Columnist Hagridden By His Own Self
Hard Getting Into Saddle
May 30, 2004
Readers have communicated their dissatisfaction, or at least wonderment, with a loss in the rhythmicity of the appearance of this curious column, which had previously showed up with such punctuality as to make a cesium clock seem derelict.
A recurring surprise for me is that a fair number of people actually enjoy my patch of the net. (Another recurring surprise is that others don’t.) This is why every time I think of shutting the column down and devoting myself my favorite vices, I never quite do it. And yes, a net column has its rewards. I have come to regard many readers as friends, and they, me. The purveyance of lies, distortion, bile, and slander is deeply rewarding. I learn a lot from readers.
Besides, I seem to be an obligate writer. I got into the trade because it didn’t require any qualifications, and I didn’t have any. It was all I was good for. It still is.
Why do people write? I read in a book for writers long ago that it is “to ward off the grayness all around.” That’s some of it. The world is an imperfect place and there is in some of us a hope that if we yell loudly enough, often enough, it might get better. It doesn’t, of course.
Part of it is a belief that some things shouldn’t be forgotten: the people we knew in high school, the crazy things we did when, the girl we met briefly in a truck stop on Route 301 while thumbing around in the Sixties and never saw again. Though of course they are soon forgotten anyway.
In the beginning of a wasted life of scribbling, vanity predominates. Writing is a performing art, like being a ballerina. One thinks, “If I could only get published in such and such I’d be important and successful and all my personal problems would go away.” Then when you get into Playboy or Harper’s or whatever, it turns out to be just another magazine and you still have bad skin or can’t get a date or don’t have any idea what life is about and think other people do. The checks get better though.
After a lifetime of writing, it becomes as automatic as peristalsis. It gets to be, “I am because I write,” the corollary being that if I didn’t write, I wouldn’t be. But one isn’t anyway. Or at least one isn’t much. This is built into existence.
At any rate, having decided to go into semi-retirement and into hiding in Mexico, I started to write Fred On Everything. For five years or so I’ve spit out these literary rabbit droppings weekly. Nobody asked me to do it, and nobody forces me to continue. I cannot reasonably complain of a self-imposed burden that I can put down any time I choose. But I can talk about it a bit.
At first it was fun, learning the web and putting the site up and playing with the astonishing idea of instant publication across the world. I’m not sure why I did it, except that it’s what I do. Then it was an adventure of sorts. Now it’s mostly just work.
Freds on Everything run to 1100 words weekly. My tech column for the Washington Times measures another 750 a week. I recently began writing a monthly column for The American Conservative, the (excellent) magazine of Pat Buchanan and Taki.
That’s a lot of words, as anyone who has written knows. If I were on staff for a newspaper it would be a full-time job.
Worse, it brings out a certain compulsiveness in me. I’ve written columns of one sort or another for most of my (chronologically) adult life. Columns usually have deadlines. So, without thinking about it, I began writing FOE on a deadline. Being somewhat competitive, I also began courting circulation. The Alexa rating for the thing rose from 60,000th to 31,000th. More sites linked in. Other people began to re-post it.
Thing is, it just doesn’t make sense any longer. More by luck than judgement, I am comfortably well off by my standards. I live with a Mexican woman of wonderful intelligence and decency, as well as with a street dog that adopted us (La Pelusa), two cats, and a rabbit (La Coneja) that lives under a bush in the courtyard and eats mango peels. The town has a couple of good bars and Vicky’s restaurant sells the best ribs anyone ever had and in rainy season the lightning storms are marvelous and roosters crow all about in the mornings. I’m not sure what else there is, or ought to be.
Anyway, the column. I like to travel. A few months ago I found myself on the Sky Train in Bangkok, thinking, oh damn, I gotta write something for FOE. That would have meant squatting in a cyber cafe like some brooding carrion-eating bird while trying to think of dismal foolishness disguisable as searing insight. I really wanted to do almost anything else.
And so I found myself confronting an executive decision: Should I drop the column entirely and focus, as comes naturally with me, on such elevated matters as eating, sleeping, lissome lasses, various potations, and music in 4/4 time? Or should I just write the damned thing when I felt like it? More compactly, how seriously should I take the column?
Less so, I decided. In particular, when traveling, I just wouldn’t worry about it.
Which is why there hasn’t been a column for a couple of weeks. I just got back from Bolivia, where I spent my time bouncing across frigid high deserts and boating around las pampas, the watery bayou country of the lowlands. At one point I found myself in a hammock over the mudflats with an eight-foot alligator (cayman, actually) in the near background. A notable trip, about which I will have some observations shortly no doubt, but not one fraught with internet connections.
So that’s the plan: to write when I have something to say. It isn’t good journalism. It’s the best I can do. While I appreciate my readers (else why write at all?), and hope they stick around, I’m just not going to do self-imposed deadlines. That’s why I haven’t been punctual. I’m sorry.