Oct 5, 2006

On Cynicism and the Process of Writing

Dark skies to match my cynicism I was speaking recently with someone much more learned and wise than I, and I confided that I have doubts that I will live to see a day when the current money-dominated political system will be reformed.

"That cynicism of which you speak - that is an admission of defeat," he chided me. "Those who control the political system want you to think that way, because then you'll give up."

My mentor nailed it, as usual. He's one of those quiet people who will surprise you by uttering something brilliant at a time when you were convinced he was tuning out.

My cynicism gets in the way of my writing, because I begin to think that the words I scribble for a blog, newspaper, or journal are pointless. "Why write?" I begin to ask myself. "Almost no one reads this material, and few people really seem to care anymore. Most people just want to be entertained in front of the television, and they do what the political marketers tell them."

Wadded up piece of paperI know, of course, that this negativism leads me to write even less for the general public, and causes me to retreat to the quiet world of academic research, where I can try to make sense of the past and not have to worry about the modern world.

It's much safer to write for a narrow group of academicians than it is to write for the general public, because average readers are not shy about pointing out bullshit when they see it.

You are forced to be relevant - or you are doomed to obscurity - when writing for a general audience, because most people read for a purpose, be it inspiration, edification, or commiseration. Failure to meet those expectations means that a writer will soon be writing to an audience of one.

And that one person is not his mom.

Thus, I vow to shake the cynicism that has infected my outlook and thought processes, and get back to the business of solving the world's problems, or at the very least that of weighing in with my opinions.


fergie said...

Hope you can shake the blues, Mike.

McCaskey said...

Keep writing.
I check your blog every day.

Sergej said...

we read you, we need you

well, a bit exaggerated, I know...
oh damn, it was just to fight your blues... ;-)

Lisa Renee said...

Just like the seasons I think we go thru periods where we feel very inspired and then times when we are at the opposite end.


Anonymous said...

"Almost no one reads this material, and few people really seem to care anymore"

I read and I care.

This is one of the blogs that I check everyday and it is very much appreciated. Thank you for sharing with us.

McCaskey said...

HM: you have a regular core of readers because you write with sensitivity and balance. Your nature essays and photography are also a calming influence in this helter-skelter life most of us deal with daily. Your politcally oriented pieces are well thought-out and informative.

Some contructive critisism: I personally could do without the quote postings and the Rapid Rhetoric. I feel you might be better served going longer between essays and opinion pieces and leaving out the filler material, but others may indeed enjoy them and not consider them "filler."

I also believe when I began checking this site out roughly a year ago you were better at responding to comments left by your readers. Lately it seems you post something, a number of people respond with comments, and there's no followup from you on those comments. It's my belief that people are interested in what your opinion is of THEIR opinions.

Just trying to be helpful.

microdot said...

Mike, you echo my feelings these days. I try to be the eternal optimist and believe that action can make things happen. People working together to be heard can become a big voice.
I really enjoy your blog, that's why I come back again and again and try to add my 37 cents worth of sometimes senseless raving.
The wall of incredible lies we are confronted by each day by the Republican Noise Machine is really daunting! Condi is so far from realiity that she cannot even begin to assess what is going on in the middle east. The constant stream of bizarre filth streaming from the right wing media defies rational comprehension!
I believe firmly in the Chinese concept of Tao these days and I think that good and evil are like a pendulum and the course America is now on is the arc in the direction of evil. When it reaches it's end, it has to come back and it's our job to help it with our energy to achieve enough momentum to go farther faster in the direction of good!
Cheer up, you can always count on the rebellious youth of America. Today I read in the NY Times that the Evangelicals are worried that the youth are leaving the church in droves!
Keep writing!

Do said...


Your writing is always informative and insightful. Never doubt your talents or your audience.

I have to admit, sometimes I don't follow some of the more academic writings as my brain is so full of other things, but that has no bearing on the validity of the writing or its overall worth.

You have a wonderful way of covering many levels of interest and of encouraging all your readers to think while they read. I know I have learned much from your writings.

Keep up the good work! I'll even offer up some encouragement with another cup of your favorite coffee at the Java Mill. ;)

historymike said...

I was so gladdened to read the kind words of those who weighed in; I composed the post to clarify some things in my head, rather than solicit comments.

Your thoughts help reinforce my desire to continue writing in this type of format.

historymike said...


The quote and Rapid Rhetoric are indeed fillers, or posts to buy me some time until the muse strikes.

I also view them, though, as markers of where my thinking is at a moment. As I look back on them, there is sometimes a correlation between my current writing and a quote that illuminated my thinking.

The Rapid Rhetoric is also a device to help me remember the word that caused me to grab a dictionary, so I have a selfish aspect to posting them. Luckily they are brief, and can be easily skipped.

My goal with both is to also break the monotony and keep fresh material on the site.

At some point I may change the blog name (and snag a .com or .net domain name) to something more journalistic, something more "real" or authoritative that won't be dismissed as a vanity blog.

The first example that comes to mind is Juan Cole's Informed Comment, which is generally viewed as an authoritative (albeit opinionated) source of information on the Middle East.

historymike said...


Yes, there is an ebb and flow to history. I try not to get sucked in by the rhetoric of either the GOP or the Democrats.

The periodic ousting of the majority party is a healthy process, IMHO.

Unfortunately, in November it appears our choices are limited again to "Republican" and "Not Republican," as the Democrats seem to want to coast into the election on anti-GOP sentiment alone.

historymike said...

Do: Agreed about the academic writing. One reason I am doing less local news these days is that I struggle to keep two worlds juggling in my head.

Agreed also about my (too?) wide range of interests. I would probably get diagnosed as ADD if I ever sought such an opinion. It gets me in trouble in grad school, as most PhDs these days are trained to be narrow experts in a specialization.

I was in a grad seminar recently and the subject of Marburg, Germany came up. Instead of staying focused on the subject matter (the Holocaust) I went into an unrelated tangent about the Marburg virus, which causes a haemorrhagic fever similar to Ebola.

Lots of strange looks from my co-seminarians.

Hooda Thunkit said...

Then, explain that you're boning up to be the next Jeopardy champion Mike.

A suggestion from someone who often suffers from "Da Funk," mix it up even more; write some stories about your youth, try a little political sarcasm to spice things up, and experiment with a little humor.

You didn't seem to be in a funk very often when you were playing games with the NSM goys ;-)

Or, try letting it slide for a week or two. You don't know how refreshing that can be sometimes.

My $ 00.02

Maggie Thurber said...

I think that everyone goes through such stages - 'is what I do worth it?' questions...

I love the quotes and the vocabulary! I look forward to them as I always know I'll learn something new.

Perhaps you should read Kevin Milliken's column in the Toledo Free Press this week - wonderful perspective about getting your "child-like wonder" back.

In the meantime, know that many of us look forward to reading your blog. I actually save yours for last - so I can have the time to read, enjoy and reflect!

Name withheld to protect the guilty said...

Love the Marburg virus tangent story...people who don't go off on tangents may be more efficient (at times--Einstein did his best work while he was still a patent clerk, as I'm sure you already know), but they're awfully boring. :) One of these days, I'm going to have to find some free time to see a lecture.