Sunday Night Journal — December 30, 2007
The Secret History of the Sunday Night Journal
A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.
The end of 2007 marks the fourth full year since I began this web site and the Sunday Night Journal. It thereby constitutes one of the most sustained efforts at writing that I’ve ever achieved (the other is a not-very-successful children’s or young adults’ story), and I’m very pleased by that.
I started Light on Dark Water mainly as a place to publish miscellaneous writings of mine that had nowhere else to go. It was also an exercise in learning basic HTML and CSS, which I needed in my job. The Sunday journal, which I began very soon after the main site, was something else: a “mind game,” as people used to say in the ‘60s, a psychological trick that I played on myself.
The term “double-minded” might have been invented to describe me. I can almost always see at least two sides of every question; I can never make a decision without a period of miserable vacillation; I can rarely do anything without thinking that I should be doing something else; I can rarely look back at the major decisions of my life without wondering if they were mistakes (except in those cases where I’m certain they were, and the very few which I’m certain were not, such as my entry into the Catholic Church.) My daughter Clare, when she was dependent on me to drive her to school, even diagnosed and named a psychological disorder after my inability to leave home in the morning without going back into the house at least once and otherwise delaying us: Departure Avoidance Disorder, or DAD.
One chronically troublesome aspect of this double-mindedness is that for as long as I can remember I’ve felt a compulsion to write, but have never been able to keep at it for very long. This is partly because I’m lazy and have difficulty concentrating, but in a greater degree because I have to earn a living and fulfill various other responsibilities. Thus writing seems a self-indulgence to which I really have no right, and time spent on it seems stolen from something else that has a better claim to it (at this moment, for instance, I’m harried by the thought that I should be washing one of the dogs). And when I do take time to write, I have trouble deciding what to focus on; the past thirty years are littered with scraps of unfinished work, including a couple of big projects which I was never able to sustain.
I noticed some years ago that I was far more likely to make the time for writing if I had some sense of obligation to do it: if I promised someone a book review, for instance, or when we needed material for Caelum et Terra. If I’m obligated to someone else, I don’t feel so much that writing is an act of theft.
The Sunday Night Journal, then, was a public commitment (however small the public), to write something every week. At first it was mainly just a promise to myself. Soon my web site statistics indicated that there were a few people showing up every week to read the journal—and, voila, a sense of obligation arose, and I had the extra bit of push I needed to keep up the weekly commitment. I haven’t missed a week, even if all I produced was a short note saying that I was okay after a hurricane.
I now have over 200 of these weekly columns, and can look back on the past four years and see that I’ve accomplished something; I haven’t accomplished nothing. If each these pieces is roughly the equivalent of a printed page, I’ve written a short book. The trick worked; I won the mind game I played with myself.
Now I have another problem. After resisting the temptation to start a blog, I finally started using Blogger for my weekly journal, because that made it simpler and easier. Soon it began to turn into a blog in the full sense. I added Music of the Week. The comments feature enabled feedback and many interesting and lively conversations. I began to post more frequently. As I noted when I started the site, I feared a blog would take over my life, and while it hasn’t done that I do spend a fair amount of time on it.
The result is that this site is crowding out other writing projects. I have several essays in mind that would be much too long for blog entries, and I think I could place some of them with a magazine or two. I have dozens of half-finished or barely-begun poems, and some other things that I superstitiously won’t even mention until I’ve made more progress on them.
Now I’m looking for a way to keep doing this, or most of it, and still make some time for other things. I’ve really been enjoying the normal blogging aspect of this site, and I may give up the weekly journal in favor of shorter and more frequent blog posts. I definitely plan to spend less time on the music reviews, and if I can’t make them shorter and less time-consuming I may drop them altogether. I need to reorganize the whole site—there is, for instance, no SNJ index past March 2007, there is no MotW index past 2006, there is no subject index, etc. I’d like to reorganize the whole site, possibly moving it to WordPress, which has facilities for maintaining non-blog entries. And so forth.
So there may be some changes here. One thing I definitely don’t want to give up, though, is the conversational aspect. I’ve been enriched, entertained, and spurred to deeper thought by everyone who comments here. The site does not, if my web stats are accurate, have all that many visitors—a few hundred every week, a handful in comparison to more widely-known blogs—but that’s more than enough to keep me feeling that it’s worthwhile to continue, and I’m gratified that you find the place interesting enough to keep coming back. My thanks to you, and my wishes for a happy new year.
(Here, by the way, is the first Sunday Night Journal )