Why I Don’t Know What You Know
(with apologies to Theodore Geisel)
I do not know you’ve read my books.
I do not know you’ve liked them.
Even if you’ve told me so.
Even if you’ve bought them.
Even if you’ve left a review of one. Or two. Or more.
I do not know.
If you made an offhand remark,
I dismissed it as politeness.
If you said it clearly and categorically, I heard.
But I forgot.
Most likely you mentioned it once.
So you thought I always knew.
But I do not.
Happy news withers fastest.
I seldom speak of books and writing.
I change the subject quickly.
Do I seem aloof?
Do I spurn your advances?
Never dream I don’t care.
I care too much. And so I lock it all away.
Creation is an act of fearsome courage and exhausting effort.
Art draws on powers of anger, joy, and passion.
Disinterest bleeds passion dry.
Disdain murders joy.
Apathy kills courage.
I need my strengths, so I protect my heart by holding it apart.
I keep it safely distant.
It’s safe there.
But I cannot always see that far.
So I do not know .
Sorry for getting all doggerel poetic there, but I thought I maybe should explain it somehow, and that’s how things came out.
I don’t presume to speak for others, but for me, this is how the gig works. Unless you definitively and regularly mention that you read my words and use individually-wrapped examples to detail the particulars of what you do or do not like, then I have no idea you’re one of my readers. It doesn’t stick on the outside where I will remember it.
I am not asking, demanding or expecting anyone to talk about my writing. Ever. I’m simply explaining why, if you do, I seem startled or unappreciative. Please, please please do not be insulted. (especially if you’ve told me a hundred times already that you liked something.)
I do try. Please understand that. But I won’t always know.
To keep the bad poetry company, here’s a short essay.
Why You Don’t Know What I Know.
My stories are my life. I breathe, eat, drink, and dream the work of creating and selling the adventures of imaginary people. Their unreality and my reality overlap and intermingle in ways that are difficult to balance. Fiction informs and invades all that I do. It is often all I have to offer in polite conversation, and it doesn’t play well with others.
At the foundation of my happiness is a oiled, muscular monster of ideas so powerful and inexorable it cannot be contained within the fragile confines of social courtesies.
It I let it loose, or if someone else cracks open its Pandora-style emotional container with an ill-considered question like “What are you working on?” it takes flight.
And then it knocks over the lampshades, dances on the tables and sings loudly. It corners people and talks them to death about matters of deadly dullness. I become That Bore Everyone Wants To Escape. (It’s okay. No need for denials. We’re all friends here.)
I’m not expecting people to brave that dire consequence. I don’t expect people to care about my passions the way I do. No one else could care as much about my unreality as I do.
That’s why I’ve adopted a strategy I call Deflecting the Awkward Social Pause ™ If you write too, you may know these:
“How’s the writing going?”
“It’s coming along.”
This is the point where my lid starts rattling. One tiny expression of interest, and I will explode with dull details and inelegant enthusiasm. More often I’ll get one of the fifteen red-flag comments (hey, another blog post there, woo!) that remind me, this is only a social encounter. No one wants to listen to you.
And so I engage in a clever deflection like, “So, what do you think about the weather?”
The phrase starving artist applies to more than finances. This artist starves for affirmation, attention, validation, inclusion, connection. Passion consumes. Art devours. I inhale inspiration from every positive bit of feedback. Hungry glutton that I am, I feed my ego on every tiny crumb of interest that falls my way, and I become drunk on the weakest and thinnest of compliments.
And no one likes a sloppy drunk who eats all the Cheetos.
That is why I seldom talk about my writing, even when politely encouraged.