“There is no limit to how complicated things can get on account of one thing always leading to another.” -E.B. White.
From Desiree, a blog reader, yesterday: Before you said that Maria never heard you snore, and that’s why you were unaware that you did. Now you say that your snoring disturbs her. Which is it?
Sometimes, when I want to laugh or when I want to cry, I think of E.B. White, the author, and essayist who was the inspiration for my Bedlam Farm Journal.
He moved from New York City just before World War II in the pre-social media era. From there, he wrote eloquently and graciously in a series of often dry and humorous essays about his new life on a farm in Maine. He also loved writing about dogs.
White wrote with insight and humor, as many New Yorker writers did, and his excellent book about his life up there – One Man’s Meat– gave me the idea to write this blog, a daily journal in my mind, about my life on a farm in upstate New York.
As revealed by their clunky name, Blogs have never been treated with as much respect as New Yorker essays were, and that is not going to change in my lifetime. But my blog gets a lot of respect from me. People always tell me to write a book about one thing or another; my reply is always the same: the blog is my book.
White had a small but rich correspondence with his readers, who wrong him long, admiring, penetrating, and thoughtful messages, many of which he answered and published.
But, he said, people had to remember that there was one of him and many thousands of them.
In my life, my blog, which I consider to be my living memoir, has hundreds of thousands of regular visitors (four million hits a year). It is an independent publication, but it also posts onto Facebook, where 3 billion people get a chance to write to me via messengers or e-mail.
If you are a gambling person, you can do the math yourself. The odds are very good that somebody will not like something – or anything – that I wrote, or will seize on what I might think is a completely insecure and irrelevant point in an essay i’m writing and raise a question about it or accuse me of lying, hypocrisy, or attempted murder.
I’ve written a dozen essays about my sleep apnea mask, and yesterday, I wrote what I thought was a triumphant and positive piece about how well I am doing.
The only message I got was from Desiree, who rather huffily and indignantly demanded to know if I was telling the truth when I wrote some time ago in a (hopefully) humorous piece that Maria said she was very rarely awakened by any snoring from me. (What she failed to add was that she sleeps like the dead and rarely hears anything from me at night).
In my piece yesterday, I quoted Maria as saying (she loves ribbing me about my mask) that the sound of the air moving through the mast is better than the sound of my snoring.
Desiree, as swift as Sherlock Holmes, pounced.
I’m fascinated by this message from Desiree, and a little stung by how far I’ve fallen from the meaningful and compelling messages that E.B. White shared in his books. Could this really be important to her?
I feel I’ve let him and his legacy down. I apologize if he is listening.
I am not angry with Desiree, but a little abashed to have the only question on my essay be about whether I am lying or not about what Maria said about my snoring. (As if I really know, given all that flows through my head each day, let alone my masked nights.)
Desire has humbled me, and perhaps that is the real value of social media. No man or woman in America in 2021 is E.B. White, not even E.B. White.
So I got off my butt and went to ask Maria what was really said about my snoring so Desiree could rest in peace. Apparently, readers want to know. I pleaded with her to investigate hostility as well as snoring.
Maria was in the living room reading a book, but I came in and sat down with a serious demeanor and interrupted her. She’s got a sinus infection and is pretty fuzzy, but this was important, I said. I read Desiree’s message aloud and I said I need to know the truth. Please be honest with me.
Did I snore a lot, I asked Maria, what did she say about it?
Maria is quite used to the madness of our times and my life and can no longer be surprised by me. She is unrelentingly honest and answered directly:
“Well,” she said, “once in a while you snored. But I sleep a lot, and you never did, so I don’t really know.” I thanked her and came back to write this while I still remembered it. “This is crazy,” she was mumbling as I left the room and returned to my study.
I replied to Desiree saying I was very curious to know why she cares whether I snored a lot, and why it was her business. I said if she would answer me, I would reply to her question as best I could. Of course, she did not write back and explain this to me, as I knew she wouldn’t. But I’ll try here.
So Desiree, when Maria made the joke about my mask being quieter than my snoring, I didn’t think much about it, it was too good a line to pass up and I was heady from sleeping through the night.
I didn’t stop to consider whether it was literally true, I was distracted by writing about my mask, which seemed more important at the time.
I never suspected I might have to explain the snoring to a Grand Jury. But there it is. As of now, nobody else has responded to my essay on my mask at all. At least she gave me something to write about.
Sometimes, in my meditation or dreams, E.B. White and I write letters to one another, the elegant, thoughtful, considered messages that have been pushed out of our world by the Internet. I do get some lovely letters still, but, and some very thoughtful blog messages.
In my fantasy, I am the new E.B. White, not just some dog writer or blogger spouting off on a small farm. I’m doing great, but I’m not going to get there.
Americans are giving up writing thoughtful and considered letters, even if I deserved them. They no longer write to persuade, mostly to whine and vilify. Perhaps Ben Franklin was right. Democracy is great if you can keep it.
It’s a lot easier to text or e-mail or send a Facebook message than write a letter. It’s free, it takes only seconds, and you don’t have to give it much thought at all. God Bless those letter survivors who do.
I have this sense that as social media gets bigger, our world really gets smaller. We are just kidding ourselves in order to help make billionaires even richer.
Is this really why God encouraged me to start my blog? So I can defend my snoring to Desiree?
I wonder how E.B. White or Henry David Thoreau would have responded to her, or if one or the other might have thrown themselves into their respective ponds, which both writers write about so lovingly.
I dare not compare myself to either man, that would truly be humbling.
“I don’t know which is more discouraging,” White wrote in his book, “literature or chickens.” I’m afraid I know the answer.
White would definitely have chosen humor, which I’m trying to do. Thoreau, on the other hand, took himself very seriously, which I am trying not to do. He would have stormed off of Facebook in a second.
But I have no doubt that social media would have done both of them in if they were on it. You need the hide of a Tyrannosaurus to survive it, and I’m growing scales all the time. The very idea of an E.B. White is perishing, along with honest politicians.
I’m not giving up or running away. That’s not going to happen to me.
Here’s the challenge: I want to stay as big as I can in this life, yet I am often reminded that I am as small as a tick on a dog’s nose.
— A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to write will die without putting a word to paper.” — E.B. White.
And then there’s another million of us who take it for what it is. Entertainment. I’ve become addicted to reading about your daily\nightly excursions.
I’m so happy that you’re happy.
I’m happy you’re enjoying it Steve, that’s the idea..I had a lot of fun with this one..
Love your mental imagery on if all this would make White and Thoreau ‘throw themselves into their respective ponds’. Well played.
“Americans are giving up writing thoughtful and considered letters, even if I deserved them. They no longer write to persuade, mostly to whine and vilify. Perhaps Ben Franklin was right. Democracy is great if you can keep it. ”
What if the Internet had been available for our founding fathers and great leaders? Could you imagine Washington’s Farewell Address, The Federalist Papers, or the Gettysburg Address as blog posts reduced to self-promotion and ridicule, without substance or reasoning?
Formulating the unity of a national mood comes from thoughtful consideration and expression, not from emotional reactions to spontaneous remarks. Modern media has replaced a book with its title; longhand writing with one-line quips; Walter Cronkite with “Breaking News”; and Fireside Chats with sound bites.
Unfortunately, politicians can use choppy, pre-emptory communication to stir up anger and divisiveness. Anger makes writing and speech more likely to produce action. But it can be overdone because it leads people to act on instinct.
An American tradition that has produced both benefits and disasters, anger has corrected wrongdoings. But it can also be used to exploit readers and listeners as prisoners of their own emotions.
Well WTH, Jon! Even though you write about personal things, I just wouldn’t even think to challenge any of them, as if you “owe” me an explanation. I love EB White and his “One Man’s Meat” and I do consider you and this blog to be a version of that in modern form. You keep writing, I will keep reading!
It’s a deal Karla, thanks, on behalf of me and E B
Oh my goodness, I’ve been reading your blog for several years and I love your take on life. Because of your CPAP journey my husband had a sleep study done (his snoring can wake the dead) and we found out he doesn’t stop breathing enough to warrant a CPAP machine. We got an adjustable bed frame at the doctors suggestion and by elevating the head of the bed it has helped with the snoring. Keep writing Jon, your blog is a joy to read!
Thanks Josie, I’ve heard the same think about elevated bed frames, I appreciate your good words.
I think the question of whether you were snoring is still significant in the context
of the sleep apnea conversation. And I am well beyond that point in support
of my partner making an appointment with the hospital sleep lab. And I am
assuming there are still thousands of readers or their spouses who would benefit
from being checked out. (Yes I did see many people wrote and thanked you).
I think I’ve had enough discussion about my snoring, if people have additional questions they should go to their doctors. Good luck with your husband It’s my job to share my life honestly, spouses are not my responsibility.
Seems to me to be of way too much time and energy being spent on whether you snore or not…too many more important thinks to think about an take care of…just my opinion.
I miss old fashion letter writing. I think it was good for the old brain. It’s too easy to jump on the computer and jot some “quick” thoughts down. When you write a “snail” letter, it takes time and sometimes revision. The practice made people practice their handwriting skills, grammar skills and language skills. And wasn’t it joyful to receive a letter along with your bills and advertisements. I would get the mail and sit on my front porch and relish every letter I received. There was some discussion about not teaching cursive writing in the schools on a news clip. How sad. Isn’t it bad enough that many kids can’t do math without a calculator. A deceased older relative of mine worked in a bank and did all calculations with pencil and paper. Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit her math skills.