Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Days of Decision

Do you remember days when you made important decisions that shaped the direction of your life? Last December 31 was a day of decision for me. Now at the beginning of Advent—the Christian church’s liturgical “new year”—another decision is in the works.

After a heart episode brought me back to Oregon in October 2007, I imagined that come the first of January 2008 I would indulge again my passion to write fiction that had been set aside to spend a year as an interim pastor in Alaska. But I was wrong.

On New Year’s Eve, thoughts began to boil up inside of me that I found impossible to ignore. As clear as it was sudden, I knew that I wouldn’t be writing fiction in the New Year. Instead, I would be writing about politics. With the most important elections in decades eleven months away, I believed that so much was wrong in our country—an illegal and immoral war, loss of human rights and civil liberties, and destructive social and environmental policies—that whatever I could do to bring these issues into sharper public focus took precedence over anything else I might do in the year.

At breakfast that New Year’s Eve, I talked with Connie about the idea. I would create an explicitly political blog with special attention to the historical context around current issues. I didn’t know what to call it, except that it should have “Janus” in it, after the old Roman god of doors, often pictured looking back and looking forward. There were, of course, words and images out of my own Judeo-Christian tradition that would have suggested that; but using Janus was a way of reminding me that this was an effort to speak to folks not only within the tradition but those for whom religious language would be a stumbling block. Connie gave the blot its name: Milo’s Janus Outlook. You can see what I wanted it to be in the
first article on January 1, 2008.

Over the ensuing eleven months, I wrote 184 articles (between three and four a week), many of them cross-posted on
Daily Kos, one of the one of the most widely read progressive blogs in the world. Although there were far more readers on Daily Kos than on Janus, I always had the feeling that those found their way to Janus and came back again were friends, even when they didn’t agree with my views. I owe a deep debt of gratitude to you who were regular readers there, who offered suggestions of stories to cover, who provided me with links to source material, and who sometimes shared your own stories.

Why a “blog”? A friend asked. A blog is a little like writing a note, sticking it in a bottle, and then flinging it out into the limitless ocean of cyber space. Unless someone responds, or, as was more often the case, sends me an email about an article, you really don’t know who reads your message or the difference it makes in how they view an issue. At least with a blog—unlike a newspaper article or television report—there is the possibility for interaction with others.

Blogging has its limitations, most notably that there are literally millions of blogs out there, and the image of the lonely bottle floating out in the ocean flawed in that the waters of cyber space are filled with blog bottles bouncing around waiting for someone to open and read their messages. Nonetheless, little is as rewarding as hearing back about an article from an old friend not seen or heard from in years, or from a complete stranger in some far off corner of the world adding to my knowledge of the issue. It was serious work, but it was also fun. I could have paid tuition for what I learned about the issues and the medium.

That Obama’s campaign recognized the importance of the blogosphere (the connected community of bloggers), and made use of it effectively, contributed in no small way to his success in the primaries and the general election. I suspect that it will prove just as important in mobilizing support for his legislative program.

Blogging has
shaken up the world in which journalists— amateurs and professionals alike—operate as much as the telephone did in the early part of the 20th century. Every day, blogs are becoming more important sources of news for more people. Where else—not newspapers or television—can you immediately access the sources and evaluate claims the reporter makes? There are tons of blogs that are garbage, but by finding reputable bloggers (and checking their sources) you are less dependent on the “entertainment” that passes for “news” on the networks and the major cable channels. That’s why I decided to voice my political protest through blogging.

From that epiphany on December 31, 2007, I didn’t assume that I was embarking on a permanent career. For one thing, when you are my age, one of the realities that looms largest is your own impermanence. The commitment I made to myself was to write the blog through the election. No, I didn’t assume that if my candidates won I had no more reasons for concern about the issues that prompted the start of the blog. Most of my candidates did win; but there is much work to be done to see that those issues—and now the gravest financial crisis since the Great Depression—are effectively and constitutionally addressed.

But each of us has to decide what is most important for us to be doing at any given time. Events over the past three months have convinced me to devote my major energy to another writing project, still about politics, but one that does not lend itself to blogging. I will be researching and writing about human rights activities in Taiwan of which I was a part over thirty years ago and the shadows those events cast in the present. I undertake that task convinced that the story is relevant not simply to me and my family, but may fill in a few pieces missing in some larger stories. However important or unimportant in a larger scheme, this project requires more extensive preparation before it becomes public.

Unlike many of you out there, I am not good at multi-tasking, especially when it comes to writing projects. For the past eleven months it felt good to invest all of the time I had in research and writing my articles on current issues each week. Connie shared my political concerns and was amazingly tolerant of my constant preoccupation with the blog. For her encouragement and patience I am everlastingly grateful. As difficult as it will be to let the blog go, at least for a while, I want to spend the time and energy I have on the Taiwan project. Be assured that when I can share it I will.

In the meantime, I do not intend to remove Milo’s Janus Outlook from Blogspot. As comments are made on earlier articles, I will continue to be notified and respond as appropriate. If events occur that I feel compelled to write about, I will. If you have written something you would like for me to consider posting here, send it to me. However, one of the realities of blogs is that with fewer new articles there are fewer visitors.

Before too many months pass, I hope to be able to report enough progress on the Taiwan project that I may return to writing fiction or political blogging. Because we do not know what the future holds for any of us, the important thing is diligence in the task(s) at hand.

The Psalmist says that we should “number our days that we may gain a wise heart.” (90:12) I take that to mean a sense of mortality is a necessary part of gaining wisdom, an acknowledgment that we don’t have unlimited time to accomplish what we believe important. Today, we stand at the beginning of Advent, twenty-nine days from the New Year. Should the number of your days and mine extend into 2009, let them be days of gratitude and learning that prompt us to act. How else do we accomplish anything worthwhile?

- Milo