Regular readers of my blog may have noticed that I pulled down two recent posts, and I think I owe you all an explanation:
The tone was all wrong. By now, I’d think that most folks who read my blog understand my voice. I strive to be fair, to be accurate, and to express my opinions as zealously and clearly as possible. Sometimes, though, this means stepping on other people’s toes; sometimes, it hurts feelings, even burns bridges.
When I was a freshman in college, only a month before my father passed away, I enrolled in my first creative writing workshop, a personal essay class. As you can probably imagine, the idea of writing and then sharing personal stories about my life, while I was reeling and struggling with the denial, the anger, and the grief that accompanies such a profound loss, was incredibly daunting and intimidating. But my professor, who remains a close friend of mine to this day, offered me a simple but powerful piece of advice: Write fearlessly.
And it was like a weight was taken off of my shoulders. Mark Twain once wrote, “We write frankly and fearlessly but then we ‘modify’ before we print.”
Now, of course, there is a difference between fearlessness and recklessness, and when you’re particularly passionate or angry or upset about a subject, it is sometimes difficult to know how exactly to strike that important balance, especially if you don’t have the benefit of an editor. Indeed, if you fail to strike that balance, even if all of the facts are on your side, you end up being the bad guy. A self-inflicted black eye, as my mother says.
Over the last few years, I’ve given myself a couple of black eyes. And they weren’t necessarily the result of me bungling up facts; they were because I was too visceral, too personal, too angry. There’s another great Mark Twain anecdote that comes to mind (as told by David Bruce):
When Mark Twain got angry, he used to write a letter denouncing the person who had made him angry, but he wouldn’t mail the letter right away. He waited three days, and if he was still angry at the end of that time, he mailed the letter. But if he had stopped being angry, he would burn the letter.
Today, anyone can become a blogger. In many ways, the Internet is a great equalizer of the First Amendment, but I can’t help but wonder what Mark Twain would think. Bloggers rarely “modify” before we print; bloggers don’t wait three days before posting angry missives. The Internet promotes and encourages a culture of rapid-response, instantaneousness, quantity over quality. And for many bloggers, anger is almost a virtue, a sure-fire way to keep up readership and interest.
Throughout the last few years, I’ve learned a thing or two about writing when angry. First and most importantly, it’s not an easy thing to do, at all. Compare, for example, the Alexandria, Louisiana-based blogger Greg Aymond, whose blog is often nothing more than a litany of superfluous and hyperbolic ad hominems, with the late, great New Orleans blogger Ashley Morris. Ashley, who was immortalized in the HBO show Treme and is honored every year at the Rising Tide conference in New Orleans, knew how to write anger. His most famous post, FYYFF, may, at first, seem like a seething indictment of the jerks who dared to question the importance of New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, until you realize that — despite all of the profanity and the invectives– his anger was merely a reflection of his deep and abiding love for his hometown.
And that’s precisely why writing out of anger is so difficult. If you’re going to be effective, anger cannot simply express passion or fearlessness; anger must also communicate love, compassion, and empathy. It may sound paradoxical. I’m angry because you hurt my child. I’m angry because you think my home is not worth saving. I’m angry because you defamed good and honorable people. I’m angry because you’re destroying an institution for which I care deeply. Most of us would agree that these are all things worth getting angry about.
Yesterday, I watched the season premiere of the show Cajun Pawn Stars, and then I searched my blog for the correspondence I’d had, years ago, with the star of the show, Jimmie DeRamus. Back in 2006, Mr. DeRamus attempted to get a residential property rezoned, ostensibly planning to convert the property into a strip mall. It was controversial at the time, and ultimately, the proposal was denied. Looking back and rereading those comments opened up some old wounds for me, because, while I believe I was respectful and objective, a couple of members of the DeRamus family wrote some things about the integrity and honesty of my late father. Rereading all of this made my blood boil. I should have waited three days before saying anything, because I can now understand that the DeRamus family also likely felt under attack by the onslaught of anonymous criticism. So, let me make this clear, abundantly clear: I wish them nothing but the best, and even though I am not a fan of pawn shops (unlike my father), I plan on staying tuned to their new show.
This morning, I also posted about Fred Rosenfeld’s recent comments on the radio about the Alexander Fulton Hotel. After listening to the entirety of his comments, which he couched as the “history” of the deal, I was incensed. He wasn’t being accurate or transparent, and I know this, personally, because I was directly involved in the project. Mr. Rosenfeld is the operator and proprietor of another hotel and was once the operating interim manager of the Alexander Fulton. I took down that post, because, on reflection, I don’t think I did it justice. I made the fatal mistake: I let my anger overwhelm my sincere hope for success; I neglected to fully explain why, exactly, I felt compelled to respond. And I framed my argument by way of questioning Mr. Rosenfeld’s credibility. For that, to him, I apologize. The real story should have been: Why don’t we believe in big dreams for our shared future? Why do we succumb to the tyranny of low expectations? Why do we accept the notion that our neighbor’s success can only come at our expense? I should have focused on the merits of thinking big, and instead, I acted small. One day soon, I will revisit this, but I should probably wait at least three days and then modify.