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writing about my writing

When I was a young person, I briefly fancied myself a conservative. I don't think I had any reason for that besides appreciation for the way conservatives wrote. See, when you're only against things you can write beautifully cutting takedowns of any progressive program without having to think too hard—you find the sarcasm flowing easily and naturally. I say briefly; by college—by junior year in high school, even—I had come to my senses and become a vague radical idealist. I didn't get in any real arguments with anyone while I was experimenting with conservatism, so you might say no harm done—but in fact, I think that my writing has never recovered from the curse that admiring Rush Limbaugh for even a couple months brought down on me.

That's one reason why I don't write more about my socio-political ideas (loosely defined) even though I do think about such things from time to time. Even when I have a thought I really want to write about, and try really hard to express it in thoughtful, measured language, I find hints of my high school sarcasm emerging—and even more than hints. Consider this post about sustainable agriculture (especially the first paragraph).

OK, what's wrong with being sarcastic? Especially when the target of your sarcasm will never read your words? Well, besides being kind of rude regardless it's also, if you ask me, not actually thoughtful. I say above "without having to think too hard", and that's really how it feels to me: writing sarcastically, assigning a simplified (or false) position to your opponent and then dismissing it in equally simplistic terms is super easy. And it's super frustrating as well, for people who actually want to think about the issues at hand. "But, but, but..." they sputter, entirely justifiably. "You're ignoring vast swathes of data and argument in the other direction! What about..." and then you call them an ivory tower elitist. You know, for thinking.

Something else. Writing—especially simplistic sarcasm—tends to be closed and linear. And the way I write is especially so. I don't outline blog posts: I think of a topic and write from beginning to end. (That's what I did for 50-page papers in college too, so as much as want to I don't know that my process will change any time soon.) That means that, as I put ideas down as words, I'm necessarily narrowing the scope of my thoughts and my argument. When I come up with an idea—a topic—it feels broad and spacious and full of potential. As I write it gets more and more specific, until the end result is something like a butterfly pinned to a display. You get to see the colorful patterns on the wings—well, one side of the wings, until they get dusty and fade—but in no way do you get the full sense of the creature. A butterfly is to flutter.

Probably, the solution is to work harder. If I was more thoughtful and wrote notes and outlines, I bet I would have a better time capturing the complexity of my original thoughts. Or maybe I need to give up essays and start writing poetry...

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