The Commentary: Year 11
BY JOSEPH PLANTA
VANCOUVER – The Commentary is ten today.
I had demurred writing in this space to mark the tenth anniversary of the first so-called column I wrote. It seemed disingenuous to come back to writing after neglecting it largely the last few years. It seems that as the website has morphed into a repository of audio interviews, I gave up on writing. Having once enjoyed the tapping away at the keyboard, allowing the thoughts to come out of my fingers, I found it difficult to write. I’d often claim writer’s block, but really, I’d rather talk to authors or journalists about their own writing, than attempt it myself.
But I’m a sentimental person, and I suppose ten years ought to be marked. At the age of 27, that’s a large chunk of one’s life thus far.
Ten years ago, I was still in high school, wrapping up the 11th grade, wondering what to do to fill my summer. I suffered at the time from severe migraines and had spent much time in doctor’s offices and the sort. I recounted this story four years ago in an interview with Dogma Radio’s Roland Tanglao, which unfortunately you can’t find on the internet anymore. I’d read Allan Fotheringham for years in the back page of Maclean’s, and had marvelled at Rafe Mair’s editorials that opened up each of his radio programs. I wanted to do the same. So I thought I’d write a column myself. I’d write about whatever was on my mind, and e-mail it to unsuspecting friends. For the first couple of years, I was writing up to five-times-a-week.
It was at once interesting to work on one’s skill at composition, as it was a tiresome chore. I learned very quickly that to be a writer involved much discipline, and that writing was as much re-writing and editing as it was writing. The French mathematician and philosopher Pascal, once wrote a friend, something to the effect: I would have written a shorter letter, but I didn’t have the time.
A friend of many years, Vishal Dhir, one day suggested that I should put my written output on a website. It could be an online portfolio of sorts, as blogs were hardly as ubiquitous as they are now. This website www.thecommentary.ca went online in 2003. I wrote regularly, and attempted book reviewing as well. Eventually with review copies of books, came offers of interviews with the authors.
Thanks to the influence of Don Imus and his radio program of which I am a stalwart fan, I decided to do interviews over the phone, recording the conversations, and then stream them on the website. The On the Line interview program began in August of 2004, five years ago, and along with author interviews, I’ve been fortunate enough to talk to sundry journalists and commentators, the occasional celebrity, and the odd politician.
I suppose it was a mix of self-consciousness, laziness, and lack of discipline that I stopped writing on this website. I became self-conscious about the inane comments I’d made about the current affairs of the late 1990s, early 2000s. I was often loud and weak in substance. I grew lazy of sitting in front of the computer and writing, and undisciplined in writing 800-words on a regular basis. The interviews were becoming more regular and frequent, and I devoted my time to reading on and researching my guests. My yield was contained to writing out my notes for an interview, and the sometimes unwieldy, wordy introductions I would give my guests. Over time, I felt the columnist, or the writer, or the blogger views themselves the arbiter of good taste or the chronicler of current events to the world, when in fact it’s really just that small corner of the internet that one inhabits, for those sometimes anonymous people who stop by to read. I wasn’t going to be Frank Rich or Andy Rooney; Jeffrey Simpson or Mark Steyn.
Over the last ten years, Allan Fotheringham ended his back page column in Maclean’s and Rafe Mair is no longer on the radio. (I’ve been lucky though, to continue hearing him, whenever he appears with me. He’s been the program’s most frequent guest, appearing six times in the last five years.) Thankfully, the migraines aren’t as frequent.
In ten years, I’ve evolved online from a frequent e-mail correspondent, to an online columnist, to now, a bit of an amateur broadcaster, hosting an interview program. Realising that my opinion perhaps doesn’t matter as much, and that it was simply ego driving the former writer, I’ve become somewhat more circumspect in my rhetoric and tone-to the point where I rarely write.
What’ll happen for me as I go into year 11, I don’t know. Nor do I worry anymore. These last ten years have been good ones for me; fortuitous ones.
But in the end, the space I inhabit online with my old columns and interviews is really my own space to think or speak out loud. It has been more fun in recent years, and I have every intention of continuing this for a little while longer.
The interview program will continue, though with greater frequency after the summer. Perhaps I’ll write more, but I’m not going to promise to do so, because I rarely find myself compelled to. My writing these days consists of alerting e-mail buddies about new interviews on the website, or updating my Facebook status. Vishal Dhir, bless him, is bringing thecommentary.ca a new look that’ll debut in the next few weeks. Perhaps I’ll be compelled to write more. Perhaps not.
As I continue doing this, I still wonder about its purpose.
What is it for? I don’t know.
Will it be around in ten years? I don’t know.
But here I go into year 11, trying to figure it all out.