Friday, July 6, 2012

A personal note

When I started Montana Headlines in the fall of 2006, I made the decision to blog anonymously. There are many reasons to want to write anonymously -- some good, some bad.

An example of a bad reason is the desire to say despicable things without adverse consequences, and we've all seen plenty of that in the comments threads on any number of websites, including this one.

The best reasons for writing anonymously stem, ultimately, from a desire to separate ideas from personalities -- in short, to have one's writing stand or fall on its own merits, and not to have it be judged by who the writer is (or in my case, is not.)

There are many examples of this. A famous one is the Federalist Papers, while a more recent journalistic one was the long-time anonymous "Cato" column in National Review, which we later learned was penned by John McLaughlin.

When I wrote that first Montana Headlines piece nearly 6 years ago, I didn't know whether anyone would ever read the contents of this site. Not being a golfer, and living for many years far from the mountains, as a hobby I had written and sold some freelance things over the years (mostly book reviews,) but I didn't know if I could sustain the rigors of writing week-in, week-out. But I've always loved culture and politics and writing, and I was curious -- so the experiment began.

From the beginning, I set a standard for myself -- never to write anything I wouldn't be willing to publish under my own name. There have been a couple of posts that I later thought better of and deleted before anyone had a chance to read them. There have been a couple of times when I've apologized for saying things I shouldn't have said -- and I expect that those won’t be the last apologies I’ll need to offer on this site. There are some things I look back at now and cringe a little. My views on certain people and issues have also probably changed somewhat as the years go by, and I'd like to think that my writing has matured and improved with experience. But as I've browsed through the more than half-million words I've written on this site, I'm basically content to live with what I've produced, and that isn't a bad feeling at all.

An obvious question (at least to me) is why drop anonymity now? That requires a bit of a story. When I started blogging, I wasn't at all personally involved in politics and didn't know anyone at all in the Montana political world. I later contacted the local county GOP leader, wanting to get on a mailing list and find out about events -- I found that my expression of interest was enough to get me invited to join the Yellowstone County GOP executive board as a "back-bencher" (3rd Vice President, was the official title, I believe,) where I would have the opportunity to lend some moral support. After only a couple of months, the then county chairman -- Al Garver -- resigned to take a full-time active duty assignment in Florida with the Air Force. A new chairman was needed, and I was the last person to say "not it.”

This was about the time that Montana Headlines was gaining readership and attention and when felt like I was hitting my stride as a political writer. That would have been about the time when I would normally have been thinking about going public, but suddenly it was a lot more complicated. I decided to take the path of least resistance, and rightly or wrongly I just compartmentalized my existence as a secret blogger on the one hand and my existence as the face of the Yellowstone County GOP on the other.

I did the usual things -- organizing, speaking at meetings, penning op-eds for the Gazette, fielding interviews from print media, making a dozen or so local TV news appearances -- all in what proved to be a contentious 2008 election season.

As chairman in the largest county in the state, I was privy to a lot of information that I would normally not have had access to, but I tried to be scrupulous as Montana Headlines about sticking strictly to what was available in the public record and to what was stated in public forums open to all Republicans.

The combination of the grueling election season plus the equally grueling task of writing for this site almost every day (without having it detract from my day job) took its toll, and after the election I knew I needed a break. I handed off the baton to Kirk Bushman as the next county chairman, and I let Montana Headlines go dormant for several years.

In fact, I don't think I read much of anything other than potboilers, ancient (e.g. Sir Walter Scott) and modern (e.g. Dean Koontz,) and the sports pages of the Gazette for the next couple of years. I didn't go to a single political event, I didn’t watch Fox News or read National Review, and I didn't write a word. I knew that this guy named Obama was President and that there was this thing called the Tea Party going on, but I was experiencing for the first time in my life what it was like to not be a news junkie. It was actually kind of nice for a while -- kind of the political equivalent of sitting on a quiet beach sipping one of those umbrella drinks.

Anyway, what got things started for me again was one of those odd confluences of events that is hard not to attribute to what used to be called Providence. I own the family ranch where I grew up, just across the Montana border in the northwest corner of South Dakota, and I try to spend time there when I can. I am a urologic surgeon, and my practice takes me to several eastern Montana locations each month to do clinics. I arrange them so I hit Baker on a Friday and can then can buzz quickly to the ranch to spend the rest of the weekend.

So, in February 2012, I was sitting there in the quiet, with the cold wind blowing outside. I was looking at the bright flames and hearing the dull crackle of burning wood in the stove at my feet. My wife and I are both avid readers, so the shelves groan with books there just as they do at home in Billings. Instead of the usual potboiler that I usually had going, for some reason I had randomly pulled a copy of WFB's Cruising Speed off the shelf. While reading at it, with its mixture of politics and history and cultural commentary; and with its blend of light wit and serious argument, I realized that maybe, just maybe, I missed writing. And maybe I was ready to read something other than Clive Cussler.

Upon my return home, my beloved (her name is Susan, my brilliant, beautiful, and long-suffering wife of 27 years, and the mother of our three 20-something children -- who, while she has spent those 27 years correcting many an error or infelicity in my prose, is absolutely in no way responsible for anything I write) had decided on her own that she had had enough. She wasn't sorry that I wasn't actively involved in politics, but she was concerned that writing -- something that had occupied so much of my life since she had first known me -- was suddenly gone from my life. And why, she wanted to know, had I gone the longest stretch of my life ever without reading a single serious book? It wasn't exactly true -- I had read Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov, and Rimsky-Korsakov's Principles of Orchestration, but this wasn't a time for talking back -- on the larger point she had me dead to rights.

So, I went to the symphony the next weekend, wrote a review for Montana Headlines just to get the creative juices flowing again, and haven't stopped since. Montana Headlines is my lifeblood as a writer, forcing me to produce three or more columns a week come rain or shine, hell or high water. It allows me to explore ideas and issues, to reflect on books I have read, to comment on art exhibits I have seen, and to review concerts I have attended. It is my home base, so to speak, and it is a base from which my other writing projects can flow.

When I returned to writing this spring, I had originally felt that Montana Headlines would just fall by the wayside. I wanted to get back to freelance writing after letting it drop a decade earlier, and as it picked back up I would just let Montana Headlines go. While my youngest son and I were out planting trees at the ranch, we talked about it, and he had to bring the old man up to speed on the modern era. He pointed out that one's web presence is today an essential part of being a writer, and that far from it being a sideline, the content on Montana Headlines needed to be at the center -- and so it now is.

He also told me what I already knew -- it was time to end the anonymity. So I set a simple arbitrary deadline -- when my first freelance piece appeared in a place I could link to, I would simultaneously give Montana Headlines a much needed facelift, write this post, link to my "real world" piece, and be done with it.

So, there you have it -- my name is Bradley W. (Brad) Anderson, and I live in Billings, Montana where I am a mild-mannered surgeon by day and a derring-do writer by night.

In the post above is the link to my web article at The American Spectator. Enjoy!


Tom Balek - Rockin' On the Right Side said...

Brad, welcome back to the world of blog-addiction. I am one of the newly-addicted, and will watch your work with interest and, likely, envy.

The disposal of anonymity will serve you well, as your gift is too big for the box.

Best wishes.

Brad Anderson said...

Thanks for the kind words and good luck with your blog!