Saturday, January 21, 2006

All This, And I'm Still Not Quite Done With the Bottle of New Year's Champagne

What are blogs for, anyway? The conventional wisdom is that they a) make up for a lack of social eptitude or b) are part of the modern world's self-obsession and narcissism. I've never really bought into either theory because a blog is just writing, and as such is only as good, bad or narcissistic as the person writing it. There are a few ground rules blogs have to follow, although these are unwritten and probably not well understood by a lot of teenagers with angst:

- It is unseemly to write about your problems on your blog unless you can put them into an ultimately funny story or use them to make a cosmic point that will impress people.

- Don't talk about things you don't know about. Blogs are somehow intrinsically tied to the larger world of the Internet, and are therefore tied to pop culture/pop politics, which is a morass of egos, flame wars and misunderstandings.

- Have a recognizable voice and persona. Don't just write what you feel. That's for a bottle of cheap wine and your girlfriend to listen to. Blogs have to be hip and they have to make people believe the person writing really gets it.

- A related one: know all the angles. Don't tell people things they already know. Dazzle them with your up-to-the-minuteness.

- Don't be a dilettante. If you start a blog and then let it languish, only to return periodically... well, you've missed the whole point. You have a diary. And it's probably boring, even to you.

- Be funnier than you are in real life. If you have unlimited hours to sit and think about what to say, you'd better make it worth somebody's time, and people like to be amused. Never mind that writing funny is sometimes impossible and you'd rather just pour your little heart out -- you have to keep the one-liners coming.

I'm not saying I agree with these rules, but trust me, they exist. All you have to do is look at the popular ones: Dooce, Pink is the New Blog (at, the big political blogs*, Boing Boing, Slashdot, Wonkette... they all follow the rules. This makes it hard for the rest of us, who wish we could be real people, even on the Interweb, but weren't there when the charter got passed.

It also makes it embarrassing when something worth writing about happens and you didn't write about it because you were too busy living it. Blogging isn't the same thing as having fun -- in fact, the two rarely go hand in hand, because when you're having fun you're not also thinking "I need to make some time later to write about this for the online community." For the world, maybe, depending on your idea of a good time, but not the online community, which (let's face it) is kind of a ridiculous outlet for your thoughts on the big stuff. There's something about the tangibility of a book that makes it respectable and meaningful. With this, there's just the words and the prefab site template. Not much like curling up with The Sun Also Rises.

So, this is a roundabout apology at large, but also to the particular victim of my oversight, for not writing about my girlfriend's recent visit to the Windy Apple. Nothing should be read into this carelessness that anyone who knows me isn't already aware of: I am a callow and shiftless diarist, at best, and can't be counted on to give consistent or reliable information. When nothing is happening I have time on my hands to rant and rave about the weather, but when something interesting goes down I'm too busy being on the scene to roll out of bed early and make a good anecdote out of it. I've always hated anecdotes. People who tell them give the impression of not actually being in the moment and not having anything better to say. When a workmate regales you at lunch with his story about being in a pub in Ireland when this fat guy walked in and insisted he be allowed to play his fiddle**, that can produce a laugh, but come on: none of us were there, we all know you're embellishing it, and why can't we talk about something we can all participate in? Why do we have to go around the table taking turns trying to get the biggest rise out of everyone? Why can't people just talk? So this is why I don't tell a lot of stories. They're not the same thing as conversation, and I prefer the feeling of connection to the feeling that my schtick is going down well.

Be that as it may, the historical record could stand to be corrected. Although I made a brief mention of the fact, I haven't really properly digested it until now, so here's the news: my girlfriend came to town. She arrived two weeks ago Monday and departed a week later. In between, I had to work during the weekdays and during our shared hours we were usually either in the clutches of my ill-conceived plans to get her to hang out with my friends or struggling to move around the city using the unpredictable bus system. All of this equaled not enough private time and a distinct lack of impressive mastery of the city on my part. I feel I was not a particularly good or ingenious host: I did a lot of research before she arrived on where to take her, only to let the list totally fall through in favor of improvisation, which didn't always work well. (Her first night here I took her to a place that was closed, and we ended up eating at a Greek restaurant with two floors where we were the only patrons. But that's an anecdote.) She'd bought us advance tickets to a showing at the Kennedy Center, which was certainly the cultural highlight of the week, especially after intermission when they performed the first act of Die Walkuere by Wagner with a full orchestra and singers. I don't care what they say about the Third Reich, Wagner was a genius and it wasn't his fault they liked him so much.

The visit didn't conform to my standards of courtly behavior, either, which if you know me you probably had no idea existed. I wasn't especially charming. I wasn't my usual effervescent self, for which I have sought a reason in vain since I noticed it, which was almost immediately. I didn't really enjoy anybody's company the whole week she was here except hers, and even then I felt she and my acquaintances weren't really connecting, which made things more difficult because I could see the stars were not aligned, which is a bad feeling when your long-distance beau comes for a brief visit before disappearing. You don't want them to leave with a bad taste in their mouth. I learned this is not always avoidable; I just don't know why.

The long and short of it is that I felt as out of place as she must have. My preliminary attempts to find my way around here have been successful, but as soon as I was the one to show the city off, to make it cool to be here, to be as personally fun and interesting in D.C. as I've always been everywhere else, I sort of froze. It's an interesting phenomenon and one I bet a lot of people have experienced: when you're the newest member of the team, you can't start acting like the captain just because some pretty girl is watching. You try to strut and you fall down. One lovely smile from her and she's the one who bailed you out. Then all you want to do is not talk about it and wish you could go back to junior varsity, where you were the only one who could dunk.

I was appropriately humbled and confused.

For someone who gives the impression of never having any problems, except the usual "I'm too lazy to cash my paycheck," I must admit that I too have my share of dark moments and days where I think I'm going in a bad direction. I privately tear my hair out and wonder whether everything I think is wrong. I wish I had someone around I could confide in, and have to admit to myself that most of the time I don't. I can spend days in a funk feeling sorry for myself. But then I shake my head and wonder what on earth that was all about, and remember that I'm happier than most people in the world will ever be, and I have the strength to do whatever I think is right. That if things don't live up to my expectations, that there's nothing wrong with having them as long as you can laugh about the hard reality that they may not always be met. Coping with failure and disappointment is a huge test of character, and it will drive you crazy because you start doubting everything. Because I'm a charismatic wiz kid I hardly ever have to do it; so this one was tricky. But it's over now. I think I'm better for it.

That's what happened when my girlfriend came to town. Now I love her more than ever. The astute reader will note that I broke a rule here and there.

* - Although right-wing blogging is a sea of anger, spite, humorlessness and crazy ideas that won't work. Check it out sometime if you need to feel awful.

** - This is actually a bad example because I would like to hear this story one day.


Blogger charvakan said...

Well, I don't know about those "rules". My standard operating procedure is to ignore the rules anyway, but in this case, I don't think they exist. It's a fact of life that no one really knows when he's being boring or self-obsessed. Let your readers come to their own conclusions--you can't stop them.

Anyone who's gone through the changes and the separations that you have in the past couple months is entitles to some free-floating anxieties and melancholies. You behave with honor and sincerity, which is more valuable than aplomb--not that you are deficient in that category.

I'm probably too old and too gruff to be a good confidant. But if you're ever in the mood, pretty much all the judgmentalism has been wrung out of me by experience. I don't offer advice unless it's asked for, and I retire from the scene when no longer wanted (ask my first wife about that). So I offer myself as a low-maintenance confidant substitute until you find someone more suitable.

S is a delightful woman who has the smarts to just be happy for the time you had together, whatever you were doing and however far from your original plans it turned out to be. I think you have the same wisdom.

Keep locking the door, and use some of your excess of talent and energy to help out some coworkers when it's convenient. You'll own that place in a year at this rate.

11:45 AM  
Blogger stephanie said...

Oh, silly you. You make it sound like things were terrible, but I had a great time! The only problem was that you had to work most of the time I was there--but that is not your fault because that's what you came to DC to do. It's too bad that we couldn't have a romanitc vacation visit, but it couldn't be helped and no one blames you for that. Everything we did together was great, even if it involved icy winds and snooty closed restaurants.
And, by the way, I was very impressed with how well you knew the city. You were an excellent host and guide who managed to get us on the right bus and right Metro even though I was always walking the wrong way. And we can blame the Watergate Hotel and by extension, Richard Nixon, for Cabanas.

2:54 PM  
Anonymous MikeSwanson said...

Well, don't be offended if I only comment on one thing you said but...
It actually was Wagner's fault that the Third Reich liked him so much. In fact, Wagner was a member of the Third Reich and a personal hero of Hitler. Even more interesting, Hitler would later say of his viewing of Die Gotterdammerung as a young man that "It was in that hour that it all began." The story of Die Gotterdammerung (I believe this is the Wagner opera he viewed though am not certain) tells of a people's leader that resurrects the Roman Empire of 1500 years ago. This reveals startling insight into Hitler's plans to Romanize Berlin, his militancy, and his obsession with antiquity. I believe that it is not a far stretch to say that Nazism was founded on Wagner's worldview. Many of Wagner's themes such as anti-semitism, the myth of pure blood, and vaunted nordic histospirituality (tm Mike Swanson) preempted Nazism. When you factor in the pompous overwrought symphonic arrangements, you have a musical version of Nazism. But, hey, that's my opinion, you're free to like Wagner, just be sure that he may be more of a Nazi than Hitler.

7:16 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home