Today is the fifth anniversary of this blog. I have published a post every Sunday morning since July 8, 2014. As they say at weddings, for better or worse.
The design has changed and the content has varied over this time, but I decided early on to write only about things that interested me without trying to set an overarching theme. And if it turns out that there is an overarching theme, it’s that there isn’t one. If that sounds like something from a critical theory class, please forgive me.
Over the years I have tested readers’ patience with all kinds of topics: music, teaching, baseball, Shakespeare, Fabergé eggs, beans, technology, ice cream, politics, subways, Barcelona, Virgil, a theory of numbers, female airline pilots, trains, George Orwell, ideology, pant cuffs, underwear, squirrels, comedy, typing, the Beach Boys, weed, cold showers, Jesuits, grammar, tinsel, barbers, cheese, and God. And let’s not forget unrequited love (“J,” the Unrequited), which revealed more about me than anyone else.
Although there may not be a theme that runs through all of these, there certainly is a thread. Which thread is that? Before I answer, let me explain the connection between my mother and Sun Tzu.
In The Art of War, Sun Tzu advises that when engaging an enemy you should do so at their weakest point. That point might be found in troops, terrain, or resources like a supply line or access to water. Look for the weakest point and exploit it. To do that, you’ve got to know the enemy at least as well as they know themselves. Sun Tzu recommends spies for that sort of thing. After all, war is all about deception.
However, you don’t need spies if you’ve got a mother like mine and have inherited a degree of insight into people that allows you to figure out their weak point. My mother does this instinctively, sometimes with grace, other times with smart bomb precision, always with humor. Had she not devoted herself to domestic life, she would have made a formidable trial lawyer. As it is, the kitchen is her court.
This same precision allows me to grasp something and see its relationship to seemingly unrelated things. For example, who would have put teaching and zebras together (Teaching Zebras)? Or entrepreneurship and French macaroons (A Mercenary of Macaroons)? I have my mother to thank for that.
Of course, you can’t write a blog post of 750 words each week solely with precision bombing. You’ve also got to be witty. That’s a lot of pressure. Whenever it gets to be too much, I comfort myself with the words of my uncle, who reassured me one day that a half wit is still a wit. “And there’s no shame in that,” he said, patting me on the back. The older I get the more I appreciate the man.
Speaking of family, something very important has occurred to me from writing this blog for five years. I think it applies to all serious writing whether fiction, nonfiction, playwriting, journalism, or scholarship. Writing is an act of betrayal.
How so? Writers pass their shared experiences through a lens in such a way that other people don’t immediately recognize them. In a sense, writers betray these experiences and the people involved, but in doing so they create something new and, hopefully, mythic. If the myth works, others come to see it that way, too. This is the parable of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35).
Betrayal is a powerful thing, an awful thing. But does it not lie at the heart of the human condition? Is it not the basis of the Garden of Eden story? To say that writing is an act of betrayal and that writers sooner or later turn in everyone they know acknowledges a fundamental reality of life. Betrayal is an elemental force on par with gravity, electricity, and nuclear charge.
Five years of betrayal amount to five years of exposing thoughts that under ordinary circumstances (e.g., if I were a welder) would enjoy anonymity and a certain peace. But they would also fade into oblivion unexamined and undeveloped. That’s no kind of life.
So, here’s to five more years. For better or worse.