Concision

Rob Madeo has long been one of my favorite bloggers, first at Albany Eye (although I didn’t know it was him writing at the time), then when we shared column space at a certain Upstate New York newspaper blog portal (both of us left on unhappy terms), then on his current Keyboard Krumbs blog. I don’t read newspapers anymore (alas), but I click to him every morning while I drink my coffee to see what he’s got to say.

Why do I like his writing so much? Well, first, I guess, is that as he documents “the fascinating world of a middle aged American man,” I see a lot of things that have relevance in my own life, as a U.S.-bred gentleman of a certain age. We also have some shared experiences in the pros and cons of being public bloggers, and we both lived in Central Nassau County, Long Island in the ’70s and ’80s, so we did some of the same stupid things in the same stupid places during our stupid teenage years.

But more important than that, I have always admired Rob’s ability to say what he wants to say effectively, yet concisely. As a writer, I find his brevity to be inspiring, as he communicates in terse, active prose, getting in, getting it done, and getting out. And that’s not easy: the famous saw about “sorry for the long letter, I did not have time to write a short one” is true, especially for someone like me, as I’ve never met a subordinate clause or parenthetical phrase I don’t like, I tend to write with rhythm and alliteration in my head so will actively add words to accent a verbal riff I’m enjoying, I love semi-colons and adverbs and qualifiers, and I’m rarely content to use one word where seven will suffice.

This is a problem in blogging, because for the most part, we are all our own editors, and we like to let things fly before our keyboards have cooled down from the frantic pounding required to get words from brain to screen. When I wrote for newspapers, I grew to appreciate the discipline associated with word counts, as it forced me to chop and shape things differently, and to seek the keeper nuggets embedded in the matrices of my florid, verbose flow.

I was a slow and late adopter of Twitter as a result, since I can barely say “hello” in fewer than 140 characters most of the time. (I am trying, though, as evidenced by my 1,550+ tweets here). When I launched my “Five by Five Book Review” series a few months back, it was with something of a conscious intent to make them brief(er) by forcing them into a 25-sentence rubric that lent itself to more frequent posting. But as I look back through the six pieces in that series that I’ve written to date, I note that the mean length per article is about 950 words (the longest was 1,200 words), which means my average sentence in the series has 38 words in it!

38 words per sentence?!? That’s kind of obscene, isn’t it, verging on James Joyce territory? (Probably no surprise that I love the Irish madman, and have enjoyed satirizing him). I think as a course of discipline in 2015, I might have to create a new series of short articles, intentionally writing with punch, forcefully cutting to the chase, and deftly editing the extraneous from my usual epic verbal emanations.

I’ll know where to go, at least, when I need a look at how it’s done. So thanks, Rob, for the regular reminder about where the soul of wit really resides!

Pursuing Your Bliss

This post has moved to Marcia Brom Smith’s new blog, here. Please update your bookmarks.

You Ain’t Got A Dog In That Fight . . .

The best thing about today’s social media applications is that everyone with a computer can write about whatever they want to write about, push a button, and share it with the world. But the worst thing about today’s social media applications is also that everyone with a computer can write about whatever they want to write about, push a button, and share it with the world.

Just because you can write about something, doesn’t always mean you should write about something, and it seems to me that this ability to self-filter is a dying skill in the blogosphere of late. One of the great truisms of successful written communication is to “write what you know,” and I’ve always taken the word “know” to mean more than “I researched it on Google and Wikipedia for 10 minutes.”

Here’s the deal: some people are very knowledgeable about certain topics, while other people are very knowledgeable about other topics, but precious few human beings are qualified to serve as blogging polymaths. The best bloggers, to me, are those who stick within a reasonably tight span of personal expertise and experience, and whose responses to current affairs and news are tempered by a mature understanding of where they can add value to a particular debate, and where they can’t.

Unfortunately, such nuanced, informed bloggers are becoming an increasingly rare commodity. Their more-measured words are all too often trumped by the “I blog about everything” school of online scribblers, often backed by the endless, self-reinforcing do-loops created by equally non-selective readers. Collectively, they’ve created an all-noise/no-substance paradigm that appears to be as addictive and destructive to discourse as any opiate, beverage, fetish or vice.

This “blog about everything” compulsion becomes particularly annoying when such bloggers are first out of the blocks on sensitive, important or fast-breaking news topics and, by virtue of their cranked-up reflexes, become default sounding boards for addressing such topics, even though they have little to offer beyond half-baked opinions about things they gleaned from headlines. This rush by the ill-informed to serve as first responders results in them posting some truly idiotic and embarrassing material, though their shame responses seem to perish around the same time that the self-filters burn out.

As I am assaulted by such material while looking for more mature and responsible fare, I often find myself wondering why so many all-purpose bloggers feel compelled to offer endless running commentary on topics beyond their ken. I generally conclude that it’s either because they have a desperate need for constant attention, or because they’ve become obsessed with their online hit counts, impressions, visits and follows. Or both. Either way, though, their pathologies manifest themselves through malformed blurts online, typically written from a center-of-the-universe perspective that places them (and their feelings) smack in the middle of narratives where they have no meaningful place whatsoever, by any lucid, objective standard.

Where and when I grew up, if you spouted off in public regarding things about which you were ignorant, or which had no bearing on your life in any meaningful way, you’d be told in no uncertain terms to shut up, since you ain’t got a dog in that fight . . .

I’d like to see more of us use that kind of response online when we’re confronted with ill-formed blogger blather, especially when it’s peddled to us by commercial interests. Perhaps if we collectively push the B.S. button on such bloggers more often, we’ll be able to raise the level of online discourse above the point where it is controlled by the folks who have little more to offer beyond their ability to get to their computers before anybody else does.

At bottom line, not every thought that enters a blogger’s head is valid, and not every feeling that a blogger experiences merits sharing. A little discretion goes a long way, even here, even now, and to those bloggers who fail to recognize this most fundamental fact, there’s another expression from my childhood that fits you to a tee . . .  That dog don’t hunt . . .

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