[For a brief comment on Elizabeth Warren’s Senate run, click here.]
This fall, I’m “coming out” from my anonymity.
My reasons for anonymity were well considered, and I’ve explained them in some detail. What has changed? Well, when your wife, sister and best friends all say the same thing, it would be impolitic not to listen. They all advise me to edit these essays, organize them and publish them electronically in book form on various topics. With well over 500 essays, there are at least two or three books here.
The same idea had occurred to me many times. Much gets lost in this huge blog, whose 500-plus index entries are repeated under various headings. And many a post could benefit from cogent, organized collection with others.
You can blog anonymously. You can tweet anonymously, if you like bumper stickers and the spirit moves you. But can you publish books anonymously?
I don’t think so. When people take the time and trouble to read a whole book of nonfiction, they want to know who you are. Authors like “George Eliot” and “Andre Norton” could get away with pseudonyms for fiction when the minds of the “fair sex” didn’t get the respect they deserved. But who in this age of beggared privacy wants to read a whole book of fact and analysis not knowing who the author is? My sitemeter’s many hits on my unrevealing personal profile suggest, “Not many.” So does a commenter.
One other thing has changed, too. I’ve retired from full-time teaching. I still dabble in short courses, and I may yet teach a full semester under conditions known only to my Dean. So my major reason for staying anonymous—that my blog might impair my professionalism before full-time students—just doesn’t apply any more.
There are other reasons for keeping anonymous, namely, avoiding the “flag” of ideology, trying to get readers to focus on my ideas and not me, and trying to do some good without grabbing credit.
All are good reasons. But as it turns out, all are a bit quixotic. Ideological readers will classify and dismiss you on the slightest pretext. Many would-be readers appear already to have done so, moving on to the next blog after spotting “Obama” in my blog description. Such is our partisan divide. You cannot persuade those who habitually think ad hominem to do otherwise in a single blog, especially if you can’t get them to read it.
As for taking credit, well, Sarah Palin taught me something. Here’s a woman who has little to offer but greed, ignorance and stupidity. Yet she’s gotten millions to pay serious attention to her, and she’s made millions doing it. Talk about exploiting your fifteen minutes of fame!
What’s her secret? Relentless and shameless self-promotion. In our time, and maybe in all times, that seems to matter even more than ideology and the merit of one’s ideas.
We all have our faults. When the shameless self-promotion genes were passed out, I wasn’t in the queue. I always thought that good ideas would prevail on their own merit, without special advertising. Was I naïve!
So, at the age of 66, I’m going to try to learn something new. I’ll be like a baby learning to walk. Probably I’ll be comical. But please laugh with me, not at me, as I try to learn a new skill that may get my ideas more exposure.
Blogs are free. I have nothing against free. I like free, especially when I otherwise would be the one paying. And with the reduced appetites of age, I’m comfortable enough not to need an income supplement. So I’ll keep this blog up and free, but not the books I derive from it.
Samuel Johnson (the author of the first English dictionary) wrote, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.” I’m not quite sure what he meant by that. In his time, landed gentry wrote without much care for money because they didn’t need it. Maybe Johnson was describing then-rare writers like him, who didn’t have titles or land.
But I think he was touching on something deeper: writer’s insecurity. How do you really know that people like what you write? Talk is cheap and blogs are even cheaper (let alone tweets). The only way you really know whether people like what you write is whether they are willing to shell out a few bucks for it. It’s a kind of applause that can’t be denied. I guess I want to test whether my non-academic writing can garner some of that.
Another reason why I want to come out is that I have more to tell. I’ve withheld much of my personal history because it would identify me. In doing so, I’ve lost some credibility that my education, multiple careers, and life experience might give me. Once I come out, I can describe the relevant facts of my life boldly.
The final reason for coming out is people. There aren’t that many commenters on this blog. But I feel I’ve come to know some of the repeaters. By holding myself aloof and anonymous, I can never really know them. I’d like to exchange e-mails (as much as I have time for) with some and maybe even meet some in the flesh. You can’t do that anonymously: masked balls are out of fashion.
So the only question left is when. As I learn the new (for me) skill of self-promotion, I’m going to create a little suspense. I like Thanksgiving. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, it’s my favorite holiday.
Thanksgiving celebrates no military victory, no defeat, no religion, no saint or sinner, no political or social cataclysm. It venerates the simple beauty of native people, misnamed “Indians,” taking clueless white visitors under their wings and teaching them how to survive a first harsh winter in a new land. It’s a model for pure human and ethnic relations that could only have come from the Garden of Eden, which we of European ancestry left when we started to colonize.
So that’s the day I’ll come out. It’s a day of leisure when readers can reflect on what really matters in life. Then you’ll learn all you want to know about me (maybe more!), and I’ll be a real face, not a question mark.
Until Thanksgiving, then, when I come out!
P.S. I will keep blogging in the interim, but at a slower pace. I’ll also be working on those books.
Just after I wrote a first draft of this post, I read a comment from a reader named Janet Camp. It’s so apropos that I publish it below verbatim:
Your writing is clear and concise, but unless you “come out” and use your real name, it’s just more words and cannot make much difference. Your NYT post today was excellent as well, but again, what does “Old Curmudgeon” tell us? It helps that you got the #1 slot, and I will visit this blog again, but I truly wish more bloggers would be more public about their backgrounds.
Elizabeth is Running!This may be old news to many readers of this blog, but it’s now official. Elizabeth Warren is running for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts. She’s running against Scott Brown, the not-too-crazy Republican who took Ted Kennedy’s old seat in a special election after his death.
Brown is smart and popular, and he’s got a big head start. And this is Warren’s first political campaign. So she will have a tough race. But I can’t think of anyone I would rather see in the US Senate, or anyone more worthy to sit in Ted’s old seat.
I’m sure Ted is pulling for her. I’ve just fulfilled my pledge to donate $500 to her campaign. If you want to take our country back to the side of reason and restore our middle class, I hope you’ll do your part, too.
This is a woman who’s fought courageously for a fair shake for ordinary people for decades, first as a law professor and then as an appointed Obama-Administration official. She’s fought for us despite the most vile chauvinism from the likes of Richard Shelby and others. Now she needs our support. If you’ve ever lamented the dearth of truly outstanding women in politics, now’s the time to dig deep.