Whenever my fellow bloggers talk about how their weblogging activities have placed great stresses on their “regular” lives — ruining friendships, causing family breakdown, creating difficulties at work — I’ve always looked on in silent wonder that something as ultimately frivolous as a blog could
wreck wreak such havoc.
And so, short of a passing reference from my father to the effect that “there are no secrets in our family anymore” when I mentioned some family event from the past in this space, and that whole Sandy Peardon thing (oh, and this whole thing), I’ve remained a carefree happy-go-lucky blogger, unravaged by critics, with all relationships intact.
Until this post.
I called into question the approach and setting for the new course. And, it could be argued that (without intending to), with the rhetorical question “Why do we need Rob?,” I called into question Rob.
When I wrote what I wrote, I truly was doing so in the same carefree ponderous spirit that you will find in evidence elsewhere here. I was being rhetorical. I was trying to stimulate conversation. I was taking a internal musing and working it out by writing about it in public. If I were to adapt a screenplay from the post, and set it in a bar with Rob and I present, I would be looking all sarcastic, and would look over at Rob, wink, and say the line. Rob would laugh knowingly.
And when I wrote a follow-up post, it was in the same spirit. I read what others, including Rob, had to say, and wrote back. My follow-up wasn’t a “retraction” of my original thoughts, simply an evolution in my thinking.
That’s the spirit what I do here.
Now I’ve known Rob for, what, 7 or 8 years. I like Rob. He’s invited me to his house. I’ve met his family. We’ve worked on some good and interesting projects together. And in a way that few others have managed, he’s groked the way I work and, what’s more, he has had the patience to deal with me petulantly saying “well, why are we doing this at all anyway?” right in the middle of a project, often at the most inconvenient moments.
Rob and I don’t always agree, but I think our disagreements, when they’ve surfaced and been hashed out have allowed us both to mature our own positions and open our minds to the others.
Rob is a rare bird on Prince Edward Island: a consultant who came, and stayed. Anyone who spends any time here on PEI quickly comes to learn about those “high priced consultants from Upper Canada” who come down to the Island with lots of big ideas, lots of intellectual piss and vinegar, ready to remake the province in their neatly ordered image. They generally last one winter, and then move back to Toronto or Ottawa or Montreal when they realize there’s no opera here.
Rob (and me, before him) certainly got tarred with that brush: the assumption when you move here as “an idea person” is that you’ll fall into that group that leave soon after arriving.
But Rob didn’t. He lived out in the hinterlands of Montague. In the winter. He survived changes in government. He saw good ideas, ideas that would really change things for the better, die for personal or political or “just because” reasons. He moved his extended family here. He bought a house and improved it. He’s laid down deep roots. He has a lawn tractor. And he’s now been here for so long that most if not all (you’ll never get everyone) accept that he’s here for good. And maybe someone to listen to.
The Island is a better place for Rob. And I’m a better person for knowing him.
Now I say all this because some — including perhaps Rob — took my post as some sort of coded way of working out a grievance with him. As a personal attack. As a public ridicule of Rob, himself.
It wasn’t. At all.
And so, without retracting the substance of my original musing, and the follow-up post that came later, I wanted to take a moment and apologize to Rob for what appeared to him and others to be harsh words, and to try and explain how they weren’t intended as such.
My general approach is if you’re living your life as a “public figure” — whether as an artist, a filmmaker, a business person, a restauranteur, an organizer of public events, a politician, a newspaper columnist, a weblogger — then I consider your output, your words, your work, your ideas, your personal zeitgeist to be worthy of comment, and of open and public debate and discussion.
That said, I never intend criticism of output, words, work, ideas, or personal zeitgeist to be taken as an ad hominem argument against a specific person.
For example, I write a lot about The Capital Commission here in Charlottetown. Like this. Or this. I figure if a public body is going to spend my tax dollars doing things in my city, it’s fair game — even necessary — for there to be critical examination of their activities. Sometimes I do this seriously, sometimes mockingly. But never in a way that is meant to say “this specific person is evil.”
The same goes when I review a movie. Or a restaurant. Or talk about the phone company. Or point to a magazine article.
I think criticism — in the spirit of “the art of judging with knowledge and propriety of the beauties and faults of a literary performance, or of a production in the fine arts” — is important to the conduct of a fruitful life.
And I think it’s even more important in a small, isolated, insular community like ours, where close quarters and social interconnectedness mean that many are loathe to do anything but offer empty praise.
The problem with this ideal, of course, is that most people — myself included — take their output very personally. It’s hard to read “your play was boring” and not hear “you are boring.” It’s hard to hear “that idea you have sucks” and not understand it to mean “you suck.”
And so I imagine that Rob read my original post and didn’t take it as a lighthearted discussion opener (as it was intended) but rather more as “That Rob’s an idiot, eh, doing stupid things with his elite buddies — ha ha!”
I’m not sure what to do about this.
Words assembled are interesting because they have power. How do I keep doing this without causing personal harm and hurt to others? Is that an impossible goal? An inevitable result?
I could stop writing about other people entirely. Or I could only comment about “good news.” Or I could stop writing about friends, family and neighbours. That would probably avoid a lot of hassle in future. But I’m not sure that wouldn’t cause more problems, and leave me unable to write anything at all. I don’t want to be the “Body Break” of the blogosphere.
I could attempt to exercise more propriety. But impropriety is sort of central to my world view. And I think trying to write with a propriety gremlin looking over my shoulder would render my writing contrived (or more contrived) and lifeless. It’s hard enough writing for an audience that includes my mother, my mother in law, my clients and my son.
Although I sent a note of apology to Rob earlier in the week, I thought that, because the “scene of the crime” was out here in public, it would be equally important to try to offer additional explanation out here in public too.
Rob: I think you’re a good guy. Really. Readership: give me your thoughts.