Normfest. A fine idea. Where entry is free, all the bands play country and western, and the fields are full of cricketers toiling and spinning.
I came to normblog late, having noticed that many of the people I most enjoyed following on Twitter had one thing in common: the constant references they made to a chap they referred to simply as ‘Norm’. “I wonder what Norm will make of this?” “Well, obviously, Norm puts it best….” “As usual, Norm is right on the money with this one”. This respect might have been mistaken for excessive deference, but then you clicked on the link and found a few paragraphs of concise and elegant prose that—agree or disagree—couldn’t have been more reasoned or reasonable. I realised that everyone I followed wanted to know what Norm thought, not because of intellectual laziness, but out of intellectual curiosity. Norm quite literally made sense. He set out a clear position on almost everything that crossed his intellectual horizon, and where he could not, he admitted to uncertainty. How rare that quality is in an era of instant and disposable opinions.
Norm was passionate and principled, frank and fair, wise and civil: the very model of a public intellectual. As others have said, he did not use his intellect or position to bully or to insult, but to reason, encourage and educate. Others have posted much about his wisdom and erudition; I would like to emphasise his great decency. Twitter often lends itself to unpleasantness, particularly on the part of those clever and witty enough to compress something savage and wounding into 140 characters. With his command of language and swiftness of mind, I’ve no doubt Norm could have done that had he so chosen, but the point is that he chose not to. There is a big hole in Twitter now, and it is up to us to fill it with reason, goodwill and civility. I will try to follow his example as best I can.
One of my last exchanges with Norm was over a silly hashtag game a few weeks ago, called something like #AddAWordRuinAMovie. (Amid the praise for his blogging, Norm’s prowess at hashtag games has not received quite the attention it deserves.) I retweeted his contribution “Bowling, Shane”, which aptly combined two enduring passions of his: Western films and the great Australian cricket teams of—to his mild vexation this summer–the past. Sidelined yet again by cricket, we got to talking about how a biopic of 90s Australian wicketkeeper Ian Healy would actually be a significant contribution to the canon of great sporting films. Well, in the canon of great blogs, normblog occupies even more hallowed a place.