Gates of Vienna is eight years old today, y’all! If you think of blogs as living in dogs’ years then it’s leaving middle age and entering the age of wisdom, what Erick Erickson called the Age of Generativity.
Am I surprised to be here? Heavens, yes! And truth be told, it’s not really my doing — I’m along for the ride while the Baron does the real work. That doesn’t mean I can’t celebrate his accomplishments here and stand back to enjoy what he’s managed to achieve in all this time.
Yes, I’ve told this story, or aspects of it, many times before. But that is the privilege of years — to repeat oneself while those who already know the story roll their eyes. That’s okay.
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We’re talking well over twelve thousand posts since these Gates first swung open. That number is significant for variety of reasons, but what came to mind when looking at this statistic — 12,392 posts as of today — is a theory of Malcolm Gladwell’s.
Mr. Gladwell likes to break down the steps necessary for achievement. He figures there are commonalities across the various kinds of mastery. Whether we’re looking at jazz pianists or hockey players, landscape artists or master computer hackers or mezzo-sopranos at the Met, all of them meet at specific points.
Leaving aside the variables (e.g., access to a pool for would-be Olympic swimmers), Gladwell has a simple rule: in order to prevail at whatever goal we assign ourselves, we have to be willing to repeat the various steps required for a minimum of ten thousand times. Sure, there has to be a basic ability before starting out, but Mr. Gladwell says that in the end, the most significant factor in achievement is the sheer number of repetitions one is willing to undertake. But first one has to be willing, eager, impatient, even.
As I’ve observed the Baron put this harness on and pull open the Gates every morning — or as near as dammit to every morning — I remember what he used to say to people during the years he was a landscape artist. Inevitably, someone would ask him how he “learned to paint so well”. He’d explain it wasn’t about learning. To him, it was a compelling desire to create images combined with a willingness to paint all the time. He painted from the time he was six or seven until he was in his fifties, when life put up a stop sign and told him to do something else. In his case, the change was a combination of needs and events: the need to bring in sufficient income since our son was going off to college and the fact that his eyesight was beginning to show the wear and tear from all those decades of summer days spent squinting in the middle of a noonday field. He’d kept up his computer skills during all those years, too — pretty close to the ten thousand Gladwellian minimum since he’d left college. Thus, when a friend called to ask him to apply for a position where they needed someone with his programming skill set, he put down his paint brush and picked up a briefcase.
It was a decade or more before he set that briefcase down in the first round of economic bubble-bursting. But by then, he’d merged his computer work with this strange project called “Gates of Vienna”.
He started our website because he loved me and he was concerned that I was so much alone so suddenly. I’d always found surcease in writing and with him away so much during the week working, he thought it would be a medium of connection for us during periods of separation and for me, a distraction from my grief. My daughter had died the previous year, and our son had left for college.
For a while, quite a long while, Gates of Vienna was a team effort. I no longer remember when it became more effortful for me than I could manage, but I was very fortunate: the Baron is the most utterly persevering person I know. Bar none. He had taken up this task of trying to warn people what we were facing as a nation and as a culture. The same passion that informed his aesthetic vision in painting, the same intellectual stamina that pushed him to solve a thorny programming problem, and the same tenacity he brings to anything he considers important enough have all been brought to bear on the furtherance of his desire to be at least a small part of the solution to resolving the dangers that we face now.
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There is something to be said for perseverance. In fact if you ever need to know about this virtue, I’m the one to ask. Not that I have any abilities in this area myself, mind you, but I do have decades of experience in watching the Baron’s tenacity, his persistence in pursuing whatever path seems to be calling him. Once set upon a particular path — and Gates of Vienna is most definitely his path, a part of his calling — he cannot be deflected. You know those turtles you see on a summer afternoon, out on the road after a rain? If, in a moment of fellow-feeling for an endangered creature you decide to stop quickly and put the turtle safely out of the path of other oncoming cars, you must be sure to pick him up and put him on the side he was headed to. If you turn him around and place him back where he’d just come from, that stubborn thing will simply turn around and head back across the asphalt. He’s happy to be assisted to where he was going, but don’t try to change his direction…he has a specific direction in mind, thank you very much.
That’s the Baron. He excels at working with others he meets on the way, and he particularly enjoys matching up fellow-workers into teams. He doesn’t lead — hates it — nor does he follow. He quietly does whatever is in front of him that seems the best thing to do in the moment.
And that is the secret to twelve thousand posts: one essay at a time until he feels pulled to do something else.
After eight years, I don’ t see any changes coming. Or rather, I can see those changes in retrospect. I have no idea what next year will bring.
After all, who could have predicted Breivik?