A vacuum really sucks

I received an email this evening from someone who said, “Did you know that your Comments are turned off on your last post?” Uh, no, I didn’t. I went into my site administration and, sure enough, Comments were inexplicably turned off for “The Greatest ‘Degeneration’?” post.

Lately I’ll admit to feeling a bit disappointed after posting some edgier content, expecting to see comments or brickbats, only to get…zilch. I was left to assume that my argument had been so sound and complete that no one could refute it…or so boring that no one had been able to get through it. Checking the admin page and, sure enough, Comments were off on these posts! Meanwhile, Comments were on for all the other recent posts…only “A Way of a Gun” and “A Poem for Choice” were turned off. Believe me, I’m not ducking argument. Most of the posts here have a 30-day sunset, but I’ve only deliberately shut down comments on posts that have attracted spam.

Maybe my blog-host is trying to protect me from myself, or merely sending me a message that it’s time to move on.

Comment policy

by the Night Writer

A few years ago I stopped at a local gas station and convenience store to tank up. It was a Saturday and back in the day when you had to go into the store to pay, and it so happened that I was in a hurry. I stood in line while the sole cashier seemed to take his sweet, ever-lovin’ time in handling the transactions of those in front of me. When it was my turn I felt a strong urge to make some cutting comment, or call the guy “Lightning” or something similar. Just as I was about to do that, however, I had an even stronger thought: “What if I say that and this same guy shows up at church tomorrow as a visitor while I’m ushering?”

My fiery-hot comment turned to ashes in my mouth. I swallowed hard, signed my receipt and beat it out of there. I may have lost a few minutes but I probably gained something more.

I still think of this little episode from time to time as I surf my favorite blogs and drop in on their Comment sections. Many of these have their “regulars” who engage in spirited debate, and typically the more spirited it gets the less respectful the tone of the commenters back and forth. There are times, I must confess, when funny, inventive and highly personal and derogatory ripostes have wanted to leap through my flying fingers onto the comment page to symbolically gut not only another person’s argument but his very being. Such is the anonymity and immunity of the internet. I have bitten my tongue, or perhaps my fingernails, however to keep from doing so.

When I write for this blog I often have a picture of a composite reader in my head. Not necessarily anyone in particular but someone who is obviously intelligent and who has good taste or otherwise he or she wouldn’t have stopped by. Having this sense moderates, or modulates, some of what I might type — along with the thought that stuff tends to live forever on the web like so much space junk orbiting the earth. Meanwhile some cosmic gravity will see to it that my least generous, most base and unedifying words will turn up in someone’s Google-search. Therefore my fingernails grow ragged.

Likewise in the various comment sections I always try to remember that there are real people on the other side of those electrons, no matter how cartoon-like their on-screen personas might appear. Therefore, while I may use a clever turn of phrase or pointed observation in responding to their argument, I don’t go personal or suggest that they molest collies. Sometimes I’ll type something inflammatory, take satisfaction from that sparkling eviseration, and then delete it. Whether the person I’m responding to is 5’2″ or 6’5″, if I wouldn’t say it to his/her face, I shouldn’t post it either. Someday I might actually meet that person and if he’s 5’2″ I’ll feel like a heel and if he’s 6’5″ I might get ground under his heel.

And, someday, I just might meet them at church.

Reasons for blogging

I think the poem below pretty well sums up why I write — blogging or otherwise. From The Writer’s Alamanc today:

I would not have been a poet
except that I have been in love
alive in this mortal world,
or an essayist except that I
have been bewildered and afraid,
or a storyteller had I not heard
stories passing to me through the air,
or a writer at all except
I have been wakeful at night
and words have come to me
out of their deep caves
needing to be remembered.
But on the days I am lucky
or blessed, I am silent.
I go into the one body
that two make in making marriage
that for all our trying, all
our deaf-and-dumb of speech,
has no tongue. Or I give myself
to gravity, light, and air
and am carried back
to solitary work in fields
and woods, where my hands
rest upon a world unnamed,
complete, unanswerable, and final
as our daily bread and meat.
The way of love leads all ways
to life beyond words, silent
and secret. To serve that triumph
I have done all the rest.

“VII” from the poem “1994” by Wendell Berry, from A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979–1997. © Counterpoint, 1998.

Is your blog secure in its masculinity — even if you’re a woman?

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks but I’m looking forward to posting several pieces this week as a lot of weighty notes and ideas have been piling up in my Drafts queue.

For the moment, however, I’ll feed you this fluffy bit of blogging folderol that I saw on The Wide Awake Cafe the other day. It’s something better-suited to Friday foolishness but last Friday was far too busy for foolishness, so here it is now: What Gender is your blog? The Gender Analyzer website will scan the writing on a blog and use its arcane tools to project the gender of the writer. It’s formulas might be a bit suspect since it guessed that the Wide Awake Cafe — sole proprietor Laura Lee Donaho — has a 69% probability of being written by a man. Running the Night Writer blog through the black box results in the following: “We guess the Night Writer blog is written by a man (55%), however it’s quite gender neutral.” Well, given that three of the four regular contributors here are women, I think it tells you something that 25% of me is still enough to deliver a 55% manliness rating.


I’ve finally decided to do something that several people have been after me to do since I started this blog nearly four years ago.

No, not “Quit.”

The time has come, however, for me to do something different, and it will affect this blog, at least for a while. As the Mall Diva would say, “Here’s the dealio:”

I know I’m a good writer. I don’t type that in a boastful way because I know there is very little I’ve had to do with that fact. It was something imparted to me when I was born; to brag about it would be like some 6′ 6″ guy taking pride in being tall. My grandfather had the gift, my mother, myself. I’ve seen it in my daughters as well. Some people can sing, some people can paint. I can’t do either, but sometimes a song or something I see paints a picture in my mind and it comes out in words that even make me wonder where they came from.

So. I know I’m good. The question that I’ve put off asking myself, for fear that I’ll then have to try and find out the answer, is “How good can I be if I really applied myself?” Good comes naturally, but great takes something else again, and if I don’t have what it takes to be great, can I live with it? In a way, by not trying, I was indeed saying that I could live with it.

I mentioned fear in the last paragraph. I’ve been thinking about fear a lot lately. In the movie class with the boys earlier this month we watched “The Ghost and the Darkness” about the man-eating lions of Tsavo, Kenya. After the movie we talked about courage not being the absence of fear, but the mastery of fear, of acknowledging but ultimately ignoring what would seek to hold you back in order to accomplish something great. Sometimes, however — as I commented on a friend’s blog recently — fear isn’t a lion roaring in the dark; sometimes it is the sibilant hiss of self-doubt from the shadows of your own heart. Can I tell you what one of my deeper fears is? I am afraid that in my heart I am lazy, that I don’t have the will, or intestinal fortitude, to start something and stick with it, and that I’d find it all too easy to take it easy — physically, mentally, spiritually. I sense the coils of slack waiting in my heart, waiting for me to cut it for myself.

I felt like that in the months leading up to February, 2005 when I finally launched this blog. I didn’t know what I’d write about, or how often I’d write (or could write) or for how long I would do it. I set a couple of objectives for myself. I would try to post at least once every weekday, and I would do it for at least six months and see where I was at. Blogging would be a test for me to see if I had the discipline to commit to the activity and the chops to make it interesting (both for myself and whatever readers came along). I have been somewhat amazed at how relatively easy it has been, and I’ve come to enjoy the challenge of waking up every morning without knowing what I was going to write about that night. More than that, I’ve truly enjoyed and appreciated the community of bloggers that I’ve come to know (though many I’ve never actually met in person). I’ve found a rhythm and a comfort zone in blogging, and that in its own way is kind of scary.

Certain thoughts have been in the back of my mind for some time, and I let them come to the forefront while I was on vacation the last couple of weeks, and I’ve made a decision. Blogging has been a great exercise … almost like calisthenics. The thing with calisthenics is that you can develop your muscles but at some point you’re going to want to do something with them. As the Anthony Trollope quote in my header this week says, “Three hours a day will produce as much as a man ought to write.” I now know I can put two to three hours a day into writing, because I’ve been doing this and now…I need to break from the familiar and comfortable and see what else I can write.

As when I started this blog, I have no idea what I’m going to write about, or what form it will take. I think I’d like to try a novel, but I don’t have a vision for a story yet. It may be short stories at first, as the next step in my process. What I do know is that I’m going to take those two to three hours a night to work it out, and that means not writing as often here.

I’m leaving the lights on, however. I’d like to post snippets from whatever I’m working on or finished pieces as they come to me from time to time, and there may be current events that I just cannot keep from commenting upon, especially if I can do so quickly. If so they’ll be cross-posted on True North as well. And I definitely plan to keep reading (and commenting on) other blogs. I will not be a recluse. In addition the Mall Diva, Tiger Lilly and even the Reverend Mother are by no means finished. My invitation to regular readers is to sign up for the RSS feed in the right hand sidebar so you will automatically be tipped off when something new is posted.

It’s been surprisingly hard to change direction even though so little is really at stake. While I was on vacation, however, I started re-reading Mark Helprin’s exquisite, achingly beautiful collection of short stories compiled in The Pacific. Sometimes it felt as if I could barely breathe as I read, so perfect is the prose and so great my desire to try and create something similar, even as insurmountable as that may be. I also came across a reviewer who both shared my appreciation for the book and also set a target for me to pursue.

I’m not saying that Helprin’s stories always have happy endings. But they are filled with purposeful action, sharp with clear intent. The Pacific features women that are really beautiful, battles that are actually worth fighting, and melodies that can break your heart. Helprin’s prose shines because his genius has a moral compass, and it comes as a relief to read stories that do not end in existential anticlimax.

In this moment, my purpose is clear. I’m going for it.

On vacation

Photo: My World of Postcards

The family, including Ben, is heading up to Grand Marais for our “summer” vacation. This is the scene of last year’s vacation, and the setting for Mall Diva’s mortification at the Crooked Spoon. We may have to do to our dining at Sven & Ole’s this year, or maybe the Angry Trout Cafe.

We’ll be in Grand Marais the rest of the week and then I’m heading to Missouri Sunday night for the Chuck Stewart Memorial Golf Tourney benefiting the Shrine Hospitals. After the golf tournament it’s back to Cold Spring, MN for the annual Inside Outfitters’ men’s weekend. Whew! I’ll need to get back to work so I can rest! I’ll likely start posting again once I get to Missouri.

Day 2

by the Night Writer

You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs…and I’m going to feel like an omelet if I don’t take a short break. I’ll be back after the holiday weekend, but the Mall Diva and Tiger Lilly are going to the fair again on Friday and they may do an update on last week’s 2-year-old post — if they get on the stick!

Meanwhile, a fun bunch of guys are tail-gating over at Savvy Daddy for this week’s Manival. Check it out, Tony’s got food!


by the Night Writer

Sheesh, what a week. It’s budget time at work, which means I have to forecast how much money my department will need next year, how much I’d actually be willing to live with, and how much of a bite the levels above me are going to take just to show they’re serious. And it all has to be turned in the day after Labor Day. Fortunately, the instruction manual for this year’s budget process has been cut down to 236 pages … in a PDF file.

Oh, and someone had the bright idea to move our offices AND install new telephones all at the same time back on Monday. Never fear, the instruction booklet that comes with the phone is 10% of the size of the budget manual and is printed in 16 languages, none of which I understand. So far I’ve unpacked my calculator and my coffee cup; the rest can wait. WHY does that red light keep flashing at me?

I’m thinking it’s high time for a Keegan’s run Thursday night. Who’s with me?

A way that seems right unto a Manival

by the Night Writer

After a brief vacation (every man needs one from time to time), the Manival returned this week with edition #15, hosted by Discovering Dad. I didn’t notice it was up right away, but once I did I read through the week’s selections. Here are some of my faves:

A couple of decades ago I wrote some advertising and catalog copy for a mail-order steak business. I learned the ins and outs of great cuts of meat and what each cut was best suited for. After a morning of that exposure I was ready to throw down a couple of bacon-wrapped filet mignon, even though my budget could barely handle a quarter-pounder with cheese. Reading Know Thine Bovine at Primer Magazine brought back happy memories of those days, though.

The Reader Challenge: David post at I Am Husband was already familiar to me as I had read it (and commented) during a regular visit to that blog. It deals with the common issue of wives disliking their bodies and the effect this has on the relationship.

More happy memories were stirred by Dad of Divas’ Teaching Your Child Entrepreneurship as I recalled the early development of Tiger Lilly’s head for business. And if you’re going to teach your children how to succeed at business then you should also help them learn the important lessons about debt offered by The Common Man in his post, In Your Debt.

Finally, you know I’m going to be partial to posts by Tom at Being Michael’s Daddy — Levels of Understanding — and by Kevin at Return to Manliness — Never Use Eight Words When Four Will Do — because they are in a similar vein as my Fundamentals in Film series and my Manival #1 post on three-word sentences that will endear you to your wife.

I’m sure you’ll find your own favorites when you browse the rest of the submissions for yourself.


I’m still tired after spending the weekend trying to recover from the annual Millard Fillmore Memorial golf tournament (aka “The MILF”) last Friday where I was in the woods so much I think the tourney should be renamed “Lumberjack Days.” I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m now battling Lyme Disease.

Then there was my stepping up at the last minute at the post-MILF party to serve as a replacement “Master of Sausages” without first being able to perform the standard three day meditation and purification regimen that goes along with that. Fortunately I was able to pass through the flames without injury, but it was a very close thing and that will take something out of you.

I’ve also been devoting time to preparing the second lecture and homework assignment for this week’s “Are You Marriageable” class that I’m teaching, set for Wednesday night. Speaking of which, here’s an interesting link to a post over at The Art of Manliness on How to Ask a Woman’s Father For Her Hand in Marriage.

Maybe I’ll have enough energy to post something tonight after I finally get home. I first have to stop off and see Ben; he said there’s something he wanted to talk to me about.

Developing further…