half a novel over the other fifty weeks inside of a year. And yet, whenever I feel a sense of malaise or a lack of contentment with my working life, my brain always travels to this far off magical land of being a wealthy novelist. 

The story goes something like this: After waking up in the middle of the morning closer to lunchtime, and taking an hour to read the paper and drink my coffee, I sit down and give a concentrated two, maybe 2 1/2 hours of a creative burst of energy, dictating five or six thousand words for my latest tome in close succession. I then tend to social matters, maybe squeeze in a round of golf or a nap, and then it’s dinner time. Lather, rinse, repeat. 

Some days I would go on the radio and tell people why I think I’m so brilliant, and how I got to be so smart and creative, and give one of those self-righteous, finger wagging tutorials that only a baby boomer could possibly love, about the value of dedication, practice, and hard work. Oh, and making sure that you do “what you love” for a living, that’s the only way to go.  

I would then whisk away to a book signing at a local book shop, where a bunch of doe eyed fans would lavish me with praise, telling me how my latest magnum opus made them feel things that they thought they could not feel, and how my writing was an inspiration for them. 

Obviously, this kind of fantasy is just that: a fantasy. In truth it’s more a crock of shit than any sort of plausible fantasy. And yet it feels so warm and comfortable, like a blanket that just got taken out of the dryer. Who wants to sit in cold and damp reality when you can snuggle up to bullshit? 

And it’s not even that it’s unattainable. If my numerous failed novels have taught me nothing, it’s that actually writing an 80,000-word, cohesive narrative is—and you’ll have to brace for this one—a lot of fucking work! I know, who would have thought? Very few novelists (i.e., none) sit around on a Mac book in a coffee shop and look very self-important in between New York Times bestsellers. Those kinds of people who engage in that creative kabuki theatre, letting everyone see them right that next great screenplay, probably don’t amount to diddly squat.  

From my copyeditor Facebook page, I’ve met a lot of people who work as self-published novelists. That sounds like an even uglier, more disgusting way to make a living as a creative writer. Not only do you have the lack of certainty of a big publisher behind you, but also you need to hustle and sell your thing, and who’s buying a self-published novel from an unknown? Your parents, your friends, and the other associates whose arm you twist on Facebook. All of a sudden, I went from Ernest fucking Hemingway, to one of those “momtrepreneurs” I see online on my Instagram, trying to convince me that their latest pyramid scheme makes them a “business owner.” but they do that because it’s simply not a sustainable model that everyone who is creative and wants the right is going to be able to make money writing novels. 

But as I’ve talked about on this blog in another creative endeavors, you really lose a lot of charge and motivation to do things if the only reason why you’re doing it is money, absent any sort of passion or desire. And I don’t know that novel writing is really something that I’m excited about. My enjoyment of reading them is tenuous at best at this point in my life. Writing them is exhausting. And to be honest I kind of don’t want to do much of anything these days. 

I finally turned on comments after a decade.

I hate most form of online commentary. Twitter and Facebook have really democratized the ability to give one’s opinion on a whole variety of subjects, regardless of whether or not you have any expertise or if anyone should ever hear your voice. In today’s covid-19 climate, everyone is an expert on epidemiology, economics, constitutional law, and all forms of partisan politics.

Outside of trolls, I don’t think anybody actually finds any utility in the comments below a news article. Seriously, who fucking reads these things? My mom does, and seems to get a certain schadenfreude arguing with people and having them respond angrily to her. Yet I for one can’t see any sort of value to doing that.

On that glib and gloomy note, I decided to open up comments on my blog. When I started the first iteration of this nearly ten years ago, I swore that I would never do that, because as a general rule of thumb I don’t care about what other peoples opinions are of me. Or more accurately, I’m so thin skinned as a general rule of thumb that I don’t want to deal with someone’s negative opinion of me, because one shitty comment might be enough to unravel a regular writing habit that I’m undertaking, and I feel that that would be detrimental.

So why do it? Well, I’ve been thinking more and more about trying to cut my teeth as a real writer. I don’t know what that looks like, but a lot of seasoned writers seem to have a blog, and successful blogs have this magical, mystical, elusive sauce known as “engagement.” there are a lot of shiny buzzwords about writing online or doing creative things online. My skin crawls when I hear someone refer to themselves as a “content creator.” You make YouTube videos, bro. Or you write a blog. It’s such a lazy catchall to just call it “content.” Content sounds like something that you fill a mattress with when you run out of cotton and springs, just this catchall for scraps of garbage and seagull remains.

But yes, in a free market, capitalist society, you must constantly churn and create, not unlike producing boots on an assembly line, because there is nobody that can seem to monetize creative works unless they produce it with the reliability of an auto assembly line. It is sort of weird and antithetical to how I think about being creative. I would very much relish the opportunity to only write when I feel like writing, or I have something particular and meaningful to say. It would be fantastic if I felt extremely creative every single Monday, and then had the opportunity to upload it every single Tuesday, with the regularity of a weekly chat show, or other forms of media entertainment. That’s how the economy works. But I don’t think that’s how art works.

But you can’t just shout inside of an empty walk-in closet and hope to become a radio personality. There needs to be ears attuned to what you’re doing. And so the idea is to constantly churn out new *shudder* “content,” have people comment on the ones that they like and don’t like, and potentially get more people to read my blog because they wanna see my feedback on their stupid comments. Although really, the fact that this opening blog post is dripping with condescension and negativity is probably not the right tone to begin such engagement with.

I would love if this blog helped me to connect with people that I find genuinely interesting. In a perfect world, if I meet like minded fellows through the comments on my blog, I’d love to have some of you in on my podcast. Yes, I have a podcast. I sort of took the summer off, not deliberately, but just because with starting a new job, I started to feel really burnt out. I think eventually I’m going to make new episodes for it, but once you get out of the “oh God, I have to make a new episode every week,” mentality, it takes a lot of effort and discipline to get back into that sphere.

If you have any thoughts or ideas, put them in the comments. I do plan on very zealously moderating, as this coincides in a moment in my life where I very freely block people on Twitter and unfriend them on Facebook. Because now that the pandemic has created a full hermitage for me, the likelihood of ever seeing any of these people in real life has become so small, but I really don’t care if I don’t hear bad or negative opinions. Happy weekend.

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Weekend (kind of sucks to be honest)

Back when I was in high school, I lived for the weekend. To get away from the drudgeries of school for even two days of playing video games and goofing off was sublime. And with the benefit of hindsight, I can safely say that most of what I learned in those five days of the week was completely and utterly a waste of fucking time. I know it is some trendy neoliberal thing to complain that schools aren’t doing enough to teach you “real jobs,” as though the only thing that has any value in the world is computer coding, skilled trades, and business related math. I don’t share this glib view of the world, but I certainly think a lot of the activities that they gave us in high school or really busy work that didn’t either fuel anything “work” related, nor were they particularly enjoyable or satisfying. I’m talking about drawing Bohr-Rutherford diagrams, and that week and half at the beginning of every school year or I had to take old paper shopping bags and wrap the covers to my math and science textbooks, lest that beautiful plastic sheen somehow become degraded.

The weekend was always restorative, and gave me a chance to focus on the things that were important to me. Which to me meant an endless array of hobbies. Even evenings too, albeit with the constraints of homework. And into my twenties, although homework assignments very seldom fit neatly within the weekday paradigm, I definitely got time off to myself on Saturdays and parts of Sundays without having to cannibalise too much of my free time. I could take a whole Saturday afternoon to play squash, then leisurely lounge around waiting for dinner time.

But now I am in my thirties. I am old, I am fat, and I’m married with kids. This means that a given weekend is dragging around your old, fat carcass, even though your bones and ligaments are telling you that rest is best, to go and do some kind of activity with your wife and toddlers. It usually involves a lot of needless running, followed by screaming and yelling. And also toddlers (ba-dump-tss!). Now, it is culturally taboo to say that you don’t enjoy spending time with your kids. But just the same, there is nothing restorative or relaxing about chasing after kids at a playground all morning, followed by a chaotic lunch, an angry nap, a chaotic dinner, followed by a chaotic bath time and chaotic bedtime.

Normally I get around to doing these blog posts on Monday morning, as soon as the nanny has arrived, and provided me with respite for the week. Of course, I sit to write this particular post on a Tuesday, having just emerged from the August long day weekend. A long weekend is usually something to be jubilant about. But that assumes you look forward to weekends. Now, I look forward to Monday mornings, when I can take a break and relax, by… going to work? No, it doesn’t make sense to me either, dear reader. But that’s what it is now. I can sneak in a few games of chess on my phone, and go to the bathroom in peace; I have to take these small victories.

My job is OK, but certainly not something that I would refer to as my dream or my absolute ideal. But the point is that in my particular situation, it’s just slightly less unbearable than the time that I spend on weekends. Now when you put it that way, it does sound a bit depressing, but I’ve yet to figure out how to put a positive spin on that situation. And of course, before I can even finish publishing this blog post, I’m being told that the nanny has to take two weeks off to attend to a personal matter. I shudder to think how I’m going to be roped into this nightmare going forward. I have some ideas, and I don’t like them.

Anyway, we live in a pressure cooker of world history where people are expected to work every single day, check emails after work is done, and the pandemic has exacerbated that with a real lack of child care and any ability to actually take any time off. And so the notion of “free time,” which was so ingrained to me growing up as an only child, is now just a fleeting fiction. At least when I’m working, and things aren’t too busy, I can dictate A blog post, or keep up on my chess training.

So in that particular set of circumstances, long weekends are “long” in the absolute worst possible sense of the word.

Inauthentic Authenticiy

“Hey Antonio, what’s the problem?” I asked.

“Oh, not that much I suppose,” I replied.

“OK, then why the long face…?”

“Honestly, I’m not that keen on writing dialogue.”

“Well, it seems like you’ve gotten pretty good at dictating things on a microphone into Microsoft Word so that you can publish them as blog articles. What’s the issue?”

“Even when I use the keyboard though, I was never really good at writing out dialogue. Part of me says it’s because of all the punctuation marks that have to go when you’re writing a conversation between two people.”

“You mean like you’re doing right now?”

“Yes, precisely. And yet I’m putting in the punctuation marks right now. For whatever stupid reason the first draft, Microsoft Word is making the beginning of every phrase lowercase, so I have to go back and manually edit it after the fact Notwithstanding that, I’m perfectly capable of putting in quotation marks.”

“So, it’s not that, then?”

“Evidently not. I think it’s something more fundamental about writing dialogue that’s never quite worked for me.”

“I find that impossible to believe, Antonio.”

“And why exactly is that, Antonio?”

“Because you’re somebody who’s an absolute motor mouth, and most people can’t seem to shut you the fuck up to save their life. You would think that someone who bloviates as much as you do would be an expert at writing dialogue.”

“That’s not a very nice way to talk about yourself.”

“Touché.”

“Generally, I’m very hard on myself. I’m definitely very hard on myself when it comes to writing. But there’s something especially pernicious about dialogue. More specifically, writing ‘convincing dialogue.’”

“And why is that?”

“Even when I borrow little snippets of conversations that I’ve actually had in real life, I remember feedback from English teachers and friend proofreaders telling me that my dialogue didn’t sound very convincing. What the hell? This was a conversation that I actually had! Sometimes copied verbatim. It’s this tricky, evasive thing about ‘convincing’ dialogue. I feel like true to life is really besides the point. Trailer Park Boys probably has the most convincing, true to life dialogue of any TV show that I’ve ever watched. Maybe that just speaks to the kind of people I hang around with in real life (or who more importantly lurk around my office). But what I think we really mean when we say ‘convincing dialogue’ is a form of simulacrum that doesn’t look too fake, but it’s still more polished and refined than any conversation that we would have in real life.’”

“So, like being authentic, but in a really phony and insincere way?”

“Yeah, you got it.”

“Perfectly clear as mud. No contradiction in there at all.”

“Cognitive dissonance aside, I guess one of the good things about being a lawyer is that I practice being inauthentic and phony on a daily basis. The joys of being in a service industry. But it hasn’t translated into writing dialogue.”

“It seems to me that it’s going to be a skill like anything else that you might right. You’re good at writing essays, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I’d like to think so.”

“And you’ve written pretty decent wills as well, right?”

“Well, wills are sort of boilerplate. There’s really not a lot of original skill and thought that comes into most of them.”

“OK, but you’re missing the point. My point is, you’ve had years to hone and refine those crafts, that’s how you develop a skill. It’s not going to crystallize in a vacuum. So, you really have to do something if you want to achieve something.”

“So maybe I should just write reams of dialogue without any of the narrative portions of a paragraph and see if the things that I churn out start to sound more authentic.”

“Exactly! But you know, in a very polished and insincere sort of authenticity.”

“Alright. I’m gonna start editing all the blatantly obvious, garbage errors in this Microsoft Word document, and see how this is for a first start.”

“Do you feel any better?”

“Maybe a little bit.”