(For the 104th Session, Alan McLeod asks us to justify why we should keep writing about beer.)
I’ve missed The Session. Both figuratively and literally.
Directly after discovering Jay and Stan’s blogging braintrust, I didn’t miss a single iteration of the Session. I’d been diligent in following the topics, planning something ahead of time, and being ready for each month like an over-prepared college freshman. I even hosted once, much to the dismay of other bloggers, I’m sure. I miss writing Session entries because they’re fun and thought provoking and, well, easy, in the grand scheme of writing.
But I’ve also missed the deadline to post eight times in a row now (the last Session I did was #95). I know such a long hiatus might make it seem like I don’t have faith in the cause or support the idea, but realistically, it’s more about the timing of significant life events over the past year, and their direct overlap with the first Friday of each month. There are several never-to-be-finished drafts in this here WordPress database, half-hollow husks meant to be Session posts that have been left dangling from the dressform, a mess of patchwork fabric and loose threads.
I don’t want to see the Session die. I understand that I’m part of the problem by not actively participating, but I still think the idea to bring different perspectives together on a single topic has a lot of worth in a community that’s full of young writers still trying to find their voices. It’s also a great prompt for newer bloggers to jump in on without feeling sheepish: a place where everyone is welcome to say whatever they want about beer with (for the most part) little chance of repercussion.
That exists nowhere else that I know of. Other attempts to bring the community together like the Thursday night #beerchat on Twitter don’t really count, for me, as Twitter is too ephemeral and curt to really hash out any meaningful ideas.
I’ve written about why I blog before. That hasn’t changed. I keep writing here because it’s my space. No editors, no deadlines, no rules or stipulations. I’m a writer who writes way more than makes sense to consistently pitch to other publications, and in a style that most publications don’t want, anyway. Here, I’m free to do whatever, sculpt any sentences I can see in the formless clay, play with grammar and be obtuse, because no one is paying me, and the expectations are basically non-existent. For a prolific writer, a blog is creative freedom manifest. A linguistic jungle-gym. An all-you-can-eat buffet of syntactic gluttony.
A blog – if taken seriously and properly maintained – is an incredible catalyst to education. When I started in 2009, I knew comparatively…let’s see…nothing about beer. I thought I knew about brewing and styles and history, but as I began reading and studying more to write posts, I realized how startlingly little I knew. It’s given me an avenue to learn a tremendous amount about the ingredients, the processes, the people, the industry. You’re free to explore and research any topic you want, fumble through your own opinions about complex topics, engage in (and hopefully kick off) conversations that help us grow as drinkers, consumers, citizens, people. If your blogging means more to you than just banging out 150 word nonsense posts during lunch or reposting old articles/generic news pieces written by other people, you’re going to learn, whether you intend to or not.
That’s a good thing, and a reason to blog, if anyone ever needed one.
But outside of personal, artistic justification, niche blogs (and other writing) about niche topics remain important even if the format waffles, because they make up the voice of the consumer-side of the community. In every sub-culture some will rise to the top to speak and inform and possibly evangelize for the people within. Bloggers are those speakers. People who try to evolve into something beyond being that guy at the bar who erroneously explains the difference between ale and lager to his cavalcade of half-toasted co-workers. They take a chance to thrust a shovel below the surface only scratched by others, and put in the work to bring the fertile material below up to the surface for others to see.
That’s the goal. I think. At least. It’s not always perfect, and lots of blogs and bloggers – even those of stout convictions and pounding passions – never do manage more than rote regurgitation. It’s easy to fall into a trap of writing what is easy, repeating what you hear daily, and going with the flow so entirely that you’re lost in the current.
But hey, even the worst are trying. Attempting something bigger and with more reach than rambling to their close friends or boring strangers at parties. They’re adding to a narrative that will one day be looked back upon as historical; not perhaps world-changing historical, but certainly historical as related to the legacy of alcohol in post-industrial Homo sapein culture. And as much as you might want to scoff at the idea of “beer as a piece of history,” we’re already pulling from a mutli-millennium backlog of brewing and beer lore that was deemed important enough to be chronicled as part of human history by our ancestors. Looked at in that light, we’re just scholars recording history as it happens, using the internet as our immortal cuneiform.
And that’s just it, I think. Beer bloggers just so happen to write about beer, but it’s the actual writing that should take precedence. You can tell when a blogger isn’t really a writer, trust me on that one. Passion about a topic does not automatically equate to good or interesting writing, and readers can tell when you’re writing because you think you should not because you want to.
We run these blogs to have our voices heard, opinions aired. I’d submit that most people who write about beer (myself included) only do so because we’ve seen some fundamental truth about human nature either in the science of the kettle, or the behavior behind the bartop. I think all writers write to discover some meaning; beer bloggers (and writers) just use a medium that’s a tad more esoteric than usual.
If the current incarnation of the Session has crossed the finish line of its final marathon, that’s sort of sad, but so be it. I’d implore those who wants to write to keep writing even without it. In addition to being the main curriculum of your own not-for-profit mini-university, writing is therapeutic and cathartic, and a hell of a better way to spend your time than many other things that pass as “entertainment” these days.
But write with responsibility. Do your best to carefully sift out the nuggets of golden narrative that come washing down the sluice, and do your best to avoid showing off the rocks you found that you think are gold. If you’re going to be a voice of your sub-culture, be a good one. Add to the narrative with humor or wit or education; don’t let misinformation, rumor-mongering, and petty drama take over. We have enough of that elsewhere in the world.
Blog to write. Write to learn. Learn to write. Write to write. About beer or otherwise.