Category Archives: writing as it relates to my blog posts and readers’ sensitivities

pompous? arrogant?

 

 

 

I was looking today at an old post of mine, from September 2017 – it was about President Trump, but (despite the controversy that always surrounds Trump) the subject matter does not really matter insofar as what the augment with a critic of the post ended up being about – in which we had a back and forth exchange about certain key issues which will be clear from what follows. The comments (mine and the critic’s) are posted verbatim below.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   August 8, 2019

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Roger Smith, September 28, 2017

Pete — Going back to when I wrote the blog, what motivated me to do so was the books reviewed in the post in which experts discussed Trump’s psyche and his presumed or possible insanity … I don’t have to take off my thinking cap when it comes to such stupid books as those that were reviewed. A medical degree is not required.

I have all sorts of opinions about literature, and I strongly disagree with many English profs who have Ph.D.’s. I think Beethoven’s late quartets are the best ever; that Shostakovich is the greatest 20th century composer; and that Aaron Copland is the greatest American composer. I am not a musicologist or musician. One doesn’t have to forbear using one’s eyes and ears, one’s common sense, and good judgment. …

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Pete Smith, September 28, 2017

I understand your opinion but still disagree. Trump clearly hallucinated when he claimed his inauguration crowd was larger than Obama’s (I was at both, and it was probably one/fifth the size); his bullying of the idiot in North Korea is insanely dangerous to the world; his inability to remember today what he promised yesterday are all behaviors that many sensible people, with or without Ph.D’s, believe is insane. That you don’t is fine, but your opinion that others are wrong is nothing but an opinion, not a fact.

I agree with you on Beethoven and Copland; haven’t heard enough Shostakovich to have an opinion. But what you are expressing here are opinions as well — in your case, very well-informed opinions, but still opinions. Someone else who’s studied a lot of classical music might come to very different opinions about who is the best — your statements notwithstanding.

In a way, this same issue was the underpinning of our argument about whether America is the greatest country in the world. My disagreement wasn’t with your right to have that opinion or to enjoy living here; it was simply to try to convince you that it was equally reasonable for you to others to aver that another country, maybe Sweden of Finland, could be the greatest country in the world — and that it was bad timing for you to jump on the Alt-Right “American Exceptionalism” bandwagon.

Consider these statements:

“Beethoven is the best composer ever!” (requires provable facts)

“I think Beethoven is the best composer ever.” (Subject to debate, but doesn’t require proof.)

In my opinion, a number of your blog posts state opinions as facts (as in “Beethoven is the best composer ever” — and without an evidence basis for your opinion, this comes across as arrogant. If you just had said “I don’t think Trump is insane, because I don’t see the evidence of it,” it would have bothered me one whit. But when you said “He’s not even close to being mentally ill. Common sense could tell one that in less than 60 seconds of reflection,” you are denigrating anyone who disagrees with you on this point. As the saying goes, “judge ye not lest ye be judged.” Food for thought. . . .

 

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Roger Smith, September 29, 2017 [I quoted from Pete Smith’s prior comment, as noted, in responding to him.]

 

 

[Pete Smith wrote] “Someone else who’s studied a lot of classical music might come to very different opinions about who is the best — your statements notwithstanding.”

 

 

[Roger Smith] Of course I know that. You missed the point. I wasn’t trying to convince you of the rightness of my choices. My point was that, even though I don’t have expertise as a musicologist, I am not afraid to express my opinions. I do think that when someone writes about something, such as literature and music, one should exhibit a modicum of intelligence and prior knowledge, discernment and a more than superficial knowledge.

All I was trying to say is that in music – even more so in literature – I have opinions that I am eager to share. I do not let the fact that I am not a musicologist or English professor stop me. Because, intuitively, or experimentally, I may possibly have seen more than them. In literature, I know that this is sometimes true of me, or at least I strongly feel that way. Just because I don’t have a degree or professional certification doesn’t mean I have to abstain from expressing my opinion. When it comes to something like, say, music, I am well aware, of course, that there will be others who would say something different, or the opposite. (Just like someone else might say Finland is the best place to live.)

 

[Pete Smith wrote] “In a way, this same issue was the underpinning of our argument about whether America is the greatest country in the world. My disagreement wasn’t with your right to have that opinion or to enjoy living here; it was simply to try to convince you that it was equally reasonable for you to others to aver that another country, maybe Sweden of Finland, could be the greatest country in the world — and that it was bad timing for you to jump on the Alt-Right “American Exceptionalism” bandwagon.”

 

 

[Roger Smith] I wasn’t jumping on the Alt-Right, America First bandwagon; that’s a preposterous claim.

I tried very hard to explain that to you in replying (repeatedly) to comments of yours. I shouldn’t have had to, because if you had been able read the post in the spirit it was written — or at least perceive that — you wouldn’t be accusing me of espousing Alt-Right views (and call me a deplorable”).

 

 

[Pete Smith wrote] “ …. it was simply to try to convince you that it was equally reasonable for to others to aver that another country, maybe Sweden of Finland, could be the greatest country in the world”

 

 

[Roger Smith] Of course. Do you think I can’t see that?

 

 

[Pete Smith wrote] “‘In my opinion, a number of your blog posts state opinions as facts (as in “Beethoven is the best composer ever”) — and without an evidence basis for your opinion, this comes across as arrogant.”

 

 

[Roger Smith] Not arrogant whatsoever. The TONE of my writing is not arrogant. But, a good writer has to SAY SOMETHING, assert it. Has to have a point of view. Hopefully, stimulate and challenge the reader. My acquaintances know that I am not arrogant in discussion or conversations. I do feel strongly about a lot of things. I think that’s a good thing.

By the way, I never did say that Beethoven is the best composer ever. I said his late quartets were the best quartets ever, by way of giving am example. If I did make such a statement, I would not be so clueless as to think that someone else might not have a different opinion.

You and other commenters have characterized my views and posts as pompous and arrogant. That’s not true of my writing, nor is it true of the experience others have had in discussions with me. They find me humble, polite, willing to be corrected, and eager to exchange opinions, as well as to learn something new or hear an original take on something. (My wife does it all the time.)

A writer has to be clear and make points forcefully; also it is hoped that one’s writing will stimulate and provoke the reader to perhaps look at things with a fresh eye. There’s nothing wrong with that.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Pete Smith, September 29, 2017

I don’t disagree with much that you say and recognize that you were saying that the quartets were the best ever, not Beethoven throughout, etc. My error here. I also recognize that in person you are humble, polite, thoughtful, bright, and open to other people’s ideas even when they are contrary to yours. You are also a damned good writer — as I’ve told you often before. My only complaint is that whether you are talking about others’ opinions in your blog, your strong feelings often come across as definitive conclusions rather than strong opinions, especially when you are talking about editors at the NY Times or academics with advanced degrees, or other cohorts for whom you seem to have a special loathing. And yes, sometimes you sound pompous and arrogant.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Roger Smith, September 29, 2017

Thanks for the complimentary words, Pete.

Pomposity. That’s not me. Never has been. I am authentically me, without putting on airs. This is true of me in person and of my writing.

A better word for what you describe as arrogance might be invective.

Some of my posts, such as the posts about Janette Sadik-Kahn’s plan to remake Fifth Avenue; the against “cultural misappropriation” movement and the protest against the Emmet Till painting; the call for destruction of statues and monuments; and the Anthony Weiner sentence, are polemical. To make one’s point, arguing often with fierce “winds” of contrary, often entrenched opinion blowing back at oneself, irony and invective are not inappropriate. Think of Swift writing “A Modest Proposal,” Tom Paine “Common Sense,” or Zola “J’accuse!” The thing is not to be mealy mouthed.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

Pete Smith, September 30, 2017

You should poll your followers on this. Or maybe go back and read all your posts with a fresh eye.

There is nothing wrong with arguing strongly to make one’s point, or using irony or highly critical language. But when it is embedded in a spirit of “I am the true intellectual and you (or they) are not” and when your conclusions are presented as definitive facts rather than opinions, and when your posts comment on how much smarter you are than the academics or editors you abhor (or, as above, equating your self with Jonathan Swift), you do come across as arrogant and positive.

Which is nothing like the nice, gentle person who you really are — which is why I’m trying to steer you in a less self-centered direction. In the recognition that I may be off base here, I invite other readers to comment.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Roger Smith, September 30, 2017

Pete — I appreciate that you say something nice about me, BUT:

A polemic is an essay where you argue strongly for something, often an unpopular position rather than the majority one. It should be clear to any reader that I am expressing my opinions. All good writing arises from personal experience or reflection, and writing without a point of view is bland and uninteresting. If I say, for example, that I don’t like New York Times editorials, I realize that a lot of Times readers are not going to agree with me.

I do not claim to be smarter than others. I did not equate myself with Jonathan Swift. I used him as an EXAMPLE. An example of using sarcasm and irony (brilliantly) to get his point across.

I often do mention other writers and thinkers. I try to EMULATE them.

Yes, I strongly disagree with the opinions of many persons who are regarded as authorities or who hold exalted positions. What’s wrong with that? It’s called thinking for oneself (by a born contrarian).

Hubris and pomposity are not personal faults of mine. You do not seem to realize this, at least not fully. Writing should have an edge, and the writer should bring all the learning or she can to bear. You would be surprised if you knew how much research and spade work goes into many of my posts, to bring myself up to speed.

Some of my posts are all about myself. Others are about others. I felt strongly the other day about the Anthony Weiner sentence. I felt I had to write about it. Was that post about ME?

Many of my other posts are about general issues, or writers I admire or music I like, and so forth.

Self-centered? Because I use my own my own experience as fodder for my writings? I am reading Thoreau’s famous essay about walking now. Guess what it’s built upon. His own experiences as a walker: where he walks, how long he does, why he does, what he thinks about when he walks, etc., etc.

In my own essay on this site about walking (which I wrote before having read Thoreau’s essay), I talked a lot about my own experience as a walker, then tried to extrapolate from it to make points that readers may find worthwhile to consider as they may pertain to their own experience. This is the best way to do it because the best examples I can provide to illustrate and prove my points come from my own experience. It’s a sort of inductive method: start with what you think you know and have experienced and generalize from that. I could have approached the subject differently and said, here are 6 things about walking, Mr. or Ms. reader, that you ought to know and 5 tips. That would be boring and less convincing (plus a lot less fun to read).

I appreciate the nice things you have said, but I am not a self centered or arrogant person. My writings are a true reflection of me, and they are not self centered or arrogant. Nor are they pompous. I’m too smart to commit the error of pomposity. (That’s an oxymoron.)

One other person whom you know well has said similar things about my posts. No one else has. Absolutely no one. By way of a comment or in conversation with me. Absolutely nothing about arrogance, pomposity, or showing off.

Please show me where in my posts I “comment on how much smarter you are than the academics or editors you abhor.” Which ones? I do find myself strongly in disagreement with politicians, policy wonks, social engineers, judges, prosecutors, educators and academics. No doubt you will find examples. I have, on a different site (on Theodore Dreiser), pointed our errors in scholarship, but only when I was certain. I have also disputed certain scholarly views occasionally. By “editors,” perhaps you mean the Times Editorial Board.

I am not a passive reader. You should read William Blake’s annotations to Joshua Reynolds, Lavater, etc. (or Samuel Johnson’s review of Soame Jenyns’s “A Free Enquiry into the Nature and Origin of Evil”) if you think I’m too quick to criticize or too vehement. Blake is another literary figure I admire. Note I said admire

 

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Addendum:

 

There are some core issues here.

Some people seem to be threatened by the thought of a writer having an opinion.

Granted, we have all witnessed people ranting and raving with in public forums or on talk radio, for example.

But anyone who reads my posts knows that they are well written and thought out and are the product of deep reflection and reading by a well educated, widely read, cultured person.

This particular critic says things such as that I am espousing alt-right, America first, etc. views congenial to the Trump camp; and (he has stated elsewhere) misogynistic views. Does he think such wild, unfounded allegations will discredit me as a writer?

What were Samuel Johnson’s credentials? Jonathan Swift’s? Orwell’s? Did they need to obtain “permission” from a minder in the press office before publishing?

Does anyone still read them? I have, extensively. For instance, I’m not just familiar with Nineteen Eighty-Four; I have read it at least three times. I have read Gulliver’s Travels in its entirety two or three times. I have spent the last twenty-five years or so reading everything I can by and about Samuel Johnson.

All are worthy exemplars. None was afraid to expound. Their words, their writings, are sufficient. No one cares or would bother to ask whether they were sufficiently credentialed or “entitled” to publish works such as Johnson’s moral and political essays and Swift and Orwell’s satirical and dystopian novels.

The proof is in the pudding. My writing can withstand such scrutiny and in fact, by virtue of its excellence, proves it to be ill informed and short sighted.

On the Question of Writing as It Relates to Potentially Sensitive Material on This Blog

 

 

 

IRF-SRL conference, Springfield College 1962; Roger highlighted, 4th row (2)

Roger Smith highlighted in fourth row

 

 

 

The following is an email of mine to a critic of a post of mine on this site who felt (inexplicably to me) that I had disclosed information in a post about someone from my distant past that I shouldn’t have.

The post is at

 

International Religious Fellowship (IRF)-Student Religious Liberals (SRL) Conference

 

 

The offending passage in my post (to me innocuous), which caused my relative to complain, was as follows: “There was a Scotch guy named Frank. And, a German guy named Joe, who, in retrospect, I thought might have been gay. He was a very nice man.”

 

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

The following is the text of my email in response to the relative who objected to the comment in my post:

 

 

The entry I wrote about the experience at the conference was brief. But it could have been even more concise.

I could have simply said, “In 1962, I attended an international youth conference at Springfield College in Springfield, MA. I had a wonderful time. The people were wonderful and I enjoyed meeting them very much.”

How boring.

You objected to one tangential, retrospective comment in the article referring to a person identified only by his first name whom I met at an event over 53 years ago.

It was a sort of “extraneous” remark, but I do not feel it was in any way harmful.

In public posts of this sort — the case can be different when it comes to someone writing a book of a confessional nature — stuff about one’s sex life and uncomplimentary mentions of acquaintances and old friends should be kept out.

I believe in my blog I have said a lot of nice things about people and have made a point of emphasizing the good memories.

An exception might be one of my high school memoirs covering events of 50 years ago in which I said that two teachers, whom I named, were horrible teachers and that a popular physical education teacher and a baseball coach, whom I named, treated me poorly when I tried out for the baseball team.

In writing, I try to work in details that come to mind. I feel that that’s what makes a piece interesting. I rely on memory, intuition, and a mental process of association in doing this. It is a very satisfying kind of mental activity.

It’s the particulars that give the piece life. No experience, no person is quite the same as any other. That’s what makes life so interesting. And, most experiences aren’t plain vanilla, white bread stuff. People have funny idiosyncrasies. Funny things happen. Things don’t hew to the norm. There are all sorts of surprises, twists, and turns.

I feel that the little details make for interesting reading, make the piece credible, make it work, make it clear just what the experience was, make the story believable to the reader.

I regard the observation of mine which you objected to — a posthumous one — as interesting and worth mentioning because it involved experiencing some things that I hadn’t before. It was part of my adolescent development.

It is interesting for me to write about this because I had actually forgotten about practically the whole conference and experience. Then, someone posted a message that brought it back to mind and I decided to write my brief recollections.

In doing this, little things popped into my head, including one little detail which you object to. I think it is interesting to an extent (as much as the other details in the piece are), it is gratifying me for to relive the experience and somewhat therapeutic to write about it, and I see no reason why I shouldn’t do this as long as I don’t hurt or offend someone.

I would like someone to tell me, who could be hurt or offended by a tangential comment such as this?

Let’s leave aside for a moment discussion of the possibility that I may have somehow given offense by disclosing something about somebody. (This was not the case here.) What reader could be offended by reading something like this? Whose sensibilities are going to be offended? How? In this day and age? Is this offensive or problematic content that should not be posted? I think not.

I can see no reason why I should censor myself in this regard, and in this particular case.

I was not writing something meant to be confessional. If I were writing an exposé, or a confessional memoir, the ground rules would be different. A different (in fact more lenient) standard would apply. But I cannot see how I transgressed whatever standard you or any reader might apply here.

I was writing something like a mini-memoir, a little piece of autobiography. Little details bring this kind of writing alive, particularize it, make you (meaning, the writer) come across as an individual.

Yes, one must be careful. I am not just writing for family and friends. I am posting something on the Internet where anyone can see it.

I may have erred on occasion by posting something I shouldn’t have (though I have tried to avoid this). That is certainly possible. But in this case, I cannot imagine how anyone can regard what I wrote as offensive, hurtful, or inappropriate.

The individual was not identified. There are no graphic or prurient details; there were, in fact, none to include.

When one writes, one should feel some freedom to include what comes to mind, as long as it is not offensive to someone or in bad taste.

I firmly believe this. That’s my key point.

Otherwise, what is the point of writing?

 

— Roger W. Smith

 email to a relative, January 10, 2016

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

addendum: July 24, 2019

 

As I have stated above, nothing was stated or revealed in the “offending” post that should not have been.

It might be pointed out by me, though, that my befriending an individual, a man older than me, at a religious conference, who might have been gay — I was age 15 — was a not insignificant experience in my adolescence. I corresponded with Joe once or twice after the conference, but it was not a deep or lasting friendship. He went back to Germany and we never met again.

At that age, I did not know that there was such a thing as homosexuality, and would not have been able to define it. Yet, I felt there was something different here when it came to his friendliness — it seemed closer or warmer, more ardent, than usual. I did not perceive, consciously, a sexual element. But I did think, how should I respond? And — this happened only once — on the evening before the conference ended, as we were saying goodnight to one another, Joe reached out and patted my shoulder and (I think) rubbed my cheek. He said something affectionate, but not improper, and seemed to be struggling with his feelings. I told him it was okay, that I had warm feelings for my brothers and my male friends.

That was all. But it’s the kind of detail that might be in a coming of age novel. For the carping, pettifogging critic to complain seemed totally uncalled for.

 

— Roger W. Smith

one doesn’t write in a vacuum

 

 

a comment posted on this site by Pete Smith

July 8, 2018

in response to the following post of mine:

 

“expressing outrage” … admirable or to be frowned upon?

https://rogersgleanings.com/2018/06/27/expressing-outrage-admirable-or-to-be-frowned-upon/

 

 

Stop the self-serving blathering.

Despite your recent posts bemoaning the Trump administrations horrific treatment of immigrant families, you forget your posting in support of Trump after the Billy Bush tape, pretending that this was just “locker room talk” (Trump’s own characterization) and thus joining the legions of racist misogynist xenophobic supporters who chose to look the other way at this horrible idiot and, incredibly, helped get him elected.

Your relatives are not two-faced liberals who pretend compassion but live for only themselves. We and our spouses have given more than you will ever know (because you don’t ask or care) and far far more than you have given to support the underprivileged, both through personal service and financial support. Your hateful screeds denying this are an insult to your family and an embarrassment to yourself.

Stop reposting this garbage.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

One doesn’t write in a vacuum. Ex nihilo.

You have to have something to start with. To leverage off of. Drawing upon one’s own experience. Something you are reacting to. Which you heard or experienced. Something from your own, lived experience.

Which perhaps — or definitely — got you thinking about something.

For example:

A relative, commenting upon frequent messages of mine about migrant children being cruelly separated from their parents under the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy, seemed to be implying that I was getting too worked up over the issue (which reminded me of what most “reputable” people used to think and say about abolitionists prior to the Civil War). Which led to the outpouring of vituperation (responding to a post of mine on the topic) from the relative quoted above.

A relative asking me why do I keep posting photos of myself on my City walks on Facebook, and publicly stating that it was a case of vanity.

Close relatives telling me that I am obsessed with being praised for my writing and too proud of it.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

The following are posts of mine which resulted from me considering such topics after something brought them to mind. The posts led to snide and harsh criticisms, both on line and in emails, from relatives of mine:
“expressing outrage” … admirable or to be frowned upon?

https://rogersgleanings.com/2018/06/27/expressing-outrage-admirable-or-to-be-frowned-upon/

 

 

on photography (MINE; an exchange of emails, with apologies to Susan Sontag)

https://rogersgleanings.com/2019/05/30/on-photography-mine-an-exchange-of-emails-with-apologies-to-susan-sontag/

 

 

In which the question is taken up: When is the desire to be admired not abnormal?

In which the question is taken up: When is the desire to be admired not abnormal?

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

To repeat. The writer has to have something to start with, to leverage off of. It’s usually something you disagree with or want to clarify and, in so doing, make your point of view stand out. Otherwise, we would only have generic, unfocused, anodyne writing — inoffensive, but dull and not worth reading:

My Summer Vacation

How I Am Enjoying My Retirement Years

Why I Am a Liberal

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

The self-appointed censors in my family would be happy with prior restraint. They wish to be designated “minders” who can control what I write about and am permitted to say, making sure I step on no toes and that no one is ever offended. They want a sort of closed circuit Orwellian publication channel or venue in which thought control and censorship can be imposed, if deemed necessary, by them.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Think of the writers — many examples come to mind — such as James T. Farrell in his trilogy Studs Lonigan; Theodore Dreiser in his early novels and his autobiographical work Dawn; Tolstoy in his novella “The Kreutzer Sonata,” who were drawing upon their own experience in their families or among boyhood friends (in the case of Farrell) as a source of content and as grist for the writer’s mill. By their doing so, their works gained verisimilitude. The philistines are incapable of recognizing or appreciating this.

Inventing characters out of whole cloth or opining about hypothetical situations usually does not lead to good writing. A writer leverages off his or her own unique experiences.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

A final thought: Beware of people who want to beat you with a cudgel by bringing in some public figure such as Richard Nixon or Donald Trump whom they loathe and somehow, incongruously, trying to place you or your views in the same “camp.” It’s usually a case of psychological projection.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 2019

the Pocasset murder (1879)

 

 

 

‘The Pocasset Murder’

 

 

 

See attached, downloadable Word document (above).

Plus, see text below (which includes a summary/abstract).

See also

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/08/28/newspaper-accounts-of-the-pocasset-murder-edith-burgess-ellis-d-1879/

 

 

*********************************************************

 

 

 

Abstract:

 

Five year old Edith Burgess Freeman (b. July 27, 1874) was murdered in 1879 by her father in their home on the town of Pocasset on Cape Cod in what has been described as a “ritual killing.”

In this article, I have attempted to uncover the facts about the case. It was well publicized at the time, but seems to have been largely forgotten.

See attached downloadable Word file (above).

I became interested in the case, which I had never heard of until recently, because some of my mother’s distant ancestors and their relatives were involved. The murderer was the son-in-law of my mother’s great-grandmother.  And, my mother’s great-grandmother defended the actions of the son-in-law, Charles F. Freeman (the murderer); and of her daughter Hattie (Ellis) Freeman (my maternal grandfather’s aunt), who initially supported her husband, a religious fanatic, believing that his actions were justified on religious grounds.

 

 

– Roger W. Smith

     August 2016

 

 

***************************************************

 

 

 

Freenan Pocasset house

The Freeman house in Pocasset, MA. (See text pertaining to in the article, attached as a Word document.)