Thursday, August 12, 2010

Misadventures in the boonies

“All that mankind has done, thought, gained, or been: it is living as in magic preservation in the pages of books.”

-Thomas Carlyle

Earlier this week, while bicycling to and around a local reservoir, I found myself with little choice but to ride directly through a massive swarm of bees. With some effort, I pulled my eyes from the gorgeous view of the water to my right in order to turn a corner, at which point I was confronted by the huge, buzzing cloud. The group not only spanned the pathway, but was too close to allow me time to stop.

I ducked. I peddled as quickly as my already-worn legs would allow. I yielded to some less-than-ladylike language when my upper back seemed to briefly catch fire. Movie scenes flashed through my head, from escapes into mud (I did have a reservoir on hand if necessary) to the fate of Macaulay Culkin in “My Girl.” After that fleeting moment of terror and some vaguely frantic, one-handed swats behind me in an attempt to shield my unprotected back from further onslaught, I was happy to find that the damage was limited to one sting.

…Anti-climactic end to the story? Most likely. I peddled along to finish the loop after breaking for lunch on the pier, enjoying a much less eventful trip: no more bees, and no angry Canadian geese as had been previously encountered (Did you know they hiss? Silly things.). Regardless, the very idea of the story made me want to retell it – I rode my bike through a swarm of bees! The lack of a suitably dramatic ending may be a bit of a letdown, but I still had an inexplicable need to relay the story.

This little episode brought to mind something I’ve debated about for some time – the apparent presumption of writing. Truly, one must either be writing for oneself (to remember, to purge, to vent, whatever) or for another, and most often it seems to be the latter. Does that not then require that others should care to hear what it is we have to say? Or perhaps run on the assumption that we have something worth saying, or that we have the authority and the ability to say it properly?

As an avid reader, I fully condone such presumptions if they are, in fact, necessarily involved in having the self-confidence to write with the hope and expectation that others will read it (something I struggle with, being that, at root, I can be ridiculously lacking in self-confidence, frankly). Not only can reading inform, inspire, and question, but it can also – and perhaps most importantly, at times – reassure the reader that someone else, somewhere and sometime, thought or felt very much as we have. And with that, a magical little bond is formed between the author and the reader, regardless of time and place.

When it comes to writing, though… inspiration is there. A sense of responsibility to speak out is also often there, at times hand in hand with inspiration. Years upon years of reading and a nerdy love of words have provided a substantial vocabulary base with which to get my ideas across. But what could make one think others should take time out of their busy lives to listen? Sure, everyone has the right to speak… but how about the authority? The know-how? The presumption?

Blogging and other media developments have made it all the more interesting, of course. After all, publishing something online is free, simple, and fast. It is a curious creature, though, that much is certain. My blog from a semester’s interning in DC was, frankly, inspired by a $50/week salary for 1 blog/week (thank you, TWC). My blog while living and interning in Ghana for two months was also inspired in pursuit – and receipt – of a Dickinson grant to support the endeavor. And this one? Well, this one is just because… to keep me on my toes, provide an outlet and perhaps spark a discussion or, better yet, an idea or different perspective. We shall see.


  1. I think blogs at their best are a unique written medium in being both reflection (like a journal) and conversation (like a newspaper column or exchange of letters). Agree? Disagree?

  2. Certainly agree.... though I also think the best conversations naturally include reflection. Then again, for better or for worse, I tend to write as I would speak, and speak as I would think... and thereby write as I think (it shortens the writing process. haha). Perhaps my only fear there is losing the other person in the process. Still, as a reader, I'd like to think the writer is having a conversation with me and reflecting in the process- more humanizing and less didactic or condescending. We gain more when someone is speaking with us rather than at us, right?

  3. Do blogs and other social media not have an advantage in this over broadcast media of all kinds - print, radio etc - in the inherent many-to-many potential, the implicit talking with rather than at of an interactive medium? The radio or TV phone-in show has some of the many-to-many quality, albeit heavily filtered/moderated, as do the letters pages of newspapers and magazines. A moderated blog comment section can also feel like an uneven conversation, but moderation is sometimes necessary due to spammers etc. There is something of an art to making a blog a truly open and welcoming conversational space. A Facebook wall and its counterparts could be the same - there is certainly an owner (moderator) of the space, but others join in to produce conversation of a kind. A forum or wiki can be more egalitarian, and a forum is naturally conversational. But a blog has a special place in the social media ecology, I think.

  4. Of course, I'd definitely agree that blogs and other social media are inherently more interactive than broadcast media- it's the nature of the beast (assuming, of course, that people actually read and respond to the blog, etc, in question). Broadcast media is meant to be more authoritarian and less... Socratic, yes? ha... and agreements on all of the above, really, with the consideration that the conversation also depends upon audience willingness to comment or be involved and the author's (or moderator's) ability to draw them in. Blogs are great in that it makes it easy for anyone interested to voice their opinion.... but, naturally, that also makes it risky, does it not? (ie presumed authority [Wikipedia being a necessary example, I suppose. ha], even issues of libel, perhaps...?)