From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer. Between the ages of about seventeen and twenty-four I tried to abandon this idea, but I did so with the consciousness that I was outraging my true nature and that sooner or later I should have to settle down and write books….
I knew that I had a facility with words and a power of facing unpleasant facts….
No, I’m not operating under the misimpression that my writing can be compared with George Orwell’s. I know of no essayists today who come close to matching his skill in writing. On top of that, bloggers simply lack the time necessary for consistently first-rate efforts. I’ve written some two million words since launching this blog three years ago this week. Perfection isn’t an option.
But operating under the dictum, “if you want to be a better writer, read better writers,” I took on vacation Facing Unpleasant Facts, a collection of Orwell’s brilliant narrative essays. My life has been almost the exact opposite of Orwell’s. Indeed, if you think you had a rough childhood, trying reading, “Such, such were the joys.” Compared to Orwell, we’ve all been raised by Mary Poppins.
Orwell does have the soul of a blogger, as we’ll see. He is solipsistic almost to a fault, but with a brutal honesty that puts even the best modern memoirist to shame.
Read about how his headmaster cured his bedwetting with a beating, a double caning with a riding crop in fact, after he foolishly announced that the first one “didn’t hurt.” Or read “Shooting an Elephant,” with its gut-punching first line, “In Moulmein, in Lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people “” the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me.”
Second, he has “a power of facing unpleasant facts,” which I think is perhaps the primary quality I aspire for here.
I joined the new media because the old media have failed us. They have utterly failed to force us to face unpleasant facts — see “What if the MSM simply can’t cover humanity’s self-destruction?” and “The media’s decision to play the stenographer role helped opponents of climate action stifle progress” and dozens more examples here.
Unlike Orwell, I knew from a very early age, certainly by the age of five or six, that I would be a physicist, like my uncle, and I announced that proudly to all who asked.
I knew I didn’t want to be a professional writer since I saw how hopeless it was to make a living that way. My father was the editor of a small newspaper (circulation 20,000) that he turned into a medium-sized newspaper (70,000) but was paid dirt, even though he managed the equivalent of a large manufacturing enterprise — while simultaneously writing three editorials a day — that in any other industry would pay ten times as much. My mother pursued freelance writing for many, many years, an even more difficult way to earn a living (see also “This could not possibly be more off topic“).
Why share this? Orwell, who shares far, far more in his master class of essay writing, argues in “Why I write“: