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Thinking about drinking


Slow Sunday yesterday, nothing to do and not wanting to do anything. So just sat around the house and read the paper, caught up on the Irene news (which included hearing from old friends in western Massachusetts and southern Vermont and seeing some scary YouTubes of the rampaging Deerfield River which, when I lived there, was just a pleasant little stream). Then I decided, since I’m paying for premium movie channels anyway, I might as well watch one.

I’d seen Julie and Julia when it first came out and to be perfectly honest, didn’t much care for it. True, Meryl Streep was awesome as usual, but  Amy Adams’ Julie seemed self-centered and annoying (she herself admitted to being a bitch), so much so that I had an unpleasant memory of the film. But, as sometimes happens, on second viewing I liked it considerably more.

One of the more interesting aspects for me was Julie’s experience with blogging. As you know if you saw the film, she began blogging more or less as a lark, with no expectation that anyone would read her or that blogging would bring her to the brink of a real career. And yet, in that climatic scene where she finds 67 phone messages after the Christian Science Monitor wrote about her, overnight Julie was sought after by editors, publicists and all the other denizens of the celebrity world looking for the next big thing for the next 15 minutes.

I thought, why did Julie start blogging? Why did she go through all that work–not just holding down a fulltime job all day, but then cooking all night and, when the cooking and eating was over, far from laying her weary body down (with her husband), she then prolonged her workday by blogging about it? This line of thought naturally brought me, by extension, to my own reasons for blogging and–by extension from that–to all the other bloggers, both known and unknown to me, who cannot sleep at night, or who cannot wake up normally in the morning and go about their lives, until they’ve put their thoughts online for all to see.

At first, this seems like very self-centered behavior. Why would anybody think that one’s thoughts would be of the slightest interest to anybody else, much less a bunch of strangers out there in cyberspace? It’s very strange. I can see why (for example), people might be curious about what Dick Cheney has to say in his new book.  Regardless of what you thought about Cheney, he impacted our lives. But why would anyone care about the thoughts of a wine writer? It’s not as if we’re smarter than anyone else, or wiser. I’ve been reading classic Greek literature lately and am working my way through The Apology, in which Socrates/Plato makes the point that he who is wisest is the one who knows that he is utterly without wisdom. The older I get, the more I feel precisely that way, which makes it even weirder that this blog would attract the attention of anyone.

I know that some of it has to do with the fact that I am said to possess a certain kind of “power” through my job as a wine critic. People are curious, I suppose, how I perceive that supposed power, how I use it, how it shapes my thinking. The answer is: I perceive it as an illusion. It is an accident of my history and karma that came without my conscious bidding and will disappear just as abruptly as it arrived; and my responsibility as its vessel is to preside over its loss, when it goes, with equanimity. Which is to say that, like Plato’s Socrates, I’m aware that “power,” like “wisdom,” is a forgery.

The rest of the question had to do with you. Why do you read this blog, or any blog, for that matter? I like to think (maybe I flatter myself) that it’s because the writing pleases you. I’m not much for social intercourse in person, and I seem to get lamer with each passing month. It’s hard for me to be myself with others, unless they’re people I know extremely well and trust. Otherwise, my life’s experiences have made me rather mistrustful of people; and especially if they’re in the industry, I can never be sure exactly what their motives are. It’s hard having all the time to guess what’s really going on behind somebody else’s smiling facade.

Still, like most people, I’m a social animal. I think, I drink, I think about drinking, and wine–more than any other beverage–stimulates the deepest, best thinking because wine is the best beverage. It’s simply easier for me to frame the thoughts I want to share in words on a computer screen than to express them verbally in a social situation. Conversation happens quickly; half the time our words just fly out of our mouths, surprising even ourselves. With writing, you can take the time to express a thought articulately, so that you’re sure that what you just wrote is precisely what you meant. Which reminds of of something Meryl Steep’s Julia Child character said in the movie. She wanted (she said) to write down her recipes with “scientific precision” so that nobody who attempted to use them would ever make a mistake. That’s the way I feel about writing, and wine reviewing in general. I want to get it right.

Just in: Wine Enthusiast’s 2011 Wine Star Award nominees!

  1. Love this one. It came at just the right time for me. I had the time to simply read and enjoy. I read what you write, because I’ve always loved your writing, BTW. I wish I had more time in life to read everything you write; but, blogging – yours and mine – has made that impossible. Still, when I do have time to read what you’ve written, I’m never disappointed. You were born to write.

    How wonderful to be immersed in classic Greek literature… Something I should take the time for, as some point. I do agree, as I get deeper into knowing anything, the more I know, the more I know I don’t know. Life’s like that… very humbling.

  2. Steve,
    Can’t speak for others, but I read your writing because you are interesting (almost all the time). Your subject matter is always appropriate for the blog (wine – well, with the scattering of the sometimes political) and your comments on wine, life issues, and overall, are just… interesting, pithy, clever (well, most of the time)…

    And every now and again, you make reference to some esoteric subject that I have to look up, like “did Plato actually say that?” and it keeps me on my classical literature toes.


  3. Since you asked…there is no doubt that in my professional capacity I had no initial choice but to read your blog. But there is also little doubt that I continue to read it because I’ve come to admire your writing, your wit, if not always your politics (which rarely make an appearance here, and even then, more of a leaning, than a declaration)and the great breadth and depth of your curiousity. You’ve made me a better reader, and while I don’t construct a sentence and then think WWSD? I do find you among those I measure my own writing against.

  4. “Why do you read this blog?”

    Other publications pay me to keep tabs on you.

  5. Other wine news websites frequently link to your blog. The headlines always seem intriguing, and the quality of your writing is always a draw. This being said, I do think the danger in blogging is getting too caught up in the stream of consciousness without giving thought to the impact. Following your Parkerchuk article, you undoubtedly saw the reactions. It should make you realize that there is a certain responsibility to your job; that when you realize the “power” as you say, and less of the responsibility, there are consequences. As I used to tell my ninth grade students, you can choose to use your powers for good or for evil. What’s it going to be? One can be critical of something, but there’s a fine line between being witty and being mean-spirited. Keep up the good fight, but remember that you can be respected for positive things said and not just criticisms and critiques. You readers seek enjoyment. I mean, we’re talking about wine after all, aren’t we?

  6. “I do think the danger in blogging is getting too caught up in the stream of consciousness without giving thought to the impact. Following your Parkerchuk article, you undoubtedly saw the reactions. It should make you realize that there is a certain responsibility to your job; that when you realize the “power” as you say, and less of the responsibility, there are consequences.”

    Lou, I get what you are saying and I agree to an extent, but I am not sure what responsibility Steve has here. There was a debate on where Joe said he and other bloggers “owe it” to their readers to step up their game and one of his readers disagreed with him. I tend to agree. I think of a blog as a place for one person to express themselves, therefore not really owing anybody anything. I suppose it would be different if it was a blog that provided some deeper public service, but I don’t think a blog on wine qualifies.

    I never wrote for readers and I hope Steve doesn’t either. I don’t and can’t post everyday, and I don’t care if I have ten readers or 10-thousand (ok the later would be nice). I write first because I enjoy writing, second because it allows me to meet amazing people, and third because I like supporting the good and interesting people of wine (reviewing every wine a massive prodcer or distributor makes or markets does not count here either, that’s just kind of lazy).

    I read this Steve’s site to learn new things from someone who has stood in a lot more vineyards than I have, because it is often funny, because it upsets me from time to time, and because it always makes me think… oh and like I said, I get paid by other publications to monitor the goings on of this here wine blog.

  7. Wayne, thanks. I write for the same reasons you do. Every so often I’m inspired to write about something that gets a lot of comments, and then people invariably say, “Oh, he’s just being controversial to drive page views.” But that’s not it. I write a lot of posts that I know will get only 2 or 3 comments. Like you, I don’t care. Bloggers just wanna have fun!

  8. Wayne, what other publications? Perhaps they would pay me to keep tabs on myself. After all, I can do it better than you can, because I know where I am all the time.

  9. Jim, you can always sample my politics on Facebook!

  10. Oh the major ones Steve, OK!, People, Quilt Magazine, Model Airplane News, Garden and Gun. They all seem very interested in your activity. Just kidding of course.

    One more important lesson I learned on this site the other day. One of your commenters on the Gary post said he was at least happy to see people expressing themselves honestly and I agree with him. I think we should all be a little more bold in expressing ourselves openly (in a respectful manner) and not saying what others want to hear. So…

    A lot of low alcohol wines sucks.
    A lot of high alcohol wines also suck.
    Having a Twitter account does not make you a marketing consultant.
    Getting free samples does not make you a wine critic.
    Most wine blogs are not very attractive.

    There, I said it…

    Sometimes the people reading are more important than howmany of them there are.

  11. Steve, what resonated for me in this post was your comment about not being a social person in person. Writing, and blogging creates a way for communities to develop without needing in person contact–whether that gap is created by personality or distance. Your blog and the many food blogs I read keep me connected to what others are thinking, feeling, doing in much the same way as a really good book or novel will. The more I write my own blog, which is primarily sharing recipes, the more bloggers I meet, usually virtually. I like that expansion of my world, especially since I live in such a small town. That’s my two cents.

  12. Perhaps you write because it is increasingly difficult to have an articulate conversation with a population who’s attention span is in a constantly decreasing spiral. Writing gives the author the illusion of having an intelligent conversation of both length and substance. Both of those descriptors are rare commodities in this age. They are also two components of discourse that are required to fulfills a thinking persons social needs.

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