Hello out there. This is me blogging. As a wordsmith, I don’t love the term, even though I know the derivation. “Blog” has a family resemblance—aurally anyway— to “bog,” “fog,” “blob,” “gob,” “glop,” and “block.” None of these makes my mind or my keyboard fingers feel nimble. Nevertheless, I blog. And am happy to be so doing.
We who’ve made a living of sorts writing for newspapers grouse about the possible demise of print journalism. Some people still like to hold a paper—or a book, for that matter— in their hands. You can scan a page or so, let your eye fall on something you mightn’t have thought to read, fold the thing up, do the crossword, cut out a recipe. You can’t light a winter fire with a Kindle.
We tend to romanticize what could be considered time-consuming drawbacks. But they had real rewards. When I first started writing about dance for the Village Voice in the late 1960s, I carried the double-spaced pages that I’d hammered out on my Hermes portable to the Voice office on the northeast corner of Christopher Street and 7th Avenue, not far from my Greenwich Village apartment. The arts editor, Diane Fisher, sat cross-legged on a bench on her tiny pie-shaped office behind curtain of long blond hair, and took my copy. We chatted. Usually she made no editorial comments. Sitting very close, his back discreetly turned, Burt Supree typed with lightning speed whatever we critics turned in.
I continued to hand carry or mail my copy when Burt became the dance editor and a critic himself. (He died suddenly of a heart attack in 1992. You can discover him and his extraordinary dance writing at http://web.mac.com/martarenzi/Site/Home.html) You hear about editor-writer conflicts, and I had those at other papers, but never during those 1980 salad days at the Voice. I looked forward to spending time jawing about dance and life with Burt on almost every one of the 48 weeks a year that I wrote a column.
I never mastered an electric typewriter. My fingers were too pushy. I’d write things like dddddddance. But in the mid 1980s, I purchased a Kaypro, then the word processor of choice for Burt and most writers I knew. Its keyboard latched onto the monitor, and you could tote the whole thing like a suitcase. The screen was very small, and the type green. No hard disk, just two slots to hold 5 ¼- inch floppies: one was for the program WordStar, the other for your data. No more having to take my typewriter to be cleaned every six months because of the eraser fragments lodged everywhere (I had to use corrasible paper). I gave my Kaypro a name—I forget what—to make it seem less intimidating.
The internet? I didn’t even know the word at that point. Does tcp/ip ring a bell, anyone? With the aid of the Kaypro’s built-in modem and DataStar diskette, I could order the computer to dial a special number at the Voice, and if all went well, I could upload my file. Seated in front of the screen, I watched my words scroll across, line by line. Often several chummy phone calls to the tech staff were necessary before the process would work.
Burt and I could do the editing over the phone but I often went by the Voice office anyway, since my weekly deadline fell on the day when I taught at NYU, a block away from the paper’s final address on Cooper Square. When Elizabeth Zimmer became the dance editor, and I mastered the internet and a swifter Mac Powerbook, I still dropped by. She’d have my copy up on the screen so she could query or criticize and make fixes on the spot. She also had a desk drawer full of noshes.
As the Voice’s procedures and my equipment grew more sophisticated, personal interactions dwindled. My reviews were sent off as e-mail attachments, along with photos. No longer, did I pad around the Voice premises—using the copy machine, collecting letterhead stationery, bumping into Nat Hentoff as he prowled the corridors, his copy and a pencil in hand. Some of what I wrote appeared in the increasingly skimpy print edition; some appeared only on the paper’s website. The arts editor, Brian Parks, emailed my reviews back to me with his queries and polite suggestions written in caps; I complied (or not) and sent back my amended copy. Occasionally we exchanged quips, but rarely met.
Up to now, my process of writing about dance has involved human interactions—sometimes human interference—beyond the intense conversations that often go on between critics and friends in theater lobbies, over the phone, and, yes, online. But I’m no longer contributing reviews to the Village Voice. I’m a blogger, with a new home at Arts Journal, along with former Voice writers Jeff Weinstein, Greg Sandow, John Perrault, and Tobi Tobias, as well as other colleagues like John Rockwell and Apollinaire Scherr.
I note with both trepidation and satisfaction that the word “blogger” rhymes with “logger.” My online words will fell no trees, and I don’t plan on cutting anyone down to size. I’m on my own too. No editor will make assignments here or query a clumsy word repetition. Feedback, I hope, will come from readers.
I think of dance writing as more than an assessment of what’s going on in theaters—large or small, covered or open to the sky. It’s a way of expressing what matters to me about the dance of life, desires, and imagination.