The inestimable elder Hitchens used to tell his writing classes that the surest test for one’s fit in the career was this: “Is writing something you have to do?” He admitted it sounds like a tautologous platitude, but there is meaning behind it. He was asking the young men and women in the room if they could possibly do anything else. Frankly, he was asking them if they could live if they were told they could not write. And if the answer is No, that they really are cut out for nothing else — or knew they could not allow themselves to be cut out for anything else — the learned bohemian would assure them gently that they’d be alright. “You may not be a howling success at it, but at least you’ll be doing what you were meant to do”. And if not? He doubted they would be able to stand the inevitable disappointments.
Apparently it’s a truism that, like all of those which are actually true, took him a long time to work out, obvious as it really is, but once he’d done it he was sure it worked. Looking back on my own relationship with my pen and my keyboard — and not for a single instant to set up a comparison I don’t deserve — I agree.
Some, I think, will find a declaration like Hitch’s ridiculously pompous, melodramatic and intellectual, at best. At worst it might strike them as arrogant and self-important. I only reply that for you the answer would be No; this is alright. I do not feel I must be a mathematician or logician. But it’s genuinely hard to read Bertrand Russell’s ecstatic explanation of the development of Pythagoras’s Theorem, or his gleeful refutation of the Platonic syllogism, all delivered with the ease of an elderly professor who’s lost none of his youthful energy, bounding around the library, in his element (which, incidentally, is precisely what Russell was), and not feel like it was those fields that chose him.
Nor are “the chosen” (I inwardly cringe) a group always to be envied. Edgar Allen Poe did not lead a cheerful life in the age of inexpensive copyright and ineffective healthcare; nor did Ayn Rand in the age of effective copyright and expensive healthcare. Both were shackled by their work. Both were made and unmade by it. George Orwell utterly hated writing, and only did it because he was in love with the feeling of “having written”. With a look at his subject matter, it is hard to fault him. None were really in charge of their fates but were ruled by their identical passion.
I honestly can’t remember ever being pulled towards anything else, at any rate since I was old enough to have a good idea what writing was, even though for a long time I didn’t want to. I wrestled with it. Pilot, scientist, the obligatory stint as a fantasiser of soldiering — the usual vacuous dreams. I also hid from writing by reading, or thought I did. I can barely even put genre or subject to what I like to read, other than I insist it should be serious, timeless. Books should not be written merely for their own day.
But the call grew stronger. It grew with my faculties and it grew with my ideas, and the advance only picked up momentum after I began surrendering to it. No one ever thinks their ideas are half-baked in the present, but they do in the past. This is why it is impossible to be very wise when you are old unless you admit that you were very foolish when you were young. I opened this blog in late 2016, at the age of young. I am still young, but no longer so foolish, I hope. This is actually the second time I have resuscitated it from the dead.
My fundamental beliefs — in the citizen over the state, in Prometheus over Olympus, or good-old liberalism as I understand it if you prefer — have not changed. My driving principles I don’t think have ever changed since I awakened to them. But the way that I understand them certainly has, and this has led to changes of policy and prescription. The shift has been surprisingly great for only 24 months, perhaps because it had already started when I began. To name only example, my old Keynesian diagnoses of economic problems are in the dust. This was inevitable. I am writing, first, for myself. I write with the hope that I will cease to change and start to effect change. It is telling that the impulse was not damaged.
Every time I quit in disgust at how ignorant I was I felt I needed to come back. Over the years I stopped reading to escape writing began to read to help write. There doesn’t seem to be any getting away.
I make no apology for holding my old thoughts and have not amended any references to them scattered throughout the surviving early pieces, but I do not want them considered a scan of my brain now. Hence the loss of more than half of the publications. I find “in my opinion . . .” disclaimers at the front of controversial statements quite cowardly and utterly wasteful of precious breath, but I see the utility here. I claim as my belief anything I write here in obvious seriousness (how could I honestly not?)
If I knew what I was going to write about I would give this blog a genre or a set topic; I simply don’t. I have only ideas and cannot say what the spaces between them might be. I just know, now, from hard experience, I am going to need to write.
I cannot stress my debt enough to @MrWalnut4 for his spritely pixelated pencils. This imagery was first chosen by me as a stock photograph, for I could not find anything less cringeworthy to go with the title “contrarian”. Since then about half a dozen artists have taken it upon themselves to cumulatively improve upon and add character to it, usually unasked and always unpaid. Thank you.
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