Friday, February 10, 2006

In 1869 Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) published something that might be slapped onto the face of blogging. It is a passage from "Innocents Abroad" describing the sea voyage to Europe on the good ship Quaker City:

After prayers the Synagogue shortly took the semblance of a writing school. The like of that picture was never seen in a ship before. Behind the long dining tables on either side of the saloon, and scattered from one end to the other of the latter, some twenty or thirty gentlemen and ladies sat them down under the swaying lamps and for two or three hours wrote diligently in their journals. Alas! that journals so voluminously begun should come to so lame and impotent a conclusion as most of them did! I doubt if there is a single pilgrim of all that host but can show a hundred fair pages of journal concerning the first twenty days' voyaging in the Quaker City, and I am morally certain that not ten of the party can show twenty pages of journal for the succeeding twenty thousand miles of voyaging! At certain periods it becomes the dearest ambition of a man to keep a faithful record of his performances in a book; and he dashes at this work with an enthusiasm that imposes on him the notion that keeping a journal is the veriest pastime in the world, and the pleasantest. But if he only lives twenty-one days, he will find out that only those rare natures that are made up of pluck, endurance, devotion to duty for duty's sake, and invincible determination may hope to venture upon so tremendous an enterprise as the keeping of a journal and not sustain a shameful defeat.

One of our favorite youths, Jack, a splendid young fellow with a head full of good sense, and a pair of legs that were a wonder to look upon in the way of length and straightness and slimness, used to report progress every morning in the most glowing and spirited way, and say:

"Oh, I'm coming along bully!" (he was a little given to slang in his happier moods.) "I wrote ten pages in my journal last night--and you know I wrote nine the night before and twelve the night before that. Why, it's only fun!"

"What do you find to put in it, Jack?"

"Oh, everything. Latitude and longitude, noon every day; and how many miles we made last twenty-four hours; and all the domino games I beat and horse billiards; and whales and sharks and porpoises; and the text of the sermon Sundays (because that'll tell at home, you know); and the ships we saluted and what nation they were; and which way the wind was, and whether there was a heavy sea, and what sail we carried, though we don't ever carry any, principally, going against a head wind always--wonder what is the reason of that?--and how many lies Moult has told--Oh, every thing! I've got everything down. My father told me to keep that journal. Father wouldn't take a thousand dollars for it when I get it done."

"No, Jack; it will be worth more than a thousand dollars--when you get it done."

"Do you?--no, but do you think it will, though?

"Yes, it will be worth at least as much as a thousand dollars--when you get it done. May be more."

"Well, I about half think so, myself. It ain't no slouch of a journal."

But it shortly became a most lamentable "slouch of a journal." One night in Paris, after a hard day's toil in sightseeing, I said:

"Now I'll go and stroll around the cafes awhile, Jack, and give you a chance to write up your journal, old fellow."

His countenance lost its fire. He said:

"Well, no, you needn't mind. I think I won't run that journal anymore. It is awful tedious. Do you know--I reckon I'm as much as four thousand pages behind hand. I haven't got any France in it at all. First I thought I'd leave France out and start fresh. But that wouldn't do, would it? The governor would say, 'Hello, here--didn't see anything in France?' That cat wouldn't fight, you know. First I thought I'd copy France out of the guide-book, like old Badger in the for'rard cabin, who's writing a book, but there's more than three hundred pages of it. Oh, I don't think a journal's any use--do you? They're only a bother, ain't they?"

"Yes, a journal that is incomplete isn't of much use, but a journal properly kept is worth a thousand dollars--when you've got it done."

"A thousand!--well, I should think so. I wouldn't finish it for a million."

His experience was only the experience of the majority of that industrious night school in the cabin. If you wish to inflict a heartless and malignant punishment upon a young person, pledge him to keep a journal a year.


No, I'm not sick of blogging, even though I've only posted sporadically of late. Work, family and my voluntary Tucholsky translation project have thrown me out of the storywriting equlibrium. I have hopes that the next week will be better. Thank you all for bearing with me. I really do hate to disappoint someone coming here expecting a story and finding none.


The Mushroom said...

I was lamenting the other day to a friend and fellow blog-responder about how my own blog has received little readership, which is easily attributed to it being new, not widely advertised, and e pluribus unum. She said that to get readership one must play "the game", one must visit the other blogs like a bee to the flowers, and there will be reciprocity. I replied that I had no desire to go flitting from blog to blog like that, because I don't give a flying fück through a rolling donut what most bloggers have to say. Not being too self-important, I leaned back and smiled, realizing that the rest of the world feels similarly, my scrawlings aren't of greater interest than the average. I'm a unique and special individual just like everyone else, as the T-shirt says.

Clemens was onto something with his dollar-value evaluation. I have a book on my shelf which I treasure, a diary my grandmother kept as a teenager with the front embossed "1919". (She died in 1985 and this was one of the few things I inherited.) My grandmother lived on a farm in Oregon, and her family raised hay and some livestock. Parts of this diary are interesting, like the occasional receipt and newspaper clipping and anecdote, but a majority of the writing reads like, "Papa went to town, bought a hogshead of flour. We threshed alfalfa until sundown." There isn't a lot of personality involved, nothing about what she FELT. And the entries are frequent near the beginning but taper off after four months, because not having much to say was becoming evident. That's where the pasting in of recipes from newspapers starts taking place. There are even some pages where there were entries made then recipes pasted over them, despite there being plenty of empty space on other pages. The second half of the book is mostly blank. As you can tell, what could have turned out to be another Little House On The Prairie was one-sixth a log of comings and goings, one-sixth a scrapbook, and two-thirds nothing at all. It's one of those books you buy because it's old, put on your shelf to show off as an antique, but don't actually open because there's not much point. A majority of blogs I've seen could be described in similar ratios, and also lack a reason to be opened, but unlike the 1919 diary they lack the ability to ever become an antique when they get old... and get old a lot faster. No dust to blow off or to turn to.

This is perhaps the best entry I've seen on your page, even without a photo. Thank you for the Mark Twain story, I enjoyed it. [Validation word: "qfukh" -- I couldn't have imagined better.]

Indeterminacy said...

What's this you're saying? Mark Twain is a better writer than I am? Damn. I was hoping no one would notice.

If you want to get your blog out there, why not sign up for the up and coming Blogmad. I'm in as one of their beta testers (though I unfortunately haven't done much testing yet). I think it's going to shake the blog world when it goes live in a few weeks.

P.S. Yours is a perfect response to what Mark Twain wrote.

Indeterminacy said...

Mushroom: I keep rereading what you wrote. There is a note of sadness to it. I'm sorry your grandmother didn't write more. The more common case is that the relative in question left nothing at all.

Young at Heart in San Diego said...

Thanks for this post - so right on! I haven't blogged for a month for precisely this reason, and wouldn't even be writing now if Virgin hadn't tagged me...sometimes there's just nothin' worth saying. Thanks for your poetry and stories...I do read them religiously even if I don't always comment.

Anonymous said...

Fun passage.
My grandfather was a prolific, but boring diarist. Every now and then, though, he had his moments. Here's one, as I remember it (I gave this journal to my half sister).

ca. 1890, winter
Went skating with Lidie [my grandmother] on the canal last night. She promised to love me and always be true. Got permission to take Honors Germant today.

Indeterminacy said...

Young at Heart: I noticed you'd not been posting. I'm glad you're back (at least for the meme). It makes me happy to know you care to stop by here.

Mrs. Weirsdo: My muse and I are reading "Innocents Abroad" together. We're almost through it now - it's a thoroughly fun book. Great diary entry your grandfather made.

I found a diary of sorts at a German flea market once. It was a collection of letters bound in a folder of a man and woman, starting around 1938 who met, started dating, married, etc. The man was drafted into the army and sent to Poland, and what was apparently the entire correspondence was documented. I can read his handwriting fine, but the woman wrote using a special type of German cursive that isn't used anymore.

The Mushroom said...

Mrs. Weirsdo: Thanks for sharing that entry. That "promised to love me and be true" is so sweet! In return, an entry from my 1919, which it turns out is my grandmother's mother's diary (just realized that since my grandmother is mentioned by name). I did know her, my great-grandma Jane Owens Hibbs, who passed on in the mid-1970's.

January, Saturday 4
The men halled hay and talked traid. I finished knitting Leon's [great-grandfather] socks. Phronie [his sister] and Herbert came down. Margie [grandmother] went up and stayed all night with them. Sun ["soon"] they brought her home. Sun might've finished the Cow Puncher storye. It is a fine book but so sad. I am hurt over it.

Indie: You've got the bark to compete with Twain but not the bite. :) Thanks for the Blogmad suggestion, will have to give that a gander. Thanks for thinking I could joust with Twain... 'tis an honor. There is sadness, indeed, but when people write diaries they write for themselves. My great-grandfather "sold two sow pigs to Mr. Jensen and traided our tin Lizzie off for Nic and Sam and harness" (Friday 3), which was more relevant to her frame of mind than, say, "I live on a vast expanse of land, 20 miles from the nearest town, and while I love my husband Leonvecia and our four childen and this place plus see kith and kin frequently, I am being consumed by an ennui that is draining my soul" or something. :) Something is better than nothing... and beyond the handwriting and the concrete details of life in the beginning of the 20th century, I got a recipe for saccarine pickles (and "awfully good" tomato relish, and pear marmalaide...). Greater sadness would have been if I hadn't obtained the book.

Unknown said...

Oh, bother. Get to work, Indie.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you liked it, Mushroom. They were engaged for ten years (!), marrying only when my grandfather had finished seminary and gotten a full-time ministerial job.

The Mushroom said...

That's devotion. Mrs. W! :-D

(My courtship was 11 years but the engagement was 4 months. "About freakin' time", everyone we knew said.) I had some growin' up to do!

Miles to go said...

Screw the expectations! We'll live. Enjoyed this post!

Girl with a Suitcase said...

I hope you're not sick of blogging. Especially as I'm back in Blogland again.

It looks like you have a lot on your plate my friend. You may be indeterminate, but you are very industrious.

So this is your old friend. With a new identity, and in a new country. Will you recognize me? I don't know,..

Indeterminacy said...

Mushroom: When I was studying at Bielefeld university I showed something I wrote (about the experience of learning German) to one of the psych. professors. She gave it to all of her student staffmembers to read and returned it with the comment "Sie sind ein kleiner Mark Twain." ("You're a little Mark Twain.") So now I know what she meant ;-)

Doug: You can't order me to work. You're not paying me! And I have second thoughts about working for you, reading here between the lines how hard you work your people. I mean, when have we ever seen one of your employees commenting at one of our blogs? It's just you.

Weirsdo: Good thing your grandfather didn't become a Catholic priest! How sad off the blogosphere would be without his descendents.

Mush: I have the letter my grandfather (a postmaster in Oneida, Kentucky) sent to my grandmother asking her to marry him. I'll have to scan that in some day.

Miles to Go: This was great. Mark Twain did all the work, and I got my blog's best post out of it.

Girl with a Suitcase: Well, I'm definitely intrigued. And have my suspicions. We'll see how clever I am (not very, I'm afraid). I'll probably fall in love with you all over again.

Anonymous said...

Tell everyone that many of Mark Twain's books are available online free like
The Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc is available online here