Reality check

I’ve been doing work in public for a long time now — fifteen or twenty years, depending on how you judge it. And there’s a thing that you go through, when you’ve had absolutely no voice at all, and suddenly you find that you have a small voice that a few people are paying attention to — you tend to overestimate the level at which your newfound voice is being broadcast. It’s a heady experience, when you first go from being completely obscure to being ever so slightly less obscure. You’re the center of your own storm. And being at the center of your own storm — seeing the references to your work, receiving feedback from total strangers — can fool you into thinking that the storm is really, really massive.

But you know what? It’s just not. You’re at the center of your own storm, and your neighbor doesn’t even know it’s raining out. And this is the thing that you learn, and learn to make your peace with. Unless you are on the very top of the ladder, you’re just another marginal voice. Having a small voice doesn’t mean you’re making a large impact on the world.

Anyway, I got to thinking about this after repeatedly noticing that some bloggers, having been given an inch, are apparently under the impression that they are rulers. For instance, when the New York Times asked a group of mostly middle-to-right leaning bloggers “What transformed politics this time around?” the answer several of them gave was, of course, their own blogging. And now, via Pandagon, I see that some bloggers are nominating themselves to take over William Safire’s op-ed space.

I guess you have to have a fairly high opinion of yourself to keep one of these little weblogs, but you also need to keep things in perspective. A little bit of attention and a few small victories do not change the fact that you are still, for the most part, a novelty act, like a horse that can count by stomping its hooves. People may be amused and interested by the horse, but they aren’t going to give him tenure in the math department at a prestigious university.