Thursday, January 18, 2007

Anna Quindlen: Write for Your Life

In the January 22, 2007 issue of Newsweek, Anna Quindlen's Last Word column is entitled "Write for Your Life". (Update, 7/22/08: This article is now here.) She begins with the story behind the movie "Freedom Writers", in which teacher Erin Gruwell deals with the difficulties of teaching to a class of disengaged inner-city youths by presenting them with "marbled composition books and the assignment to write their lives, ungraded, unjudged". Ms. Quindlen moves from Gruwell's breakthrough success in connecting with these students by allowing them to freely express themselves through writing to what she sees as a major problem in modern society: the death - or at least dearth - of "everyday prose":
How is it, at a time when clarity and strength go begging, that we have moved so far from everyday prose? Social critics might trace this back to the demise of letter writing. The details of housekeeping and child rearing, the rigors of war and work, advice to friends and family: none was slated for publication. They were communications that gave shape to life by describing it.
If only there were some forum that encouraged such writing!
And in this age of the telephone most communication has become evanescent, gone into thin air no matter how important or heartfelt. Think of all those people inside the World Trade Center saying goodbye by phone. If only, in the blizzard of paper that followed the collapse of the buildings, a letter had fallen from the sky for every family member and friend, something to hold on to, something to read and reread. Something real. Words on paper confer a kind of immortality. Wouldn't all of us love to have a journal, a memoir, a letter, from those we have loved and lost? Shouldn't all of us leave a bit of that behind?

Ms. Quindlen seems to be unaware of the world of blogging. Perhaps this is understandable. To the mainstream media, the word "blog" instantly conjures up the image of someone who sits at a computer in pajamas and poaches the hard-written material that has been carefully crafted by professional journalists and writers, laces it with a few notes like "hits one out of the park" or "still just doesn't get it", offers a line or two of snide commentary, and then republishes the whole thing on their site under their name. And it's true that the most clamorous residents of the blogosphere do just that, and worse. But they by no means represent all of the bloggers out there - or even a significant percentage of us.

The world of personal, everyday writing that Anna Quindlen speaks of in such wistful terms is already all over the Internet, just a few keystrokes away from anywhere. You're reading just such a blog now. My sidebar links to numerous blogs that will also present you with completely different slices of life from other bloggers. Read them and see. And please, if you do not blog yet, consider starting a blog today. Share your life, your experiences, and your writing with us.

I wrote a letter to the editor of Newsweek in response to this column. We'll see in a week or two if they decide to print it!
In her Last Word column "Write for Your Life", Anna Quindlen speaks eloquently and passionately about the value of "everyday prose": personal writing, journals, memoirs, and letters. Yet she fails to mention an important medium for this form of writing that is all too often overlooked by the mainstream media: blogging.

When blogs are spoken of it is frequently with political blogs in mind, websites that offer commentary and opinion but little in the way of original, personal content. While these may be among the most easily-noticed blogs, the majority of blogs are actually online journals that detail the daily thoughts and experiences of the blogger. These are their marbled composition books, in which they express their lives just as Erin Gruwell's students did. "Words on paper confer a kind of immortality," Quindlen writes. But in a manner not possible with ink on paper, bloggers electronically share their writing with the world as they write it.

If your only experience with the world of blogging is some online carping and sniping on a political blog, you are missing out on some truly wonderful writing by everyday people - as Anna Quindlen puts it, communications that give shape to life by describing it for others. Go online, read a few blogs, and consider starting up one yourself.


rimalicious said...

Love your letter, very eloquent.

Michael Plank said...

That's a good letter. Nice, respectful tone. Actually, it's too good for Newsweek!

dee said...

Okay, okay, okay, okay OKAY! Sheesh. Nothing like good Catholic guilt when used as motivation.

Oh, nice letter, too.

Betz said...

Harold, dear friend, you give alot of credit to other peoples blogs, but none to your own. It was YOUR blog that brought Tressa, the Divine Miss L, and I here to read blogs. Thank you for that. :)

...tom... said...

hey there Monkey...

I assume they ignored your letter..??

Nice post, I will have to go read the Quindlen piece.