i had no idea, mostly

Because waiting for online customer support wasn’t quite painful and annoying enough, I decided to see what I could learn this morning from the patriots at FreeRepublic. It was, as always, enlightening. Or maybe endarkening.

Here are a few of the things I learned.

— I’ve learned Planned Parenthood runs “a national dead-baby-body-parts chop shop” and apparently is staffed and supported by “millions of homely man haters.” I had no idea.

— I’ve learned our borders (they refer to borders — plural — but only appear concerned with the Southern border) are totally open in order “to allow the free flow of drugs. Our rulers must be making piles of cash from the drug cartels.” I honestly had no idea.

— I’ve learned that “Billionaire tycoon and maverick Donald Trump doesn’t need anyone’s help” to get elected as President of These United States. This makes “Barack Obama, Valerie Jarrett, Eric Holder, Hillary Clinton and Jon Corzine, to name just a few” nervous. Therefore, you shouldn’t “be surprised if Trump has an accident.” Except, it won’t be an accident. “They will kill him before they let him be president.” I had NO idea; you can’t pin this one on me.

— I’ve learned that it’s curious how the “USA has elected an enemy agent twice in a row…. its as if our country has suddenly decided to commit suicide? don’t people even care about (if they have any?) their children anymore?” This guy isn’t sure why this is so, but suggests “maybe its something in the water (or fast food burgers, or?)” I had no idea. None at all.

It's the hamburgers maybe?

It’s the hamburgers maybe?

— I’ve learned Al Gore’s daughter, Karenna, (who was recently arrested for protesting the construction of Spectra Energy’s West Roxbury Lateral pipeline) isn’t considered to be attractive by conservatives. They believe she “looks like an oGre under a bridge.” This is possibly because she “doesn’t have electricity anymore and can’t put on makeup.” However, they kindly offer suggestions on how to approve her appearance for future arrests: “Plastic surgery, face lifts, fillers and botox are your friends, girl… Or a paper bag.” I had no idea (that you should capitalize the G in oGre).

Karenna Gore arrested for protesting without makeup.

Karenna Gore arrested for protesting without makeup.

— I’ve learned a great deal about Hillary Clinton. For example, she “associates with the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks” and has transferred “to Russia a large portion of our uranium reserves – after receiving $140,000,000.” I’ve learned “she is a Treasonist.” Yet the compassionate patriots of FreeRepublic are concerned about her health. It seems her “disappearance from the debate stage” wasn’t because she had to walk farther to the rest room, but according to “a law-enforcement source with inside connections” she actually “was missing from the stage due to health issues stemming from a previous brain injury.” I’ve also learned “Hillary is not your neighborhood girl.” In fact, it turns out she’s a serial killer who has “over 100 dead bodies in her path to the White House.” But the patriot who revealed this ugly truth isn’t terribly worried about becoming her next victim; he has warned “any Clinton spooks out there intending to silence me as you have done to over 100 others, make sure you are more heavily armed than I am.” I had no idea about any of this, although I was pretty sure Hillary wasn’t from my neighborhood.

Wait...Waco too? What?

Wait…Waco too? What?

— And finally, I learned there are “several thousand to approximately eight million Islamic fighters inside the United States” and each and every one of them is “being welcomed by Obama,” who is the not-so-secret “active Head of the Moslem Brotherhood in America.” Not only that, it seems “Obama gave 5 MILLION federal hires top security clearance. Guess who?” (Did you guess Muslims?) Again, I had no idea (especially considering there are only three million Muslims in the U.S. — which means the other five million are totally in disguise).

I do, though, have one idea. I have an idea these folks might be supporting Donald J. Trump? Just a guess.

booing and heckling and slouching toward bethlehem

Okay, let’s talk about Bernie Sanders supporters booing the speakers at the Democratic National Convention. Let’s talk about them booing and heckling Elijah Cummings and Cory Booker, let’s talk about them booing and heckling Elizabeth Warren, and booing every time Hillary Clinton’s name was spoken. Let’s talk about them booing and heckling Bernie Sanders himself.

I’m okay with it.


The booing and heckling, I mean. I don’t like it, mind you. It’s rude and it’s childish and it doesn’t accomplish anything other than making the hecklers feel better. But basically, I’m okay with it. These folks are angry and disappointed and frustrated; they’ve invested a lot of themselves into Bernie’s campaign. They were promised a revolution; they just didn’t understand that nonviolent revolutions sometimes take longer.

Bernie never promised them a victory; he only promised to help create a revolutionary movement. He fulfilled that promise. A lot of the hecklers appear to have believed that the sheer intensity of their belief in Bernie merited some sort of reward — that because they loved Bernie more than Hillary’s supporters loved her, they should get electoral extra credit for it. They seem to have felt that Bernie owed them a victory. And they feel they’ve been misled and cheated.

bernie protesters

I don’t think they have been misled; I don’t believe they’ve been cheated. But I also feel they really DO deserve some sort of reward for their passion and hard work. Let them vent their frustration. It’s not much of a reward, to be sure. But I’m inclined to think they’ve earned the right to be a bit unruly.

At the heel of the hunt, however, it’s critically important to come together and defeat Donald Trump. I think almost everybody understands that. There will undoubtedly be some Bernie supporters who write Bernie’s name on the ballot in protest, and some who’ll vote for Jill Stein instead — but I hope those numbers will be few. Because, in the words of my boy Billy Butler Yeats, we know “what rough beast, its hour come round at last / Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born”.

It’s Trump.

torching the orchestra pit

So how long will it be before Donald Trump hires Roger Ailes as a media consultant?

The timing is perfect. Last night Trump, the beefy bully former reality television star, really, truly, totally not making this up, became the Republican nominee for President of These United States. And yesterday Roger Ailes, the beefy bully who turned FoxNews into a Republican propaganda machine, was forced out of his job as Chairman and CEO of Fox News — the media outlet that buttressed the illusion that Trump was somebody who should be taken seriously as a political thinker.

It may not happen, of course. but Trump/Ailes seems a natural pairing. This would truly be a match made in Hell. Not the nicer part of Hell, with the little shops and cozy restaurants, but the other-side-of-the-tracks part of Hell, where decent demons and fiends are reluctant to visit after dark.

Roger Ailes

Roger Ailes

Back in 1988, when he was still working overtly as a Republican political consultant, Ailes was interviewed by Judy Woodroof. Ailes had just helped put George H.W. Bush in the White House, and he described his approach to political media consulting.

Roger Ailes: Let’s face it, there are three things that the media are interested in: pictures, mistakes and attacks. That’s the one sure way of getting coverage. You try to avoid as many mistakes as you can. You try to give them as many pictures as you can. And if you need coverage, you attack, and you will get coverage.

It’s my orchestra pit theory of politics. You have two guys on stage and one guy says, “I have a solution to the Middle East problem,” and the other guy falls in the orchestra pit, who do you think is going to be on the evening news.

One thing you don’t want to do is get your head up too far on some new vision for America because then the next thing that happens is the media runs over to the Republican side and says, “Tell me why you think this is an idiotic idea.”

Judy Woodruff: So you’re saying the notion of the candidate saying, “I want to run for President because I want to do something for this country,” is crazy.

Roger Ailes: Suicide.

Trump is almost a perfect orchestra pit candidate. He equally divides his time between stumbling into the orchestra pit and attacking his opponents. Wait, that’s not entirely correct. Trump doesn’t necessarily stumble into the orchestra pit; sometimes he hurls himself head first into the pit. And then sets it on fire.

The four days of the Republican National Convention proved that. Let’s face it, the convention was one orchestra pit moment after another. It looked like it was staged by somebody with a severe synaptic disorder. It was chaos piled onto a heaping mass of confusion with a side helping of disorder, served up with a large glass of pandemonium.

Trump needs Ailes.

Back in May I said I wasn’t worried about Trump getting elected as president. My opinion hasn’t changed much. The flaws and weaknesses of the Trump campaign haven’t changed. But if anybody can put a glossy shine on the Trump turd of a campaign, it’s Roger Ailes.

'I humbly and gratefully accept your nomination."

‘I humbly and gratefully accept your nomination.”

Of course, Ailes has been forced out of Fox because of a sexual harassment scandal, so Trump might be reluctant to hire him as a…oh c’mon, you didn’t really think I was being serious with that line, did you? Trump would snatch up Ailes like a dog eating its own vomit. And his supporters would see that as Trump standing up against the Tyranny of Political Correctness.

Maybe it won’t happen. I hope it doesn’t happen. Because with Ailes, the Trump campaign could actually take form. It’s not that Ailes would plant pretty flowers around the borders of the Trump landfill; that’s not Ailes’ style. The risk is that Ailes might convince some folks that the stench of the landfill is the smell of freedom and success.


yeah, there IS a goddamn difference

I keep hearing comments like this:

“There’s no difference between Trump and Clinton. Both major political parties are corrupt. The only way to force change is to vote for a third party. The only way to express my disgust with the current political system is to vote for a third party. The lesser of two evils is still evil. To think there’s a choice between Trump and Clinton is an illusion; they’re both the same.”

You know what this is? Twaddle. It’s nonsense; senseless; silly bullshit. And I’m hearing this twaddle multiple times a day. I’m mostly hearing it from former Bernie supporters who now believe Bernie is a traitor for doing what he always said he’d do — support the Democratic nominee.

I’d intended to write a thoughtful, well-researched analysis detailing exactly why those sorts of comments are twaddle. Hell, I was even prepared to discuss the etymology of twaddle. But bugger all that. I just want to rant, because there’s some bullshit that just doesn’t deserve a serious discussion.

"Trump ou Clinton, Je choisis ni l'un!"

“Trump ou Clinton, je choisis ni l’un!”

No difference between Trump and Clinton? Are you fucking kidding me? That’s not just stupid, it’s stupid at a cellular level. It’s metabolically stupid. Seriously, if you believe this your cytoplasm must have been replaced with stupidplasm. Jeebus fucking Tinkertoy, just consider that one of them actually wants to construct a physical wall across the border with Mexico. That’s medieval thinking — and not in a good way. If you tell me there’s no difference between Clinton and Trump, then I have to assume you’re either lying or you’re a fucking nitwit (which is like 50% as stupid as a total fuckwit). There are flatworms that can distinguish between Trump and Clinton.

And no, voting for a third fucking party is NOT the only way to change the political system. It’s not even a viable way of changing the political system. The fuckwits who make this claim are almost always electoral locusts — they show up every four years to piss away their vote, then bury themselves in the earth until the next presidential election, during which they complain loudly and insistently about how their vote doesn’t count.

You want your vote to count? Vote in local elections. Vote in County and State elections. Elect your third-party candidates to the School Board, or the Board of Supervisors, or any sort of local elected office where shit actually gets done. Get your third-party candidates into your State legislature. It’s not as sexy as a presidential race, sure. But if you really want change, you do that — and you do it in towns and counties and Statehouses across the U.S. That’s how you begin to build a political base. Then you nurture the shit out of those candidates you get elected. Support them with a small donation of time and/or money. Nurture it, and your third-party will grow.

Even those shit-for-brains Tea Party asshats were smart enough to do that — which is why there are states that keep passing stupid laws against the teaching of evolution. If you allow your County and State to elect people who believe idiotic shit like the Bill of Rights is based on the fucking Bible because you think only presidential elections are worth your time and effort, then fuck you and the “no difference between Trump and Clinton’ horse you rode in on. You’ve got the government you deserve.

You support a woman’s reproductive freedom? You want to implement effective gun safety legislation? You want to see more bike paths and more art funding and renewable energy sources and an end to fracking? You’re not going to get any of that shit by voting for GaryJohnson or Jill Stein. Because they’re NOT GOING TO GET ELECTED. You get that shit by voting for progressives at the State and County level. That’s where the laws that shape the lives of regular folks get written.

You want to see real change? Then grunting isn’t enough. You want real change, you have to do the actual grunt work.


gibson got there first

William Gibson was there first. Of course he was. He almost always seems to get there first. I’m talking Pokemon Go, folks. Not the Pokemon part, but the Go part. The use of augmented reality for the enjoyment and/or education of…well, anybody.

In his 2007 novel Spook Country Gibson describes an art project referred to as ‘locative art’. Art that’s meaningfully tied to a specific location.

“Cartographic attributes of the invisible,” she said, lowering the bowl. “Spatially tagged hypermedia. The artist annotating every centimeter of a place, of every physical thing. Visible to all, on devices such as these.” She indicated Alberto’s phone, as if its swollen belly of silver-tape were gravid with an entire future.

Granted, what Gibson created in his head is a LOT more cool than Pokemon. His fictional locative artists created geo-located scenes depicting the deaths of celebrities — River Phoenix outside the Viper Room, Helmut Newton in the driveway of the Chateau Marmont. These scenes were invisible to anybody not using the tech, visible to those who were.

The concept of Pokemon Go is much the same — it’s not actually there, but it’s there to be seen. And in the case of Pokemon, there to be caught. I’m sure at some point Gibson will comment on Pokemon Go, but I wouldn’t even try to guess what he’ll think about it. It’s certainly not the sort of augmented reality he had in mind; he said he wanted locative art to be lowbrow, “almost like graffiti.” There’s nothing highbrow about Pokemon, but they are exceedingly commercial.

Gibson uses locative art as an example of the eversion of cyberspace. Turning cyberspace inside out. The ubiquity of cellular connectivity allows what used to be an activity located only in the “consensual hallucination” of the online world to filter into the physical world. In the novel, this sort of augmented reality artwork required a ‘visor’ and a phone. Niantic, the makers of Pokemon Go, have eliminated the visor. That means you — and anybody else — can now wander around your neighborhood and discover the shared hallucination of Pokemon lurking in the neighbor’s azaleas. Or on the sidewalk in front of a shop.

(photo by Kora Foto Morgana)

(photo by Kora Foto Morgana)

In 2007 Gibson, through one of his characters in Spook Country, says this:

“The most interesting ways of looking at the GPS grid, what it is, what we do with it, what we might be able to do with it, all seemed to be being put forward by artists. Artists or the military. That’s something that tends to happen with new technologies generally; the most interesting applications turn up on the battlefield on ir a gallery.”

Gibson left out gaming. Clever guy, Gibson, but not 100% prescient. The gaming industry sometimes seems to exist at the intersection of the military and art, and they’re quick to embrace new technologies.

Regardless of Pokemon Go’s long-term success or failure as a game, this mixing of the real and the virtual is very cool and has a lot of potential for creative work. I hope this sparks a lot more uses of augmented reality by the gaming industry, by artists, and maybe even writers. Why the hell not?

William Gibson. I declare.

proust – pivot – lipton

There’s a semi-interesting article in The New Yorker titled How the Proust Questionnaire Went From Literary Curio to Prestige Personality Quiz. I say ‘semi-interesting’ because it takes what I think is an interesting idea — the evolution of a questionnaire a lot of folks are familiar with — and turns it into a fairly pretentious exercise (which is a thing most of us love and hate about The New Yorker). The New Yorker is one of the few places where you’ll find a line like this:

It’s safe to say that, today, the Sainte-Beuvian paradigm has triumphed—if not among literary critics, then certainly in the culture at large.

I guess that IS safe to say, if only because hardly anybody would know what the fuck you were talking about, unless they’d read the article in The New Yorker. And maybe not even then. But despite that, it’s actually interesting to have some glimpse into the origins of the questionnaire.

I became familiar with the questionnaire because of James Lipton’s odd talk show, Inside the Actors Studio. Lipton interviews actors (or directors, and an occasional screenwriter) about their craft. It began in 1994 as a sort of filmed seminar for students in the Actors Studio Drama School — a one-one-one informal but intensely personal interview with somebody who actually works in the business. Over time it’s become a popular show in its own right. The show often reaches a pretension level that can rival The New Yorker, but I’ve never seen an episode that wasn’t worth watching. That said, I wouldn’t entirely disagree with the Sunday Times critic who described the show as:

“[J]ust a chat show on satellite, but the veil of education and posterity is held decorously high, so everybody turns up and talks with a smile.”

Each episode ends with Lipton asking a series of ten questions that he attributes to French television personality Bernard Pivot, who did a similar show devoted to writers. Pivot said his list of questions was inspired by Marcel Proust. Proust got the idea from a popular 18th century parlor game he learned from Antoinette Faure. And the green grass grows all around, all around. If you’re really curious about all this, then you’re probably the sort of person the article in The New Yorker was written for, and you should probably go read it.

Most folks, though, are primarily interested in the questionnaire — the actual ten questions themselves. Some of the questions are pedestrian, some are silly, some are insightful, but it was always interesting to see how various actors/directors/writers would answer them.

Obviously, I’m going to give the questions and my own answers — but I’m genuinely curious to see how other folks would answer them as well. So, here we go:

What is your favorite word? Ownself. It’s a Southernism, I think. At least I’ve never heard anybody outside of the Deep South use it in the same way as Southern folk do. It means ‘yourself’ or ‘myself;, of course, but in a more deeply personal and possessive sort of way. Saying “my ownself” or “your ownself” emphasizes the ownership of whatever the hell you’re talking about. For example, saying “I’ll do it myself” doesn’t carry the same level of investment or commitment as “I’ll do it my ownself”, which is less invested than “I’ll do it my own damn self.”

What is your least favorite word? Any hateful slur — kike, nigger, faggot, pick one.

What turns you on? Smart people.

What turns you off? Willfully stupid people. You know, folks who are capable of learning and understanding, but either can’t be bothered to learn or refuse to learn because it would make them doubt something they believed. Willfully stupid people can fuck right off.

What sound or noise do you love? Water rippling around stones.

What sound or noise do you hate? Leaf blowers. I fucking hate leaf blowers.

What is your favorite curse word? I don’t really have a favorite. I’m sort of partial to ‘cocksucker’, though it’s not an expression I use. I like it because it was used beautifully and creatively in the HBO series Deadwood. HBO’s The Wire did something similar with ‘motherfucker’, but The Wire‘s motherfucker lacked the deep, profound sense of commitment to obscenity that we saw in Deadwood‘s cocksucker.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Architect, maybe. Or investigative epidemiologist.

What profession would you not like to do? Anything to do with accounting.

If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates? I always have trouble with this premise. It’s like saying “If you had your own personal dragon, what would you do with it?” But you have to play the game by the rules, so IF heaven existed and IF there was a god waiting to greet me, I guess I’d like to hear her say “Hi, come on in, we have an extensive library. And there are no leaf blowers.”

So that’s me. What about you?

hillary fbi scandal omfg you guys

Hillary is NOT going to prison, you guys! Who could have predicted this? Nobody could have predicted this! This was totally unpredictable! Nostradamus on his best day could not have predicted this!

Well, okay, anybody who read actual news accounts of the email scandal rather than all the opinion pieces could have predicted it. The facts are surprisingly clear. Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State in 2009 and almost immediately asked for a secure phone like the one the National Security Agency provided for President Obama. The NSA said no.

Clinton and her staff said, “Oh, c’mon, let me have a secure phone.” The NSA said, “Nope, sorry.” The Clinton folks said, “Okay, how about if you just give a few high level staff a waiver, like you did for Condi Rice and her staff?” The NSA said, “Yeah, no, we don’t do that anymore.” The Clinton folks got a face-to-face meeting with seven senior State Department staffers with five NSA security experts, and said, “Guys, we really need a secure phone system.” The NSA said, “What, you guys are still here? Okay, you can give Hillary one of these.”

Sectera Edge

Sectera Edge

The Clinton folks said, “Are you fucking kidding me?” The NSA said, “Sure, it’s clunky and weighs almost a pound, and yeah it’s so awkward our own IT techs think it’s difficult to use. Oh, and the trusted display–the one you have to use for secure communications is really, really, really tiny. Also, it runs on Windows CE, which is a wee bit slow (because the operating system was already 13 years old in 2009). And by the way, the State Department will have to buy and install a whole new secure server infrastructure in order to actually use it.” The Clinton folks said, “Yeah, I don’t think so.”

Here’s a question: have you ever tried to cook a new dish while reading the recipe? It’s a fucking nightmare. You’re trying to caramelize the onions, while slicing up the peppers, and you know you bought Mexican oregano recently–where the hell IS it? It’s chaos. Now try to master a new communications device that has a notoriously steep technological learning curve while conducting negotiations with world leaders in crisis situations and simultaneously maintaining timely, sensitive international communication. You’re going to end up scorching some onions.

And remember this: Hillary Clinton is a grandma. Did you ever have to help your grandma with technology? You know what that’s like.


This is NOT to excuse Clinton. She chose convenience over security (and also, what the hell is that pin she’s wearing? Looks like some sort of Star Wars medal). Her reasons for choosing convenience may be understandable and her decision might have been naive at the beginning, but Jeebus Krush at some point she and her staff had to realize they were taking ridiculous risks with security. What she did was stupid and probably negligent, but it didn’t rise to the level of criminality.

So no, anybody who’d paid attention to the actual facts of the situation couldn’t have been surprised by the FBI’s findings. Still, a lot of folks are upset that Hillary wasn’t charged with a crime. Okay, maybe upset isn’t the most accurate term. Let’s go with livid. A lot of people are livid. No, not emotional enough. A lot of people are fucking furious. There we go. A lot of people are fucking furious at the FBI, at James Comey, at the entire government of These United States of America, and at the whole combustible universe.

The folks who are most upset? Conservatives, of course, but also the Bernie or Bust folks. Yesterday I spent a bit of time scanning the reactions of those two groups: the right-wing cranks at FreeRepublic and the Facebook page for The People for Bernie Sanders.

So here’s a little game. I took some verbatim comments from each group and I’ve included them below. You try to guess which quote came from which group:

Yesterday we celebrated our Independence from a tyrannical government. Today we were reminded that those in charge are above the law. Nice.

After today I can carelees how the corrupt FBI director can or cannot say. He is a sell out.

this is the last straw. We WILL NOT accept that woman for President. Absolutely, positively not, under ANY circumstances.

Any idiot can see that the fix is in and this whole damned thing stinks to high heaven.

The United States of Corruption.

No indictment, No Justice!

That FBI ruling was a joke. It’s obvious the rules don’t apply to Hillary Clinton. No punishment for enemies getting a hold of top secret information because of you? No punishment for lying under oath? It’s so obvious the system is rigged for her.

Hillary needs to go to court and be tried by the people!!!!

How about outrageous, scandalous, corrupt beyond belief? The entire upper echelon of our government is composed of oath-breaking traitors.

Comey goes through the facts, finds the evidence, shows her lies, says that top secret information was left unprotected, and then says not to prosecute. The follow through was not congruent with the set-up. She’s guilty of negligence, she put top secret information at risk, which was illegal, they could easily bring charges. And who cares if Clinton has a ton of lawyers to fight it, she did this crime as Comey stated, and doesn’t deserve the presidency.

Is there not ONE HONEST person in this government?? I am beginning to think NO! GOODBYE AMERICA!

If Hillary is elected this November, then there is NO DOUBT this country is over.

Can’t have a racist or corrupt wall street WHORE as president!!!


Because of Hillary E-mails she can be Blackmailed as President from our enemies who have already hacked her server.

It’s not a very fair game, because I don’t recall which comments are from which group. I deliberately mixed them up. But the level of vitriol against Hillary is pretty much the same from both groups.

Here’s the thing (well, the thing as I see it): most of the ‘scandals’ directed at Hillary Clinton (and her husband) are bullshit. Republicans have investigated the shit out of any rumor or suspicion that touched the Clintons in any way. Seriously, back in 1997 when Bill was still in office, Republicans launched an investigation into the Clintons’ Christmas card list. I am NOT making this up. They held hearing for days, they called more than thirty witnesses to testify under oath, demanded 40,000 documents about the Christmas card list. Nothing came of it, of course. I don’t even remember what the hell the point was. But it allowed Republicans to spend a month of so on television, talking about yet another Clinton scandal that was being investigated by Congress.


You spend a quarter of a century launching bullshit investigations and claiming Hillary is the devil, some proportion of the public is eventually going to start believing there must be horns or a forked tail hidden away somewhere. This email business is one of the few incidents grounded in actual behavior that merits actual criticism. The criticism has been massively amplified and exaggerated, but this time some measure of it is deserved.

That doesn’t make it criminal. The FBI made the right call. And the furor over the FBI decision is less about national security than it is about twenty-five years of raw, partisan vilification, and the willingness of some segments of the public to believe bullshit just because it’s repeated often.

And can you guess what the Republicans are going to do in response to this? I’ll bet you can. Go ahead, you guys, take a guess.

Right. Good guess! They’re going to hold investigative hearings to find out if the FBI is part of the conspiracy to keep Hillary out of prison. Watch the news, hear all about the New Hillary FBI Scandal. They should be able to keep — oh, let’s call it FBI-gate — in the news cycle until the election in early November.

(Stay tuned for Clinton Voter Fraud-gate, due to be released in mid-November!)

nobody cares

“Sometimes I feel like I should just give up.”

One of my writing students recently said that. In fact, I hear that with distressing regularity from my students. (As an aside, it still occasionally strikes me as improbable that I’ve become a Person Who Has Students.) That statement is almost never posed as a question, but the question is always there as a not-very-subtle subtext. Should I just give up? And that question always masks another question, which is generally phrased as another statement: I’m never going to be good enough to get published, am I.

The question at the heart of all this is an awkward question. It requires a graceful answer. It also requires an honest answer. As a Person Who Has Students, it’s my experience that honesty and grace don’t always dovetail together.

The graceful response is easy. “No, of course you shouldn’t give up. If you approach your writing with diligence and sincerity, you can become good enough to get published.” There’s some measure of truth in that. If you work hard at any craft — writing, cabinetry, weaving, brick-laying, pottery — you can improve. Most of my students have the capacity to be good enough to get published.

But most won’t. That’s the honest answer. Hard work doesn’t guarantee mastery, and mastery doesn’t guarantee success. The unwelcome Truth is that while most of my students have the capacity to improve, relatively few will actually fulfill that capacity; they either lack the necessary persistence or are prevented by circumstance from achieving it. And even whose who ARE good enough, may still not be good enough. Even if they produce excellent work, the first publisher to read it may reject it. And so might the second and third. And the fourth and and and.

Nobody cares about your zombie novel

Nobody cares about your zombie novel

Instead of responding directly to my student, I asked a question: “What matters most to you — writing a good story or getting published?” Everybody wants both, of course — and logically one should follow the other. If you write a good story, it’s got a better chance of getting published. But knowing which of those matters most changes your approach. If getting published matters most, then you let the marketplace direct the work. If the marketplace is hot for zombies, then you write zombies. Some folks will sneer at that, but there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s a professional approach  Getting paid for your work is a wonderful thing, and the best way to get paid is to give the market what it wants. And down at the bone, a good zombie story is first and foremost a good story — just with zombies.

If it’s the writing itself that matters most, then your approach is different and the reward is different. In that case, story takes precedence over the marketplace. You might still write a story about zombies, but it’s the story that’s driving the process, not the zombies. And I’m going to repeat myself: down at the bone, a good zombie story is first and foremost a good story. It’s an issue of whether you’re writing a good zombie story or a good story that has zombies in it. In either case, it’s got to be a good story.

A few days after my chat with the student, I came across this video by Ted Forbes. You should watch it. Not right now, necessarily (because c’mon, I want you to keep reading this, don’t I) but at some point take a few minutes and watch it. It’s called Nobody Cares About Your Photography.

I don’t know Ted Forbes; we’re ‘friends’ on Facebook, which just about the most tenuous sort of human connection possible. I don’t think I’ve ever exchanged a word with him, but I watch his Art of Photography videos. I don’t always care about the subject matter, but it’s always worthwhile to listen to anybody who’s passionate about something talk intelligently about it. I’m pretty confident that if you listened to somebody talk passionately and with intelligence about lawn bowling, you’d learn something you could use in writing. Or in photography.

Forbes says nobody cares about your photography — and he’s basically right. In the same way, nobody cares about your writing. There are SO many writers out there (and so many photographers or lawn bowlers) that it’s easy for you, as an individual, to be ignored. And if you’re proficient enough to care about your work and intelligent enough to wonder about your place, you’ll almost certainly at some point wonder if you should just give up.

Forbes, I think, makes two important, related points. He says No more easy shots and The world needs work that matters. What the hell does that even mean? And how does it translate into writing?

I don’t think he’s saying you need to be trying to create work that will be of historical importance (if he IS saying that, then the poor guy is delusional — but still worth watching). I think when he says No more easy shots he’s basically saying not to do the same old shit you’ve always done just because you’ve always done it. Do different shit, or do that old shit differently. Don’t relax, don’t sit down, don’t do it in your sleep.

And when he says The world needs work that matters I don’t think he’s saying the work must be Very Important Work. I think he’s saying to think about what the work actually means and how it fits into our culture. That sounds impressive as hell, doesn’t it. But consider the works of P.G. Wodehouse. It’s fluff. But it’s incredibly well-written fluff. It’s not easy to write comedic fiction that light-hearted.

Does the writing of P.G. Wodehouse matter? I’d say it does. People need a bright, witty escape from the world. They need it and deserve it. The question isn’t whether the world needs another novel about zombies — or about elves, or former special ops soldiers, or a sharp-witted nanny who is kidnapped by Barbary pirates. The question isn’t whether anybody really cares about your elven special ops zombie romance novel. They don’t.

But they do care about stories. They care about what stories do. About what stories make them feel. About the things stories inspire them to think about.

The world needs good stories. Stories matter. Grace matters, honesty matters, passion matters, intelligence matters. Stories will always matter. You may not write one that finds its way to an enthusiastic reader. But you can try. If you can approach your work with grace, honesty, passion, and intelligence, then it might matter. It might.

Lawn bowling

Lawn bowling

If it doesn’t — well, there’s always lawn bowling.