Tuesday, September 19, 2006

People get ready...

For the first time in probably a year, I left work yesterday having no idea what I was going to write about. I'm pretty sure this was a good thing.

If you don't mind, I'm going to indulge for a few moments in some old-fashioned public introspection.

I've thought a lot over the last couple weeks -- indeed, since this blog's birthday -- about what I set out to accomplish by writing this blog and how close or far I am from those original intentions. One of the more straightforward (and overtly stated) objectives was to become a better writer. On that, I'm not sure if I've made any forward progress. But then, writing for a blog is completely different than any other type of writing. So, perhaps, I have just widened my abililties, rather than having refined them. Which is fine.

Obviously, however, I had more in mind than just personal improvment when I decided to narrowly focus on Howard County. I'd like to say my intentions were pure: instead of trying to convince others to think about things the same way I do (which is impossible, as anyone who's ever tried can attest), I wanted merely to add something -- information, perspective, value -- to a community dialogue that I thought needed more of whatever it is I hoped to add. My record on this is mixed, but that's about as good as one can expect given the type of forum blogs offer.

What I didn't want this blog to do was foster more partisanship, divisiness and bitterness. And this is where I think I failed.

The most egregious example of this failure was this post from last week, where I – for purely political reasons – attacked one candidate and defended another. While criticisms are the nature of opiniated writing, this wasn’t an example of the clear-headed logic and reasoning I espouse. It was angry, partisan bickering, prompted by a notion – perhaps misguided – that “my guy" was being slighted by some informational imbalance that would go uncorrected if not for the weight of my words.

The sad thing was, in the course of reading and writing about this stuff everyday, I was total unaware of my descent into this new level of partisanship and the emotional baggage I was bringing with me. This is not to say I wasn't aware of the divisiveness of this election season, but my cautionary post from last month seems more like a bone thrown to my subconscious, something to compensate for my personal, if not-acted-upon, misgivings.

It wasn’t until Friday that my father, who had just handed me a sermon from his (sometimes) church entitled “Finding Calm (In an Increasingly Crazy World)," clued me into how angry I was, and more importantly, how much I lacked both self-awareness and self-control.

The following night, I went to see Jon Stewart at Merriweather. And though I can give or take the jokes about our President, he actually made a lot of interesting observations about the politics of extremism and moderation. Having always considered myself moderate -- and having been called a Republican (to my delight) by a fellow blogger before he knew who I was -- hearing Stewart's comments (as well as those of my wife and father on a more personal level) rattled me.

So, what's the point of this lengthy, indulgent and overly-personal post? It's both an admission of fault and a promise of change, even though I'm not sure exactly what type of changes are in store. I fault myself for not following the largely unspoken principles I laid out for this blog; for drifting away from a forum based on ideas and hope to one of pettiness, feuding and competition; and for, basically, being asleep at the keyboard.

As for the changes, there are only a few I can say for sure. The first is that there will be noticeable shift away from day-to-day politics. The issues I'm concerned with don't hinge on the latest news story or the most recent post on someone else's blog. I've already spent too much time focused on minutiae, parsing words and soundbites in hopes of mining a nugget of partisan gold. However, I still plan on covering the general election in the same way I covered the primary, because, well, that was fun. And, ultimately, I do this for fun.

The second likely change is that I'll write longer posts, but less often, that focus on wider issues than just what's in the newspapers. I chose being a professional researcher over a reporter for a reason, after all.

Paradoxically, another thing I hope to do more of is covering events and issues that aren't being covered in the papers. Some of the most fun I had on this blog was writing about and photographing the HFStival, and I hope to do more of that -- for instance, the upcoming meeting on the future of Merriweather (next Monday) and the Oakland Mills Town Hall (next Tuesday). I'd rather serve as a resource for my community than as a resource for my party.

Now, none of this is to say I'm done reading the papers or other blogs. I'm sure there will still be Round Ups and, where appropriate, snarky comments about the news and politics. But it does mean that I'm going to resist the urge to comment on everything I read.

Also, this isn't meant to imply that I'm above politics or partisanship at all. I still want certain people to win -- though I honestly believe that the strength of our community vastly outweighs the power of any and all elected officials -- and I'll probably still work to help them win, but it's not my job to use this space -- my own dark corner of the internet -- to support them. I've invested a lot of time and energy into writing about what I believe in on this blog, and I'm not about to relinquish control of it, even if only to my baser instincts.

All that said, I am interested to hear what you have to say (so much so, in fact, that I've lifted the draconian, register-to-comment requirement). Was there value in the increasingly partisan posts I was writing over the last few months? Do you seek the type of juicy, political posts that are a hallmark of most blogs? Do you think I am just ducking the heat of elections? Am I too far gone to have any anti-political credibility? Are you interested in longer, more issue-based posts? Would you even read them?

Basically, what are you looking for from your local blogs?

Look for a post tomorrow on Green Infrastructure, the topic of the discussion I led tonight at the Howard County Tomorrow meeting. By the way, next week we'll be discussing getting "young people" involved in local issues, with "young people" being (arbitrarily) anyone under 40 -- or anyone who says they're under 40.

By the way, Little Miss Sunshine was fantastic.


B. Santos said...

My friend,

Seeing as you have been at this for a year and I am still a dozen days short of a month, I am in no position to speak with any authority.


Don't beat yourself up about the last few months. Yes, there are times that you went beyond your usual snarky, but I think we readers understand that at times everyone wanders off the property. The rules are unspoken, but fairly simple: Don't wander too far and don't stay out there too long. I think you achieved both. I also believe that if you went too far or too long, we would have responded and let you know. So maybe we got a little partisan with you, I can't be certain.

If you write longer and/or less often, I would still be happy to read (and respond) to what you have to say. I would even (shameless promotion) entertain going toe-to-toe with you on issues from time to time. Y'see, what I find most enjoyable about what you write is that you seem to have the same approach as I think myself, and many other 2nd generation Columbians have. That is: 1.) When presented with a topic, be prepared to defend either side (empathy and passion) and 2.) Find the exception to the stated boundaries.

I find this not only in you, but in other Columbians that I come in contact with; and I hope you see that in me.

In closing, I am glad to see how much you care. If you want to grab a beer sometime or go for a bike ride, give me a call. Otherwise, write when you can, write what you can, and don't forget to throw those wrenches, Mr. Snarky.

Anonymous said...

Firstly, thank you for lifting the register-to-comment restriction. While the restriction was in place, I did still read your posts (albeit with a bit less frequency), but obviously didn't respond here. I hope others will feel equally free to join the discussion here, too.

As for your introspection, we all should stop and take a look at the compass from time to time.

Longer posts? As complicated as many of these issues are, Examiner-like brevity does a disservice. Your opting to now go deeper more frequently helps considerably and is quite necessary. Just be prepared for lengthy responses, too.