Why write?

By increments — this is one of my favourite phrases — the lockdown that continues in Ontario has been reducing me to my old condition of a pundit. Perhaps I should admit some rôle in this. Rather than simply lap in the luxury of more reading time, and more naps and in-sleeping, I become feverishly aware of reports from a world that, even at their most eloquent, make little sense.

“The unexamined life is not worth living,” according to a soundbite from ancient Greece. But the more I examine these reports, the less I can justify writing at all.

Somewhere out there in the electronic fog, I find podcasters saying roughly what I’d say, at moments that I could log in their podcasts. I have even encountered Catholic commentators who, because they are unreconstructed Catholics, advance something like my own party line. Why disturb the peace that such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google would enforce, with their metastasizing banks of censors and “fact-checkers” — hired cheaply as they are laid off from our downsizing “legacy” media? The best one can hope is to give them more work.

Their style, or to be more accurate, their smell, is that of the “mainstream” editors I used to deal with. (One of my discoveries towards the end of the last century was that the dullest newspaper reader was at least five times as sentient as the most brilliant newspaper editor.) They (the editor-censors) were genuinely alarmed to see a memorable remark, especially if it might be strictly logical. They got powerfully irritated when they suspected that a writer was thinking for himself, or using new information.

How nice that they still have jobs.

From half a century ago, when I was a novice of sixteen breaking in — among the last not to have been frontally lobotomized in a journalism school — I recall a particularly obtuse editor on the page-assembling horseshoe of the (now contemptible) Globe & Mail. He had some copy in front of him that was, if I say so myself, dangerously funny. And he was diligently stroking through anything that made him laugh, with his blue pencil, leaving unaltered only the sludge.

Scottish, by the way. The memory of his face still makes me wince.

But give him his due, for he is my inspiration this morning. Perhaps I am sliding back into my old ways, pointlessly blathering about the “breaking news” around me. But if that is the case, to hell with it. I, with all my limitations, inherited from Adam and descendants passim, will tragically persist.


A HAPPY RECOLLECTION. The Globe desk editor I mentioned above once sent me to fetch him a coffee. That was not my job, as I explained to him, but he called me a “young twerp,” repeated his order in a louder voice, and gave me a fiver to buy it with. In those days, a coffee could be had from the cafeteria for a nickel. (A dime in the more poncy places.) There was also a lovely lady on cash who had spare nickel rolls. I was able to obtain his change in the form of 99 nickels. He exploded, of course, when I spilled them over his desk, and went to the managing editor to demand that I be fired. But he was told that he’d be reported to the union for asking me to do something that was not in my job description, and so returned forlornly to his coffee, by then surely cooled. … (God bless him, wherever he is now.)