The trouble with most of us is that we’d rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism. Norman Vincent Peale
I always thought that a muse was a woman who inspired an artist, and literally one of the goddesses in Greek mythology, but apparently that’s just the noun. The verb, one of the words that express action, means to think of something carefully or thoroughly, or become absorbed in thought. That makes sense as the artist has to do the work himself.
I’ve been through one of those periods now. I have posted texts on this blog since September 2011, but have focused more on my Norwegian blog during these years. I decided recently to write more in English, however, and that has payed off. I’m getting more traffic and also more ideas, but after a rather productive period where I’ve had lots of interesting thoughts passing through my head, and written some posts I haven’t just translated from my Norwegian blog, it would appear that the muse within, the verb, has gone into hibernation, for now. I do enjoy being absorbed in thought, so there will be many more ideas in near future. I wonder if that means I am musing, but according to Merriam Webster this form is either a noun or an adjective. When I googled the present continuous form, which clearly is bad English (I am musing), I was asked if I meant I am using. Maybe that’s it. Maybe I’m a user of the muse, the thought. Never thought of it that way, but what do I know. I’m just a simple guy getting by on a few English words.
As a teacher I used to tell my pupils that they always wrote for someone, for a reader or an audience. I wanted them to think of the reader when they wrote a text, and reflect on how they expressed themselves. Would they for instance have written differently if they knew that the headmaster would read the text, compared to their own classmates? What if they have no idea who is going to read the text? Sometimes you know excactly what type of group the reader belongs to, sometimes the reader is a part of a very generalized group, and sometimes the reader is yourself.
I wrote this post in Norwegian last year after reflecting on this for a while, and as the unthinkable has happened, this seemed like a good time to translate. As usual it’ll be more than a translation because my translations tend to be twice as long as the original. There’s always just a little bit more I need to add. I was starting to get a few followers, and I knew who some of them were, but most of them were complete strangers to me. There were a few that identified themselves by leaving behind regular likes and comments, but for the most part I was left bewildered as I didn’t know who read my blog and what they thought about it. I’m afraid that comes with the territory when you offer your services for free.
I came to the conclusion on my Norwegian blog that I was going to continue writing for myself, to let me be the judge. What else could I do when I didn’t get much feedback? This seems to have worked well enough, but I am starting to get some feed back now. I gradually picked up followers because they agreed with me and liked my posts well enough, but my existing ideas developed and I picked up some new ones well. So then I had the dilemma. As my writing became more contentious I sometimes wondered how my early followers reacted, especially those that continued reading, but rarely commented or liked anymore.
I sometimes get some pleasant surprises, though. I received a couple of nice e-mails just before Christmas from a woman, an Arab immigrant. She had read my blog for a long time, and enjoyed it, but of course I didn’t know that. I suspect that a few of the people that clearly read my blog regularly, but remain anonymous, find something they like. Everybody wants to be liked, right? I’m writing about what is important to me, and what I think is important to communicate. I believe that’s the only sensible strategy, but I try not to overload people with things I know they don’t really like. I’ve been writing quite a bit about the Norwegian Child Welfare Service, religion and autism for example, but I know most people don’t want to read as much on these topics as I do. That’s not really me either, my mind wanders all over the place, so I tend to stay with a certain subject for a limited time only, and return to it at a later time.
Not that I don’t care about my readers, but if I worried too much about pleasing the reader, I would have hated writing. Fortunately writing remains both a passion and obsession for me. I am literally just as compelled to write as I am to eat. I thought the result would be that I’d lose some readers, and I have lost a handful, but I gained more than I lost. Now I have come to the same juncture on my English blog. Like everyone else I want my blog to get noticed. That is in fact my goal as it is my dream to get published myself, but it is quite daunting too at the same time. Especially when the reader has managed to make the transition from blog to book. That’s a juncture I’d like to come to as well.
I know that two authors have read my blog, the science firction author Carl Frederick commented a post after I mentioned his short story Lifespeed (appeared in the March 2009 edition of the science fiction magazine Analog). I was also contacted by Allan White, the author of Confessions of the Miner’s Canary (amazon). He discovered my blog because we have been writing about some of the same topics, such as autism, nonverbal learning disorder and neurodiversity. I recently shared a post written by the author Sarah Angleton. That’s how she became aware of my blog and liked it. That was very flattering, but it made me ask myself for a brief moment whether I should write less and strive more for quality. I do have some rather silly posts in between all the serious stuff, but I guess this leopard will keep his spots.
Nevertheless the norm today seems to be a great emphasis on what feels good at the moment. The logic is simple. What feels good is right, and it feels good to be popular. Even state leaders seem to govern by this principle, but some people have pointed out that we are becoming more and more nihilistic. Much of what is happening, especially on Facebook and Instagram is about accentuating ourselves. We all want to show everyone else what we have been doing and what we are are capable of. I am guilty of this myself, but I mostly communicate out of necessity. I share my own posts or other posts I think people might benefit from reading, but it irritates me when some of my facebook friends constantly feel they have to tell me when they are sad, angry, disappointed, tired, hungry, what they are having for dinner, what they are going to watch on TV etc. Some are even inviting anyone to become their boy/girlfirend, or they go on about how lonely they are. Maybe I’m cold, but I don’t need to know most things these people are doing. Maybe this is a reaction to the tendency some people have to use social media to exhibit their perfect Barbie world, but the truth is we all have flaws and weaknesses. They don’t make us special.
Speaking of decadence, a lot has happened in a short time and I wonder if those who were young in the 1950’s would have seen us as just as decadent back then as their parents certainly would have. Even though it happened gradually the teenagers from the 1950’s are shocked today. Some of us are far less decadent than others, but there is no doubt that the whole society has changed quite a lot, just the last 30 years. When I look at the role media plays, what they do and don’t report, I wonder if this is a controlled development. It would be really sinister if someone actually wanted this, but it seems to me that we are encouraged to adopt a more decadent lifestyle.
We like to give leaders praise and criticism, and doing a good job frequently means you don’t get anything, least of all praise. Many Americans today feel that Obama is worse than all the 43 who have been president before him. I’m not qualified to answer that myself, but it doesn’t sound quite fair. That would mean he is also worse than David Rice Atchinson, who was literally president for a day, and George Bush. I remember how unpopular he was after 9/11, his war on terrorism and his “reign of terror” at home. I have some things to say about that, but I’ll save it for another post.
Maybe this is just about emotions and habits (many vote the same as their parents for example), but personally I believe Jimmy Carter was one of the better presidents the United States has had in recent times. That could of course be because my mother admired him. I think he at least tried to get things done, and it also seems like he continued doing the right thing after he left office. He gave a speech during a difficult period which was mostly about energy, but which nevertheless was built on some of the same idea I have mentioned earlier in this post, the fact that the norm today seems to be that every individual is free to choose what is morally right. We may have lost an objective morality.
“We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I’ve warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.
All the traditions of our past, all the lessons of our heritage, all the promises of our future point to another path, the path of common purpose and the restoration of American values. That path leads to true freedom for our nation and ourselves. We can take the first steps down that path as we begin to solve our energy problem.“
This is from Crisis of Confidence speech in 1979.
Carter was probably very conservative in many people’s eyes, but I think, as he did, that we have lost something along the way. Perhaps we have too much praise and not enough criticism today. Criticism isn’t always comfortable. It can be very stressful, but useful.
I’m not the sort of person who needs a constant flow of positive feedback, quite the contrary. I can do without most of the time, but occasional flatter doesn’t hurt. I guess there’s a narcissist in me too. My blog may have fed that little beast within, but don’t expect me to share every little moment of my life on facebook. Sometimes I get a special surprise, and I must admit that it feels good, like when I heard from Sarah, Allan and Carl or bloggers like Where Grace Abounds and nomemoleste . Writing is fun, but it takes a lot of effort, so of course flatter feels good.
But this is also my favourite way of communicating. I’m a writer; not a talker. In this crazy world some people see that as deviant, maybe even decadent.