On politics, writing, the Good People and that whole memorializing-after-death thing

Now that I am, for better or worse, a proper member of the blogosphere, I suppose that gives me the right to comment on the recent trend (perhaps particularly noticeable in corporate blogs, or those that aspire to be) for a blogger to give away as little personal information as possible in his or her posts. One could read some blogs regularly for a year or two and still have no idea of the bloggers’ marital status, where they live (beyond, perhaps, their country), how old they are, or have a clue as to their political or religious beliefs. It seems to be diametrically opposed to the original idea of blogging, which was, as I understand it, to keep an online journal of what’s going on in your life and what you think about it all.

Certain blogs out there (popular ones, to be sure) give out no information more personal than, “look at this cool site/video/news article I found the other day — it has nothing to do with me, but so what, it’s cool and funny!” Which is fine once in a while, but it’s like popcorn or Twix bars — good for a treat, but it makes a poor main course.

While I appreciate the concept that one shouldn’t be metaphorically bleeding all over the carpet (as the late Kirsty MacColl once put it in another context) online all the time, and I certainly don’t care to indulge in the practice myself, I think the least I owe anyone who cares to hop over to this site and read my stuff is: 1) to be honest about the things I write about, and 2) to give them some idea of what kind of person is behind all the words.

Which brings us to the regrettable death of the wonderful and irreplaceable writer Molly Ivins, who died yesterday from breast cancer at the too-young age of 62. Although we shared an adopted home city (which she got to long before I did), I didn’t know Ivins except through her books and columns. I don’t think there is anything much I could add to the multitude of tributes she’s received in newspapers, in online memorial sites (more about these in a bit) and from various public figures (even including, for whatever it’s worth, the president and the governor of Texas, two of her more frequent targets). Yes, Ivins will be missed. Yes, she was possessed of a rapier wit sheathed in a Texas good ol’ gal wrapper (however self-aware that prose style was). Yes, she consistently made more sense out of current politics (both Texan and national; and too often, these were close to the same thing) than just about any other writer I could name, and expressed what I, and a heck of a lot of other people, were thinking a lot better than we could express it ourselves. And was consistently entertaining, into the bargain.

And now she’s dead, damn. And now what?

There was once a rock band called The Outnumbered, who put out an album titled Why Are All The Good People Going Crazy. This title resonated with me at the time, and still does; as I’ve gotten older, I sometimes think that an equally appropriate, if not quite as catchy, title would have been Why Do All The Good People Die Too Early. Not all of them do, of course, but however old they are, it’s the good people, naturally enough, who are missed the most when they go. To me, the “good people” are honest individuals of good will who deal with others in a straightforward manner, know that having a sense of humor is important, and know who they are. Despite sometimes turbulent lives and circumstances, they haven’t given up hope and, in fact, take time to encourage others not to give up, either, and work for positive change (for themselves as well as for Society As A Whole). Take Molly Ivins’s friend and fellow thorn in the Bushes’ sides, former Texas governor Ann Richards, who died last September — as a friend remarked to me today, it’s too bad that we’re losing all the feisty, witty, vocal, liberal Texas women within such a short time (sort of like when all the Ramones were dying — why, you ask, is this happening now? What does it have to do with anything else?)

Although it’s natural to feel sad at the untimely deaths of writers, musicians, or any artists whose work you’ve enjoyed (not to mention, egad, your family and friends), I’ve always felt it was better to honor people while they were still with us, tell them what they mean to you while they’re still around to hear it. Better to have an awkward moment, at worst, than a lifetime of regret at never getting around to saying what you always meant to say to them. This applies to people like Molly Ivins, but also to your great-aunt Ida, your Grandpa Jack, or that lonely friend of a friend who probably needs a word of appreciation now and then a lot more than someone in the public eye with a professionally designed website and active guest book.

Perhaps such regrets are a main reason for the popularity of online memorial sites like findagrave.com and their ilk, where you can leave “virtual flowers” for departed royalty, movie stars, presidents, rock ‘n’ rollers, baseball players and seemingly every major and minor celebrity who ever existed, from Julius Caesar to Aaliyah. Closer to home, you can create a personalized online memorial for a departed family member (complete with photos and music, for a modest fee) or even a beloved pet. Such memorials are, of course, meant to be a consolation for the living, and I don’t believe the dead people (or pets) read them, unless they have very good broadband access. In my entire life, I’ve only ever signed one online condolence register (for a writer and editor who helped me in my professional life once upon a time), and only once felt the need to write to a deceased celebrity via an online guestbook (I’m not telling).

In a well-known anecdote relating to the 1947 funeral of the celebrated film director Ernst Lubitsch, Billy Wilder is supposed to have bemoaned to his friend William Wyler, “No more Lubitsch.” Wyler’s response: “Worse than that — no more Lubitsch films.” My feeling is similar — no disrespect intended to Molly Ivins’s family and friends, but the worst thing for me personally is no more Molly Ivins columns (as if we readers could or should separate the writer from her work, anyway — which is a column in itself).

Although I consider myself quite politically inclined, and incline mainly towards the axis of the progressive Democrats (though I take marching orders from nobody, and don’t consider any politician, past or present, to be my hero — trust me, they’ll all let you down in the end) , I don’t feel the need to write a whole lot about politics here. It’s not that I don’t think it’s a proper subject for public discussion — as something that affects everyone’s life to a profound degree, there is nothing more appropriate for debate. There are many political blogs and other websites out there that do it quite well already, and I don’t think much is to be gained, at this late date, from my stating over and over again that I don’t much care for the present occupant of the Oval Office, that I thought invading Iraq was a mistake from the get-go (you want to know how to support the troops? Don’t send them to foreign lands to get shot at and blown up for no good reason), that there needs to be drastic reform of the health care system, to name just one pressing problem, in the United States, and that George Orwell was just 20 years too early as a prognosticator. I think that these points should be fairly obvious to any thinking person, though I know there are plenty of views to the contrary and there seems to be no real debates any more about anything, just opposing camps shouting at each other.

Again, if politics is your thing, there are plenty of other websites, discussion groups and even political parties out there in which to immerse yourself. As for Molly Ivins, she discovered fairly early on what she did best and stuck to her guns, and the rest of us are far better off for it, whether or not we share her political leanings. It’s best not to try to emulate Molly, as if we could, but just be true to our truest selves — find the best way we can express ourselves, and do it with all the caring and grace we can muster. Because it matters, after all.

That’s far better than any virtual memorial I can think of.

One response to “On politics, writing, the Good People and that whole memorializing-after-death thing

  1. I am also going to miss Molly Ivins. I want to become a great liberal writer just like her. I wrote about her on my blog today, but also wrote a little about myself. If you look, you’ll know about my family and my marital status.

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