A Man With Two Faces

Ah, January. Looking back and forward. One of those points in time when a man believes he can change. The past has no bearing on him now! It does feel like turning a corner, doesn’t it? Last year’s ugly road is out of sight and all the future’s open. Of course, we all find, soon enough, that we’re walking the same path as last year.

Rather than make resolutions, I like to set innumerable goals for myself and accomplish half of them. But goals are poor blog fodder. I’d much rather read about what someone has done than what they’d like to do. And since this blog is all about what I like, I’ll refrain from listing any goals here.

But a new year is still a good moment to step to one side and have a good look at time. So here are a few things that have occupied my online attention lately.

Alan Jacobs, Baylor professor, always provokes thought. His blog is here and he also posts on a micro.blog here.

Joshua Gibbs, high school teacher, posts regular articles about classical education and the pursuit of virtue on his blog at the Circe Institute site. I also have his book on my shelf, and you should, too. Josh’s bizarre, provocative status updates are one of the few things that make me sad to leave Facebook.

I have been tempted many times to bid Twitter sayonara, as well, but there are a couple people who still pass along interesting opinions and articles without dancing on the political fence every chance they get. Zack Stentz is one of those and Adam Roberts is another. The thing I appreciate about both of them is that they agree with me on almost nothing, ideologically, but are always thoughtful and willing to listen.

I’ve tried not to get sucked into the latest internet fad – newsletters – but despite my best efforts, I’m subscribed to a handful.

Micah Mattix has an almost-daily newsletter called Prufrock News, which I never have time to fully digest before the next one arrives in my inbox. He links to writing about literature and literary doings, along with the occasional political or cultural article. Almost every newsletter includes link to a photo and a poem and a brief summary of some new book that Micah is excited about.

Recomendo is a newsletter headed by Kevin Kelly, future-writer and co-founder of Wired. Every Sunday, he and two of his friends recommend two useful or interesting things apiece (for a total of six). I say things because their recommendations vary from books to websites to Youtube channels to scissors to keyboard shortcuts. Sometimes the reason for a recommendation makes me snicker, but every couple of weeks, they pass along something that makes me ask myself, “How did I not know about this?” (I have no idea why they spell the name of the newsletter with one M.)

I’ve been subscribed to Mark Athatakis‘s newsletter for a few months. It’s similar to Prufrock, with more commentary.

I signed up for Alan Jacobs‘s newsletter a few weeks ago. It’s mostly a recap of his latest blog posts, but since I’m addicted to all things Jacobs, I am subscribed. I’m having trouble finding the signup page online. When I do, you’ll be the first to know.

And, finally, just this morning, I signed up for a newsletter from a fella named James Wilson, who promises to send the very best freelance writing gigs to my inbox every Wednesday. We’ll see.

There are a few other people whose work I try to keep up with online as much as I can. I’ve let too many good blog posts slip by unnoticed. (It’s nothing personal, Michael Sacasas.) I’ll try to address that in the coming year. Oops! That sounds a lot like a goal or, worse, a resolution. Rewind, erase, etc. I may or may not address that in the coming year. What’s it to you?

Blessings on your 2019, friends and strangers.

A Man is Online

The first blog I ever followed with anything like devotion was the one that belonged to Josh Gibbs in the mid-to-late-2000s. As he would fully admit, Gibbs was often trivial and sometimes pompous, but he was always interesting. He was willing to explore any subject, including himself, and he did so with equal doses of energy and deprecation. This was before social media was everyone’s main internet canal, so I had to actually go to Josh’s website to see if he had posted anything new. If he had, I was delighted and would read. If he hadn’t, I would be disappointed, but I would scroll down to glance at posts from the previous week or so, sometimes even re-reading longer posts if I had skimmed them before. It was like visiting a library or a museum. Often, nothing had changed between my visits, except me.

(You can read Josh Gibbs’ writing today, if you so desire. He blogs here about classical education and the good life. His first book came out this year, which you can order here or here. (Do so. (It’s worth your time.)))

I have always wanted to create a similar place on the internet. Unlike the intellectual freeway that is social media, a blog can be a place that people want to visit, and visit regularly. Ideally, a blog creates a community of readers with similar interests. A blog can be a place where friends encounter one another with the kind of surprise C. S. Lewis wrote about: “You, too! I thought I was the only one…”

Back in the day, the title of a blog post by Josh Gibbs used the word we. “We are Thoughts on The Dark Knight…” “Stuff We Listened to this Summer…” “We Typed this out of the Newspaper by Hand and You’re Welcome…” He claimed it was an attempt to make blogging a sort of performance art: the post was a group effort, a combination of all the readers’ attention. The first-person-plural pronoun also had another effect that I’m not sure was intentional: it downplayed the role of the blogger in the whole affair. Josh was not upturning a bucket of his thoughts over our heads. Well, he was, but it didn’t feel like it. It felt like he was standing beside us, pointing. According to his book, this is an attitude he carried with him into his current role as a teacher.

The good teacher inspires desire for God in his students, and calls them to yearn for Beauty and strive for pity and holiness and virtue. The good teacher tells his students, “If you see me as I am being taken from you, you will receive a double portion of my spirit,” for he can offer his students nothing greater. The student trains his eye on the teacher and will look at nothing else, the teacher trains his eye on Goodness and will look at nothing else. Slowly, the student comprehends the paradox, then the teacher is gone and the student will look only at God – but first the student must learn what kind of devotion Goodness requires.

The title of this blog “A Man is Online” is supposed to downplay my own role in a similar way. These aren’t my thoughts, my experiences, my words. They’re the thoughts, experiences, and words of a stranger, a rando, a peregrine. The internet robs everyone of ethos. Might as well embrace it. Take what follows as you would take the shouts of a man wearing a sandwich sign at the corner of 45th and Broadway. Most of what he says is pure gibberish, but every so often, the ravings almost seem to make sense…