TommyElf, the”Writer”?

I have always had trouble coming up with topics to write about. Honestly, it took a long time before I realized that the books I was reading could spark topics and questions for blog posts. Nowadays, any book I am not reading for leisure takes longer to read because I have a notebook in hand when doing so. In that notebook, I jot down questions to ask of myself, topics to explore in more depth, and even books I need to locate and add to my growing collection. From those notes, I create these blog posts.

Two years ago, I attended my first Pantheacon. I was fortunate enough to have a semi-experienced guide for that time in fellow blogger (and far better than I could ever dream of becoming), John Beckett. Since that time, John has become a published author with his really great book, “The Path of Paganism.” While at that Pantheacon, I went to several panels, wrote copious notes, and came back with more blog material than I could have dreamed of. Since then, I have notes from other conventions, some Pagan gatherings, and even from interviews from podcasts such as “Down at the Crossroads.” More interestingly, I have started to gather blog topics from conversations I am having with other Pagans – both in online and face-to-face conversations. In short, I am finding blog topics nearly everywhere around me.

I have never been a prolific writer. In collegiate classes, I was praised for my writings in several research papers and essays. In a Creative Writing class, I wrote a short story based on a true incident that I had in going back to my unit in Germany from a rehabilitation stint I had in Wichita Falls, Texas. Incidentally, when I first joined the United States Air Force in 1986, it was this same base that I did my technical training at. Now, I live less than an hour away from that same base, here near Gainesville, Texas. Amazing how life tends to revolve in circles and cycles. Back to the writing aspect though, my papers and essays were mostly singular writings. In other words, I wrote a single draft, checked for spelling and grammar issues – and then submitted the assignment. Rereading those assignments, I can see where my writing truly fell short.

Back to the writing aspect though, my papers and essays were mostly singular writings. In other words, I wrote a single draft, checked for spelling and grammar issues – and then submitted the assignment. Rereading those assignments, I can see where my writing truly fell short. Circular logical references; thoughts and points that were cut short; and just generally poorly constructed explanations are rife throughout all of that work. I am truly amazed that I managed to make my way through two Masters degrees and a Bachelor’s degree with what I had submitted.

Looking back on older blog posts, here at the site, I also see many of the same faults. And a lot of that stems from my own lazy habit of writing singular version posts. I know I am a good writer, but as I was once told by an evening fire during one Gulf Coast Gathering, I have the ability to be an even better writer. So, in an effort to try and move beyond that singular version writing of blog posts, I write very little during the last two weeks. Well, very little that got posted. There are currently four posts that are being written – not including this one. One will be completed tomorrow (Sunday) and posted. The other three will be completed and set up for posting automatically. So that material can be reread, revised, and rewritten as necessary.

Coyote taught me not to take myself too seriously. I learned to laugh at myself and my mistakes. To not think of myself as having complete mastery of anything. All of that helped me learn to not be overly serious and find the fun in everyday life. I am more likely known as a smart-ass than anything else. However, those closest to me also know about my serious side. My desire to get things “right”…not just “right enough”. That is carried over into my daily life, into the statistical and data work I do for the college. But I have managed to not bring that into things outside of work. I clown, I kid, I try to find the absurd in everything. And somewhere between those two extremes is where I really am. It is long past time to embrace the two, and be a little more serious…while also finding fun.

So, to start the more serious, more deliberate aspect of writing…I provide this post as that moment. I know my initial efforts may not be the brightest, shining examples of this. However, these are just the start. I hope to get far better, a bit more deliberative, a bit more precise in what I write. I am not sure I was meant to be a writer, but I am meant to relate the stories – both of my everyday life, and those of the Gods. I am excited about the possibilities and fearful of the technique in doing so. As I was reminded shortly after my Ovate initiation, being a little fearful of what was about to take place was an indication that I was taken the approach in the correct, serious manner. There will be seriousness, there will be fun….


Writing About Writing

I am an admitted History geek, particularly that of the Roman Empire, and even more specifically, the Empire within mainland Europe during the time of Arminius. Once, during a World History I class at one of the junior colleges I have attended, I corrected the professor’s exam on Roman History while I was taking that exam. I even brought the textbook up to her desk during the exam to point out the error, as well as advocate for the correct answer which was shown to be incorrect on her key. Initially, I pissed her off doing this, but she admitted later that semester that she was impressed with my bringing the textbook up to back up my position. When I wrote my Master’s thesis for my first Master’s degree, my references section was nearly fifty references long, including some references that were outdated according to the requirements laid out for the assignment. I included an addendum for my references, explaining in detail why I felt it necessary to include references on Information Security that harkened past the six-year cut-off point. Yes, referential material matters to me.

When I go to the bookstore and pick up a History book, or even a book on Paganism, the first thing I flip to is the Contents list. I scan this to see what the book has to offer in terms of material, but the second place I head to is the section on references. The first thing I look for is cyclical references, where the author refers to materials that they have already written. One big offender in this category for me is conspiracy theorist and evangelical author Texe Marrs from Austin. His material consistently references other works he has written, which is a red flag warning to me. Once I see constant cyclical reference, that author tends to get placed into the “ignore” pile.

Within the Pagan community, there are lots of good books with strong referential material, and even bloggers who showcase consistent, scholarly approaches to their writings. And I am always in completely awe of their ability to write at such a level. I am, even more so, in completely awe of the research abilities that they possess, not to mention the utter completeness of how they approach their topics. And to be honest, its a bit intimidating.

I write a blog – this one. Its mostly my personal thoughts on topics. I do some research – aka reading – on the topics I think about. However, when it comes to my own personal experiences, particularly within my Spirituality, there’s only one reference that works for describing all of that: me. I work for a college, I chair an Institutional Review Board. I see a lot of scholarly work come through that process. Occasionally, I get to see the end results, along with all the referential aspects associated with it. A lot of the time, the material that was utilized as data points to be analyzed within those studies comes directly from me, after proper sanitization of the data points. I do not write on the academic levels that I have seen there. I definitely do not write on the academic level of many of the Pagan authors and bloggers I have read. I admire the ability of people to approach and establish themselves in this reported manner. Yeah, I am a bit intimidated, and a bit jealous as well.

However, I am reminded of a conversation I had quite a few years ago with John Beckett. We were discussing how he managed to write so profusely for his blog, Under the Ancient Oaks. He noted that writing, much like anything else, comes about from continually doing it. He publishes his blog posts on – as he noted – a self-prescribed scheduled pace. Not only was he working on that schedule, but he also set aside writing to edit at a later time. Adding to that, he noted that he also keeps a personal journal that he writes in daily. Shortly after our conversation, I started a personal journal as well, following the well-known magickal precept: steal from the best.

Has my writing gotten any better? I would like to hope so. However, I really cannot tell. See, I am the one writing it. And when you deal with it every single day, any progress that gets made is never really seen. The progress is most likely incremental. A little at a time over a lengthy period. Small progress is almost indistinguishable. However, for someone that does not see – or in this case, read – what I am writing on a daily basis, I am confident that they will see the progress quite clearly. In fact, to be able to find a measure of progress, I went back and looked at some of my earlier writings in this blog. Ok, through that lense, I can definitely see a difference.

I am still in awe of the referential wizards that are out there in the community. I would hope that I could eventually write at that kind of level. Perhaps; however, that is not where I am intended to go. I write this blog, not in the hopes of being a Pagan academician, but to show others that there are Pagans out there that are just like them. People with some of the same hopes; some the same frailties; some of the same concerns. And to show the world at large, that Pagans are no different than they are. My blog is not necessarily a how-to guide for anything. My writing comes more from a perspective of how-I-do things. Perhaps, I need to look at the possibility of providing a better frame of reference of where I started with concepts.

–T /|\

My Odd Thoughts on Journals – Hand-written v. Keyboard

So, I write poetry. Back in the day, I wrote a LOT of poetry. Being in the military at that time, with a girlfriend back in Shreveport, Louisiana, I sent all of those poems to her. She would cut them out of the letters, and put them in an album. When we broke up, I never saw that album again. But then, I discovered BBSs, and wrote a lot of my poetry while logged in. I was rather prolific there as well. When Renaissance BBS closed down, I was provided with a printout of all the poems I had written there. Two moves – one to Germany, the other back to the States – provided a loss of those poems as well. Thinking back, I believe it may be somewhere close to 400 poems or more that I have lost over that time frame – probably to never be seen again.

These days, I tend to write poetry here on WordPress, and will sometimes back it up on EverNote. But the reality of that has been slim to non-existent, which is a bad habit I have fallen into. A few years back, I submitted one of my poems – Lone Wolf: Innocence in Snow – to a writing contest here at the college. I won first place in the poetry contest, and also received an award for best writing work for the entire writing showcase. I realized at that point, that I needed to start backing up my work, particularly since I wrote mostly in a digital environment.

As I noted, my backup efforts have been sporadic, at best. So, when I finished my Bardic Grade with the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, I realized that I needed a better manner to protect my writings – particularly my poetry. So, I bought three blank, lined journals – dedicated one to my own personal thoughts, the second to my upcoming Ovate Grade Gwers work, and the third to my poetry. Now, my efforts are towards writing out my poetry by hand into my journal. And in doing this, I discovered something rather strange.

As I started reading through my entries here on WordPress, I realized that I had written poetry that I couldn’t recall. There were a few that I remembered, but as I looked through those, I realized that these were poems I had hand-written back in the late 1990s. The other poems were ones that I had written in the last few years, via the computer. As I sat and pondered over this, it dawned on me that many of the appointments and event schedules that I write in Google calendar are easily forgotten a few days later. Furthermore, I found myself using Google calendar for a few days, and then no longer using it like I had previously. However, if I wrote things down – even as a scribbled note on the back of an envelope – I could easily recall what I had written three, four, and even eight months later.

Maybe its just a learning concept for me. If I write it, I remember it. I remember every single note I took at Pantheacon, earlier this year. I hand wrote all of those notes. A meeting with another department, I couldn’t recall a single note I took. That meeting was less than two weeks ago. I wrote those notes using a blue-tooth keyboard connected to my iPad.

There is a history of Alzheimer’s disease among the male members of my family on my father’s side. My grandfather, before he died, couldn’t even recall who his grandchildren were. My father had trouble with his short-term memory before he passed away a little more than two years ago. Perhaps, its just my genetic makeup?? If so, why should I be able to recall what I wrote at Pantheacon a few months ago with a slightly fuzzy clarity?? And why can I not recall poems I wrote a little over two years ago on a keyboard, and have vivid recollection of poems I wrote back in the early 2000s, and even back in the mid 1980s?? Its certainly a concept to study a bit deeper.

As an experiment of sorts, I have started moving all my writing – save for the blog – to pen and paper. I am also moving my calendar from Google to a daily planner. And I will be taking careful notes about how well I recall things using these methods for the next year-plus. Who knows? Perhaps my clarity of recall has something to do with rote memory of what I write physically with my hand because of the motion. Maybe its something to do with how I learned as a child. Maybe its none of that. Or even all of that. But this is the kind of stuff that puzzles me. And the kind of stuff I enjoy researching.

Connectivity, indeed…..

–T /|\

Rewrite, Revise, Expand

I have never considered myself an excellent writer. For the most part, writing has been a way of putting my thoughts down into some format. I first started writing with more effort and conscious thought when I was over on Livejournal. I never really garnered a large group of folks following my posts there. However, I did start to realize that sometimes I have thoughts which, when expressed openly, could help others formulate their own opinions on the topic. Sometimes, those folks would come to a different conclusion than my own. For me, that was actually an awesome thing, since I have never really desired to have clones of myself. Besides, the thought of more than one “Tommy” running around scares the Nine Hells out of me. I think the world could only handle one chaotic concoction known as me at any one given time. Ok, enough with the self-deprecation.

A few months back, an Institutional Research colleague of mine from a college in Utah asked me how I manage to keep my sanity as a Pagan in a college system that seems to be so overtly Southern-Baptist Christian. As a point of reference, she is a Pagan Witch in a similar University system in Utah. I pointed her to the blog, and noted that I write to bring my focus back to where it needs to be. “Besides,” I remarked at the time, “those that project their faith overtly tend to be respectful of others, for the most part. For me, it is just a part of living in a country where Christians are the majority.” What followed was a long, drawn-out conversation in Email about the way that majority belief systems can be overly oppressive. But this is merely a side point, to provide the initial reference for the rest of this post. So don’t get too hung up here.

Last week, my colleague wrote me back, and noted that much of the blog was “interesting, and quite topical.” She noted that a lot of what I wrote was engaging for her, with the sole exception of my style of writing. “Its great stuff, but you need to go back and edit a lot of grammar, typos, and other little mistakes.” ::dead-pan face:: Oh, that hurts. A direct punch to the gut. And deservedly so.

I’ve been back through some of the much older writings, and as I read some of them, I cringe. Some of the writing makes it very difficult to read, and drives the reader – even myself, the idiot that wrote it – away from the overall point. I have mentioned that I need to do a better job of checking my writing before posting. Not just for grammar errors, but for readability. She is correct, though. I do need to go back to the older writings and rework them – for grammar, for typos, but most critically, for readability. But that’s not necessarily all.

As I read through those older posts, I am starting to realize that I could expand greatly on a lot of what I have said. And, some of what I have said no longer really applies, as my perspective has changed. So there is all of that too. So, perhaps, it is time to take a whole lot of steps backwards, and do some exploring of the past. But then, I started to wonder what I should do with the older posts? Keeping these around while updating things in the nwer posts, might make things confusing. So as I make changes, and update the posts – I’ll be deleting the older ones. I will note on the newer posts that there was an older version that the post came from, but that older post will disappear in favor of the newer updated one Except for minor changes made to some posts. If I do not expand on the material, and merely make changes because of grammar, spelling, and what not – I will make a note at the beginning of the post that it had been edited, and leave the original. In essence, its time to do some cleanup on what has been written.

I am not a professional writer. Sure, I have fantasies of being one. The reality of that is extremely slim. But as a blogger, I have a responsibility to do a far better job than I currently am. Not just  to you, the reader, or to me, the writer, but for others who may be seeking clarity about their own Path from what I have written. So, I hope you will indulge me over the next few months while I go through this process with the older posts. I will still post new material as well, but you will see some repeats coming down the row. Hopefully, you will enjoy this process as much as I currently am.



Using Connectivity to Reduce My Stress or How Relationships With Others Help Me to Cope

There are a handful of things that stress me out to the maximum. Most people who have known me for a good bit know exactly what these things are:  over-demanding people, flying, and the so-called “Christmas season”. But knowing what things trigger your sense of being “overwhelmed” or a strong paralysis of fear (real or not) is one thing. Over the years, I have learned a handful of coping skills…mostly meant to distract my mind from such things.

The first is reading. And not just any kind of reading. Reading academic works generally has me staring off into the distance, trying to bring my mind to focus on a section of what I just read. Good ol’ fashioned story telling is where it is at for this. And I have certain writers that I have found to be quite excellent at this. They write stories that just engulf me when I read them. Neal Stephenson, William Gibson, and Neil Gaiman immediately jump to mind. As do Anne McCaffrey, J.K. Rowling, and George R.R. Martin. Though Martin drives me insane with his infinitely long writing times for the Game of Thrones books. I mean come on already man…  ::grin::  But those folks do more than just write stories; they generate a style of mythology that I enjoy. Characters that not only have life breathed into them through the combination of their words, and my own imagination of what I perceive, but these characters face issues that I would normally find in my own life. And what is even better is that these writers sometimes let us readers into the minds of these characters, as they (the characters) parse out what to do.

But this doesn’t really work in say, a crowded mall. Where you have to have some focal attention on what is going on. Well, the second is music. And I have a major ton of it in my iTunes and on my iPhone. Most of my walking is done throughout my small town here in north-central Texas. And I am not really interested in the electronic chiming of the nearby Catholic Church, or the sounds of kids playing or dogs barking at me. Nor am I particularly keen to listen to the sound of the occasional car or truck pass me by. That’s where my ear buds come in handy. I slap these in, and while it doesn’t completely drown out the sounds – and I really wouldn’t want that to happen because I still need some sense of perception of what is going on around me to remain safe – it does provide a handy soundtrack to the walk. Currently, I am typing this while listen to Al Di Meola. His guitar playing always stimulates my mind with the way he utilizes his instrument to convey feeling, and occasionally tell a story. Very few musicians have that quality.

The last one is to find a place far away from people, and just sit. I don’t need a book. I don’t need music. The sounds of the wind blowing through the bare tree limbs, and the nearby birds singing their serenade to the colder moments of Texas life are enough. Sometimes, I do this standing in my kitchen, holding a cup of coffee while I look out the window and watch the doves, sparrows and other birds devour the bird seed I scattered out by the pool. When I feel relaxed enough, I ground and center, and do some light meditation. I go back to my Inner Grove, back to a wonderful little cottage that I was shown not so long ago by a wonderful Priest and teacher. Her guided meditations helped me create this place in myself.

I can always come here and have a cup of hot tea or cocoa, and relax. My Dream Crows are always here, waiting. I tell them parts of the stories I have read, or I just talk. They don’t always listen. Sometimes they are loud, boisterous, and demanding. But they are always here, and always pleasant company. Sometimes, I get visited by Crow, Coyote or even Fliodhas. And it makes for a quiet conversation.

Certainly, being stressed out is one of the most difficult things for me to deal with. And there is far more than these three techniques. But these are my go-to ways, the first that I try. And if you noticed, all of them deal with creativity to one degree or another. To say that I am  patron of the arts and artists is an understatement. The mount of music, and recorded talks I have from various folks is vast. I have three huge bookshelves stocked with reading material from people I admire, and people that I know. On my walls, I have paintings and other creations from people I have met and gotten to know over the years. Each and every one is a fixed memory of this person or that one. Some still living, some who have passed beyond the veil, but all of whom have touched my life in one way or another.

See, the true nature of my coping skills towards stressors in my life comes from examining the connections that I have to the world. And that means marvelling at the wonderful connections that I have with other people. Sure, there are shitty people in the world. Sure, some of them I find in the aisles of Wal-Mart or in the malls around the United States. But there are beautiful, wonderful people in the world as well. Some of them are wonderful educators, others wonderful story-tellers, talented artists, writers, etc. They all have something in common: in one way or another, there is a connection that I have with them, and that connection is a wonderful, beautiful thing to behold. But its also an amazing way for me to remember that they are still there. We may not talk as much as I wish we could, or in some cases, we have never met. However, there is still that joyful connection, always there to drive back my stress levels – reminding me that each day is easily filled with them. Listening to their lectures, their music, their poetry, reading their works, experiencing the wonderful mythologies that they created, and in some cases, reading their emails detailing how their daily life is continuing – in both good and bad ways. Its that shared thread that reminds me that life is experienced in every moment. Good, bad, indifferent. And each experience is unique.

So I raise up my coffee cup to you, the individual reading this. Find what helps you get through the moments where you need to stop, ground and center, and bring yourself back to balance. Use that to help you back to focus. So that you are doing what you should be doing; what you are meant to do. Remember those experiences, examine each one to see where the connection is. Cherish that. Nurture it. Grow it. Cultivate more connections. That’s how we get through our individual storms. Together, even when we are not in physical proximity to one another.

Slainte! To your health! Now, I need another cup of coffee. ::grin::

–T /|\

As I Write, I Grow

I am not a writer; though I would say that my writing has gotten better the more I have done it. At least I would like to think so. What I am finding out, is that writing is a lot like working rituals, playing guitar, or nearly anything else that one might choose to do so. The more you do it, the better you are at it. And the more you work with it, such as editing after a period of writing, the better you can make it sound to the human ear or read to the human eye.

Oddly enough, this month – November – is the National Novel Writing Month (or something like that). I have changed its acronym for me to NaWriMo – for National Writing Month. I am participating, but am not really writing a book. My word count will be a culmination of my blog posts (which I have a schedule for these), my writings for my Bardic Gwers studies during the month, and some preliminary work I am doing towards a potential published work (though that’s not a completely set thing at the moment). But the point is that I am writing – and doing so with determination and dedication. And that, in my mind, is important.

I have always looked and listened in awe of people who play the guitar. The way their fingers fret the chords, the manner in which they pick the strings to get that “right” note. I listen intently to the way they make their instrument “sing” and feel the emotion they put into their playing. I also feel pangs of jealousy, as I wish I could do the same. And I’ve always been under the impression that you found a good guitarist by just placing the instrument in their hands. The guitar would then magickally start playing wonderfully. The stark reality is a lot different than I realized.

It takes a lot of hard work, a lot of practice, and a lot of determination to play an instrument. Yes, there’s talent involved in all of that, but an individual can learn to play the guitar nicely without that level of talent that turns you into, say, a Stevie Ray Vaughn, or a Jimi Hendrix or Randy Rhoads. The key, I have been told by many guitar playing friends, is drive and determination. Not just to learn the instrument, but to learn to play within the rhythm structure of a song. The talent aspect is what allows players to improvise off of what they have learned – adding to the sound. Or creating their own sound from thin air. But before all of that happens, there’s the basics.

I am finding that writing follows the same pattern. To learn to write, you have to – well – write. And a lot of what you write in the beginning will look like pure shit later on in life. I still have papers I wrote back in 2000 and 2001 during my Bachelor’s degree. And I was not good. I managed to get information into my paper, I learned to cite passages from other writers and sources correctly, but rarely did I postulate or theorize. My writing style, if I may say so, was dull and uninspiring. But then, most technical writing tends to have that characterization.

Even if you go back in this blog, and read the stuff I was writing previously, you will find a plodding style of writing. And you will find a lot of errors in what I have written. Proofing blog posts is still a tough thing for me to do. But I have been learning over time. My writing may only be a bit better than it was before; however, it IS getting better. Why?  Because I spend more time doing it. Granted, my sentence structure could probably use a lot of help, and I will never achieve a writing status of any major (or even minor) author. It is really the process of writing every day that helps me.

See, doing something every day develops one’s style – which I will theorize changes over time. The more you do something, the more comfortable you get doing it. Then aspects of it become second-nature. Your mind learns to write with a rhythm to the keyboard. Just like your mind learns to toe-tap to “Anytime” by Journey when it plays on the radio.

The same can be said for doing ritual work, magick work, or any other aspect of your spiritual life. You want to get better at leading rituals? Do them. Do them badly. Learn from what did not work. Learn from what did. Adapt as necessary. You want to get better at magick? Do it. Do it badly. Learn from what didn’t work. Learn from what did. Adjust as needed. Want to learn guitar? Do what I am doing. Play badly. Play badly, OFTEN. Learn from it. Adapt as needed. But above all of that, have the drive and desire to get better.

So, why do I write the blog? To get my thoughts down in some form. I do go back and read the earlier blog posts here. And I do adjust my thinking on things from time to time. And I do post about those adjustments. But mostly, I hope that someone will get something out of what I am writing. I’m a solo Pagan. I’m a Druid. As reluctant as I am to say it, I’m a Priest. All of that means something to me. Deeply. If what I write resonates within someone else, and provides a potential pathway for them to grow in their own Spirituality; then as far as I am concerned, the blog has served its purpose. Even if it is only one person.

To achieve that singular goal, I write. And as I write more, I become more articulate in how I express my thoughts in the written format. In other words, I grow. For me, the writing process documents where I have been, where I am, and where I hope to go. In a manner of speaking, writing in the blog writes a part of the history of me. But it is only a part of that history. My personal journals document other aspects of my life as well. Taken together, I am slowly creating a History book about me.


Arguments, Debates, Definitions, Labels

Over the last month-plus, I have watched a few of the online debates over what this means, what constitutes that, how do the following aspects of Paganism work or don’t work. Or to put it in a more appropriate context, the (seemingly) endless debate/battle/war of words/terms/labels within the over-arching Pagan blogosphere.

Now, I am not a fan of debate, argument or in-fighting, particularly where points are rehashed over and over in an endless cycle of descriptives. Or when an individual’s points are picked apart over small perspectives. or even worse, when personal insults begin to take over the field of battle. For me, as a singular individual, none of this is helpful or informative. In fact, its the fastest way to turn me off to even contemplating your point whatsoever.

Granted, there will be folks who will follow onto my statement with a loud: “Who really gives a fsck about you being turned off?” Fair point. Except, I would point out, that when something is posted online, you are making your point to a much wider audience than you might understand or perceive. And if you are trying to make a particular relevant notation to a particular point being made – you would certainly hope to have clarification for a wider audience. Claiming to be offended by a particular adjective or label that is ensconced onto a group that you self-identify with is perfectly fine and understandable. But merely griping that the term was utilized, without provide the context as to why, can be confusing to the casual reader that comes across your statement. Especially those individuals that do not self-identify with your particular group, and cannot understand why the terminology is insulting.

Yes, it really is about context. And in an online debate, where textual context is all your are provided…it is certainly best to be clear. And before anyone states anything – I am far more guilty of that particular aspect than some may suspect. I am an amateur writer. HUGE emphasis on the amateur part. I tend to write off the cuff – though I am trying to do a far better job and editing and proofing what I write than I did in the past – and there were many times I would jump from topic to topic without any connector. There was a connector in my mind when I was writing, I just didn’t articulate that connector well enough in my writing – or sometimes not at all. I would think faster than I could type, and leave critical words out of sentences, which would change the context of what I was trying to say. I needed to really pause, re-read what I wrote, and make sure of what I was saying before I hit “send”, “reply” or “post”. In other words, I needed to take the time to THINK about what I was writing and how well it did (or didn’t) come across in the context of a conversation.

Perhaps, that’s what is wrong with online debates. Its very tempting to type and hit “send” without taking a few moments to look through what was written, the context (there’s that fscking word again) of what is attempting to be conveyed, and whether there is a personal slur or insult veiled within it. Come on, I’m just as guilty as the next person of muttering “what a dickhead” at the screen when reading posts and comments on the internet. But typing it in the open? Ok, I’ve done that a few times too. And regretted it almost as soon as I had hit the “send” button. But its easy to hurl insults around on the internet. After all, as a Cincinnati Reds fan, its highly unlikely I will run across that St. Louis Cardinals’ fan that I just hurled a textual epithet at. After all, maybe his mother really is like that.

I’ve also seen requests for “calm” and “respect” in these same online conversations. Where people reading the back-and-forth grow weary of a handful of folks being insulting to one another. And with the anonymity that the internet provides us, its highly unlikely that any call for such peace may ever be heeded. And while I think its doubtful that any advice would ever be heeded by those who seemingly find offense with anything that another person posts…take a step back, and breathe. Try to remember how you would have responded to the same statement in a coffee shop, with your invisible internet opponent sitting directly across from you. You might use some sharp retort, possibly even raising your voice a little. But would you really stand up, push your chair back, and bellow at the top of your lungs about the foul that the statement raised?

The internet has certainly opened up a lot of contact with other people. We are able to communicate our ideas through text, photo, video, and even audio with others. But it seems that the instantaneous and wide-open aspect of communications doesn’t extend to the other side of the communications equation: reading, hearing, understanding, analyzing, preparing a response – rather, we allow our emotions to take control, and find offense where offense may not even reside. In the essays we write online, most writers tend to take the time to define their terminology, in order to establish similar footing with their audience. And for me, I appreciate this, particularly when its a topic I am not that familiar with. And in many cases, where offense has been taken, that statement of definition is implied by the writer. But before the reader/receiver can leap to a position of offense…perhaps a more sanguine approach would be to inquire as to what was meant by the usage of these terms, rather than to assume.

Just sayin’….