I forgot to notice that this past May was the 10th anniversary of my blog, which I started in 2004 to coincide with the publication of my novel Clarity. (It has a small but devoted following. If you’re interested, you can buy it used for a song. I still think it would make a good movie…).
I started thinking what I might have learned in this decade-plus. The first thing that came to mind was this: people have been calling me an optimist for most of my life, but I didn’t accept it as one of my true names until quite recently. Partly, that was about expanding my definition of the word. An optimist, I now believe, is someone who sees great possibility in the human project (not someone, as I once supposed, who is certain that all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds, pace Voltaire).
Still, I don’t totally get this about myself. I came up in a world of low expectations and lower hopes, where adults understood themselves as refugees from and survivors of history, and I was regularly counseled not to want too much. I asked my husband to help me think about it: why, with my history, am I an optimist when so many others who’ve walked similar paths are anything but?
His answer made perfect sense to me: “Because you’re all about changing things. You have to believe it’s possible. A person can’t be as oriented to change as you are and be a pessimist. What would be the point?”
It is also true that dispositionally, I can’t stomach the imagined prospect that seems to be embraced by so many people I know: an ignoble and dystopian end to human civilization, a dwindling down from the radical amazement Hamlet speaks at first…
What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!
…to the dust he calls us one sentence later, to the sludge, the mere residue, that so many see coming.
What has been consistent since my first blog (possibly my first breath) is the conviction that we can do better, that cultivating awareness and agency can effectuate the shift. I know it in my bones, because it has shown up again and again in the little world of my own life. As to whether we humans will actually use our capacity for radical amazement and moral grandeur to create a great turning, after more than a decade of blogging about it, I still haven’t the faintest idea. And I still scoff at anyone who claims to know the future, which seems to me the grossest form of idolatry, worshipping our own creations.
Since 2004, I’ve published around 600 short essays to my blog. Even I am not going back to read them all, but some of them may bear rereading. For instance, people who read my series on “The Annals of Online Dating” still keep telling me I should turn those essays into a book. I always thought I’d do that when I reached the end of my search for love. But now that I’m residing happily at that destination, I have a long list of other book ideas that seem more pressing. If you pull down the “Categories” menu on the blog page, you’ll find that category along with many others, some of which may surprise you. For example, the “Food” category contains fifteen or so life-lessons from the kitchen—with recipes. I may do more someday.
The word “blog” can mean many different things, from a daily repository for funny links and tweets to a kind of online literary magazine. For me, it’s been a place to express whatever is arising in my awareness. Rather than keeping to a regular schedule, I blog when an idea, observation, or opportunity presents itself to me, demanding to be let out. That happens most often when there is breathing-space in my life—and not so much recently, when I have been busy busy busy.
Blogging has made me a better writer, just as almost any activity practiced frequently adds to one’s skill. It has definitely given me an outlet for things that need saying and can’t wait for the typical publication schedules of journals and books. By now, it’s become an archive of many of my favorite subjects (or at least obsessions). The music videos I post at the end of my blogs are overwhelmingly blues tunes (though there’s jazz, singer-songwriter, and occasionally other music in there too). If you search for “blues” on my blog page, you’ll get more than two dozen entries. If you search for “human rights,” you’ll get many more.
My life has changed in many remarkable ways in this decade: big moves, the end of love and the beginning of love, and of course, the insistent presence of age which colors experience more and more as time goes on. I’m thrilled to be healthy and strong, but I know I won’t live forever (despite my desire to do so, knock wood). So I bring a different lens to decisions now: is it worth investing my time in this project? Will it help me to complete or fulfill something of my character, my personal mission, my healing? Will it use my gifts as fully as I desire to be used and useful?
One of the places I am offering myself these days is as the “Chief Policy Wonk” of the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture. I’ve written before about this project that is both art and social change, performing the public interest in art as we wish it to be: a year ago, when Glenn Beck attacked us; last spring, when we put out our first call for Cultural Agents (and got 100 applications for a dozen volunteer slots); and again at the end of August, when an amazing group of artists and organizers endorsed our call to creative action opposing police militarization and publicly funded racism.
Piloting our ideas reinforced their value, as you can see in this lively three-minute video based on the dozen or so Imaginings those Cultural Agents and their allies organized all around the U.S. last summer.
We’re about to launch another call for Cultural Agents, and we’re planning an event at Bowery Poetry in New York City at 6:30 pm on 17 November to announce the first cohort of amazing National Cabinet members, among many other things. Join us there if you can. But whether or not you can, please click right now to sign up as a Citizen Artist to keep current on all the USDAC is doing. It’s fast, free, and fun!
Thank you dear readers for listening, for engaging with me, for responding with approval, outrage, or whatever else you are moved to share. I don’t plan on stopping, so I hope you don’t either!
Here’s a live version of “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” by Meshell Ndegeocello, a slightly looser version than on her tribute album to Nina Simone, Pour Une Ame Souveraine.