Writing again

What Silence Says

Silence says, “Apathy wins.”

Before I elaborate on that, let me share a comment I received today, the day I released a new story to the usual resounding lack of interest. It went more or less like this: “You’re a published author. That is so incredible. I don’t buy that kind of thing, but it’s not like you need my support.”

This is the kind of remark that hits me like a kick to the solar plexus. It inflicts an instant, desperate, breathless panic. There is no quick snappy retort for it, no ready defense against it. There is no suave way to say, “Whose support do you think I have? I need all the fucking help I can get.” Instead of snarling and snarking, I smile tightly and change the subject.

(And then I remind myself that I am supported by some wonderful, generous people who unfortunately do not share geographic proximity. I have a fan base of 15 readers. Pathetic perhaps, after a year of publication, and not the numbers my outrageous ego believes my writing deserves, but it’s what I have. I cling to a sense of gratitude even while drowning in an ocean of zeroes.)

I am not here to shame the speaker, who was only being honestly apathetic out loud.  I’d like use that experience as an excuse to  talk about the importance of advocacy. And, yeah, I need to rant, because I was frustrated and hurt and infuriated by that reminder of apathy’s lethal power.  I could have responded today. One doesn’t, if one is polite, but the opportunity existed. When people send the same message with silence, there’s no fighting it. Apathy wins. Art loses.

Silence says, “Sure, I know you, but I wouldn’t cross the street to help. You matter less than, well, anything. I cannot be bothered to spend one minute of my precious time on you. Not even to admit how little I care.” Silence destroys more creators than harsh reviews ever will.  Silence is the assassin of creative energy. It smothers ideas in their cribs. Silence whispers, “Why bother?” in the most poisonous of voices.

Independent creators all need help, in oh, so many ways. The delicious irony of it all is that I’m not talking about financial support. Buying things is the last and least important point, not the first and foremost. I periodically have to squelch a nigh-irresistible urge to shun everyone I know who can’t put a checkmark against any action from the following list:

  • offered a compliment/asked a question about the content of my work rather than its existence.
  • voted for positive reviews or voted for my profile page on Amazon or elsewhere.
  • shared a promotional link or shared a link to my blog or my Amazon sales page
  • written a review anywhere (this includes offering to review for a free copy)
  • asked their library to buy a copy of the work or suggested that a retailer to carry it.
  • bought a copy for someone else as a gift
  • bought a copy to own

Guess how many of my surprisingly extensive social circle would have to answer “none of the above, ever?” Yup. That many. My Amazon page has 22 likes, because people can’t be bothered to go online and click a flipping button. Is it any wonder I’m becoming a bitter cynic? Is it any wonder that I am regularly wracked with doubt about the quality of my art? Is it any wonder that I suspect most of the people I know just don’t give a flying fuck whether I exist, or would be happier if I didn’t? (No. It isn’t.)

One major side point: advocating for art isn’t a one-time achievement, any more than an artist only creates a single piece in a lifetime. (Harper Lee and other one-hit wonders aside) Don’t pat yourself on the back if you wrote one review ever, or mentioned your artist friend once. That gets you off the shit list. It doesn’t make you clean. (edit: just in case, let me clarify that I’m using “you” in that second-person universal sense, not a personal one. I am unreasonably lucky that you who support me at all, support me fully. That’s not common in this community of creation. Not in the least.)

Oh, sure, there are other ways for us artists to interpret silent apathy. “People are busy,” is a popular choice, followed by, “I know they’ve been meaning to,” “It’s on their list,” and my personal favorite, “They don’t know how.” Because saying, “Hey, I want to be supportive. How do I do that?” would be cheating? Uh-huh. My bullshit meter just hit maximum too. We’re making your excuses for you. We accept your excuses. They’re still excuses.

Life makes demands on everyone. Art doesn’t happen. It takes time too. If anyone you know creates art, they’re pouring heart and soul and time into it. The least you can do is sacrifice a little time of your own to appreciate their effort, even if the final product is not your kind of thing.

And a postscript:
Advocating for someone without sharing your efforts with the beneficiary is like writing a text and forgetting to hit send. Messages that don’t reach the recipient are as silent as those never written.

My cat approves this message.
Writing again

Negative thoughts, negative space.

I’ve been pondering lately, as I sometimes do. I’ve been feeling grouchy, as I sometimes am, and so I began pondering the way that moping makes one semi-invisible online. FB’s algorithms censor downer posts, Twitter moves so fast that few notice, and blogs? Well. I know how few people ever see this one. Sometimes that semi-invisibility is a positive thing. It’s useful.

Like this. Only with more wall.

 I find it oddly comforting during phases like the one I’m sliding towards lately, when I’m loaded down with unhappiness that I want to unload but can’t objectively justify. Sometimes unhappiness is like that, and honestly, it shouldn’t need validation. It happens, like bruises happen. Being unhappy online is the modern equivalent of shouting into the depths of a well, or crying on the street. Public catharsis, but mostly undisturbed. 

Common wisdom counsels against my self-indulgence. It holds that social media offer a showcase where people should make their lives look awesome.  Successes can be trumpeted. High points shared. But as in the real world these days, where the only proper answer to “how are you?” is “great!” only major life events and socially significant negatives are accepted as legitimate ripples in the triumphant newsfeed. Studies have demonstrated the spread of this practice. Relentless up-ness is the norm, online.  Ayup. I am aware of all that, but in this realm, as in many others, I’m an outlier.  

Contrary to common practice, my persona isn’t a best-case identity that details only the positives in my life and proclaims the perfection of my existence. It is me. Lumps, bumps, bouts of fragile humanity, unprofessionalism and all. I don’t wear makeup, dress for success, or hide my feelings in the real world. Why on earth would I be anything but my unvarnished rough self online? I wouldn’t. Others may show what they wish. I show me. Deceit makes me itch, and only showing the ups without the downs, the highs without the lows, feels deceitful for me.

This is not to say that positive thinking and positive presentation don’t work for others. I can see that they do. Some can turn away from darkness and drive it back by soaking in the light. That’s a good system. It’s an affirming one, and an inclusive one. I can admire it, in the way I admire an art piece of a style that does not speak to my soul. It can be good without being good for me

It can also become damaging cruelty. 

Too many of those who work the sunny side of the street see it as the only side and evangelize with the passion of the converted. It’s become uncouth to be unhappy. Correcting, criticizing, and lecturing people who don’t cope using the accepted mantra of “just let it go” has become a self-righteous entitlement. 

Here’s a sincere warning to anyone who feels compelled to say, “just don’t dwell on it,” or “don’t focus on the bad” or “concentrate on the positives” over and over to me, regarding any topic I confess to finding frustrating or depressing, I seriously will unfriend or block all shared media. Because fuck that bullshit. Shining the light of happythink on my dark places throws them into high relief and makes them impenetrable and undefeatable. I need that kind of help like I need a sharp stick in the eye. 

Venting unhappiness before it explodes is letting it go. Draining an abcess of pain is letting it go.  Expressing anger is letting it go. Not for everyone, no, but for me it is the only way to prevent the poison from sinking in and damaging me further. I will let it go like a ton of bricks, right on the head of anyone who devalues the power of negative emotions and experiences because those things make them uncomfortable.
New Post

Why Do We Feed the Monsters?

I had a post planned. Then this thing happened. Followed by this thing. So I’m blogging about this instead. For those uninterested in link-clicking, here’s a radically generalized summary of the issue: an author violated the Prime Directive of authoring and reacted to a bad review. Hijinks ensued.

I won’t analyze in detail the events outlined in those articles. Better minds than mine have been tackling that task for the Internet equivalent of eternity. My concern is that an important point is being obscured by the writing community’s relentless focus on the author’s creepy freakout.

My point is this: it appears that what sent her down the rabbit hole was not the review itself. She was consumed by the revelation that the person responsible might not even exist. Think about that. Review platforms online allow people to set up fake identities and say whatever they want about whoever they want, wholly unopposed. No, wait. That’s too kind. Writing culture doesn’t simply allow that to happen, it is defending it. Am I the only one disturbed by this?

Writers, publishers and readers expect reviews to be reliable evaluations of a book’s merits. That’s a concept battered already by practices that create ratings inflation, but powerful shared mythologies don’t die easily.  It’s likely that buy-a-review scandals and the prevalence of positive review-swaps are to blame for the reverence with with writers and publishers alike treat the ideal of “objective” criticism. My fear now, watching this latest kerfuffle, is that reviewers are being elevated to such lofty heights that we’re defending them from attack with a fervor usually reserved for star football players accused of abuse.

Yeah, I went there. Victim-blaming is a vicious spectator sport. Everywhere I look online, I see people concentrating on the author, not the reviewer. Here’s a sampling of criticisms:

  • She shouldn’t have written about a polarizing topic if she wasn’t ready for people to dislike her portrayal of it.
  • She should’ve ignored the review. (and a cadre of reviewers who dogpiled onto the first and then hit every positive review of her book with critical comments.)
  • She should’ve ignored the person who tweeted mocking parodies of her every tweet.
  • She never should’ve responded to an inflammatory tweet message.

Now do some simple substitutions. She shouldn’t have gone down that alley. She shouldn’t have worn those clothes. She really shouldn’t have gone home with him.  Seriously, people. WTF? Yes, the author became an obsessive stalker, and that was wrong. WRONG. Shoutycaps wrong. That doesn’t make her critic innocent of all wrongdoing.

Look at that behavior. This was not a case of “a bad review.” This was an online assault campaign. I have yet to see one article or social media post concerned about that. Someone should be.

The author’s obsessive stalking also revealed that the reviewer’s online identity was faked. Take a moment, let that sink in. There is a label for people who create identities to go online and stroke their own egos  by viciously attacking vulnerable targets. They’re called trolls. There is no defense for defending them.

I’m not naming the review platform on which this happened for a reason: it’s irrelevant. They’re all infested with bullies. This is a Known Thing. No one wants to confront the problem. In writing culture, the bullies are sacrosanct, because no one is allowed to question the Power of Opinion. Maybe it’s time to do something about that. Maybe it’s time to stop blaming all authors for being sensitive and start considering the possibility that they could be victimized unfairly. It’s a thought.

Current advice to authors regarding bad reviews includes the following: don’t respond; don’t engage; you can’t win that fight; just walk away; it’s best to take your lumps and move on; it hurts, but you just have to take it. Doesn’t that sound like bad anti-bullying advice from 1970?  The reaction to people who do engage a critic in any way, as I demonstrated above, is worse.

Can’t we do better than this? There’s more than one kind of bad review, and there should be more than one proper way to respond. “Do not engage” and “There’s nothing you can do, just move on” are dangerous foundations on which to build a power structure. Currently, to my knowledge, no review platform even has an effective system for reporting abusive reviews. (Yes, they have reporting systems. Nothing happens. Not effective.)  They have historically been resistant to the idea of implementing punitive measures against any reviewer, under any circumstances other than fraud or other legal threats.

I think about that, being an author. I have no recourse against bullying unless matters escalate, threats are made and it becomes a police matter. My emotional investment, my financial stake, my professional reputation — all those can be destroyed with impunity, and if I protest in any way, I will be demonized by my own peers. What’s wrong with that picture? Everything.

There’s more than one way to feed a troll. Beating up on their victims is one of them.

Let’s stop this.


Writing again

5 Words I Wish I Could Use–and Why I Can’t.

I love language. I was a lucky, blessed toddler whose parents read to her on a regular basis. I love the way words feel and move, how they leave the body on a breath, how they spill out on a page, each with a unique height and depth and cadence. That legacy of warm, loving embraces and laughter informs even the hard words I learned later, even the nasty awful ones. I love words, so today I’m indulging in a eulogy to socially-freighted vocabulary.

Look at these wonderful words: articulate, elite. entitled, intellectual, privileged.1, 2

Each one has rolled in enough sociological mud to be exiled to the verbal woodshed forever. They were once complimentary. They should be positives as well as adjectives. They aren’t. I wish they were, but if wishes were horses, I would have a huge hay bill to pay off. Huge.

A short digression into personal history. My first experience with the perils of vocabulary came at age ten. I was at sleep-away summer camp, babbling away with my tent-mates (they liked me! we read the same books!)  at dinner. Our unit counselor did not approve of us. At some point, I described someone’s behavior as animated. She proceeded–loudly and at length–to mock me in front of the entire camp for thinking I was so smart when I didn’t even know that animated meant cartoons.

I was smart. I didn’t argue with someone who had ultimate authority over me for five more days. It hurt like being flayed alive, and I still carry the conversational scars.  I can’t speak my mind with passion and eloquence unless I am too enraged to remember that pain. When I am angry, however, I become viciously articulate, and the people I admire most are those who who speak and write with skill and artful expertise in any circumstances.

The subtext of dismantling or constructing, the lengthy assault of syllables…oh, I miss that word.  Why can’t I use articulate to describe someone who has the ability to swing words as weapons or lift an audience to delight with the power of their vocabulary? It is magic, and a wonder to behold. Racist bigots stole one of my favorite compliments to use as a backhanded swipe at people of color. Awful racist bigots.

Of course, admitting to a love of articulate people leaves me open to accusations of elitism. To which I say, YUP. What of it?  I aspire to excellence. I admire those who achieve it. When did being a member of an elite become a bad thing?  When did it become a pejorative? Ditto for intellectual. These words should be good things, but they’re not these days, and I miss them.  I’mma just gonna leave this Isaac Asimov quote here and move on.

“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge'”

Next, let’s take a look at entitlement. What the hell happened to this innocent little word?  Look at the root form. En-title. It’s a transitive verb. It isn’t a state or a condition, it’s an action. It’s something someone does to someone. No one gets to be entitled without someone entitling them.  Except now.  Now its an insult to fling at people who used to get accused of being uppity and not paying their dues. Uh-huh.  The moment it became an adjective, it was sullied and lost to use by anyone but resentful grouches who feel threatened by any demographic that doesn’t appreciate their precious status quo.

Speaking of status quo, I’ll wrap up with privilege. The word is a tool of intellectual (!) discourse. There, its nuanced meaning of (more or less)  a constellation of advantages afforded to one group but not others has an important place. Race, sex, orientation, age, income, and ability do skew perspective. All the same, I miss being able to say “It’s been a privilege to meet/work with/know …” It’s too heavy a word for the lightweight use as a compliment now. Also, buzzwords make me twitch.

I was first trained out of the naive, ignorant use of articulate, and rightfully so. Years later now, I can appreciate how gently the correction was offered. At the time it came as a painful shock, and I resented it for a long time. Grief hits like that sometimes: anger first, before acceptance. The other words have fallen away over the last decade, casualties, one by one, of the culture wars that I think are going to get much worse before they get better.

That’s it. Those are the five words I miss most. All done. IF you were expecting deep social relevance or insight … wrong blog, sorry. This is my self-space. The World Revolves Around Boring Ol’ Me.  If you wanted serious personal revelations or rants about writing, go back a few posts. Or come back another time. I’m sure I’ll rant again soon.

Note 1: I’m using alphabetical order, for lack of any other objective ranking.
Note 2: there are many more than five words that qualify, but these are the ones that came to mind without hesitation. These are my favorites among the filthy, sticky, dirty collection of oldie-moldy well-loved Problematic Words