TROUT   [ 3

 
      I am late! It is the end of winter -- someone says it is spring -- and I haven't written an editorial for Trout yet. Brian keeps reminding me that it's due, but I keep excusing myself with illness, job changes, book deadlines, car problems and just about any incident which requires some attention from me on an almost daily basis. It makes me wonder how writers ever find the time to write. Don't they have televisions? Do they live in towns without music, families, cinemas and ISPs? Do their roofs never leak? Don't they have gardens to tend? I mean, this editorial is distracting me from life, and my oldest friend claims that the reverse is the case. Is there no balance? Is there no calm mean? Not for me. 

I am, I feel, not alone. When we try to mix life with life's documentation we are now all faced with weirder and weirder problems. Our new technologically efficient and demanding lives, have changed the way we write. The hurried nature of daily life is a style of writing today. No longer just a Beat experiment or a pub poetry fest in the 70s, frenetic discourse is part and parcel of an environment where every second is precious. Manic email messages spill out across the world, most little more than knee-jerk responses triggered by some other knee-jerk response, a veritable fusion reactor of digital characters which some say the internet has become. Even our newspaper articles have become mere summaries and tables. Graphs tell us more more quickly, we are told. A well-constructed sentence might have a certain beauty, but wherever possible a memo is preferred over those last few grating chapters of War and Peace or the over-produced Book of Kells. "Less is more" means that we get a hell of a lot of Beckett's unutterable lessness. 

It all has to be managed, all this lessness. It all has to fit inside a person's head. It has to mean something; it has to be of use. But so often we are told that it's best to set aside the drive for significance and meaning. We should just lie back and let "it" rush through us like a cheap designer drug or the sinus infection I have lately so tortuously endured. Between times, reality calls with its leaking roofs and broken-down automobiles. 

The internet has become famous for what is, on a good day, called anarchy and, on a bad day, garbage (in New Zealand we called it rubbish). No one's responsible, we are told. Isn't that as it should be? These ideas fit in well with the culture of devolved responsibility we find in New Zealand governmental affairs, and I have to agree -- I want to agree -- that I much prefer to have the information "out there", readily available to all and sundry regardless of race, creed, colour or credit card. But someone is still responsible, even on the internet. Every writer who ignores her editor, becomes solely responsible for the results of their self-publication, not freed from responsibility. Internet authors can't say that they have been "devolved of all responsibility" rather, they have acquired more responsibilities for the things they say and the way that they say them. 

When I think of internet authorship -- the collusion and refusal to accept personal responsibility so common on the net -- I am reminded of an anecdote which is no doubt still related at stage one Psych. courses in universities all around the world. It tells of a woman stabbed in a alley in New York. The assailant escapes, but returns later in a protracted attempt to finish off the job because the victim continues to scream so loudly. It is discovered later that dozens of tenants in the apartments backing onto this alley were aware of the incident as it took place, but they did nothing to help the victim because they knew that other tenants like themselves were also watching, doing nothing, devolving themselves of responsibility. 

I like the idea of the internet, but I am concerned that if I get too used to pointing and clicking, tapping and hitting the return key, I am going find myself too much a part of the global village and its mores to think for myself. That worries me because I've always thought of myself as an independent thinker. I have even imagined from time to time that the internet is the ideal forum for such a person -- that ideal independent thinker. But none of us are that person. We all have to live in the world, and we make concessions at all levels of our being members of the world. We are all susceptible, just like any apartment-dweller. 

In the end, I turned on myself. I had been thinking for weeks about this little editorial, but in the end I only wrote notes to myself about writing. I generously requested myself to write slowly, miss deadlines, not to respond immediately to email messages, to think about everything I said, and to delay saying anything until I knew what I wanted to say and could know with some certainty that I was responsible for the statement I wanted to make. I aimed high, and asked myself: what other value is there in writing but to connect it to the "real world". What other way is there to make that connection than by a statement of faith from the author which goes: "I am not fucking around with you; this is the truth"? That is the way paper-based publishing has worked for centuries ... and it is a good thing. I don't see why anyone should take an internet document seriously until its internet author can show her readers that she is connected with reality. In the end it won't be the regularity, consistency or deadlines the internet imposes on us that makes it valuable. It will be the quality of the thoughts this new medium carries to us.

Tony Murrow      © 1997  
 

a