On Letting a Thousand Voices Bloom
When Ken Burns produced his stunning multi-part documentary on the Civil War some years ago, people came away from the PBS series rightly amazed by many things. But one of the most persistent reactions I recall hearing at the time was astonishment over the quality of the letters from that era, how they showed the common person to be so wonderfully eloquent.
Now, we find ourselves in a new golden era of literacy, I think, with millions of people newly turned on to reading and writing, including of course through blogs. And yet so many writers who derive their living from arranging words have been lashing out lately at the whole format (and those who pursue it) that it sometimes causes my heart to ache. But only a little. That's because a moment later I turn my attention back to this "non-professional" writing, and I see so much cause for hope, so much insightful, heartfelt writing that gives me such joy, that opens my eyes to things I never knew, that offers me glimpses into lives I wouldn't otherwise know about. I could point to hundreds of examples, but I won't. Instead, let me just mention a few.
How about a young woman who summons the honesty and self-knowledge to count the ways in which she should be worried about her possible drinking problem? Or another young woman who unflinchingly faces her multiple sclerosis by writing about it? There's a left-brained engineer who's so excited about his upcoming poetry reading (a very right-brained exercise) that he got me excited, too. And there's an impossibly well-read fellow in Lakewood who's embarked on a "Summer of Dostoevsky." And one of my favorites, a divorced mom who gives me endless insight into the mind of mature women, with her nakedly honest recounting of conversations with her female friends. I could go on, but you get the picture.
And remember, these examples are only from this region. There are obviously so many others about which to rejoice. Does that mean the examples I've cited scrupulously represent all the millions of blogs out there? Of course not. Does that mean that there isn't plenty of ugliness and banality to be found on the web? Obviously not. In any medium during any era, there have been plenty of good and less good choices clamoring for readers' attention. The trick, of course, (in this and everything else in life) is figuring out what to pay attention to, the glass half full or half empty. So I'll leave the hand-wringing about the masses finding their voice to my nervous, censorious colleagues. As for me, I'll choose to remain thrilled at the rebirth of language, a rejuvenation of both writers and readers. I can only hope it continues to grow.