January 01, 2003
Where To From Here?

Warning: this post wallows in shameless and tedious introspection, with a dollop of malice near the end.

Colby Cosh tells us how much he misses manual typewriters. I donít even miss the electric ones. If word-processors had never been invented, I would never have written anything substantial. I tend to be hopelessly obsessive about revising my work, not to mention a fairly inept typist, and could never finish anything of any size.

Since word processors were invented, Iíve published about four dozen articles on classical literature, mostly short and fairly technical. They average around 3 Ĺ pages as published, include lots of untranslated Latin and Greek, and are mostly on narrowly-defined topics -- strictly for specialists, in other words. Most took years to finish, and Iíve got dozens more in process at any one time, plus several ideas for possible books, none of which is anywhere near finishing. Of course Ďin processí can mean a two-sentence summary of an idea that would take two or twenty or two hundred pages to defend properly.

Anyway, I had been word-processing for quite a few years and was on my third computer (of four so far) when I first noticed that Microsoft Word has a ĎProperties Ė Statisticsí function which calculates a ĎRevision numberí and a ĎTotal editing timeí. This would have been around 1995 or 1996. In my usual desultory way, I had been working on an article on a couple of passages of Seneca off and on for the previous couple of years. I was still shocked when I saw the counts: I had spent just over 1000 minutes (16+ hours) on a 2000-word paper, which is not too bad, but was already up to revision 146. I tend to open a file, change a few words, then close it, open it the next day, and change some of them back. By the time this particular paper was refereed and revised for publication it was up to version 154.

Of course, my main reason for blogging is that I have plenty to say on various topics, and was sick and tired of wasting time polishing up letters to editors that are then ignored or butchered. However, I also started blogging to try to develop fluency and good (every-day) writing habits, with the idea that it might help in finishing some longer scholarly articles, perhaps even a book or two one of these years. It's somehow easier to let go of something if I know I can always go back and change it later, and the fact that Google will preserved copies of the unedited version somehow doesn't seem to damage my self-confidence.

So how am I doing so far, after just over a year of blogging, and just under a year of really prolific blogging?

There have been quite a few accomplishments:

  1. Iíve web-published around 175,000 words -- enough for a good-sized book, if they had all been on one topic.
  2. Iíve attracted plenty of visitors, and many keep coming back. Christmas has affected the counts, but before then I was getting around 1000 unique visitors on weekdays, 700 on weekends, up from 700 and 400 just a couple of months before.
  3. Iíve gotten lots of links from other blogs, enough to put me into the Top 100 on the Blogstreet and (usually) Myelin lists. Iím currently in a three-way tie for 71st place out of 43,202 blogs on Blogstreet, and a two-way tie for 98th place out of 16,132 blogs on Myelin, though I spent much of the last six weeks or so in the 100-110 range.
  4. More important, Iíve made a lot of friends, and met quite a few of them. Iíve also made some enemies, but so far only the kind of enemies any decent person would be proud to have made.
  5. I suppose Iíve amused or instructed a fair number of people, and I hope I've also succeeded in shaming some people who deserve to be shamed.

Perhaps I'm just feeling negative, but these accomplishments (for which I am very grateful) are balanced by various disappointments:

  1. I'm spending huge amounts of time on-line, and my studies are suffering: I haven't even finished Trollope's The Way We Live Now, begun several months ago, and dozens of other books are glaring at me from their shelves, demanding attention.
  2. I have a huge backlog of things I would have liked to blog about, but haven't found time for. Fluency is only relative, and I still have more in mind than I can put on paper or on screen. Not to mention that blogging cuts into time available for other work: my other writing has languished since I started blogging.
  3. I have yet to write anything that I've been totally satisfied with, and quite a few topics really demand to be revisited. I might even be able to sell an article or two to a print journal if I can find the time to polish it up.
  4. My anonymity (previously explained here) is a burden, though it seems unavoidable. If I put my real name on this blog, some of my more computer-literate middle school students would likely find it. Ruminations on clitorises and the etymology of syphilis would probably not go over very well with their parents. If anyone really wants to know my name, they can do a 'whois' on the domain, or just click here. (As long as my real name is not actually printed on this blog, I should be safe from Googling students.) Note that one small reason for anonymity is to avoid confusion with the proprietor of Cold Fury, who has nearly the same name.

The result of all this is general discontent or at least restlessness. I have no intention of shutting down this blog, but I have been considering possible new directions. Possible additions for this blog or a 'spinoff' blog:

  1. More thoughts on education. The Cranky Professor has asked for them (on his blogroll). Of course, it's difficult to be specific about educational problems without at least some risk to my day job: one more reason to stay anonymous.
  2. Classical quotation of the day. Or classical joke of the day, though it's hard to come up with 365 that are even close to funny.
  3. ĎAsk Dr. Weevilí. Iíve always wanted to be a sophist, and it might be fun to offer to answer any question on ancient life and literature, track quotations, correct bad Latin, and so on. I already do a certain amount of that. It would probably be quite time-consuming, and would also likely attract lazy students who want someone to do their homework for them. On the other hand, I could put in a tip jar, and possibly even attract significant tips.
  4. A more organized exploration of the interesting byways of the ancient world: Pliny's letters on the eruption of Vesuvius and the treatment of Christians (in one word: torture), evidence for the use of hard liquor in the ancient world, and so on. In other words, longer essays on classical topics of interest to the non-classicist.
  5. A separate literary criticism blog might be fun, like The Brothers Judd but more thematic. I've toyed with the idea of offering a weekly reading assignment, followed by specific questions in the form of posts. Discussion would then take place in the comments themselves. Possible topics would be Saki short stories like this one or the works of Caesar (in English).
  6. One particular topic gives me a guilty feeling of omission. Way back on May 12th I proposed a Chomsky blog, devoted to keeping an eye on the evil old bastard. I've been too busy to start such an Index Chomskianus, and it would take a great deal of work, as well as attracting a lot of annoyingly nasty and often (like their master) long-winded Gnoams. Perhaps it could be a joint effort.

    For one small example of what I mean, my original post has attracted two relatively recent comments from someone in Australia named Adrian Vogt. On November 20th he wrote:

    "A man who arouses so much stupid hatred and venom among you yanks must be worth his salt. My next book purchase will be a volume of Chomsky. Tell me which one you would prefer to see burned."

    How does he know our hatred and venom are stupid if he hasn't read any of the books we hate so venomously? It certainly looks as if it's our being "yanks" that makes us so stupid and hateful. On December 16th Vogt was back with a second comment:

    "Nobody wanted to advise me on the Chomsky book that s/he wanted to see burned first.Perhaps none of those guys who seem to be foaming at the mouth at the mere mentioning of his name ever read a book by him.I wouldn't be surprised.Dr.Johnson once said:'Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel'. I would like to add to that : 'and of an illiterate'."

    Of course, Mr. Vogt would look more literate himself if he put spaces between his sentences. He shares the common fantasy that Chomsky's books are so convincing that no one could read them without being utterly convinced, and therefore his enemies must not have read them. And he's apparently too stupid to know that when you comment on a six-month-old post you're lucky if even the site-owner notices: I doubt that anyone else has seen his comments until now. Feel free to advise him on his quest.

As always, only more so, suggestions are welcome.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at January 01, 2003 01:20 AM

It's no accident that advice columns are the most widely read part of the newspaper after the funnies. "Ask Dr. Weevil" would be popular with me at least. In fact I already sent you a question, which may have got lost in your great mail purge of 2002. My girlfriend is keen, for some reason, to sew a motto, in Latin, on some throw pillows. So what we want to know is, what's the Latin for, "This house has no motto"?

I would gladly tip for answers to this and other such questions.

Posted by: Aaron Haspel on January 1, 2003 03:24 AM

More Classics, less flinging shit at forgettable nitwits. I may be in the minority thinking the former is more compelling, but you'd flesh out your niche a lot more. The Internet is shrill enough already.

Posted by: Evan McElravy on January 1, 2003 10:47 AM

I agree with Evan. 4 is my choice. I was stupid enough to bypass my opportunities to study the classic languages when I was younger. Is there an Easy Latin online?

Posted by: Janis Gore on January 1, 2003 02:44 PM

I would agree that an "Ask Dr Weevil" feature would do well -- and that the exposure of trolls could profitably be played down.

By the way, if you wish to pay back that unpleasant Antipodean, why don't you recommend Said's Orientalism? Some books are their own reward. . . .

Posted by: Cronaca on January 1, 2003 03:20 PM

I would like to add my opinion to those who came before in saying I'd love to see more from your fields of expertise. ďAsk Dr. WeevilĒ is a wonderful idea, and you would only have to address those questions that interest you and pass the lazy-student smell test. Personally, Iíd be interested in knowing the origins of various mottos used by States and other institutions. The Classical world is fascinating to many non-scholars, and Iíve found your musings and instruction entertaining, informative and quotable. Itís always fun when you slap down someone that requires a beating, so feel free to respond when provoked, though. All in all, I look forward to passing the year in your company.

Posted by: Rob Ritchie on January 1, 2003 05:25 PM

I like both "Ask Dr. Weevil" and the classical essays. Your blogroll is a testament to the ability and willingness of bloggers to take on simpletons, but erudite and thoughtful explorations of the classical world are somewhat thinner on the ground. More importantly, though, do what you most enjoy; if writing brings you pleasure, it will show through no matter what the topic.

Happy new year!

Posted by: Jakub Rehor on January 1, 2003 06:42 PM

Interesting ideas.

Maybe you could call the Noam blog the 'Chomskynomicon'

Posted by: MonkeyPants on January 1, 2003 10:42 PM

Change nothing, we love you as you are Weeve.

Posted by: Robin Roberts on January 1, 2003 11:43 PM

I'm with you on the advantages of the word processor.

I learned typing my Sophomore year in high school, 1973, years before personal computers. My only goal was to be able to type my own papers in college.

One thing about the Royal 440 manual; it was built like a tank, and if somebody really got critical of your work you could always throw it at him.

Posted by: Charles Compton on January 2, 2003 07:58 AM

My favorite freshman Latin pun was always "Semper Ubi, Sub Ubi". No one else thinks this is funny.

Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech on January 2, 2003 12:43 PM

Maybe there is has been no response to Mr. Vogt's request because, though we loathe his ideas, we have no real desire to see Noam's books burned.

As to preferences for teh future direction of your fine, erudite blog, well, I did ask you about the best antonym earlier today, so I guess that means I'd go for door number 3.

Posted by: charles austin on January 2, 2003 09:27 PM

Sorry I haven't answered the questions in the first and third comments: feel free to bug me if I don't do so on Sunday when I get back to town.

Posted by: Dr. Weevil on January 3, 2003 12:25 AM

You have quite a dilemma: You already spend too much timer blogging yet you want to blog on even more things. My advice:

Give in to blogging. It can take huge amounts of time but if you enjoy it what more can you ask?

Give up fisking and otherwise noticing Leftist idiots. They are not worth your time.


Posted by: John Ray on January 4, 2003 06:45 AM

It's perhaps a tangenital point, but I'm a bit tired of leftists responding to any expression of patriotism by Dr. Johnson's line, "Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels."

By "patriotism" he means a specific contemporary English political tendency. It bespeaks massive ignorance of Dr. Johnson to think that he would have regarded expressions of feels for England as only approprirate for scoundrels.

Posted by: Alex Bensky on January 5, 2003 12:35 AM

A common retort by Leftist is the "but have you read [x]?" (in this case, Chomsky) to which I have several replies, depending on mood-- "I don't have to call a psychic hotline to know they are all a fraud", "I haven't read 'Mein Kampf' in the orginal Arabic either" and "I don't have to taste shit to figure out I shouldn't eat it it." are some.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega on January 7, 2003 10:58 PM