Edge of the woods

This past weekend I “got away from it all” at Green Lakes (well, that was the plan anyway) and communed with nature a bit. It’s very weird how people seek out the wild sometimes in a bid to create order in their lives. In my case, I was thinking hard about practical steps to take to achieve a better balance in my writing life, which is not something you can really ponder properly by writing about it.

Poynter Online is a site I occasionally read for its wealth of articles about writing (and occasionally blogging). I don’t have the time to peruse it as often as I would like. This is an older article I stumbled upon which caught my eye just because of the problem the author was struggling with and how he was able to pick up a phone and call his editor for guidance. Writers with editors (those who expect certain professional standards, and are willing to help you meet those standards) really should get down on their knees each day and thank the writing gods. Some writers say they get into blogging because (like this writer) they enjoy not having an editor. To me this is, on one hand, understandable; but also, perhaps it’s like venturing into the woods because one admires the simple lives of forest creatures, not considering that those lives are often brutish and short.

Abandoned blogs are everywhere, like so many unweeded gardens, and I wonder what happened to those creatures — or at least, what happened to their writing lives. Some of the blogs I used to enjoy reading, about Syracuse and Upstate New York, have gone silent. Some have been overrun by spam. I don’t think they’re “dead” so much as just not being attended to (because people have busy lives and sometimes can’t commit to writing). I can definitely relate, having left off painting right around the time I started getting serious about blogging (so far as I am) — there are only so many hours in the day. Anyhow, I hope someday some of these bloggers will return.

To extend the idea further, though, I wonder if maybe there’s too much of an emphasis on attracting “creative people” to weedy places like Syracuse, and not enough emphasis on teaching commitment and discipline. Maybe commitment can’t be taught, maybe it has to be inspired; but I think discipline can be modeled. For some reason, our leaders just aren’t modeling it for our citizens. (Sean Kirst has been writing on this theme lately, though from a different angle than the way it has occurred to me — but to be honest, I often see this same concern running beneath other things I read on various blogs, particularly when it comes to how our leaders just aren’t showing self-discipline as officers of democracy.) What’s worse is that there is a whole generation of Syracusans who perhaps have even less guidance on how to be Syracusans, than my generation did. No wonder they drift away, or have civic priorities out of balance if they stay.

It’s been truly said that Syracuse has already got much of what it needs to get by, but that it’s just not being utilized the right way. The response to this observation almost always is the development of a broad scheme. But the schemes’ component parts never get attended to. No one is tending to anything, no one is managing, and it goes without saying that no one is planning ahead. It’s tempting to simply call for “law and order,” but that’s not really the challenge, as I see it. Syracuse has no editor; one is probably not coming over the hill, so maybe those who care about Syracuse have to tame its own tangle at the edge of a wilderness always poised to take over… to self-edit.

Which is a hard life — ask the forest — but has its rewards as well.

9 thoughts on “Edge of the woods

  1. Cato

    Good post. You are right: Syracuse (and Upstate) has no editor. It is a bit aimless around here.

    I am reminded of those old frontiermen of the early days of our history, men who left the “civilized” cities to make their living in the wild. Many of these men did so to intentionally escape the stresses and corruptions of the “civilized” city.

    Upstate is a little like that. For decades, ee have had our own type of Shangri-La, a wilderness set apart from the stresses and corruptions of the “civilized” City. Yet now it looks like the city is encroaching on our wilds, with its politicians, its taxes, its problems, its sprawl. I wonder if we really can go back to being just “Upstate” and wiggle free from the corrupting tentacles of City control. Wishful thinking?

  2. sean

    great editors are also often anonymous to everyone except the ones who appreciate their work. one of my heroes is richard shatten, this incredibly thoughtful guy from cleveland whose word for what you’re talking about was “stamina” … shatten, a numbers guy and businessman who became the quiet force behind a cleveland renaissance, spoke of a “new technology” that demanded ending what he called “the war” … city vs suburbs, white vs black, school district vs. city and on and on … and he also said any turnaround involved the “stamina” to mount a long-range plan and stay with it. i see stamina, or endurance, as the quality we often lack in syracuse … you need to keep cleaning the garbage off the curb. you need to have the energy and belief to maintain discipline in schools. you need the faith and will to not read the apocalypse into every act of malice or violence by a tiny proportion of the population. you need the character to stand for sensible planning even when faced with a developer thumbing a roll of cash under your nose.

    and without stamina, inevitably, the woods grows up … which isn’t always a bad thing, except cities should be cities and woods should be woods.

    getting back to editors, shatten only became a folk hero after his death, far too young, from a brain tumor … he was a behind the scenes guy, a quiet guy, a great editor of civic events …

    do we have those editors in syracuse?


  3. Ellen Post author

    Cato: I’m not sure if you mean “City” as NYC (ie “City with a Capital C”) or if you’re talking about Utica. (BTW, Cobleskill Socialist Weekly has changed its name BACK to Slums Along the Mohawk)

    Sean, as I said to my dad after his epic motorcycle trip last summer, you can have the vacation of a lifetime on not a lot of money; or you can have the vacation of a lifetime with not a lot of planning; however, you cannot have such a vacation without either one of those two things. Same goes for enterprise, too: you can have a successful venture with more or better management, and less money/technology/staffing; or the reverse; so PICK ONE of these options. In my view, management and stamina go hand in hand – there is almost nothing worse than stamina without guidance and judgment; that way lies despair, or a coronary, whatever comes first. As for the roll of cash problem, I think the reason why you need will power is because the cash roll is usually not very big around here and soon runs out, due to the economy, so I agree with you there. (And also, because the cash roll is almost never a real gift freely given – too many strings are attached.)

    As for your question… I don’t know. Maybe an answer can be discovered during this event

  4. Ellen Post author

    Oh, I see… presentations. Well, bring enough litter tongs for everyone and take them for a walk along the creek, ending at that “Welcome to Syracuse” sign on West Genesee. That’s not too far.

  5. JS

    that would be one of the more encouraging things i have ever seen…a “writing the city” event where all participants left their computers, credentials and self-centric perspective at home, and instead grabbed a pair of litter tongs and just picked up misallocated resources all day.

    that would be the best leadership by example that i could imagine. and the most successful event as well.

  6. sean

    i was thinking today, as i drove downtown, of one my favorite articles ever in the new yorker – about the guy who used to get up on saturday mornings, call a friend, and then go out and use these long poles to get plastic bags out of trees, instead of golfing or playing racquetball.

    in that case, is he editing or writing?

    or both?


  7. Ellen Post author

    I’m not sure. I defer to your judgment since you have mentioned your experience of a good editor…

    Speaking of writing (and reading)…that Welcome sign on W Genesee has always seemed odd to me – because of the arrow. It seems to say, “Welcome to Downtown Syracuse!… This way! No no, don’t get back on that ramp and go to the Near West Side! Pleeeeease?”

    People don’t seem to understand that signs often say more than what they say (and of course, trash and overgrown trees say a lot as well).

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