There’s a story on Salon.com this week by writer Steve Almond about a cyber-nemesis and his meeting with him in the real world. I won’t bother recounting the article, though it does make for an interesting read (and one that will be familiar to anyone that has been on the Internet enough to have eventually met an “online enemy” in person).
I bring the article up, though, because of some (admittedly out-of-context) points he makes in the article. To wit:
To be clear: Some bloggers, such as Wendy McClure, also happen to be terrific writers. They use their blogs to undertake the honest labor of self-reflection. The improvisational form activates their love of the language. More power to them.
But there are also bloggers who, like Sarvas, are simply too lazy and insecure to risk making art, to release their deepest emotions onto a blank page with no promise of recognition. So they launch a blog instead.
First, I just realized why I will never be a writer, no will I be allowed into the clubhouse: I’m not a language lover. I don’t find myself excited by new and amazing permutations of the English language (or any other, for that matter). If I am fascinated by language at all, it is as a vehicle for telling stories, for communicating; not much more than that.
Which is not to say that I don’t take a certain thrill in having a sizeable vocabulary, nor that I don’t wince visibly when other people — especially those that call themselves writers — misuse words, obviously unaware of what those words really mean. Spelling (not typing — pot won’t be caught calling kettle filthy today) errors drive me sideways. Grammatical nightmares — the kind you can find all over the blog-o-net — make me wish that I could revoke the computer rights of some people.
But I’m not a lover of language. I don’t thrill to poetry. I’m no fan whatsoever of the “masters,” of greater literature, of high art. Stephen King is more my speed — and you can guffaw all you want, but he’s one of the best storytellers I’ve ever read. Chuck Pahlaniuk, Warren Ellis, Bret Easton Ellis — there is certainly something literary about each of their collections of work, but at the core, it’s about ideas, about emotions, about entertaining and sparking the imagination.
My screenplays are not about amazing the world with clever cinematic innovation, creating characters so full of themselves that I can work twenty dollar words into their mouths. My novel is neither about nor a vehicle for celebration of words, of the sounds they make, of clever onomatapaeia or consonance. My short stories, my song lyrics — hell, this very journal — is not for me to show how little of the dictionary I have left to memorize, or even to get noticed.
And that handily brings me back to the main point of the quote that I wanted to note: How much of what we do as creators is driven by need to create, and how much by need to be noticed?
I wrote a few days ago about my need for validation, how I suspect that I’m fulfilling that with my dating life. And probably, large chunks of my art serve the same purpose, or aspire to do so. I’m in a band, and comfortable with the fact that I’m not on MTV or selling a trillion albums or getting my headshot on the cover of SPIN or BW&BK. The Exhibit(s) play local bars once or twice a week, and occasionally get the opportunity to play things like the Sidewalk Film Festival, and I’m grateful for that; I certainly would never turn down the chance to tour with a major group, or to make the late night talk show rounds, but I’m not holding out too much hope for it, either.
(One of the best moments from both Scrubs and Heather Graham’s career came in season four, when Graham’s character says, “Show me a guy who wants to get married, has a good job – and it’s like snoozeville for me. But if you know a 35-year-old who still lives at home with his mom and he still thinks his band can make it – tell me where to meet him so I can buy him dinner.”)
So I’m not playing music entirely for the attention, though it certainly doesn’t hurt. And I’m certainly not writing my short stories for attention, as the most reading they’ve ever gotten were from the people that inspired certain stories.
Screenplays — well, this is where we get into questionable territory. I say that I have no intention of ever filming a feature, and I mean it when I say it, but I’m very proud of the three features that I’ve completed writing, and I hope they get made one day (by me, I should add). The shorts — some of those are written just to get them out of my system, and some are written for contests (MUCKFUPPET, GOOD MORNING, APOCRYPHA and FIRST TIME AROUND AGAIN would never have been written except for the Sidewalk contests), and some are written specifically to be filmed (GOODNIGHT MOON). And of course — assuming that the films turn out okay — I want the movies to be shown.
But movies are expensive, and require a lot of work by a lot of people. So of course there’s some level of attention that you want to get out of something like that, if only to justify the expenditure when you don’t really have the money to spend.
But of course it’s about attention. There’s a competitive nature ot me, one that makes me want to hear my film spoken of in the same breath as those of the peers that I respect — locally, if not nationally or internationally.
And then, there’s this blog, which I don’t go out of my way to publicize (it’s linked from a Birmingham are group, but that’s about it). And I largely write this as a journal; the fact that it’s on my local computer as well as a server means that I have multiple copies of the thoughts and words, so I’m pretty well guaranteed never to lose this journal (unless I want to). And the fact that it’s on the Internet means that I can write from anywhere in the world, just by logging on. I don’t have to tote a physical journal around with me, no do I need a laptop.
But I could hide this, right? I don’t have to make it public. Never had to. I could drop it in a hidden directory, secured with a password, behind the eyes of the search engines of the world. Same end result: multiple copies, easy access. But no one else can read it.
And I can try to pass it off as altruism, hoping that my words and thoughts, my struggles and solutions, might help someone else. Or maybe someone gets turned onto a really good artist or author or film. And sure, there’s a little of that.
But I want page hits, and comments, and mentions in other blogs. And a book deal, based purely on what I’ve got online. And a trillion dollars, and a house with air conditioning and a car with brakes that work, and love and adoration from beautiful women around the world.
I’d settle for a Real Doll, mind you.
To begin with, not so many people read [blogs]. Instead, a very concentrated population of people read them over and over. Namely, other bloggers. They all read one another, in the hope something they mentioned on their blog will be cited on another blog. It’s a kind of Ponzi scheme in which the object is attention, and the shared illusion is one of relevance.